Repairing the Velikiye Luki Rail Line
(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
March 28, 1943
DOUG EDWARDS: On the vast Russian battlefields, the Red Army appears to be consolidating its positions and beating off Nazi attacks. For a direct report on the situation, Admiral radio takes you now to CBS Moscow, Bill Downs reporting.
BILL DOWNS: (The last two communiqués from the Soviet command have started with the sentence "no essential changes occurred at the fronts.") This is the first time that this phrase has appeared in the Russian communiqués since last summer's lull in the fighting.
It is true that the fighting has slackened all along the Russian front—but it can hardly be called a lull. There still are attacks and counterattacks on the Smolensk front, and the Germans are still trying to gain effective initiative at Belgorod on the Bryansk sector. The Red Army continues its painful advance through the mud of the Kuban.
It's true that the front is comparatively quiet—but it's the kind of quiet you would get if you put a lid on a live volcano.
The Red Army's railroad battalion has achieved something of an engineering miracle. In a little over two weeks they have succeeded in opening the vital Moscow-to-Velikiye Luki trunk railroad. The first military train moved over this railroad yesterday.
The repair of this stretch of 280 miles of railroad was one of the most difficult assignments any engineering corps has ever had. The railroad has been the center of a battlefield since the early days of the German invasion. It has been bombed by both German and Russian planes. Soviet partisans have blown it sky high at a hundred places (during the period when the Germans held the line.)
(And when the Germans were chased from the area, they did one of their most complete jobs of earth scorching along the Velikiye Luki-Moscow railroad. Every bridge was blown up. Switches and sidings were destroyed. In some places the Germans even burned the forest around some vital bridges so that the Russian engineers would have no material with which to reconstruct them.)
But even before Velikiye Luki was taken, the Red Army railroad corps went to work. They found that, besides to widening the gauge of the railroad tracks, they would have to virtually reset every railroad rail.
You see, the Germans not only destroyed all switches and frogs, but they also sent men along the lines with heavy sledgehammers who every fifty feet or so just knocked out a piece of railroad rail. I have seen this type of destruction in every place where the German Army passed.
(Consequently, the railroad corps had to saw and chisel these broken rail ends so that they could be joined together. At first, the repair gangs could only repair fifty of these rails a day. Before the job was finished, they were repairing 250 a day. Each gang—and there were four big corps working on the railroad—succeeded in relaying something like four to six miles of railroad a day. When a job was particularly difficult, the civilians in the neighborhood were called in to give a hand.)
You probably couldn't run an American streamliner at a speed of a hundred miles an hour over the reconstructed Velikiye Luki-Moscow railroad line today. But you can jog along at twenty to thirty miles an hour with heavy freight and munitions and arms. And that's what's happening today as the Soviet command reinforces its Velikiye Luki garrison—the garrison which is closer to the borders of the Soviet Union than any other group pushed to the east by the Axis invaders.
And this is Bill Downs returning you now to CBS in New York.