LONDON -- Adolf Hitler sent Axis troops racing across the demarcation line into unoccupied France and French Corsica in an Armistice Day coup today and it was revealed that Nazi air troop transports and combat planes are pouring into Tunisia in Africa in a frantic race against American troops driving east from Algeria.
In blatant disregard of his pledges and commitments to France and over the feeble protest of Marshal Henri Philippe Petain, Hitler was launching a desperate bid to counter the American offensive in French Africa.
1. Nazi troops poured across the demarcation line at dawn.
2. Italian troops were believed landing in Corsica, off the Italian coast.
3. German air-borne troops and combat planes were revealed to be landing in Tunisia -- a troop movement which Allied headquarters revealed had been under way for some time.
4. American troops, speeding southeast from Algiers, were believed to be nearing the Tunisian frontier where they may clash for the first time with the Nazi army.
5. A dramatic tug-of-war was building up for the French fleet with the Allies appealing to French naval units to rush to Gibraltar and Hitler insisting that his move was designed to "protect" the French warships.
6. A French cabinet crisis of unparalleled magnitude appeared to be in the making with Chief of Government Pierre Laval apparently absent and possibly in consultation with Hitler and Benito Mussolini and Petain feebly protesting the Nazi moves.
Hitler, it was evident, was casting aside any further consideration for the Vichy government and making his decisions from a basis of plain military urgency.
With American troops rapidly mopping up French Africa and driving full tilt toward Tunisia, with his favorite general, Marshal Erwin Rommel falling back into Libya, beaten and battered, with the Allies on the verge of winning full control of the Western Mediterranean Hitler appeared to be striving desperately to build up some protection against Allied assault on the Axis Achilles heel -- the "soft underside of Europe" -- France's Mediterranean coast and the extended coastline of Italy.
Whether Hitler could get away from his full military occupation of France without touching off a massive uprising by French patriots was uncertain.
But every report from France indicated that the situation was tinder-tense. The Vichy government was appealing to the populace to remain calm, to refrain from listening to "false information." But there were indications that the Vichy government already was virtually adrift in a swirling sea of forces which were beyond its power to control.
From the military standpoint the dispatch of Nazi forces to Tunisia seemed more immediately important than the southward push of Nazi troops within France itself.
Tunisia is the immediate objective of the American Expeditionary Corps as soon as Algeria and Morocco are cleaned up.
Military sources believed that the Nazi vanguard in Tunisia probably has instructions to stand off the Americans until Rommel can either reorganize his broken Africa Korps for a new battle in Tripolitania or until the remnants of the once proud army can be evacuated.
However, it was doubted in Allied military quarters that Hitler would be able to pour enough troops into Tunisia for an extended stand due to the limitations of his available air and sea transport.
Of almost equal importance in the Nazi campaign was the fate of the French fleet.
Three French battleships, two or three squadrons of cruisers and many destroyers, submarines and smaller craft may be at Toulon through various reports have put them at sea. Since the start of the American offensive these units have been reported to have been standing by with steam up.
Hitler obviously hoped to seize these warships and prevent their disaffection to the Allied side -- a growing possibility due to the fact that Admiral Jean Francois Darlan, its commander who is being "entertained" by Americans at Algiers, may cast his lot with the Allies.
Actually, however, it was believed that the French fleet will be of little value to Hitler unless he can obtain at the same time the support of the men and officers who man it.
Hitler backed his move into unoccupied France with the assertion that Providence had appointed him to guide the destinies of the Reich and that he and his Allies were moving in to "defend" the French fleet against American and British aggression.
He lifted the armistice restrictions to allow the Vichy government to conscript Frenchmen for military duty and said the government could move back to Versailles if it wished.