November 7, 2014

1943. The Russians React to Victory in Tunisia

Allied Victory in North Africa
American troops land near Algiers during Operation Torch in 1942
The parentheses indicate portions that did not pass Soviet censors for military or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 13, 1943


The American and British and French troops in North Africa don't know it, but their heroism and sacrifices and courage have achieved something here in Russia that a thousand diplomats and a million words could never have done.

This victory in Tunisia is being heralded on the Soviet press and radio with all the fanfare and praise which usually is reserved for the heroes of the Red Army.

The United States doughboys who took Bizerte are not only soldiers, they are diplomats in arms. And today these doughboys and their comrades have won a hundred and eighty million friends in the Soviet Union—friends who are ready to lay down their lives here on the Eastern Front with the same willingness that the men of America and Britain and France gave theirs in the long fight along the southern shores of the Mediterranean.

The Allied victory in Tunisia concludes the first phase of the first combined operation between Russia and Britain and America. You remember it started last November when the British Eighth Army broke the Alamein line. Then the American troops landed in Africa. And then the Red Army started its winter offensive, beginning with the victory of Stalingrad and the march eastward to the Donets.

All these achievements came within two weeks of each other. It's a thing to remember when we consider the impending battles this summer. Perhaps it will be May, or June, or July that will go down in history as the key month in the second phase of the United Nations' strategy.

That's a question that must be worrying Hitler and Mussolini right now. At any rate, it's the question which is the subject of almost every discussion here in Moscow.

Meanwhile, the Russian people are keeping one eye on their own front as they celebrate the victories of their Allies. The Red Army is still gnawing away at the German defenses in the Kuban—the Soviet air force is delivering its bombs with the regularity of enthusiastic milkmen.
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Bill Downs 
CBS Moscow
May 13, 1943

American prestige in Russia has never been higher than it is tonight. The complete and utter defeat of the Germans and Italians in North Africa has boosted Allied stock sky-high. The American and British and French troops have achieved a victory big enough for all the United Nations to share—and Soviet Russia definitely is having some.

I talked to a number of Russians today to get their reactions to the great victory in Tunisia. The reactions are virtually all the same—the Russians say "It's a great victory for us," and they emphasize us.

The waiter at my hotel here in Moscow said he was not surprised by the victory. "We in the kitchen," he said, "knew all the time that you Americans and British would win. We are now calculating for next move on the continent. (Most of us think it will be through Italy or the Balkans.")

(And then I ran into a friend of mine who is a captain in the Red Army. He congratulated me on the Allied victory and then said: "You know, I am a little disappointed. At Stalingrad we only took 93,000 prisoners out of 330,000. Already you fellows have captured over 150,000 of them. It's too bad you couldn't have killed a few more.)

(That's the natural reaction to all men in the army who have fought through one ruined city and village after another that had been held by the Germans.)

There is no longer a question about a second front. People here don't even ask about it any longer. The attitude now is that the Second Front is something for Hitler to worry about. From now on the Russian people are going to be too busy fighting their own war on this front to do much worrying. They also hope that in the meantime the Allied troops will give them more opportunities to cheer the American, British, and French troops.

This Allied victory in North Africa is the second big setback that the Axis forces have suffered since Hitler came to power. The first was Stalingrad.

No one over here is taking the time or trouble to argue whether Stalingrad is a bigger victory than Tunisia or vice versa.

From the number of casualties inflicted, Stalingrad undoubtedly was a much bloodier battle. But from the standpoint of all-over strategy, the North African victory probably is a greater achievement.

It is a cheering sign that there are no such foolish arguments or discussions going on in Moscow tonight such as those which arose in America after the last war—you know the old argument that "we won the war for the Allies."

Russians simply don't think that way. After what the Soviet Union has suffered, the people of Russia don't care to waste time talking about who won what. It has become pretty clear over here that unless everyone puts ever ounce of fight and energy into this war, no one is going to be able to talk about winning anything for a long, long time.