February 9, 2021

1947. Omaha Beach, Three Years Later

Returning to Omaha Beach
"Normandy, June, 1947: Three years after the World War II D-Day invasion that led to the liberation of Europe from the Nazis, rusting landing craft and other remnants of war litter Omaha Beach, scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the war" (source)
From the "Special Issue: A Report to America Two Years After V-Day," This Week magazine, August 10, 1947, pp. 20-21:
OMAHA BEACH

By BILL DOWNS

The scene of the Normandy landings is lonely and eerie—three years later

What does a soldier feel when he walks back through the battlefield and finds grass growing in the foxholes and butterflies flitting over the pillboxes? Correspondent Bill Downs, who landed on the Normandy beachhead with the British on D-Day, 1944, went back to find out. He took along a portable recorder.

The result is something new in reporting. For this is no straight account of events and people. Bill Downs looked inwardly and reported the thoughts that marched through his mind—as he walked alone through Omaha Beach. This is how he put them down on the recording tape:

I'm on Omaha Beach, where, not very many months ago, I saw bodies stacked like cordwood—American bodies. Behind me lie the remains of the Mulberry Docks, the improvised harbor that meant so much on D-Day plus. The sea is very quiet today. Battered ghost ships ride low in the surf. This morning—when the sun was just coming out—the moisture on the beach came up in small clouds of steam.

I'm standing at the entrance of an American assault boat. There are about 50 here—some holed by shells, some by collisions. They're old and rusted, down at the stern, half-buried in sand.

Directly in front of me, over the open landing ramp, I can see the rise of treacherous ground the Germans held for so many hours while American troops fought their way up inch by inch. But now this rise is green and has a sort of military smallpox where naval bombardment drove the Germans back and enabled our troops to land.

It gives you an eerie, unreal feeling to be here, to see these sunken ships of the Mulberry harbor; and you wonder if perhaps sailors don't come back sometimes, and maybe soldiers, too, to man these assault boats of that exciting hour.

I walked practically the entire distance of Omaha Beach this morning, starting with the south end, where there are a half-dozen German pillboxes. In one there's a destroyed 88-millimeter gun which, even in destruction, still looks plenty tough.

All along, the hillside by the beach is marked by shellholes. Grass is beginning to grow back into them. Walking alone—there's no one around—you can find old "C" and "K" ration cans rusting in piles, shell casings, an occasional canteen or canteen cup—usually with a bullet hole through it.

Every day except Sunday, German prisoners come down and dig up the mines. Most of them have been dug up successfully, and there have been few casualties—postwar casualties—on the beach itself. Occasionally, from over the horizon, you can hear the far rumble of an explosion—fortifications or recovered mines being blown up inland by German prisoners. Over the high hill that faces the beach you can see smashed pillboxes with the steel rods that reinforced the concrete forming a pattern of deadly lace against the sky.

Two Frenchmen are riding along the beach now. It's Sunday, and the French tourists come up here quite often. The beach used to be a vacation place, and you can still see the wreckage of some summer homes. They are now roofless, shattered and windowless. They give you a sort of blank, stark stare, as if they have not yet recovered from what they saw on that fateful June 6, 1944.

After three years, you find yourself forgetting entire towns which lie inland, back on the beach. Trips that in your memory took about 10 minutes really take a half-hour or longer. Airfields that used to be there are now only wheat fields, and cattle graze on the site of your Command Post.

Almost every farmer has taken advantage of the material left behind by the armies to patch up his place. It seems to be a kind of poetic justice, remembering how our tanks knocked down fences and the corners of houses trying to get through the narrow lanes.

Incidentally, the Normandy cattle are back on their four feet. There are as many cattle now, the farmers tell us, as there were before the war, and there is no sign of those bloated things with legs in the air that populated the fields when we were there.

On the beach, the only things you hear are the singing of the birds—and you probably didn't have time to hear them when you landed, even during lulls when the artillery was quiet. And there are butterflies hovering over the pillboxes and the good, clean smell of plowed earth in the air. But you want to talk about the smell of the swollen cattle, the grim song of the flying shells, and the noise and confusion that goes with an amphibious operation.

But there's no one to talk to because you're here alone.

Maybe you plan to bring the wife and kids and try to show them the exact place where you landed. And the rim of the white, sea-washed stones that saved your life—you show them that. And maybe you try to point out the "88" position that was giving you most of the trouble.

But the explaining and the pointing out has no real meaning for anyone but yourself—and the memory is so deep inside that it needs blasting to bring it out.

I was sent by This Week and CBS to go back over this ground. There was nothing I wanted more—all those exciting, glorious days when you lived by the hour, when every story was worth doing because men were writing that story in their blood for an honest cause.

If you were in on the D-Day landings, I don't think you'd like coming back to beaches like Omaha. There's something grim and ghoulish about it. You stand and you look at the foxholes where men hid desperately. Then you go to the graveyard and read all those names—the Smiths and the Joneses and the McCloskys and the Weinsteins—and it just makes you plain mad. You think how quickly people forget, how you forgot—until you came back.

You look at these shells and this beach, this silence, and you wonder what it was all about. You wonder if you and the rest of the world will remember the terrible sights and sounds of that day three years ago—and try to make its sacrifices worthwhile.

January 14, 2021

1943. The Kuban Bridgehead

The Battle for the Kuban Bridgehead
Soviet soldiers stage a counterattack in the Kuban region, June 1943 (source)
The text in parentheses did not pass Soviet censors for military security or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bitter Hand-to-Hand Fighting in the Trenches
April 17, 1943

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

April 17, 1943

This morning's communiqué again said there were "no essential changes" on the 1,200 mile Russian battle-line (where seven million men are waiting for the opportunity to be at each other's throats.)

But from the Kuban today comes a story that graphically illustrates just what "no essential changes" means to the men in the front line.

To the men in the Kuban, this statement also means that there has been "no change" in the deep mud, the heavy spring rains (and the almost impossible roads) that have bogged their offensive. It means that there has been "no change" in the enemy's determination to hold on to their Kuban bridgehead.

And it also means that there is "no change" in the Russian determination to blast the Germans across the Kerch Strait as soon as possible.

That process is already underway.

Yesterday on the lower Kuban valley, Russian artillery and aircraft opened a dawn bombardment on strong German positions. At daylight, Soviet infantry started their advance (through ravines and brush and over hillocks.) They were forced to ground by a counter-barrage from the Germans. It took forty minutes of inching forward through the mud on their stomachs before the Russian soldiers reached the first German lines. Then there was a period of furious and bitter hand-to-hand fighting before all the Germans were bayonetted out of their trenches.

But this was an important height. And before the Red Army could dig in, the Germans counterattacked. Fresh Nazi forces were brought in from neighboring units. At about noon, a group of fifty tanks—and that was the size of the average tank attack at Stalingrad—were thrown into the battle. German Tommy gunners followed behind.

The Russian command immediately sandwiched antitank gun and rifle troops into the infantry. Troops were issued with the deadly antitank fire bottles.

But the tank force was a heavy one and succeeded in gaining some ground. However, in doing so the tanks became separated from their Tommy gunners. Their position was exceedingly vulnerable, and the German tanks were ordered to retire.

The Russians again advanced.

In all, the Germans made ten unsuccessful counterattacks yesterday on one narrow sector. In some places, hand-to-hand trench battles lasted for an hour and a half—which means an hour and a half of stabbing, shooting, gouging, throttling, kicking, and kneeling. These German bodies were counted on the battlefield after the battle was over.

As I said, the communiqué announced "there were no essential changes on the front."
________________________________
German Reinforcements Arrive
April 20, 1943

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

April 20, 1943

The battle for Hitler's half-acre in the Northern Caucasus still rages in the lower Kuban today. Last night the Germans tried something new in the way of attacks. They threw in tanks during a night battle. This is, of course, a very dangerous maneuver—a fact which the German command found out. Although the Nazi forces were greatly superior in numbers in this attack, the Germans failed to make any progress. They created a wedge in the Russian lines but couldn't hold it. A Red Army counterattack pushed the Germans back to their original positions, and four of those tanks were knocked out before morning.

The past few days of fighting in the Kuban has revealed some interesting facts. It is now evident that the German command has succeeded in getting big reinforcements into their foothold in the Northern Caucasus. It also is evident that Hitler intends to defend his "half-acre" of the Kuban to the last man.

This last-ditch defense of the Kuban bridgehead is no accident of German strategy. The Nazis are putting a lot of men and planes and equipment into this front. They know that, if they lose control of the Kerch Strait, the entire Nazi position south of the Donets River will be threatened by an assault on the Crimea.

The German attacks in the Kuban during the past few days have been exceedingly strong. According to the Russian communiqués, the Germans have spent 6,300 men in "killed" alone during the fighting Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. There has been no indication here as to which direction the Germans are attacking, but one thing is for sure: these attacks cannot be considered an offensive. The German and Romanian troops now fighting in the Kuban have no goal before them. This is no march to Baku or Maykop.

It is a case of "hit them before they hit you." You must remember that the Soviet command has not been idle during the spring bog-down in the Kuban. Russian reinforcements have also been thrown into this sector.

Now it only remains for the full weight of these opposing reinforced armies to clash. This clash, which appears to be imminent, should finally decide the fate of the Kuban.
Soviet sailors look at a German poster in liberated Novorossiysk with an inscription saying that every civilian located within the area will be shot, 1943 (Photo by Alexei Mezhuyev – source)
The Nazi Onslaught
April 21, 1943

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

April 21, 1943

German and Romanian troops are still pounding away at the Russian positions in the Kuban this morning. Various Red Army units on this front report that the Nazi troops launch as many as ten attacks a day on a single sector. When they fail to gain their objective, they keep up attacks throughout the night.

It was that way last night. The final German attacks were beaten off towards dawn. This morning's communiqué says the Russians are still trying to add up enemy losses, but according to preliminary data, one infantry battalion was wiped out and six tanks destroyed.

This morning's communiqué also revealed an interesting detail about this fighting in the Kuban. There has been no indication as to the exact sector where the main battles are now taking place. However, the communiqué said that two enemy torpedo boats were sunk by Red Army fire. Since Hitler's march into the Caucasus last summer, the port of Novorossiysk has been used as an Axis naval base. The Red Army has always held positions near Novorossiysk, and was last reported to hold the southern and eastern outskirts of the city.
________________________________
"Let the Hitlerians Cheer"
May 2, 1943

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 2, 1943

Bitter fighting has broken out again in the Kuban. It is not clear who is doing the attacking or which army is on the move. The communiqué last night said Soviet forces warded off German counterattacks, which could mean that the Red Army has taken the initiative and is attacking. (Last night six German tanks, some guns and mortars, and one infantry battalion were wiped out.)

This morning's Pravda echoes the good will expressed in Joseph Stalin's Order of the Day. The newspaper says "Let the Hitlerians cheer the German fools about the invincibility of the European fortress. The Hitlerian command fears like fire operations of our allies on the European continent." It adds that the heavy bombing of Germany and Italy by the Anglo-American air forces is "the threshold of a new stage in the course of the war."

(These sort of comments make good reading to the Americans here in Russia.)
________________________________
Rough Terrain Near the Kuban Bridgehead
May 5, 1943

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 5, 1943

There as yet has been no official Soviet reaction to the news that former Ambassador Joseph Davies is coming to Moscow as a personal representative of President Roosevelt. However, Davies probably rates more personal esteem from the Russians than any other American who has served in this country. His contacts with high government officials are known to be the best. And if he brings a message from President Roosevelt inviting Joseph Stalin to a personal conference, you can be sure that such a request would get utmost consideration in Davies' hands.

The first full-scale spring fighting of 1943 appears to be underway in the Kuban. Up to now, the Russians have referred to this battle as "very serious." The Soviet high command is making no premature claims. And here's some of the reasons why this Kuban warfare is being treated so conservatively.

In the first place, the Germans have built up a strong system of fortifications around the Kuban bridgehead and have had all winter to reinforce them. The terrain in this section of Russia is particularly adaptable to defensive action. The battlefield is composed of low hills and heights alternating with swamps and valleys. Around these swamps in particular grow bushes and groves of trees. And most difficult of all are the ravines and small streams.

Russian soldiers say that it is almost impossible to walk 150 yards through this wooded, hilly battlefield without running on to two or three small streams or a ravine or two. And the Germans are using every advantage that the lay of the land gives them.

On one height captured by the Red Army, they found eighteen antitank guns, thirty-seven machine guns, three mortar batteries, as well as rifle opposition. The Germans are usually dug in deeply, and many times the only way to oust them from such positions is to literally cut them out with bayonets. There is a lot of hand-to-hand fighting going on in the Kuban.

The fighting is just as bitter in the air. For the past several weeks, the German air force has been attempting to paralyze the Russian ground forces so that the Axis troops could further improve their positions. That is the reason that the Luftwaffe a couple of weeks ago switched its attack from rear bases to the Russian front line.

But to do this, the Germans had to bring Focke-Wulf 190s and Stuka dive bombers from other sectors of the Russian front. These reinforcements weren't very effective against the Soviet air defenses. Fifty-five German planes were shot down on this front yesterday. The Russians lost eleven. Such tremendous German losses have enabled the Soviet air forces to take the initiative, and that's what's happening now. Russian fighters, Sturmoviks, and some American storming planes are now concentrating on blasting the enemy clear out of the North Caucasus.
Soviet soldiers armed with a PTRD-41 antitank rifle near Novorossiysk, 1943 (Photo by Victor Temin – source)
Red Army Offensive
May 7, 1943
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 7, 1943

Fighting in the Kuban slackened off a little bit last night. This morning's communiqué says that the battles are still underway, and that the Red Army is still moving. (Last night, Soviet artillery destroyed two German tanks and smashed twenty artillery batteries, as well as some thirty machine gun points.) The Germans still continue to absorb heavy losses in manpower.

The front reporter for the army newspaper, Red Star, this morning sent a cheering and optimistic survey of the Kuban fighting. He says that the big Russian attack of the past few days has cost the Germans their main defensive link between the Axis forces at Novorossiysk and those trying to hold northward to the Kuban river. Red Star says that, in addition, the Russian troops have also destroyed the coordination of these German forces (with other Axis points of support) north of the Kuban river.

However, no one here is claiming that the Germans are defeated on the Kuban bridgehead. The Germans are now rushing in reinforcements and reserves to the threatened battlefields. But the Red Army still has the initiative here, and it looks like the Russians are going to keep it for a long time.
 ________________________________

Germans Entrenched
May 9, 1943
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 9, 1943

Fighting in the Kuban is increasing in intensity with every passing day. Front dispatches say that the Red Army continues to widen the gap in German defenses that were smashed northeast of Novorossiysk. However, the Russian troops have run on to a new line of Nazi fortifications. (They are fortifications built this winter and are the most permanent type, with reinforced concrete pillboxes dug into the sides of mountains and deep trenches and gun positions established in the foothills of the northern Caucasian Mountains.)

The Germans have a defense in depth established here, and they have built a system of defenses which in may ways resembles the Mannerheim Line on the Karelian Peninsula—but the Red Army, you remember, knows something about this type of defense. And today down in the Kuban, the Red Army is still on the move forward.

(Both the Russians and the Germans are rushing reinforcements into this front, and right now the battle hinges on which side succeeds in getting there first with the most.)

The Russian press today continues to eulogize the Allied victory in North Africa. But the newspapers also take occasion to strike a sober note about the battles this summer. The ousting of the Germans and Italians from Africa is everywhere accepted as the last step before an Anglo-American invasion of Western Europe.

But today's Pravda has something to say about the coming battles in Russia, which makes sense also when applied to the fighting that British and American troops will have to do when this second front is opened.

Pravda says: "The Soviet people, from the bottom of their hearts, wish the Allies further fighting successes against our common enemy. Hitlerian Germany is shaken and passing through a crisis—but still is not crushed. We have to face hard and heavy fighting which will require not a few victims and enormous willpower and iron tenacity."

Continuing on the same tone, Pravda warns that it "is possible in some sectors our units will have to go on the defensive. But whatever might be the situation on this or that sector, we must not for a minute lose our willpower to victory."

With the Red Army reinforced for the summer fighting and with both the Germans and Russians waiting for the command to go over the top, this kind of talk is not only reasonable, but necessary.

The price of victory is going to be heavy—heavier than any price the Russians have paid in their two year fighting against the Germans. And far heavier than America's initial losses in North Africa.
________________________________
Continued Axis Resistance
May 12, 1943

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 12, 1943

The Red Army is still slugging away at the Kuban at the second German defense line northeast of Novorossiysk. The Russians admit that the Axis forces in this sector are putting up a phenomenal fight, even though they are outgunned and their aircraft have not been able to stop the Soviet bombers and Sturmoviks from blasting at their positions.

However, as usual, it's the Red Army infantry that has to do the dirty work. And today there is the usual job of clearing minefields, blasting barbed wire, and scouting that precedes every attack in this war.

Then the attack units go in with grenades and bayonets to take just one more pillbox or blindage.

The Russian drive northeast of Novorossiysk has been slowed, but it has not stalled. The Red Army is still moving forward, but it is almost literally a foot-by-foot advance.

Meanwhile the Russian bombing offensive continues to blast the German railroad and highway communications supporting the Central Russian front. The German bombers have not answered these widespread attacks on this sector. Consequently it is difficult to judge whether the Russian bombing is a "softening up" of the German defenses in preparation for a Red Army attack here—or whether the Soviet command has ordered the destruction of German concentrations to hold off a German attack.

No one knows who's going to attack first—or where—on this Russian front. And neither the German high command nor the Kremlin have let any newspapermen into the secret.
A convoy of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet carrying an amphibious assault force en route to a landing site around Novorossiysk, April 24, 1943 (source)
Amphibious Infantry
May 14, 1943

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 14, 1943

The Red Army again made local gains in the Kuban last night. Northeast of Novorossiysk, Soviet artillery continued blasting away at the German defenses and the infantry moved in to take one more advantageous height. However, there has been no breakthrough.

We have some new details of the fighting in the Kuban river delta area this morning. This fighting is practically a miniature naval action carried on by land troops. Both the Germans and the Russians have to move their artillery and supplies by boats through the swamps and around small islands. Ambushes established in the high cattails and reeds are common. (A rowboat is liable to carry a machine gun and a skiff an artillery piece. Scouting is done by expert swimmers.) Yesterday the amphibious Red Army infantry sank four cutters and four motorboats carrying Germans and munitions.

The Red Army god another strong warning this morning that they must be ready for major fighting at any moment. The warning came in the army newspaper, Red Star. Remember, Red Star is more than a newspaper, it is the link between the Soviet high command and the ordinary Russian soldier.

This morning's editorial is worth considering, if only for this reason. The newspaper says "the time is near when again battles on a big scale will develop with participation of big masses of troops" and calls on the army to be ready for this activity.

This is the latest of a series of warnings which have appeared regularly in the Russian press for the past two weeks.

Red Star says "it must not be forgotten that the Germans are still able to throw into action strong armored fists." It points out that the German generals still rely on tanks and air forces to carry the weight of their offensives but that every battle as it progresses involves all troops. On the defense, particularly, the newspaper says, does the infantry play a vital role.

Then the editorial went on in the tone of a locker room pep talk just before the big game. "Therefore in the certitude of the victorious issue of future decisive battles we must correlate our forces most carefully in full preparation for these battles. We must prepare to repulse the possible massive blows of enemy tanks and mechanized troops supported by all other kinds of troops."

But Red Star is not spreading gloom. It continues: "Our units possess at the present time all means not only to stop the Fascist tank divisions, but also to deal them a decisive defeat."

The newspaper does not say that the Red Army is going on the defensive. It takes care to declare that, during the winter campaign, the Russian officers and men learned not only how to repulse massive blows, but also how to win victories through the offensive.

The question in balance right now is whether it will be offensive or defensive fighting that Red Star talks about when it speaks of the big-scale battles here in Russia.

We won't have long to wait before finding out.
________________________________
More Nazi Counterattacks
May 18, 1943

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 18, 1943

The Soviet-German front was comparatively quiet again last night. Down in the Kuban, the Nazi forces have attempted a series of counterattacks but thus far have failed to pull off anything that even looks like an offensive.

Front dispatches say that these German counterattacks, however, are being made with ever increasing forces—both on the sector northeast of Novorossiysk and in the Lower Kuban river area. At Lysychansk, at the eastern end of the Donets river line, the Red Army is digging in after crossing the river and capturing important defensive positions.

(The Germans failed to push the Russians back even though they threw in substantial numbers of tanks and infantry.) Now the fighting as settled down to a 24-hour exchange of artillery, rifle, and machine gun fire. (This sector appears to be the most volatile of any front north of the Kuban. It is likely that we'll be hearing of more fighting in this area.) . . .
"A Soviet Marine leads a blindfolded German POW to internment during the Crimean Offensive," April 1944 (Photograph by Yevgeny Khaldeisource)
The Air War Over Kuban
May 27, 1943
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 27, 1943

Heavy air fighting has again broken out in the Kuban. Northeast of Novorossiysk, the German air command sent masses of fighters, dive bombers, and heavy bombers to strike at the Red Army troops, supplies, and communications. However, the Red Army pilots got over three German planes for every Russian ship lost. At the end of the day's fighting the score was sixty-seven Nazi planes shot down for the loss of twenty Soviet planes.

I talked with a Red Army officer yesterday who had just returned from this Kuban front. He said that, during the heavy air battles over Hitler's Kuban bridgehead a few weeks or so ago, the Germans were making as many as 1,200 sorties a day against one Soviet position on the Novorossiysk salient. The Germans were trying relay bombing from their bases in the Crimea. This officer said that the Germans would concentrate on one or another height held by the Red Army and literally attempt to cover it with bomb craters.

However, he pointed out, bomb craters make pretty good cover for troops undergoing concentrated aerial attack. So in addition to giving the Red Army a pretty bad time, the Germans also compensated by giving the Russian soldiers a certain amount of cover and protection.

At any rate, the Soviet troops still hold that height.
________________________________
The Fighting Continues
May 28, 1943

Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 28, 1943

Active fighting has resumed in the Kuban. With characteristic reticence, the Soviet high command is not saying much about it. We don't even know for sure whether it is the Red Army or Hitler's forces on the attack. Neither last night's nor this morning's communiqué have given us any details of the battle.

Resumption of the Kuban fighting means that the opposing forces have caught their breath, and that the period of reinforcement and resupply that caused the lull on this front has now ended.

In a sense, this battle for the Kuban bridgehead is almost entirely one of supply. And on this front, Hitler has the more difficult position. He must keep his Kuban troops armed and fed by hosts and planes.

The past several days we have heard about the sinking of troops, transports, and landing barges in the Black Sea. The Russian command has placed a large aerial patrol over Hitler's supply points on the Black Sea coast, as well as the Sea of Azov. Russia's Black Sea Fleet, manned by the kind of seamen who fought in the heroic defense of Sebastopol, are also on patrol. Last night, two more of Hitler's landing barges loaded with troops were sunk. Yesterday Soviet planes sank another landing barge and damaged two transports and two other barges.

All in all, during the past three days the Russian Black Sea Fleet and air force has sunk or damaged eight German supply boats attempting to aid the Germans and Romanians in the Kuban sack. In addition, German planes, including some carrying vital supplies to the front, were shot down into the Black Sea and over the battle line yesterday. This makes a total of 131 German planes destroyed in the past two days.

This morning's newspapers also report that the front west of Rostov is livening up. A front dispatch describes the activity as "furious fighting of local significance" where the Red Army, in improving its positions, "deals sensitive blows to the enemy." However, there is no indication that either side has made a serious attempt to capture the initiative on this front.

We are anxiously waiting over here for the first big blow to be struck. I wish I could tell you how and where and when this blow will come. But anything I would say would be pure guesswork.

For the past two weeks I have talked with every Russian and American and British official that I know, trying to get a hint of what's in the air so that I could pass it along to you.

The only thing that I'm told is to expect some of the heaviest fighting that has yet taken place in Russia this summer. And that's all I know about any possible Russian or German offensive.

Former Ambassador Joseph Davies said yesterday that during his talks with Stalin they discussed the military situation. He said he detected a note of confidence, adding that it was not "overconfidence."

I'm afraid that I won't be of much help to anyone who wants to do a little dinner table staff work or work out some subway strategy. We'll simply have to wait and see.

December 28, 2020

1944. CBS Announces Unconfirmed Reports of an Allied Invasion of Europe

German Sources Report Allied Landings in France

Robert Trout

CBS New York

June 6, 1944 - 3:00 AM

ROBERT TROUT: CBS World News, Bob Trout speaking. And again we bring you the available reports, all of them from German sources, on what the Berlin Radio calls "the invasion."

There is still no Allied confirmation from any source. Correspondents who rushed to the War Department in Washington soon after the first German broadcast was heard were told that our War Department had no information on the German reports. There's been no announcement of any sort from Allied Headquarters in London.

The first news of the German announcement reached this country at 12:37 AM Eastern War Time. The Associated Press recorded this broadcast, and immediately pointed out that it could be one which Allied leaders have warned us to expect from the Germans.

Shortly after 1:00 AM Eastern War Time, the Berlin Radio opened its news program with a so-called "invasion announcement." Columbia's shortwave listening station here in New York heard the Berlin Radio say, and I quote: "Here is a special bulletin. Early this morning the long-awaited British and American invasion began when paratroops landed in the area of the Somme estuary. The harbor of Le Havre is being fiercely bombarded at the present moment. Naval forces of the German navy are off the coast fighting with enemy landing vessels. We've just brought you a special bulletin." End of the quotation. That is the invasion announcement as heard from the Berlin Radio by Columbia's shortwave listening station.

Now here's what Trans-Ocean, one of the German news agencies, says, and I quote: "Early Tuesday morning, landing craft and light warships were observed in the area between the mouth of the Somme and the eastern coast of Normandy. At the same time paratroops were dropped from numerous aircraft on the northern tip of the Normandy peninsula. It is believed that these paratroops have been given the task of capturing airfields in order to facilitate the landing of further troops. The harbor of Le Havre is at the moment being bombarded. And," continues the broadcast, "German naval forces have engaged enemy landing craft off the coast." The Trans-Ocean broadcast, still unconfirmed, concludes this way: "The long-expected Anglo-American invasion appears to have begun." This is the full text of the German Trans-Ocean broadcast as recorded by the Associated Press.

The German broadcasts on the long-expected invasion by the Allies were relayed both to North America and to Germans in the homeland. Germans at home were told by DNB's [Deutsches Nachrichtenbüro] domestic broadcast at dawn in Europe. At 1:30 in the morning Eastern War Time, the DNB agency repeated the items describing what it called the "invasion operations." This was a departure from the usual DNB practice of giving fresh information at that time.

The German-controlled Calais Radio came on the air today with this announcement in the English language, quote: "This is D-Day. We shall now bring music for the Allied invasion forces." So said the German-controlled Calais Radio across the Channel from England.

Up to this time, almost an hour and a half after the first German broadcast, the United States Office of War Information, whose facilities will be used by American press organizations when Allied armies enter Western Europe, has not transmitted any information at all to support the German claims. Director Elmer Davis of the OWI rushed to his headquarters immediately when OWI officials advised him of the broadcasts from Germany. He told the United Press, "We have no more information than you have. I'll stay here until I find out whether the story is true or not."

Last night, Elmer Davis addressed the National Press Club on psychological warfare, and showed three motion pictures illustrating how the OWI was propagandizing on the war front. He had just reached his home when his office called him to hurry down. By 1:45 in the morning Eastern War Time, almost the entire public relations staff over at the War Department in Washington also had reported for duty.

Now, it should be remembered of course that the Germans are quite capable of faking this entire series of reports. Their main reason for doing so, in addition to trying to smoke out Allied plans, would be to try to start a premature uprising by the resistance movement along the Channel coast. But the French and the Belgians and the Dutch have all been warned about this possibility repeatedly, and you will recall that Prime Minister Winston Churchill some time ago warned that we could expect false alarms or diversionary feints before the big show began.

The British Radio, which at 1:00 AM Eastern War Time sent a warning to residents of the Dutch coast to evacuate inland to a distance of at least eighteen miles, might really have been broadcasting the latest in the series of such warnings that have been given to the civilian populations all along the so-called invasion coast of Europe. No other British report that might indicate that the invasion is on has been released, unless we are to take as significant the report from London half an hour ago that the Royal Air Force was over enemy territory during the night.

Even on the enemy side, there are clear reasons for doubting the German report that the invasion has started. The Paris Radio, at 1:00 AM Eastern War Time, said nothing about any invasion operations in its regular news report. In fact, half an hour after the first German broadcast announcing the landings, one German-controlled Paris Radio spokesman said of the war situation, and this is a quotation: "It appears we have been given another month of grace before the invasion will start. A press report from Washington says Roosevelt will come to London at the end of June. Surely this indicates the event will not start before the end of June," said the Paris Radio.

Well, as I said, there is as yet no reason to believe the German story. Nevertheless, because of high public interest in this country, Columbia is planning to continue overtime operations tonight to all of its affiliate stations until such time as the enemy accounts are proved false, or official word from Allied sources is forthcoming. You may listen to this network with assurance that all sources of news will be properly labeled, and that we will interrupt programs only with news of exceptional importance and will bring you frequent summaries of all information available.

The Columbia shortwave listening station here in New York has heard the British Radio report the German announcement of paratroop landings and report the announcement without comment. Then BBC followed that German announcement, which I've already given you, with this, and I quote: "Early this morning, people in German-occupied Western Europe received an urgent warning broadcast by a spokesman of the Supreme Command of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It was that a new phase of the Allied air offensive has begun. People living within twenty-two miles of the coast are particularly affected. The German overseas news agency," BBC goes on, "has been putting out repeated flashes. Here is one of them, quote: 'We have just learned that numerous Allied landing craft and other Allied warships were seen in the area between the Seine estuary and the eastern coast of Normandy.'" And that was BBC quoting the German report.

And now here in the studio with me is Columbia's military analyst Major George Fielding Elliot, and here's Major Elliot now.

GEORGE FIELDING ELLIOT: We must begin by assuming the—or understanding the possibility of that these German reports may be an outright German lie. We must also take into account the possibility that they may be a series of feints intended to divert the German defense and to draw the German forces to other places around the nose of which we actually intend to make a serious attack.

The report that a new phase of the Allied air offensive has begun, and the consequent request to the inhabitants of Western Europe to clear an area twenty-two miles from the coast, may be nothing more than an intensification of bombing attacks, or it may indicate the use of paratroops, or it may be, again, a part of the Allied attempt to throw the Germans off their guard.

But if we are to accept these German reports as having any value at all, there seems to be some uncertainty as to the location of the Allied landings in France which they report. It is clear that the Germans are saying that landing craft have been observe approaching the French coast between the eastern shore of what they call the "Normandy peninsula" and the mouth of the River Seine, where the port of Le Havre is situated. The Germans are also asserting that this port, Le Havre, is being bombarded, and that Allied paratroops are being landed near the tip of the Normandy peninsula.

What is not clear is the reference made to an Allied landing near the estuary of the River Somme, which is some distance northeast of Le Havre. This may possibly be an error for the Seine estuary, though the actual German translation has been checked several times here in the CBS shortwave listening station.

But to analyze all these German statements, what the Germans call the "Normandy peninsula" is undoubtedly the Cotentin Peninsula, at the end of which stand the port of Cherbourg. Allied forces would certainly wish, if they were actually landing in France, to obtain a well-equipped seaport as soon as possible, as such a port is essential in order to keep up continuous landings of troops and heavy equipment. We learned at Anzio and at elsewhere that it is not safe to leave such matters to the mercy of the weather, as has to be done when dependence is had on open beaches, or even small but undeveloped bays. Hence a double Allied attempt against the two key ports of northern France, Cherbourg and Le Havre, is well within the possibility if we are to accept these German reports that landings are taking place at all.

From the strategic point of view, there is nothing inconsistent in the report of the landing at the Somme estuary. There is no seaport of importance there, but the Allies might well wish to land on a broad front in order to divert the German defense as much as possible, and to keep the Germans from finding out, as long as we could, where the main effort was being made. The landing of paratroops behind the big seaport of Cherbourg would likewise be probable if a landing was really in progress in order to cut off a movement of German reserves toward that port, and thus facilitate its capture by the Allies.

But any military analysis must remain fragmentary and uncertain as long as it is based only on German reports which have so frequently proved to be unreliable in the past.

TROUT: That was Columbia's military analyst Major George Fielding Elliot, and I think that brings us up to date to the moment.

I'd like to repeat that there is as yet no reason to believe this German story which you have now heard. Nevertheless, because of high public interest in this country, Columbia is planning to continue overtime operations tonight, and I should like to take this opportunity to inform not only you, our audience, but to inform also the staff on duty at our affiliate stations around the country, that Columbia is planning overtime operations until such time as the enemy accounts are proved false, or official word from Allied sources is forthcoming.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, you may listen to this network with assurance that all sources of news will be properly labeled, and that we will interrupt programs only with news of exceptional importance, and will bring you frequent summaries of all information available.

This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.