Friday, March 27, 2015

1955. Bill Downs Interviews David Ben-Gurion

The Lead-Up to the Suez Crisis
Source: Israeli soldiers during the Suez Crisis in 1956

Bill Downs interviewed Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in November 1955. He also spoke with Gamal Abdel Nasser around the same time.

1. What do you feel are the reasons behind the Communist sale of arms to Egypt?

There are in my view two reasons: a) Russia's traditional urge, dating from the days of the Czarist regime, to penetrate into the Mediterranean and the countries of the Middle East; b) the Soviets' policy to establish a pro-Communist force in the Middle East in opposition to the Northern Tier.

2. Moslem leaders now claim that Israel has an overwhelming superiority in military power. What is your estimate of the situation and how much breathing space do you consider Israel has before Communist arms match Israeli strength?

Israel's superiority in the War of Independence and to this day lies only and exclusively in the moral superiority of her people, which, again, derives from two sources: a) fidelity to the heritage of the prophets of Israel; b) the recognition that our very existence is in danger and that we shall be destroyed unless we defend ourselves with all our might. However, even up till now we have never had superiority in armaments, even less in man-power. Not only the Arab countries as a whole, but even Egypt alone has had more arms and a larger standing army than Israel, even before the receipt of Soviet arms. The danger to Israel's existence will constantly increase unless we, too, receive substantial arms reinforcements.

3. If Israel feels that her friends in the West are delinquent in supplying her additional defensive weapons, would she apply to Communist sources from these things?

A country fighting for her very existence has a right to get arms anywhere. But I think it would be an illusion to expect arms from the Soviet Bloc, and I have not entirely given up hope of the help which we deserve from the United States and the other democratic countries.

4. There has been much speculation that Israel may be forced into a "preventative war." What is your estimate of this possibility?

A preventative war is a war unprevented, and it differs in no way from any other war. We prefer a preventive peace. As I have declared last week in the Knesset, our Parliament, we have never will, but neither shall we tolerate any warlike acts against us, by whatever name they may be called.

5. Egyptian leaders claim that recent Israeli border attacks prove the insincerity of your offer of peace talks with them. What is your government's policy regarding this?

There has never been an Israel attack against Egypt and I can give my assurance that there never will be one in the future. The Egyptians recently invaded our territory at Nitzana in violation of the Armistice Agreements and International Law. When they refused to leave after repeated requests by representatives of the United Nations, we drove them out by force. But not a single one of our soldiers remained in Egyptian territory, because we have no desire to encroach upon Egypt.
If Nasser wants peace he can have it in five minutes. Let him send me a telegram and he will have an immediate positive reply. Our desire for peace stems from two sources: a) We have learned to value human life, and there is nothing we detest more than the shedding of blood. b) we are busily engaged in the work of development, construction, and absorption of immigrants for the sake of which we have established anew the State of Israel. We want our youth to devote all their energies to creative work, in both the material and spiritual fields.

6. What is your considered estimate of the present danger of full-scale war in the Middle East?

The large-scale supply of arms to Egypt increases the danger of war in the Middle East. This danger can be met in two ways: a) by preventing the flow of arms to Egypt and the other Arab countries; or b) by supplying arms to Israel.

7. What, then, are the requisites for peace and how can this be brought about?

There are two ways to ensure peace: a) If Egypt accepts my invitation to discuss a peaceful settlement; b) if the Great Powers deny all aid to the party which refuses to make peace.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

1943. The Crimean Offensive

The Battle for the Kuban Bridgehead
Red Army lieutenant handing out cigarettes to captured German soldiers in July 1943 (source)

The portions in parenthesis were censored by Soviet press officials, mostly for military reasons.

Bitter Hand-to-Hand Fighting in the Trenches
April 17, 1943

Bill Downs


Saturday, April 17, 1943

This morning's communiqué again said there were "no essential changes" on the 1,200 mile Russian battle-line (where seven million men are waiting for the opportunity to be at each others' throats.)

But from the Kuban today comes a story that graphically illustrates just what "no essential changes" means to the men in the front line.

To the men in the Kuban, this statement also means that there has been "no change" in the deep mud, the heavy spring rains (and the almost impossible roads) that have bogged their offensive. It means that there has been "no change" in the enemy's determination to hold on to their Kuban bridgehead.

And it also means that there is "no change" in the Russian determination to blast the Germans across the Kerch Strait as soon as possible.

That process is already underway.

Yesterday on the lower Kuban valley, Russian artillery and aircraft opened a dawn bombardment on strong German positions. At daylight, Soviet infantry started their advance (through ravines and brush and over hillocks.) They were forced to ground by a counter-barrage from the Germans. It took forty minutes of inching forward through the mud on their stomachs before the Russian soldiers reached the first German lines. Then there was a period of furious and bitter hand-to-hand fighting before all the Germans were bayonetted out of their trenches.

But this was an important height. And before the Red Army could dig in, the Germans counterattacked. Fresh Nazi forces were brought in from neighboring units. At about noon, a group of fifty tanks—and that was the size of the average tank attack at Stalingrad—were thrown into the battle. German Tommy gunners followed behind.

The Russian command immediately sandwiched antitank gun and rifle troops into the infantry. Troops were issued with the deadly antitank fire bottles.

But the tank force was a heavy one and succeeded in gaining some ground. However, in doing so the tanks became separated from their Tommy gunners. Their position was exceedingly vulnerable, and the German tanks were ordered to retire.

The Russians again advanced.

In all, the Germans made ten unsuccessful counterattacks yesterday on one narrow sector. In some places, hand-to-hand trench battles lasted for an hour and a half—which means an hour and a half of stabbing, shooting, gouging, throttling, kicking, and kneeling. These German bodies were counted on the battlefield after the battle was over.

As I said, the communiqué announced "there were no essential changes on the front."

German Reinforcements Arrive
April 20, 1943

Bill Downs


Tuesday, April 20, 1943

The battle for Hitler's half-acre in the Northern Caucasus still rages in the lower Kuban today. Last night the Germans tried something new in the way of attacks. They threw in tanks during a night battle. This is, of course, a very dangerous maneuver—a fact which the German command found out. Although the Nazi forces were greatly superior in numbers in this attack, the Germans failed to make any progress. They created a wedge in the Russian lines but couldn't hold it. A Red Army counterattack pushed the Germans back to their original positions, and four of those tanks were knocked out before morning.

The past few days of fighting in the Kuban has revealed some interesting facts. It is now evident that the German command has succeeded in getting big reinforcements into their foothold in the Northern Caucasus. It also is evident that Hitler intends to defend his "half-acre" of the Kuban to the last man.

This last-ditch defense of the Kuban bridgehead is no accident of German strategy. The Nazis are putting a lot of men and planes and equipment into this front. They know that, if they lose control of the Kerch Strait, the entire Nazi position south of the Donetz river will be threatened by an assault on the Crimea.

The German attacks in the Kuban during the past few days have been exceedingly strong. According to the Russian communiqués, the Germans have spent 6,300 men in "killed" alone during the fighting Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. There has been no indication here as to which direction the Germans are attacking, but one thing is for sure: these attacks cannot be considered an offensive. The German and Romanian troops now fighting in the Kuban have no goal before them. This is no march to Baku or Maykop.

It is a case of "hit them before they hit you." You must remember that the Soviet command has not been idle during the spring bog-down in the Kuban. Russian reinforcements have also been thrown into this sector.

Now it only remains for the full weight of these opposing reinforced armies to clash. This clash, which appears to be imminent, should finally decide the fate of the Kuban.

The Nazi Onslaught
April 21, 1943

Bill Downs


Wednesday, April 21, 1943

German and Romanian troops are still pounding away at the Russian positions in the Kuban this morning. Various Red Army units on this front report that the Nazi troops launch as many as ten attacks a day on a single sector. When they fail to gain their objective, they keep up attacks throughout the night.

It was that way last night. The final German attacks were beaten off towards dawn. This morning's communiqué says the Russians are still trying to add up enemy losses, but according to preliminary data, one infantry battalion was wiped out and six tanks destroyed.

This morning's communiqué also revealed an interesting detail about this fighting in the Kuban. There has been no indication as to the exact sector where the main battles are now taking place. However, the communiqué said that two enemy torpedo boats were sunk by Red Army fire. Since Hitler's march into the Caucasus last summer, the port of Novorossiysk has been used as an Axis naval base. The Red Army has always held positions near Novorossiysk, and was last reported to hold the southern and eastern outskirts of the city.

Rough Terrain Near the Kuban Bridgehead
May 5, 1943

Bill Downs


Wednesday night, May 5, 1943

. . .

The first full-scale spring fighting of 1943 appears to be underway in the Kuban. Up to now, the Russians have referred to this battle as "very serious." The Soviet high command is making no premature claims. And here's some of the reasons why this Kuban warfare is being treated so conservatively.

In the first place, the Germans have built up a strong system of fortifications around the Kuban bridgehead and have had all winter to reinforce them. The terrain in this section of Russia is particularly adaptable to defensive action. The battlefield is composed of low hills and heights alternating with swamps and valleys. Around these swamps in particular grow bushes and groves of trees. And most difficult of all are the ravines and small streams.

Russian soldiers say that it is almost impossible to walk 150 yards through this wooded, hilly battlefield without running on to two or three small streams or a ravine or two. And the Germans are using every advantage that the lay of the land gives them.

On one height captured by the Red Army, they found eighteen antitank guns, thirty-seven machine guns, three mortar batteries, as well as rifle opposition. The Germans are usually dug in deeply, and many times the only way to oust them from such positions is to literally cut them out with bayonets. There is a lot of hand-to-hand fighting going on in the Kuban.

The fighting is just as bitter in the air. For the past several weeks, the German air force has been attempting to paralyze the Russian ground forces so that the Axis troops could further improve their positions. That is the reason that the Luftwaffe a couple of weeks ago switched its attack from rear bases to the Russian front line.

But to do this, the Germans had to bring Focke-Wulf 190s and Stuka dive bombers from other sectors of the Russian front. These reinforcements weren't very effective against the Soviet air defenses. Fifty-five German planes were shot down on this front yesterday. The Russians lost eleven. Such tremendous German losses have enabled the Soviet air forces to take the initiative, and that's what's happening now. Russian fighters, Stormoviks, and some American storming planes are now concentrating on blasting the enemy clear out of the North Caucasus.

The Red Army Offensive Push 
May 7, 1943
"A Soviet Marine leads a blindfolded German POW to internment during the Crimean Offensive, April 1944. Photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei." (source)
Bill Downs


Friday, May 7, 1943

Fighting in the Kuban slackened off a little bit last night. This morning's communiqué says that the battles are still underway, and that the Red Army is still moving. (Last night, Soviet artillery destroyed two German tanks and smashed twenty artillery batteries, as well as some thirty machine gun points.) The Germans still continue to absorb heavy losses in manpower.

The front reporter for the army newspaper, Red Star, this morning sent a cheering and optimistic survey of the Kuban fighting. He says that the big Russian attack of the past few days has cost the Germans their main defensive link between the Axis forces at Novorossiysk and those trying to hold northward to the Kuban river. Red Star says that, in addition, the Russian troops have also destroyed the coordination of these German forces (with other Axis points of support) north of the Kuban river.

However, no one here is claiming that the Germans are defeated on the Kuban bridgehead. The Germans are now rushing in reinforcements and reserves to the threatened battlefields. But the Red Army still has the initiative here, and it looks like the Russians are going to keep it for a long time.

. . .

Uprooting the Nazi Fortifications
May 9, 1943
Bill Downs


Sunday, May 9, 1943

Fighting in the Kuban is increasing in intensity with every passing day. Front dispatches say that the Red Army continues to widen the gap in German defenses that were smashed northeast of Novorossiysk. However, the Russian troops have run on to a new line of Nazi fortifications. (They are fortifications built this winter and are the most permanent type, with reinforced concrete pillboxes dug into the sides of mountains and deep trenches and gun positions established in the foothills of the northern Caucasian Mountains.)

The Germans have a defense in depth established here, and they have built a system of defenses which in may ways resembles the Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Peninsula—but the Red Army, you remember, knows something about this type of defense. And today down in the Kuban, the Red Army is still on the move forward.

(Both the Russians and the Germans are rushing reinforcements into this front, and right now the battle hinges on which side succeeds in getting there first with the most.)
. . .

Continued Axis Resistance
May 12, 1943

Bill Downs


Wednesday, May 12, 1943

The Red Army is still slugging away at the Kuban at the second German defense line northeast of Novorossiysk. The Russians admit that the Axis forces in this sector are putting up a phenomenal fight, even though they are outgunned and their aircraft have not been able to stop the Soviet bombers and Stormoviks from blasting at their positions.

However, as usual, it's the Red Army infantry that has to do the dirty work. And today there is the usual job of clearing minefields, blasting barbed wire, and scouting that precedes every attack in this war.

Then the attack units go in with grenades and bayonets to take just one more pillbox or blindage.

The Russian drive northeast of Novorossiysk has been slowed, but it has not stalled. The Red Army is still moving forward, but it is almost literally a foot-by-foot advance.

. . .

Amphibious Infantry
May 14, 1943

Bill Downs


Friday, May 14, 1943

The Red Army again made local gains in the Kuban last night. Northeast of Novorossiysk, Soviet artillery continued blasting away at the German defenses and the infantry moved in to take one more advantageous height. However, there has been no breakthrough.

We have some new details of the fighting in the Kuban river delta area this morning. This fighting is practically a miniature naval action carried on by land troops. Both the Germans and the Russians have to move their artillery and supplies by boats through the swamps and around small islands. Ambushes established in the high cattails and reeds are common. (A rowboat is liable to carry a machine gun and a skiff an artillery piece. Scouting is done by expert swimmers.) Yesterday the amphibious Red Army infantry sank four cutters and four motorboats carrying Germans and munitions.

. . .

More Nazi Counterattacks
May 18, 1943

Bill Downs


Tuesday, May 18, 1943

The Soviet-German front was comparatively quiet again last night. Down in the Kuban, the Nazi forces have attempted a series of counterattacks but thus far have failed to pull off anything that even looks like an offensive.

Front dispatches say that these German counterattacks, however, are being made with ever increasing forces—both on the sector northeast of Novorossiysk and in the Lower Kuban river area. At Lysychansk, at the eastern end of the Donetz river line, the Red Army is digging in after crossing the river and capturing important defensive positions.

(The Germans failed to push the Russians back even though they threw in substantial numbers of tanks and infantry.) Now the fighting as settled down to a 24-hour exchange of artillery, rifle, and machine gun fire. (This sector appears to be the most volatile of any front north of the Kuban. It is likely that we'll be hearing of more fighting in this area.)
. . .

The Air War Over Kuban
May 27, 1943
Soviet soldiers celebrate the liberation of Sevastopol in May 1943 (source)
Bill Downs


Thursday, May 27, 1943

Heavy air fighting has again broken out in the Kuban. Northeast of Novorossiysk, the German air command sent masses of fighters, dive bombers, and heavy bombers to strike at the Red Army troops, supplies, and communications. However, the Red Army pilots got over three German planes for every Russian ship lost. At the end of the day's fighting the score was sixty-seven Nazi planes shot down for the loss of twenty Soviet planes.

I talked with a Red Army officer yesterday who had just returned from this Kuban front. He said that, during the heavy air battles over Hitler's Kuban bridgehead a few weeks or so ago, the Germans were making as many as 1,200 sorties a day against one Soviet position on the Novorossiysk salient. The Germans were trying relay bombing from their bases in the Crimea. This officer said that the Germans would concentrate on one or another height held by the Red Army and literally attempt to cover it with bomb craters.

However, he pointed out, bomb craters make pretty good cover for troops undergoing concentrated aerial attack. So in addition to giving the Red Army a pretty bad time, the Germans also compensated by giving the Russian soldiers a certain amount of cover and protection.

At any rate, the Soviet troops still hold that height.

Update as the Battle of the Caucasus Nears an End
May 28, 1943

Bill Downs


Friday, May 28, 1943

Active fighting has resumed in the Kuban. With characteristic reticence, the Soviet high command is not saying much about it. We don't even know for sure whether it is the Red Army or Hitler's forces on the attack. Neither last night's nor this morning's communiqué have given us any details of the battle.

Resumption of the Kuban fighting means that the opposing forces have caught their breath, and that the period of reinforcement and resupply that caused the lull on this front has now ended.

In a sense, this battle for the Kuban bridgehead is almost entirely one of supply. And on this front, Hitler has the more difficult position. He must keep his Kuban troops armed and fed by hosts and planes.

The past several days we have heard about the sinking of troops, transports, and landing barges in the Black Sea. The Russian command has placed a large aerial patrol over Hitler's supply points on the Black Sea coast, as well as the sea of Azov. Russia's Black Sea Fleet, manned by the kind of seamen who fought in the heroic defense of Sebastopol, are also on patrol. Last night, two more of Hitler's landing barges loaded with troops were sunk. Yesterday Soviet planes sank another landing barge and damaged two transports and two other barges.

All in all, during the past three days the Russian Black Sea Fleet and air force has sunk or damaged eight German supply boats attempting to aid the Germans and Romanians in the Kuban sack. In addition, German planes, including some carrying vital supplies to the front, were shot down into the Black Sea and over the battle line yesterday. This makes a total of 131 German planes destroyed in the past two days.

. . .

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

1943. Allied Bombing of Germany Threatens Morale

The Battle of the Ruhr
"Boeing B-17F radar bombing through clouds over Bremen, Germany, on Nov. 13, 1943" (source)

The portion in parenthesis was censored from broadcast by Soviet press officials.
Bill Downs


Sunday night, May 30, 1943

The has been a change on this front during the past several months. A very obscure sort of change, but a very important one.

It's a change among the German troops, brought about by American and British boys operating out of England and North Africa.

It's based on the principle that, if you pull the Nazi war-dog's tail in Western Europe, his head will yelp in Russia. And that's what's happening here.

The Anglo-American bombing of Germany is having a very real effect on the German soldier, who has been given the impossible job of defeating Russia. When a Fortress or a Liberator or a Lancaster drops a bomb on Berlin or Duisburg or Essen, this bomb not only smashes Nazi war production, it also smashes just one more grain of confidence and resistance in the morale of the Fritz on the Russian front who sooner or later hears that his hometown has taken it in the neck again.

(Red Army intelligence officers for the past couple of months have reported that they are finding more and more letters from home on German prisoners in which the Deutschen home folks are complaining about Anglo-American bombing.)

When Frau Ruth Radke writes to her husband Sergeant Fritz Radke on the Russian front saying that Essen has taken another shellacking and the town is seriously damaged, Sergeant Radke is not going to be able to concentrate all his attention on killing Russians.

Russian officials report that this type of letter from home is being found in ever-greater numbers on prisoners and on the bodies of German soldiers left in the battlefields. It's a big change from the letters sent to the Russian front from Germany early in the war. Then the good wives and girlfriends of the Nazi soldiers begged them to send home booty taken from Russian civilians.

Russian officials are not overestimating the effects of this Anglo-American aerial attack on Germany. They don't believe that the German soldier on the Russian front is going to fold up and quit because of these attacks. However, they attach first-rank importance to the morale value on the Nazi troops here in Russia. No soldier can fight his best if he thinks the folks back home can't support the cause for which he is risking his life. American and British bombs are doing their bit in blasting this cause out by the roots, and the Fritz knows it.

1941. Analyzing the War from London

Churchill the Irate Kewpie
Winston Churchill inspecting soldiers in 1941. Getty Images. (source)

February 14, 1941

Dear Folks,

I'm working a dull night trick—we haven't had any serious raids for more than a week nowand thought I'd take a few minutes out to drop a line. I'm buying myself another suit—a Harris tweed this time—and get the thing tomorrow. It's about time I got myself some clothesI haven't had a new suit since Denver.

I'm becoming acquainted with the city now and have found some of the most marvelous bars—they call them "pubs" over here. There is one called Blackfriar's that is more like a museum than a bar and all of them seem to have nothing but old world graciousness and gentility rubbed into the wood.

However, liquor is expensive—about forty cents for a good shot or scotch—and I'm not doing the drinking I did in New York. However, I manage to have my moments.

I've had some interesting assignments. I've been doing the food stories—trying to determine if there's a shortage. And I get to go out on a bombing run occasionally. Then I saw Churchill review some Americans in the British army—and he does look sort of like an irate kewpie. Then the Queen inspected some American gifts to destitute and bombed out children. She really is beautiful and looks a little like Mom—about the same size, maybe a little shorter. She has plenty on the ball and has a tradition of never having been upset by even the most embarrassing circumstances.

Some doubt is arising now whether Hitler really is going to try his invasion—although with all the warnings from the government to be prepared, you'd think the show was coming off tomorrow—and maybe it will have by the time you get this. However, everybody knows that something is in the air, even if it isn't German airplanes. That's one of the things that has everyone puzzled—why the Germans haven't been carrying on their night raids. They usually give us hell after the RAF—Royal Air Force—give them a particularly heavy dose of bombs. But even after the shelling of Ostend and Genoa and the bombing of Bremen and Hanover, there has not been a thing to speak of.

With the new moves in Bulgaria, many people think that the big move will be in the Balkans and that much of the Luftwaffe will be withdrawn from the invasion ports to that sector. But your guess is as good and maybe better than we people sitting over here, where the tendency is to be so close to the guns that you can't see the war.

It's sometimes a little difficult to realize that spring is almost here—the seasons come early in England. And especially hard when all the news from home, even the newspapers, are at least a month late. We just found out the other day who won the New Year's bowl games and all your letters set me back about thirty days. That's the reason they say Christmas lasts longer here than any place else in the world. I was receiving Christmas cards up until a fortnight ago. 

I've had some dates with a couple of English girls—one a publicity agent for a big hotel in town, the other with a girl who runs a restaurant and another with a dance instructor I ran into. They are no different from American girls—in fact I think they get a lot of tops from the American films since this product are practically the only ones worth seeing. Since all the show open about nine in the morning and close about seven, I don't get a chance to see many pictures but I've been going to several concerts on my Sunday day off.

As yet I've only worn my tin hat a half dozen times. When the antiaircraft guns are barraging overhead, they make you feel safe as hell for some reason. And they are good protection against falling shrapnel which sometimes is more of a menace to personal safety than bombs.

I talked over NBC to Washington the other night. It was off the record and not broadcast except for the National Press Club there. It surely sounded good to hear an American accent. There were several of us on the radio, a man from the NY Herald Tribune, the NY Times, and AP. Vichy correspondents also were hitched up on the chitchat and I told Washington to pass along a message to you but I don't know whether they did or not. We only answered a few questions and kidded back and forth so there was nothing important said.

I have to get back to work now—so take care of yourselves and let me know the gossip. What's Paul doing, anyway? I have a lot of letters to write and tell him I'll drop him one when I get around to it.


July 20, 1941

Dear Folks,

Have been keeping busy trying to keep busy with nothing much going on to speak of. Had an interesting session with Ambassador Winant the other night. We had a little trouble about a story which was withheld for security reasons, but which the embassy forgot to release. Winant seems to be a combination of backwoodsman and schoolboy—but a hell of a nice guy. Also met the First Lord of the Admiralty Alexander at a press conference, and he wasn't so impressive. Seemed to be sort of a word worker type.

The only people I have been afraid of—in connection with Britain's war effort thus far—have been the politicians. Just as in our government, federal and state, they too often think of votes or of personal achievement rather than consider their country. Britain cannot afford to have many of this type of man in high places right now. However, I don't think he is very prevalent here.

Newspapers and everyone else here are withholding judgment on the outcome of the Russo-German war. We all hope, of course, that Russia will win. But for the first time so far in the war, I think everyone is being sensibly realistic. After Norway, France, Greece, Crete, and Libya, everyone has learned that you can't talk an army to victory.

The Russians have done much more than anyone expected them to do—for which we are all thankful—but if they are defeated, then we in Britain will have the battle back on our hands. Consequently, we are hoping that Adolph will be pretty tired when he gets through. From what has happened so far, we know that he already is bruised.

I want to ask you again to be careful what you allow Jim Porter to put into his column from my letters. You gotta remember that the United Press reads these things too, and I don't want anything to appear in print that might be used against my integrity as a newspaperman. You have to be careful of those things these days. Tell Jim to be careful for me.

Went to a Fourth of July party given by Douglas Williams, head of the American division of the Ministry of Information, the other day. Life photographers were there making a "Life goes to a party" series—but I don't know whether I was included in the photos or not. It was a good show. Everyone had a grand time, and plenty of liquor flowed.

Since the pastime in this country is walking, I took one the other day with Ed Beattie, bureau chief here. We went across the Epsom Downs—really beautiful country. It seems in some places to be a carefully ordered and trimmed Ozarks. Walked about seven miles, more than I have in a long time. But it was worth it.

Have been shifted back to the office after a boring session at the Ministry of Information. Am now working a swing trick from noon to eight p.m. and sometimes from four until midnight. Not many interesting assignments kicking around. Met the Russian military commission when it came to town—then got a shock when I interviewed some injured firemen, a couple of whom had most of their faces burned off. Also interviewed some American nurses as you saw.

Off the record, I have been writing some pieces about the American industrial system for the Ministry of Information. They are merely definitive and descriptive stuff, and so far I have made about $40. Have two more on order now.

Heard from Carl Smight the other day. He didn't mention anything about being married to Alice Haldeman-Julius except to say that it might happen soon. He is now working for the Chicago Tribune, which is a promotion over the other job he had. One of my pals here was shifted to Africa, and another may be going to Iceland soon. I was hoping that I might get a shift to Moscow or something, but nothing is on the horizon yet.

That's about all for now. Can't think of much of anything else. Am feeling fine, and along with everyone else am getting a little bored. But we can usually depend upon Adolph to come up with something.



1959. Dissatisfaction with the CBS TV News Format

Bill Downs Proposes Changes at CBS
"Edwards on the set of Douglas Edwards With the News (1952)" (source)
CBS News Office Communication

November 18, 1959

To: Sig Mickelson

From: Bill Downs

I write this on a personal and confidential basis because I don't want people to think I'm nosing in where I have no business. I hear from Howard and the grapevine down here that there is concern over the ratings on the Edwards news show and possible changes on it, or the format.

So, he said, sticking his nose in, may I pass along my ideas on the subject?

CBS News has dominance because it has better men. The Edwards show has made minimal use of the staff. I would suggest that if the Huntley-Brinkley show has gained on our 6:45, it is because it gives a greater illusion of coverage of the news than a report out of New York supplemented by anonymous film and a regular news analysis.

I would suggest that correspondents who cover a story in Washington, Paris, or wherever report it. Even if this means using an audio feed from London or Paris with balops. It is better to have the on-the-spot report than a rehash of the wires. On domestic stories, I would suggest that separate voices—or film or live when possible—of the correspondent who covered be called in.

The change in format would make Edwards more of an editor than the narrator—there would be a built-in dynacism [sic] in switching—and I think that on dull days this format could be played with to pick a newsworthy subject and venture into some reporting in depth.

I obviously make this suggestion because it will give everyone including me more exposure as a CBS News correspondent, a thing that some office boys in New York don't know.

I also would like to revive an old suggestion which has been kicked around for years but never really tried. It also might provide the excuse and the opportunity to unify the newsrooms—radio, TV, public affairs, and what have you under one roof.

In the days of massive truth, it's pretty obvious that the Edwards newsroom is a set, whether the teletype machines in the background work or not. It's not a CBS newsroom and really never pretended to be. It's a studio. So why not do it from the newsroom? Why not say we have a late report from Paris on the De Gaulle-Khrushchev conference—"Rack up the Paris film, Joe. Come in, Dave Schoenbrun in Paris."

The same newsroom setup should apply to Washington too, and the switch could be used from desk to desk. A reporter could use charts. He could even bring in the news principal or an expert for short interviews; the same for New York reporters.

I think Doug does a fine job of news coverage and am not criticizing it. But I think possibly it has become settled and solidified, when most of the time news is exciting, shocking, horrifying, funny, or fascinating.

I think also that the Huntley-Brinkley routine is settling into a pattern that will eventually become a kind of minstrel show, ending up "Good night, Mr. Jones—Good night, Mr. Bones."

It's not necessary to go overboard on the newsroom idea, with people dashing around and that sort of stuff, but it seems to me that CBS News can be portrayed as a working organization under conditions of reality better than on a set—or am I wrong? The first thing necessary, I would suggest, is to throw away the makeup kits.

Anywhere, there it is. What do you think, I betcha.


Friday, March 20, 2015

1943. The Air War in Crimea and East Prussia

The Fighting Rages on During Easter
Soviet fighters at an unfinished German bridge in Crimea, November 1943 (source)
Bill Downs


Friday, April 23, 1943

This morning's communiqué says that there were no essential changes on the Russian front last night. However in the last 24 hours in the Kuban, 500 Germans and Romanians were killed in a series of attacks, after which they were forced to retreat in disorder.

This fighting in the Kuban, which the German command is throwing wave after wave of men and aircraft without regard to losses, still has not taken on any pattern. However, there are indications that the Nazis are gradually wearing themselves out. Front dispatches this morning say that the Germans more and more are putting Romanian troops into the vanguard of their local attacks. Thus the Romanians suffer the heaviest losses. The dispatch says that when the unlucky Romanians show a reluctance to attack, or when they appear on the verge of retreat, the German soldiers behind them liven their spirits with Tommy gun bullets. A good number of these Romanians have been killed by their own allies.

It was revealed today that the Germans have moved hundreds of bombers and fighters into the high and dry airdromes of the Crimea to support the Nazi attacks across the Kerch Strait in the Kuban. These bombers are the ones that have been making mass attacks on the city of Krasnodar, the capital of the Kuban, and other military objectives west of the city.

But the transfer of new German bomber squadrons to the Crimea also means something else. Ever since the post-thaw fighting in the Kuban began we have heard of the strong Russian air attacks on the Nazi airdromes. The fact that many of these airdromes are in the Crimea means that the Soviet air force has carried its attack in force to this peninsula for the first time since the Russian forces were pushed out of the Crimea after the fall of Sebastopol.

Russian intelligence has collected some interesting facts about this new German bombing force in the Crimea. The pilots and bombardiers and navigators are all young, unseasoned flyers. Many who have been captured say that they were on their second and third fighting operations after graduation from the German training schools.

The Nazi flying command is attempting to give these kids flying experience by flying them over the Kuban battlefield in bombers that carry no bombs. They usually get only one such flight, however, and after that they are on their own.

The Russians say their bombing is pretty bad. They usually drop their bombs too soon in their hurry to get back to their bases, and they don't know much about taking evasive action. During two days of their mass raids on the Krasnodar District, 98 German planes were shot down. This totals almost an entire German air wing.

The Germans undoubtedly moved this strong bomber and fighter force into the Crimea in order to cover a German "Dunkirk" evacuation across the Kerch straits if such became necessary. These German and Romanian attacks in the Kuban appear to be Nazi attempts to postpone that necessity.
Bill Downs


Saturday, April 24, 1943

. . .

The Soviet air force again carrier the air war to East Prussia, and first details of the two hour raid on Insterburg report fires and havoc among barracks of German reserve troops, as well as serious damage to the city's important railroad junction.

Insterburg forms the eastern apex of the important German communications triangle connecting Koenigsburg and Tilsit. This district not only connects Hitler's Baltic troops with their rear supplies, but is also a big base for reserve troops and quartermaster's stores. Pilots said that the first in Intsterburg were so fierce that they could smell the smoke from the height at which they bombed the city. The barracks district was set aflame, and bombs dropped on the railroad junction and warehouses. The weather was good.

Tonight at midnight, thousands—perhaps millions—of people will jam Russia's cathedrals to celebrate the holiest day of the Russian Orthodox church. The siege laws of Moscow and other cities which impose a midnight curfew will be relaxed tonight so that the faithful can worship from midnight through the long, four hour service celebrating the resurrection of Christ.

Moscow churches will be so jam-packed that people will not have room to kneel. At these services, such as the one I saw at Christmas, the people jam the churches so tightly that the faithful even have difficulty in crossing themselves.

The Russians celebrate the Easter season and the breaking of Lent by taking special buns and cakes to the church to be blessed. For the past week, the Moscow market has been jammed with women bargaining for eggs and flour and sugar. (There is quite a barter in these things.) And this year there will not be any light, fluffy cakes—and few raisins and frosting in these cakes—but there will be cakes to be blessed, and that's all that matters.

Another Russian Orthodox custom is that the worshipers take lighted candles with them after the service and walk three times around the church. This custom, however, will have to be omitted this year as it was last. The blackout bans such a display of light.