September 25, 2013

1945. The Nazi Surrender to Field Marshal Montgomery

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)


May 4, 1945 – 4:30 PM

(This broadcast was printed in full in The New York Times on May 5. The text in parentheses was inserted by the newspaper.)

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.

September 24, 2013

1970. The War of Attrition Ceasefire

Downs Interviews Yitzhak Rabin

This August 18, 1970 interview took place eleven days after the ceasefire between Israel and Egypt over the War of Attrition that began after the decisive Six-Day War. In this segment Yitzhak Rabin expresses to Downs Israel's concerns about Egypt's trustworthiness. John Scali also reports.

1970. Bill Downs Reports from Havre de Grace, Maryland

ABC's Bill Downs in Havre de Grace

From ABC World News Tonight, December 4, 1970.

September 8, 2013

1943. Nazi Rockets Provide the Lighting for Soviet Entertainment

Entertainment on the Eastern Front
Soviet troops in trenches during the siege on Leningrad, 1942 (source)

Lighting for Soviet Troop Shows Furnished by Nazi Rockets—That's How Close They Are to the Front

By Bill Downs
Moscow, June 1, 1943

Entertainment has really gone to war in the Soviet Union. There is no government-organized or sponsored entertainment for troops such as Britain's ENSA or America's USO-Camp Shows. Russia's theaters at the front are made up mostly of volunteer groups of six or ten actors, singers, and general entertainers who form brigades from the country's most famous theaters such as the Maly and Bolshoi.

Since the beginning of the war over 900 of these brigades have given more than 270,000 performances and concerts for the men in the firing lines, hospitals, and rear units. This includes some 45,000 front performances, 124,000 in hospitals, 124,000 in hospitals, and 100,000 in camps and military institutions. Of Russia top-flight actors and entertainers who have gone to the front, over 60 actors, musicians, and other performances have been decorated by the government for work in the war zones.

Alexander Pokrovsky, president of the Art Workers Union, for one, has indicated that small vaudeville turns are preferable front entertainment. When a troupe arrives, the men usually pitch in and improvise a theater in any convenient field on a truck platform, or often in a large dugout. On some occasions, shows are given one or two hundred yards from enemy trenches.

Lighting Furnished by the Nazis

Recently one group performed for a tank unit assigned to crack a river fortification. The artists reached the front late in the evening. They were held up picking their way through narrow trails in minefields. When they arrived, the soldiers insisted on seeing the entire program. The troupe performed in the open air; the illumination was furnished free by German rockets. The concert really got a big windup with artillery barrage. Before the troupers had packed, the first tanks had crossed the river.

Pokrovsky said that several regular frontline theaters have been founded for the Army and Navy. These companies make regular tours, with costumes, through zones immediately behind the front. Repetoires included both modern and classic plays. Incidentally, one of the most popular groups of the Red Army is the Soviet Beethoven Quartet.

Here is a typical experience at a front theater as told by B.M. Friedkov, Stalin prizewinner as well as an Honored Artist of the government. Friedkov is a leading member of the Leningrad theater, of the opera and ballet. He was a member of the brigade which recently returned from his home city. Friedkov says, "We gave a total of 41 performances on land and sea, visiting bases and units of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet. Programs included selections from operas, folk songs, and dances as well as hits from classical ballets.

"The reception everywhere was touchingly warm. Our first performance for the land forces was given in exactly the spot where the Leningrad blockage was breached. Often our programs were accompanied by fierce cannonades with shells and mines bursting nearby. Once we were performing near the front when, in the middle of the concert, enemy shells began raising geysers of earth in our vicinity. However, the audiences insisted that we continue. A few men left for our guns to return the enemy fire. We really gave them a show."

1943. American Films in Moscow During WWII

Hollywood in the USSR
Deanna Durbin

CBS' Moscow Rep Details How U.S. Pix Click in USSR
April 21, 1943
(Following comments on the current tastes of Moscow film-goers, transmitted in advance by cable to CBS' N.Y. headquarters, was to have been broadcast from Moscow as part of the network's 'World News Today' program Sunday matinee (18), but reception trouble intervened).
Moscow theater-goers like American films. Any kind. There's an old Lawrence Tibbett film whose American title I've forgotten, but in Russian called "Thrilled by You." And suburban theaters for the past two years have been showing Deanna Durban's 100 Men and a Girl. People get up at six o'clock in the morning and stand in front of box-offices to get a seat to see a Walt Disney reel.

These American films are the closest link people in the United States have with Russian people. I was talking to the old Soviet film commission the other day. He said his department had been buying American films, "but prices [are] so high we can't get [as] many as we want—we need money for the war." Then he said he thought it important that the two nations exchange films to let each see how the other is fighting and living in this was against the common enemy.

One of the best known women in Moscow today is "Lady Hamilton." She's a favorite topic of conversation...subway, street corners; anywhere you find a group of Russians. It took me several days to discover that when Moscow speaks about the the lady friend of Britain's famous Lord Nelson—"Lady Hamilton," it's a film. Last week the British-produced motion picture Lady Hamilton opened in Moscow theaters and immediately set record[s]. It's now playing in one theater and seems set for [a] permanent run. I have known dozens of Russians who have seen the picture three four times—and Russians never go to the theater alone. They go in groups.

It's a mystery to foreigners here why Russians take such an avid interest in last century doings [of] a man and woman they never saw or heard of before. But this, in many ways, is a mysterious country.

For example, no one ever figured out why a not-too-good Hollywood comedy, The Three Musketeers starring the Ritz Bros., has been running steadily somewhere in Moscow for over six months. When a Russian likes something, he really likes it, and he doesn't consider he knows anything about a motion picture or play unless he sees it three or four times. That tradition extends even to film and theater critics. They don't write anything about a production until they see it a half dozen times or more.

September 5, 2013

1978. Walter Cronkite Announces the Death of Bill Downs

May 3, 1978

Walter Cronkite announces the death of Bill Downs on the May 3, 1978 broadcast of CBS Evening News.

September 3, 2013

1963. The Man in the Piazza

Review of Main Street, Italy by Irving Levine
Rome in the 1960s. Photo by Bruno Barbey (source)

From The Saturday Review, December 28, 1963, p. 36:

The Man in the Piazza

Main Street, Italy, by Irving R. Levine (Doubleday. 542 pp. $6.50) examines the well-stuffed hut down-at-heel Mediterranean hoot-land of the 1960s and its reluctance to enter the age of the Sputnik, the graduated income tax, and canned pasta. Bill Downs has spent the last twenty-five years as a newspaper, magazine, and radio-TV reporter, mostly for CBS News overseas. His last foreign assignment was in Rome. 

THE CRAFT of today's foreign correspondent demands that he become an instant historian. If this is a rather dismaying concept, then brace yourself: the advent of Telstar and other communications techniques are putting new pressures on the world's news media and their reporters overseas. History is getting more "instant" every day.

In the process of their reporting, the foreign correspondents have produced their own journalistic library—most of it pretty perishable stuff—in which newsmen and women seek to freeze a few days or decades between a book's title and its conclusion, trying to tell how it was and why.

Irving R. Levine of NBC News writes about his Mediterranean assignment in this genre. His Main Street, Italy is a compendium of what every well-informed correspondent should know if he is suddenly called upon to "wing" a bit of instant history, whether it be the fall of a coalition government, a policy change in the Vatican, or a juicy international tax scandal. What the book lacks in organization of subject matter it makes up for in the proliferous facts that crowd its pages.

In his opening chapters, Mr. Levine announces his intention to write "a kind of primer" of everyday life in Italy. He fails in this because he never makes up his mind whose everyday life—the native's or the expatriate's. He warns that it's "imprudent to generalize about Italians," and then proceeds to do so with annoying frequency; e.g., "Italians are mercenary, they can be extremely contentious and seldom are greatly dedicated to keeping their word." "One explanation of overdeveloped Italian pride is that Italians really suffer from a national inferiority complex."

The author makes it clear that he is no sentimental sucker for the historic beauty left by the Romans (although, he admits, "the only complaint that one who lives in Piazza Navona can have is that he can never again experience the thrill of seeing it for the first time."). Neither will he be taken in by the irresponsible charm of the indolent natives (a donkey-riding farmer once demanded 1,000 here for the taking of his photograph but accepted half that amount, thus saving NBC News about eighty cents in production expenses).

Levine generally tries to maintain an impersonal "objectivity" about the passionate peninsula; but occasionally he sounds like a nagging housewife when he discusses Italian shopping habits, espresso coffee, or the touchy matter of bribery at the Vatican (the customary payoff to set up a television camera in St. Peter's Square is "transparent financial corruption...of a petty nature and is probably unknown to the Pope and other high dignitaries.").

Both the strength and weakness of Main Street, Italy is the deluge of statistics and percentages. Levine's prodigious research serves him well when he discards his primer approach and does a hard-hitting, scholarly job on the confusing history of postwar Italian politics and the even more confusing economy. He sorts out the spectrum of the nation's multiple party system lucidly, and provides a masterful explanation of the opportunities and dangers of l'apertura a sinistra—the controversial "opening to the left" that is still under assessment and dispute. His penetrating surveys of Italian commerce, labor, banking, and the private and government monopolies that control the bulk of the national economy will produce ideological shudders in both the NAM and the Politburo. And any American planning on an extended sabbatical in sunny Italy should read Levine on taxes, housing, leases, and apartments, and hire a good lawyer immediately on arrival.

The major contradictions of postwar Italian society-the paradox of burgeoning Communism in a Catholic state and the anticlerical political paganism that flourishes in the shadows of the Cathedrals of the Mother Church-are here exhumed and exposed as ably as has been done by the scores of other experts and scholars who have attempted to solve the puzzle. But, like the mysteries of Rome's apartment portieri and the Etruscans, they remain generally incomprehensible. Perhaps the answers lie buried in the unpredictable Italian anima, which, as any old Moscow hand like Levine knows, is brother to the impenetrable Russian soul.

Main Street, Italy is at its best when the author allows his sense of humor to come through or when he gets down to on-the-spot reporting. His question-and-answer record of an interview with a middle-aged ex-Fascist army veteran reveals more about Italy than most of the authorities quoted elsewhere, beginning with the Caesars.