October 2, 2017

1942. The Second Battle of El Alamein Begins

Cautious Optimism Over the North African Offensive
"A wounded German officer, found in the Egyptian desert during the first two days of a British offensive, is guarded by a sentry while awaiting backup, on November 13, 1942" (source)
The text in parentheses indicates excerpts that were struck from the original script.
Bill Downs

CBS London

October 26, 1942

British military authorities in London said this morning that the next 48 hours or so should decide whether the first moves in the Eighth Army's new Egyptian campaign have met with immediate success. In other words, the headquarters in London is not acclaiming any premature successes or hailing any advance victories in North Africa.

However, this does not mean that there is any sign of pessimism in military headquarters here. On the contrary, the feeling is more optimistic about North Africa than at any time since General Wavell first advanced across Libya two years ago.

Officials here studying the front reports after three days of fighting agree that thus far General Alexander's attack has met no major snags. And London likes the careful tone of the communiqués. These officials warned, however, that hard fighting could be expected to continue. They also pointed out that in a frontal offensive such as that which forms the major action on the African front, Allied casualties can be expected.

(It is evident that the British army has learned lessons since it left Dunkirk and was pushed back into Egypt by the German forces. And it can be presumed that the American army is learning them too, because undoubtedly United States Army observers are on the spot in the Egyptian fighting.)

It is interesting to note that at no time since the North African offensive began have the British or anyone else called the fighting in Egypt a second front. Russia long ago rejected the suggestion that a campaign in North Africa would give her the kind of second front relief she was looking for.

Russia wants a second front which would directly threaten Germany's position in Europe and force Hitler to withdraw troops from around Leningrad, Moscow, Stalingrad, and from the Caucasus. The Russian view is that the North African campaign is more of an offensive against Italy than anything else.

However, a new development from the RAF attacks on Northern Italy is causing some speculation here. It is evident from the reports of the crews which attacked Genoa and Milan over the weekend that the Italian air defenses, both ack-ack and defending fighters, are exceedingly weak.

If the British bombers continue to attack Italy in such force—and there is no reason to believe they will stop—then it is likely that Italy will call on Germany to furnish more adequate air defenses.

This would, of course, not constitute the kind of relief the Russians want. But every little bit helps, and it is at least a start.

Bill Downs

CBS London

October 27, 1942

The British Eighth Army in Egypt has continued its yard-by-yard advance into the Axis defenses. The Middle East communiqué issued about two hours ago said that the Allied forces had extended their occupying wedge into Rommel's extensive minefields, pillboxes, and barbed wire barricades. The British are holding on to their new gains. The fighting is still ongoing.

The 24 hour aerial offensive over the battle area also is continuing. There is more evidence of increased enemy opposition in the area. German and Italian planes were shot down during the widespread attacks on the Axis positions, and the Allied bombers also have maintained their raids on Rommel's supply bases. At Tobruk an enemy tanker was set afire and another large enemy merchant vessel blew up after it was hit with bombs and aerial torpedoes.

Axis planes continue to raid Malta, indicating Hitler and Mussolini are trying desperately to maintain their hard-hit supply lines to their North African army. Three enemy planes were shot down over the island.

All in all, the Allied air forces had a good 24 hours. They shot down 23 planes during Sunday night and Monday. During the same period, only ten United Nations planes were lost.

Wendell Willkie's speech demanding, among other things, an immediate second front, received wide publicity in the British press this morning.

The British read Mr. Willkie's statements with mixed feelings. They heartily endorse any call to action, and demands for a second front are old stuff to them. For a man of Mr. Willkie's status, however unofficial, to demand a second front in Europe as well as a campaign to recover Burma, strikes a responsive chord in the British people. Now they only hope that Mr. Willkie knows more about how to accomplish these things than the little people of Britain do.

On the other hand, there already is concern among the public over Mr. Willkie's disparaging review of Allied supplies to Russia and China. It has been the belief in Britain that more than "tragically small" amounts of equipment have been going to the Chinese and Russian fronts. Mr. Willkie's statement that Britain and America are not fulfilling their promises to their allies likely will produce political repercussions in parliament.

But Americans on this side of the ocean are just as interested in the domestic political motives behind Mr. Willkie's speech as his summary of the Allied war effort. The speech in many ways was an oblique attack on the Roosevelt administration's prosecution of the war. One American who just arrived here from Washington read the speech and commented, "Willkie seems to have started his presidential campaign one year early."

New weapons make news in wartime. This morning the Air Ministry revealed the first details of the RAF's secret twin-motored light bomber, the Mosquito. Radically different from anything else in action with any of the Allied air forces, it was revealed that the Mosquito is made entirely of wood.

The wooden airframe naturally gives it exceptionally light weight, which accounts for the Mosquito's exceptionally high speed and long range. You remember Mosquitos already have been reported in Norway and Germany. Many of these raids have been made in daylight. Not all have been announced.

In connection with the RAF's new wooden aircraft, it is interesting to note that several months ago the British furniture industry was mobilized as a war industry. Furniture makers are now making aircraft.

In other words, the hand that once made cradles is now rocking Germany—with bombs.