March 8, 2017

1943. Small-Scale Fighting on the Front Lines in Russia and Ukraine

Mud Season Slows the Soviet Offensive
"Red Army soldiers in a trench as a Russian T-34 tank passes over them in 1943, during the Battle of Kursk" (source)
The parentheses indicate portions that did not pass Soviet censors for military or propaganda reasons.

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

CBS Moscow

March 27, 1943

The past week or so the sector along the middle reaches of the northern Donets River has almost become the "forgotten front" of the war in Russia.

However, despite the fact that fighting has shown a marked decrease in scale on this sector, it must not be forgotten that it is along the Donets battle line that the most dangerous fist of the entire German army still is situated in Russia, waiting for an opportunity to strike.

A dispatch from the Donets front this morning points out that, just because fighting on this river line has decreased, it does not mean that the battle is over. There still are furious encounters between comparatively small groups—small battles which, if they develop any marked success, would immediately flare into major engagements.

Right now the Germans are confining their thrusts to small raiding parties. During the daytime, the Nazis carefully scout out the Russian positions. Then at night they send small groups of Tommy gunners—fifty or so at a time—across the river to attack the Red Army positions.

These military jabs are designed to feel out the Russian defenses and might well be preliminary sparring preceding another German attempt to land a knockout blow.

Most of the fighting is occurring in the bends of the river where the Donets winds through the flat Ukrainian steppe lands. And since the early days of their counteroffensive, the German command has changed its tactics. For some reason or other, the Nazi generals have ordered an economy of tanks on this sector.

Instead of sending their tanks ahead of the infantry as they did early in the counteroffensive to carry them to the Donets line, the Germans now send their infantry in front of the tanks. This move takes the main weight of a local offensive off the tank armor and allows the infantry to partially clear the way for them.

There might be two reasons for this sudden desire to save up its armor. Either Hitler sustained such damaging losses in his counteroffensive that he cannot afford to risk more losses right now, or he is "saving up" his tank armor until conditions are right and the ground is dry enough to try another major offensive.

Meanwhile, the Red Army also has had time to concentrate a striking fist on the left bank of the Donets. Soviet forces still hold all the major river crossings—in fact, not all of the Russian troops have been driven across to the other side of the river. There still are strongly fortified units on the German side of the river who are guarding the approaches to the Russian-held crossings.

There is no indication that major fighting is going to break out again on the Donets River line right away. However, the whole Donets River position is loaded with dynamite, and both the German and Soviet commands know it.
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Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

March 29, 1943

The Red Army's war of movement for the time being has settled into the Russian mud and become a war of position. Russia's spring here has gummed the wheels of both the Soviet and German war machines, and it is not likely that fighting will again be resumed on a large scale until the ground is solid enough to take the transport of whole armies.

Consequently, when heavy fighting is again resumed, you can expect it first on the southern sectors where the thaws are now most advanced.

A portent of this fighting yet to come was revealed in this morning's Soviet communiqué. For many days the battle west of Rostov has been confined to bitter artillery duels and active patrolling. However, during the last four days the Germans have won large air forces into this battle. Large-scale attempts to plaster concentrations and supply points in the towns and villages near the front line west of Rostov cost the Germans forty-seven planes during this four day period. It was a clear indication of German uneasiness about this front.

However, the Russian communiqué this morning again reported for the fourth consecutive time that "no essential changes occurred" on any of the fronts.

Military observers here in Moscow have been watching with interest ever since the Red Army's winter offensive to see whether Russian tank designers had solved the problems presented by the Soviet spring with the same skill with which they overcame the obstacles of fighting through a Russian winter.

The new Red Army "KV" and T-34 tanks, with their extra wide tank treads and their high ground clearance were one of the most effective factors in the Russian winter drives. (The Germans had nothing to match against these tanks when they moved like white-painted steel fortresses through the snow.)

But thus far the Russian mud has proved to be too much for any kind of machine. Even the dexterous jeeps, which we sent to the Red Army under Lend-Lease, get bogged down in the axle-deep mire and often have to be lifted to solid ground. (Horses can move through this mud only with greatest difficulty.)

While this spring mud is bogging the front lines, the Soviet command is preparing for the summer's fighting. Camouflage on planes and tanks and guns and trucks has to be changed from white to green to brown and black. Portable roads are being laid to the front lines, and supplies are moving over them.

New tanks (including at least one new type of heavy tank and at least one new type of "secret weapon") are coming off the production lines.

And just as important, there is some brand new American and British equipment (which is being held in reserve)—including some powerful tanks (which have not yet seen action in Russia.)

Added up, it looks like this summer will definitely not be a quiet one in Russia.