Sunday, May 3, 2015

1943. The American Ambassador Visits the Ruins of Stalingrad

The Soviet Union Reacts to Churchill's Speech to the American Congress
"Soviet troops patrolling the ruins of Stalingrad, Russia." February 2, 1943. Photo by Georgi Zelma (source)

The sentence in parenthesis was prohibited by Soviet press officials from being read on air.
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 19, 1943

The Russians are going to find a lot that will cheer them in Prime Minister Churchill's speech to the American Congress. They have not yet had a chance to examine the speech. We correspondents listened carefully to it as it was re-broadcast from London.

Tomorrow or the next day, all the Russian newspapers will undoubtedly carry full digests of the speech. And the Russian people are going to read it and listen to it on the Soviet radio looking for only one thing—they will watch only for references to the Second Front.

They will like Mr. Churchill's full and freely given recognition that Russia bears the main weight of Germany's armed might, but they will like even more his statement that the armed forces of America and Britain "presently shall furnish further examples" of the Allies' ability to wage war.

To the Russians that means a Second Front, and not in the too-far-distant future.

Mr. Churchill's declaration that America and Britain must take some of the weight off the Soviet Union is a full-fledged promise to this country. It's a promise that is bound to be reflected in the entire outlook of the nation as it faces another, and perhaps its greatest, trial of the war.

(There probably will be no official reaction to Mr. Churchill's statement that Mr. Roosevelt and the British Prime Minister hope to meet with Joseph Stalin.)

Joseph Davies, special representative to President Roosevelt, arrived in Moscow this afternoon. He said that he is "only a messenger" carrying a sealed letter from the president to Russia's commander-in-chief. We would make no statement as to the content of the message.

Mr. Davies visited Stalingrad yesterday and laid a spray of lillies-of-the-valley on a common grave for the defenders located in the city's main square. The former ambassador said that he and his crew were appalled by the complete destruction of the city. The general reaction of the crew was this:

"The so-and-so's—I could tear them apart with my hands..."

Mr. Davies said he wished every American fighting man could have a look at the tragedy of Stalingrad before he went into battle against the Germans.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

1943. Heavy Air Fighting Over the Central Front

Pushing Toward Smolensk
Russian airmen in front of a Yak plane
Bill Downs


Sunday, March 21, 1943

The news from the Battle of the Donets this morning is more encouraging than it has been for the past several days. The German drive seems to have bogged on the wet right bank of the river, and the Red Army is inflicting heavy losses on the Nazi forces both in men and equipment.

This morning's communiqué from the Soviet high command admits that the Germans have made some progress in the Chuguyev sector, but they paid an exceedingly high price for a minor advance.

But on the other sectors of the Donets river battle line, not a single German advance was reported. Front dispatches say that the Soviet resistance has been so telling in this fighting for the river that the Germans have been forced to change their tactics.

In the early days of this counteroffensive, the Nazi command took advantage of its superiority in manpower and equipment and rushed the Red Army back by sheer force of arms in direct frontal assaults.

Today, however, the Germans are finding this to be too expensive. They have given up these frontal assaults and are now trying infiltrating flank attacks. This one fact alone makes good reading, especially when you consider just how different this battle is from the Nazi blitzkrieg warfare that used to carry Hitler's armies forward at a rate of twelve to fifteen miles a day.

Flying weather along the entire Russian front has improves during the past week. As a result, the war birds are again in full flight. For the first time this spring, large scale air operations are being used by both the Russians and the Germans to support their offensives.

The heaviest air fighting in the past few days has been on the front extending southward from Vyazma to the Bryansk sector. Here Soviet pilots have for the first time reported large numbers of the latest Focke-Wulf fighters. These fighters include not only the early two-cannon P-W 190, but also the latest four-cannon jobs, the Focke-Wulf 190 A-3. The Red Army fliers say that these new German fighters are out in large numbers on this central sector.

The air fighting is mostly done over the battlefields, although some of the fiercest fighting has been during Soviet air attacks on German supply bases in the rear.

The Russian pilots, like the American and British fliers operating from England, report that the Germans, even in their newest plane, will not give battle unless they have the advantage both in numbers and tactical position.

The new Russian fighter planes—that is the last models of the MiGs, the Yaks—have shown no inferiority in performance in these latest air battles on the Eastern Front. Twenty-three air battles were fought over the Central sector during the past two days. During this short period the Germans lost seventeen fighters.

Both the Russians and the Germans are taking advantage of the clear moonlit nights to carry out large scale night bombing on supply points. In the daytime, the bombing is mostly confined to Stormer operations by fighter-bombers who search out troop concentrations and artillery positions.

And remember, American planes are also playing a part in this Red Army aerial offensive. Medium bombers and fighters from the United States helped break the German resistance at Rzhev and Vyazma. Presumably they are still in the battle as the Russians push toward Smolensk.

Friday, May 1, 2015

1944. Retaking the Russian Railways

American Transport on the Leningrad Front

Bill Downs


January 23, 1944

DOUG EDWARDS: Moscow dispatches report that Red Army troops are moving southwest and southeast of Leningrad today in an encircling move around German forces south of the city, and are threatening to cut off their last escape routes by rail. The enemy is concentrated in the area north of the Maghach to Krasnodar to Bataysk railroad, which cuts across all six lines radiating from Leningrad.

Columbia correspondent Bill Downs has just returned to this country after a year in the Soviet Union, and he's here in the studio with us today. How does the present battle of Russia look to you, Bill?

BILL DOWNS: Well, second-guessing the Red Army is dangerous business, even when you're in Moscow, Doug. Right now, of course, the battle in the north is a big story.

EDWARDS: Well, reports from Russia stress the importance of railroads leading into Leningrad. For example, the capture of the rail junction of Maghach. We are told that the main trunkline into the city has been freed for traffic.

DOWNS: Undoubtedly the freeing of this trunkline between Moscow and Leningrad is of primary importance, but for the past six months there has been rail connection between the two cities. It was a roundabout route which entered Leningrad through the Russian-held corridor northeast of the city. Civilians, with necessary permission, have been riding sleeping cars between Moscow and Leningrad all fall and winter.

This line was under Finnish and German artillery fire, but scores of trains got through. It was this rail line that carried much of the heavy equipment into Leningrad which has made the present offensive possible. Building of this auxiliary line under fire is a great tribute to Red Army engineers.

EDWARDS: How long do you think it'll take for the Russians to restore the main Leningrad to Moscow trunkline?

DOWNS: Well, that depends. When the Germans tear up a railroad they do the job completely, uprooting ties and even putting special explosives under each individual rail to blow chunks out of them. But right now, the Russian offensive is rolling on American wheels.

EDWARDS: What do you mean by that, Bill?

DOWNS: There are probably more American trucks and jeeps and weapon carriers in Russia than any other country outside the United States. Supplies for the Stalingrad victory were largely carried on American ten-wheelers which can negotiate the deep Russian snow. It was the same at Oryol and Belgorod last summer, and again at Kiev where these American trucks were able to cope with Ukrainian mud.

Now they are doing another winter job around Leningrad. Tens of thousands of American trucks form the last vital link between the supply centers and the front line. The Russians love them, and they're using them well.

EDWARDS: But how do the Russian drivers keep this transport rolling in the subzero weather there?

DOWNS: Well, you'd have to see it to believe it. Russian drivers don't waste time with radiator alcohol or antifreeze mixtures. Every time they start a truck they drain the radiator. When they want to start it up again, they build a fire.

EDWARDS: What do you mean, "build a fire?"

DOWNS: Well, they take some wood and paper and crawl under the truck and build a bonfire under the motor. Why they don't burn up half their transport, I don't know, but it works. When the fire heats up the engine they start it up and keep it running. Then they put water in the radiator and drive until they have to stop again.

It might not be the best way of handling a truck, but that's the way American trucks are carrying the stuff to the Red Army today outside Leningrad. It's a perfect example of two guys getting together to lick Hitler—Joe Doakes in Detroit is doing one grand job building those trucks, and Joe Doakesky, the Russian truck driver on the Leningrad front, is putting this labor to good use. That's the kind of war it is.

1945. HITLER IS DEAD - Headlines 70 Years Later

Front Pages from May 1945

These are May 1945 front pages of The New York Times, The New York World-Telegram, and The New York Sun collected by Bill Downs and his parents in May 1945.

May 1, 1945 (full resolution)

May 5, 1945, featuring the article by Bill Downs (full resolution)

May 7, 1945 (full resolution)

May 7, 1945 (full resolution)

Thursday, April 30, 2015

1940. Maps of the Current State of the War


The New York Times, March 3, 1940

These maps were printed in a rotogravure picture section in The New York Times in March 1940.

War Map of Europe (full resolution)

Where War May Spread (full resolution)

Western Fronts: On Sea and Land (full resolution)

Empires and Routes of Empire—Lands and Ship Lanes of the Allies (full resolution)

Before Hitler—GERMANY—Since Hitler (full resolution)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

1943. The Leadup to May Day

Joseph Stalin's Order of the Day
Russian World War II propaganda poster: "The spirit of the great Lenin and his victorious banner inspires us to fight the Patriotic War" Joseph Stalin——"ДУХ ВЕЛИКОГО ЛЕНИНА И ЕГО ПОБЕДОНОСНОЕ ЗНАМЯ ВДОХНОВЛЯЮТ НАС ТЕПЕРЬ НА ОТЕЧЕСТВЕННУЮ ВОЙНУ... (И. Сталин)" (source)

The parenthesis featured in these broadcast transcripts mark portions that were censored from broadcast by Soviet officials for either military or propaganda reasons.

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

Thursday, April 29, 1943

The Polish Ambassador Tadeusz Romer and his Moscow staff leave by train today for Kuibyshev to join other members of the Polish embassy. The entire group, numbering about a hundred persons, will then leave next week for Iran.

Admiral Standley, the United States ambassador, and Sir Archibald Clark Kerr, the British ambassador, will extend the usual diplomatic courtesy to a departing ambassador and see Mr. Romer off at at the station.

All was more or less quiet on the Russian front last night. Nothing of importance happened.

However, this morning's Red Star for the first time gives a definite hint of what the Soviet command expects to happen in Russia this summer.

An editorial said that the spring lull at the front is not feeling anyone. "This is the lull before the storm—before great battles which will not wait much longer."

Then the newspaper said, "The Germans undoubtedly will attempt to use the summer to improve their positions...Naturally, the power of the German military machine is considerably undermined by the defeats dealt by the Red Army. However, the Germans undoubtedly will launch new adventures."

The army newspaper said that the Germans continue to send remnants of their reserves to the Soviet-German front and are accumulating military equipment.

"We must not only frustrate the adventurous plans of the Hitlerians," the newspaper continues. "But we must deal the enemy such powerful blows that they will decide the issue of the war. We must be prepared for decisive battles."

This has been the realistic tone of the Soviet command since the German defeat at Stalingrad. If the expectations expressed in today's Red Star editorial come true, the Germans are going to have another try at conquering Russia this summer.

Sitting here in Moscow, it's hard to figure out where on the front that the Germans could strike and gain any sort of decision. However, it is obvious they are going to have to hit the Red Army somewhere, somehow. Hitler simply cannot afford to let this front remain quiet and allow the Soviet armies to pile up a superiority of men and equipment against him.

You will notice that the editorial did not mention any plans for a Russian offensive. However, there is a hint that maybe the Soviet high command has some plans of its own for this summer, but it's only a hint.

Red Star said "The ousting of the enemy from Russia has only started."

You can be sure that the Red Army will continue the process through the summer months.

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

Friday night, April 30, 1943

Joseph Stalin is expected to commemorate Russia's May 1st holiday with a special order of the day to the Red Army. It has been May 1st in Moscow for just two hours now, and such an order of the day has not yet reached the hands of reporters here.

But Stalin usually does not let such national occasions pass without some sort of official mention. You remember Stalin's last order of the day was issued on the Red Army anniversary on February 23.

At that time, he reviewed the 20 months of Russia's struggle against the Nazi and Fascist invaders and announced that the Soviet armed forces had put nine million Germans out of action, including four million killed.

Exactly 67 days have passed since Stalin's last order of the day. Since that time the tremendous Russian winter offensive has wound up. There was the new offensive west and northwest of Moscow which resulted in the capture of Rzhev and Vyazma and Demyansk. There was the early spring which bogged these offensive as they drove toward Smolensk and Staraya Russa. And the winter offensive was officially ended. (A special communiqué issued at this time declared that the four month and 20 day winter offensive had cost the Germans thousands of tanks, thousands of planes, and 1,193,000 men killed and captured.)

Then came the German counteroffensive west and southwest of Kharkov and in the Don Bass. The Red Army lost the city of Kharkov on March 15, and were pushed back to the Donets river. However, the Russians still hold about one third of the Don Bass.

On the political front, since the last order of the day Russia has sent a food mission to the United States to discuss postwar food problems. (This is the first move made by the Russian government towards postwar collaboration with her allies on postwar problems.)

And the most important development has been the severance of relations with the Polish government. This has raised an entirely new set of problems for the United Nations and still is the hottest diplomatic question among the Allies.

Yes, if Joseph Stalin issues his expected order of the day, he will have plenty of scope for discussing the developments in Russia during the 67 days since his last order was made public.

It is a document worth watching for.

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

April 30, 1943

(This morning's Russian communiqué only mentions the fighting west and northwest of Moscow. There were only local engagements on the Smolensk front and, south of Lake Ilman, Russian artillery shelled a German infantry concentration, inflicting big losses.)

It was revealed this morning just how desperately the German command is trying to stave off Soviet preparations to kick the last of the Nazis out of the Northern Caucasus. The German aircraft have again attempted mass raids on Krasnodar, the capital of the Kuban. (It is the second time in the past ten days that Krasnodar has been the goal of the Luftwaffe.) On Wednesday and Thursday 116 German planes were shot out of the air by Russian fighters. The Russians have definite air superiority in this sector, and after the serious German losses, succeeded in an aerial counterattack. This morning's report said these planes inflicted serious losses on the enemy. The Soviet losses for the two days of fighting were 45 planes.

All of Russia today is preparing for the May 1st celebrations. Moscow has assumed what almost seems to be a holiday atmosphere—that is, as much of a holiday atmosphere as the capital of any country can have after almost 23 months of the most sanguinary fighting in history. It's a little hard to have dancing in the streets and riotous laughter here during a war in which several million Russians have died.

But the red flags are out all over the city. Every building displays a picture of Stalin and Lenin and Molotov and Voroshilov and other Soviet leaders. Red banners carrying the many slogans for May 1st are draped on every official building in Moscow. Mr. Molotov's foreign office building has the Allied slogan on it. It reads, "Long live the victory of the Anglo-Soviet-American union over the enemies of mankind, the German-Fascist enslavers."

Up on Red Square, big red banners six stories high are spread on the buildings opposite the Kremlin. It is these banners that carry the main theme of the May Day celebrations. In the past, the theme of International Labor Day has been the slogan "Workers of the World Unite," and these big banners used to carry the slogan written in all languages of the world.

However, today these banners carry only one slogan written in Russian. This slogan is, "Under the banner of Lenin and under the leadership of Stalin, forward to the routing of German occupiers and their ousting from our fatherland."

This morning's newspaper editorials say that this May 1st is the day of the review of the fighting forces of the workers. And on the Red Square there is the slogan written in Russian saying, "Workers of all countries unite for the fight against the German-Fascist invaders."

But the feeling of Russia on the eve of May Day is best expressed by the newspaper Izvestia. It says that the Russian people this May are expressing their ardent love for their country—and a sacred hatred of the enemy.

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

Saturday, May 1, 1943

Joseph Stalin's order of the day is probably the most cheering and optimistic statement to come from the Kremlin since Russia entered the war.

This fact is all the more significant when you consider that Stalin is no military Pollyanna. He's still the same hardheaded realist that held Russia together through a year's fighting retreat before turning on Hitler to deal Germany the most terrible blow that that nation ever suffered.

Consequently, when Stalin says that the "German-Italian Fascist camp is undergoing a great crisis and is now standing before catastrophe," he's not talking through his hat.

The other significant fact in this order of the day is that the Soviet supreme commander-in-chief for the first time has given full marks to his allies. (You remember all other of Stalin's war statements complained that the Soviet Union was bearing the full burden of the war.)

Today's document has nothing but praise for the Allies and their fighting in North Africa and in the air over Western Europe. These blows by Russia's allies, Stalin says, foretell the formation of a second front in Europe.

The entire order of the day reflects the assurance and confidence of a man sure in his allies and agreed on their common strategy. (It is a welcome change of tone.)

Stalin also gave a clear answer to those outside of Russia who might have fears as to the intention of the Soviet Union after the Germans have been ousted from this country. He rejected potential Axis peace agreements and asked, "Is it not quite clear that only the full routs of the Hitlerian army and the unconditional capitulation of Hitlerian Germany could bring a peace to Europe?"

The Stalin plan for victory set down in his order of the day. He says that only "two or three more powerful blows from the east and the west are necessary" to knock Germany and Italy out of the war. He means such powerful blows as the one at Stalingrad and the Axis defeat in Africa. But he warns that these blows are going to be bitter, bloody, and expensive for both Russia and her Anglo-American allies.

The order of the day has created great, good feeling for Russia's allies here in Moscow. It must be creating some great worries and a good deal of concern in Berlin and Rome.

It is serving as a great pep talk for the hard-worked and hard fighting Russian people. It is also great ammunition for the war of nerves against the Axis.