With Our Armies Today

By Maj.-General Sir Charles Gwynn K.C.B., D.S.O.
The War Illustrated, Volume 9, No. 210, Page 131, July 6, 1945.

It may seem to many that the task of establishing order in the chaos created by the surrender of the German armies and the liberation of millions of prisoners of war and slave labourers is proceeding slowly. It is, of course, impossible from a distance to realize fully the complexities of the task or the necessity of some of the expedients that have been adopted. We are apt to give undue weight to views expressed by those who, on the spot, have strictly limited interests and few opportunities of becoming acquainted with all the aspects of the problem involved.

Yet it does not require much exercise of the imagination to realize the number of problems that have to be dealt with and their scale, and in forming our opinions I suggest that it is better to rely on our common sense than individual criticism.

There is one point especially which excites general interest, that is the attitude that should be adopted by the Armies of Occupation towards the German people. We all, I think, agree that while operations were in progress and in the early days after the German surrender, strict orders forbidding fraternization were necessary, not only to prevent leakage of information and to maintain the vigilance of the troops but also to impress on the German people that they cannot escape their responsibility for the war and for atrocities committed. There is no doubt, however that as the Armies of Occupation settle down these orders will become increasingly irksome to the troops to a degree that would almost certainly lead to their evasion. That, of course, would be exceedingly bad for discipline.

I feel sure, therefore, that in due course the orders will be modified or cancelled, and will perhaps be replaced by advice and instructions in general terms as to the attitude the troops should adopt and with which they will be expected to comply for the credit of their respective units. It is often better and easier to establish a tradition of behaviour than to attempt to enforce rigorous orders which are easy to evade. Many regimental and Army traditions are based on well-recognized rules of conduct rather than on orders. Certain things are “done” or “not done”.

General Eisenhower's relaxation of orders in respect to children is clearly a concession to the uncontrollable instincts of his men, and Field-Marshal Montgomery's broadcast to the German people also explains to his troops the reasons for the attitude he has ordered them to adopt. Once those reasons are clearly grasped much, I think, may be left to the good sense of the men themselves. In the first instance, however, it could hardly be left to the individual judgement of the men to define “fraternization”or to decide on a standard of behaviour.

Brunei Bay a Base for Tighter Grip on Jap Sea Communications

The very successful landing of Australian troops in British North Borneo is an interesting development. Once again it has been proved that Australia not only still produces fighting men of outstanding quality but also possesses generals of exceptional ability. Lieut.-Gen. Sir Leslie Morshead, who has conducted the operations in Borneo, is a notable example. In the last war he served with great distinction as a regimental officer, and in this war his defence of Tobruk will never be forgotten. Since then he has shown time and again equal skill in offensive operations under most difficult conditions.

Clearly, Brunei Bay will provide a valuable base from which to exercise a tighter stranglehold on Japanese sea communications in the East Indies. It brings the Indo-China coast and the eastern entrance to the Straits of Malacca within comparatively close range for air and naval operations. It may also provide a stepping-stone for the acquisition of bases still nearer to Singapore. I do not think, however, that the landing implies any immediate intention of recovering the whole of Borneo, for it is evident that the Allies are still engaged in the battle for bases prior to launching their main offensive. The strategic purpose of the Brunei operation is easier to see than that on Tarakan.

Both deprive the Japanese of valuable sources of oil supply, and both give a tighter control over sea communications, but Brunei much more clearly suggests a stepping-stone operation. It is possible that Tarakan may have been intended to some degree to be a diversionary operation or a preliminary one to deprive the enemy of airfields from which he could attack shipping at Brunei. It will be interesting to see whether the Japanese possess in the East Indies an air force of effective strength. At Okinawa, from their bases in Japan and Formosa, they have been able to make formidable attacks on American shipping, but it seems improbable that in the East Indies they will have sufficient resources to exploit similar tactics.

The comparative ease with which the landings at Tarakan and Brunei have been effected prove conclusively, though it might have been expected, that the Japanese garrisons in the islands, large as their total strength probably is, are quite inadequate to protect the immense length of coastline. No doubt local garrisons may be able to withdraw into the interior or to offer prolonged resistance in positions favourable to defence, but that can have little effect on the strategic development of the Allied campaign. The decisive factor is that the Japanese by losing control of sea communications have lost strategic mobility, whereas the Allies, as they develop new bases, steadily acquire it over a constantly widening area. However successfully Allied strategy develops, it is certain that at the more vital centres there will be tactical operations demanding great sacrifices; unless, as seems improbable, the Japanese Government agrees to surrender and its outlying forces obey orders to lay down their arms.

In the case of Japan herself it is obviously inconceivable that if she was determined to prolong a fanatical struggle we should embark on a war of extermination such as is in progress on Okinawa. We should presumably be content to capture and occupy points which would render her impotent.

Problems of Japanese Outlying Detachments in Cut-Off Islands

The policy to be adopted as regards her outlying detachments may, however, involve more difficult decisions. Large areas will have to be recovered and native populations liberated. On small islands of strategic importance extermination may be necessary even at heavy cost; but in the larger islands that might prove an interminable process involving prohibitive exertions, even if carried out piecemeal.

Assuming, as seems possible, that there will be no formal surrender or withdrawal of troops we may be compelled to suspend military operations except in as far as they might be necessary to re-establish control over the greater part of the territories involved, and to accept the existence of colonies of Japanese in certain areas which might eventually be assimilated. Such colonies might for a period be capable of defending small areas, but without means of communication or contacts with their home islands they could not exercise control outside them, because for defence they would be compelled to concentrate. No doubt a considerable mixed population would develop, but the numbers or pure-blooded Japanese would be bound to decrease. Apart from the cost involved, the danger of continuing active operations beyond what was necessary for recovery of control would be that the Japanese remnants might become bandits, preying on the country, rather than recognized colonists.

It is quite clear that Japan realizes the danger she is in and that she would be prepared to make peace on face-saving terms, but though I am optimistic enough to believe that she may eventually accept unconditional surrender, that cannot be counted on implicitly. Japanese fanaticism is of a different order from German fanaticism, and there are many military and other factors which make it unsafe to count too confidently on the complete abandonment of a suicidal policy. It is well, therefore, that we should be prepared for such a possibility and to form a clear idea of our commitments and essential and practicable aims.