June 3, 2015

1943. The Second Battle of Poltava

The Fight for Poltava
"Soviet soldiers preparing the rafts to cross the Dnieper (the sign reads 'To Kiev!')" Battle of the Dnieper, 1943 (source)
"Советские солдаты готовят плоты для форсирования Днепра. Битва за Днепр, 1943 год. Надпись на плакате 'Даешь Киев!'"

In 1951, Bill Downs recalled his reports on the Battle of the Dnieper as a prime example of Soviet censorship. He wrote:
"As for the suspicion and fear, the best example I have of that concerns the Battle of Poltava near the end of 1943. I went with my secretary to the Lenin Library to look up the First Battle of Poltava in 1709 when Peter the Great defeated Charles of Sweden. I managed to dig up the number of men involved, the number of horses employed, and the number of guns in that first battle that ended the era of Swedish conquest. I thought it would make an interesting angle to supplement the 1943 battle story. However, the censor stopped all the statistics on that 240 year old battle because, he explained, it is 'military information.' It was obvious that he suspected some sort of a code."
The broadcast below is one example of this. The parentheses indicate portions censored by Soviet press officials.

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

CBS Moscow

September 23, 1943

It was just a little over 234 years ago that the Russians achieved one of their historic victories. It was at Poltava where the Russians, fighting under Peter the Great, defeated the Swedish army under Charles XII.

Two countries and thirty-four years later—today—the Russians have won another big victory. They have again defeated an invader at Poltava. An Order of the Day from Marshal Josef Stalin announces the capture of this city.

Today's victory is a big one, but no one is claiming that it is as great a victory as that which vanquished the Swedish army in 1700. And it is interesting to note that some 42,000 Russians engaged some 27,000 Swedes in this ancient battle. (When the fighting was over only some 1,300 Russians were killed.)

The modern battle for Poltava has been going on for about a month since the Red Army advance west of Kharkov. The Germans in this sector concentrated large forces of tanks, mobile guns, and infantry to serve as a powerful armored guard to protect the German retreat from the Donbass. (This armored guard was originally designed as an armed fist which was supposed to counterattack and retake Kharkov. This plan failed to materialize.)

Today this armored fist is in full retreat to the Dnieper. The German base of Poltava was one of the most powerful in the Ukraine. It was taken with much greater casualties for both sides than either the Russians or the Swedes suffered two centuries ago.

It is a Russian victory that Peter the Great would have been proud of.

Tonight's Russian communiqué also announces more great advances. The Red Army, driving down the railroad leading southwestward into Kiev, has taken a station only some twenty-two miles from the city. This is the closest that the Russians have been to the capital of Ukraine since 1941.

Around the key city of Smolensk the Red Army has developed another threat to this bastion, this time from the south. A Soviet breakthrough has placed the Russians only some fifteen miles south of the city. Now the Germans have to face a pincer movement on their northern and southern flank defenses supporting Smolensk.

Another Red Army gain is announced westward of Bryansk. Here the Russians are on the march in the direction of Gomel and have taken a key railroad town some ninety miles to the west of the city.