Awaiting a Second Front
|Field Marshal Erwin Rommel inspecting Atlantic Wall defenses in France, April 1944 (source)|
(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports)
February 19, 1943
(At the first of this year a new law became effective throughout the Soviet Union which, in its way, is an event of importance ranking with the present Russian winter offensive.)
(This important law provides that, in the future, military training will be taught in Russia's schools and become as much a part of the program as reading, writing, and arithmetic.)
I went to Moscow school Number 175 today to see just what was being done with the new military training program. (I found plenty.)
(School Number 175 is in a big red brick building and looks for all the world like any other school you'll find in the United States. The school-teachers have that same sort of threadbare patience about them, and the classrooms are like classrooms you can see anywhere.)
I got there on a day that the older boys—kids about 14 or 15—were taking their military lesson from a Red Army captain. (This Red Army man, like all military instructors in the schools, was assigned to this post by the government's Commissariat of Defense.)
He was drilling the boys in a large auditorium and using a traditional top-sergeant voice. The kids, who drill for one hour five times a week, were pretty good. Occasionally there would be a left-face instead of a right-face—a few heels were stepped on—but on the whole they looked pretty good.
This was the afternoon session. In the mornings, the captain shouted his orders to the girls. They get ordinary military training too.
(The school-kids start their military training with the first grade and during their first four years of schooling take gymnastic exercises and play military games. The kids in the fifth, sixth, and seventh grades take what's called "elementary military preparation." This includes general drill, hikes or marches, and the basic principles of soldiering.)
(The boys in the eighth, ninth, and tenth grades get the pre-mobilization training. This is the group I saw drilling today.)
Before they get out of school, these boys will know how to handle a rifle and machine gun and mortar. They'll know the rudiments of artillery. They'll have a tough training period of infighting with bayonets, grenades, and their fists. They will have made long marches and become familiar with night maneuvers.
The girls, whose training follows the same pattern, will when possible study radio, telephone operating, nursing, and such. However the girls too will know how to handle weapons.
Explanation of the new regulations extending military training to school children was given in the newspaper Moscow Bolshevik. The newspaper said "Soviet school children must be full of a sense of civic duty capable of heroic deeds in fighting and for high productive labor in industry and agriculture."
February 20, 1943
(The Russian winter offensive today is at a stage which might be described as "in between victories.") The tempo of this Red Army's advance through the difficult Donetz basin has been slowed.
A severe blizzard has hampered operations north of Kursk and given the Germans in this sector and around Orel an opportunity to rush reinforcements into their defenses.
(Only) in the Caucasus (has) the Red Army made substantial progress the last few days. Here the Soviet troops are slowly forcing the German forces towards the Taman bottleneck on the Kerch Strait. The Russian strategy here is to slowly squeeze the remnants of Hitler's army out of the Kuban like toothpaste out of a tube.
One of the biggest surprises I've had here in Russia was my experience yesterday with a history class of 14-year-old boys at a Moscow public school.
I was having a look around the school and wandered into the classroom (in time to hear a lecture on Iran. It was the sort of class discussion that you could get in any school in America.)
The teacher asked me if I wanted to ask the boys any questions. Well, I knew that sooner or later these kids would want to know when America was going to start a second front. Russian people always do. (If I've been asked that question once over here, I've been asked it a million times.)
So I decided I would beat them to the draw. I asked the class just how and where they thought a second front should be started.
Those kids (put up their hands to express their own pet theories) had as many theories (—well you might have thought it) as the combined general staff (meeting) in Washington. The reaction was terrific.
One black-haired youngster (who seemed to be a spokesman for the majority opinion) walked to the map on the wall and outlined a campaign through Italy. (It involved taking Sicily and Sardinia followed by a combined assault on Italy itself from these islands and from the northern coast of Africa.)
However, there was opposition to this plan. A tow-headed kid named Tolya took over the discussion. His argument that there was nothing particularly wrong with the Italian invasion plan except the supply question. He advocated the classic move through France. (The second front supply question would be alleviated through England and direct supply communications with America.)
(There was considerable agreement to this reasoning).
And then up stepped the boy who obviously was a grade-A student. He wore thick glasses and his ears that morning seemed to have escaped his mother's inspection. But he was a leading figure in that history class. You could tell by the way the other boys shut up when he talked. His named was Felix.
Felix was all for an advance through the Balkans. He explained that (the position of Turkey had been stabilized and said that) the Balkans were definitely Hitler's back door. There would be, according to Felix, much help from the Balkan population. And after this landing, the invading troops could join up with the Red Army and clean up Europe from the East.
After that, I thought the discussion was ended and that I was going to escape without getting asked any questions. However it came anyway. "When is the second front going to start?"
I told the history class I didn't know—but I promised I would pass along their second front strategy to the United States. So there you are—the report on military tactics from the seventh grade history class of Public School Number 175 in Moscow.