Friday, April 11, 2014

1965. Escalation of the Vietnam War

The Great Powers and Vietnam


March 25, 1965

For the past 24 hours, some so-called Washington official sources have been dismissing Communist Chinese and Soviet Russia warnings of intervention in the Viet Nam war as "they're bluffing."

At an extra-ordinary cabinet meeting at the White House this afternoon, President Johnson corrected that horse-back assessment with a re-statement of America's goals in Southeast Asia. Bluffing or not, Mr. Johnson was telling Moscow and Peiping that they would be wise to avoid a big-power showdown in Southeast Asia.

The fact is, our diplomatic and intelligence experts on the Far East dismiss no pronouncements from the two Communist capitals without  serious and prolonged checking and study...and that's what is going on now. Red China's statement was made through Peiping's official party journal, pledging Chinese manpower to aid the Viet Cong guerrillas if the Vietnamese people want them. It's to be noted that Red China's pledge was not directed to Ho Chi Minh's regime at Hanoi, but to what Peiping called the South Viet Nam Liberation Front.

After our experience in Korea some 15 years ago, no responsible US official is downgrading such a declaration.

The same serious study is being given to Moscow's implied threat to send Russian volunteers to Viet Nam made by Party Secretary Brezhnev the day before yesterday. The USSR already has agreed to supply Hanoi with modern weapons, including Russian anti-aircraft missiles and fighter planes. That was a month ago...thus far the promised weapons have not shown up.

The peculiar thing about these parallel gestures of aid to the Viet Cong is that Moscow and Peiping did not join in bilateral comradeship to come to the aid of an embattled Communist ally. The Red Chinese are still berating the Kremlin for mistreating Chinese student demonstrators who attempted to storm the US embassy in Moscow. However, this does not lessen the possibility that one or both of the disputing Communist giants might attempt to aid Hanoi. Both Moscow and Peiping want to guarantee their continued influence in North Viet Nam. Any inter-Communist contest in arms-supply to the Viet Cong would certainly make the military crisis there even more dangerous.

Geography and manpower combine to make the Chinese Communists the greater immediate threat to the U.S. presence in Southeast Asia. However, despite this, the United States had decided to press its aerial offensive in both North and South Viet Nam. It entails the carefully controlled use of military force to bring about a political decision--namely, to convince the Communist commanders in Hanoi to call off their dogs.

This policy entails the risk of war with Red China admittedly. Peiping knows this, through our repeated warnings that--unlike Korea--any Communist planes attacking our forces will be permitted no sanctuary...not in North Viet Nam nor even in Red Chinese territory.

In the past, Washington diplomats have pointed out that Mao Tse Tung and company have been very circumspect in their conduct of Red China's foreign policy. They point out that Peiping gave early warning of Chinese intervention in Korea if UN troops threatened her Yalu River border--a warning that was ignored. Now the Chinese have produced another warning. But this time they also have been warned in advance of what their intervention entails.

For 15 years since the Korean truce agreement, the Chinese Communists have refused to challenge the United States in the Formosa Straits...not one Peiping plane has flown over the island of Taiwan, even though it's widely known as a base for U-2 reconnaissance flights over the Chinese mainland. Although the Peiping government succeeded in detonating its first atomic explosion some five months ago, the Red Chinese are in no position to challenge America's nuclear might.

In other words, US strategists do not regard Mao and Chou En Lai as madmen willing to risk the destruction of their hand-made, Oriental revolution...or the atomizing of their ancient motherland.

President Johnson's was a personal...if indirect...appeal for a negotiated settlement of the Viet Nam conflict this afternoon. It remains now to see if Peiping, Hanoi or Moscow want to pick up the bid and play for a diplomatic solution...or continue the deadly game of war.

This is Bill Downs, substituting for Edward P. Morgan, saying good night from Washington.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

1944-1945. Dispatches From the Western Front

The Liberation of France and the Fall of Nazi Germany

These are transcripts of dispatches made by Bill Downs from the Western Front. The accounts are from the 1946 collection BBC War Report: A Record of Dispatches Broadcast by the BBC's War Correspondents With the Allied Expeditionary Force, 6 June 1944 - 5 May 1945.

The flag of the Free French Forces, with the Cross of Lorraine at its center

p. 142-143.

While the battle raged through the city, the civil population sheltered in churches, schools, anywhere that offered a chance of survival. The moment it was moderately safe to come into the open, the people of Caen emerged from their shelter to welcome the British troops and to celebrate the liberation of their city:

10 and 11 July 1944.

"Caen has suffered terrible things in this last month, yet the reception which its citizens have given to us has been moving in the extreme. Not a word of reproach; not a word of self-pity. This morning the war was still very near at hand. German aircraft kept appearing overhead: German airburst shells were exploding just above the roofs; occasional mortar shells were bursting in the streets. Yet the people of Caen were out, picking their way through the rubble, smiling at us, waving to us, embracing us, giving us flowers, and time and time again I saw it--weeping for sheer joy. There is no hysterical demonstration: the feelings of these people were far too deep for that; but there was a tremendous conviction and sincerity in their welcome.

"As we went down the roads, crowds gathered round us. They spoke of the savagery of the S.S. troops in the last few days of the German occupation: of their wholesale looting; of the shooting of French civilians who were political prisoners in the jails; of the wanton burning by the Germans of the gendarmerie, of the theatre, and of many private houses and shops into which enemy troops had tossed hand grenades as they left Caen. One man spoke most glowingly of the bravery of a British colonel who led the entry into Caen: bullets were spraying all round him, but still he held himself erect and walked forward--this man said of the colonel: 'My wife screamed: she was sure he'd been killed. But not a bullet hit him. Ah, he was a brave man--a hero.'

"In a small courtyard outside a church the people were already preparing for a ceremony and the raising of the Tricolour over the liberated country. The ridged French Army helmets appeared from nowhere. One man even had on a creased uniform of the regular army. It was rumpled from long hiding in the closet. And every other person wore the Cross of Lorraine. But strangest sight of all was that the men wearing helmets also carried arms. Some had the long rifles of the French Army; some had German rifles; one or two even had some British Sten guns which they had bargained from the liberating troops. They were ready to resume the war where it left off in 1940. Most of them were in tattered civilian clothing, but they weren't waiting to be dressed up to fight the Boche. And this motley group of soldiers representing the resurrection of Fighting France formed a proud colour-guard for the French Flag, virtually under the muzzles of the German guns. British, Canadian, and American officials appeared. They were the military and civilian authorities come in to administer the city. A squad of British soldiers snapped to attention. Everyone in the crowd took off their hats; the mayor of the town, wearing a French helmet and a badge bearing the Cross of Lorraine, gave the command and the Tricolour was raised. It was quiet for a moment for there was not even a sound of gunfire; then the people began to applaud and shout again and again: Vive la France!"


From Wikipedia: "M4 and M4A3 Sherman tanks and infantrymen of the US 4th Armored Division in Coutances."
p. 157- 158.

In the last days of July a great Russian drive in the East carried Red Army troops into Białystok, Stanislavov, Dvinsk, Rezhitsa, Šiauliai, and Lvov, while the fall of Brest-Litovsk was imminent. Simultaneously the Americans launched a full-scale attack on the west coast towards Coutances and Avranches. The dreaded "war on two fronts"--or, more strictly, on three fronts--was now an active reality, straining German resources everywhere:

29 July 1944.

"At this moment Field-Marshal Rommel is a victim of the old army game--a game in which the Allied forces in Normandy have again called the tune. The American break-through on the western sector of their Normandy front has completed a series of bluffs and counter-bluffs made by the Allied Command, and is now finding its pay-off by the successes of the U.S. Army forces south of the Cherbourg peninsula. The way the Allies have played this game is an interesting study of military strategy. After the fall of Cherbourg the German Command deduced incorrectly that there would be a lot of consolidation and regroupment on the American sector before there could be any further action there. So Rommel concluded that the next move would be an attack on the British sector to the east. He obviously figured that the next Allied move would be a drive for Paris. So he committed some seven divisions around the British and Canadian sector, leaving less concentrated forces more thinly spread along the line of the American sector. When this became clear, the Allies decided that the German Command should go on thinking like this. So the British and Canadians staged a series of sharp, heavy attacks between Caen and Tilly that gained the British bridge-head across the River Odon. This was followed by the attack on Caen itself, which resulted in the capture of the northern half of the town. And then there was the big air blitz down the eastern side of the Orne River, which ended in the complete capture of Caen, and the establishment of a comfortable bridge-head around the city.

"By the time these attacks had finished, more German forces were concentrated on this eastern sector. Then General Bradley made his big move five days ago. And now Rommel is in the position of a poker player who has put so much money into the pot that he cannot afford to drop out of the game. And he has to play it the way the Allied Command wants it to be played."


The Vire Valley (Source)
p. 162-163.

[likely during Operation Bluecoat]

Around Vire British and American Forces worked closely together as they advanced, and it sometimes happened that the two armies overlapped:

5 August 1944.

"For example, the other day a British armoured unit was ordered to occupy a wood. It so happened that the Americans also were told to occupy a wood. Over one of the British tank's radios the headquarters asked the British tank commander what he had found in the wood. 'Millions of Americans,' the tank commander replied. Headquarters then said, 'We have learned that German tanks also have been ordered to occupy that wood.' The British commander was silent for a minute, and then said, 'Sorry, there won't be any room here for them!'"


Source: "Soldiers of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada aboard a Kangaroo armored personnel carrier converted from a Ram tank, Europe, 11 Apr 1945"
p. 171-172.

Secure along the banks of the Loire the Americans now wheeled to the north, captured Alençon, and pushed ahead to Argentan in a wide encircling movement designed to gather up the remaining German forces in Normandy. Simultaneously the First Canadian Army fought its way down the Falaise road from Caen to narrow the Germans' escape gap. The Canadian assault, made in darkness, was preceded by a heavy bombing attack:

8 August 1944.

"I watched the tons of bombs plunge into their targets last night; strange flashes lit the sky, the effect was weird and terrible, with a three-quarter moon rising over the Orne Valley shining blood red through the haze, and the dust, and the smoke. The concussion of the bombs pressed my clothing against my body, even though I was several miles away, and the ground trembled under my feet. It is a difficult operation, this fighting in the dark; units get confused, lost, and mixed up, so there were other special methods devised to guide the infantry and the heavy tanks forward in the dark. The infantry were given heavy armoured carriers which had been specially converted for them so they could ride forward with the first wave of tanks. These carriers gave them maximum protection against light enemy fire, and against shell and mortar bursts. To guide the ground forces forward the Canadians employed the old trick which the British used at the Battle of Alamein: lines of tracer bullets were shot over their heads, stretching out like rows of electric light bulbs sailing slowly in the air. The tanks and the infantry and their armoured carriers moved forward while the bombing was still on, the lines of tracer bullets (there were more than half a dozen columns of them) floated over the battlefield looking like a roman candle display, and all around hundreds of guns seemed to grab the atmosphere and shake it, and bounce it, and tear it to shreds."


From Wikipedia: "Polish self-propelled anti-aircraft guns of the 10th Mounted Rifle Regiment near Caen at the beginning of the Falaise operation."
p. 181-182.

It was victory, such as we had scarcely dared to imagine--victory over the mighty German army, fighting on ground of its own choosing and led by a brilliant general. Here was an exact measure of comparative strength: if the Germans were unable to check the Allies on the short line between Caen and Avranches they could hardly hope to make an effective stand west of the Siegfried Line--perhaps not there even. In the intoxication of a great success, it seemed as if the final collapse of Germany might be very near; but, to the men who pursued towards the Seine, war was still just war--war against mines and booby-traps and rearguard actions, war against the elaborate technique of retreat in which the Germans had proved themselves to be adepts:

21 August 1944.

"You have to move a little faster, the convoys are more crowded, and you spend a lot more time looking at the back end of the truck ahead of you, and you don't spend more than a night or two in the same slit trench--you move forward all the time. You eat a lot of cold rations because you're on the move and when you bump into the enemy rearguard the fighting is just as bitter as it was before. And when you take the Nazi-held position you find that there haven't been many Germans because the enemy has retreated, and there isn't much booty and not many prisoners--yet. But there are mines, hundreds of them. They lie in the roads, and sometimes there is a string of six of them down a road. You set one off and the whole road goes up for ten yards ahead and behind you. And there are plenty of the S mines--the nasty anti-personnel type that jumps into the air before it explodes and then hurls bits of steel and ball bearings to kill or wound anything living within a hundred feet radius. You have to be mighty careful where you step. And then there are the booby-traps. Maybe you see a bottle of wine lying beside a bombed building, but you don't touch it. And maybe there is a tempting apple-tree beside the road--the apples are just getting big enough to eat, but you leave that tree alone too because it might blow up in your face if you pulled a branch down. There are plenty of snipers, but you've learned to pay not much attention to them anymore, for if someone gets it from a sniper a detachment is sent out to clean him out and the advance continues.

"This might be the big retreat of the defeated German Seventh Army, but it's still just war to the man with the job of pushing the Nazis back. And the German kills just as effectively when he retreats as when he advances."


Source: "British paratroopers in Arnhem with a German prisoner…before it all went wrong. Sept 18, 1944."

p. 348-349.

An American correspondent, pursuing the British spearheads, caught up with them as the attack on Osnabrück was being launched:

5 April 1945.

"You jeep and jeep until you feel your kidneys are jarred loose from their brackets and you pass through one undamaged village after another, punctuated occasionally by a complete mess of a town that happened to be a railroad junction, or which was unfortunate enough to offer resistance to our advance. Then, as you get closer to the front, you notice the soldiers sitting cheerfully in the convoys, or a lot of horseplay in the fields, for everyone is in high spirits these days. You pass the convoys and the tanks and the guns, and you keep a weather eye out for headquarters. But somehow you miss it; but you keep on driving anyway. Occasionally in the distance your own artillery may let loose a barrage to remind you that there is still fighting ahead. But no one pays attention, including the civilians of this particularly unspoiled bit of Germany. The people smile, and sometimes wave, and the girls mostly just smile. It's hard not to pay any attention to that--ask any soldier.

"You drive on, stopped occasionally by a road jam. It's April, and the spring showers seem to dampen no one's spirits. Then you drive over a hill a mile or so from Osnabruck. More serious-looking soldiers are sitting on tanks, with bayoneted rifles. The sun happens to be shining, and you see one of them asleep. Suddenly, from beyond an ineffective German road-block not fifty feet away, an unholy splutter of machine-gun fire gushes out towards a factory building sitting in the valley. Then the tanks' heavy gun barks with a ferocity that echoes through the forest. Then it's quiet, and you wait for the enemy's return fire. But there is none.

"A British paratrooper lieutenant walks up to the tank with his men sitting atop it. He yawns, and stretches. 'You chaps get ready,' he says, 'We'll be moving up pretty soon.' But he did say it with an air of a man with spring fever, who didn't care when, if ever. As I left, the column started rolling into the town.

"Apparently the British do this sort of thing with that careless unconcerned air all the time."


Downs broadcasting from Lüneburg on V-E Day, May 8, 1945.

p. 361-363.

Between the armoured spearheads and the occupying forces there was often a nebulous military situation in which anything might happen. There were groups of Germans making suicidal ambushes, and others only too anxious to surrender: there were liberated slave-workers intent on loot of revenge, or hurrying westward on the journey home: there were German civilians seeking to have their towns and villages occupied quickly while they were still intact. To drive unarmed through this country was an experience by turns eerie and comic:

20 April 1945.

"We drove down an empty road, uncomfortably empty, with no sign of anyone on it. We reached the crossroads, when suddenly out of the woods appeared eight Germans; it was a frightening sight, particularly when I remembered that the only gun we had was the driver's Sten gun, and it was buried under our raincoats, and the bullet clip was somewhere in a corner of the jeep. However, these were very tame Germans, they all had their hands up. We stopped, searched them, and rigged up a white flag for them and told them to march on down the road and somebody would pick them up. That took care of the first eight.

"Sergeant Arthur joined our party. We drove on down a side road, and there we ran on to five more German soldiers, who were waving a white flag. Again we told them which way to go, but this group were more frightened and one of them asked 'What do we say when we want to surrender later?' Sergeant Arthur had the answer, and he wrote the words down on a piece of paper. As the prisoners walked off they were practising the phrase 'We have had it.' It's a British expression used to denote the completion of anything. As the prisoners walked off, the five of them were muttering 'Vee hev had it.'

"About that time, another young American flyer rode by on a motorcycle. He also was an ex-prisoner getting himself some food and fresh air for the first time in months. 'There's a town down the road that's just begging to be taken, why don't you go down and have a look?' Then about that time he spotted a chicken running across the road and that was the last we saw of him.

"We took two British boys back to the camp; there I told the story of two BBC engineers who had been with me making recordings at the camps. They were all for taking the town. Again there was kilometre after kilometre of distressingly empty road, but it seemed like a good day for conquering and no one worried particularly. Finally we reached the cross-roads village of Hohne just west of the town of Burgen. I knew the traditional way to capture a place and maybe stick a sword in the ground, and proclaim the place was ours, but I had no sword, and besides, it was a beautifully hard road, and no sword would stick in it anyway. But Sergeant Tinker knew what to do--he went in search of eggs--fresh eggs, and meanwhile, Sergeant Arthur got interested in the farm across the road. There was a big German Army car--with a white flag flying from it. We went into this farmyard to find out what it was all about and to our surprise up stepped one of the most magnificent German officers I've ever seen, complete with Iron Cross and a number of other decorations. My first-year college German was still intact enough to understand that he wanted to surrender--he had his belongings all packed including a pair of ski shoes--what he wanted with ski shoes I was never able to find out. He turned over his pistol and said that we could drive him back to captivity in his own car. Then the German colonel said that he'd like very much if we would take his entire battery prisoner. He was the commander of a battery of 88-mm. combination anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. We decided against capturing the gun battery for we were not sure that a battery of 88's would appreciate being captured by just one Sten gun, no matter what the colonel said, but we took the colonel up on his offer to use his car. Sergeant Arthur drove the car--Sergeant Tinker reappeared with a cap full of eggs. The colonel climbed in and we made up a convoy--my jeep in front--the colonel's car in the middle with two sergeants, and the BBC truck with the two unarmed engineers bringing up the rear."


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

1944. The Battle of Arnhem

The Nijmegen Bridge

The capture of the Nijmegen bridge in the town of Nijmegen in the Netherlands was a part of the Battle of Arnhem, which was itself a part of Operation Market Garden. Nijmegen was a major juncture in Field Marshall Montgomery's advance to the Rhine. The battle is known for its brutality; below Bill Downs describes what he saw take place.

From BBC War Report: A Record of Dispatches Broadcast by the BBC's War Correspondents With the Allied Expeditionary Force, 6 June 1944 - 5 May 1945, p. 238-243.

(The airborne landings had been heavily opposed, and General Dempsey's tanks were having a hard time of it through marshy country which kept our columns from deploying off the road to outflank German strong-points. Nevertheless the airborne men were fighting on grimly, and on September 20th the British Second Army reached Nijmegen. The bridge was intact. So far the plan had succeeded, in spite of heavier fighting than had been hoped for, and the inability of the airborne troops to seize the bridge before the British tanks arrived):

24 September 1944.
"American airborne patrols reached the area at the southern end of the bridge on Sunday night, September 17th, shortly after they landed, but at that time they were not in enough strength to do anything about it. On Monday the paratroops and glider forces were too busy beating off the German counter-attacks to coordinate an assault on the bridge. By this time the armour of the British Second Army was on its way northwards from the Escaut Canal. Then on Tuesday the British tanks arrived on the outskirts of Nijmegen and an attack was commenced, but still the Germans held on strongly in the fortification and houses on the south end of the bridge. American airborne infantry and British tanks were only 300 yards from the bridge in the streets of Nijmegen, but they couldn't get to it.

"Tuesday night was the strangest. The American troops took machine guns to the top of the houses and sprayed the approaches and the entrance to the bridges with bullets. All night they shot at anything that moved. Perhaps it was this constant fire that kept the Germans from blowing the bridge then. But still the shuddering blast that would signal the end of the bridge did not come. And when morning arrived a new plan was devised. It was dangerous and daring and risky. The commanders who laid it out knew this; and the men who were to carry it out knew it too. Thinking a frontal assault on the bridge from the south was impossible, American infantry were to fight their way westwards down the west bank of the Waal River and cross in broad daylight to fight their way back up the river bank, and attack the bridge from the north. On Wednesday morning the infantry made their way westward through the town and got to the industrial outskirts along the river bank near the mouth of a big canal. Some British tanks went with them to give them protection in the street fighting and to act as artillery when the crossings were to be made. Accompanying this task force were trucks carrying twenty-six assault boats brought along by the British armoured units in case of such an emergency. Most of the men who were there to make the crossing had never handled an assault boat before. There was a lot of argument as to who would handle the paddles and preference was given to the men who had at least rowed a boat. Everything was going well. The Germans were supposed to be completely surprised by the audacity of the move.

"But late in the morning--the impossible happened. Two men showed themselves on a river bank and were fired at by the enemy. No Americans were supposed to be in that part of the town. The 88-mm. shells began plastering the area. The gaff was blown. Reconnaissance spotted batches of German troops being transferred to the opposite bank. A few hours later, machine guns were dug into the marshes on the far side--the plan had been discovered. The task force was under shell-fire, and several hundred Germans with machine guns were sitting on the opposite bank waiting for the crossing. This was about noon. There was a quick conference. It was decided that the original plan would proceed, but this time the men crossing the river would have the help of heavy bombers--Lancasters and Stirlings flying in daylight to drop their bombs on the opposite bank in tactical support of the men from the assault boats.

"Working under enemy shell-fire, the assault boats were assembled. When they were put into the water, another difficulty arose. The tide was moving, but with a downstream current of eight miles an hour. Some of the boats drifted 300 yards down river before they were retrieved and brought back. Meanwhile machine guns spluttered on the opposite bank and German artillery kept smashing the embarkation area regularly.

"At last everything was ready. The bombers went in, but didn't drop their bombs close enough to knock out the machine guns. Twenty-six assault boats were in the water. They would carry ten men each. Two hundred and sixty men would make the first assault. Waiting for them on the other bank were some 400 to 600 Germans. The shelling continued. Every man took a deep breath and climbed in. Someone made a wisecrack about the airborne navy and someone else said they preferred airborne submarines to this job. And off across the river they started. At the same time behind them, the British tanks fired their heavy guns, and our own heavy machine-guns fired into the opposite bank giving the little fleet as much cover as possible.

"And over on the other side of the river the enemy tracers shrieked at the boats. The fire at first was erratic, but as the boats approached the northern bank the tracers began to spread on to the boats. Men slumped in their seats--other men could be seen shifting a body to take over the paddling. One man rose up in his seat and fell overboard. There was no thought of turning back. The paddling continued clumsily and erratically, but it continued. One of the boats had so many holes in it that the men were baling out with their tin helmets--it was almost splinetered when it reached the other side.

"The fighting, though, had only just begun. The hundred or so men who had arrived on the opposite side fought their way forward with the bayonet and grenade, going from one machine-gun nest to the other until they had established a bridgehead only a few yards deep and several hundred feet wide. The thirteen boats had hardly left for the return trip for the reinforcements, when the men on the north bank saw specks in the water. The men on the opposite bank, seeing the casualties suffered in the landing under fire, were not waiting for the boats. Some of them had stripped off their equipment, and taking  a bandolier of ammunition, were swimming the river with their rifles on their backs. And thus it went--the thirteen little boats going time after time across the river under fire, the men on the bridgehead digging in and firing as rapidly as possible, routing out the German machine-gun nests by hand, while British tanks fired for all they were worth. After an hour and a half of concentrated hell, the infantry were over. They held a bridgehead several hundred yards wide and 100 yards deep. After that time, one officer counted 138 Germans dead in a space of sixty yards of that bloody beach-head.

"There was a welcome pause as the men consolidated and rested in their foxholes. Some had thrown the German bodies out of the Nazi machine-gun nests and were using these to stiffen their defences. The plan was to tearn eastwards and assault the northern end of the bridge. But on the left flank of that minute bridgehead was another menace--for there on the high ground overlooking the bridge and firing at us with some 88 guns, was an ancient fort. It is called Hatz van Holland and was supposed to have been used centuries ago by Charlemagne as a fortress. The Germans had been using the fort as an anti-aircraft gun position to defend Nijmegen, and now they turned the ack-ack guns downward to bear on the bridge and the airborne bridgehead. While these guns were firing at the back, the troops could not fight their way to the northern end of the bridge. A detail was formed to attack the Hatz van Holland and put its guns out of action. That, as warriors centuries ago found out, was extremely difficult because the Hatz van Holland was surrounded by a moat.

"This moat had a few feet of water in it--black dirty water, covered with a layer of bright green slime. Also, the attacking party would have to advance under point blank 88 mm. fire. But anyhow the party set out.. They crawled towards the high ground and the 88's banged away at them. And then they came to a zone where there were no 88 shells. It was found out that the other 88 guns were so installed that the guns could not reach downward the far. The German gun-crews discovered this too late and rushed to put up a rifle and machine-gun defence along the moat. But the Americans by this time had faced so much that a few machine guns were nothing. They made a stand-up attack, shouting like Indians, and, with tommy-guns blazing, knocked out the historic Hatz van Holland. A few Americans with blood in their eyes left seventy-five Germans dead in that moat. The remaining troops fought their way up the river all right. they captured the northern end of the railroad bridge and worked their way to the junction of the railroad highway from the main bridge. The entire German position on the northern side of the river was cut off."

Here is one more account by Downs in a previous broadcast from September 20, 1944--the day the bridge was taken by the Allies:

American Airborne infantry and British tanks beleaguered the streets of Nijmegen only 300 yards from the bridge that night, but they couldn't get it. A daring plan was drawn up. Wednesday morning, the infantry (504th) made its way to the industrial outskirts along the river bank. British tanks protected troopers in street fighting, acted as artillery when the crossings were made. 
Twenty-six assault boats were in the water. Two hundred and sixty men would make the first assault. Waiting for them on the other bank were 400 to 600 Germans; the shelling continued. A smoke screen was laid, but it wasn't very effective because of the wind. Men slumped in their seats; of those 260 men, half were wounded or killed. Only 13 of 26 boats came back--others didn't wait for boats. Some stripped off equipment, took a bandolier of ammunition and swam the river, rifles on their backs.
There was bitter bayonet fighting and Americans died, but more Germans died. That's only part of the story...British tanks and American Airborne Infantry (2nd Bn., 505th) began their frontal assault on the southern end of the bridge at the same time as the river crossing was started. Americans went through the houses on either side of the street.  
The southern end of the bridge has a large circular island approach. In this island were four self-propelled guns. There was nothing to do but rush the guns. So the tanks lined up four abreast and all roared into the street, firing. The American Airborne troops and British tankmen seized the south end of the bridge. Only tanks could get across at first because half a dozen fanatical Germans remained high in the girders, sniping. The Nijmegen Bridge was in our hands intact as a monument to the gallantry of the 82nd Airborne soldiers, those who crossed the river, those who stormed it from the south.

1965. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1965




September 23, 1965

The anonymous men of the military diplomatic and central intelligence services usually get public mention only when there has been a tremendous goof-up of such monumental proportions that their failure or imprudence brings public condemnation and ridicule down on their heads.

When the cloak-and-dagger gentleman produce sound and useful guidance for the government, the credit goes to the public officials concerned. The intelligence establishment can neither ask nor does it usually receive public acclaim.

However, once in a while a situation develops in the news that makes the shadowy hand of the intelligence expert obvious--as happened in the past several weeks of the diplomatic and military confusion created by the vest-pocket war between India and Pakistan.

Although caught in the middle of this bitter conflict between two of America's principal Allies in the Far East, the United States steered a careful course of neutrality. While giving full backing to the United Nations' efforts to bring about the tenuous cease-fire that now prevails, Washington made secret contingency plans for America's diplomatic and military moves should Communist China carry out its threat to send a military force southward across India's Himalayan border. Such plans are always prepared as an emergency precaution in such circumstances. However, the consensus of United States intelligence was that the Peiping* Communist leaders were bluffing.

Meanwhile the New Delhi government, understandable, was predicting that Red Chinese troops were massing for a full-scale invasion as part of a nefarious plot with Pakistan to make the Indian army fight on two fronts. Indian diplomats called on the United States and Britain to lift their ban on military aid and provide India the arms to keep the subcontinent from being overrun by a Chinese military horde. However, the American intelligence experts stood firm on their assessment that a Chinese military threat from the north would become real only if India was routed in the field--or if the New Delhi government collapsed from within.

We know now that Peiping's threats at no time were backed by the substantial movement of troops and supplies through the Himalayas which would be needed to support a major Chinese march southward. How this day-to-day information from such a remote mountain area was obtained still remains an official secret--although the Air Force reconnaissance satellites, which daily scan virtually every section of the globe, may have had something to do with it.

The United States intelligence experts reckoned that there were a half-dozen reasons why Mao Tse-tung would be reluctant to commit himself to a march against India. First, it most certainly would eventually bring America and Britain to the aid of the Indian subcontinent--the keystone of free world policy in the Far East. Secondly, any Chinese aggression to the south might invite Russian aggression against China's own ill-defined borders with Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Siberia. And finally, Peiping must protect her long coastline as well as her Southeast Asian borders where United States military strength is building to bring about a settlement of the Viet Nam conflict.

So, unless some outrageous violation of the uneasy Asiatic truce knocks the American intelligence estimate into a cocked hat, then the nation owes a collective vote of thanks to the un-named men who quietly provide the President and his National Security Council with the intelligence that guided United States policy so ably through the Kashmir crisis.

But there is one school of thought here in Washington that says Red China made a major mistake in playing at "brinksmanship" during the bitter fighting over Kashmir. The Peiping bayonet-rattling not only failed to give any decisive support to Pakistan, but when President Ayub agreed to the United Nations' truce proposals, it left Red China in the position of the "paper tiger," filled only with wind.

Quite possibly the most interesting result of the Chinese Communist border belligerence was that it gave Soviet Russia's "co-existence" brand of Communism the appearance of responsibility and respectability--a goal which Moscow has long been trying to establish. The split between Moscow and Peiping would now appear to be complete--and irretrievable.

But surely, if there was anything good to emerge from the carnage and violence of the Indo-Pakistan struggle, it was this: The Kashmir tragedy again demonstrated civilization's need for a world organization through which the earth's peoples can channel their demands that international conflicts be settled without violence.

The brief, undeclared war between Pakistan and India gave the United Nations a chance to demonstrate its value as an agency of world peace by providing both nations an arena to arrive at a truce with honor.

The immediate result has been a badly needed boost in both prestige and stature for the United Nations.

But now the world organization begins a more difficult task--the United Nations most negotiate a lasting formula for peace between the two nations before the Kashmir armistice collapses of its own weight.

The time may be short, and in this, the United Nations cannot afford to fail.

This is Bill Downs substituting for Edward P. Morgan saying good night from Washington.

*"Peiping" and "Beiping" were names used for Beijing during the Chinese republican era prior to the rise of Mao Zedong.

Monday, March 31, 2014

1956. What Foreigners Think About Us

What Foreigners Think About Us

From Pageant, June 1956. "What Foreigners Think About Us," pages 117-123.

What Foreigners Think About Us

Today, it's important to know how other countries feel about America. Especially in view of the import of international politics, foreign aid, threat of war and, of course, the American overseas tourist. To find out how others see us, Pageant asked top CBS-TV and foreign correspondents in seven countries to interview the man in the foreign street on what he thinks about Americans.

Newsmen who held the mirror up for us were David F. Schoenbrun, Paris; Daniel Schorr, Moscow; Bill Downs, Rome; Howard K. Smith, London; Richard C. Hottelet, Bonn, Germany; Robert C. Pierpoint, Tokyo; Alexander Kendrick, Africa.

None of the correspondents knew what his fellow newsman in the country next door was saying--but wait till you read from their reports. It seems that everyone from Africans to Frenchmen has definite and similar opinions of Americans, their resources and their way of life.

1. What puzzles foreigners most about Americans?


France: The French are most puzzled about Americans' attitude towards money; why, they ask me constantly, do you think Americans so hard to earn money and work equally hard to spend it?

Russia: Russians seem most puzzled about the decentralization of power in the U.S. For example, when told that President Eisenhower opposed racial discrimination, they ask why he doesn't ban it. When you explain that the President doesn't have dictatorial authority, they shake their heads uncomprehendingly.

Italy: Our naïvete. As one of the biggest nations in the world the foreigner often expects us to act the part. They are puzzled when we make a major blooper in diplomacy or our foreign relations. Likewise, they are puzzled when we pay out billions of dollars in foreign aid and then don't ask for something in return. The result is that sometimes foreigners feel they must treat us as somewhat idiotic and spoiled children. Americans abroad usually fall into one of three categories--the "everything is better back in Podunk" type; the "Why don't these people learn to do it our way" type; the "Gosh, isn't this wonderful" type. Fortunately, the latter predominates.

England: Haste. They wonder why Americans are always in a hurry. In Britain you get business done by writing letters and having them considered at some length, before a request is granted (interviews with salesmen, etc.). The American system is to do it by telephone, and do it immediately. In a world that has lasted so long, our fellow men do not understand the rush.

Germany: The Germans tend to be puzzled by the American mixture of practical, hard-headed realism and buoyant, optimistic idealism. America still the country largely known as the land of the dollar, and Americans as shrewd businessmen. Yet the United States has been giving away money in vast quantities since the end of the war. Has this been sheer generosity, or has Washington had an ulterior motive? On a personal level, general American preference for the aristocracy strikes everyone as rather odd. Many Americans seem to gravitate toward the Graf (Count) or the Freiherr (Baron) or the the Fuerst (Prince) in a way that does not seem characteristic.

Japan: Our treatment of racial minorities. Asians are well aware of our democratic ideals of freedom and equality, and they find it extremely difficult to rationalize this with the many unfortunate incidents which occur regarding racial minority groups in America. It is hard for them to understand how a nation, which so loudly preaches democracy, can at the same time tolerate an Emmett Till case. Unfortunately, the progress made in America toward racial equality is not well advertised in Asia.

Africa: Why there are so many of them wandering all over the place without any real reason except to seek enjoyment, when everybody knows the United States is the home of all enjoyment.

2. What disappoints them most about Americans?

France: What disappoints the French most about Americans is to find that we are not all millionaires. They are shocked by middle-class, low budget tourists, who complain about prices in Paris.

Russia: What disappoints Russians most about Americans (the few Americans they've seen) is our refusal to acknowledge the superiority of their system...and especially the fact that American workers say they like capitalism, flourish under it and are not oppressed by it.

Italy: Our fallibility. America's tradition, particularly in the minds of Italians, is that it truly is "the promised land." They have relatives in the U.S. that prove it. This reputation. plus a good coating of Hollywood fairy stories, makes every short-coming or failure doubly significant in their judgment. For example, one never hears of the bastards that must have been left by the German army during its stay in Italy. But one would think the orphanages were all full of American illegal progeny.

England: The joy Americans take in traveling several thousand miles to Europe and meeting other Americans in the lobby of the American Express Company. Europeans often complain that the thrill seems the greater, the nearer neighbors they find themselves to be.

Germany: Those Germans who are disappointed with Americans--and they're a pretty small minority--don't like what they consider to be the American's childish manners, loud voices and loud neckties, colorful clothing (especially sports shirts). Americans do tend to have a lot of money by local standards, and sometimes throw it around a bit demonstratively.

Japan: Recently Asians have been acutely disappointed by America on two issues. First of all, we seem to have abandoned our traditional anti-colonialism for the expediency of tacitly supporting our colonial European allies. Secondly, we have rather clumsily continued to emphasize military strength and the military defenses of the free world while the Communists have more nimbly switched their attacks to the economic and political fronts. Most Asians feel disappointed that we have not more readily responded to the Communist challenge in these new areas.

Africa: That they're not all rich, as expected.

3. What do they like best about Americans?

France: The French love the youthfulness of Americans, American enthusiasm, yes, even our naïvete, which they find personally charming, if politically frightening.

Russia: What Russians like best about Americans is our breeziness, informality, our ability to form quick friendships and enthusiasms. On the personal level, they frequently find more in common with Americans than Europeans. Especially after a little vodka.

Italy: Our idealism. This is expressed not only in the fact that the new Italian Republic copied the form of our government--but it is expressed in simpler terms. Europe, generally, and Italy in particular, has never quite gotten over the aristocratic tradition and acceptance of special privilege. Family name, occupation and education still tend to stratify population. They admire the GI sergeant who speaks with ease to his officers. But underneath, the thing most admired in Americans is the American precept that one man is as good as another. This is expressed in the vote and in everyday relationships. And it is in this precept that democracy finds its greatest argument against totalitarianism.

England: The geniality of Americans. In most cases American visitors to Europe seem to do their utmost to maintain a friendly attitude.

Germany: The most likable thing about Americans is their friendly and unconventional manner. One German says: "Americans are frank, they are not prejudiced." The average American has won himself many friends in Germany by his fresh, open approach to life.

Japan: We are an open and sincerely friendly people.  While some of the more reserved Asians may not respond immediately to the back-slapping type of friendliness, most Asians find the Americans have a genuine interest in the welfare of other people.

Africa: Their informality and lack of snobbism.

4. What do they think of American women?

France: They find American women to be the most beautiful and dullest women in the world: beautiful from the purely physical point of view, the beauty of good health, good looks. However, they find American women conformist; they all look, talk, and dress alike. The tourist with her flat-heeled shoes, bright-colored raincoat, shoulder bag with a brass eagle has become the symbol of the American women for the French.

Russia: Russian women tend to be envious of the well-groomed, well-dressed appearance of American women, the long fingernails and other evidences that American women don't work as hard as Soviet women. This envy is sometimes concealed behind ridicule.

Italy: Pampered. In Italy, particularly, the woman is still something of her husband's personal chattel. And the Italian women are a bit frightened by the power the U.S. housewife wields in family affairs. They are also somewhat scornful of the efficiency of American women in their antiseptic methods of raising their child or even bearing them.

England: They find Americans healthy, pretty and well-tailored, but complain that, as Westerners say of the Chinese, it's hard to tell one from another.

Germany: "Die Amerikanerin," the American woman, is regarded in Germany mainly with envy. She is regarded as fully emancipated, and German women would like to enjoy a measure of her independence. But Germans feel that the American woman has bought independence at the price of femininity. She may be a good comrade, but she is taken as lacking in the tenderness and devotion which Europeans consider a woman's greatest charm.

Japan: Perhaps my answer is colored by the personal prejudices of an American bachelor, who finds foreign women eminently attractive, but here goes. American women are considered to be very well dressed, quite attractive, and cold. Probably the most telling criticism is that they are not really very womanly. Most foreign men find them somewhat frightening.

Africa: Their main experience being with American women in American movies, they love 'em all.

5. What do they think of young people in America?

France: The French don't know young people in America. What they think about them, therefore, is based upon what they read in the papers, as reported from America, or in the movies from America. This has led the French to conclude that American youngsters are dope-fiends, juvenile delinquents, rapists, and gang-muggers.

Russia: They have no special thoughts about young people in America, having seen practically none of them.

Italy: They don't know much about young people in America except what they get from Hollywood or from the sensational stories in the press. They have nothing but admiration for students who come to study in their countries. Generally, this student group is the hardest working, most serious and nicest group of Americans abroad. The State Department should give them yearly bonuses.

England: Foreigners have less contact with American young people than with other grades of Americans. Yet, it is the American teen-ager who has had the greatest apparent influence on foreigners. Probably Hollywood has been carrier of the teen-age cult abroad. In many places dungarees are standard wear for youth. Elizabeth Taylor and Tony Curtis hairdos are very prevalent among European teen-agers as are swoon sessions for visiting American crooners.

Germany: American children and teen-agers in general are judged mainly by the young Americans stationed in Germany with military families. They are thought to be overly self-confident, and to exercise their great personal freedom a bit too violently. Germans feel that American children tend to dominate their families, thereby hurting both themselves and their parents.

Japan: American young people are generally considered by foreigners to be friendly, undereducated, and oversexed. Asians are sometimes shocked and frequently fascinated by the freedom of association between boys and girls in America. Words like "necking" and "petting" scarcely exist in Asian vocabularies. Sometimes foreigners appear to be surprised at how well Americans turn out, considering the poor start they get as young people. This is no doubt evidence that their views of American youth are too harsh, colored by reports of American juvenile delinquency.

Africa: Every student in Africa who can go to an overseas university is not choosing America instead of Britain, as before.

6. What was the most unexpected thing you found in a foreign country that bespoke American influence?

France: A hot-dog stand recently opened on the Boulevard de la Madeleine in Paris, in front of the Olympia Music Hall with a big sign "Hot Dogs" printed in English. A self-service restaurant on the Champs Elysees, specializing in chicken-on-the-spit; garish, Miami-Beach style sport shirts at the Bou Saada oasis in southern Algeria; a huge road sign at a camel caravan crossing in the Moroccan Atlas Mountains, saying, in English: Death is so permanent...Slow Down...U.S. Air Force.

Russia: The most unexpected evidence of American influence I found in the Soviet Union was the American machinery used in the Stalin Auto plant in Moscow--lend-lease equipment is still in use.

Italy: Canned American spaghetti, imported from New Jersey. It showed up in a fancy Rome food shop.

England: The ubiquity of the American famous soft drink. In strife-torn Cyprus I was amazed to find that all the spots where riots most often occur had been emblazoned with large advertisements for that commodity. For example, on Metaxas Square in Nicosia, four vantage points were occupied by signs. This ensured that every time trouble broke out--which is often--photographers unwittingly propagated the pause that refreshes.

Germany: Perhaps the most incongruous American import in the land of Beethoven, Bach, Brahms and Wagner is the jukebox.

Japan: After living eight years abroad, I am still constantly amused and amazed by the widespread influence of American music. I don't suppose I shall ever quite recover from the first time I saw a Geisha clad in the dignified costume dancing a jitterbug.

Africa: Crossing the Equator in Kenya, British East Africa, a sign which read "Equator, 8600 feet altitude, Drink Pepsi-Cola."

7. What American product would a foreigner like to own?

France: An automobile.

Russia: The American product a Russian would like most to own is an American car--judging by the disbelief they express at the lower price. (A car comparable to a 1941 Ford costs $4,000 in Russia). When an American car parks in Moscow it draws a crowd.

Italy: If you leave out dollar bills and immigration visas, my guess for Italy would be washing machines. The number of women-hours spend in boiling, scrubbing, rinsing and drying laundry throughout Italy runs into the tens of millions.

England: After considering and rejecting Cadillacs (too expensive for Britons to run) and washing machines (no longer an American monopoly) I nominate the combined domestic refrigerator with deep-freeze unit. Britons go into ecstasies over this topic.

Germany: The housewife would most like a dishwasher or an automatic ironer. One journalist nominated a pocket size stapler.

Japan: The desire to own an American automobile is practically universal. It covers both sexes, all age groups, and transcends all national boundaries. The only possible objection would be against some of the new pastel colors, and most foreigners admit they could even get used to these if they could just afford the car.

Africa: A red automobile, preferably a taxicab.

1942. Downs Meets Murrow

Downs Meets Murrow in London

This is an excerpt from "The Murrow Boys" by Stanley Cloud and Lynne Olson, pages 154-156. It tells in part the story of how Downs met Edward R. Murrow in London.

In the late summer of 1942, when Larry LeSueur was becoming tired and frustrated after a year of covering the eastern front, Murrow began looking for someone to replace him in Moscow. Collingwood said they needed a "very good feature writer, someone to tell the anecdotes, give the flavor of life in wartime Russia, rather than just paraphrase communiqués." That, of course, was a backhanded slap at LeSueur. (As generous and charming as Charlie Collingwood was to most people throughout his life, he could be a devious competitor; this unfair little insult was just the first bud of what later became a full-flowered rivalry between him and LeSueur). Bill Downs, in UP's London bureau, was just the man for the job, Collingwood said.

Downs did have a flair for feature writing, but he was above all a hard-nosed reporter, the kind who "got the story, got it first, got it right." He wore thick glasses with heavy frames. He was short and had an ample, powerful build, an abundance of dark hair, and a loud growl of a voice that when raised (as it often was) gave new meaning to the concept of wrath. But more than yelling, Downs loved to laugh. And drink. And tell stories. And argue. In roughly that order. He hated pomposity. When he first arrived in London, he entered a pub on Washington's Birthday and loudly proposed a toast to the man "who kicked the hell out of the English army one hundred and fifty years ago." Bill Downs also had a fierce sense of integrity and honor. Ed Murrow took to him instantly.

Downs had grown up in Kansas City, and all he ever wanted to be was a reporter. His father, William Sr., was a Union Pacific railroad engineer, his mother a housewife with a third-grade education. During his father's long absences on the railroad, Bill--an only child for nine years, until his sister, Bonnie, came along--was doted on by his mother.

The family was never very poor. When business fell off during the Depression, the Union Pacific cut back on Downs's runs, but he always kept his job. Even so, Bill Jr. was expected to help pay for his schooling: two years at Wyandotte College and two years at the University of Kansas. One of his summer jobs was as a grain sampler, testing the quality of the wheat before it went to market. Downs had to climb to the top of huge silos and dive down into the "damn dusty stuff" and come up with a pint of sample wheat. It was a dirty, hot, dangerous job, but it helped strengthen Downs's already powerful physique. Later it turned out to have had another advantage: it was the kind of hard youthful work that always appealed to Ed Murrow. In school Downs was sports editor of his high school newspaper and manager of the paper at Wyandotte College. At the University of Kansas, which he entered in 1933, he was according to a college friend, John Malone, "the best and most prolific writer and reporter in the whole university."

In 1935 the campus paper, the Daily Kansan, went bankrupt. The next fall the newspaper's board appointed Malone publisher, and he in turn chose Downs as managing editor. Within a year the paper began to turn a profit, and it has operated successfully ever since. Malone gave most of the credit to the energetic, impatient Downs: "He was a great managing editor. He had the newsiest paper around, far better than the Kansas City papers." After college both Downs and Malone were hired by the UP for its Kansas City bureau, along with another Kansan (and recent University of Texas dropout) named Walter Cronkite.

Downs was immediately tagged as a comer at UP. Within a few months, he was transferred to the Denver bureau and not long after that to New York. In 1941 he was given the wire service's plum assignment--the London bureau, the war. He loved the speed and immediacy of wire-service work, but when Murrow approached him about the CBS job in September 1942, Downs didn't hesitate. "Not only will it establish my name," he wrote to his parents, "but the work is easier and I believe has more future." Not to mention a seventy-dollar-a-week salary and an expense account.

First, though, he was supposed to undergo the pro forma voice test. It did not go well. Even Murrow called it "terrible" and told Downs to try again. This time, Murrow said, just go to Piccadilly Circus and come back with a story describing what you saw. On his return, Downs talked about two GIs leaning against a wall, admiring the passing parade of women, most of them in slacks. Suddenly one of the soldiers spotted an American Red Cross worker in a skirt. "Look, Willie," he shouted. "Ankles." Downs's growling voice didn't improve in the second test, but Murrow loved the story so much that he hired him anyway.

In November, after receiving a little radio training from Collingwood, Downs was deemed ready for Moscow. He set off, equipped with a new ankle-length, fur-lined leather coat and matching fur-lined flying boots for protection against the Russian winter. Although Downs found the assignment in Moscow no easier than LeSueur did, he managed to demonstrate that he was the equal of his seniors on the Murrow team. In late January 1943, after the Red Army's siege of Nazi-occupied Stalingrad had finally forced a German surrender there, Downs and several other American correspondents were taken to see the ruins.

"Try and imagine," he told his listeners, "what four and a half months of the world's heaviest bombing would do to a city the size of Providence, Rhode Island, or Minneapolis or Oklahoma City. It was "utter and complete and absolute devastation." In a fifty-mile radius one could see only piles of bricks and rubble and corpses. Downs continued, "There are sights and smells and sounds in and around Stalingrad that make you want to weep and make you want to shout and make you just plain sick at your stomach."