December 27, 2018

1943. Soviets Warn of Pending Summer Fighting on the Eastern Front

The Situation on the Russian Front
Paratroopers of the Black Sea Fleet navigate through a wire obstacle during the liberation of Novorossiysk, September 16, 1943 (Photo by Aleksey Mezhuyev – source)
The 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 18, 1943

President Roosevelt's special envoy to Russia, former ambassador Joseph Davies, is expected to arrive in Moscow either today or tomorrow. Mr. Davies reached Kuybyshev last night. As yet there has been no definite information here as to the purpose of his visit. The only thing we in Moscow know about the Davies mission is that he did not travel all this way merely for the ride.

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.)

Another of those warnings to the Red Army and the Russian people about the pending summer fighting appears again in today's Red Star. It's about the sixth such warning to be published in the Soviet press in the past ten days. The newspaper says "the thunder of battles will be roaring soon which will require the greatest courage and energy from the Red Army. We still have to shed no small quantity of blood in order to rout the Hitlerians . . . Not one inch of native soil must be given to the enemy if he attempts to attack. Every village and house must become a fortress and bastion of defense . . ."

This is the kind of talk we heard during the early days of the war and during the defense of Stalingrad.

These warnings are designed to make the entire nation conscious of the situation at the front—a situation which, because of military security, cannot be described in detail. However, it is well to note that these press warnings make no mention of plans for the Red Army.

While it is necessary to warn people of possible military action by the enemy, the home front does not need to be told of offensive action by their own forces.

So in considering the situation on the Russian front, you must also consider the possibilities of a Red Army offensive. Such a move by the Russians is not ruled out. However, the tone of the official press the past two weeks has given absolutely no hint that such an offensive is developing.

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

December 12, 2018

1944. The Assault on the Nijmegen Bridge

The Battle of Nijmegen
"Cromwell tanks of the 2nd Welsh Guards cross the bridge at Nijmegen, September 21, 1944" (source)
The 82nd Airborne Division's assault on the Waal river crossing at the Dutch city of Nijmegen during Operation Market Garden was one of the most brutal battles of the Allied advance to the Rhine. The attack was nicknamed "Little Omaha" because of the heavy losses on both sides.

As an eyewitness, Bill Downs described the assault as "a single, isolated battle that ranks in magnificence and courage with Guam, Tarawa, Omaha Beach. A story that should be told to the blowing of bugles and the beating of drums for the men whose bravery made the capture of this crossing over the Waal possible." He recounted, "The Nijmegen Bridge was in our hands intact as a monument to the gallantry of the 82nd Airborne soldiers, those who crossed the river, those who stormed it from the south."

The text is from War Report: A Record of Dispatches Broadcast by the BBC's War Correspondents With the Allied Expeditionary Force, 6 June 1944 - 5 May 1945, pp. 238-243:
(The airborne landings had been heavily opposed, and General Dempsey's tanks were having a hard time of it through marshy country which kept our columns from deploying off the road to outflank German strong-points. Nevertheless the airborne men were fighting on grimly, and on September 20th the British Second Army reached Nijmegen. The bridge was intact. So far the plan had succeeded in spite of heavier fighting than had been hoped for, and the inability of the airborne troops to seize the bridge before the British tanks arrived):

24 September 1944.
"American airborne patrols reached the area at the southern end of the bridge on Sunday night, September 17th, shortly after they landed, but at that time they were not in enough strength to do anything about it. On Monday the paratroops and glider forces were too busy beating off the German counter-attacks to coordinate an assault on the bridge. By this time the armour of the British Second Army was on its way northwards from the Escaut Canal. Then on Tuesday the British tanks arrived on the outskirts of Nijmegen and an attack was commenced, but still the Germans held on strongly in the fortification and houses on the south end of the bridge. American airborne infantry and British tanks were only 300 yards from the bridge in the streets of Nijmegen, but they couldn't get to it.

"Tuesday night was the strangest. The American troops took machine guns to the top of the houses and sprayed the approaches and the entrance to the bridges with bullets. All night they shot at anything that moved. Perhaps it was this constant fire that kept the Germans from blowing the bridge then. But still the shuddering blast that would signal the end of the bridge did not come. And when morning arrived a new plan was devised. It was dangerous and daring and risky. The commanders who laid it out knew this; and the men who were to carry it out knew it too. Thinking a frontal assault on the bridge from the south was impossible, American infantry were to fight their way westwards down the west bank of the Waal River and cross in broad daylight to fight their way back up the river bank, and attack the bridge from the north. On Wednesday morning the infantry made their way westward through the town and got to the industrial outskirts along the river bank near the mouth of a big canal. Some British tanks went with them to give them protection in the street fighting and to act as artillery when the crossings were to be made. Accompanying this task force were trucks carrying twenty-six assault boats brought along by the British armoured units in case of such an emergency. Most of the men who were there to make the crossing had never handled an assault boat before. There was a lot of argument as to who would handle the paddles and preference was given to the men who had at least rowed a boat. Everything was going well. The Germans were supposed to be completely surprised by the audacity of the move.

"But late in the morning—the impossible happened. Two men showed themselves on a river bank and were fired at by the enemy. No Americans were supposed to be in that part of the town. The 88-mm. shells began plastering the area. The gaff was blown. Reconnaissance spotted batches of German troops being transferred to the opposite bank. A few hours later, machine guns were dug into the marshes on the far side—the plan had been discovered. The task force was under shell-fire, and several hundred Germans with machine guns were sitting on the opposite bank waiting for the crossing. This was about noon. There was a quick conference. It was decided that the original plan would proceed, but this time the men crossing the river would have the help of heavy bombers—Lancasters and Stirlings flying in daylight to drop their bombs on the opposite bank in tactical support of the men from the assault boats.

"Working under enemy shell-fire, the assault boats were assembled. When they were put into the water, another difficulty arose. The tide was moving, but with a downstream current of eight miles an hour. Some of the boats drifted 300 yards down river before they were retrieved and brought back. Meanwhile machine guns spluttered on the opposite bank and German artillery kept smashing the embarkation area regularly.

"At last everything was ready. The bombers went in, but didn't drop their bombs close enough to knock out the machine guns. Twenty-six assault boats were in the water. They would carry ten men each. Two hundred and sixty men would make the first assault. Waiting for them on the other bank were some 400 to 600 Germans. The shelling continued. Every man took a deep breath and climbed in. Someone made a wisecrack about the airborne navy and someone else said they preferred airborne submarines to this job. And off across the river they started. At the same time behind them, the British tanks fired their heavy guns, and our own heavy machine-guns fired into the opposite bank giving the little fleet as much cover as possible.

"And over on the other side of the river the enemy tracers shrieked at the boats. The fire at first was erratic, but as the boats approached the northern bank the tracers began to spread on to the boats. Men slumped in their seats—other men could be seen shifting a body to take over the paddling. One man rose up in his seat and fell overboard. There was no thought of turning back. The paddling continued clumsily and erratically, but it continued. One of the boats had so many holes in it that the men were baling out with their tin helmets—it was almost splintered when it reached the other side.

"The fighting, though, had only just begun. The hundred or so men who had arrived on the opposite side fought their way forward with the bayonet and grenade, going from one machine-gun nest to the other until they had established a bridgehead only a few yards deep and several hundred feet wide. The thirteen boats had hardly left for the return trip for the reinforcements, when the men on the north bank saw specks in the water. The men on the opposite bank, seeing the casualties suffered in the landing under fire, were not waiting for the boats. Some of them had stripped off their equipment, and taking  a bandolier of ammunition, were swimming the river with their rifles on their backs. And thus it went—the thirteen little boats going time after time across the river under fire, the men on the bridgehead digging in and firing as rapidly as possible, routing out the German machine-gun nests by hand, while British tanks fired for all they were worth. After an hour and a half of concentrated hell, the infantry were over. They held a bridgehead several hundred yards wide and 100 yards deep. After that time, one officer counted 138 Germans dead in a space of sixty yards of that bloody beach-head.

"There was a welcome pause as the men consolidated and rested in their foxholes. Some had thrown the German bodies out of the Nazi machine-gun nests and were using these to stiffen their defences. The plan was to turn eastwards and assault the northern end of the bridge. But on the left flank of that minute bridgehead was another menace—for there on the high ground overlooking the bridge and firing at us with some 88 guns, was an ancient fort. It is called Hatz van Holland and was supposed to have been used centuries ago by Charlemagne as a fortress. The Germans had been using the fort as an anti-aircraft gun position to defend Nijmegen, and now they turned the ack-ack guns downward to bear on the bridge and the airborne bridgehead. While these guns were firing at the back, the troops could not fight their way to the northern end of the bridge. A detail was formed to attack the Hatz van Holland and put its guns out of action. That, as warriors centuries ago found out, was extremely difficult because the Hatz van Holland was surrounded by a moat.

"This moat had a few feet of water in it—black dirty water, covered with a layer of bright green slime. Also, the attacking party would have to advance under point blank 88 mm. fire. But anyhow the party set out. They crawled towards the high ground and the 88's banged away at them. And then they came to a zone where there were no 88 shells. It was found out that the other 88 guns were so installed that the guns could not reach downward the far. The German gun-crews discovered this too late and rushed to put up a rifle and machine-gun defence along the moat. But the Americans by this time had faced so much that a few machine guns were nothing. They made a stand-up attack, shouting like Indians, and, with tommy-guns blazing, knocked out the historic Hatz von Holland. A few Americans with blood in their eyes left seventy-five Germans dead in that moat. The remaining troops fought their way up the river all right. they captured the northern end of the railroad bridge and worked their way to the junction of the railroad highway from the main bridge. The entire German position on the northern side of the river was cut off."
Downs gave another account in an earlier broadcast from September 20, 1944:
American Airborne infantry and British tanks beleaguered the streets of Nijmegen only 300 yards from the bridge that night, but they couldn't get it. A daring plan was drawn up. Wednesday morning, the infantry (504th) made its way to the industrial outskirts along the river bank. British tanks protected troopers in street fighting, acted as artillery when the crossings were made. 
Twenty-six assault boats were in the water. Two hundred and sixty men would make the first assault. Waiting for them on the other bank were 400 to 600 Germans; the shelling continued. A smoke screen was laid, but it wasn't very effective because of the wind. Men slumped in their seats; of those 260 men, half were wounded or killed. Only 13 of 26 boats came back—others didn't wait for boats. Some stripped off equipment, took a bandolier of ammunition and swam the river, rifles on their backs.
There was bitter bayonet fighting and Americans died, but more Germans died. That's only part of the story...British tanks and American Airborne Infantry (2nd Bn., 505th) began their frontal assault on the southern end of the bridge at the same time as the river crossing was started. Americans went through the houses on either side of the street.  
The southern end of the bridge has a large circular island approach. In this island were four self-propelled guns. There was nothing to do but rush the guns. So the tanks lined up four abreast and all roared into the street, firing. The American Airborne troops and British tankmen seized the south end of the bridge. Only tanks could get across at first because half a dozen fanatical Germans remained high in the girders, sniping. The Nijmegen Bridge was in our hands intact as a monument to the gallantry of the 82nd Airborne soldiers, those who crossed the river, those who stormed it from the south.

December 11, 2018

1924. Mussolini Scoffs at Critics, Says All of Italy Supports Him

Mussolini Attacks Anti-Fascist Opponents
The facade of the "Autarchy" pavilion in Rome illuminated at night, featuring the Italian fascist imperial eagle above the words "Mussolini ha sempre ragione" ("Mussolini is always right") as Blackshirts guard the entrance, November 18, 1938 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how The New York Times covered the rise and fall of fascism. In 1924, Benito Mussolini spoke with a Times correspondent about opposition to fascism in Italy. He denied involvement in the assassination of Giacomo Matteotti, a socialist politician who ran against Mussolini in the 1924 election as part of the Unitary Socialist Party. Matteotti had been murdered by fascists after questioning the election's legitimacy.

From The New York Times, October 13, 1924:
After Contact With the "People's Naked Soul" He Scorns Infinitesimal Opposition
The Country, He Says, Pulses With Blood of New Life Fascism Has Infused
Is a Fine Thing, but Only Means Something If Coupled With Work and Duty

ROME, Oct. 12 — On his return from a triumphal tour of northern Italy through which the populations of every place he has visited greeted him with an enthusiasm bordering on delirium, Premier Mussolini received The New York Times correspondent today and made important statements about Italy's internal situation after the resolution passed by the Leghorn Liberal Congress, which has been universally interpreted as a stinging condemnation of Fascism.

Utter disregard of the opinions of the Liberals and determination to continue—alone if necessary—along the road toward the goal which Fascism has set for itself were the keynote of Signor Mussolini's declarations.

"The resolutions of the Leghorn Liberal Congress," he said, "which clearly reveal the anti-Fascist sentiment which animates about two-thirds of the Liberals, leave me quite cold and unaffected. I have just returned from a tour of northern Italy, where I have come into contact with the naked soul of the Italian people, of the true Italian people, of the humble Italian people who work and sweat and slave in silence for their country.

"With all due modesty I must confess that I have no word to express how moved I am by the truly wonderful reception they accorded me. Why, then, should I worry about a bare score thousand of those whom I have already described as 'melancholy zealots of super-constitutionalism'? Why should I worry about the decisions of a party which in the whole of Italy hardly counts as many supporters as I have in certain single cities?

Neither Seeks Nor Refuses Help

"The large majority of the country is behind me and my Government and I can today repeat what I have always declared, namely, that I neither seek nor refuse help from anyone.

"The work of reconstructing my country has only just begun, but it has already borne wonderful fruits. We will continue on our way without looking either to the right or left, always willing to accept the collaboration of any one who offers it in good faith and with the supreme interest of the country before his eyes, but also equally ready to march toward our goal as one.

"If the Liberals or any other party care to support us they are welcome. If they do not care to do so we can easily dispense with their services. We have the ability, strength and determination to carry on by ourselves and are ready to do so as long as the bulk of the country stands behind us, as it does at present. Our glory in the end will be all the greater.

"The resolution passed by the Liberals in Leghorn is not in itself anti-Fascist and most of its dictates might be accepted by us. What gives it its flavor of opposition is that it was preceded by violent speeches against the Fascist régime; that orators who tried to stick up for the Government were booed and hissed and that it does not contain a single word of recognition for what we have accomplished for Italy.

"We have undoubtedly made mistakes—every human being makes mistakes and I lay no claim to being a worker of miracles—but we have also accomplished much and it would have been only right for the Liberals to have acknowledged it. If, however, the Leghorn Congress accurately reflects the state of mind of the Liberals I am only sorry that they did not vote a resolution of clear cut opposition to my Government. Avowed enemies are always better than insidious friends."

As he said these words, which were spoken with great vehemence, Premier Mussolini abandoned himself to one of his rare gestures and pounded the table with his clenched fist.

Internal Situation Improving

Turning his attention to the internal political situation in general the Premier said that the improvement in the last few weeks had been so great that it could not have escaped even the most superficial observer.

"By this I do not mean to imply," he continued, "that it ever presented any real dangers, but there is no doubt that the gradual breaking down of the tissue of falsehoods that the Opposition press had woven around the work and intentions of my government has again raised us in public estimation to the place we occupied before the most deplorable Matteotti murder.

"The failure of the Opposition's shameless campaigning of lies and misrepresentations has strengthened the faith of those who never wavered in their allegiance to our régime. It has made fervent Fascisti of many who before supported us only half heartedly, and is attracting to our banners a steady stream of recruits who see in Fascism the only organization capable of giving their country peace, prosperity and happiness.

"Facts speak louder than words. This is a law from which the Opposition, try as it may, cannot escape. It may criticise this or that detail of our work, it may heap fraudulent evidence of our supposed misgovernment, but the facts are still there to give them the lie. The country knows that it is more prosperous than it ever was before. It feels the blood of the new life we have infused into it pulsing in its veins. It senses by a kind of instinct that we love our country better than our very lives and therefore is unwavering in its support despite anything the Opposition may do or say.

"Every accusation that the Opposition has brought against us has failed in almost miserable fashion. It first sought to prove complicity of the Government in the Matteotti murder, but that is a story which is now received with derision whenever it is repeated. Then it attempted to bring charges of graft and persecution against some of my collaborators, but the objects of its attacks promptly sued for libel and the accusations were withdrawn. Then it tried to show that the reforms introduced by my Cabinet were stupid and contrary to the best interests of Italy; but nobody listened because the increased prosperity and contentment of the country proves the contrary.

"Normalization" and "Liberty"

"All the Opposition's other attempts having failed, it has now entrenched itself behind two words, one of which is new-fashioned and ugly and the other is old-fashioned and beautiful. I refer to the words 'normalization' and 'liberty.' I have never been able to understand what normalization means, nor has any one succeeded in explaining it to me. It would appear to mean 'a return to normal conditions,' but I ask you to what normal conditions?

"Italy has just emerged from a war and a long period of strikes and internal disturbances, so that I can hardly believe that any one wishes to return to conditions which were considered normal before the advent of Fascism. What, then? Normalization means the advent of an era of peace and brotherhood and of strict observance of the laws? In that case I reply:

"'Both as head of the Government and as head of Fascism I am a most convinced believer in normalization in the whole of Italy. I wish Fascism to confer upon a united Italy for the first time in its history peace in strict observance of the laws, which is a thing that it never had before.'

"As for liberty, I think liberty is a fine thing, but it does not mean anything in the abstract, or rather it only means something if it is coupled with work and duty. The greatest trouble with the world as present is that men are too inclined to think of their rights and to forget their duties. I believe that  every one must be free to do anything he pleases, but only on condition that he remembers his duty is not to break the laws, not to make himself a nuisance, not to offend public morals, &c.

"In the same way every one must be free to think and say anything he pleases, but only if he fully understands his duty is not to libel his fellow-citizens, not to foment revolution, not to wound the religious susceptibilities of the country, &c.

"With this limitation, I believe every one should have the fullest liberty; but all the same, I believe that duties are more important than rights."

Liberty of the Press

Asked on what grounds the Opposition accused him of suppressing personal liberty in Italy, the Premier replied that most of such charges were based on the decree regulating the activities of the press. "But they forget," he added, "that the press had forfeited its right to complete liberty because it forgot its first duty—namely, to tell the truth to the best of its ability."

He thought, however, that the press in Italy even now had more freedom than in any other civilized country.

"I can state without any fear of contradiction," he said, "that if any paper in America printed even only a small part of what some Opposition papers are printing in Italy, it would have been bankrupt long ago by libel actions brought against it. I am an old newspaper man myself and I know.

"I admit, however, that the decree on the press has not worked well in practice, because by taking the control of the press out of the hands of the Magistrates and placing it in the hands of the political authorities it gave the Government the appearance of persecuting the Opposition press, even when its intervention was more than justified. Parliament, however, as soon as it reassembles will discuss more permanent and juridical measures for controlling the press."

On inquiry as to what he thought about the murder of the Fascist Deputy Casalini, he answered:

"I have nothing to say about that most deplorable affair, as the whole matter is in the hands of the judicial authorities, who, I know, will throw full light upon the matter. I wish to express my indignation, however, at the brutal way in which my dear friend and upright, faithful follower Casalini was suppressed.

"He filled many important posts in our organization, but was completely penniless when he died and totally dependent on the slender salary he received as a Vice President of Fascist corporations. He was one of the purest Fascisti, one of our most retiring and hardest workers, who had dedicated his life to the elevation of the lower classes. That is why his loss hurts so much. He went privately to see that they were properly looked after.

"Nor have I anything to say about Deputy Matteotti's murder and for identical reasons. I wish to state, however, that full light will be thrown on this affair also, no matter who may be implicated, and that the trial will be a great victory for Fascism.

"Despite the machinations of our enemies, despite the venomous campaign of the Opposition press, despite the platonic resolution of the Liberals, despite everything, Fascism is forging and will continue to forge its way ahead to ever more luminous destinies.

"In the last few days I have approved the plans for the erection in Rome of the 'Mole Littoria,' the greatest building in the world. It will be a tangible, immortal monument to Fascism, which even if the latter were to disappear today—which it will not—would leave its indelible mark upon Italy and perhaps upon the world."