April 8, 2015

1943. The Red Army's High Spirits

Flames of Vengeance
"Soviet soldiers singing on the road next to the village of Velikiye Luki" in 1943 (source)
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

August 14, 1943

I had a good look at the Russian summer army yesterday when I was down behind the lines of the Bryansk front. It goes without saying that this army is different from the troops which defeated Von Paulus at Stalingrad, although many of the men I saw had fought in the Volga battle.

It's not only their clothing that's different. The Russian summer uniform is a heavy grey-brown cotton drill fabric which can be washed at any stream. It's simple and cool and more practical than glossy.

(Most of the summer army is shod in the usual high leather boots. I saw a lot of puttees, and many of the shoes the men were wearing were of British or American make.)

But there is more of a difference than mere clothing in the summer and winter army. The spirit is different. The troops marching up to the front sing—they sing jauntily and loud—about everything from the girl "Katusha" who also bears the name of the Russian secret weapon—to songs about Moscow and the girls they left behind. At Stalingrad the situation was much more grim...the spirit more desperate.

All along the rear about dusk you can see the Red Army's campfire as the men prepare their dinners. (Not all units travel with field kitchens, particularly if they are waiting for assignment to join other units at the front.) These campfires are a beautiful sight. I saw them from an army headquarters on a height overlooking the Oka river valley. These fires, spotting the ridges and slopes of the rolling steppe, make an unforgettable sight, particularly if you look to the horizon and see the reflection of the burning ruins of Nazi occupation. Those peaceful looking army campfires are flames of vengeance. The big light on the horizon is reflected fear.

The campfires are stamped out before complete darkness sets in. I stood on this height and watched them go out one by one, when up from the valley came the sound of an accordion playing a song I didn't know. It was a song in which several people alternated verses and ended with a lot of laughter.

I thought then, and I think now, that Red Army men will sing that song in Berlin before this is over.