December 2, 2014

1943. Comparing Moscow and London in Wartime

Two Cities on the Brink
Source: "December 1941. Fresh forces going to the front from Moscow."
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

January 1943
I have been in Moscow just two weeks today and I've had a pretty good look around. Up until last November I spent two years in wartime London. Perhaps you would be interested in a comparison of the capitals of America's two greatest allies.

War does strange things to cities—especially cities so close to the enemy. The Germans are only some eighty miles across the English Channel from London. They are just about 120 miles from Moscow, where Hitler has dug in at Rzhev.

Moscow and London have about them the same look. To both of these cities, war has been like the grey hand of a corpse throttling their lights and gaiety and everything which you like to remember as pleasant in a city. Both cities are drab. There is the same "I need painting" look about the buildings. The empty shop windows stare out on Gorky Street in Moscow with the same blind look that they do in London's Piccadilly.

Here in Moscow there is that same silent fighting spirit. As in London, it's not a flag-waving, parading hullabaloo sort of war spirit. You have to look closely at the Russian people to detect it. You have to look in their eyes and at the set of their chins. You see in the people of Moscow the same determined, grim look that you could see in the brave citizens of London during their heaviest bombings. And when a Muscovite looks grim, I mean he really looks grim.

Although Moscow went to war almost a year later than London, there is in the Russian capital much more of a sense of urgency; of actually being in the war. You see more wounded men in Moscow than you do in London. You see about twice as many women doing some sort of war work, from driving buses to shoveling snow. You see about the same percentage of women in uniform. (But unlike Britain, where the women march mostly as separate units, every fourth person in a line of Red Army troops is liable to be a woman.)

All in all, it seems to have been a harder war in Moscow than it has in London. The people are not so well dressed. It is not at all uncommon to see a housewife wearing her husband's boots and overcoat while she does her shopping. There is no such thing as style in Moscow. You dress to keep warm and forget how you look. And the ordinary British people, with their increasing supplies of American food, look much better fed than the ordinary Russians.

However, even a casual glance at the Red Army man is enough to convince you that, basically, Russia is all right in this war. He's big, well fed, and well armed. From the viewpoint of plain fitness, toughness, and strength, of all the armies that I have seen since this war began, there is only one that looks as big and as tough and as strong. That's the United States Army.

This is Bill Downs returning you now to CBS in New York.