November 30, 2015

1943. Boosting Morale on the Eastern Front

Letters of Encouragement to Red Army Soldiers
Red Army soldiers in January 1943 celebrate victory in Stalingrad (source)
(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

January 6, 1943 (Cable to New York)

One method by which every government in the world keeps check on the morale of its army is by careful examination of letters the front line soldier exchanges with folks back home. It's just as true in the Soviet Union as it is in America, Britain, or the Axis countries.

Here is a sample of what folks at home in Moscow, Vladivostok, and Baku are writing to their men fighting the Germans. In many ways these letters are like letters home in any army—the Russian soldier learns cousin Alexis got married; daughter Anna has mumps; wife expects to finish knitting that sweater in a couple of weeks.

But here the Russian soldier also gets something else. The Red Army is something of a family affair. That's why these letters give insight into just why the buck private in Joseph Stalin's army fights the Germans as they have never been fought before.

For example, whole regiments will get letters addressed to the "Liberators of Boguchar" from people they have never heard of before.

Russian girls will write individual soldiers asking Private Ivanovich to "kill just one German more today."

Then of course some letters bring bad news. One soldier received a letter from his aunt:
Dear Petia,

It saddens me to tell you our village has been taken by Germans who burned it to the ground, including your home. The town hall is also gone, our dear streets nothing but wreckage.

But there is even worse news. Your wife and daughter have been sent by German commanders to somewhere I do not know. Father also has been sent away.

I call upon you, Petia. Avenge your family.

Sorrowfully,

Tanya, your aunt
When news of this letter got around the soldier's unit, they sent a petition to their officers requesting immediate attack.

Just how much of a family affair the Red Army really is is illustrated by letters exchanged between one assistant commander for political work and one Russian housewife. The political commander, whose chief job is army morale, wrote to the housewife saying her husband has been slipping up on his soldiering. He wasn't serious, you understand, but this particular husband—who has been one of the best men in the unit—was now just plain goldbricking.

Here's the reply the housewife wrote back to the political commander:

"I and my family are disturbed by the conduct of my husband. I cannot explain how it happened. In the past, he has always been a good tractor driver and honestly fulfilled his work. I am working very hard and have not had a day off in three months. Our eleven-year-old daughter is working in the fields and vegetable garden. My husband's sister is working on a collective farm. We all hate Hitler. I ask you to talk with my husband and explain how serious his fault is. Let him make up his fault in the next fighting."

The political commander didn't have that talk with the husband. Instead he read the wife's letter aloud to the husband's entire unit.