December 18, 2016

1944. The Royal Air Force Hammers the German Army

British Air Power on Display Over Europe
"Warrant Officer D Gosling (left) and Squadron Leader G H Hayhurst of No. 604 Squadron RAF, stand in front of their De Havilland Mosquito NF Mark XII in the snow at B51/Lille-Vendeville, France, before taking off on a night-fighter sortie" (source)
This report is part of a series of reports Bill Downs made from Brussels in September 1944. The portions in parentheses were censored by Allied military officials.
Bill Downs

CBS Brussels

September 12, 1944

This is Bill Downs reporting from Brussels.

British troops breaking out of one of their bridgeheads across the Albert Canal fought their way forward nine miles yesterday to reach a point a mile and a half from the Dutch border. And this morning the patrols crossed the frontier.

A surprise attack north of the village of Beringen enabled armored patrols to seize two important bridges intact over the Scheldt River and the river Escaut, which also has been dredged into a canal.

Bitter fighting is still going on, with the Nazis launching counterattacks trying to pinch off the British bridgeheads. The fighting has been particularly severe at a little town called Bourg-Leopold. An SS unit of Dutch Nazis are reported fighting hard in this area.

But the breakout toward Holland now changes the entire strategic picture. It gives the British troops much needed room to maneuver. This breakout signals the beginning of the battle for the Albert Canal; for the Germans cannot hold the line to the east and the west of the Geel bridgehead as long as this wedge threatens their flanks.

Meanwhile, the Tactical Air Force continues to smack the Germans trying to cross the Scheldt estuary into Holland. Typhoons yesterday attacked five medium-sized ships, sinking one and damaging the other four. Over sixty barges were destroyed or damaged.

The Typhoons and fighters and fighter-bombers also are roaming over the Nazi communications in Holland and Germany. There is a large-scale enemy movement across the Rhine, and scores of trains are reported bringing German reinforcements and supplies from central Germany and Denmark.

The rocket-carrying planes and the fighters are playing havoc with German railroads. They destroyed three locomotives yesterday and hit fifty-four others. And they are having a field day with the German highway traffic.

I flew up to the Albert Canal with the RAF Tactical Air Force. We went in a slow, lumbering unarmed plane, sort of an aerial horse and buggy. It took us only some fifteen minutes to get to the canal. It stretched below us like a blue pencil line. For a mile on both sides of the canal you could see the zigzagging fortifications built by the Belgians in a futile attempt to extend the ill-fated Maginot Line to the sea. Although the main defenses of the Albert Canal point northwards, it is also defended on the south bank as well. In this way, segments of the canal could hold out. However, the Germans were so surprised that they could not use these defenses.

The Albert is probably the best tank trap ever built. At places we flew over this morning you could see the straight sides from which the air looked too precipitous for a fly to scale, let alone a tank. The battleground on the north bank of the canal where the fighting is now going on has somewhat more tree cover than the country south of the Albert. and looking northward over the small cultivated patches of land, I could see the beginning of the flooded land. The patches of water spreading from dammed up streams and smaller canals which spread over this land making it impassable for tanks and heavy traffic. From now on into Holland, this problem of flooding is going to become more acute.

The only signs of battle that I could see in the bridgehead areas were an occasional column of smoke from a burning truck. There was no telling whether it was German or Allied. And there was the occasional spurt of dust, like a baseball hitting a dusty infield. Again we could not tell whether it was German or American.

The remarkable thing was that we did not have a single antiaircraft shell fired at us, and the only other planes in the sky were those of the Allied Tactical Air Force heading for Germany and Holland.

But trying to get back to our base took us longer than the flight to the Albert Canal. There were simply so many planes in the air waiting to land (that we had to join the line. It was like waiting for a ticket at a crowded Sunday movie.)

(Hundreds of) the planes were (jammed on) this field (lined up most neatly) as if they had just come out of one of our factories back home. But these planes had left the factory long ago. They are veterans in the job they are doing. I ran on to three American airmen, (three of the hundreds of air crews on the field) waiting to take off. They were Lieutenant A. F. Songer from Huntingburg, Indiana, and Lieutenant Marvin Cable from Cedar Vale, Kansas, and Flight Officer N. Morris from New York City.

I asked these men if they weren't impressed with the show of air power. They agreed that it was impressive, but said they were used to it. Morris broke in and said: "You see, last week we were working in Italy and Southern France. That was a big show, too."

So many of these planes now bringing food and gasoline and crank cases and typewriter ribbons and anything else the army needs—many of these planes have been doing the same job all over the world, wherever Allied armies are fighting.

It is an interesting comparison. We can shift hundreds of men and tons of materiel from one section of the earth to another. The German armies are having trouble moving their needed supplies and materiel a few hundred yards across the Rhine.

This is Bill Downs in Brussels returning you to CBS in New York.