January 9, 2017

1943. Russian Reverence for the Red Army

The Red Army's Exploits
Members of the Soviet 1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment in 1942. The regiment, made up almost entirely by young women volunteers, fought against the 16th Panzer Division in defense of the tractor factory at Stalingrad in August 1942 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

February 23, 1943 (Cablegram to New York - reformatted from telegram style)

You're going to hear a lot about the Red Army in the next couple of days—and how twenty-five years ago a group of peasants first met Kaiser Wilhelm's troops, inadequately armed in everything but spirit.

It's a great story, which in a generation became legend in Russia. It is a story of patriotism and sacrifice, which every nation in the world—including the Germans, Italians, and Japanese—could profit from studying.

However, during the Red Army's twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations, and as we recount the glories of Odessa, Kiev, Leningrad, Sebastopol, and Stalingrad, we are liable to forget the story behind the story of the Red Army.

It is a story of something that was born into the Red Army a quarter century ago, and it's something which no one as yet has been able to understandably define. It is a story behind the sort of fighting in Narva and Pskov in the last war, which repeated at Kiev, Odessa, Leningrad, Moscow, Sebastopol, Stalingrad, and hundreds of Russian villages in this war.

For example, here's what happened on November 17, 1920 fighting the Germans on the Perekop Isthmus. The Russians lost ten thousand men in this fighting. On the night of November 7, a strong Red Army force was in the process of wading through the Sivash when the wind changed and threatened them all with drowning. They were cut off from the opposite shore. In front of them only there were only the strong fortifications of wire entanglements around the powerful German position. The men were discovered, and German artillery opened fire. It was like shooting sitting ducks on a pond, but the Russians waded forward to face this fire, and where passages were cut off by wire, they threw their heavy coats over it. By sheer guts they established and held position on the German-held shore and aided in the fall of Perekop.

This is not propaganda—it is fact confirmed in the history of battle. There are a lot of other such stories in this war. For example, down in Stalingrad, in the fight for a tractor factory, one Red Army storm unit of a couple dozen troops were trying to outflank a pillbox which covered a vital communications area with murderous fire. Three times the storm group tried to outflank the German position. Each time they lost several more men. The group was led by a young lieutenant. He assayed the situation, took out a couple of grenades, and ordered the group to drive for the flank while he threw grenades. Under cover of the explosion, the lieutenant didn't run with comrades to flank. Instead he ran directly toward the aperture of the pillbox and blocked it with his body. His unit later picked up the body, half hung over a machine gun.

The same sort of thing is happening throughout the home front in Russia today in celebration of the anniversary. Factory after factory has pledged itself to surpass its work quota. Machinists, fitters, engineers, and factory managers contributed money to tank funds, air force funds, and dozens of other funds, although it's a hardship for most of them.

Even schoolchildren joined in these pledges to commemorate the anniversary. For example, at one school in Moscow, almost every student wrote pledges like New Year's resolutions designed to help the army. These pledges included promises to increase salvage collections or intensify military training, which came from older kids to such letters as sent by from an eight-year-old girl to her local principal. This letter said, "I promise I will study harder and get better marks. I also will not whisper so much in school, and I promise that I will be more polite to my elders. By doing this I will know I am helping the Red army at the front by being a better citizen." The letter was signed "Tanya."

Tanya isn't fooling. Such resolutions are not made with tongue-in-cheek comparable American New Year's resolutions.

The Russian people regard their Red Army as something between the esteem in which a Brooklynite regards the Dodgers and the reverence accorded to their nearest relatives.

Some people call it patriotism, others call it love for country. Whatever it is, it's one of the biggest factors in the twenty-five year history of the Red Army, a factor which made this army capable of defeating Hitler in freedom's greatest crisis.