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World: The Beckoning Finger

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For the first time in months Vichyfrench censors gave clearance to dispatches from inside Dakar.

> Reported Le Temps’ correspondent: “Dakar is gay and full of life, a condition produced by the presence of so many soldiers and sailors.”

> Reported the United Press: “Increases in the land garrison and arrival of heavy fleet reinforcements have swelled the white population from 15,000 to 50,000. Women and children are being evacuated. Governor Pierre Boisson ordered them to leave, remembering how civilians clogged the roads during the German invasion of France. A serious housing shortage has arisen. There is plenty to eat, [but] there is no gasoline. Huge piles of cotton, tanned hides, coconuts, coffee, dried fish and tons of vegetable oils are rotting in the warehouses or on the wharves. Planters fear they will lose fortunes.”

A few days after these dispatches, two French officers arrived in London from Vichy territory with reports that 500 planes* and most of Vichy’s African naval strength had been massed at Dakar, that only 15% of Dakar’s white inhabitants were ardently pro-Vichy, that 500 German “civilians” and 166 German officers were there.

Anglophobe Admiral Françcois Jean Darlan, chief of Vichy’s armed forces, made a flying tour of French African bases. Over the Dakar radio he warned the populace that “new dangers hang over you.”

Neither Darlan nor the dispatches mentioned two closely related reasons for

French fears: the end of the rainy season and the arrival of U.S. troops in Liberia and other West African outposts (TIME, Oct. 19).

From June through September western winds dump great rains on Dakar and the adjacent Senegalese coast. Then the harmattan (from the French-Arabic for evil) starts to blow from off the scorching Sahara. By November Dakar’s lush greenery begins to parch. The sky is so blue that it looks black. Roads are heavy with dust, but passable for military travelers.

Most of Dakar’s white inhabitants are crowded into the twelve-mile peninsula that curves out from Africa like a beckoning finger, vulnerable to combined land-sea-air attack. The French know that one reason for the failure of the De Gaulle-British expedition two years ago was the lack of sufficient land and air strength in support of the Royal Navy’s frontal assault. The French also know that the United Nations—with an air base at Bathurst (some 80 miles to the south) and troop pools filling up with U.S. soldiers along the African west coast—are unlikely to repeat their error.

*Improbable. Dakar lacks ground facilities to base that many planes, but by using all Vichy bases in West Africa—Senegal, French Guinea, etc.—500 planes might be accommodated.

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