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World Battlefronts: BATTLE OF EUROPE: Clear Track to Berlin

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In seven days last week the U.S. and British air forces operating from Britain dropped between 16,000 and 17,000 tons of bombs on Nazi Europe.

About 900 freight cars would be required to transport this tonnage by rail. It compares with 13,000 tons dropped by the R.A.F. in the 52 weeks of 1940, with 7,500 tons dropped by the Germans in the entire London blitz.

Such bombing has not taken place in previous years because the air fleets required to deliver it were not in existence. But even three months ago such a tonnage could not have been dropped in one week. For three months ago the Luftwaffe was fighting every raid with all it had—many bombers were shot down, and many so shot up that they required extensive repairs. Again & again the R.A.F. and Eighth Air Force had to take several days off to lick their wounds—and they cannot take much time out if they are to deliver 16,000 tons of bombs a week.

The German Choice. In short, since the first of the year something important has happened. It is not that the German air force has been destroyed. It is not that German plane production has been wiped out. What has happened is that the German air force does not choose to fight except occasionally.

This is a deliberate German choice, but it is a choice made from weakness. It is similar to the German choice not to press the U-boat war. The Germans still have many U-boats. Some day, perhaps when the second front is launched, they will be thrown in as a wolf pack, exceeding in size any that has ever struck before. But the undersea war has become so tough for the Germans that they have had to limit operations sharply in order to preserve their U-boat fleet.

In the same way the Luftwaffe has chosen to curtail its operations—because its losses were too heavy and damage to German plane factories had reduced its rate of replacement.

Allied airmen found the Luftwaffe last week choosing its spots—holding back on some days (often in cloudy weather), fighting savagely on others. On Wednesday, for example, a fleet of 600 Fortresses and Liberators bombed Berlin at leisure, while their fighter escorts scoured the air around the city and found not a single Nazi pilot to quarrel with.

But next day was .different. A similar U.S. air fleet attacked Brunswick, Mün-ster and four smaller towns, and this time the Luftwaffe came up in force and fought. Toll for the attackers was 27 bombers and six fighters, but 61 Nazi planes were shot down. And at week’s end a fleet of more than 1,000 R.A.F. bombers fought a grueling battle with flak and night-fighters over Berlin, paying with 73 bombers for the huge fires left spreading in the doomed Nazi capital.

Top Priority. Allied airmen are convinced that the Luftwaffe is now giving its No. 1 priority to preserving “an air force in being” for use against Allied invasion of the Continent. No. 2 priority is defense of vital industries, with such issues as home morale and the Russian and Italian fronts well down the list.

Like a badly mauled army in the field, the Luftwaffe has figuratively shortened its line by retreating—first by virtually surrendering the air over France, again by refusing daylight combat on days of poor weather and overcast.

New Tactic. This new German plan of campaign has been accompanied by a new German air raid warning system called the Drahtfunk, which has apparently been set up to bolster civilian morale. The Drahtfunk provides constant radio reports of the progress of air raids and allays anxiety in other districts by reporting those which are in danger.*

Sample reports, which occur at all hours of day & night:

¶ Over the German home radio a soldiers’ chorus was cheerfully bellowing out Wir Fahren Gegen Engelland. Suddenly came a flourish of martial music, and a hoarse voice cried: “Achtung! Achtung! Enemy planes are over northwest Germany!” Then the station went off the air.

¶ The pastel waltzes of the Strauss operetta Die Fledermaus† were interrupted to report: “Hostile aircraft have turned westward.” The operetta resumed with the aria, What Happiness to Forget What Cannot Be Changed.

Consequences. In one 24-hour period last week U.S. and R.A.F. commanders teamed up to launch more than 5,000 warplanes over Europe. Three massive assaults dropped a total bomb load of almost 7,000 tons on Berlin, Frankfort, Brunswick and other industrial targets. U.S. heavy bombers attacked on six of the seven days of the week. R.A.F. heavies dropped a record load of 3,360 tons on Frankfort; two nights later they dropped 2,800 tons on Berlin, then 2,240 tons on Essen.

The new German air strategy may preserve the Luftwaffe intact for the day of invasion. But if most of the time Allied bombers are to have a clear track to Berlin and other German cities, if they are able to continue dropping over 2,000 tons a day, Germany’s entire war industry will deteriorate rapidly.

Very likely Germany will not be knocked out of the war by such bombing. Certainly the real effect on the German war machine will not be felt for several weeks—until German reserves of equipment are depleted and replacements are progressively reduced. But when the process has gone far enough, it will strike like a paralyzing cramp in the muscles of the proud German Wehrmacht.

*A Stockholm report that Allied attackers were broadcasting their own warnings of the targets they were about to attack was apparently unfounded—perhaps German propaganda to make raiders think their operational plans are leaking out, and that they may fly into a Luftwaffe trap. † A last-season New York hit in an English version. Rosalinda.

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