Editorial – Closing In

19 December 1942

South Yorkshire Times – Saturday 19 December 1942

Closing In

The sudden melting away of what is left of the Afrika Korps from the reputedly formidable El Agheila position contains an element of surprise. If Rommel had no intention of making a fight for this heaven-sent bottle-neck in the path of the Eighth Army’s advance it is rather puzzling that he should have loitered there as he seems to have done. The news of the splitting of his rearguard lifts the veil a little, and possibly his actions were conditioned to an important degree by the supply position. If it had been found possible to get adequate reinforcements in material and men to him in time another story might have been told.

However, the R.A.F. and the Navy have taken such savage toll on the supply route between Italy and North Africa that it appears the Germans have had all their work cut out to rush sufficient fighting men and supplies into the Tunis-Bizerta area, and Rommel has had to go short. If General Montgomery had been at all rash in pressing against the El Agheila position things might have gone differently. It is not unlikely that Rommel hung back in the hope of a premature stroke which would have enabled him to inflict a sharp reverse on our tired and probably tenuous vanguard.

General Montgomery, however, gives every evidence of matching the wily Marshal In shrewdness and was not to be lured into this particular trap. Having secured an enormous advantage by his unprecedented success, in the Battle of Egypt, the British General clearly does not intend to forfeit a fraction of this superiority, or to jeopardise his dominant position, unless some i very palpable prize is at stake.

In neither of our two previous advances from Egypt did we ever get so far West as the Eighth Army now Is. There is, of course, a danger in this as well as a virtue. The pursuit of Rommel has already involved a journey of some seven hundred miles and the great proportion of this route is over scorched earth. It can be taken for granted that the Afrika /Corps would not only destroy supplies but wreck all facilities and these have to be made good and new bases set up from which the Eighth Army can be kept supplied.

From the point of view of distance from strategic objectives the advance of the First Army from the West offered the best likelihood of useful dividends, but it is clear now that Hitler has ordered and has made possible the most stubborn opposition in this field of operations. Having courageously pressed forward almost to within sight of its goal the First Army has been rebuffed by the more substantial forces which the Axis was able to get into position by reason of a much shorter supply route. Thus it is that our eyes are once more focussed on the Eighth Army, which has vast distances still to cover, but has the advantage of having its adversary on the run.

On both flanks of this great pincer movement problems of supply are immense, but they must be tackled with unyielding determination. Their final solution will come when First and Eighth Armies join hands, either trough or round the Tunisia-Tripoli coastal strip. With General Montgomery heading for Tripoli, the great squeeze is now on.