THE U. S. Army, Jack Crane knew, was divided into three different branches.
There were the Army Ground Forces the fighting men like those he had seen in battle in the Philippines and New Guinea. There were the Army Air Forces the fliers and ground crews he had watched with admiration at Guadalcanal, in Australia and over Europe.
Lastly, there were the Army Service Forces the men who kept the other two branches supplied with food, weapons and all their other needs.
The work of the Army Service Forces was only seldom spectacular. They made few headlines. Yet, without them (Jack Crane often thought), the other two branches would be powerless. The fighting fronts would break down.
Crane had never looked closely at problems of logistics (as the science of supply is called). That is why he became interested in the story of Colonel Gene Casey, who worked in North Africa.
* * *
When Crane arrived in Africa from London, he was surprised to find how quickly life had settled down behind the lines after the American invasion.
For a few hours last November the port where Crane landed had been a battleground. Obeying Axis orders, French troops had fired on American soldiers and ships. Men on both sides had been killed.
That fighting seemed very long ago to anyone who now saw the port for the first time. The streets today were crowded with American soldiers, sailors and merchant seamen. There was in the town a bustle of constant activity as Americans and Frenchmen vied with each other to work against the Axis.
Instead of being a battle zone, the port was now an active supply base. Across its docks, through its streets and over its railroads moved a constant stream of supplies for the men in the front lines in Tunisia.
Jack Crane knew that the way our Army was handling its supply problems had already stirred the admiration of our allies and the envy of our enemies. He talked one evening to a French officer who told him: "We find it altogether astonishing, your American talent for organization.
"Most wonderful of all," went on the Frenchman, "is the work of the American colonel, Casey. You must see what he has done. His place was shown only yesterday to my fellow-officers of the French staff."
Gene Casey, so Crane found out, was a red-headed Irish engineer who had once bossed the export division of a big Detroit automobile corporation. Because of his experience, the Army Service Forces made him a colonel. Then they put him in charge of truck and auto supplies at this port in North Africa.
A NEW IDEA IN SUPPLIES
Colonel Casey was a man with a big idea. His idea was something new in the Army; yet Casey had made it work.
The next day, Crane went out to look. It was no wonder the French officers were amazed. Crane himself could hardly believe his eyes.
There, spread out before him (in what had once been a patch of African desert) was a complete automobile assembly plant!
At one place Crane could see where cases of half-completed autos, trucks and half-tracs arrived at the plant from American factories 4,000 miles away. In the distance, at another gate, there emerged the fully-completed equipment, ready to be driven away to the battle front.
To solve his supply problem, Colonel Casey had brought equipment for a whole factory to the base. No Army had ever done it before.
Most of the factory was out in the open air. Here and there, parts of it were roofed over, however. Colonel Casey's men, wasting nothing, had built rough sheds from the crates in which their material had been shipped from America.
Crane was allowed to walk through the factory, accompanied by an American officer. He talked to some of the workers there. They were Frenchmen, Americans, African natives. There were even some prisoners of war from Italy.
Jack Crane talked with one of these Italians. Until a few months ago he had been a mechanic in the Fiat aircraft works in Turin, northern Italy.
"They took me in the Army," the Italian prisoner told Crane, "when the Nazis demanded more engineers to service their planes in Africa. Fifty of us from my shop were sent to Tunisia and attached to Marshal Rommel's air force.
THE ITALIAN WASN'T DECEIVED
"The Germans told us the American army had no chance. They said that American equipment was no good and that most of it, anyhow, was being sunk by German submarines.
"But I have a brother in America. I knew the Germans were not telling the truth.
"My brother often told me, before the war, what American factories can do. In his plant in Detroit, I knew, they used to produce more cars in a day than our biggest Italian factory could build in a month.
"I was sure the American production figures, that we heard on the radio, were not imagination (as the Nazis pretended they were). I knew that American shipyards could produce ships by the score. Even if some were, sunk by U-boats, enough would still get through to give your Army many times the supplies the Axis could muster.
"Now, in this factory, I see I was right. I am happy about it, for I do not want the Germans to win.
"You see," the Italian said, "I have found out something since I was captured. I have found that my brother was right when he spoke of the freedom enjoyed in America.
"I am a prisoner here, but I know I am working now on the side of liberty. In Italy, I was not called a prisoner. But there is no freedom anywhere under the Axis. A man who works for them is working to make prisoners of the whole world."
NEXT WEEK: JACK CRANE SPOTS BOMB HITS WITH AN AIR FORCE CAMERAMAN.