April 28, 2014

1948. Letters from the Berlin Blockade

The Berlin Blockade
Bill Downs in 1945
From 1948 to 1949 Bill Downs and his wife Rosalind "Roz" Downs lived in West Berlin as he covered the blockade and airlift. In these two letters home, Bill and Roz describe the city's condition, the rations, and the political situation. Small portions unrelated to the subject matter (well wishes, etc.) have been removed for clarity. They are designated by ellipses between paragraphs.
Oct. 19, 1948

Dear Mom and Dad,

We are having one of our first quiet evenings at home since we arrivedhence the burst of letter writing. As Roz has probably told you, we have one of the fanciest ice-boxes of any residence this side of the Rhine. We are taking three German lessons a week. I work not too hard since the UN has taken the story away from here. All in all it is chilly but pleasant life. We get about 500 lbs. of coal a month, which means we can have baths about twice or three times a week.

However in the backyardbeyond the swimming pool and near the air raid shelter which has never been destroyedwe have a dozen trees. Three now are missing and we have about a cord of wood in the basement. Then I think we can get some brown coal for the fireplace. It will be on the black market but it all is pirated from the Soviet zone, and we don't feel badly about it since it helps more than hinders the air lift.

You know just about as much as we do about what is going to come out of this mess. The decisions will not be made here. However the reflection of our policy shows here first and as far as I can make it out, we are preparing to continue this air lift for two years if necessary. There has been nothing that gives any hope for the lifting of the blockade in the near future. The Russians go as far as they dare without overtly precipitating war. I get the feeling that we do the same more or less. And the feeling is that there will not be any open, official conflict between the two major powers.

But there is one other possibility. The Russians are supposed to be organizing a "people's police"an unofficial armed group of communists in the Soviet zone and sector of the city. They have proposed that all of the Allies withdraw. This move, as it did in Korea, will leave an armed minority favorable to them behind to take over. This may happen, but it would not officially be war. In this sense, Berlin has become a symbol. Because we will not abandon our sector to this kind of default power politics.

Another possibility is that the so-called "people's police" being armed and organized here in Berlin will try a putsch and take over the city. However we won't stand for that and now it appears that the city will really be split politically and economically. The trouble is that if things really get serious we won't be able to maintain our position, even with the air life. That is if the Russians want to move with their army. They can take the air fields and all the rest. We don't have enough power here.

But neither Russia nor America nor anyone else seems ready for war. So we feel very, very safe.

Incidentally, this stuff is off the record—not for passing along for any local publication.

I have had dinner with Gen. Clay and Ambassador Robert Murphy several times. Clay is terrific. Murphy is a Republican but a nice guy. The American set up here is much better than I expected. The troops are tops, the press is high caliber, and the entire military government personnel is better than anywhere else I have seen it.

.   .   .

Roz Downs in 1948
Friday, Sept. 24, 1948

Dear Mom and Dad,

I'm finally getting around to writing to you again and there is really a lot to say. Ed Murrow has been staying with us for a week and everyone is pretty tired, and especially your son. Bill has been working very hard—has been on the air every day at 7 AM your time and 8 on Sunday. He's enjoying the work more though than any time since we've been married.
.   .   .

To get food we drive to the commissary which is about eight miles away. We have no refrigerator, and anyway there's not enough electricity in Berlin to keep an electric refrigerator going. So I should go to the commissary every day to get fresh food. But gas is rationed (ten gallons a week) and Bill needs it for his work. He has his office at home and he broadcasts about seven blocks away from here. And it's really wonderful having him around the house so much. He just got back from broadcasting and says hello. He's on his way to pick up Ed, who's decided he'll have to leave to go back to New York tonight.

We drove into the city the other day. Ed wanted to see what was left of it. The only opinion I have of the Germans after seeing Berlin and the other parts of Germany we've driven through is that they sure were damn fools. I think before the war Berlin must have been one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Now, there is no city. For miles on end three is nothing but rubble. You are startled when you see a building standing until you drive close to it and see it's only four walls with no insides.

Once also there was a Tiergarten—several miles of garden, walks, statues, monuments, trees, grass—a lovely place that I had seen pictures of. Now the trees have been chopped down for firewood, there is no grass. There are bomb craters all over, and the statues and monuments are only rubble.

It is very depressing to go into Berlin proper. As Ed said, it looks like the end of the world. It looks like something out of a fantastic story magazine; something that looks like a civilization of the past, now dead. It's pretty horrible how a people with what must have been a truly beautiful city could have started the war, I don't know; the people here also look terrible. Their clothes look like what you would find only in the tenement districts in America. Their food is still almost entirely bread and potatoes, what they can get.

Bill said I would feel depressed by it all—and morbid. That is true for you cannot see all this and help but think it might happen to the whole world if we're not careful. But I cannot feel pity for the German people. I have tried; I do feel sorry for the children. But I don't believe the people have changed. They're beaten down now, but if we were to give them twenty years of building, they would be back again, demanding. They are a very strong people, and they frighten me.

I think that is all I have time to say now. Sorry for the essay but there is so much here to talk about. I shall write again next week. 
.   .   .

April 25, 2014

1947. The Men in Germany's Future

The Men in Germany's Future
Their gun lathes dismantled, the Krupp workers can still destroy Europe. An on-the-spot observer tells how and why

"The Men in Germany's Future"
By Bill Downs

New York Herald Tribune, This Week Magazine, October 5, 1947, p. 5:
In the grimy, battered valley of the Ruhr lies the answer to Germany's future — and perhaps the future of the world. For the Ruhr is the home of the gigantic Krupp coal mines and steel mills that must be the backbone of any Central European reconstruction. It has also been the right arm of German imperialism for longer than her neighbors like to remember.

Taking the punch out of the Friedrich Krupp Gestahlwerke, of Essen, is one of the main tasks of the Allied Reparations Commission — now struggling with the preliminary job of thoroughly demilitarizing the Ruhr.

The work is not easy, for here is a two-sided problem to overcome: a problem of politics and a problem of people. The first hurdle is the international disagreement among Britain, France, and America over the future control of the Ruhr.

France wants international control, fearing that to give Germany any part of the direction threatens a revival of her arms industry.

Britain says that the Ruhr eventually should be socialized and that the power and responsibility for operating the rich industrial area should be given to the government and the people.

And the United States, anxious to institute peacetime steel production and to relieve the American taxpayer without furthering socialism, argues that the Ruhr should be returned to "democratic private enterprise" with Germans responsible for the limited peacetime economy of her industry.

But no matter what answers are provided to the above questions, the second problem of the Ruhr remains. That is the German steel worker, coal miner, and laborer.

The Ruhr worker, multiplied many times and directed by caliper, slide rule, and a series of ambitious, blood-thirsty governments, became the world's most skilled maker of weapons of war. In the years between wars, his competent hands produced the sinews of peace which often put the ravaged continent back on its feet.

In Krupp Gestahlwerke the artisan of steel reached his zenith. Generations of precision workmen in the biggest and busiest armaments shops in Germany created a select group of laborers who handed down the secrets and skills that made the Fatherland's armies the most feared in the world.

Today these workmen are as confused, as hopeless, and as demoralized a group of people as there is in all of Germany. Walking through the ruined Krupp gun shops, the dirty, ragged laborers seldom speak, even among themselves. Only the occasional hissing of an acetylene torch chopping up gun barrels breaks the almost cathedral-like silence.

Worried British overseers watching listless men tearing down the modern Borbeck steel mill will have seen it, too. "We have to warn the German foremen all the time to make the men on the scaffolding take safety precautions," one Yorkshire engineer explained. "Five men have been killed in falls. There's no excuse for it. It's almost as if they wanted to be hurt just to get off the job."
Bill Downs interviewing a German veteran
Another Götterdämmerung

What of these men? They are the ones, under whatever final policy is dictated by the Allies, who must meet the quotas, who must go into the mines and the mills and once again spark the reconstruction of battered lands.

The great threat — greater than uprising or strike — is that perhaps they will do nothing. For if apathy seizes the land, it will mean another kind of Götterdämmerung — a collapse in which Germany, wallowing in a masochistic glory, would drag Europe into the morass with her.

To find out what was going on in the minds of the men at Krupp, I talked to both workers and management. The leaders of the Krupp workers' committee have their headquarters on the gloomy third floor of one of the few buildings left standing of the Essen offices.

Bernard Ackermann is head of the committee. He is a mild little man, a Socialist who might be a minor official in the American Federation of Labor if he were an American. But his assistant, Hans Degel, is the power behind the local labor throne. Degel was a Communist who was a prisoner in the dreaded Belsen concentration camp.

More Workers Needed

Since the end of the war, the workers' committee has concerned itself chiefly with denazification, in seeing that no former Nazis are employed by Krupp. And it is becoming more obvious that, with the shortage of skilled labor in Essen, the investigations are growing less and less detailed.

Under the Allied Military Government, the union has no right to strike. Wages are frozen, so there can be no legal protest action on this issue by the union. However, Ackermann and Degel both say that the union plans to do something to bring wages within range of prices as soon as they are permitted.

But, in the words of these two union chiefs, the world should not condemn German labor too much for what happened in Germany. "There was a lot of opposition to Krupp and Nazi policy here," Degel said. The Communist reached in his desk and brought out a column of figures. It is said that a German can't breathe without a column of figures. "For example, seven hundred Krupp workers were sent to concentration camps because of their political views.

"Ninety-two percent of the Krupp management were members of the Nazi Party. Sixty-two percent of the white-collar workers were members. But only eight percent of the workers joined up — and mostly they did that because they were forced to."

But what does the German union think should be done with the Krupp factories and mines?

Degel looked embarrassed. There has been no directive from the Eastern Zone about such questions. With Germany split into four parts, the acquisition of ownership by zonal authorities would split the industry into international proprietorships — which doesn't follow the party line. The Communist labor leader's answer was ingenious — a little too ingenious.

"Why would it not be possible for the city of Essen to assume ownership of the plants?" Degel asked. "The city depends on Krupp. The city should own the mines and steel mills and factories. Nationalization might be a good idea later."

But what is the Communist Party position about the guilt of the German people? What do the Communists believe as separate from the union and other parties?

"The Communists believe," Degel said," that the German people must share the blame for the war. And this includes labor. But in the future, if the workers are to share the responsibility for the success or failure of Germany, they must have more and more participation."

The man took a deep breath and his speech seemed almost rehearsed. "The German people do not want to be dependent for their livelihood on the American taxpayer or anyone else. There would be no more war if the German economy were truly democratic and the people had the responsibility for keeping it that way."

Degel said there are now 10,000 Communist Party members in the Essen district. "But we have 40,000 other people supporting us. Our influence is increasing. Only in 1945 we were the smallest group. But since then we have shown the fastest and largest development.

"The reason for this is that we show the real way to a better future for Germany — which is through basic, socialistic, economic changes."

No "Good and Bad"

Degel grinned after his speech. He pulled a half-smoked cigarette from his pocket, looked at it carefully and lit it. He smoked in the postwar German fashion, drawing each puff carefully and holding the smoke in his lungs as long as he comfortably could.

"Under the present conditions of partition in Germany, there is no sense in talking about good and bad things for the country. There must be unity of the country. And this goes for the Russian Zone, too.

"There are good and bad things in every Zone. We do not defend the bad things that are going on, no matter which Zone they occur in. There must be a unity of workers' parties. And only in the Russian Zone does this occur. We hear that in the Russian Zone there is more participation of the workers in running the factories. We hear that production is better and reconstruction is faster."

A different answer came from Erich Krippner, assistant manager of the Amelia mine in Essen. Krippner says he was never a Nazi, never in the army and — strangely enough — never in trouble with the authorities. That may be because he has been a mining engineer for many years.

A Conservative Speaks

A youngish, tall, balding man with non-committal eyes and a precise manner, Krippner is a conservative with little use for the nationalization of the mines. He charges that:
1. Under nationalization, there would be no economic leadership. 
2. The Ruhr coal areas require improvement and development which wouldn't take place under nationalization. 
3. Nationalization would probably aggravate the absenteeism of the miners — already up to 17 percent.
Krippner favors grouping all of Germany's coal industry under one head on a kind of profit-sharing basis. He pointed out that there are good and bad mines in the Ruhr — but as long as coal is in such demand, the bad mines would have to produce, too.

By grouping them, the good producers could balance off the uneconomical ones and a level could be maintained for the owners.

I asked him if this were not the kind of centralization of industry the Allies were trying to break up. Krippner said no. This, he declared, would be a horizontal or produce organization, while Krupp was a vertical or industrial organization.

It took two Ruhr coal miners, however, to dramatize the plight of the German industrial worker. Coming off the morning shift at the Amelia mine in the center of Essen, Wilhelm Marcaniak was taking off his work clothes. He is 47 and has been working in the mines 20 years. He has a wife and four children and finds himself hard put to feed them all. Also, he's a little unhappy that all his children are girls and thus unable to earn much.

Marcaniak figures the Allies are being pretty stupid about the food proposition. During the past two years he has lost 40 pounds. Before, he said, he could mine nine tons of coal a day. But the food has been so short that now he can take out only five and sometimes seven tons.

At this point, a grizzled old man, one of the oldest miners there, stuck his head over Marcaniak's shoulder. He announced himself as Karl Daskowski. Both were Germans of Polish descent.

Speaking with the authority of the voluble, aged and with the air of a man pleased that once more he could criticize authority, Daskowski shouted:

"We want to be Germans and a real working country. We are free and not slaves. But if this kind of feeding goes on, the Nazis will come again, not democracy."

One can only wonder what kind of food it would take to bring democracy to Germany.

April 23, 2014

1945. The Devastation in Western Germany

The Liberated and the Conquered
June 14, 1944. Bill Downs, front right. First broadcast from a mobile transmitter on the Normandy beachhead (broadcast live).


Saturday, 3rd March, 1945.

BILL DOWNS. Read to New York in advance on Saturday afternoon.
This report is from the Cologne plain—that part of the Cologne plain marked on your maps as conquered by the United States of America. From now on every bit of Germany taken must be regarded as territory conquered by our and your soldiers.

We're doing all right as conquerors. Conquerors of evil symbolized in Nazi Germany. We brought fire and sword to the swastika—the fire of justice and the sword of righteousness.

The physical cutting of this inbred and inborn thing called Hitlerism from Germany is by necessity a painful process. And traveling through the thirty-two mile deep slice of the Reich which we have captured shakes even the most hardened soldiers. Village after village is in ruins and farm after farm flattened; roads are torn up, bridges blown, and hardly an acre that doesn't have its quota shell and bomb holes. Forests are shattered and even rye fields are shattered.

I talked with a patriotic southerner, a colonel from Atlanta, Georgia, after his first trip through this part of Germany. When he returned he shook his head and sighed. "After this," he said, "I'll always think of General Sherman as a kind old man."

The destruction of this part of western Germany from Aachen to the Erft River is as complete as anything I saw in Russia, on the steppes, at Stalingrad or in the Ukraine or west of Moscow. In a way the damage in western Germany is worse because it's more concentrated. Driving over the shell-pitted roads, you find towns only a mile or two apart. Just as you leave one ruined village up the road you can see the shattered remains of the next town. Now the Germans are beginning to understand the price of war and the cost of defeat. I'm winning a victory on a rising market.

We're in rich farm country here. The country most resembles the corn belt of farmland through southern Indiana and Illinois. As you drive towards the front you can see cows, sheep, and horses wandering over the fields. The fences have been broken by our advance. And once in a farm where there was the unit command post, we were almost run down by a stampede of horses frightened by our artillery.

It's a common sight to see a GI milking a Hereford in the evening and getting a helmet full of her milk for his evening meal.

We liberated scores of French, Polish and Dutch farm workers—men who haven't seen their homes for five years. But it's a funny thing, as glad as they are to see us, they often ask if the cattle will be all right. And sometimes they refuse to be evacuated until they're sure the farm animals will be cared for. One Frenchman explained to me, "After all, horses are not Nazi *******'s and I've got to like them horses after five years. They're about the only things around here that like me."

And as grim as the fighting's been on the Cologne plain, the GI's always manage to get a laugh out of something. An artillery outfit moved up near the town of Elsdorf and found that they had to corral half a dozen horses in pasture before they could begin shooting. Then someone got an idea. A bulldozer was commandeered and it cut a circle of turf around the edges of the field. Some artillerymen volunteered as jockeys and a horse race was staged right there in the middle of the Cologne plain. The betting was heavy with a road plowhorse called Marjorie winning all the heats.

But there's very little to laugh about in western Germany. Approximately ten thousand vehicles have been left behind on the Erft River front alone. It's a familiar sight seeing these refugees plodding along the sides of the roads pushing their belongings along in carts. You've seen pictures of it many times—refugees along the roads of Holland, Greece, Russia, and France. This time the people are Germans, and a lot of them are well dressed. They march to our rear zones in hundreds as each new town is taken. They are allowed to take what clothing and food they can carry. And then they go to camps where military government and counter intelligence officials examine them. Every person is registered and sooner or later they will be examined. It's a tremendous job, but they are the enemy—the defeated.

Control is strict. Perhaps as strict as these same people imposed on the slave labor they had working on their farms in this area. No one was allowed to leave the camp without permission. Shelter is provided in basements of ruined houses or in barns or other buildings that are not needed for the army. In one village there were thirty people living in each of a dozen rooms allotted to civilians. Good shelter is rare in these broken villages. The best accommodation's going to the doughboys—the Germans can have what's left. These Germans are also being fed off the land. Foraging parties are sent out under guard to search for food in the cellars and basements. In one district something like ten thousand cans of home grown fruit and vegetables was collected. Valuable army trucking space is not going to be sacrificed to see the Germans comfortable. American taxpayers are not going to have to pay for feeding the army.

Later when these civilians have returned to their homes—or what's left of their homes—they will keep the roads we're using in good condition. Most of all they are German roads, and we didn't ask to come over here. Germany declared war on us.

Yet we're not doing so badly as conquerors. Everything is for the army—the GI's come first. The Germans who once hoped to conquer the world are not getting a large taste of what it means to be conquered.

Yesterday I talked to a number of German civilians. Their attitude varies. Some were grovelling and fawning, others were non-committal, some immediately began complaining about their rights, and a few, very few, were haughty.

But in talking to them one thing stood out. Not a single one would admit he was a member of the Nazi Party. Only a small percentage of men would admit that they were in the Volksturm until we proved it to them. Not a single boy or girl would admit they ever had anything to do with the Nazi youth movement although membership was compulsory. As a matter of fact, after talking with these civilians, I got the impression that if you asked them about Adolf Hitler, they would look at you curiously and say "Who's that?"

But they know all right and they have a great feeling of guilt about the Nazi party. In their frustration they feel Hitler let them down letting them get defeated this way. And there's a tendency to blame the party members, Nazis who undoubtedly did a lot of overlording even in the smallest villages.

Distrust among non-Nazi Germans for party members is spreading. You can see it. It would be supreme irony and the height of poetic justice if the defeat of Hitler were brought about by his own people whom the Nazis have been pushing around, and right now see the end in sight. It would be betrayed France in reverse.

And from what I've seen in this slice of Germany, such a thing may not be impossible. In several villages the Volksturm has already refused to fight for the party. As our troops advance further into Germany—as our bombs and shells wreak more and more and more destruction—perhaps the German people will, more and more, turn on the Nazis for keeping them in a hopeless war.

But you can depend on the fact that the American army is not going to sit around and see if it will happen. We are going to make it happen or do it ourselves.

1942. Fascist Italy on the Brink

Benito Mussolini's Failures
Cartoon featured in Punch magazine
Bill Downs

CBS London

October 28, 1942
Today is an Italian anniversary—the anniversary of two events that rank high in the history of world infamy. 
It was twenty years ago today that Benito Mussolini made his abortive march on Rome and established a dictatorship that has put a tarnish on the glory that was Rome. 
Then it was two years ago today that this same Benito Mussolini attacked Greece. This attack accomplished just one thing. It made heroes of the Greek people and lowered the Italian people in the eyes of the civilized world to depths unwitnessed since the Dark Ages. 
It is significant, therefore, on this anniversary of fascist ignominy, that it was revealed Greek troops are in the battle against the German and Italian forces in Egypt. 
This is the first direct evidence of the United Nations fulfilling their promise to the conquered nations of Europe that Allied military might will assure their restoration. But it is more than that. At this moment, it would appear Italy has become the main military objective in the United Nations' fight against the Axis. Ever since the American envoy to the Vatican, Myron Taylor, returned to the United States, Italy has come more and more into the news. The RAF has pounded the Northern Italy industrial area. The seas around the Italian boot have been subject to heavier and heavier aerial and submarine attack. Both Britain and America have poured propaganda in ever-expanding force in their radio broadcasts to Italy.
In the morning weeks of the Egyptian offensive, it will be a good idea for you to keep a close eye on Benito Mussolini's Italy. The way the wind appears blowing, the Allies are going to make it as difficult as possible for him to play whipping-boy to Hitler. 
For the first time in this war, it would appear that Britain and America are going to try the old reliable strategy of divide and conquer.

April 21, 2014

1943. Stalin's Cult of Personality

Stalin the Father
A Dr. Seuss editorial cartoon in Ralph Ingersoll's newspaper PM, February 19, 1942 (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
May 2, 1943
The May 1st anniversary pictures of Stalin printed in Russian newspapers portray him as a kindly looking man with his usual ("life with father") mustache and a twinkle in his eye. 
The good humor of his holiday order of the day seems to be reflected in these pictures. And incidentally they are pencil drawings, not photographs. Comparing these drawings with others printed throughout the past four or five years, you can notice certain very definite changes. The streaks of grey in his mustache and hair are more prominent. And Stalin has gained a little weight (He will never be a fat man, but you can spot the beginning of a double chin)—and it's not altogether unattractive in a man his age. 
Josef Stalin was 64 years old last December 21. His last public appearance before the Moscow Soviet was on November 7 on the 25th anniversary of the October Revolution. At that time he was as active and energetic a man ten years his junior. 
This week all over the Soviet Union, pictures of Josef Stalin are being displayed on every factory and office building in the country. It means that this week his picture is getting larger display and his name on more banners and posters and that he is getting more personal publicity than any man has ever received. 
(Stalin's personal life is his own affair. He is portrayed to the Russian people as something between a stern father and a friendly brother. No foreign correspondent has interviewed him since Ralph Ingersoll had an off the record talk with Stalin. Consequently we reporters here in Moscow have had little chance to write any first person impressions of one of the world's greatest men.)
However the diplomats, including the American and British ambassadors, who see Premier Stalin quite regularly report that he still maintains the personal charm that has won ever person who has met him. 
And Stalin has not yet made a public appearance in his new uniform which he is entitled to wear as new supreme commander in the chief of Russia's armed forces. He also can wear the Marshal's star at the throat of his tunic—a platinum job with a dozen big diamonds in it.
But the latest pictures appearing today still show Stalin wearing what is semi-officially known as "a semi-military tunic." His dress is still as simple as that of any peasant. The betting among the American correspondents is three to one that Stalin will not put on his new uniform ever. 
But Stalin is unpredictable and some of the boys are putting these bets on paper for future collection. Personally I'm not having any.

April 18, 2014

1945. The Uprising in French Indochina

The Buildup to la Guerre d'Indochine
"Free French 6th Commando C.L.I. in Saigon are saluted by surrendered Japanese in November 1945" (source)
This is an excerpt from the book One Last Look Around (1947, pp. 200-211) by war correspondent Clark Lee. It tells the story of French-occupied Vietnam in late September 1945 as he experienced it. At that time, Lee, Bill Downs, and James McGlincy were part of an airborne correspondent corps in the midst of touring Southeast Asia after World War II.

They told us what was happening. "The Annamites are revolting. They are willing to die rather than be colonists of France again. British Gurkha troops are opposing the Annamites and the Japs, who were supposed to be disarmed, are helping the British. It's a stinking mess."

The picture in Indo-China was this: Some 23,000,000 of Indo-China's 28,000,000 native inhabitants are Annamites and nearly all of them wanted to end France's eighty-year rule over their homeland, a territory as big as France itself and rich in coal and rice and other agricultural products. They had risen in arms once before in 1929, but the French machine-gunned and bombed them into submission. Now, the Japs had apparently given them their big chance for freedom from a regime whose colonial record was shameful. For instance, after eighty years in the colony, the French had permitted only five per cent of the people to learn to read and write.

Trouble came into Indo-China in 1940 when the Japs shot and bullied their way into the north, ostensibly for the purpose of closing off one of China's last supply routes through the Indo-Chinese port of Haiphong, from which a railroad heads into Chinese Hunnan. A year later, Vichy opened the door to Saigon and the south for the Japs, ignoring the obvious fact that they wanted Saigon as a springboard for their attacks on Singapore and the Dutch East Indies, and for their occupation of Siam. Economic agreements were reached between Tokyo and Vichy for the exchange of Indo-China's rice and metals for Japanese manufactured products. Instead of the 5,000 tons of rice they were getting, the French supplied Tokyo 1,000,000 tons annually to feed the Japanese troops who were shortly to besiege our starving forces in Bataan.

The Vichyites, headed by colonial governor Admiral Jean de Coux, threw in their lot wholeheartedly with Japan and its Axis partners. That their own homeland was in Nazi chains meant nothing to these French Colonials. Their first concern was the preservation of their own interests and for three years—all during Pearl Harbor, Tarawa, Saipan, even the liberation of France—the Japanese occupation forces and the colonial French lived in perfect harmony, collaborating enthusiastically and doing business to their mutual profit.

With the collapse of Vichy, Admiral De Coux took over complete control in Indo-China with the support of the French Fascist, Pétainists, businessmen, and government officials, and the Banque de l'Indo-Chine clique—plus, of course, the Japs. Some Frenchmen and Annamites wanted to resist the Japs and made a brief stab at organizing the underground. They were ruthlessly suppressed by De Coux. Some were exiled to the penal colony of Poulo Condore, where conditions were so bad that they even horrified the Japs. Two Tokyo newspapermen who visited the island described finding 1,500 political prisoners who "were subjected by the French to all conceivable atrocities . . . who stood mute and expressionless like dumb animals."
"The uprising in Hanoi capital on August 19, 1945" (source)
A few French escaped to Allied territory, but not many of them could make the long trek to India or China through the Japanese lines. Not trusting the French Colonials, the United States made no serious effort to get arms to the few resistance leaders.

Major Verger told me, "There was no underground worthy of the name. A very few of the French assisted American aviators to escape after they were shot down, escorting them to the coast where they were picked up by submarines. There was one captain who had a secret radio set and supplied important intelligence information for our planes. Outside of that, I regret to say that my fellow countrymen did nothing to resist the Japanese or assist our forces. There was an army revolt in 1941 against admitting the Japanese to the colony without a struggle, but it was suppressed and the survivors either fled to China, were imprisoned, or abandoned their activities.

The French-Japanese honeymoon ended on March 9, 1945, when the Japanese suddenly surrounded the homes of De Coux and of the French officers and quickly disarmed the 6,000 French troops in southern Indo-China. Simultaneously the French in the north surrendered, and the French men and women were interned.

Then the Japs played their trump card. Knowing that Tokyo would surrender shortly and that the end for them was not far off, they permitted the Annamites to form their own government to replace the French regime. A coalition government of Communists and Nationalists was set up with branches in Hanoi and Saigon, and was promised complete independence by the Japanese. When Tokyo surrendered, the Japanese gave the Annamites some arms and told them to carry on with their government and defend their independence. Meantime, all during the war, the United States and the provisional government of France had been sparring about the future of Indo-China. Roosevelt fought the churlish De Gaulle and the stubborn Churchill for a new status for all Asiatic colonies. For Indo-China he wanted an international trusteeship to pave the way for total freedom. But as soon as he was dead, Truman and Byrnes forgot his desires and concentrated on the "get tough with Russia" game to the oblivion of such trifling matter as freedom for a hundred million Asiatic peoples. During their wartime discussions, the French indicated their willingness to grant freedom "within the Indo-Chinese federation and French union, plus recognition of democratic liberties for all and education in native and French culture." But De Gaulle and other officials made it clear that France renounced none of her Far Eastern possessions.

The situation was further complicated int the north by Chinese claims to the Tonkin area, which blocks Yunnan province's only convenient doorway to the outside world. Some 400,000 lived there and most of them looked to Chungking for guidance. With the end of the war, Chinese troops moved down from Yunnan into Tonkin and by Allied agreement occupied all of Indo-China north of the 16th parallel. But when the French tried to move their own armed forces into the area in March 1946, again by Chinese-French agreement, Chinese forces around the port of Haiphong fired on their landing craft and warships. After finally getting ashore, the French found that the Chinese had not ousted the Annamite officials but had strengthened their position.

When we reached Saigon in October, 1945, the Annamites were still occupying the government buildings from which they had officially functioned since August 17th, when the Japanese installed them in complete power. They called their government the Viet Nam Republic, substituting that pre-colonial name for Indo-China, a French importation.

"Now," said Colonel Dewey on our first night in Saigon, "the British troops are driving them out. The Annamites are determined people and it is taking a lot of shooting."

The British commander, General D. D. Gracey, a self-proclaimed Tory and believer in Empire, was willing to use whatever means necessary to restore white supremacy and try to rebuild the shattered self-confidence of the French. In negotiations with the Viet Nam prior to the landing of British troops, the British assured the Annamites that Gracey's mission was to disarm the Japanese and restore order. The Annamites were foolish enough to believe that story. Instead of carrying out the promise, Gracey returned the Japanese troops to their posts, allowed them to keep their arms, and used them to attack the Annamites who were likewise using Japanese arms when they had any at all beyond sticks, clubs, and spears. Thus, as was to be the case in the Dutch East Indies, the British used their former enemies, the Japanese, to shoot down other Asiatics. If the Japanese were planning a comeback in later years in their "Asia for Asiatics" campaign, they could not have asked for better propaganda ammunition.

Gracey's defense was: "What do you want? Do you think we will surrender European supremacy to the first group of outlaws that point guns at us?" In other words, the words not only of Gracey, but of his superior officers and the London Labour government, defend the Imperial system and the hell with these outlaws who believe in the Four Freedoms.
General Douglas Gracey
The French who saw us at first in Saigon cheered enthusiastically for the arrival of "les soldats Américains." They said openly, "Now we can put these Annamite beggars back in their places." They were crestfallen when we told them we weren't troops, but correspondents, and that no American forces were coming to the colony.

Actually, the American "forces" consisted of Colonel Dewey and his mission, plus a group of eight Air Transport Command personnel headed by Major Frank Rhoades. Dewey jumped from a transport plane into Saigon right after V-J Day and quickly got the 136 American war prisoners out of their camps and headed home. Then, instead of leaving, he got mixed up in a game that was too fast for him. "I am remaining to protect American property," he explained. What property? He had hung out the American flag from the offices of Standard Oil, Texaco, and Singer Sewing Machine. Also, he had intervened dramatically a few days before when Annamites had prepared to storm the Continental Hotel and threatened to kill the French people sheltered there. Dewey had bluffed the Annamites into believing the hotel was American property, exhibiting a "bill of sale" made over to him by the Corsican manager, and had waved the American flag to turn back the would-be attackers. Tragically enough, it was the lack of an American flag on his jeep that caused his death.

The British were more concerned in talking to us about the A.T.C. mission than about Dewey's. The A.T.C. men were under orders to set up a base on a line from Shanghai to Singapore, a "temporary line to operate for a limited time." The British found that hard to swallow. "I understand," General Gracey told us, "that the A.T.C. is establishing a line to carry letters. Who the letters are from or what necessity there is for carrying them, I do not know." It was the suspicion of the British and French that far from being temporary the American base was to be used by future American globe-girdling airlines. Since then, the Civil Aeronautics Bureau in Washington has licensed American routes to Indo-China and Siam.

If our arrival was a disappointment to the French, it was even more so to the Annamites. Like all of the people of Asia they looked to Americans in the first weeks after the surrender as true liberators and believed in democracy for everybody, everywhere. They hoped the United States would guarantee their freedom. They knew the French would not give an inch more than they had to, despite the "liberal" promises of De Gaulle and his henchmen. If there had been any doubt in the minds of the Annamites about the French, it disappeared when the colonial overlords were released from internment after the Japanese surrender.

Feeling their oats once more, the French resumed their old habit of kicking around—literally—the despised natives. This was a grave mistake, because the French were not strong enough to get away with it pending the arrival of reinforcements of guns, tanks, rifles and hand grenades. Then the Annamites turned back on them and suddenly the French realized that they were dealing with people who were willing to give their lives to demonstrate to the world their desire for freedom. The Annamites were still fighting when the vanguard of British troops came in, and it was at this stage of the struggle that we reached Indo-China.

The Japanese just stood by and chuckled while the Annamites turned their arms on the French, kidnapped and killed many of the most hated of their tormentors, and drove the terrified Colonials out of their suburban homes and into a narrow section of Saigon paralleling the Rue Catinat. Inside the city the Annamites quit their jobs. Most of them faded away into the countryside, hiding in villages which the British troops attacked and burned in reprisal for attacks on their supply lines. The city, stripped of ninety per cent of its populace, was paralyzed. We found the water supply off, the lights working only fitfully. To the disgust of the French, who for years had been accustomed to regard their servants as pieces of furniture, the servants disappeared. There were no rickshaws in the streets, no public transportation of any kind.

Along the Rue Catinat and the small "safe" area surrounding it, the French gathered in little worried knots. They were ashamed of their war record, their cooperation with the Japs, their inability to do anything now about the Annamite uprising. The men huddled in the cafes, unwilling even to take rifles and go out and protect the city. They shouted for more help—Japs, Gurkhas, Americans, it didn't matter—and they plotted how they would avenge themselves on the Annamites when their turn came.
The Rue Catinat in Saigon, October 1945. Photo by John Florea (source)
Starting at seven in the morning, the French came out to parade up and down the Rue Catinat, stopping at the sidewalk cafes for an apéritif of anisette, ice, and water. At eleven they went into the few restaurants still open, but soon to close, and ate heartily for two hours and then disappeared for a siesta. About four in the afternoon, people started to emerge again and an hour before dusk everyone had gathered either in the candle-lit lobby of the Continental Hotel or on the sidewalk outside. We learned a new line there. All around the world, in Sicily, Italy, France, Germany, Egypt, the Philippines, Japan, young kids had approached us with outstretched hands and pronounced the local equivalent of "cigarette pour papa." In Saigon, Frenchmen stopped us on the street and, too ashamed to ask for themselves, begged, "A cigarette for my wife."

It was pitiful to watch the French when the sound of shooting was heard. One night a platoon of Japanese ran up on the double to take sentry positions outside the hotel, and there was a panicked rush for inside. Another night Annamites set fire to the market place four blocks from Continental. The French, silent and terrified, refused to go near the fire—even though the supply of food was growing scantier every day—but the Chinese stall owners made frantic and futile efforts to drench the flame with small splashes of water from leaking buckets. Most of the time there weren't any lights, and in the confusion of that pushing mass around the hotel, more than one Frenchwoman wound up in the room of an English officer or correspondent. Despite this amateur competition, the bright-looking half-caste girls roaming the Rue Catinat did a big business.

During one outbreak of shooting, the owner of the Continental called us into his office for an apéritif with him and some friends.

"Why," they demanded in an aggrieved tone, "do you not protect us from those devil Annamites?"

We baited them, "This is not the quarrel of Americans. For all we know, justice is on the side of the rebels. We hear that the French have been inexcusably cruel to them. In fact, we would just as soon shoot French as Annamites." This last remark was accompanied by an ostentatious fingering of carbine triggers.

"Ah, monsieurs," the hotel owned gushed, "it is quite right that you are. All of us in this room are not French. You are surprised, no? The fact that we do not come from Metropolitan France. We are Corsicans. This local political squabble is not of our making, but the fault of the French who have treated the Annamites inconsiderately."

Meantime, Frenchman and Corsican alike continued to plan for vengeance. They got it after the French troops under irascible General Jacques LeClerq finally arrived to take over behind Gurkha and Japanese guns. Witnesses later described the long lines of Annamite prisoners, manacled or trussed up, being marched down the Rue Catinat to the filthy jail, where they were fed miserably, given drumhead trials lasting a few minutes and then sentenced to many years at hard labor on Poulo Condore Island—or even condemned to die for distributing leaflets asking for independence. In this and other ways, the French finally got retribution for the humiliation that we watched them undergo.

At night, Annamites would slip into the city, set fire to the power plant and other buildings, and shoot off their rifles. The harassed Gracey was unable to stop them with his small force, whose forays into the countryside and across the river to the Chinese quarter proved fruitless. He blamed the Japs for his troubles, accusing them of instigating the Annamites to fight, and at the same time he called on the Japs to assist him in putting down the fighting. In desperation, the British commander visited the home of the aged and ailing Japanese field marshal, Count Terauchi, and warned him that unless the Japs behaved themselves they "would not be sent back home to Japan." Gracey pointed out that the Allied plan was to repatriate the Japs in Nipponese shipping. Very few bottoms were available, Gracey said, and he threatened that unless Terauchi saw to it that his troops were good boys, no ships would come to Indo-China for them. This provided another big laugh for the Japs, who didn't care very much either way whether they stayed or went—after all, it was France that wanted the colony back.

Meantime, the fighting was getting sharper every night and more and more factories and homes were being burned by the Annamites. On the third night of our stay, Captain Joe Coolidge, a distant relative of the late Calvin and Colonel Dewey's No. 2 in the O.S.S., was shot through the throat and arm while escorting a group of French women and children through an Annamite barricade.

We got word of it through Colonel Dewey, who sent for us to come to his room at the Continental. Perhaps it was premonition that made Dewey talk at length about something that was on his mind. He had been doing a great deal of running around in the midst of the fighting, and had found the Annamites friendly when they discovered him to be American. "It's the French they're after. Not us, nor even the British. They won't shoot at the Japanese at all." Dewey's difficulty was to identify himself as an American. "I had an American flag on my jeep, he said, "but General Gracey forbade me to fly it. When I go up to one of the barricades, there is always a chance that the Annamites will kill me before I can identify myself."

Several of us stormed up to see Gracey and protest against his refusal to allow the American flag to be flown from automobiles. "I cannot permit it," he said. "That is a privilege of general officers only." If you chose to be strict about it—and Gracey did, for obvious reasons of European and Imperial prestige—the British general was correct in his position, according to military regulations. He went on to say that he had no objections to flags being painted on jeeps and cars, which was a meaningless concession in view of the total absence of paint in Saigon. Likewise, he agreed to flags being tied to the side of vehicles, but that was no assistance whatever since the important thing was to be recognized well before you drove up to a barricade, and a flag on the side was not visible from a distance.
"Ho Chi Minh (center) and Vo Nguyen Giap (far left) with American OSS agents planning coordinated action against the Japanese - 1945" (source)
The following day Colonel Dewey invited two of our party, Bill Downs and Jim McGlincy, to lunch at the O.S.S. house on the northern edge of Saigon. They drove out with Major Verger and with Captain Frank White, a member of the nine-man O.S.S. mission, and sat in the patio to have a drink and wait for Dewey to return from the airport.

Five minutes later there was heavy firing up the road, and an American officer came running toward the O.S.S. villa which was also, in effect, American Army headquarters in Saigon. The officer halted every few yards to crouch and fire his .45 back down the road at some invisible pursuers.

Hurriedly, Captain White issued carbines to the correspondents and to the other four men in the house, and they got behind the garden wall and fired at a crowd of Annamites who suddenly came into sight pursuing the American. The Annamites took cover—there were about a hundred of them—and the officer staggered into the yard behind the protective wall. He was Major Herbert Bluechel. His neck, shoulders, and most of his body was covered with blood and he appeared to be seriously wounded.

"They got the colonel," he gasped hysterically. "They killed the colonel."

The blood on Bluechel was Dewey's blood. The two Americans had been passing a barricade in their jeep. Dewey gestured to the Annamites ahead to remove the crisscrossed trees forming the road block, but they suddenly opened fire with a machine gun. The colonel's head was blown off. Bluechel, unharmed, jumped out of the jeep and sprinted frantically up the road.

"What a pity," Bluechel exclaimed. "The Annamites liked Dewey and he liked them and he believed they should be free. If they had only recognized us as Americans, they would never have shot."

Meanwhile, the Annamites began pushing toward the house. The Americans ran inside and took positions at the windows. Like Dewey, they did not want to kill Annamites, but they were being fired upon and there was no choice except to shoot back. Yelling and shouting, the Annamites advanced down a drainage ditch parallel to the road, pausing from time to time to fire their guns. They were bad marksmen and although their bullets bounced off the house, none of the Americans was hit.

Spacing their shots, the Americans picked off the attacking men. Three fell as they tried to run across an open field. Several others were wounded. Bill Downs shot down at least one man, and he says that the sight of the little brown figure falling will haunt him for years. But blood was being shed, hysteria had taken command, and there was no chance to stop and argue things out.

Briefly, the Annamites retired, and then returned with a machine gun. They fired one burst into the front of the house and then ceased fire. In this interlude a jeep with three more O.S.S. men drove squarely down the road without drawing a single shot, and turned into the yard. Meanwhile, six Japanese sentries who were on duty guarding the villa had taken a casual part in the fighting, firing once or twice but mostly just crouching out of the way.

After more than two hours of skirmishing, the Annamites began to withdraw, and McGlincy and Downs volunteered to walk across the field and try to reach the airport in search of reinforcements. They took their sidearms for defense, a bottle of "Old Crow" for courage, and on the theory that nobody would shoot at a singing man they walked along caroling at the top of their voices, "For he's a jolly good fellow." They made it to the airfield without trouble and dispatched a message for help. Then the two correspondents, with Major Rhoades of the A.T.C., drove back in a jeep through the Annamite positions, where a group were picking up wounded under a Red Cross flag. The Americans waved their arms and shouted, "Chee-Wee, Chee-Wee," which means American in the Annamite tongue.

Back at the house, the Americans decided to go out after Dewey's body. Major Verger took the precaution of changing his French army shirt for an American jacket. He tied a white handkerchief to his carbine and waved as the jeep gingerly approached the Annamite positions. "Where is the commandant?" McGlincy demanded of the sentries.
Lieutenant Colonel Albert Peter Dewey
An excited young man—in civilian shirt and shorts like the other fighters for freedom—stepped forward and delivered a fiery speech on liberty and the rights of man, intermingled with violent protests against the Americans, who loved liberty, killing Annamites who sought it. Another young Annamite, about sixteen or seventeen, assisted in translating the leader's discourse.

Downs explained, "We would like to get Colonel Dewey's body."

There were lengthy negotiations, and finally the commander agreed to return Dewey's body if the Americans would bring back the bodies of the Annamite casualties. These terms were accepted. The Americans drove back to the scene of the battle, picked up three bodies, and piled them on the hood of the jeep.

When they returned to the barricade, the Annamite leader became even more violently excited. "Three for one is not fair exchange," he protested through the interpreter.

"Where is Colonel Dewey's body?" Downs asked.

"It is not here," the young man said. "I cannot go through with this agreement when you ask three for one." The Americans insisted that they had kept their part of the bargain.

The negotiations were broken up suddenly by the sound of firing. A group of Gurkhas were coming down the road, shooting off their rifles and driving before them a terrified group of native refugees, mostly women and children. The Annamites at the barricade glared at the Americans, as if they suspected that the negotiations had been a trap to hold them until the Gurkhas arrived. Then they faded away into the woods and behind nearby houses.

Dewey's body was never recovered. For months afterward the French used the missing American's body—the body of a man who believed they should be free—as a bargaining point against the natives. They refused to enter discussions until the body was produced and the Viet Nam government even offered a reward for the corpse.

Reports of Dewey's death in his flagless jeep—there had been a flag but it was wrapped around a pole and thus unidentifiable—quickly reached Lord Louis Mountbatten in Singapore as our stories went out. He sent an urgent message to General Gracey to fly down to Singapore and report on the incident, and the general asked for a lift in our B-25, which had returned after making a trip to Calcutta to pick up equipment for our crippled B-17. As we drove to the airport, we passed through a deathly quiet mile of no-man's land, with torn trees and the bodies of animals on the road—souvenirs of the Gurkhas drive the day before. Native villages along the road were aflame, and here and there Frenchmen crouched behind the stone walls of fine villas. Every few hundred yards there was a Japanese soldier with a rifle and a bayonet—unconcernedly guarding our route. Our own carbines and pistols were cocked as we peered over the sides of the truck.

Throughout the night there had been the sound of drums and shouting from the perimeter around the city and sporadically the noise of shots smashing into buildings. Circling over the city in the B-17 we counted a half dozen large fires, several of them quite close to the besieged Rue Catinat. These fires were symbolic funeral pyres of many natives, for the French came back in with American arms and with the help of the British engaged in bloodletting and slaughter. But eventually they would be the signal fires of freedom.

April 11, 2014

1965. Escalation of the Vietnam War

The Great Powers and Vietnam
"Walt Rostow shows President Lyndon B. Johnson a model of the Khe Sanh area," February 15, 1968 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

March 25, 1965
For the past 24 hours, some so-called Washington official sources have been dismissing Communist Chinese and Soviet Russian warnings of intervention in the Vietnam War as "they're bluffing."

At an extraordinary cabinet meeting at the White House this afternoon, President Johnson corrected that horseback assessment with a restatement of America's goals in Southeast Asia. Bluffing or not, Mr. Johnson was telling Moscow and Peiping that they would be wise to avoid a big-power showdown in Southeast Asia.

The fact is, our diplomatic and intelligence experts on the Far East dismiss no pronouncements from the two Communist capitals without serious and prolonged checking and study; and that's what is going on now. Red China's statement was made through Peiping's official party journal, pledging Chinese manpower to aid the Viet Cong guerrillas if the Vietnamese people want them. It's to be noted that Red China's pledge was not directed to Ho Chi Minh's regime at Hanoi, but to what Peiping called the South Vietnam Liberation Front.

After our experience in Korea some 15 years ago, no responsible US official is downgrading such a declaration.

The same serious study is being given to Moscow's implied threat to send Russian volunteers to Vietnam made by Party Secretary Brezhnev the day before yesterday. The USSR already has agreed to supply Hanoi with modern weapons, including Russian antiaircraft missiles and fighter planes. That was a month ago; thus far the promised weapons have not shown up.

The peculiar thing about these parallel gestures of aid to the Viet Cong is that Moscow and Peiping did not join in bilateral comradeship to come to the aid of an embattled Communist ally. The Red Chinese are still berating the Kremlin for mistreating Chinese student demonstrators who attempted to storm the US embassy in Moscow. However, this does not lessen the possibility that one or both of the disputing Communist giants might attempt to aid Hanoi. Both Moscow and Peiping want to guarantee their continued influence in North Vietnam. Any inter-Communist contest in arms-supply to the Viet Cong would certainly make the military crisis there even more dangerous.

Geography and manpower combine to make the Chinese Communists the greater immediate threat to the US presence in Southeast Asia. However, despite this, the United States had decided to press its aerial offensive in both North and South Vietnam. It entails the carefully controlled use of military force to bring about a political decision—namely, to convince the Communist commanders in Hanoi to call off their dogs.

This policy entails the risk of war with Red China, admittedly. Peiping knows this through our repeated warnings that, unlike Korea, any Communist planes attacking our forces will be permitted no sanctuary—not in North Vietnam nor even in Red Chinese territory.

In the past, Washington diplomats have pointed out that Mao Tse-tung and company have been very circumspect in their conduct of Red China's foreign policy. They point out that Peiping gave early warning of Chinese intervention in Korea if UN troops threatened her Yalu River border—a warning that was ignored. Now the Chinese have produced another warning. But this time they also have been warned in advance of what their intervention entails.

For 15 years since the Korean truce agreement, the Chinese Communists have refused to challenge the United States in the Formosa Straits. Not one Peiping plane has flown over the island of Taiwan, even though it's widely known as a base for U-2 reconnaissance flights over the Chinese mainland. Although the Peiping government succeeded in detonating its first atomic explosion some five months ago, the Red Chinese are in no position to challenge America's nuclear might.

In other words, US strategists do not regard Mao and Chou En-lai as madmen willing to risk the destruction of their hand-made Oriental revolution—or the atomizing of their ancient motherland.

President Johnson's was a personal, if indirect, appeal for a negotiated settlement of the Vietnam conflict this afternoon. It remains now to see if Peiping, Hanoi, or Moscow want to pick up the bid and play for a diplomatic solution—or continue the deadly game of war.

This is Bill Downs, substituting for Edward P. Morgan, saying good night from Washington.

April 9, 2014

1944-1945. Bill Downs Reports From the Western Front

The Liberation of France and the Fall of Nazi Germany
A French veteran of World War I holds a French flag and salutes incoming Canadian soldiers of the South Saskatchewan Regiment around Fleury-sur-Orne during Operation Overlord in June 1944 (source)
Bill Downs sent out these dispatches from the Western Front in 1944 and 1945. The accounts are from the 1946 collection BBC War Report: A Record of Dispatches Broadcast by the BBC's War Correspondents With the Allied Expeditionary Force, 6 June 1944 - 5 May 1945.

pp. 142-143.

While the battle raged through the city, the civil population sheltered in churches, schools, anywhere that offered a chance of survival. The moment it was moderately safe to come into the open, the people of Caen emerged from their shelter to welcome the British troops and to celebrate the liberation of their city:

10 and 11 July 1944.

"Caen has suffered terrible things in this last month, yet the reception which its citizens have given to us has been moving in the extreme. Not a word of reproach; not a word of self-pity. This morning the war was still very near at hand. German aircraft kept appearing overhead: German airburst shells were exploding just above the roofs; occasional mortar shells were bursting in the streets. Yet the people of Caen were out, picking their way through the rubble, smiling at us, waving to us, embracing us, giving us flowers, and time and time again I saw itweeping for sheer joy. There is no hysterical demonstration: the feelings of these people were far too deep for that; but there was a tremendous conviction and sincerity in their welcome.

"As we went down the roads, crowds gathered round us. They spoke of the savagery of the S.S. troops in the last few days of the German occupation: of their wholesale looting; of the shooting of French civilians who were political prisoners in the jails; of the wanton burning by the Germans of the gendarmerie, of the theatre, and of many private houses and shops into which enemy troops had tossed hand grenades as they left Caen. One man spoke most glowingly of the bravery of a British colonel who led the entry into Caen: bullets were spraying all round him, but still he held himself erect and walked forwardthis man said of the colonel: 'My wife screamed: she was sure he'd been killed. But not a bullet hit him. Ah, he was a brave mana hero.'

"In a small courtyard outside a church the people were already preparing for a ceremony and the raising of the Tricolour over the liberated country. The ridged French Army helmets appeared from nowhere. One man even had on a creased uniform of the regular army. It was rumpled from long hiding in the closet. And every other person wore the Cross of Lorraine. But strangest sight of all was that the men wearing helmets also carried arms. Some had the long rifles of the French Army; some had German rifles; one or two even had some British Sten guns which they had bargained from the liberating troops. They were ready to resume the war where it left off in 1940. Most of them were in tattered civilian clothing, but they weren't waiting to be dressed up to fight the Boche. And this motley group of soldiers representing the resurrection of Fighting France formed a proud colour-guard for the French Flag, virtually under the muzzles of the German guns. British, Canadian, and American officials appeared. They were the military and civilian authorities come in to administer the city. A squad of British soldiers snapped to attention. Everyone in the crowd took off their hats; the mayor of the town, wearing a French helmet and a badge bearing the Cross of Lorraine, gave the command and the Tricolour was raised. It was quiet for a moment for there was not even a sound of gunfire; then the people began to applaud and shout again and again: Vive la France!"

"American armored and infantry forces pass through the battered town of Coutances, France, in the new offensive against the Nazis," July 1944 (source)

pp. 157-158.

In the last days of July a great Russian drive in the East carried Red Army troops into Białystok, Stanislavov, Dvinsk, Rezhitsa, Šiauliai, and Lvov, while the fall of Brest-Litovsk was imminent. Simultaneously the Americans launched a full-scale attack on the west coast towards Coutances and Avranches. The dreaded "war on two fronts"or, more strictly, on three frontswas now an active reality, straining German resources everywhere:

29 July 1944.

"At this moment Field-Marshal Rommel is a victim of the old army gamea game in which the Allied forces in Normandy have again called the tune. The American break-through on the western sector of their Normandy front has completed a series of bluffs and counter-bluffs made by the Allied Command, and is now finding its pay-off by the successes of the U.S. Army forces south of the Cherbourg peninsula. The way the Allies have played this game is an interesting study of military strategy. After the fall of Cherbourg the German Command deduced incorrectly that there would be a lot of consolidation and regroupment on the American sector before there could be any further action there. So Rommel concluded that the next move would be an attack on the British sector to the east. He obviously figured that the next Allied move would be a drive for Paris. So he committed some seven divisions around the British and Canadian sector, leaving less concentrated forces more thinly spread along the line of the American sector. When this became clear, the Allies decided that the German Command should go on thinking like this. So the British and Canadians staged a series of sharp, heavy attacks between Caen and Tilly that gained the British bridge-head across the River Odon. This was followed by the attack on Caen itself, which resulted in the capture of the northern half of the town. And then there was the big air blitz down the eastern side of the Orne River, which ended in the complete capture of Caen, and the establishment of a comfortable bridge-head around the city.

"By the time these attacks had finished, more German forces were concentrated on this eastern sector. Then General Bradley made his big move five days ago. And now Rommel is in the position of a poker player who has put so much money into the pot that he cannot afford to drop out of the game. And he has to play it the way the Allied Command wants it to be played."

"Cromwell tanks of 7th Armoured Division silhouetted against the morning sky, as they move up at the start of Operation 'Bluecoat', the British offensive south-east of Caumont," July 30, 1944 (source)

pp. 162-163.

Around Vire British and American Forces worked closely together as they advanced, and it sometimes happened that the two armies overlapped:

5 August 1944.

"For example, the other day a British armoured unit was ordered to occupy a wood. It so happened that the Americans also were told to occupy a wood. Over one of the British tank's radios the headquarters asked the British tank commander what he had found in the wood. 'Millions of Americans,' the tank commander replied. Headquarters then said, 'We have learned that German tanks also have been ordered to occupy that wood.' The British commander was silent for a minute, and then said, 'Sorry, there won't be any room here for them!'"

"Infantrymen of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada riding on a Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier, Werlte, Germany," April 11, 1945 (source)

pp. 171-172.

Secure along the banks of the Loire the Americans now wheeled to the north, captured Alençon, and pushed ahead to Argentan in a wide encircling movement designed to gather up the remaining German forces in Normandy. Simultaneously the First Canadian Army fought its way down the Falaise road from Caen to narrow the Germans' escape gap. The Canadian assault, made in darkness, was preceded by a heavy bombing attack:

8 August 1944.

"I watched the tons of bombs plunge into their targets last night; strange flashes lit the sky, the effect was weird and terrible, with a three-quarter moon rising over the Orne Valley shining blood red through the haze, and the dust, and the smoke. The concussion of the bombs pressed my clothing against my body, even though I was several miles away, and the ground trembled under my feet. It is a difficult operation, this fighting in the dark; units get confused, lost, and mixed up, so there were other special methods devised to guide the infantry and the heavy tanks forward in the dark. The infantry were given heavy armoured carriers which had been specially converted for them so they could ride forward with the first wave of tanks. These carriers gave them maximum protection against light enemy fire, and against shell and mortar bursts. To guide the ground forces forward the Canadians employed the old trick which the British used at the Battle of Alamein: lines of tracer bullets were shot over their heads, stretching out like rows of electric light bulbs sailing slowly in the air. The tanks and the infantry and their armoured carriers moved forward while the bombing was still on, the lines of tracer bullets (there were more than half a dozen columns of them) floated over the battlefield looking like a roman candle display, and all around hundreds of guns seemed to grab the atmosphere and shake it, and bounce it, and tear it to shreds."

"German forces surrendering in Saint-Lambert-sur-Dive," August 21, 1944 (source)

pp. 181-182.

It was victory, such as we had scarcely dared to imaginevictory over the mighty German army, fighting on ground of its own choosing and led by a brilliant general. Here was an exact measure of comparative strength: if the Germans were unable to check the Allies on the short line between Caen and Avranches they could hardly hope to make an effective stand west of the Siegfried Lineperhaps not there even. In the intoxication of a great success, it seemed as if the final collapse of Germany might be very near; but, to the men who pursued towards the Seine, war was still just warwar against mines and booby-traps and rearguard actions, war against the elaborate technique of retreat in which the Germans had proved themselves to be adepts:

21 August 1944.

"You have to move a little faster, the convoys are more crowded, and you spend a lot more time looking at the back end of the truck ahead of you, and you don't spend more than a night or two in the same slit trenchyou move forward all the time. You eat a lot of cold rations because you're on the move and when you bump into the enemy rearguard the fighting is just as bitter as it was before. And when you take the Nazi-held position you find that there haven't been many Germans because the enemy has retreated, and there isn't much booty and not many prisonersyet. But there are mines, hundreds of them. They lie in the roads, and sometimes there is a string of six of them down a road. You set one off and the whole road goes up for ten yards ahead and behind you. And there are plenty of the S minesthe nasty anti-personnel type that jumps into the air before it explodes and then hurls bits of steel and ball bearings to kill or wound anything living within a hundred feet radius. You have to be mighty careful where you step. And then there are the booby-traps. Maybe you see a bottle of wine lying beside a bombed building, but you don't touch it. And maybe there is a tempting apple-tree beside the roadthe apples are just getting big enough to eat, but you leave that tree alone too because it might blow up in your face if you pulled a branch down. There are plenty of snipers, but you've learned to pay not much attention to them anymore, for if someone gets it from a sniper a detachment is sent out to clean him out and the advance continues.

"This might be the big retreat of the defeated German Seventh Army, but it's still just war to the man with the job of pushing the Nazis back. And the German kills just as effectively when he retreats as when he advances."

"British Paratroopers from the 1st Parachute Brigade with a captured German soldier" in Arnhem, 1944 (source)

pp. 348-349.

An American correspondent, pursuing the British spearheads, caught up with them as the attack on Osnabrück was being launched:

5 April 1945.

"You jeep and jeep until you feel your kidneys are jarred loose from their brackets and you pass through one undamaged village after another, punctuated occasionally by a complete mess of a town that happened to be a railroad junction, or which was unfortunate enough to offer resistance to our advance. Then, as you get closer to the front, you notice the soldiers sitting cheerfully in the convoys, or a lot of horseplay in the fields, for everyone is in high spirits these days. You pass the convoys and the tanks and the guns, and you keep a weather eye out for headquarters. But somehow you miss it; but you keep on driving anyway. Occasionally in the distance your own artillery may let loose a barrage to remind you that there is still fighting ahead. But no one pays attention, including the civilians of this particularly unspoiled bit of Germany. The people smile, and sometimes wave, and the girls mostly just smile. It's hard not to pay any attention to thatask any soldier.

"You drive on, stopped occasionally by a road jam. It's April, and the spring showers seem to dampen no one's spirits. Then you drive over a hill a mile or so from Osnabrück. More serious-looking soldiers are sitting on tanks, with bayoneted rifles. The sun happens to be shining, and you see one of them asleep. Suddenly, from beyond an ineffective German road-block not fifty feet away, an unholy splutter of machine-gun fire gushes out towards a factory building sitting in the valley. Then the tanks' heavy gun barks with a ferocity that echoes through the forest. Then it's quiet, and you wait for the enemy's return fire. But there is none.
"A British paratrooper lieutenant walks up to the tank with his men sitting atop it. He yawns, and stretches. 'You chaps get ready,' he says, 'We'll be moving up pretty soon.' But he did say it with an air of a man with spring fever, who didn't care when, if ever. As I left, the column started rolling into the town.

"Apparently the British do this sort of thing with that careless unconcerned air all the time."

Bill Downs broadcasting from Lüneburg, Germany on V-E Day, May 8, 1945 (Photo by Dennis Allen of the British Second Army)

pp. 361-363.

Between the armoured spearheads and the occupying forces there was often a nebulous military situation in which anything might happen. There were groups of Germans making suicidal ambushes, and others only too anxious to surrender: there were liberated slave-workers intent on loot of revenge, or hurrying westward on the journey home: there were German civilians seeking to have their towns and villages occupied quickly while they were still intact. To drive unarmed through this country was an experience by turns eerie and comic:

20 April 1945.

"We drove down an empty road, uncomfortably empty, with no sign of anyone on it. We reached the crossroads, when suddenly out of the woods appeared eight Germans; it was a frightening sight, particularly when I remembered that the only gun we had was the driver's Sten gun, and it was buried under our raincoats, and the bullet clip was somewhere in a corner of the jeep. However, these were very tame Germans, they all had their hands up. We stopped, searched them, and rigged up a white flag for them and told them to march on down the road and somebody would pick them up. That took care of the first eight.

"Sergeant Arthur joined our party. We drove on down a side road, and there we ran on to five more German soldiers, who were waving a white flag. Again we told them which way to go, but this group were more frightened and one of them asked 'What do we say when we want to surrender later?' Sergeant Arthur had the answer, and he wrote the words down on a piece of paper. As the prisoners walked off they were practising the phrase 'We have had it.' It's a British expression used to denote the completion of anything. As the prisoners walked off, the five of them were muttering 'Vee hev had it.'
"About that time, another young American flyer rode by on a motorcycle. He also was an ex-prisoner getting himself some food and fresh air for the first time in months. 'There's a town down the road that's just begging to be taken, why don't you go down and have a look?' Then about that time he spotted a chicken running across the road and that was the last we saw of him.

"We took two British boys back to the camp; there I told the story of two BBC engineers who had been with me making recordings at the camps. They were all for taking the town. Again there was kilometre after kilometre of distressingly empty road, but it seemed like a good day for conquering and no one worried particularly. Finally we reached the cross-roads village of Hohne just west of the town of Burgen. I knew the traditional way to capture a place and maybe stick a sword in the ground, and proclaim the place was ours, but I had no sword, and besides, it was a beautifully hard road, and no sword would stick in it anyway. But Sergeant Tinker knew what to dohe went in search of eggsfresh eggs, and meanwhile, Sergeant Arthur got interested in the farm across the road. There was a big German Army carwith a white flag flying from it. We went into this farmyard to find out what it was all about and to our surprise up stepped one of the most magnificent German officers I've ever seen, complete with Iron Cross and a number of other decorations. My first-year college German was still intact enough to understand that he wanted to surrenderhe had his belongings all packed including a pair of ski shoeswhat he wanted with ski shoes I was never able to find out. He turned over his pistol and said that we could drive him back to captivity in his own car. Then the German colonel said that he'd like very much if we would take his entire battery prisoner. He was the commander of a battery of 88-mm. combination anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. We decided against capturing the gun battery for we were not sure that a battery of 88's would appreciate being captured by just one Sten gun, no matter what the colonel said, but we took the colonel up on his offer to use his car. Sergeant Arthur drove the carSergeant Tinker reappeared with a cap full of eggs. The colonel climbed in and we made up a convoymy jeep in frontthe colonel's car in the middle with two sergeants, and the BBC truck with the two unarmed engineers bringing up the rear."