This is another in a series of reprints of past Ernie Pyle columns about
American troops. Ernie is on leave.
ALGERIA, JANUARY, 1943: Men who bring our convoys from America, some of whom have
just recently arrived tell me the people at home don't have a correct impression
of things over here.
Merchant Marine officers who have been here a couple of days are astonished by
the difference between what they thought the situation was and what it actually
is. They say people at home think the North African campaign is a walkaway and
will be over quickly; that our losses have been practically nil; that the French
here love us to death, and that all German influence has been cleaned out.
If you think that, it is because we newspapermen here have failed at getting the
finer points over to you.
Because this campaign at first was as much diplomatic as military the powers that
be didn't permit our itchy typewriter fingers to delve into things
internationally, which were ticklish enough without that. I believe
misconceptions at home must have grown out of some missing part of the picture.
It would be very bad for another wave of extreme optimism to sweep over the
United States. So maybe I can explain a little bit about why things over here,
though all right for the long run, are not all strawberries and cream right now.
lN TUNISIA, for instance, we seem to be stalemated for the moment. The reasons
are two. Our Army is a green army, and most of our Tunisian troops are in actual
battle for the first time against seasoned troops and commanders. It will take us
months of fighting to gain the experience our enemies start with.
In the second place, nobody knew exactly how much resistance the French would put
up here, so we had to be set for full resistance. That meant, when the French
capitulatd in three days, we had to move eastward at once, or leave the Germans
unhampered to build a big force in Tunisia.
So we moved several hundred miles and, with the British, began fighting. But we
simply didn't have enough stuff on hand to knock the Germans out instantly.
Nobody is to blame for this. I think our Army is doing wonderfully ‹ both in
fighting with what we have and in getting more here ‹ but we are fighting an army
as tough in spirit as ours, vastly more experienced, and more easily supplied.
So you must expect to wait a while before Tunisia is cleared and Rommel jumps
into the sea.
OUR LOSSES IN MEN so far are not appalling by any means, but we are losing men.
The other day an American ship brought the first newspaper from home I had seen
since the occupation, and it said only 12 men were lost in taking Oran.
The losses, in fact, were not great, but they were a good many twelves times 12.
Most of our convalescent wounded have been sent to England. Some newly arrived
American feel that, if more of the wounded were sent home it would put new grim
vigor into the America people. We aren't the sort of people from whom wounded men
have to be concealed.
THE BIGGEST PUZZLE to us who are on the scene is our policy of dealing with Axis
agents and sympathizers in North Africa. We have taken into custody only the most
out-and-out Axis agents, such as the German armistice missions and a few others.
That done, we have turned the authority of arrest back to the French.
The procedure is that we investigate, and they arrest. As it winds up, we
Our policy is still appeasement. It seems from what might be called the national
hodgepodge of French emotions. Frenchmen today think and feel in lots of
different directions. We moved softly at first, in order to capture as many
French hearts as French square miles. Now that phase is over. We are here in full
swing. We occupy countries and pretend not to. We are tender in order to avoid
offending our friends, the French, in line with the policy of interfering as
little as possibIe with French municipal life.
WE HAVE LEFT in office most of the small-fry officials put there by the Germans
before we came. We are permitting Fascist societies to continue to exist. Actual
sniping has been stopped, but there is still sabotage.
The loyal French see this and wonder what manner of people we are. They are used
to force, and expect us to use it against the common enemy which includes the
French Nazis. Our enemies see it, laugh, and call us soft.
Both sides are puzzled by a country at war which lets enemies run loose to work
THERE ARE AN astonishing number of Axis sympathizers among the French in North
Africa. Not a majority, of course, but more than you would imagine. This in
itself is a great puzzle to me. I can't fathom the thought processes of a
Frenchman who prefers German victory and perpetual domination rather than a
temporary occupation resulting in eventual French freedom.
But there are such people and they are hindering us, and we over here think you
folks at home should know three things:
That the going will be tough and probably long before we have cleaned up Africa
and are ready to move to bigger fronts. That the French are fundamentally behind
us, but that a strange, illegal stratum is against us. And that our fundamental
policy still is one of soft-glowing snakes in our midst.