The Fight for Ukraine and Belarus
|Soviet soldiers preparing to cross the Dnieper River in November 1943 during the Battle of the Dnieper. The sign reads "To Kiev!" (source)|
(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports)
September 26, 1943
An article in the Army journal, Red Star, today puts the question that is on everyone's lips (here in Russia): "Where is Hitler's army going to stop?"
This (same) question must be on the lips of the people of Germany.
Red Star gives the answer. Hitler's army will stop where the Red Army lets it stop. The war in Russia today is being conducted under the direction of the Soviet high command. Hitler's generals have very little to do with it.
The most important fighting in Russia today is on the banks of the Dnieper. Up in Smolensk, the Red Army is battling its way westward down the Dnieper Valley into White Russia. The river turns south in White Russia and winds its way to the Ukraine. In the Smolensk region, the Russians are on both sides of the river.
Down in the Ukraine, the Red Army is mopping up the east bank of the river (and, according to unofficial reports, has already crossed the Dnieper in two places south of Kiev and is fighting on the western bank.) The Russians are approaching the outskirts of the capital of the Ukraine having captured the town of Brovary, only some seventeen miles away. Long-range Russian artillery probably has the suburbs of Kiev already under fire.
But the big story in Russia today is still Smolensk. Front dispatches this morning tell of the heroic exploits of Russian soldiers who crossed the Dnieper there and fought before their clothing was dry.
Smolensk is one of the most ancient cities of Russia. Historians have called it many things—"the key to Moscow," "the necklace of Russia."
Today it is more than just another ruined Soviet city liberated from the Nazis. It's an important milestone in a victory march which, if it continues, may be instrumental in the freeing of Leningrad—and the liberation of the Baltic States.
The newspapers this morning also print news of the formation of an Allied military-political commission to be established in Algiers.
The Soviet representative of this commission will be the Vice-Chairman of the Soviet Foreign Commissariat, Andrey Vyshinsky, who is also the Vice-Commissar for Foreign Affairs. This commission will have the initial task of dealing with armistice terms in Italy. More importantly, it will also deal with "similar problems of enemy territories liberated by the Allies."
Mr. Vyshinsky is a leading figure in the Soviet Foreign Office. He is second only to Mr. Molotov. You remember, it was Vyshinsky who acted as prosecutor in the purge trials in 1937.
Mr. Vyshinsky is going to be a busy man, even after the problems arising from the fall of Italy are settled.
September 28, 1943
The Red Army continues its amazing advance tonight, taking advantage of exceptionally good weather in the north to drive for complete capture of the Dnieper line.
Tonight's communiqué announced the capture of over a thousand towns and villages, mostly on the northern sectors of this offensive.
The biggest bag was the five hundred inhabited points captured in twenty-four hours in the direction of Mogilev, the city that is the primary objective of Russian troops now fighting their way into White Russia.
Three hundred towns and villages were captured in the Vitebsk direction. Vitebsk is also in White Russia. More importantly, since the fall of Smolensk, Vitebsk becomes the northern anchor of the whole position in the Dnieper valley. The city also protects the entire flank of the German army group holding the line south of Leningrad.
The Russians are advancing at the rate of six to twelve miles in this northern sector. Down south around Kiev, the Germans are obviously throwing in more and more reinforcements in front of the city. The fighting there is increasing in bitterness, and as a result the Russian advance has been slowed in this sector.
Along the big Dnieper pond, the Soviet command still has announced no bridgeheads across the river. The Dnipropetrovsk and Kremenchuk Red Army forces still are closing in on isolated groups of German soldiers whose fate is extremely perilous. Already we have reports of the Nazis abandoning large amounts of equipment on the east bank of the river. More can be expected.
The Tiger tank, at this moment, is probably one of the greatest liabilities that the German army possesses. This Tiger weight some sixty tons. You can't put a sixty ton tank on an ordinary pontoon bridge, especially across a river like the Dnieper.
It's the same problem with other heavy German equipment.
The weight of armor which the Germans hoped to roll to Moscow has, for the first time, turned into a major obstacle for them. Heavy armor is no use in a retreat—not when you have to carry it.
September 29, 1943
There is thunder over the Dnieper today; the thunder of Russian artillery shelling ferry crossings where the Germans are making desperate attempts to save manpower and equipment from being pushed into the river. Fierce air battles are being engaged up and down the river from Kiev southward. The Germans have increased their aircraft support on this front, but the hard-pressed Luftwaffe hasn't enough planes to meet the Russian superiority in the air.
The Russians are now engaged in a desperate battle for Kiev. The city of Kiev is on the western bank of the Dnieper. The Nazis are making a big stand on the eastern bank. We have few details of what is going on in this battle for Kiev, but all indications show it to be one of the biggest engagements since the original Red Army breakthrough at Belgorod and Orel.
This fighting in the Ukraine has now become a struggle for bridgeheads across the Dnieper; bridgeheads which both sides need for this winter's campaigning. The Germans need them for defensive strategy. The Russians need them for the coming winter offensive. It would be a great advantage if these bridgeheads could be established while the weather is comparatively good. However, such crossings cannot be captured without hard fighting, which promises to turn into some of the most desperate battles of the summer offensive.
Up in the north, the Russian troops are still rolling westward into White Russia. The advance on Gomel, Mogilev, and Vitebsk is going at a pace from six to twelve miles a day. The Germans don't seem to be able to do much about it. As long as the weather holds, this advance seems destined to continue until the German forces are engaged on the outskirts of these three cities which peg the Nazi defense line in White Russia.
A new high in Nazi criminality is being reached in this big westward retreat. Throughout their backward march, special demolition squadrons have been destroying property at random. All able-bodied residents of the scorched earth areas have been driven before the retreating Wehrmacht. The Russian troops have been moving so fast that they are daily freeing thousands of these helpless people who the Germans had neither time to kill, nor take with them.
Lately, the advance has been so fast that the Germans have not even had time to do a decent demolition job. But they are doing something more terrible.
Groups of fast tanks or armored cars are driving through undefended villages, firing incendiary bullets into haystacks, into thatched roofs; even shooting cattle and horses. People have been hunted down like rabbits. One order, discovered in the Ukraine, ordered all "men" from the ages of ten to sixty to cross the western side of the Dnieper. The order said that all who refused to obey the order would be considered partisans and shot.
September 29, 1943
It's not news anymore, but Moscow's siege guns boomed again tonight in salute. This time it was for the capture of another obscure town on the Dnieper: Kremenchuk.
We haven't gotten the full details yet on the capture of Kremenchuk, but Marshal Stalin's order of the day was addressed to the troops of the Steppe Front. (These Russian troops are led by Army General Ivan Konev—and there is a good story behind the men of the Steppe Front, even though today we don't have the full story.)
We heard about the Steppe Front for the first time last winter when the Red Army was arching westward from the Caspian in the Kalmyk Steppe just north of the Caucasus.
The next we heard of them, they were participating in the original summer's breakthrough at Belgorod. From Belgorod these troops participated in the capture of Kharkov. And the last we heard of them, they were fighting in the toughest battle in the entire summer offensive—the battle of Poltava.
It was the men of the Steppe Front that captured Poltava, (where the Germans had their biggest concentrations of armor and manpower to protect the troops falling back from the Donbass. Poltava was finally taken—by the troops of the Steppe Front. And now the men under General Konev have reached the Dnieper.) The capture of Kremenchuk virtually wipes out this Nazi salient that they maintained as a dangerous wedge into the heart of Ukraine.
The men of the Steppe Front have reached the Dnieper, but they will be hard to stop.
Late tonight, Marshal Stalin issued another order of the day. This was to celebrate the capture of the railroad town of Rudnia in the north. Rudnia is on the main railroad between Smolensk and Vitebsk, but it represents a major wedge between these two cities. Rudnia is only forty-four miles east of Vitebsk, and less than ten miles from the northern border of White Russia.
The other major development announced in the Soviet communiqué tonight is the advance of the Red Army to the eastern bank of the Dnieper, opposite of Kiev. The Russians are within artillery fire of the main part of the city right now. Their heavy guns are moving to the east bank of the river where they can fire into the German positions dug into the hills on which the ancient capital of the Ukraine is located.
German resistance on the approaches to Kiev is as fierce as it has been anywhere on this front since the war began.
Kiev is a bridgehead across the Dnieper which the Germans cannot afford to lose.