April 5, 2016

1945. The American First Army Crosses the Rhine

Crossing the River Rhine
The Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany, captured by the American First Army on March 7, 1945 before it collapsed ten days later (source)
The excerpts below are from the CBS-published From D-Day Through Victory in Europe [PDF] (1945, p. 132-136), a collection of broadcasts made by their war correspondents during the Allied invasion of Western Europe. Bill Downs reported as he accompanied the First Army and spoke of the Allied capture of the bridge at Remagen, Germany:
(The Battle of the West is now in its decisive stage. The air is suddenly cleared. The Allied chase is on again. The tension is out of spoken and written reports.)
March 3, 1945

8 a.m.

BILL DOWNS (from First Army Headquarters):

These are like the good old days of France and Belgium. Things are moving so fast that it's difficult to keep up with the war. General Simpson's 9th Army continues to rout the German 15th Army after reaching the Rhine in two places. The 35th Infantry Division is on the outskirts of the town of Geldern, and at one place is only some five miles away from the Canadians, attacking from the north. The 83rd Infantry Division has virtually cleared the town of Neuse, just across the Rhine from Düsseldorf. Doughboys say the Rhine looks like any other river . . . wide, deep and wet. All in all, advances generally ranged from 4 to 10 miles on the 9th Army front yesterday last night. So many towns and villages were taken that no one has bothered to add them up. Prisoners up to the present count for the past 24 hours total more than three thousand.

The news from the 1st Army front is just as good, although not quite so sensational. Gains up to five miles were made yesterday and last night, and the 8th Infantry Division . . . stands a little over five miles from the Cologne city-defenses. Biggest advances on the 1st Army front were made in the southern flank of the drive where the infantry and armor are swinging around to the upper reaches of the Erft River.

. . . On the plain in front of Cologne, armored units northwest of the city have a bridgehead six miles deep across the river. Heavy Nazi resistance has been encountered there. The 9th Army's advance to the Rhine has created a big sack on this side of the river, threatening to trap the retreating German army. The Rhine-crossings around Cologne now are a matter of life and death to the Nazis. They can be expected to fight bitterly for them and for the road networks leading to these crossings.

Prisoners to whom I've talked the last few days are confused and shocked by the force of this offensive. In one group of prisoners captured, there were members of the Luftwaffe, men from the Panzer Divisions, parachutists, Volks Grenadiers, Volkssturmers, and regular army men; and all of them were fighting as infantry. This makes German confusion west of the Rhine pretty complete.
(One of Columbia's correspondents went across the Rhine today with the troops of our 1st Army. He's back now with a transmitter on the western shore.)
March 9, 1945



I have just returned from a narrow strip of land east of the historic Rhine River, where one of the most important battles of this 20th Century civilization is just beginning. Yes, I said "east" of the Rhine, east of Germany's Old Man River. The United States 1st Army has a firm and solid bridgehead into the low, rolling, wooded hills across the river south of Cologne. And the bridgehead is being reinforced and is growing every hour. This is a surprise victory, a lucky throw of the dice of war that has sent us across the Rhine. I can't tell you the details right now, but it's a story of courage and daring that has been matched in this war since the invasion of Normandy. The enemy has been caught with his pants down. It was only this afternoon, twenty-four hours after 1st Army troops crossed the Rhine, that there has been any resistance from the Germans. I was on the Rhine when the artillery began to hit our assault troops, but there was only a breathless kind of firing by 75 mm. guns that was doing now harm. Although I can not locate for you the specific part of our bridgehead east of the Rhine, there is no military security involved in telling you that we have made our new attacks in one of the most spectacularly beautiful sections of the Rhine Valley. The crossing was made at a place where, only four hours before, hundreds of German soldiers were fleeing across the river. We had taken at least one village across the Rhine when I left the bridgehead at 3:00 o'clock this afternoon. We got to the high bluffs, looking down on our crossings, last night. The enemy has no direct observation on the spot, for our troops are pouring across in greater and greater numbers.

This crossing of Hitler's last major water-barrier in the west is another example of the daring of General Hodges' 1st Army. The 1st Army has earned one of the greatest reputations in American military history since it invaded the coast of France, nine months ago.

April 4, 2016

1949. Allied Occupation Officials Convene Ahead of West German Elections

Military Leaders Meet in Germany
"President Truman with John McCloy, U.S. High Commissioner for Germany (center), and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, in the Oval Office of the White House," January 23, 1950 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

July 31, 1949

The United States Joint Chiefs of Staff are spending the weekend conferring with High Commissioner John J. McCloy and other top American officials in Germany. Tomorrow they will hold their first strategy conference with foreign military men when they meet with representatives of Luxembourg.

The talks are top secret, and the visit of America's highest military leaders has again focused the attention of conquered Germany on the ever-present possibility that a shooting war could replace the Cold War struggle now going on between East and West.

The Communists here have finally received their propaganda instructions after several days of suspicious quiet concerning the military talks. The Russian-licensed National Zeitung starts off the party line with a front page banner headline declaring that the "US Chiefs of Staff Arrive for Mercenary Research." Western Germany is to be the military training ground for the North Atlantic fleet, the newspaper declares. It goes on to say that the visit of the three top military leaders marks a new chapter of American history: armed intervention in a foreign land during peacetime. The Communist paper calls the American staff directors "bankers in the uniforms of generals" who are in Europe to arrange profits for US war industries. It charges that America's war plans call for the United States to contribute the atom bomb while Europe supplies the human lives.

Generals Bradley and Vandenburg and Admiral Denfeld will leave for London on Tuesday, where they will continue their conferences with their British opposite members. On Thursday a meeting is scheduled in Paris with Field Marshal Montgomery and French, Belgian, and Dutch military authorities.

They will then go to Rome and Vienna before returning to the United States.

Today is the last day of the airlift, and beginning tomorrow work will start on the redeployment of between sixteen and seventeen thousand men called from all over the world to defeat the Russian blockade of Berlin. General John K. Cannon said that most of the men would be returned to the bases from which they were called. Only two troop carrier groups of about thirty-six planes each will be left in Germany when the staging out is completed. The Burtonwood, England base will be eliminated as a major repair station. The British are sending home about five thousand RAF men, leaving only two squadrons in Hastings.

I have learned through a confidential source that the Soviet military administration is conducting a widespread investigation into a series of mysterious explosions in the Soviet zone which indicate that a German underground movement is operating against the Communist occupation authority. The latest attack is reported to have made last Monday in Potsdam, on the outskirts of Berlin, when a charge of dynamite damaged a Russian headquarters building. There have been other reports of Soviet military trains being derailed by explosives. So far eight Russian soldiers, including one officer, have been injured. The nature of the suspected underground movement has not been determined. Both Eastern and Western occupation authorities have been on guard against a possible secret organization of former Wehrmacht and Nazi leaders. There have been no such incidents in the three Western zones.
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

August 2, 1949

High Commissioner John J. McCloy left Frankfurt for the United States today for two weeks of consultations in Washington. His departure came less then twenty-four hours after announcing an overall reorganization of the American occupation machinery which will work with the new West German government as a civilian organization replacing the military government that has conducted affairs here for the past four years.

The McCloy plan consolidates a number of functions which will cut down the cost of our occupation. The High Commissioner for Germany will have a cabinet of eight deputies each heading a major operational division such as Economic Affairs, Political Affairs, Military Security, and so forth.

The new program makes McCloy chief representative of the State Department as well as head of the ECA Marshall Plan organization, which will earmark funds to project the West German economy in the European Recovery Program.

America's fiery commander of the British military post, General Frank Howley of Philadelphia, has also resigned his job. Howley, who has been in military government since he was appointed commandant of Cherbourg early in the invasion, says he wants to return to civilian life. The new Berlin commandant, according to reliable sources, will be General Maxwell D. Taylor, former member of West Point and now Chief of Staff of the Army's European Command.

Germany's election campaign is heating up, and today we have news of the campaign's first casualty. A Communist election worker was stabbed to death in Eastern Bavaria yesterday at a party rally. The victim was a clothing worker. The assailant was a 25-year-old refugee shoemaker who claims membership in the right-wing Christian Social party. The shoemaker said he stabbed the Communist clothing worker because he became exasperated during a political argument.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.

March 29, 2016

1968. The "Draft Rockefeller" Movement to Challenge Nixon

The Rockefeller Gambit?
Governor Nelson Rockefeller (left) with Richard Nixon in front of the capital building in Albany, New York on October 28, 1968 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

March 21, 1968

This is Bill Downs in Washington, for Information Reports.

Washington's political pros agree that Governor Rockefeller didn't really withdraw from the Republican presidential race—he just publicly went underground. More on the Rockefeller gambit in just a moment . . .

The word here in Washington is that Nelson Rockefeller made his qualified, "but if" withdrawal as an active Republican presidential candidate only after his own private polls showed signs that the Governor would lose to former Vice President Nixon in any Midwest primary contest; that Rockefeller might win by only a narrow margin in the Oregon primary—and probably lose again to Nixon in the important California race.

Which points up the growing power of the public opinion surveys which have mushroomed in this country. It was such a political poll in New Hampshire that forced George Romney out of the race for the White House.

It may be that Rockefeller handed his party's nomination to Richard Nixon on a silver platter by his actions, but the New York governor may still be leaving his door open for a draft by the GOP convention.

Again, it will be the political pollsters who decide Rockefeller's chances of getting that draft. By withdrawing as an active candidate, the governor distracts from Nixon's efforts to prove himself a winner, because no one is opposing him. Also, as time goes by, Nixon must take public stands on more and more issues, which makes him vulnerable to attack.

By June and July the pollsters will be making their crucial pre-convention public opinion samplings. If these polls show that Nixon can be beaten by any of the Democratic candidates, it may be the beginning of that "Draft Rockefeller" sentiment which the Governor's adherents are hoping for.

Conversely, if these same polls show that Rockefeller would run stronger than Nixon in key states with the most electoral college votes, the draft could turn into a political hurricane that could sweep the governor to the top of the Republican ticket. Maybe.

The Republican presidential convention opens in Miami on August 5. For a while today it looked like it might be a rather boring Nixon love-fest. However, it could be as gory and exciting political donnybrook as the Democrats expect in Chicago three weeks later.

This is Bill Downs in Washington.

March 28, 2016

1968. War Correspondents in Vietnam

"The United States Marines in Vietnam are Invaded by Reporters"
"Walter Cronkite conducting an interview in Hue, February 1968" (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

March 12, 1968

The weekly newspaper Sea Tiger is published by the III Marine Amphibious Force now fighting in Vietnam. A few days ago it printed an editorial as the Leathernecks were clearing out the battle area around the ancient city of Hue, and as the Communists kept the pressure on the Marine base camp at Khe Sanh below the demilitarized zone.

We thought you might like to share the warm feelings expressed in this editorial, which is indicative of the morale and spirit in the embattled I Corps area of South Vietnam.

Said the Sea Tiger: "Newsmen of every sort, size, shape, skill, sex and sect descended on I Corps in the past couple of weeks. Sensing the big stories at Khe Sanh and Hue, representatives of every major American news media moved in on the action. Joining them were their counterparts from France, Germany, Britain, Sweden, Italy, Australia, Japan, Okinawa, Korea and Vietnam..."

The editorial continued: "TV and radio networks were well-staffed. ABC News President Elmer Lower was backed up by three news teams. Walter Cronkite of CBS news flew in. NBC had four teams on hand for most of the period. Seven foreign nations had at least one radio or TV crew on hand..."

The Sea Tiger then went on to describe the task forces of war correspondents sent in by the Associated Press and United Press International; magazines like Newsweek, Time, and Life; and the major newspapers in the US and abroad.

The Marine newspaper also noted that the newsmen were suffering casualties. Igor Oganesoff of CBS and Bill Brannigan of ABC wounded at Khe Sanh; Sam Bingham of Empire News, Dana Stone of UPI, and David Greenway of Time magazine hit at Hue, to mention only a few.

And the Sea Tiger summed up: "They come and go—those in the front row of the 4th Estate—with little more recognition than the occasional by-line. But they do the job."

It's a rare on-the-spot tribute to the men and women reporting the confused and dangerous fighting in Southeast Asia, reporting that has become so commonplace on radio and television that Americans take it for granted.

But we like the tribute which the Marine newspaper unconsciously paid to its Leatherneck readers in Vietnam, when the editorial concluded: "So smile! Men, you're on cameras...and in newsreels, documentaries, newspapers, magazines, books and radio..." That's the way the Marines tell it.

This is Bill Downs in Washington.

March 25, 2016

1968. The Tet Betrayal

Crisis in the Far East
"Secretary of State Dean Rusk, President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara at a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House," February 9, 1968 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC News

February 18, 1968

Official Washington has been just as worried as the rest of the nation that the United States might be confronted with a two-front land war in the Far East. Since last month's hijacking of the USS Pueblo, the possibility of renewed fighting in Korea has caused some sleepless nights in this national capital.

It now seems pretty clear that the North Korean capture of the Pueblo and her eighty-three man crew fits into a larger strategic pattern which the Communist regimes of Pyongyang and Hanoi are employing.

It would appear to be what the think tanks call a "scenario"—a carefully contrived series of diplomatic, military, propaganda, and psychological warfare moves all designed to achieve victory.

For example, ever since the South Korean government sent some 48,000 troops to fight alongside the US forces in South Vietnam, the North Korean Communists have gradually increased their infiltration into the Southern Republic. Their harassment along the 17th parallel truce line has also intensified. The Korean Communists climaxed these provocations last month by sending a suicide squad of more than thirty commandos to assassinate South Korean President Chung-hee Park in the capital of Seoul. It now appears that the would-be assassination was timed to coincide with the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo.

As you know, the Pyongyang Communists failed in their assassination plot. They did succeed, however, in grabbing off the Pueblo—a crisis that is still hanging fire.

While all this was going on in Korea, Ho Chi Minh and his Hanoi Communists were playing a more subtle diplomatic game.

Last week, Washington finally released a six month old top secret that, since last August, the United States has directly and indirectly been in secret contact with Hanoi, trying to arrange a halt in the bombing of North Vietnam as a step toward general deescalation and negotiations for a settlement of the conflict. In fact, since early January, the US actually restricted its Navy and Air Force bombers from military targets close to Hanoi and Haiphong—notifying the Communist leaders there of this voluntary restraint as evidence of American sincerity and desire for peace talks.

As late as three weeks ago, an unnamed foreign diplomat was in Hanoi acting as a special envoy for President Johnson. But while these talks were going on, the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies demonstrated their attitude toward Washington's peace efforts by launching the countrywide guerrilla attack on South Vietnam's cities and towns during the Buddhist New Year's holiday.

Although no one in Washington or Saigon has yet to admit it, the fact that that the go-between diplomatic talks in Hanoi and elsewhere coincided with Communist pledges of a ceasefire and temporary truce during the Tet holidays must have affected the state of alert in the Allied garrisons in the South. The Saigon generals gave holiday leave to many of their troops. Thus the shock and surprise attained by the guerrilla offensive. The statement now emerging at the White House and the State Department is evidence of the official outrage and disappointment at such chicanery.

Part of the reason for this bitterness is that, for the past six months, President Johnson, Secretary of State Rusk, Defense Secretary McNamara, and other government leaders have taken personal and political lambasting from their critics, both hawks and doves. On the one hand, they have been condemned as barbarians and murderers by the antiwar extremists for not seeking the road to peace, which they were secretly doing at the time. On the other hand, they were blasted by the hawks and super-patriots for not wiping Hanoi and Haiphong off the map, but in the interest of getting peace negotiations underway, the administration could not conduct any escalation. Thus did President Johnson find himself in a domestic political whipsaw.

When the Viet Cong launched its offensive there was speculation—much of it drawn from captured Communist documents—that the attacks were both military and diplomatic in purpose; that the Viet Cong was seeking a propaganda victory to be used in efforts to better the Communist position at the negotiating table.

If this was part of the Hanoi government's "scenario," it might be said that the military part of it was more successful than the political. For it was true that a pair of North Vietnamese diplomats did show up in Rome and attempted to use the Italian government as a go-between to force their terms as a condition for negotiation with the United States.

Hanoi's new diplomacy also extended to Paris and got UN Secretary General U Thant into the act. Thant was in London after a diplomatic swing which took him to India and Moscow for talks with Premier Indira Gandhi, Russian leaders Brezhnev and Kosygin, and with Prime Minister Harold Wilson.

It became obvious that the Vietnamese Communists were trying to cash in on the bloodshed and brutality of the Viet Cong attacks, using their own aggression as an international lever on the United States to demand that the US stop the bombing and perhaps make a behind-the-scenes deal with the National Liberation Front.

Despite its chagrin at such whipsaw tactics, the State Department studied all of the Hanoi proposals carefully. There was no sign of reciprocity in the Communist diplomatic campaign—no softening of the arrogance in their demands, and no mention of President Johnson's "San Antonio formula" for negotiations, which included assurance that the Vietnamese Communists would not take advantage of a bombing halt to prepare new military assaults against the South.

Last Tuesday, the Pentagon announced that 10,500 additional combat troops were being grounded at General Westmoreland's request. The Defense Department described this sped up reinforcement as a kind of military "insurance" for the area. It will raise the total of US ground forces in the South to more than 510,000 men. Whether the present limit of 525,000 men will be raised is a matter for the future.

Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rusk decided that the United States had shown enough official patience with the diplomatic hypocrisy of the Vietnam Communists. Overseas intelligence sources had been reporting that Hanoi was spreading reports that the United States and the National Liberation Front were very close to the peace table and that a diplomatic deal was in the making.

Rusk set the record straight in an extraordinary statement. Hanoi has repeatedly refused to reduce the scale of violence in Southeast Asia, he declared, not only in Vietnam but also in Cambodia and Laos. In fact, Hanoi is stepping up its infiltration in all three countries.

Rusk charged that the Communists had made the Demilitarized Zone a thing of contempt. And concerning the recent US bombing limitations in the North, he said that the Communists took advantage of American goodwill to build up their military forces in the South.

"Ceasefire periods have been marked by hundreds of cynical violations by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces," Rusk asserted, "And on a massive scale during the recent Tet holiday."

"In recent weeks," Rusk said, "Hanoi knew that discussions of a peaceful settlement were being seriously explored; that they also knew there was a reduction of bombing attacks on North Vietnam, specifically in the Hanoi-Haiphong areas during these explorations."

"Their reply," Rusk pointed out, "was a major offensive through South Vietnam to bring the war to the civilian population in most of the cities of that country." He added: "Their preparations for a major offensive in the northern provinces of South Vietnam continue unabated."

Rusk said that Hanoi's alleged interest in political talks must be weighed against its military actions, and he added: "All of the proposals made by the United States for peace in Southeast Asia continue to be valid...but we are not interested in propaganda gestures whose purpose is to mislead and confuse...The US will be interested in a serious move toward peace when Hanoi comes to the conclusion that is is ready to move in that direction."

In conclusion the Secretary added pointedly: "Hanoi knows how to get in touch with us."

This tough statement by the Secretary of States and the sped up reinforcements to General Westmoreland are presumably the only part of the US response to the Vietnam Communists—and to their North Korean allies who hijacked the USS Pueblo.

If the combined "scenarios" of Pyongyang and Hanoi were to force a crisis of confidence in the United States, the capture of the Pueblo and the Viet Cong guerrilla offensive have failed.

On the contrary, Washington did not push the panic button during either crisis in Communist Korea or North Vietnam, and for this, President Johnson has gained stature both at home and overseas.

But there are officials here in Washington and other major capitals around the world who know that the American people can be pushed just so far. After that, tear up all the scenarios.