December 22, 2016

1943. The Fighting Rages from Belarus to the Kuban

German Forces on the Defensive Along the Front
Red Army scouts on the bank of the Dnieper in liberated Smolensk, with the Assumption Cathedral in the background. September 25, 1943 (source)
Parentheses indicate text that did not pass Soviet censors for military security or propaganda reasons.

(For more, see the complete 1943 Moscow reports.)
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 5, 1943

The first five days of this month are beginning to look like the start of big things in the third summer's battle season on the Russian front. Over here we get the impression that the curtain is just beginning to rise on one of the most crucial periods of world history. And today we have those offstage noises on the Soviet front which mark the beginning of this spring's big show in Russia.

Russian long range bombers have begun the overture to the impending battles on the central sector of the front. Large numbers of these heavy bombers made mass attacks on four major railroad junctions supplying the German troops on this Central Front. Three of these railroad targets were in Belorussia at the important cities of Minsk, Orsha, and Gomel. The fourth target was Bryansk. These cities were raided three nights in a row—last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday.

The Russian bombs smashed railroad yards which were jammed with troops, munitions, tanks, trucks, and gasoline tank cars. This nonstop bombing of the German rear was not done just for fun. It was an attempt to stop those big Nazi reinforcements which have been reported pouring to the Russian front all this spring.

However, we can only guess as to just what is going on in the Central Front. It's different in the Kuban. A front dispatch in the newspaper Red Star this morning says for the first time that the Red Army has taken the initiative in the fighting to kick the last of the Axis out of the Northern Caucasus. It was revealed last night that the most fierce battles now are going on northeast of the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. This morning's communiqué says this fighting is still in progress. Last night Russian artillery—which ranks the best in the world—opened up the German lines. After pounding the Nazi positions located in the forests and atop hills and along the streams and ravines, Red Army infantry attacked, and presumably still is attacking.

(Last night the artillery alone accounted for four German tanks, twenty-one guns, five mortar batteries, and a company of enemy infantry wiped out.)

(Russian bombers continued night and day attacks on the German airfields in the Kuban and the Crimea.) Meanwhile, the German Luftwaffe has suffered one of its biggest defeats of the war in the air fighting over the Kuban. During the past three days 109 German planes were shot out of the air on this sector. The Soviet losses were thirty-two planes.

This was a hands-down air engagement for superiority over the Kuban front. It was, and is, a question of the best men in the best planes winning this important battle. The Russian air force was the victor, and now the Soviet planes have, like the land troops, taken the initiative.
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 10, 1943

The Russian bomber command has created a full-scale aerial front in the east which, during the past ten days, has cost Hitler's Luftwaffe over one thousand planes.

On Saturday, Russian bombers and Sturmovik planes (including many supplied under Lend-Lease by the United States) attacked a series of railroad targets in the transport spiderweb of occupied Western Russia. The attack cost the Germans seventy-five planes. As in the preceding eight days of attacks, railroad junctions, railroad yards, station warehouses, freight and passenger trains were smashed.

These Russian bomber attacks are important for two reasons. First, because it displays a new strength in this arm of the Soviet air force. In the preceding twenty-two months of war, the Russians have never been able to make such widespread, sustained attacks by heavy aircraft. It shows for the first time a new power in the Soviet aircraft industry (as well as concrete proof of American aircraft deliveries.)

The second reason that these bombing attacks are of importance is the undeniable effect such attacks must have on German plans for summer operations on the Russian front. For the past two weeks, the Russian press has been warning that the Nazi command is preparing for major activity on this front. And then the Soviet aircraft began their attacks on the supply lines of Central Russia.

Right now the German Luftwaffe is fighting a three-front aerial war. The enemy losses have been terrific in Africa and Western Europe. Down in the Kuban and other sectors of the Russian front, the Germans lost 930 planes last week. It's a strain which may well speck the Axis aircraft industry.

Russian artillery is smashing away at the semi-permanent German defense line northeast of Novorossiysk this morning. It's a process of pulverizing one pillbox after another and then sending infantry in to occupy the gap thus created. That's the way the Red Army is advancing in the Kuban today.

The Soviet forces have maintained superiority in two important fighting branches which are likely to settle the Kuban issue. The Germans have failed to capture command of the air over the battlefield. And Soviet artillery has been overwhelming in its striking power.

The Germans are trying to rush reinforcements into the Kuban to save their position there. They are using air as well as sea transport to bring in fresh men and artillery forces. The Soviet command also is throwing in new forces.

The battle now hinges on which side gets there first with the most.

However, today's Pravda throws an interesting light on this race for reinforcement. The newspaper says that the Germans already are suffering such heavy losses that they are cutting into their summer reserves.
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 11, 1943

The trigger is all cocked for the big summer offensive in the Soviet Union. The roads and plains of the western third of European Russia, which will form the battlefields of the next four month, already have dried enough to support a heavy tank.

Actually, the Soviet Air Force already has taken the initiative in the summer's air war with its hard-hitting bombings of the German communications system in occupied Russia. (This offensive already is in its eleventh day and still going strong. It's the biggest series of bombing operations ever attempted by the Red Air Force, and all reports here proclaim success. In any event) this bombing offensive is indicative of the size of the aerial punches which are going to be exchanged this summer.

The fighting that is now going on in the Kuban is the best barometer of the type of land fighting which can break out on any part of the thousand-mile Russian front at any moment. Both the Russians and the Germans during the past few weeks of fighting at the Kuban bridgehead have discovered that, no matter which side takes the offensive, the defense is going to be a little bit tougher, the resistance nailed to the last man, and the skill of the opposing armies far greater than at any time during the war.

Thus we can expect the summer's fighting in Russia to be more bitter and bloody than any that has occurred in this country thus far in the war, which means simply it will be a new high for bloodshed in the history of all wars.

The reason for this is simple. Both sides now have amassed battle experience and tasted victory. (The Germans have learned as much from the Russians as the Russians have from the Germans.)

And Germany is fighting on this front with the desperation of a nation who knows the loss of this war on her eastern front means the absolute end to everything that millions of Germans have died for since September 1939.

On the other hand, Russia too has had a taste of just what a complete German victory would mean. The people who come from occupied Russia are enough to convince her that her cause is just.

And that's the way things stand now, as both armies fret in their trenches awaiting the word to attack.
Bill Downs

CBS Moscow

May 30, 1943

We still have no details of the fighting in the Kuban. It is likely that the Red Army again is on the march northeast of Novorossiysk where the drive two weeks ago stalled when it reached the second line of German fortifications protecting that vital Black Sea port.

The Germans are trying "artillery bombing" in this mountainous Kuban sector. A Red Army officer who recently returned from the front told me the other day that the German air command will pick out one target that Russian forces are holding and put as many as 1,200 sorties over the position in one day. For example, the Soviet troops are dug into an important height there. German antiaircraft literally try to cover this height with bomb carriers.

However, the officer pointed out that 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 give some compensation by providing a certain amount of cover and protection in the blasted earth.

At any rate, the officer said the Soviet troops still hold that height.

(The Russian air force again has taken up its aerial offensive against German transport and communications behind the German lines on the central sector of the Russian front. This offensive slackened last week, probably because of the weather. However, on Thursday and Friday night heavy Russian bombers again went out, first striking at a series of railroad junctions and supply points in the Orel-Bryansk region. Then on Friday night the Russian planes made a mass attack on the big railroad junction of Vitebsk, between Smolensk and Velikiye-Luki. Fires and heavy explosions were observed among munition dumps and fuel stores.)

(Not a single Russian plane was lost during these two operations.)

I took a trip to the outskirts of Moscow yesterday and was amazed to see the number of victory gardens which literally ring the city. I saw no less than ten thousand gardens, most of them averaging about twenty square feet. The people of Moscow have answered the call to "Dig for Victory" with the same intensity and enthusiasm that thousands of men, women, and children marched to the suburbs to dig tank traps and trenches for the city's defense during the German drive last year.

Incidentally, the civilian-built defenses still are in good shape. Wherever the spring thaw and rains have disintegrated trenches and blindages and tank traps, Red Army engineers have fixed them up. Before this war is over, I think people are going to talk about "Russian thoroughness" instead of praising this quality in the Germans.

However, the Soviet Trade Union Council this morning put a brake on the Russian civilian's enthusiasm for digging his garden. The council published a statement this morning reminding factory workers that they must not leave their work to turn over a few more spadefuls of earth or put in an extra row of carrots.

It's purely a spare-time job, these gardens, and from the number of them I saw yesterday, the crop should be a good one—and one important to the nation's food economy.