Meeting the Fox
only by heroic convoys fighting their way through a gauntlet of bombers and submarines.
Samuel Elliot Morison, the preeminent naval historian of World War II, thumbed back through his books to find a parallel for such an operation. He considered the landing in Turkey’s Dardanelles by British, Australian, and New Zealand forces in World War I; the Japanese landing at Port Arthur in 1904; the American landing at Santiago de Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898; and the Japanese land- ings on Pacific islands earlier in World War II. The first was a dismal failure. The others were successful, but all were launched from bases reasonably close to the target. None of them involved moving an army across 4,000 miles of open ocean for a night landing that, the planners had to assume, would be vigorously resisted.
Morison finally found a naval operation whose audacity matched the invasion of North Africa: the Athenian attack on Syracuse, in Sicily, in 415 B.C.E. He uncovered as well an ominous quotation from one Nicias. Although bitterly op- posed to the expedition, he was charged with leading it. Be- fore departing, he warned:
We must not disguise from ourselves that we go to found a city among strangers and enemies, and that he who under- takes such an enterprise should be prepared to become master of the country the first day he lands, or failing in this to find everything hostile to him.
Nicias did not become master of the country the first day he landed and, indeed, did find everything hostile to him. After two years of warfare, his fleet was sunk and his army destroyed while trying to flee from the outskirts of Syracuse. He surrendered and was executed.
Thucydides, the historian of the Peloponnesian War, ended his account of the Syracuse adventure with this dis- mal summary:
They were beaten at all points and altogether; all that they suffered was great; they were destroyed, as the saying is, with a total destruction, their fleet, their army—everything was destroyed, and few out of many returned home.