October 12, 2020

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.
THE LIBERATION OF CAEN

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!"

FRANK GILLARD, BBC and BILL DOWNS, C.B.S.
"American armored and infantry forces pass through the battered town of Coutances, France, in the new offensive against the Nazis," July 1944 (source)
OPERATION COBRA

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."

BILL DOWNS, C.B.S.
"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)
AROUND VIRE

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!'"

BILL DOWNS, C.B.S.
"Infantrymen of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada riding on a Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier, Werlte, Germany," April 11, 1945 (source)
OPERATION TOTALIZE

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."

BILL DOWNS, C.B.S.
"German forces surrendering in Saint-Lambert-sur-Dive," August 21, 1944 (source)
ALLIED VICTORY IN THE BATTLE OF THE FALAISE POCKET

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."

BILL DOWNS, C.B.S.
"British Paratroopers from the 1st Parachute Brigade with a captured German soldier" in Arnhem, 1944 (source)
THE INVASION OF GERMANY
"YOU CHAPS GET READY"

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, C.B.S.
Bill Downs broadcasting from Lüneburg, Germany on V-E Day, May 8, 1945 (Photo by Dennis Allen of the British Second Army)
GERMAN SOLDIERS SURRENDER

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."

BILL DOWNS, C.B.S.

September 22, 2020

1969. Vice President Agnew Blasts Media Reaction to Nixon Speech

Network Commentators React to President Nixon's "Silent Majority" Speech
Top row: Bill Lawrence, Bill Downs, Bob Clark, John Scali, Tom Jarriel, Howard K. Smith, Frank Reynolds. Bottom row: Eric Sevareid, Dan Rather, Marvin Kalb, Richard Scammon, Herbert Kaplow, John Chancellor
From Broadcasting magazine [large PDF], November 24, 1969, pp. 50-52:

The analyses that touched it all off 

Here's what network newsmen said on the air after President Nixon gave his Vietnam speech
How abrasive were the network-TV commentaries that Vice President Spiro T. Agnew denounced as "instant analysis and querulous criticism" in his Nov. 13 blast at TV news?

The commentaries were presented by the ABC, CBS and NBC news organizations immediately following President Nixon's Nov. 3 speech on Vietnam, and Vice President Agnew charged that:

"One commentator twice contradicted the President's statement about the exchange of correspondence with Ho Chi Minh. Another challenged the President's abilities as a politician. A third asserted that the President was following a Pentagon line. Others, by the expression on their faces, the tone of their questions and the sarcasm of their responses, made clear their sharp disapproval."

Mr. Agnew identified none of the correspondents but a review of the transcripts last week, while telling nothing about facial expressions and tone of voice, showed that:

The references to the Ho Chi Minh letter were by Marvin Kalb of CBS News. In one reference he was quoting unnamed critics of Mr. Nixon's policies and added that the Ho Chi Minh letter seemed to contain uncommonly "accommodating" language. In the other he speculated that North Vietnamese reaction might be "somewhat negative in terms of the President's judgment" of the letter and said that "although Mr. Nixon called it a flat rejection of his own letter, it contained a number of statements . . . which suggest considerable flexibility in negotiating posture."

The challenge to the President as a politician was made by Bill Lawrence of ABC News. Two other panelists on the same program called Mr. Nixon an "extremely skillful" and "consummate" politician.

The reference to "Pentagon line" was by Bill Downs of ABC, who said it was reflected in statements that U.S. defeat or humiliation would promote recklessness among other world powers. As a reflection of the preceding administration's policy in that respect, he also said, it ought to allay any fears among nations that the Nixon administration is moving toward a neutralist or isolationist cause.

Mr. Agnew reserved special criticism for W. Averell Harriman, former chief U.S. negotiator at the Paris peace talks, who the Vice President said was "trotted out" by one network "to guarantee in advance that the President's plea for national unity would be challenged." Mr. Harriman, appearing on the ABC news wrap-up, did disagree with Mr. Nixon on many points. He also started and ended his comments by wishing the President well in his search for peace, and said Mr. Nixon had his support to that end.

Whatever the merits of the controversy, Mr. Nixon's speech scored well in the Nielsen multi-network area (MNA) ratings for the week of November 3-9, and the analysis, at least on NBC-TV, did not do badly either. NBC-TV's coverage of the speech ranked fifth with a 24.6 rating and a 35 share, and NBC's analysis ranked sixth (tied with FBI on ABC) with a 23.5 rating. CBS-TV's analysis was tied with NBC's Bill Cosby for 20th place with a 21.3 rating.

A report on the three wrap-up programs follows, based on transcripts supplied by the networks:

The ABC News wrap-up, anchored by Frank Reynolds, opened with Tom Jarriel, ABC White House correspondent, saying that Mr. Nixon had addressed himself to "the silent majority," had "offered no quick solutions" and perhaps had "polarized attitude in the country more than it ever has been into groups who are either for him or against him."

Asked why there was "nothing substantively new" in the speech, Mr. Jarriel said the President apparently felt "that the time had come to restate his position, and we were warned repeatedly against speculation at the White House, against going out on a limb saying there might be massive troop withdrawals or perhaps a stand-still cease-fire, and tonight after seeing the speech we certainly know why we were warned against speculation."

W. Averell Harriman, former chief U.S. negotiator at the Paris peace talks, was presented by Mr. Reynolds as "one of the men most qualified, certainly, the most qualified to speculate on North Vietnam's reaction to the speech."

At the outset Mr. Harriman appeared to disavow any intention to offer what the Vice President later called "instant analysis and querulous criticism."

"I wouldn't be presumptuous to give a complete analysis of a very carefully thought-out speech by the president of the United States," Mr. Harriman said. "I'm sure he wants to end this war and no one wishes him well any more than I do."

Mr. Harriman, interviewed by John Scali, ABC News State Department correspondent, presented several points of disagreement with Mr. Nixon's position, said his address contained important omissions, and asserted that "I think this should be very carefully debated by the Congress, particularly by the Foreign Relations Committee."

Mr. Harriman questioned whether the President's supporters represented "a silent majority" or "a silent minority," but then said "I think he's got the full support of the people. He certainly has got my support, in hoping we will develop a program for peace."

He concluded: "There are so many things we've got to know about this, but I want to end this by saying I wish the President well, I hope he can lead us to peace. But this is not the whole story that we've heard tonight."

ABC News National Affairs Editor Bill Lawrence suggested the Democrats had tried to "mouse-trap" the President by building people's hopes for an announcement of "some new move toward substantively winning the war sooner."

Bob Clark, ABC Capitol Hill correspondent, foresaw reopening of the Vietnam hearings by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and thought it "very clear tonight that the gauntlet will be flung down to the President at those new hearings."

Mr. Clark said, "there's a growing impatience in Congress, just as there is across the country. This cuts across party lines, there are many who have been moderates on the Vietnam war in the past who now feel more and more urgently about the need to set a termination date on the war. That, of course, is what the President failed tonight to do."

Bill Downs, ABC Pentagon correspondent, saw the speech as reflecting "the Pentagon viewpoint" and the previous administration's position that America cannot go back on a commitment. That, he said, "allays any fears that people might have had round the world that the Nixon administration might be heading us toward a neutralist or isolationist course, but it's certainly not in this speech."

Mr. Lawrence contended Mr. Nixon "hasn't used the powers of the Presidency," which he said "a good politician" would have done, and pointed out that during the campaign Mr. Nixon said—and said again in his speech that night—that "he had a plan that would end the war and win the peace."

As to Mr. Nixon's abilities as a politician, Mr. Reynolds had called him "extremely skillful" and Mr. Downs, taking issue with Mr. Lawrence, called him "a consummate politician."

Howard K. Smith said that "for the first time" he got "a strong impression" that Mr. Nixon is "not going to be hustled or yield to anything but a negotiated settlement involving free elections which probably the Communists couldn't win." He speculated that "by his speech tonight he's let himself in for some very rough handling in that next moratorium demonstration that's coming."

Mr. Nixon, he said, "got his messages across to the people he's counting on, called the silent majority, but what matters is whether he got his point across to Hanoi; that there will be no surrender in any guise, and that they will have to negotiate. And, as has been so often said tonight, we'll just have to wait and see."

Correspondent Dan Rather, anchoring the CBS News wrap-up, opened with a summary of speech highlights and prefaced the commentary "by saying, as always, this is a difficult bit of guesswork to immediately follow a presidential address."

One of the references to the Ho Chi Minh letter by Marvin Kalb, CBS diplomatic correspondent, was that critics of Mr. Nixon "may disagree with the President's judgment that the Ho Chi Minh letter was a flat rejection of his own letter. The Ho Chi Minh letter contained, it seems, some of the softest, most accommodating language found in a Communist document concerning the war in Vietnam in recent years."

This other reference to the letter was in assessing the effect of the speech on North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese, he said, might say "that the President has not given them anything terribly new to chew on." But, he added, "I don't really feel that the President was talking to them. As he pointed out, he was talking very much to the great silent majority of the American people. . . ." Mr. Kalb continued:

"It seems to me, if anything, it's [the North Vietnamese reaction] going to be somewhat negative in terms of the President's judgment of the Ho Chi Minh letter. Ho Chi Minh is now dead; he is a god in North Vietnam at least, and certainly has a good deal of strength elsewhere in the Communist world.

"The President defines this as a flat rejection, and yet you have a number of statements in here which suggest considerable flexibility in negotiating posture. This may not yet be apparent in Paris, but it certainly is there in the language of this Ho Chi Minh letter."

Eric Sevareid, CBS national correspondent, couldn't "escape the feeling—and it's only a feeling—that there may well be an announcement of a quite sizable troop withdrawal and fairly soon, possibly before these mid-November demonstrations. I have no evidence for this at all, except the feeling that it cannot rest where he has left it."

Mr. Sevareid said that philosophically Mr. Nixon "doesn't seem to be any different" from former President Johnson and former Secretary of State Dean Rusk in feeling that an American pull-out would collapse confidence in American leadership all over the world and set Communists into action in other areas.

"One would think if all that were true, if this war and our presence there was of this cosmic and universal importance, then the war should be won," Mr. Sevareid said. "But he has said that it is not to be—a military victory is not to be sought, and in that, it seems to me, there lies a profound illogic, that it's over the dam, he is trying to get us out."

Mr. Sevareid said he "hoped" the President could hold a majority of public opinion behind the policy of winding down the war slowly to an honorable end, but "I don't know that he can. I think this speech would have been effective last spring, but it's late in the day; and this is why I think something else is going to come and very soon. I do not believe it can rest here. But this is only my horseback opinion of one man. And I could be wrong"

The NBC News wrap-up, with John Chancellor as anchor man, opened with a summary of the President's speech by Mr. Chancellor, who was then joined in commentary by Herbert Kaplow, NBC White House correspondent, and Richard Scammon, consultant to NBC News on public opinion.

Mr. Chancellor felt that "the essence of the speech has been a defense of his [Mr. Nixon's] plan to end the war, which he thinks is working. His critics think it's not working and it's making the war go on longer, and they will be after him again."

Mr. Scammon, in response to questions, said he thought the President's speech "represented the viewpoint of the majority" of Americans, that there was also "a strong minority" in and outside of Congress that would oppose the President's proposals, but that "the polls would indicate he does have support, at least for the time being, for [his] policy." Since the Oct. 15 moratorium, he said, that support "has gone up, not down." Would it go up again after the demonstrations that critics had scheduled for Nov. 15? That, Mr. Scammon thought, "might depend a good deal" on the nature of the November demonstrations: "If they are as essentially decent as they were in October, I'm not sure. If they become violent, it's quite possible it would go up."

Mr. Scammon thought direct appeals to the public, such as Mr. Nixon had just made, "tend to bridge over whatever kind of a credibility gap there may be," but that in the long run the effect depends on the soundness of the arguments advanced because the people "are usually a good deal more perceptive about these things than many people give them credit for."

"If the argument is basically sound," he continued, "I think you'd find that there would be support for it, while there always will be a minority on both sides, you know, who will oppose any middle-of-the-road policy, which is what I think you would call this, which does not go either far to the left or far to the right."

Mr. Kaplow commented on the President's departure from his usual practice of not reading speeches: "Obviously, because of the delicacy of this issue, he chose not to take any chances. As a scripted performance, it was a pretty good Nixon performance . . . the image that came across tonight was that of a man who was familiar with what he was reading, obviously designed to counter the—activating the silent majority into support for him, maybe overwhelming, in a sense, by their expressions, the people who had been marching around the fences of the White House on Oct. 15 and are supposed to be back here on Nov. 15."

In response to another question Mr. Kaplow said it was his opinion that administration decisions on troop withdrawals are based less on progress in the Paris talks than on the strengthening of the Vietnamese army and the level of fighting, "and probably the level of fighting more than anything else."

The wrap-up concluded with Mr. Scammon noting that public opinion "has been very ambivalent about Vietnam.

"It has wanted to get out; it has wanted a Vietnamized war. On the other hand, it has wanted to get a settlement which did not permit the Communists to take over. And even though the American public says get out of Vietnam, Mr. President, they also say if you get out of Vietnam and lose, two-thirds of us are going to be against you."

Observed Mr. Chancellor: "It's not easy to have that job."

August 12, 2020

1944. American Foreign Correspondents on Stalingrad and Leningrad

Bill Downs Looks Back on Russia
A woman walks past the wreckage of a German Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter plane in Stalingrad in the summer of 1943 (source)
The Nazi Propaganda Ministry kept a file on Bill Downs mentioning this article, in which Downs recounts his experience reporting from the Soviet Union. An account by James Fleming, Downs' successor in Moscow, is also featured here.

From Newsweek, February 21, 1944, pp. 30-31:
A Departing Correspondent Looks Back on Russia

What does Russia look like to a correspondent who has just completed a long assignment there? Bill Downs, Newsweek and CBS correspondent, recently returned from the Soviet, Newsweek asked him to sum up his impressions of Russia. The story below tells how it seemed to Downs as viewed from the vantage point of New York.

Russia is a place that gets into your skin—despite wartime irritations of crowded subways, lack of taxicabs, of overworked and understaffed offices; despite the overly strict and self-conscious censorship; despite the grimness of the Moscow scene and the war weariness that makes people short-tempered; despite the pitiful sorrow of a people who have withstood terrible carnage.

After spending a year and two weeks in the Soviet, I find that already I miss the place. It's that kind of country and they're that kind of people.

And coming back to America after an absence of more than three years, I ached to show all the wonderful things that are America to the friends I made in Britain and Russia. For example, the young, good-looking cook in the headquarters dugout at Stalingrad. Her name was Vera. She handed me a drink of water, saying: "This is good water. Volga water. It has Russian blood in it."

The New Era: When I entered Russia on Christmas Day, 1942, the country was in the midst of the Battle of Stalingrad. The strain was evident in Moscow. Tired, red-eyed officers from the southern front who were reporting to headquarters could be seen in Moscow hotels trying to snatch a few hours' sleep before rushing back to the battle.

But the victory, although its cost was scores of thousands of Russian men, was the turning point of the United Nations war against the Axis.

This victory was also a turning point for the Soviet. It marked the end of one era inside Russia and the beginning of another. Only today are we beginning to see manifestations of a new era.

Our Questions: People have asked me: "Can we trust Russia? Will she make a separate peace?"

I found that when I left the Russian people were asking something of the same thing. They are tremendously appreciative of American and British aid to their country. But to a nation sacrificing millions of lives on the battlefields in the west, trucks and sugar and planes and meat seem pitifully small contributions to the victory. That is the basis for the insistent and sometimes bitter demands for the "second front." It is an understandable reaction.

Since the Moscow and Tehran conferences, however, the position of Russia's allies has been made more clear to the people. Our war in the Pacific and the bombings of the Continent have been more fully explained and their value more truly appreciated. But the Russian soldiers still call the cans of American meat they like so well "Second Front." It is a standard joke for a Red Army man to say: "Hand me a can of that Second Front, Ivan."

Total Russian casualties in the Soviet-German war today are estimated at between 10,000,000 and 15,000,000 men, women, and children. No one probably will ever know how many Russians have died and will die in this most terrible of all wars. Estimates of damage to Russian cities and towns and villages defy the imagination.

After what I have seen of the hatred in the faces of the people, after seeing areas so devastated that a house still intact startles the eye, and particularly after staring into mass graves where thousands of people died, it is not difficult for me to answer the question: "Will Russia make a separate peace with the Germans?"

Stalingrad: I left Moscow last Jan. 3. Our plane was grounded at Stalingrad for two days and nights by weather. As we flew over the city, there already were two thin streams of smoke from patched-up chimneys of the flattened tractor plant and the Red Barricades factory.

I had seen Stalingrad six days after the defeat of the German armies. Then the city was still stunned from the impact of battle. It was as if you had stepped into a giant bell shortly after it had been struck. There probably has never been such complete demolition over such a wide area. Bombing alone cannot reduce rubble to such small bits. Artillery is needed to break up the big chunks of masonry. And that was what Stalingrad was mostly, just a lot of little chunks of brick, mortar, wood—and bodies.

In flying over Stalingrad now, you could see the beginnings of streets and roads and of a new and better housing. And engineers, workers, and men, women, and children from all over Russia are walking along the downtown streets helping reconstruct the hero city of the Soviet Union. Part of this reconstruction was being engineered in the still-ruined factory buildings.

But the most startling thing in the city I found at the new airport. For two years I'd been looking for a central heating system outside the United States that worked. Warm radiators had become an obsession with me. I'd felt radiators in Lisbon, London, Dublin, Belfast, Manchester, Baku, and Moscow. All were more like ice-box coils than heating units. Until I got to Stalingrad.

My search ended in the waiting room of the new airport building. The heat in that room was enough to knock you over. It's one of the most pleasant memories of Russia that I have. And there are going to be a lot more of them when the rebuilding is finished.
Saint Isaac's Square in besieged Leningrad in March 1943. The monument to Emperor Nicholas I is concealed from German aircraft (source)
A Newcomer Takes a Trip to Battered Leningrad

. . . What does Russia look like to a correspondent just arriving there from the Western world? James Fleming, Newsweek and CBS correspondent, who recently replaced Downs in Russia, last week was permitted to visit the battle city of Leningrad and its long-besieged environs. Here is the story he cabled on his reactions.

Leningrad—the world's most shelled city today presents a tidy façade to a visitor. There are few leveled buildings in the London-Rotterdam style, though the interiors were burned out of perhaps every fifth structure. Indeed, Leningrad's chief architect Nicolai Baranoff, says there is no building in the city that has not suffered some damage, either by bombs or shells. But the work of restoration has been continuing all through the blockade.

The Winter Palace, which received only six bomb hits, stands nearly intact save for boarded windows, yet the adjoining Hermitage Galleries suffered a serious shell gutting. None of several bridges crossing the many-figured Neva River was hit, although they were constant German targets.

No estimate is available as to how many of Leningrad's original 3,000,000 are now in the city, but a good guess is perhaps one-fourth of that number. The normal routines of daily life are completely reestablished, and mornings and evenings the streetcars are crowded with factory workers and school children.

The work of cleaning up the city's wrecked buildings is largely performed by women and girls. Plans for rebuilding, which were begun at the height of the blockade in the winter of 1941-42, envisage no exact reconstruction of destroyed buildings, but instead a project of more modern structures and a series of great parks to break up the crowded center of the city. Today the famous Kirov Works, which cover 5 square kilometers, are working at high speed. Workers tell how the factories suffered 5,000 shell hits and reminisce of the grimmest days of January and February 1942, when the ration was down to 250 grams of bread and one bowl of soup for each worker daily. Then, they say it was not an uncommon sight to see a worker slump over in a factory, dead of hunger.

The Battleground: South and west of Leningrad stretches a broad plain where the recent battles which liberated the city took place. I stood at the spot on the road to Peterhof, scarcely a mile and a half from the city's center, where the Germans approached closest. If ever Hitler suffered carpet-chewing frustration, it must have been here. The city was literally within his grasp, and outlying buildings were within range of a .22 rifle. This was the spot where citizens threw up barricades across the roads and where women joined in the work of digging up trenches and tank traps.

It would be an exaggeration to call Leningrad's physical defenses around its suburbs impressive. Looking at them, you realize that it must have been the sheer spirit of defiance on the part of the citizens that saved Leningrad. There's a gold medal on bright blue ribbon which ever soldier and civilian who participated in the city's defense proudly wears. For example, the elderly woman who tidies my hotel room is never without that emblem pinned to her dress.

In contrast to their own light ground defense works, Leningrad's defenders were ringed by an extensive series of German fortifications no less powerful than those of the Maginot Line.

The battlefield a fortnight ago after the extermination of the Germans was still strewn with big German tanks and heavy artillery, as well as immense quantities of machine guns, anti-aircraft guns, and ammunition.

The Silent: Here and there a sprawled German body lies in the snow until sappers are able to clear the minefields and arrange for burial. Strewn around the German dugouts are empty bottles of Bordeaux wine and Hennessey cognac. Everywhere one sees German gas masks and felt boots in the Russian Valenki style which one Russian colonel scornfully called "ersatz Valenki."

The amount of booty left behind indicates an unplanned retreat and the fact that the Russian break-through came as a complete surprise.

Right in the midst of the battlefield are the ancient and magnificent palaces of Peterhof and Gatchina, while at nearby Pushkin is the palace of Catherine the Great. The Germans had used barracks and on retreating set fire to them. The third floor of the Pavel Palace at Gatchina was used as a brothel for the German Air Corps. The tremendous grounds of the Peterhof Palace, resembling those at Versailles, were plowed over with tank traps and the palace proper on the Gulf of Finland was used as an artillery station.

Special movies shown to correspondents in Leningrad revealed many new details of the "Summer Road" across Lake Ladoga, which was used at the height of the blockade when melting ice destroyed the winter route. Oil-carrying railway cars, half-filled in order to maintain buoyancy, were floated across the lake tied to boats, while strings of barges also brought vital supplies.

In the lobby of the Hotel Astoria is a big siren used to give artillery warnings—now not needed in view of the fact that the Finns have withdrawn their big guns and the Germans are a hundred miles away. But the custodian pats it affectionately and insists it must be ranked as an honored trophy.