National Geographic : 1945 Jun
Americans Help Liberated Europe Live Again BY LT. COL. FREDERICK SIMPICH, JR., GSC, USA " D RATHER fight in Africa," said the Veteran of Tunisia as he surveyed a ruined French village. "There weren't so many civilians around to get in your hair." Much of the Allies' time and resources since liberation has been spent in keeping the civilians of Europe "out of their hair." For liberation and conquest, though glowing words, carry with them grave responsibilities in densely populated, highly civilized areas. Today, everybody in Europe wants some thing. Belgians want to go to France, and French men demand to get to Belgium. Paris wants wheat, Rennes wants transport for its wheat. Patriots want to shoot collaborationists, col laborationists want to prove they were patri ots. Thirsty Cherbourg wants pumps to get water. Flooded Walcheren wants pumps to get rid of it. Our Armies, too, have their demands-sup plies and services from the liberated people to support the military operations, and law and order to ensure security for our troops. From War to Peace To reconcile these conflicting needs, to bring order out of the chaos they generate is as much a part of the task of liberation and conquest as the battle proper. Thus the Allied Armies find themselves performing such di verse jobs as these: Dropping serum behind enemy lines, so that anthrax may be treated and cattle pre served against our coming. Giving hundreds of sorely needed trucks to Allied authorities so that they may haul food to hungry cities. Building jails with military labor and mate rials so that liberated governments can hold criminals for trial. Clearing filter plants and water systems of battle debris ranging from shell fragments to 30-ton tanks, so that civilians may have pure water. Running soup kitchens at Belgian mine shafts, so that undernourished labor can muster strength to dig coal for the European winter. These are only fragments of the job that is being done, but they suggest the pattern and the character of the work that is going on. In the liberated countries, which must be considered apart from Germany, the great problem is civilian supply. Shortages range from food and fuel in the cities to pit props in mining districts and bait for commercial fishermen along the coast. Primary cause of all these shortages rests in another fundamental shortage-transport. To illustrate: In 1939 France had 1,885,000 passenger automobiles; today she has about 65,000. Her prewar merchant fleet of 3,000,000 tons has shrunk to less than 1,000,000 tons, which is now pooled for Allied use. German requisi tions, Allied purchases, almost six years of depreciation, and extensive war damage ac count for the loss. Crippled thus, she cannot even move the fuel to run her few remaining trains, barges, and trucks. So the hopeless cycle begins-no transport for fuel, no fuel for transport. That is why food backs up in provincial ware houses, and then for lack of warehouse space lies unharvested in the fields. And that is why hunger is an ever-present threat in the midst of plenty.* Tire factories whose production is an urgent Allied requirement are idle because there isn't transport to bring them fuel. Textile mills and sugar-beet processors have raw mate rials at hand, but are equally idle because there isn't transport to carry their products to centers of distribution. Well, what are we doing about it? There are two approaches to the problem. One is on a national basis, the beginning of long-range rehabilitation. The other is in day-to-day, "on the ground" emergency measures. To do much on a continent-wide, long-term basis has been out of the question so long as German resistance continued up front. Every ton of ship space devoted to civilian supplies is that much less ammunition for the rationed guns on the battle line. Every truck turned over to the liberated governments means equivalent reduction in the supply of a com bat division in Germany. U. S. Army Runs Railroad Trains Notwithstanding, at this writing we have given the French over a thousand trucks, have many .more backed up in England wait ing an opportunity for shipment, and have given the Belgian, Netherlands, and Luxem bourg Governments numbers proportionate to their populations. Special trains pulled by Army railroad engines run regular services * See "Paris Freed," by Frederick Simpich, Jr., in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1945.