March 20, 2015

1943. The Air War in Crimea and East Prussia

The Fighting Rages on During Easter
Soviet fighters at an unfinished German bridge in Crimea, November 1943 (source)
(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

April 23, 1943

This morning's communiqué says that there were no essential changes on the Russian front last night. However in the last 24 hours in the Kuban, 500 Germans and Romanians were killed in a series of attacks, after which they were forced to retreat in disorder.

This fighting in the Kuban, which the German command is throwing wave after wave of men and aircraft without regard to losses, still has not taken on any pattern. However, there are indications that the Nazis are gradually wearing themselves out. Front dispatches this morning say that the Germans more and more are putting Romanian troops into the vanguard of their local attacks. Thus the Romanians suffer the heaviest losses. The dispatch says that when the unlucky Romanians show a reluctance to attack, or when they appear on the verge of retreat, the German soldiers behind them liven their spirits with Tommy gun bullets. A good number of these Romanians have been killed by their own allies.

It was revealed today that the Germans have moved hundreds of bombers and fighters into the high and dry airdromes of the Crimea to support the Nazi attacks across the Kerch Strait in the Kuban. These bombers are the ones that have been making mass attacks on the city of Krasnodar, the capital of the Kuban, and other military objectives west of the city.

But the transfer of new German bomber squadrons to the Crimea also means something else. Ever since the post-thaw fighting in the Kuban began we have heard of the strong Russian air attacks on the Nazi airdromes. The fact that many of these airdromes are in the Crimea means that the Soviet air force has carried its attack in force to this peninsula for the first time since the Russian forces were pushed out of the Crimea after the fall of Sebastopol.

Russian intelligence has collected some interesting facts about this new German bombing force in the Crimea. The pilots and bombardiers and navigators are all young, unseasoned flyers. Many who have been captured say that they were on their second and third fighting operations after graduation from the German training schools.

The Nazi flying command is attempting to give these kids flying experience by flying them over the Kuban battlefield in bombers that carry no bombs. They usually get only one such flight, however, and after that they are on their own.

The Russians say their bombing is pretty bad. They usually drop their bombs too soon in their hurry to get back to their bases, and they don't know much about taking evasive action. During two days of their mass raids on the Krasnodar District, 98 German planes were shot down. This totals almost an entire German air wing.

The Germans undoubtedly moved this strong bomber and fighter force into the Crimea in order to cover a German "Dunkirk" evacuation across the Kerch straits if such became necessary. These German and Romanian attacks in the Kuban appear to be Nazi attempts to postpone that necessity.
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Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

April 24, 1943

The Red Army has won the first round of spring fighting in the Kuban. The official explanation in this morning's communiqué reads like this: It said "the enemy, as a result of the unsuccessful attacks of the past days, suffered such severe losses in manpower and equipment that they Hitlerian units have been bled white and could not launch active operations.

The communiqué went on to say that the Red Army last night put up an artillery barrage that destroyed two Nazi artillery batteries and blew up one ammunition dump.

This first round of victory in the Kuban was a victory on points for the Red Army. Russian forces absorbed all the punches that the German and Romanian troops could throw at them. Today both sides are catching their breath for the beginning of the second stage of the battle.

The Soviet air force again carried the air war to East Prussia, and first details of the two hour raid on Insterburg report fires and havoc among barracks of German reserve troops, as well as serious damage to the city's important railroad junction.

Insterburg forms the eastern apex of the important German communications triangle connecting Koenigsburg and Tilsit. This district not only connects Hitler's Baltic troops with their rear supplies, but is also a big base for reserve troops and quartermaster's stores. Pilots said that the first in Intsterburg were so fierce that they could smell the smoke from the height at which they bombed the city. The barracks district was set aflame, and bombs dropped on the railroad junction and warehouses. The weather was good.

Tonight at midnight, thousands—perhaps millions—of people will jam Russia's cathedrals to celebrate the holiest day of the Russian Orthodox church. The siege laws of Moscow and other cities which impose a midnight curfew will be relaxed tonight so that the faithful can worship from midnight through the long, four hour service celebrating the resurrection of Christ.

Moscow churches will be so jam-packed that people will not have room to kneel. At these services, such as the one I saw at Christmas, the people jam the churches so tightly that the faithful even have difficulty in crossing themselves.

The Russians celebrate the Easter season and the breaking of Lent by taking special buns and cakes to the church to be blessed. For the past week, the Moscow market has been jammed with women bargaining for eggs and flour and sugar. (There is quite a barter in these things.) And this year there will not be any light, fluffy cakes—and few raisins and frosting in these cakes—but there will be cakes to be blessed, and that's all that matters.

Another Russian Orthodox custom is that the worshipers take lighted candles with them after the service and walk three times around the church. This custom, however, will have to be omitted this year as it was last. The blackout bans such a display of light.