Soviet Troops Breach the Nazi "Eastern Wall" Defense Line
|"Soviet machine gunners on the banks of the Dnieper River near Kiev," 1943 (source)|
(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports)
September 11, 1943
Today's front reports are jammed with statements like this:
The Red Star reporter with the advancing troops from the Donbass says: "On all sectors Soviet troops continue to develop successful offensive operations."
Further north, in the direction of Kiev, the front correspondents report: "Our units pursue the Germans."
Southwest of Bryansk, where the Russians have crossed Hitler's Desna River line, Soviet correspondents cable: "We continue to overcome enemy resistance."
Today we are witnessing the biggest general retreat in military history. The Red Army in the Southern Ukraine is less than thirty miles from the only German rail communication with the Crimea. They are fighting (less than) forty-five miles from the Dnieper River itself. In this direction the Russians expect a big and violent battle for the two bridgeheads across the river—Zaporozhye and Dnipropetrovsk.
In the Central Ukraine, a Soviet spearhead has penetrated to within eighty miles of Kiev, and is driving hard in the direction of this ancient city which forms the heart of the entire German position in Southern Russia.
In the Northern Ukraine, the Red Army has crossed the Desna River to the southwest of Bryansk and is fighting on the western bank for the town of Novgorod-Seversky.
And around Bryansk itself, other Soviet troops are approximately twenty-five miles north and south of the city advancing in a great encirclement maneuver.
Adolf Hitler's dreary words to the German people will be of little comfort to the Nazi armies which now are running westward with their tails between their legs. The main job of the German command today is to keep this retreat from becoming a rout—which it is threatening to develop into on several sectors.
The Russians are capturing whole trains loaded with supplies and equipment which the Nazis intended to move westward to fight another time. They are capturing whole piles of mines which the Nazi engineers did not have time to bury in roads and fields. The Germans are running so fast that they aren't even bothering to destroy crops and villages in the race to save their own skins.
If this is what Hitler calls an "elastic defense," he's finding out that it has a much faster snap-back than stretch forward. The Russians intend to make Hitler's "elastic defense" snap all the way back to Berlin.
September 19, 1943
Ambassador William H. Standley is en route to Washington for consultation. His recall, it is understood, was made at the special request of President Roosevelt. There has been no indication here as to what the nature of the consultations will be.
It has been known here that Admiral Standley planned to return to the United States before winter set in. However, he did not plan to leave so suddenly. His notice to return home came only three days ago.
(It is considered unlikely that the admiral will return to Moscow.) He is 71-years-old. Also, there have been indications from America that changes in the American diplomatic setup here in Moscow were under consideration.
The Ambassador made the usual farewell call on Mr. Molotov. He did not call Mr. Stalin.
Frankly, I do not know what Standley's recall for consultation means. In this connection, developments in the next few weeks should be of extreme interest.
The successes of the Red Army have been so tremendous the last twenty-four hours that I do not have time to go into them in detail.
The Russian army driving on Kiev from the northeast is now only fifty miles away from the city. Two other Red Army groups also are making headway directly east and southeast of the city.
In the Southern Ukraine, another Russian army is only some thirty miles from the Dnieper bend. And further south, just north of the Sea of Azov, they are only some twenty-five miles from the main railroad line leading to the Crimea.
Meanwhile, in the Crimea, the Soviet forces again are on the move, slowly but surely closing up this sack which has cost Hitler hundreds of German soldiers and thousands of Romanians to hold.
Fall rains already have begun to fall down in the Ukraine. Front dispatches for the past several days have mentioned the increasingly difficult battle conditions.
It is all the more startling that, despite these increasing disadvantage, the Red Army, instead of slowing down, seems to be increasing the tempo of its advance.
On the upper Desna River valley, the Russians have expanded their double breakthrough at Bryansk and Novgorod-Seversky. And further down the river they are only some five miles from the important railroad junction of Chernigov. If Chernigov goes, and it looks extremely likely, then the Russians will have driven a wedge well into the upper Dnieper valley between Kiev and Gomel, both key cities in what now comprises Hitler's Eastern Wall.
This string of Russian successes have given wide circulation to a joke now going the rounds in Moscow. The story goes that a young Nazi soldier, known in Russia as the "total Fritz," asks his superior officer: "When are we going to win the war?"
The officer immediately draws back and knocks the young Nazi off his feet.
The soldier picks himself up and rubs his chin and says: "Herr Commander, I asked when are we going to win the war—not how."
September 20, 1943
The most sensational news from the Soviet operational communiqué is contained in the next to last paragraph. Here the Russians announce still another new offensive northwest of Smolensk, where they have captured another German fortress city, the town of Velizh. Velizh is some sixty-five miles northwest of Smolensk and only fifty miles from another key city in the Nazi defense system, Vitebsk.
This drive, in cooperation with the new breakthrough toward Smolensk itself, serves to threaten the rear of the German troops fighting in the Smolensk defenses. Most certainly, German supplies to Smolensk will have to stand the strain of two active sectors instead of one.
The other sensational advance announced in tonight's Russian communiqué is at the other end of the front, in the extreme Southern Ukraine. Here the Russians advancing westward along the railroad to Melitopol have reached a point only eight miles from this important railroad junction on the main rail supply line to the Crimea. (A little further north they are only fifteen miles from this railroad.)
Other advances toward the Dnieper bend, toward Kiev, and through the Desna River line further north continue to spread westward relentlessly.
Today we are witnessing one of the greatest offensives of military history.
The fighting that is now going on in the Soviet Union is like the homestretch spring that you see at race tracks. The sprint now is to gain the Dnieper and Kiev and Smolensk—and to so shatter the Desna river line that the Germans will not be able to dig in against the Russian winter offensive which is coming.
Although there is no sign of it yet, we can expect what is called an "operational pause" when the winter rains set in and when the snow begins to fly. This offensive has been distinguished by the fact that there have been no "operational pauses" since the German defenses were broken at Oryol and Belgorod, despite a difficult series of stages where the Red Army necessarily had to reorganize, reinforce, and shift its strategy.
All this was carried out while the armies continued to move west.
They are still moving.
|German soldiers advancing to the Dnieper River during the First Battle of Smolensk in July 1941 (Photo by Claus Hansmann - source)|
September 21, 1943
The story of the Russian front this morning is a tale of five cities. (The Red Army offensive is rolling so fast all along the seven hundred mile battle line that I would like to try to sum up the front situation by starting in the north with the story of these five cities which form the major objectives of the advancing Soviet forces.)
First in the north there's Smolensk, the Nazi fortress city which is the hinge of the northern and central German defense line. At one point in the frontal attack on Smolensk the Russians are only about eighteen miles northeast of the city. At the same time, a new attack northwest of the city threatens the German rear communications into this sector. Another Red Army spearhead is driving northward toward another German communications center serving Smolensk—this is the town of Roslavl.
Now, if you follow the Desna River southward through Bryansk, you will come to Chernigov, the second in today's tale of five Russian cities. The entire three hundred miles of the Desna River line between Bryansk and Chernigov has been almost completely broken. And at Chernigov the Red Army already is fighting on the outskirts of the city. The entire Desna River down to Chernigov should soon be open for Russian military traffic.
Then seventy-five miles south is Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine and the center of the German defense line for all of Southern Russia. Northeast of the city the Russians are only thirty-five miles away, while to the east and southeast other Red Army troops are converging on Kiev along railroads and highways that spiderweb out from the city.
The fourth objective city is smack in the middle of the big Dnieper bend—the city of Zaporozhye. Here the Russians are only twenty-five miles away on the north and southeast approaches to the city. And at one point they are only a dozen miles from the east bank of the Dnieper itself. These troops north of Zaporozhye have a good chance of being the winners in the Red Army race to reach the Dnieper.
The fifth and last city in this Russian victory march is in the extreme Southern Ukraine—the city of Melitopol. Russian artillery already has the outskirts of Melitopol under fire. The vital railroad supply line to the Crimea probably already is useless for German military traffic.
The Red Army is now writing the final chapter in the tale of these five Russian cities. The final word in these stories will be: victory.
September 23, 1943
The Germans and Romanians are executing a miniature Dunkirk out of the Kuban as the Red Army slowly scoops them back toward the Taman Peninsula toward their last avenue of escape across the Kerch Strait.
The Hitlerian troops now are reported squeezed into the swamps of Taman with a front of only some thirty miles behind them. When they lost the port of Anapa yesterday, the Germans lost the last major seaport from which they could supply their troops. Now they have only the port of Taman on the Caucasus side of the Kerch Strait. Taman today is not importing supplies—it's an export center for beaten soldiers.
We should have a special communiqué soon announcing the final and complete liberation of the Kuban.
The Russians are within sight of the Dnieper in at least two places this morning (and it shouldn't be unreasonable to assume that some advance mobile units have reached the river itself.)
At one place some fifty miles down river from Kiev the Red Army captured the town of Pereyaslav five miles from the Dnieper. And then north of Zaporozhye other Russian troops are only a few miles east of the big Dnieper band. They are only eight miles from the city itself.
However, the most important advance yesterday was made by the troops approaching Dnipropetrovsk. Here they are only some fifteen miles northeast of this bridgehead city.
The Russians expect heavy resistance at both Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporozhye. These two cities form the only two crossings across the bend of the river and thus control the entire system of railroad communications within the bend itself.
There were two big bridges across the river at Dnipropetrovsk. There was one big bridge at Zaporozhye. The Red Army blew up all these crossings when they retreated across the river in 1941. The Germans are known to have built emergency crossings at both points, which they have widely used for military traffic. The Nazis undoubtedly will blow up these crossings when they are pushed back across the river.
You remember it was also in 1941 that the Russians made what was probably the biggest single sacrifice of the war when they blew up the big Dnieper dam and the power station at Zaporozhye. This destruction was so complete that the Germans never got any use out of the dam, which was one of the biggest sources of electric power in Russia.
September 27, 1943
Some day historians will probably call the fighting that is now going on in Russia the "Battle for the Dnieper." The Dnieper is the "old man river" of European Russia. People who live on the western side of the river—even though they might be on the Polish border—are said to live on the right bank. Moscow is on the "left bank."
Today the battle for the lower part of the Dnieper has virtually been won by the Red Army. Russian troops have reached the eastern bank in at least a dozen places south of Kiev. Front dispatches tell of isolated groups of Germans trying to make a last stand on the east bank—of Nazis drowning trying to swim across the broad, swift waters of the river—of rafts and commandeered boats being shot up by Russian Sturmoviks patrolling the river.
We have had as yet received no news of the Red Army establishing any crossings to the west bank of the Dnieper. But Pravda this morning pointed out that "the Red Army long ago mastered the art of forcing rivers." Pravda usually knows what it's talking about—so we can expect more news of Russian soldiers fighting on the western bank of the river.
On the upper reaches of the Dnieper, the Russians are driving for the railroad junctions of Gomel and Mogilev. Gomel is just east of the Dnieper while Mogilev, further north, is on the west bank. These will be two key German defense points in the fighting for this section of the river. But one new success already has resulted in the drive for the Dnieper in this sector. The Republic of Byelorussia has been entered for the first time in two years. It is the Soviet border state with what use to be Poland.
The battle for the headwaters of the Dnieper already has been won with the capture of Smolensk. Now the Russians are driving westward into White Russia on both sides of the river. The Dnieper turns south in White Russia.
News from the front this morning also gives us a slant on the weather. The drive into White Russia is being sided by exceptionally fine weather for this time of year. We've been having a sort of "Indian summer" part of this month. The Russians call it "butterfly summer."
In the area west of Smolensk and Bryansk, the Soviet forces are more and more running into swamps. One reporter said today that, without good weather, the swamps would be impassable—particularly under conditions of fall rains.
It has been a different story down in the Ukraine. Here, the skies have been cloudy and rain has been falling. Aircraft now patrolling the river have been flying despite bad visibility.