September 18, 2023

1943. "Harvest of Death"

War Correspondents Return to Ukraine
Newsweek cover from September 20, 1943: "Little Man, What Now?"
From Newsweek, September 20, 1943, pp. 35-36, 38:
Harvest of Death: Behind the Lines in Russia's Reconquered Villages
The almost incredible grimness of the war in Russia was never better illustrated than in this notable dispatch from Bill Downs, Newsweek and CBS correspondent in Moscow, telling of his second trip to the front.

The big twin-engined Douglas transport took off from the Moscow airdrome with thirteen British and American correspondents and four escorting Russian officials. We were flying back into the summer toward the Ukraine—welcome enough after the first chilly fall breezes now turning the leaves of Moscow's trees. We stopped for a brief landing in the ruined city of Voronezh, where Russian and German troops had sat and looked at each other for more than a year until the Nazis were finally kicked out last January. Then we picked up four Yaks as an escort for the rest of the journey. These four fighters, piloted by Russian women, didn't make the men in the party feel any more masculine.
We landed on what had once been a wheatfield at the town of Valuiki. This had been one of the main bases for Italian troops in Russia until they were completely surrounded by the Red Army last winter. Valuiki was hardly damaged at all, as the Fascists had had very little if any chance.

While we were sitting in the hot sun waiting for our transportation, there was an ominous roar. Eight jeeps stormed over a hill, running in line like baby partridges. Bringing up the rear was a ¾-ton Dodge ammunition carrier that followed us thereafter.

In the late afternoon we headed into the setting sun. Each jeep had a driver with a Tommy gun at his side. Dave Nichol of The Chicago Daily News shared my car. We called our driver Junior because when we pronounced his real name, it didn't come out so good. We soon found out that Junior was a frustrated fighter pilot. That would have been all right if only he hadn't tried to loop the damn thing.

Driving along a dusty Ukrainian road over the rolling steppe past white-washed, thatch-roofed Ukrainian villages was one of the most beautifully peaceful experiences I have ever had. The war was a million miles away as we went through mile after mile of wheat and rye plantings and fields of sunflowers as yellow as butter. We stopped and picked the ripened heads of these flowers and for the rest of the trip everyone ate sunflower seeds in the best Ukrainian manner.

But as we drove into the sun, we also drove back into the war. By nightfall the villages had become more and more damaged, with army traffic heavier and army control points more frequent. As night fell, we turned on the convoy lights—dull slits visible only a dozen feet away. We had been warned we were driving through mined fields—that the roads had been de-mined but that the fields had not. Once in a while Junior, wandering off the road, would turn on the driving lights. Twice when this happened sentries fired warning shots into the air.

At a farm near a crossroads where the railroad cut the highway, the cars stopped for butter and eggs. Mikhail Vasseff, assistant chief of the foreign-press department, walked down the line and warned the drivers of danger. Meanwhile, there was a roar of German bombers overhead, but they couldn't be seen against the starry sky.

The jeeps started out again. Vasseff was in the second jeep, and the United Press correspondent Henry Shapiro was in the third accompanied by two British correspondents. Nichol and I were in the fourth. Just as the cars went over the railroad right-of-way, there was a muffled explosion. On the road ahead a deep orange and red flash bloomed like a giant poppy and shot about 20 feet into the air. The concussion flattened the brim of my hat. The cars stopped, and everything was silent for a few seconds while parts of a jeep began falling to the ground.

Then there were a few groans—deep shuddering ones. Vasseff's jeep somehow had run over an anti-tank mine. The groans came from Maj. A. A. Volkoff, the representative of the Soviet General Staff, and Viktor Kozhemiako, the chief censor of the press department. Volkoff's legs had been blown off, and Kozhemiako's legs and back were lacerated. Vasseff's body was not found until the next morning because it had been blown 60 feet away. The major and the censor died shortly after being taken to a nearby base hospital.

The jeep was blown a dozen feet off the road, turned over, and was almost torn in two. The driver escaped miraculously with only a wound in the back of his head. It was a freak mine that somehow hadn't gone off although hundreds of cars had driven over the spot on the road throughout the day.

The next day at dawn there was some question as to whether or not to continue to the front—the explosions and deaths had shaken us all. Our surviving escort, Lt. Col. Studyonoff of Moscow, got in touch with headquarters in the capital, and it was decided that since the Steppe Front headquarters were expecting us, we would continue. All night long we tried to wrap ourselves around the jeeps in such a way as to get a few hours' sleep, but our efforts were mostly a failure because of the German and Russian planes flying overhead.

On the approaches to Belgorod we came to a village in the region where the Red Army made its initial break-through. Every house in these villages was burned or blown up. The trees were shattered and blasted. In the fields and alongside the road were the hulks of tanks—both Russian and German—which were burned, blown up, and filled with holes.

The battlefield had been pretty well cleaned up, and the people were beginning to come back. Every peasant stove had a small group of women around it digging in the ruins for salvage. In some places there had been attempts at reconstruction, but for the most part the people were now sleeping in haystacks, dugouts, or on top of the ground.

Right now there was a big rush to get in as much of the crops as possible. The lack of labor, machinery, and sometimes even scythes made this a primitive job. The method mostly used was that of the old scythe and cradle, dating back to the times when women flailed the grain and gathered the wheat by winnowing the chaff in the wind, although some of the women were even picking the wheat by hand. This scene, with the kerchiefed and barefooted women using these ancient methods of harvest, made this part of the Ukraine appear almost biblical—except for those ruined villages and the blasted tanks of the new Philistines.

Belgorod, which had changed hands four times, looked much as could be expected. Not a single major building was intact. I have seen so much damage in so many ruined cities, towns, and villages here in Russia that only the strongest adjectives could be used to describe this ruin.

We drove to the town of Liptzy, 15 miles north of Kharkov, where Gen. Ivan Konneff's staff had established our headquarters in the peasant cottages. The first thing the army did was to take us to a portable shower tent in a field near a small stream. It was the army version of the famous Russian baths. The tent was about 50 feet square, and inside there were a dozen shower taps of steaming, running water, which was heated in a portable boiler on a truck. That hot shower was worth all the bumps I had suffered in the jeep.

Then we were taken to breakfast which included steak, vodka, tomatoes, sardines, potatoes, rice, and more vodka. There was not a single reference throughout the trip to the tragedy that befell the second jeep. It was strictly the army attitude toward death at the front. That evening Col. Ivan Vorobieff came to our headquarters and outlined the situation at the front.

The following day I still felt dead even after a night's sleep on a comfortable mattress stuffed with straw. However, no one can remain sleepy after a breakfast of sardines and tomatoes washed down with vodka followed by a hamburger steak and potatoes.
"Extremity: Here is what German propaganda has come to. This ghastly line-up is supposed to show the bodies of women killed in an Allied air raid on Cologne. It probably is not faked, but it demonstrates the lengths to which the Nazis have gone in building up the horror aspects of the Allied bombing offensive against the Reich" (p. 38)

A colonel from an engineers corps who had fought in the battle for Kharkov took us for a tour of the city's circular defenses. Their basis was a huge anti-tank ditch extending 30 kilometers around the vital sectors of the city. However, the Germans depended mostly on a system of trenches emanating like ganglions from deep pillboxes and shelters. Over them timber was laid and then the wood was covered with earth.

There was bitter fighting on the northern approaches to the city, where you could see that Russian mortars had covered every foot of the ground. As in the last war, mortars are still the best weapon against trench defenses. On the southern defense sector the Germans had built their defenses through a canning factory by barricading the basement windows.

Our colonel also turned out to be an expert on German mines. He said there were some ten different types of German anti-personnel mines and about five different anti-tank types. He showed us the newest type of each category.

The new German anti-personnel mine looks like an oversized potato masher and is made of concrete. Painted green and stuck upright in clumps of bushes or high grass, it is hard to detect. It is discharged by a trip wire.

The Nazi anti-tank mine must have been devised by someone with a personality as nasty as Hitler's. It is made of steel about a foot in diameter and 4 inches thick. Besides an ordinary detonator on top, it also includes one on the side and bottom. Thus the detecting sapper must handle it like a cracked egg; he can't shift it or lift it without having it go to pieces in his hands.

Next, we loaded up the jeeps again and headed southwest over the muddiest road in Russia. Ukrainian gumbo is a special kind of mud which looks like tar and glue. This was in the Udi River valley with low rolling hills on each side. It was typical of the Russian collective-farm country, but it was nearly all uncultivated.

There was a definite change in the atmosphere. We saw more soldiers, more transport, and greater alertness. The village ruins looked fresher, and we passed an occasional loaded ambulance. We drove between mine and bomb craters for 10 miles on this road, which was remarkably solid considering its condition.

Then we began to see an occasional wrecked tank. Alongside an orchard we could see dozens of them off to the left among the young apple trees. They looked like broken toys. But a gust of wind put reality into the scene. It was putrid with the smell of death, and from then on we breathed through our mouths. This tank battle had been fought three days before. Not all the bodies had been buried.

We turned off the road directly southward and came to what had once been a collective farm in the village of Korotich. There were only a dozen houses with fifteen or twenty outbuildings, but it was completely dead. The sole inhabitants were two women, two chickens, and one German who had died after crawling some 25 feet from his tank.

Korotich was surrounded by a large truck garden with several acres of fully grown cabbages, tomatoes, beets, and potatoes. Most of this garden had been ruined by a battle between more than 100 Russian tanks and a similar number of German ones. The Russians knocked out 60 Nazi machines in this engagement, and forced the Germans, who were concentrated for a large-scale assault aimed at recapturing Kharkov, into retreating.

There is not much use in trying to describe a tank battle unless one sees it personally, but this one must have been terrific. The Germans used Tigers as well as medium types. They also employed oversized Ferdinand mobile guns. Down in the cabbage patch there was on wrecked Ferdinand and one Tiger almost side by side. Their crews were buried among the cabbages. The smell of rotting bodies turned a few of us pale, but no one lost his breakfast—although there were a few bad moments when we had to chase away two chickens pecking at a German's body.

Until I started to examine details, Kharkov looked about the same as when I saw it five months ago. Last March sometimes at least one floor remained in some buildings, while there was occasionally even a building intact. When the Germans worked over it the second time, they missed nothing. The entire city will have to be rebuilt. Sixty per cent of the residences have been destroyed. There is an atrocity commission now investigating the Nazi war crimes of the second occupation. The civilians told us the usual stories: 300 wounded of the Red Army were burned to death in the local hospital and another 400 by the occupying SS troops.

That is what history looks like when you are shown it firsthand here in Russia. This war and this front will cover many chapters. Every paragraph will reflect the skill and courage of this 1943 Red Army and people who are defeating the 1939 Nazi Germans.

September 16, 2023

1952. "Korea: Our Biggest Military Lesson"

Lessons of the Korean War
"Pfc. Roman Prauty, a gunner with 31st RCT (crouching foreground), with the assistance of his gun crew, fires a 75mm recoilless rifle, near Oetlook-tong, Korea, in support of infantry units directly across the valley," June 9, 1951 (source)

From This Week magazine, July 6, 1952, pp. 4-5, 12, 14:


An expert reveals what our Army, Navy and Air Force have learned in their bitter struggle. This costly knowledge can save our country and the world.

CBS correspondent Bill Downs talked to GIs, flyers, Marines in Korea, to generals and admirals there and in Washington for this article.

"It breaks your heart," the young second lieutenant was saying. "Those kids don't even know how to dig." It was in the early days of the Korean war. The lieutenant was returning to his unit. He had been wounded two weeks before and was still pale and limping, but determined to leave the Pusan hospital to get back to his men.

"I tried to teach them," he continued, "and after we took some casualties, they learned fast enough." He shook his head and again said, "But we lost a lot of boys because they didn't know how to dig."

The young Navy rating had come topside for a breath of fresh air. "What do you mean, 'the great United States Navy?'" He spat over the rail. "Do you realize that when this mess in Korea started, the United States Army was actually sailing more ships than the Navy?"

And still later, the ancient 28-year-old jet pilot, just rotated from the battles over the Yalu River, toyed with his drink in a Washington tavern. "This isn't loose talk," he declared. "You'd find it out in any read room on the spot." He gripped the glass and set it on the table for emphasis. "If we were flying those MIG-15s, we would have aces over there with 40 aircraft to their credit. We would clean out that Communist 1,000-plane air force in combat in six months."

The Lesson of Weakness

Korea has been a gigantic military proving ground that revealed in bloody detail the mistakes and inadequacies of the United States armed forces. The cost has been high—more than a hundred thousand casualties. Those casualties will have been in vain if US military leaders—and the American people themselves—do not learn the lessons of this war.

When the Korean conflict first broke out, it became apparent how tragically weak the United States has become in five years of uneasy peace. American military planning, understandable perhaps, was directed at the defense of this country in event of a third global war. The possibilities of the atomic weapon and its delivery to any spot on the earth's surface occupied most of the attention of the policy-makers.

The US Army was not a combat force. Particularly in Japan it was more of a gigantic social club, broken into unmilitary units for the necessary occupation duty softened by the easy life of a conqueror.

General Walton Walker, later to die in Korea while commanding the Eighth Army, had recognized the dangerous situation created by the state of the troops and command of our forces in Japan and only some three months before had started to reorganize the scattered occupation units into a fighting force. He also had ordered toughening maneuvers. But the job was barely under way when the Communists crossed the 38th Parallel.

Lessons came quickly in Korea. The American fighting man is the most mobile soldier in the world. He has more wheels per unit than any other Army. But in the precipitous valleys and bad roads of Korea, wheels are not much good near the front. In the early days, it was the enemy who had the mobility, simply because he could climb the mountains. The American soldier had to learn how to walk again, a fact giving rise to the criticism that "they have the best shoes and the worst feet in the world." And when winter came and the shoe-pac shortage developed, they no longer even had the best shoes.

Frontier Fighting

The American infantryman also had to relearn a lot of things he had forgotten. He had to learn to fight as his great-great-grandfather did on the frontier with the perimeter defense of the wagon trains against the stealth of the Indian. Night attacks and infiltration often put as many of the enemy behind him as in front of him. He also learned that while the Garand M-1 rifle is an excellent weapon in daytime, its value is dubious against a mass night attack by a fanatic enemy when firepower counts more than accuracy or range

On the other hand, the value of the new recoil-less weapons was proved to him—particularly the 3.5-inch bazooka with its shaped charge which proved so effective against enemy tanks.

The shortcomings of the Army often are more obvious than deficiencies in the other services. But the Air Force had parallel faults. The morale of the pilots in the early days of the fighting was complicated by the fact that many of them could breakfast at home, fly their missions to the battlefront and then return home to their families.

And only recently has the most glaring weakness of the Air Force been revealed: the fact that the Russian-built MIG-15 swept-wing jet fighter is a superior flying weapon to our F-86 Sabre Jet. The MIG engine weighs less and is more efficient. The plane itself is lighter and stripped of safety gadgets which American planes carry—gadgets which have value for flying in the United States but which are useless over North Korea. And the MIG-15 can outperform the Sabre in every department at altitudes over 12 thousand feet. Most jet fighting is done between 25 and 35 thousand feet.

Although it is not the intention here to go into the "Great MacArthur Debate," one of the reasons that the Air Force command concurred in the decision not to attack Manchuria was that the aircraft industry in this country was in critical condition. The major strategic bombing plane on hand at the time was the obsolescent B-29, then in process of being replaced by the B-50 and other models.

Had the decision been made to bomb Manchuria, an admittedly costly venture, there would have been no new B-29s to replace those in Japan and Okinawa when they were lost.

The lesson here is easy: the nation let its aircraft industry lapse into dangerous inactivity. It takes four to seven years to develop a fighter plane and longer than that to develop a bomber.

Such limitation of action in a larger conflict could prove to be a national disaster.

But the most valuable lesson to come out of Korea was that all the atom bombs, jet aircraft and battleships in the world cannot replace the infantryman—the man with the gun who moves in and occupies real estate.

The lesson has been learned in Korea. The question is, has it been learned at home? In Congress?

The Lesson of the Enemy

First they called the enemy "Gooks." Marines and soldiers soon learned that the derisive term "gook" did not adequately describe the well-organized army of the North Koreans which poured south to the perimeter.

For the Korean war gave the United States and her United Nations allies the first measure of the new Red military power in the Far East. The lesson has been a valuable one.

Although the Air Force maintains complete mastery of the air over the battlefront, the enemy has also proved that no amount of aerial attack can completely halt a determined force from advancing. Even though enemy supply lines are blasted continuously, a walking army can live off the land and walk its supplies to the front under cover of darkness.

The enemy also proved that new and complicated weapons often are less effective than older, simpler ones. The Communists' most effective weapon was the simple Russian copy of the old Thompson sub-machine gun—the kind that became famous in the Stalingrad fighting. Crude by American standards, it is easy to handle and seldom jams.

One infantry officer said, "It can probably fire under water." The finely tooled American carbines easily jammed with Korean dirt.

And a more subtle lesson also was learned from the Communist—that a man's race has nothing to do with his ability to fight. In this connection, Korea proved that a non-segregated American army is as effective as any that has fought in any war under the Stars and Stripes.

The Communists taught the Air Force that even on so primitive a battlefield as Korea, they are capable of accurate and efficient use of antiaircraft weapons—and they have good ones.

And in the most recent fighting, it is obvious that the Communists have powerful radar equipment which can pick up and count the number of planes which take off from Seoul's Kimpo Airport, and relay the information to the MIG fighter bases across the Yalu. That is the reason there is seldom surprise on our fighter sweeps in North Korea and why the Sabre jets almost always are outnumbered by two to one or more when they arrive at their destination.

In short, Communist power in the Far East is not only grounded in overwhelming masses of men, but also in the modern scientific equipment, such as electronically laid antiaircraft fire, excellent communications and extremely efficient radar operation.

"Combat School"

The United Nations air forces have maintained their edge over the Communist air force—even though outnumbered—simply because our pilots are better trained and their combat techniques far superior to anything the Communists have to offer. But as the aerial fighting progresses, the enemy too is becoming better trained.

As one pilot put it, "We feel as if we're running a combat school for the Communists when we go up there."

But the most sobering lesson we have learned from the enemy in Korea is that the Soviet Union as of this moment appears to have opened a technological gap that will take the United States time to close and surpass. At present, the US Air Force has kept that gap closed through tactics and training in its pilots. They cannot keep it closed forever.

The Lessons Applied

Colonel "Mike" Michaelis, one of the outstanding field commanders in Korea, was raked over the coals at one time when he declared in effect that "we spend so much time teaching the GI what he's fighting for that often he's not taught how to fight."

For the Army, the lesson most quickly learned was that American training methods had to be tightened up. General Matthew Ridgway, when he took command of the Eighth Army, messaged the Pentagon that he wanted no soldiers who could not climb a Korean mountain as fast as any native and still be able to fight when they got to the top.

The Marines proved the value of tough training. It is now under way wherever American troops are stationed around the world.

The Korean war also underlined the lesson that American military power hits hardest when all branches combine to deliver the blow. The result has been that never before has there been seen such cooperation between the ground, air and sea forces as has been developed on that embattled peninsula. Close-support strafing and bombing were developed in the last war—but the "cab rank" attack, wherein spotter planes and ground observers are able to call in planes from an aerial attack above them, never before was practiced with such efficiency.

The Navy's bombardment of enemy front-line positions along both coasts, on order from the Army, was never so extensive. And the Naval air arm for the first time used jet planes off carriers in combat operations. The Navy's blockade of the Korean coast has been complete. Naval gunfire has interdicted the road and rail center of the east coastal town of Wonsan for more than a year.

And of longer-range importance, the Navy has been able to refine and develop its mobile supply system, making it for more rapid movement of supplies and rendering our Pacific fleet completely self-sustaining. This is of paramount importance in case a major blockade of the Asian coast becomes necessary.

But perhaps the most important development—both for the Air Forces and the infantry—is the development in Korea of new uses for the long-ignored helicopter.

Its use in rescuing men from behind enemy lines and from the sea has been unprecedented. As a flying ambulance, it has saved countless lives by quick ferrying of casualties to the rear.

And finally it became a combat aircraft, carrying Marines behind the enemy to capture a mountain peak without having to climb the mountain.

The Korean war has been fought without two of America's most popular weapons—all-out strategic attack from the air, and the atomic bomb. There were valid reasons for withholding both.

It was decided that extension of the bombing program into Manchuria would risk a third world war while the nation was unprepared to fight one and while the critical condition of the US aircraft industry could not replenish losses incurred in such a bombing program.

No Targets

Regarding the atomic bomb, the sparsely settled and mountainous terrain of Korea simply offers no targets worthy of this weapon. Although tactical atomic weapons are now in development, to use such weapons in Korea would supply the enemy and his allies with valuable intelligence of our progress. Also it is felt that we do not presently have enough fissionable materials stockpiled to waste any.

And finally, the reaction of the Oriental peoples throughout the Far East was a factor in withholding the atomic bomb. It was feared that such mass destruction might alienate those whom we someday hope to draw out of the Communist camp.

The Korean war, which started out with the unfortunate name of a "United Nations police action," has developed into what history may record as a most fortunate trumpet call of alarm for the free nations of the world. History may also record that Josef Stalin made Communism's biggest mistake when he ordered the North Koreans across the 38th Parallel in June, 1950.

For the Korean war aroused the most powerful nation in the world to a sense of its own weakness.

Restating these mistakes shows how they are interrelated:
1. Our policy-makers concentrated too heavily on global defense and the atomic bomb.

2. Our infantrymen had forgotten how to walk and lacked tough combat training.

3. Some of the Army's finely tooled weapons were too specialized for all-purpose fighting.

4. Our pilots flew into action in planes designed more for training safety than combat performance.

5. Our aircraft industry had fallen behind Russian aviation in the output of highly maneuverable jet fighters.

6. We made the classic military error of underestimating the enemy.
But over and above these lessons, the Korean war taught that in this modern world, peace is only preservable through strength, and that if we value freedom, justice and the dignity of the individual, we must be willing and able to defend them.

The men who have suffered and died in Korea will not have given their lives uselessly if we remember what it has cost so much to learn.

August 17, 2023

1945. The German Surrender at Lüneburg Heath

"Montgomery Scorns Nazis, Exults, 'This Is the Moment'"
Bill Downs broadcasting from Lüneburg, Germany on V-E Day, May 8, 1945 (Photo by Dennis Allen of the British Second Army)
The transcript of this broadcast was printed in The New York Times on May 5, 1945. The text in parentheses was inserted by the newspaper.


May 4, 1945 – 4:30 PM

More than one million Germans on Field Marshal (Sir Bernard L.) Montgomery's Twenty-first Army Group front surrendered on this historic May 4, bringing hostilities to an end for the Canadian Army fighting in Holland and the British Second Army fighting in northern Germany. (Other dispatches and previous estimates set the figure of troops involved at well over 500,000, but not more than 600,000.) It was the biggest mass surrender of German forces since the Armistice of 1918 (provided the higher figure is correct).

A German surrender mission headed by Admiral von Friedeburg, Commander in Chief of the German Navy, signed articles of unconditional surrender for the German land, sea and air forces facing the Canadian First Army and the British Second Army at 6:25 o'clock this evening. Field Marshal Montgomery signed in behalf of the Allied Supreme Commander in Chief, General (Dwight D.) Eisenhower.

The signing occurred in a tent set up especially for the ceremony in front of Marshal Montgomery's headquarters on the Lüneburg Heath just south of Hamburg. It's significant that the northern German armies were surrendered on this barren, artificially forested heath, which for years has served as the training ground and birthplace for German armies. It was here that technically a large part of the Wehrmacht died.

For this northern European front, it means that the fighting for the Canadian and British armies here is virtually finished. The only European nation in northern Europe yet to be liberated is Norway. There still is the Dunkerque pocket, but these events must have a tremendous effect on the Germans still holding out there.

In the words of Field Marshal Montgomery as he walked to the tent where the official signing took place, grinned and commented to the reporters:

"This is the moment!"

It was a great moment, a historic moment, there in the cold rain, the blustering winds on the Lüneburg Heath, in the heart of northern Germany, a great moment not only for Britain and Canada but for the American Eighty-second Airborne Division, the American Eighth Infantry Division and the American Seventh Armored Division, fighting under the Second Army in its hour of victory.

It was also a great moment for America and Russia and France and the world.

Here is the background of the historic signing of the biggest mass surrender of German forces since the armistice of 1918. The stage was set for the big surrender in the north when the British Sixth Airborne Division, operating under the American Eighteenth Airborne Corps, drove northward to the Cleve-Elbe River bridgehead south of Hamburg to reach the Baltic Sea at the city of Wismar. This happened Wednesday night.

Then the British paratroopers linked up with the Russians. Coming up on the right flank, the American Eighth Infantry Division and the American Eighty-second Airborne Division made linkups to the south of Wismar on Thursday, the next day, with the Russian Army.

What happened was that this drive to the Baltic carried the Second Army thrust directly behind the line of retreat of the Germany Army Group, the Nazi armies retreating before the drive in the north by General (Konstantin K.) Rokossovsky's forces advancing westward.

In the first three days it is estimated that more than half a million prisoners were taken, mostly from this army group retreating westward. That explains the large number of staff officers who fell into British hands during these fateful days. We were capturing the generals before encountering their fighting troops.

The rout had set in for the German armies on the northern front. On Wednesday, May 2, a German general who said he commanded the so-called army group, hoisted a white flag and sent an emissary to the headquarters of the British Second Army. He said he commanded all the forces between the Baltic and the Weser River, the river running southward from Bremen. He said he wanted to surrender this army group.

General (Sir Miles C.) Dempsey, commander of the Second Army, replied that he should start moving, and a rendezvous was arranged for Thursday. The German general did not appear, but he sent word that negotiations were going on a much higher level than his military station. He could not negotiate.

It was yesterday that a party of four higher German officials again hoisted a white flag and drove into the British lines. The head of the party was Admiral von Friedeburg, commander in Chief of the German Navy who replaced Admiral (Karl) Dönitz while the latter assumed the title of Führer. Von Friedeburg's rank also carries the title of General of the Army; thus, he was able to negotiate for the ground forces as well.

With von Friedeburg was General Kinzel, the next ranking officer, who is chief of staff to Field Marshal (General Ernst) Busch, who is commander of the northern German armies. Field Marshal Busch, incidentally, is still missing from our prisoners' list, but we should catch up with him soon. And next came Rear Admiral Wagner, a staff officer to Von Friedeburg, and lastly, a Major Friede, a staff officer to General Kinzel.

This was the party who hoped to negotiate with Field Marshal Montgomery. They were taken to "Monty's" field headquarters on the Lüneburg Heath. He stepped out, returned their military, not Nazi, salute and asked, as if they were vacuum cleaner salesman, "What do you want?"

The Germans replied:

"We come from Field Marshal Busch to ask you to accept the surrender of three German armies which now are withdrawing in front of the Russians in the Mecklenberg area."

These armies, it was later revealed, were the Third Panzer Army, the German Twelfth Army, and the Twenty-first Army.


The Nazi officers continued: "We are very anxious about the condition of German civilians who are fleeing as the German armies retreat in the path of the Russian advance. We want you to accept the surrender of these three armies."

To his everlasting credit, Field Marshal Montgomery turned down three German armies willing to surrender to him. "No," he said. "Certainly not. Those German armies are fighting the Russians. Therefore if they surrender to anyone, it must be to the forces of the Soviet Union. They have nothing to do with me. I have nothing to do with the happenings on my eastern front. You go surrender to the Soviet commander. The subject is closed."

Then Field Marshal Montgomery asked: "Are you prepared to surrender the German forces on my northern and western flanks? Those forces between Lübeck and Holland and the forces in support of them, such as those in Denmark?"

The Germans said no, but they added that again they were anxious about the conditions of the German civilians on the northern flank. "We would like to come to some agreement with you by which the civilians would be saved from battle slaughter," they said.

Then the German commander proposed a complicated and difficult military program covering the next few weeks, in which the British Second Army would advance slowly while at the same time the German troops, by agreement, would retreat slowly. It would work well for the Germans.

Again Monty said: "No, I will not discuss what I propose to do in the future—nothing."


Then the British Field Marshal took the offensive. "I wonder," he said, "whether you know the battle situation on the Western Front." And he produced his operational map; the war was too close to being won for it to have any security importance. This map, and what he said, were the final straw, the one factor which precipitated the surrender of 1,000,000 Germans. The German commanders were shocked, astounded by the progress of the Allies in the east and the west.

It was lunchtime and they went off to lunch alone. Admiral von Friedeburg burst into tears when he got out of sight of Montgomery, and he wept throughout lunch. After lunch, Field Marshal Montgomery called the Germans back for further consultation, and there he delivered his ultimatum, an ultimatum that must have hurt the Nazis as much as the landing in Normandy.

He told the Germans:

"You must understand three things: Firstly, you must surrender to me unconditionally all the German forces in Holland, Friesen and the Frisian Islands and Helgoland and all other islands in Schleswig-Holstein and in Denmark.

"Secondly, when you have done that, I am prepared to discuss with you the implications of your surrender: how we will dispose of those surrendered troops, how we will occupy the surrendered territory, how we will deal with the civilians, and so forth.

"And my third point: If you do not agree to Point 1, the surrender, then I will go on with the war and I will be delighted to do so."

Monty added, as an after-thought, "All your soldiers and civilians may be killed."

One, two, three, finished. This shook them. They said that they came entirely to ask for the acceptance of three armies who wanted to surrender. They said they had no authority to agree to Monty's demand. But they agreed that two of them would remain behind while the others presented the new terms of surrender to their superior.

So at 4 P.M. yesterday afternoon, Admiral von Friedeburg and Major Friede went back with the news. They returned today at about 5 o'clock in the afternoon with the complete acceptance of the unconditional surrender terms, and that's how surrenders are made.

And this is what it looked like, the signing of a great surrender of the German forces in the north to the British and Canadian armies. It was raining when we arrived at Monty's headquarters, set in the shrubbed pines and firs of the Lüneburg Heath. The weather was more like fall than spring, with the winds of the North Sea whipping a cold drizzle over the whole landscape.

But overhead, weather or not, the Spitfires and Typhoons roared over, heading always northward, where Germans were reported trying to escape to Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The air forces were continuing the attack until the last minutes of surrender, a sign of Allied strength built up in Germany.

We were led to a tent, a weather-beaten tent that had been pitched scores of times at the Field Marshal's headquarters. It wasn't large, about ten feet wide and twenty feet long. Family size. Inside was set up an ordinary kitchen-size table. On top of it was a blue cloth. Between two microphones was an inkstand with an ordinary steel-tipped pen lying on top.

The German mission arrived and walked to the front of Monty's caravan. Admiral von Friedeburg was invited inside for a last-minute conference. At this time it was not completely settled whether the German answer to the unconditional terms would be yes or no.

An extra person had arrived with the Admiral's party, a Colonel Paulik, once a member of the staff of Field Marshal (General Wilhelm) Keitel; Keitel is second in command of the German armed forces only to Führer Dönitz. The party had plenty of weight, but did not officially bear Keitel's authority.

And while Monty and the Admiral were meeting in the caravan, the other Nazi bigwigs stood in the rain, cold and shivering, just like us reporters. Then they marched down the gravel path toward the tent.

There was Admiral von Friedeburg dressed in a gray leather coat, German Navy style, with a battered hat on his head. But the striking thing was his face, the pushed-in German face, deeply lined and absolutely gray and motionless.

His was the responsibility in the surrender mission, and he showed the strain of his duty. Frankly the Admiral, who wept so copiously at lunch the day before, today looked as if he had been crying ever since.

But the most magnificent figure was General Kinzel, the chief of staff for the German armies in the north. He was the perfect figure of what the world has come to know its sorrow as the German military peacock, complete with monocle.

General Kinzel wore a light green, fastidious German Army greatcoat, with brilliant red lapels. His monocle seemed to glisten even in the dull gray of the afternoon. If his face had not been set in concrete, you might have expected him to burst into song for a Viennese operetta. He was that beautiful.

The small fry, the colonels and majors and all the rest of the surrender party, were gray ducks by comparison.

Again Field Marshal Montgomery kept the party waiting. They stood at attention around the kitchen table. Finally the Marshal, wearing immaculate British field battledress with red tabs on the lapels and a field marshal's baton on his shoulders, almost sauntered down the path. He came to this reporter and said out of the corner of his mouth:

"This is the moment."

He carried the surrender papers in his right hand. The moment he appeared the Germans snapped to attention, like puppets. The British Field Marshal sat down and stretched out his hand in invitation for the Nazis to do the same.

The cameras began to whirl and click, and Monty picked up the historic document that meant the surrender of more than 1,000,000 Germans. He put up his horn-rimmed spectacles, picked up the papers and said, "I will now read the terms of the surrender."

The Germans sat like statues, not a flicker of emotion on their faces. Solemnly, but with a note of triumph in his voice, Monty read the terms of surrender. You could tell that this was the moment for which he had been waiting in Alamein, in Tunis and in Italy.

Then, one by one, the Germans signed. Admiral von Friedeberg, General Kinzel, Rear Admiral Wagner, staff officer to von Friedeberg; General Paulik and Major Freiberger. They didn't say a word or betray a single emotion; it was strictly Prussian ceremony for the Germans.

Then the Field Marshal took up the wooden pen with the steel tip. "And now," he said, "I will sign on behalf of the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower."

The ceremony took about five minutes.

August 4, 2023

1940. William L. Shirer Describes the Armistice Negotiations at Compiègne

Adolf Hitler Arrives in France for the Armistice Negotiations

William L. Shirer
CBS News
June 21, 1940

Here, a few feet from where we're standing, in the very same old Wagon-Lits railroad coach where the armistice was signed on that chilly morning of November 11, 1918, negotiations for another armistice—the one to end the present war between France and Germany—began at 3:30 PM German Summer Time this afternoon.

What a turning back of the clock; what a reversing of history we've been watching here in this beautiful Compiègne Forest this afternoon. What a contrast to that day a mere twenty-two years ago. Yes, even the weather, for we've had one of those lovely warm June days which you get in this part of France close to Paris about this time of year.

As we stood here watching Adolf Hitler and Field Marshal Göring and the other German leaders laying down the terms of armistice to the French plenipotentiaries here this afternoon, it was difficult to comprehend that, in this rustic little clearing in the midst of the forest of Compiègne from where we're talking to you now, an armistice was signed here on a cold gray morning at 5 AM on November 11, 1918.

The railroad coach—it was Marshal Foch's private car—stands a few feet away from us here at exactly the same spot where it stood on that gray morning twenty-two years ago. Only—and what an "only" it is, too—Adolf Hitler sat in the seat occupied that day by Marshal Foch. Hitler, who at that time was only an unknown corporal in the German Army.

And in that quaint, old wartime Wagons-Lits car, another armistice is being drawn up as I speak to you now. An armistice designed like the other that was signed on this spot to bring armed hostilities to a halt between those ancient enemies, Germany and France.
Only everything, everything that we've been seeing here this afternoon in Compiègne Forest has been so reversed. The last time the representatives of France sat in that car dictating the terms of the armistice. This afternoon we peered through the windows of the car and saw Adolf Hitler laying down the terms.

Thus does history reverse itself, but seldom has it done so as today on the very same spot.

The German leader, in the preamble of the conditions which were read to the French delegates by Colonel General von Keitel, chief of the German Supreme Command, told the French that he had not chosen this spot at Compiègne out of revenge, but merely to right an old wrong.

The armistice negotiations here on the same spot where the last armistice was signed in 1918 here in Compiègne Forest began at 3:15 PM our time. A warm June sun beat down on the great elm and pine trees and cast pleasant shadows on the wooded avenues as Herr Hitler, with the German plenipotentiaries at his side, appeared.

He alighted from his car in front of the French monument to Alsace-Lorraine, which stands at the end of an avenue about two hundred yards from the clearing here in front of us where the armistice car stands.
That famous Alsace-Lorraine statue was covered with German war flags so that you cannot see its sculpture work nor read its inscription. But I've seen it many times in the postwar years, and doubtless many of you have seen it: the large sword representing the sword of the Allies, and its point sticking into a large, limp eagle representing the old empire of the Kaiser. And the inscription underneath in French saying: "TO THE HEROIC SOLDIERS OF FRANCE. DEFENDERS OF THE COUNTRY AND OF RIGHT. GLORIOUS LIBERATORS OF ALSACE-LORRAINE."

Through our glasses we saw the Führer stop, glance at the statue, observe the Reich war flags with their big swastikas in the center. Then he strolled slowly toward us, toward the little clearing where the famous armistice car stood.

I thought he looked very solemn. His face was grave, but there was a certain spring in his step as he walked for the first time toward the spot where Germany's fate was sealed on that November day of 1918. A fate which, by reason of his own deeds, is now being radically changed here in this spot.

And now—if I may sort of go over my notes I made from moment to moment this afternoon—now Hitler reaches a little opening in the Compiègne woods where the armistice was signed, and where another is about to be drawn up. He pauses and slowly looks around. The opening here is in the form of a circle about two hundred yards in diameter and laid out like a park. Cyprus trees line it all around, and behind them the great elms and oaks of the forest. This has been one of France's national shrines for twenty-two years.

Hitler pauses and gazes slowly around. In a group just behind him are the other German plenipotentiaries: Field Marshal Göring, grasping his field marshal's baton in one hand—he wears the blue uniform of the air force. All the Germans are in uniform—Hitler in a double-breasted gray uniform with the Iron Cross hanging from his left breast pocket.

Next to Göring are the two German Army chiefs: Colonel General von Keitel, Chief of the Supreme Command, and Colonel General von Brauchitsch, Commander-in-Chief of the German Army. Both are just approaching sixty but look younger, especially General von Keitel who has a dapper appearance with his cap slightly cocked on one side.
Then we see there Dr. Raeder, Grand Admiral of the German Fleet. He has on a blue naval uniform and the invariable upturned stiff collar which German naval officers usually wear. We see two non-military men in Hitler's suite: his Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in the field gray uniform of the Foreign Office, and Rudolf Hess, Hitler's deputy, in a gray party uniform.

The time is now, I see by my notes, 3:18 PM in the forest of Compiègne. Hitler's personal standard is run up on a small post in the center of the circular opening in the woods. Also in the center is a great granite block which stands some three feet above the ground. Hitler, followed by the others, walks slowly over to it, steps up, and reads the inscription engraved in great high letters on that block. Many of you will remember the words of that inscription. The Führer slowly reads them, and the inscription says: "HERE ON THE ELEVENTH OF NOVEMBER 1918 SUCCUMBED THE CRIMINAL PRIDE OF THE GERMAN EMPIRE. VANQUISHED BY THE FREE PEOPLES WHICH IT TRIED TO ENSLAVE."

Hitler reads it and Göring reads it. They all read it standing there in the June sun and the silence.

We look for the expression on Hitler's face, but it does not change. Finally he leads his party over to another granite stone, a smaller one some fifty yards to one side. Here it was that the railroad car in which the German plenipotentiaries stayed during the 1918 armistice negotiations stood from November 8 to 11. Hitler looks down and reads the inscription which merely says, "THE GERMAN PLENIPOTENTIARIES." The stone itself, I notice, is set between a pair of rusty old railroad tracks, the very ones that were there twenty-two years ago.

It is now 3:23 PM and the German leaders stride over to the armistice car. This car, of course, was not standing on this spot yesterday. It was standing seventy-five yards down the rusty tracks on the shoulder of a tiny museum built to house it by an American citizen, Mr. Arthur Henry Fleming of Pasadena, California.

Yesterday the car was removed from the museum by German Army engineers and rolled back those seventy-five yards to this spot where it stood on the morning of November 11, 1918.
"Left to right: Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel, Hermann Göring, Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler, and Walther von Brauchitsch in front of the Armistice carriage, on 21 June 1940" (source)
The Germans stand outside the car chatting in the sunlight. This goes on for two minutes. Then Hitler steps up into the car, followed by Göring and the others. We watch them entering the drawing room in Marshal Foch's car. We can see nicely now through the car windows.
Hitler enters first and takes the place occupied by Marshal Foch the morning the first armistice was signed. At his side are Göring and General Keitel. To his right and left at the ends of the table we see General von Brauchitsch and Herr Hess at the one end. At the other end, Grand Admiral Raeder and Herr Von Ribbentrop. The opposite side of the table is still empty. All we see there: four vacant chairs. The French have not yet appeared, but we do not wait long.
Exactly at 3:30 PM the French alight from car. They have flown up from Bordeaux to a nearby landing field and then driven here in auto. They glance at the Alsace-Lorraine memorial now draped with swastikas, but it's a swift glance. Then they walk down the avenue, flanked by three German Army officers. We see them now as they come into the sunlight of the clearing: General Huntziger, wearing a bleached khaki uniform, Air-General Bergeret, and Vice Admiral Le Luc, both in their respective dark blue uniforms.

And then, almost buried in the uniforms, the one single civilian of the day: Mr. Noël, French ambassador to Poland when the present war broke out there. The French plenipotentiaries pass the guard of honor drawn up at the entrance of the clearing. The guard snaps to attention for the French, but does not present arms.

The Frenchmen keep their eyes straight ahead. It's a grave hour in the life of France, and their faces, their bearing, show what a burden they feel on their shoulders. Their faces are solemn, drawn, but they're the picture of tragic dignity.

They walk stiffly to the car where they're met by two German officers, Lieutenant Colonel Tippelskirch, quartermaster general, and Colonel Thomas, Chief of the Führer's Headquarters. The Germans salute, the French salute. The atmosphere is what Europeans call "correct." But you get the picture when I say that we seen no handshakes. Not on occasions like this.

The historic moment is now approaching. It is 3:32 by my watch—the Frenchmen, under Marshal Foch's Pullman car, standing there a few feet from us in Compiègne Forest.

Now we get our picture through the dusty windows of that historic old wagon-lit car. Hitler and the other German leaders rise to their feet as the French enter the drawing room. Hitler, we see, gives the Nazi salute, the arm raised. The German officers give a military salute. The French do the same. I cannot see Mr. Noël to see whether he salutes or how.

Hitler, so far as we can see through the windows just in front of us here, does not say anything. He nods to General Keitel at his side. We can see General Keitel adjusting his papers, and then he starts to read. He is reading the preamble of the German armistice terms. The French sit there with marble-like faces and listen intently. Hitler and Göring glance at the green tabletop.

This part of this historic act lasts but a few moments. I note in my notebook here it's 3:42 PM—that is 12 minutes after the French arrive—3:42 we see Hitler stand up, salute stiffly with hand upraised. Then he strides out of the drawing room, followed by Göring, General Brauchitsch, Grand Admiral Raeder there, Herr Hess, and at the end, Herr von Ribbentrop.

The French remain at the green-topped table in the old Pullman car and we see General Keitel remains with them. He is going to read them the detailed conditions of the armistice. Hitler, Göring, and the others do not wait for this. They walk down the avenue back towards the Alsace-Lorraine monument. As they pass the guard of honor, the German band strikes up the two national anthems, "Deutschland über alles" and "The Horst Wessel Song."
The whole thing has taken but a quarter of an hour—this great reversal of a historic event.