December 14, 2023

1944. Operation Market Garden Commences

An Aerial D-Day
"USAAF Douglas C-47 aircraft flying over Gheel in Belgium on their way to Holland for Operation 'Market-Garden,' 17 September 1944" (source)
The text in parentheses and the words crossed out did not pass Allied military censors.
Bill Downs

CBS Brussels

September 17, 1944

This is Bill Downs speaking from Brussels.

Men of the First Allied Airborne Army were landed far behind the German lines in Holland today and are now fighting in strength at vital points in the Netherlands.

Today, Sunday, September 17th, is another D-Day. An aerial D-Day which may be as decisive in the defeat of the German nation as were the landings in Normandy and southern France.

This is by far the most daring stroke attempted in the campaign of Western Europe. Some of the parachute troops were landed many miles behind the fighting line. And now the Nazi troops fighting the battle of Germany must contend with well-equipped fighting in the rear areas (and across their supply lines at the same time that British Second Army troops start a drive to link up with the airborne forces).

This airborne landing is admittedly made at great risk, but the men now fighting behind the German lines in Holland are not suicide battle groups. (They even have light artillery with them. And there is a plan to link up with them in the establishment on a new battlefront on the northwest sector of the continent.)

I flew up over the front lines this morning to watch the beginning of this great aerial invasion of northwest Europe. It was one of the most tremendous sights I have ever seen in four years of covering this war.

We had been expecting the airborne invasion for some time, but never until today was the time quite ripe. Last night we were told that "(Oliver) it was on." (Oliver was the code name given the correspondents for the operation. Knowing that Oliver was on, we went to bed early and got up with that feeling of expectancy. The same feeling we had on the first D-Day when we landed in Normandy on June 6th.)

We would be informed early if there was a last minute cancellation of the operation, but about eleven o'clock this morning hundreds of Flying Fortresses flew over after bombing Germany and Holland, and we knew that the operation was definitely on.

(H-Hour was one o'clock in the afternoon.) We went to a base airdrome to find fighters and fighter-bombers already running a shuttle relay back and forth to the front, preparing the way for the airborne troops. It was perfect parachute weather; the sky was blanket gray. A haze restricted visibility to three or four miles, just enough to allow the pilots to keep themselves on course and for the troops to see where they were dropping. There was enough haze to keep any enemy aircraft from spotting the planes as they came in. But the sector over which I flew this afternoon needed no haze to protect our paratroops. Our fighters were so thick that it would have been suicide for a Nazi plane to appear in the area, but no Nazi pilot wanted to commit suicide today and not an enemy plane was to be seen.

As we flew into the battle area, it could have been a peacetime joy ride. Except for the miles and miles of Allied convoys on the road, there was no sign of battle. (The army was scheduled to move on a zero-hour coinciding with the H-Hour of the airborne forces.)

We flew around for about fifteen minutes, staring into the grey haze until our eyes hurt. It seemed as if they would never come. Our slow, lumbering unarmed observation plane, which we call the "horse and buggy," soared peacefully over the lines. There was no ground fire at any time on our sector, and although we stared hard enough to produce the whole German air force, not an enemy plane was to be seen.

Then the pilot shouted, "There they are," and flying out of the haze like bees swarming out of a hive came hundreds upon hundreds of planes. To the sides and above and below them were the fighters forming an armored aerial tunnel through which men of the First Allied Airborne Army flew to their destination.

And in the center of this swarm of fighter planes were the low-flying transports in perfect formation. It made a lump come to your throat to see them. You knew that inside those planes were men who shortly would embark on one of the most dangerous operations of warfare; men who would land smack in the middle of enemy territory and fight on as men ever fought, with enemy on all sides of them.

Every once in a while one of the fighter planes would come over to take a closer look at our ship. There were Lightnings and Mustangs and Spitfires and Thunderbolts giving this aerial production, and they gave us a few anxious moments when the dove in to identify us, but all of them held their fire.

Three great waves of planes approached and then made a majestic half-circle, every plane in formation. After the turn, the ships disappeared ahead of us into Holland.

And we saw an example of the kind of courage these men have. For in the center of one of the carrier formations, a plane suddenly burst into flames. Something had gone wrong, for there was no antiaircraft fire in this sector.

But the pilot of this transport kept the plane in perfect formation. To have broken off at that time would have meant a collision with another plane. It probably would have meant the lives of all the airborne troops inside. This pilot kept his burning plane flying perfectly, and suddenly from the side the parachutes began to bloom. One by one they came out like mushrooms popping in the air, and finally the last paratroopers dropped to safety. Only then did the pilot leave the formation. The flaming plane plunged to earth. We did not see the pilot get away. He had given his life for the men riding behind him.

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

December 6, 2023

1930. Hitler's Outburst at Leipzig Draws Strong Reactions and Ridicule

A "Feather-Headed Demagogue"
Adolf Hitler testifies as a witness before the Reichsgericht in Leipzig on September 25, 1930
In September 1930, Adolf Hitler testified in Leipzig as a witness before the Reichsgericht, the German Supreme Court, during the trial of three Reichswehr officers accused of treason. He used the platform to bring attention to his movement and promised a violent, authoritarian future for the country under Nazi leadership.

The trial occurred a week after the 1930 German federal election in which the Nazis received over six million votes, coming in second to the Social Democratic Party and raising international alarm.

Reactions in the United States and Britain were largely negative, but the general consensus remained that although the Nazis posed a significant threat, they were unlikely to maintain enough popular support to take power. The six million votes were attributed to "economic and social grievances."

The Times said:
"Granted that [Hitler's] party represents a multitude of discontents rather than a single constructive aim and that its sudden access to strength is a product of temporary economic distress and juvenile impatience, the fact remains that it has just polled over 6,000,000 votes and is the second strongest party in the Reichstag."
The New York Times weighed in:
"There is an innocence almost childish about the detailed fashion in which [Hitler] set out to be blood-curdling. Almost one expected him to state the precise number of heads that would roll from the guillotine when the Fascists have taken over control of the German nation and inaugurated the day of reckoning."
Below are four contemporary articles about the incident and the reactions it generated.

From The New York Times, September 26, 1930, pp. 1, 11:
German Fascists' Chief Says at Leipzig Trial That He Will Set Up "Third Reich"
If These Fail, He Testifies, "We Shall Ignore or Circumvent" Pacts "Forced" on Nation
He Tells Judge He Will See Heads of Leaders of 1918 Revolution Rolling in the Sand

LEIPZIG, Sept. 25 — A guillotine functioning after approved historic precedent awaits the men who made the German revolution of 1918 if the National Socialist party (Fascists) ever gets hold of the government. This was solemnly predicted by Adolf Hitler today at the outset of his testimony before the criminal bench of the German Supreme Court, which is trying three Reichswehr officers for high treason in connection with alleged Fascist plotting in the German Army.

"If our movement succeeds," Herr Hitler said to the judge, "we shall erect a people's tribunal before which the November criminals of 1918 shall expiate their crime and I frankly predict you shall then see their heads rolling in the sand."

Will Combat Treaties

Responding to questions from the judge, Herr Hitler said:

"We the National Socialists refuse to recognize the treaties concluded over the heads of the German people as of permanent duration and also propose to fight the war guilt lie. We shall seek to abrogate or revise these by diplomatic negotiations, and I solemnly assert if these fail we shall proceed to ignore or circumvent them, with legal means if possible; failing that, with illegal means. The world may call that illegal, but I am solely answerable to the German people for my actions."

The judge then asked whether the National Socialists proposed to stage a physical revolution in Germany. Herr Hitler said he believed that was impossible because the party was not an outlet for a revolutionary movement, but merely aspired to bring about a gigantic moral uprising along peaceful lines.

Herr Hitler made use of the opportunity to unburden himself of a patriotic oration which ranged between a savage indictment of conditions under the republic and defense of the Fascists, the plans of whom, he stoutly asserted, would be executed only within legal channels.

Sees Bigger Election Gains

The Fascists contemplate a gigantic intellectual awakening of the German people, and the 107 Reichstag seats captured in the last election would be expanded to 250 at the next election, he declared.

He vehemently denied having encouraged attempts to promote disintegration of Reichswehr discipline. He said he was opposed to such procedure as he also was to any other violence in furthering the party's aims.

Fascists who crowded the courtroom cheered their idol and met a stern rebuke from the judge, who reminded the spectators the session was neither a theatrical performance nor a political meeting.

A crowd of several thousand had besieged the venerable Supreme Court Building since 7 A.M., and there were frequent clashes between the police and jubilant Fascists, who either sought entry to the building or an opportunity to cheer their leader. Inside, further police precautions were required to maintain the staid dignity of the court.

Fifteen minutes before the session opened a police official stepped before the barrier which separated the spectators from the bench and admonished the former to observe a becoming decorum, especially when Herr Hitler entered the chamber, because the court otherwise would be compelled to resort to measures "which might be uncomfortable for the spectators." It was observed that this was the first time such precautions had been taken in sessions of the German Supreme Court.

Hitler Cheered on Arrival

Herr Hitler arrived shortly before 9 o'clock and was vociferously cheered as he gave the Fascist salute while walking up the steps into the building. He slipped almost unobserved into one of the seats reserved for witnesses. He was soon called to the witness stand, where the judge explained the nature of his subpoena and informed him he was present only as a witness, that he was expected to make truthful assertions regarding the aims of his party and tell whether it aspired to attain them through legal, constitutional methods. The court incidentally admonished him not to indulge in a lengthy political speech or to seek to defend himself.

After announcing that he had been born at Branau am Inn in Tyrol in 1889, Hitler said he had lost his Austrian citizenship because he had fought in the German Army from 1914 to 1918, when he was gassed and forced to remain in a hospital.

"At the close of the war I clearly recognized that Germany was doomed to internal disintegration as a result of Marxism and internationalism and that even during the war democracy and pacifism had begun their work of destroying the vitality of the German people. I was convinced in 1918 that only a new national movement which would inflame a fanatic national zeal among the German people could effectively combat the Red terror of the Left parties. It was for the purpose of carrying on this work of illumination that the so-called storm divisions of the National Socialist Labor party were organized."

Herr Hitler began a length account which dealt with the expansion of his party and its subsequent part in German political activities. It carried him down to the Munich revolt in 1923 which was staged by him and in which General Ludendorff had an ignominious part.

That outbreak, he contended, was the result of events beyond his control, and the revolt, as such, was contrary to his wishes. He emphasized that the relations between the Federal Government and Bavaria had reached a state of latent war and it was only a question of whether a march on Berlin was to be undertaken under the blue and white colors of Bavaria or by other forces.

Party "Peaceful" Since 1925

Since 1925, he said, his organization had been directed into peaceful channels and sought to conduct itself as a strictly non-military political unit.

At this point in his testimony the judge intervened with an examination which resulted in more emphatic and picturesque declarations by the Fascist leader. He denied responsibility for any illegal currents in the Fascist ranks and said they had no secret aims. Replying to the court's question as to his attitude on the Reichswehr, Herr Hitler said:

"I consider the Reichswehr the most important instrument for the restoration of the German State to the people. I have never undertaken any action inimical to the Reichswehr or tending to disrupt its discipline and morale. As a former soldier, I know only too well the folly and futility of such a policy. We are not foes of the Reichswehr and consider as its enemies and as enemies of the German people all who would seek to undermine it. Such elements in my party who toy with the thought of revolution have been summarily expelled or have voluntarily left it when informed of my attitude."

The judge then reminded Herr Hitler of a statement contained in one of his publications to the effect that "heads would roll in the sand" when his party came into power. It was here that the Fascist leader made his dramatic prediction of the guillotine.

Cries of "Bravo!" echoed through the chamber but they were quickly suppressed with a warning from the bench that the chamber would be cleared if the plaudits were repeated.

Herr Hitler became more informative as he proceeded to answer the questions of the judge with respect to some of the more immediate political aims of the Fascists.

Predicts Majority in Three Years

"With ten years our movement has won a place as the second strongest political party in Germany," Herr Hitler replied. "In three years it will be the strongest party and in the future 35,000,000 of the 40,000,000 voters will support us. That Germany which today hails us into court will some day be glad that our movement was begun. National socialism will convert this defeatist and pacifist State into a nation of iron strength and will.

"To us the old imperial Germany was a State for which we were proud to fight—a State with glorious traditions. The second Reich in which we now are living is predicated on democracy and pacifism. We propose to make the third Reich one of healthy and vigorous nationalism—a State for the people, and shall put an end to the process of national disintegration. We shall accomplish this with legal and constitutional means, and shall mold our state into that form which we deem necessary for it."

Herr Hitler charged that the Reichswehr as it was now constituted did not represent the German people, that it no longer was an expression of the national spirit. The old imperial army, he said, was an exponent of the monarchical idea and urged that the Reichswehr in the new State should also feel itself responsible for the fate of the nation. He denied having sought political ingress into the ranks of the Reichswehr. He said he had prohibited the spread of his publications in the soldiers' barracks.

The judge reminded him that the Italian army made common cause with the Fascisti in October, 1922, and asked whether that would serve as a precedent for the National Socialists.

"The Italian Fascisti," replied Herr Hitler, "did not make a revolution in the sense the German Socialists did in 1918, for Mussolini proceeded in a strictly legal manner; otherwise he could not be the royal Premier today. Any force he applied was not directed against the state, but was aimed at the terror of the street mob."

Denies Violence Since 1923

Herr Hitler then was requested by the court to deny categorically that he at any time since the Munich revolt in 1923 had sought to change the German Constitution by violent means or that he had instructed his subordinates to do so. His denial was emphatic, and that ended his testimony.

Numerous official representatives of the German States attended today's session of the trial because their governments are concerned with the further progress of the National Socialists throughout Germany.

Under-Secretary Zweigert of the Reich's Ministry of the Interior submitted an exhaustive memorial at the conclusion of Herr Hitler's examination which purports to prove that the National Socialist party since its inception has been pursuing revolutionary tactics. Dr. Zweigert testified he possessed evidence proving that Herr Hitler gave the Bavarian Government his word of honor he would not undertake any putsch (revolt) there, despite which he staged his insurrection in 1923. Dr. Zweigert demanded that the government's memorial be made part of the official evidence to offset Herr Hitler's personal testimony, which he declared was insufficient and not binding on the party as a whole.

Counsel for the three accused Reichswehr officers, Lieutenants Scheringer, Ludin and Wendt, objected on the ground that the charges were not supported by documentary evidence. Dr. Zweigert was dismissed as a witness despite the motion of the prosecuting attorney that the memorial be received as evidence. The hearing was adjourned to Friday.
The New York Times reported on reactions in the British press, particularly the view of the fascist-sympathizing owner of the Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere.

From The New York Times, September 25, 1930, p. 24:

The three young officers on trial at Leipzig for conducting treasonable Fascist propaganda in the Reichswehr have been so outspoken in court that it is hard to say where they will stop. They may yet be moved to leap to their feet and point the contrast between the feeble and timid manner in which the interests of the German Fatherland are being served by President Hindenburg and the magnificent vision and courage brought to the same task by Lord Rothermere. The head of the German Republic, who used to be Commander-in-Chief of the German armies, has just let it be known that the Hitlerite "menace" should not be taken too seriously. In no part of the Reich does he consider the danger of a Fascist coup d'état to exist, and he regards the Bruening Government as fully capable of dealing with the present situation or any situation that may arise. Von Hindenburg thus passes judgment on the merits and importance of the Fascist agitation.

Far otherwise is it with the owner of The London Daily Mail. In the Fascist movement he discerns the promise of the rebirth of the German nation. Herr Hitler will begin by organizing Germany against the corruption of communism. With the nation cleansed and reinvigorated, the Fascist dictatorship will turn its attention to the map of Europe. Austria and Hungary will be brought under the aegis of a Hitlerite federation, Czechoslovakia may find herself "elbowed out of existence overnight," and other drastic revisions will be read into the peace treaties of 1919. This will achieve the double purpose of righting the wrongs of Versailles and setting up a really effective barrier against bolshevism in the heart of Europe. The scheme, of course, is not a perfect one. If the treaty-makers at Versailles, working at leisure, perpetrated so many grave errors, it is not to be expected that Lord Rothermere, writing under great pressure, possibly to catch an edition, should go scot-free. He may thus have overlooked what Hungarian fascism will have to say about being submerged in German fascism. It is only two years since Lord Rothermere took up Hungary's wrongs in a serious way and won so much favor at Budapest as to be mentioned for the vacant throne of St. Stephen. The Magyars now ask what Lord Rothermere means by giving them back their former boundaries only to bring them again under ancient Teuton subjection. And in the original home of fascism, brows may be knit against a triumphant German-Austro-Hungarian fascism that might seek to revive the questions of Tyrol and Fiume.

Yet these are minor considerations by the side of the great Rothermere objective of a new Germany under a military dictator, to save Europe from Bolshevism. What The London Daily Mail scheme overlooks is that such a new Germany cannot set up business without another European war, unavoidably necessary in order to dispose of France's veto on the new Hitlerite Reich. And that the one thing which Europe needs to avert the triumph of bolshevism is another general war must be plain to every competent thinker. Lenin's plans were so badly hurt by the events of 1914-1917 that his successor, Stalin, must be trembling at the thought of another conflagration in capitalist Europe!
Other British newspapers ridiculed the speech. From The New York Times, September 26, 1930:
German Fascist Chief is Called 'Feather-Headed Demagogue'—Hope Put in Hindenburg
Daily News Predicts the Use of Emergency Powers if Plan for Coalition Fails

LONDON, Sept. 25 — Viscount Rothermere's enthusiasm for Adolf Hitler and his general softening of heart toward the "young builders of new Germany," which on Wednesday made the British newspaper publisher question the wisdom of insisting upon the last letter of the law as regards war debt payments, has not caught the fancy of the British public.

Far from being regarded now as the savior of Europe, Herr Hitler—after his wild oration in the Leipzig court today—is somewhat unceremoniously called a "feather-headed demagogue" by a section of the British press, and the discovery is made that he still stands where he did, dreaming of executions, revolutions and repudiations.

Concerning Herr Hitler's declaration that there must be two or three more Reichstag elections before his "uprising," The Daily Herald, the organ of the Labor party, suggests that Herr Hitler's ardent followers who are "panting to wade through blood and fire to the establishment of a third Reich" must be disappointed.

"It all sounds, despite the threat that then heads will roll in the sand," says The Daily Herald, "rather like Mr. Balfour pushing off tariff reform or Mr. Baldwin dodging Empire free trade. But what are the heads of the storm battalions, thirsting for the blood of the Jews, profiteers and pacifists going to think of Herr 'Don't Hityetler'?"

The London Times, editorially referring to "Hitler's indiscretion," says his references to peace treaties can hardly be disregarded abroad, and adds: "Granted that his party represents a multitude of discontents rather than a single constructive aim and that its sudden access to strength is a product of temporary economic distress and juvenile impatience, the fact remains that it has just polled over 6,000,000 votes and is the second strongest party in the Reichstag."

The newspaper has no doubt that the Hitler party would gain strength in subsequent elections if they were held soon and is not encouraged by the Leipzig trial in the hope that it will by then be fit to share the responsibility of government.

"Fortunately for Germany and Europe," the paper adds, "the last word still lies with President Hindenburg and his civil and military advisers. They know far better than Hitler and the militants that the economic prosperity and international relations of the Reich depend first and foremost on the confidence of the other nations." The Liberal Daily News and Chronicle regards the situation created by Herr Hitler's outburst as a very difficult one. If a working coalition cannot be framed it considers President Hindenburg may be forced to exercise again the emergency powers put into force last July. "But by this time the situation, if these powers are invoked, will be far graver than it was last July," says the paper.
Days after the testimony, The New York Times published its own editorial entitled "Hitler's Rhetoric." From The New York Times, September 27, 1930:

If it be true that a watched pot never boils, the menace of Adolf Hitler has been grossly exaggerated. His speech before the Supreme Court at Leipzig was in substance an invitation to the whole world to watch him boil over. There is an innocence almost childish about the detailed fashion in which he set out to be blood-curdling. Almost one expected him to state the precise number of heads that would roll from the guillotine when the Fascists have taken over control of the German nation and inaugurated the day of reckoning. There is something which may be innocence or mere confusion of ideas about his coupling the overthrow of the German Republic, the repudiation of the peace treaties and the mobilization of the guillotine with the legal two-thirds majority required by the Weimar Constitution. People will find it another mark of the ingrained German respect for law and order that even revolution and massacre must pause to make sure that they are not Verboten. These are not the deprecatory half-measures employed by the original practitioners of fascism in Italy or of the Communist variety of fascism in Russia. Mussolini's or Lenin's manifestos were concerned with the programs and principles and not with the dreadful things they would do to their enemies as soon as they got ready.

To dismiss the Hitlerite rhetoric, for all its naïveté, as of no consequence would be wrong. Since 1914 no one will venture to say what dire mischief may not be let loose by infantile irresponsibility. It requires no great talent to get on the nerves of the nations in the new European order and particularly in the present economic discontent. Yet, humanly speaking, the net result of the 6,000,000 votes cast for the Hitlerite platform of dictatorship and war, the net result of that flamboyant speech at Leipzig, should be to bring together the parties and elements in Germany standing for sobriety and the existing political order. These were a majority in the Reichstag election and may be expected to show a more decisive majority if it ever comes to a show-down. Many Germans who registered their economic and social grievances by voting Fascist a fortnight ago will think twice before actually inviting civil war and the return of French troops to German soil.

Wherever in Western Europe fascism has asserted itself successfully it has come as the retort to an experiment in communism, or from fear of a foreign enemy. It is still the doctrine in Italy that Mussolini's march on Rome saved the country from Red domination and from the dark designs of certain foreign powers. In Bavaria and Hungary an actual taste of communism preceded and prepared the way for the rule of the strong hand. These seemingly necessary conditions for flinging one's self into the arms of dictatorship Germany today obviously does not fulfill. She is in no danger from her domestic proletarians. And, despite the talk of Germany's enslavement by the peace treaties the signs of her servitude are fast disappearing.

November 6, 2023

1944-1945. Bill Downs Reports From the Western Front

The Liberation of France and the Fall of Nazi Germany
A French veteran of World War I holds a French flag and greets incoming Canadian soldiers of the South Saskatchewan Regiment around Fleury-sur-Orne during Operation Overlord in June 1944 (source)
Bill Downs sent out these dispatches from the Western Front in 1944 and 1945. The accounts are from the 1946 collection BBC 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. 142-143.

While the battle raged through the city, the civil population sheltered in churches, schools, anywhere that offered a chance of survival. The moment it was moderately safe to come into the open, the people of Caen emerged from their shelter to welcome the British troops and to celebrate the liberation of their city:

10 and 11 July 1944.

"Caen has suffered terrible things in this last month, yet the reception which its citizens have given to us has been moving in the extreme. Not a word of reproach; not a word of self-pity. This morning the war was still very near at hand. German aircraft kept appearing overhead: German airburst shells were exploding just above the roofs; occasional mortar shells were bursting in the streets. Yet the people of Caen were out, picking their way through the rubble, smiling at us, waving to us, embracing us, giving us flowers, and time and time again I saw itweeping for sheer joy. There is no hysterical demonstration: the feelings of these people were far too deep for that; but there was a tremendous conviction and sincerity in their welcome.

"As we went down the roads, crowds gathered round us. They spoke of the savagery of the S.S. troops in the last few days of the German occupation: of their wholesale looting; of the shooting of French civilians who were political prisoners in the jails; of the wanton burning by the Germans of the gendarmerie, of the theatre, and of many private houses and shops into which enemy troops had tossed hand grenades as they left Caen. One man spoke most glowingly of the bravery of a British colonel who led the entry into Caen: bullets were spraying all round him, but still he held himself erect and walked forwardthis man said of the colonel: 'My wife screamed: she was sure he'd been killed. But not a bullet hit him. Ah, he was a brave mana hero.'

"In a small courtyard outside a church the people were already preparing for a ceremony and the raising of the Tricolour over the liberated country. The ridged French Army helmets appeared from nowhere. One man even had on a creased uniform of the regular army. It was rumpled from long hiding in the closet. And every other person wore the Cross of Lorraine. But strangest sight of all was that the men wearing helmets also carried arms. Some had the long rifles of the French Army; some had German rifles; one or two even had some British Sten guns which they had bargained from the liberating troops. They were ready to resume the war where it left off in 1940. Most of them were in tattered civilian clothing, but they weren't waiting to be dressed up to fight the Boche. And this motley group of soldiers representing the resurrection of Fighting France formed a proud colour-guard for the French Flag, virtually under the muzzles of the German guns. British, Canadian, and American officials appeared. They were the military and civilian authorities come in to administer the city. A squad of British soldiers snapped to attention. Everyone in the crowd took off their hats; the mayor of the town, wearing a French helmet and a badge bearing the Cross of Lorraine, gave the command and the Tricolour was raised. It was quiet for a moment for there was not even a sound of gunfire; then the people began to applaud and shout again and again: Vive la France!"

"American armored and infantry forces pass through the battered town of Coutances, France, in the new offensive against the Nazis," July 1944 (source)

pp. 157-158.

In the last days of July a great Russian drive in the East carried Red Army troops into Białystok, Stanislavov, Dvinsk, Rezhitsa, Šiauliai, and Lvov, while the fall of Brest-Litovsk was imminent. Simultaneously the Americans launched a full-scale attack on the west coast towards Coutances and Avranches. The dreaded "war on two fronts"or, more strictly, on three frontswas now an active reality, straining German resources everywhere:

29 July 1944.

"At this moment Field-Marshal Rommel is a victim of the old army gamea game in which the Allied forces in Normandy have again called the tune. The American break-through on the western sector of their Normandy front has completed a series of bluffs and counter-bluffs made by the Allied Command, and is now finding its pay-off by the successes of the U.S. Army forces south of the Cherbourg peninsula. The way the Allies have played this game is an interesting study of military strategy. After the fall of Cherbourg the German Command deduced incorrectly that there would be a lot of consolidation and regroupment on the American sector before there could be any further action there. So Rommel concluded that the next move would be an attack on the British sector to the east. He obviously figured that the next Allied move would be a drive for Paris. So he committed some seven divisions around the British and Canadian sector, leaving less concentrated forces more thinly spread along the line of the American sector. When this became clear, the Allies decided that the German Command should go on thinking like this. So the British and Canadians staged a series of sharp, heavy attacks between Caen and Tilly that gained the British bridge-head across the River Odon. This was followed by the attack on Caen itself, which resulted in the capture of the northern half of the town. And then there was the big air blitz down the eastern side of the Orne River, which ended in the complete capture of Caen, and the establishment of a comfortable bridge-head around the city.

"By the time these attacks had finished, more German forces were concentrated on this eastern sector. Then General Bradley made his big move five days ago. And now Rommel is in the position of a poker player who has put so much money into the pot that he cannot afford to drop out of the game. And he has to play it the way the Allied Command wants it to be played."

"Cromwell tanks of 7th Armoured Division silhouetted against the morning sky, as they move up at the start of Operation 'Bluecoat', the British offensive south-east of Caumont," July 30, 1944 (source)

pp. 162-163.

Around Vire British and American Forces worked closely together as they advanced, and it sometimes happened that the two armies overlapped:

5 August 1944.

"For example, the other day a British armoured unit was ordered to occupy a wood. It so happened that the Americans also were told to occupy a wood. Over one of the British tank's radios the headquarters asked the British tank commander what he had found in the wood. 'Millions of Americans,' the tank commander replied. Headquarters then said, 'We have learned that German tanks also have been ordered to occupy that wood.' The British commander was silent for a minute, and then said, 'Sorry, there won't be any room here for them!'"

"Infantrymen of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada riding on a Kangaroo armoured personnel carrier, Werlte, Germany," April 11, 1945 (source)

pp. 171-172.

Secure along the banks of the Loire the Americans now wheeled to the north, captured Alençon, and pushed ahead to Argentan in a wide encircling movement designed to gather up the remaining German forces in Normandy. Simultaneously the First Canadian Army fought its way down the Falaise road from Caen to narrow the Germans' escape gap. The Canadian assault, made in darkness, was preceded by a heavy bombing attack:

8 August 1944.

"I watched the tons of bombs plunge into their targets last night; strange flashes lit the sky, the effect was weird and terrible, with a three-quarter moon rising over the Orne Valley shining blood red through the haze, and the dust, and the smoke. The concussion of the bombs pressed my clothing against my body, even though I was several miles away, and the ground trembled under my feet. It is a difficult operation, this fighting in the dark; units get confused, lost, and mixed up, so there were other special methods devised to guide the infantry and the heavy tanks forward in the dark. The infantry were given heavy armoured carriers which had been specially converted for them so they could ride forward with the first wave of tanks. These carriers gave them maximum protection against light enemy fire, and against shell and mortar bursts. To guide the ground forces forward the Canadians employed the old trick which the British used at the Battle of Alamein: lines of tracer bullets were shot over their heads, stretching out like rows of electric light bulbs sailing slowly in the air. The tanks and the infantry and their armoured carriers moved forward while the bombing was still on, the lines of tracer bullets (there were more than half a dozen columns of them) floated over the battlefield looking like a roman candle display, and all around hundreds of guns seemed to grab the atmosphere and shake it, and bounce it, and tear it to shreds."

"German forces surrendering in Saint-Lambert-sur-Dive," August 21, 1944 (source)

pp. 181-182.

It was victory, such as we had scarcely dared to imaginevictory over the mighty German army, fighting on ground of its own choosing and led by a brilliant general. Here was an exact measure of comparative strength: if the Germans were unable to check the Allies on the short line between Caen and Avranches they could hardly hope to make an effective stand west of the Siegfried Lineperhaps not there even. In the intoxication of a great success, it seemed as if the final collapse of Germany might be very near; but, to the men who pursued towards the Seine, war was still just warwar against mines and booby-traps and rearguard actions, war against the elaborate technique of retreat in which the Germans had proved themselves to be adepts:

21 August 1944.

"You have to move a little faster, the convoys are more crowded, and you spend a lot more time looking at the back end of the truck ahead of you, and you don't spend more than a night or two in the same slit trenchyou move forward all the time. You eat a lot of cold rations because you're on the move and when you bump into the enemy rearguard the fighting is just as bitter as it was before. And when you take the Nazi-held position you find that there haven't been many Germans because the enemy has retreated, and there isn't much booty and not many prisonersyet. But there are mines, hundreds of them. They lie in the roads, and sometimes there is a string of six of them down a road. You set one off and the whole road goes up for ten yards ahead and behind you. And there are plenty of the S minesthe nasty anti-personnel type that jumps into the air before it explodes and then hurls bits of steel and ball bearings to kill or wound anything living within a hundred feet radius. You have to be mighty careful where you step. And then there are the booby-traps. Maybe you see a bottle of wine lying beside a bombed building, but you don't touch it. And maybe there is a tempting apple-tree beside the roadthe apples are just getting big enough to eat, but you leave that tree alone too because it might blow up in your face if you pulled a branch down. There are plenty of snipers, but you've learned to pay not much attention to them anymore, for if someone gets it from a sniper a detachment is sent out to clean him out and the advance continues.

"This might be the big retreat of the defeated German Seventh Army, but it's still just war to the man with the job of pushing the Nazis back. And the German kills just as effectively when he retreats as when he advances."

"British Paratroopers from the 1st Parachute Brigade with a captured German soldier" in Arnhem, 1944 (source)

pp. 348-349.

An American correspondent, pursuing the British spearheads, caught up with them as the attack on Osnabrück was being launched:

5 April 1945.

"You jeep and jeep until you feel your kidneys are jarred loose from their brackets and you pass through one undamaged village after another, punctuated occasionally by a complete mess of a town that happened to be a railroad junction, or which was unfortunate enough to offer resistance to our advance. Then, as you get closer to the front, you notice the soldiers sitting cheerfully in the convoys, or a lot of horseplay in the fields, for everyone is in high spirits these days. You pass the convoys and the tanks and the guns, and you keep a weather eye out for headquarters. But somehow you miss it; but you keep on driving anyway. Occasionally in the distance your own artillery may let loose a barrage to remind you that there is still fighting ahead. But no one pays attention, including the civilians of this particularly unspoiled bit of Germany. The people smile, and sometimes wave, and the girls mostly just smile. It's hard not to pay any attention to thatask any soldier.

"You drive on, stopped occasionally by a road jam. It's April, and the spring showers seem to dampen no one's spirits. Then you drive over a hill a mile or so from Osnabrück. More serious-looking soldiers are sitting on tanks, with bayoneted rifles. The sun happens to be shining, and you see one of them asleep. Suddenly, from beyond an ineffective German road-block not fifty feet away, an unholy splutter of machine-gun fire gushes out towards a factory building sitting in the valley. Then the tanks' heavy gun barks with a ferocity that echoes through the forest. Then it's quiet, and you wait for the enemy's return fire. But there is none.
"A British paratrooper lieutenant walks up to the tank with his men sitting atop it. He yawns, and stretches. 'You chaps get ready,' he says, 'We'll be moving up pretty soon.' But he did say it with an air of a man with spring fever, who didn't care when, if ever. As I left, the column started rolling into the town.

"Apparently the British do this sort of thing with that careless unconcerned air all the time."

Bill Downs broadcasting from Lüneburg, Germany on V-E Day, May 8, 1945 (Photo by Dennis Allen of the British Second Army)

pp. 361-363.

Between the armoured spearheads and the occupying forces there was often a nebulous military situation in which anything might happen. There were groups of Germans making suicidal ambushes, and others only too anxious to surrender: there were liberated slave-workers intent on loot of revenge, or hurrying westward on the journey home: there were German civilians seeking to have their towns and villages occupied quickly while they were still intact. To drive unarmed through this country was an experience by turns eerie and comic:

20 April 1945.

"We drove down an empty road, uncomfortably empty, with no sign of anyone on it. We reached the crossroads, when suddenly out of the woods appeared eight Germans; it was a frightening sight, particularly when I remembered that the only gun we had was the driver's Sten gun, and it was buried under our raincoats, and the bullet clip was somewhere in a corner of the jeep. However, these were very tame Germans, they all had their hands up. We stopped, searched them, and rigged up a white flag for them and told them to march on down the road and somebody would pick them up. That took care of the first eight.

"Sergeant Arthur joined our party. We drove on down a side road, and there we ran on to five more German soldiers, who were waving a white flag. Again we told them which way to go, but this group were more frightened and one of them asked 'What do we say when we want to surrender later?' Sergeant Arthur had the answer, and he wrote the words down on a piece of paper. As the prisoners walked off they were practising the phrase 'We have had it.' It's a British expression used to denote the completion of anything. As the prisoners walked off, the five of them were muttering 'Vee hev had it.'
"About that time, another young American flyer rode by on a motorcycle. He also was an ex-prisoner getting himself some food and fresh air for the first time in months. 'There's a town down the road that's just begging to be taken, why don't you go down and have a look?' Then about that time he spotted a chicken running across the road and that was the last we saw of him.

"We took two British boys back to the camp; there I told the story of two BBC engineers who had been with me making recordings at the camps. They were all for taking the town. Again there was kilometre after kilometre of distressingly empty road, but it seemed like a good day for conquering and no one worried particularly. Finally we reached the cross-roads village of Hohne just west of the town of Burgen. I knew the traditional way to capture a place and maybe stick a sword in the ground, and proclaim the place was ours, but I had no sword, and besides, it was a beautifully hard road, and no sword would stick in it anyway. But Sergeant Tinker knew what to dohe went in search of eggsfresh eggs, and meanwhile, Sergeant Arthur got interested in the farm across the road. There was a big German Army carwith a white flag flying from it. We went into this farmyard to find out what it was all about and to our surprise up stepped one of the most magnificent German officers I've ever seen, complete with Iron Cross and a number of other decorations. My first-year college German was still intact enough to understand that he wanted to surrenderhe had his belongings all packed including a pair of ski shoeswhat he wanted with ski shoes I was never able to find out. He turned over his pistol and said that we could drive him back to captivity in his own car. Then the German colonel said that he'd like very much if we would take his entire battery prisoner. He was the commander of a battery of 88-mm. combination anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. We decided against capturing the gun battery for we were not sure that a battery of 88's would appreciate being captured by just one Sten gun, no matter what the colonel said, but we took the colonel up on his offer to use his car. Sergeant Arthur drove the carSergeant Tinker reappeared with a cap full of eggs. The colonel climbed in and we made up a convoymy jeep in frontthe colonel's car in the middle with two sergeants, and the BBC truck with the two unarmed engineers bringing up the rear."


October 1, 2023

1951. "Korea Toughest of Them All" by Don Whitehead

Veteran Correspondents Cover the Korean War
War correspondent Don Whitehead in Anzio, Italy in 1944 (source)

Article by Don Whitehead in The Quill magazine, March 1951, pp. 10-12:

Korea Toughest of Them All


That's what the veteran war correspondents call it . . . and many are men who covered North Africa and Italy, Normandy and Germany

Time: A warm night in August.

Place: Taegu, Korea

Scene: A little balcony on the rambling old building which served as the U. S. Eighth Army Press center.

Characters: A group of war correspondents, retreads from World War Two grown a little balder, a little grayer, and resigned to the possibility that war reporting may become a life-time job.

•      •      •

We sat in the warm darkness watching the flare of artillery and the glowing beads of tracer bullets strung from the muzzles of machine-guns in the distance. Occasionally, there was the swish of an enemy shall passing over. Then an explosion. A lone North Korean gun somewhere out there in the hills was pumping shells into the city.

Finally, the talk turned to past campaigns—battles in Africa, Sicily, Italy, Europe and the Pacific. We dredged up stories which, for a fleeting moment, brought back names and faces and places long forgotten.

The talk droned on far into the night, with occasional bursts of laughter, until a young reporter on his first war assignment exclaimed: "Are we going to sit here all night listening to the reminiscences of tired old war correspondents?"

The kid's barb hit its mark. We laughed—but with the sheepish realization that our yarns were beginning to have the ring of an old soldiers' reunion, although only five years separated us from the last war. 

Actually, a war correspondent is merely a police reporter who is covering a shooting where they use 105 millimeter artillery instead of .32 caliber pistols. Someone has said a veteran at the business is one who finds he is at the front and suddenly asks himself: What the hell am I doing here?"

I had asked myself that question long ago but I found myself asking it again while en route from New York to Korea last July with Hal Boyle of the Associated Press.

Hal and I had reported the last war together and I don't think I'd ever agree to any war assignment without the Irishman. He always brings along a heart as big as his grin, plus a satchel full of laughs to ease the tension when the going is roughest.

The two of us had arrived in Tokyo and were preparing to shove off for Korea next day. It was the shank of the evening and we were sitting in the Correspondents Club having a cool drink when the door burst open. In came Bill Downs of CBS, an old friend just returned from Korea. Bill's clothes were filthy. A tangled beard sprouted below his blood-shot eyes. He smelled like a rice paddy on a hot night.

Downs took one look at us and croaked: "You stupid sob's! Go back! Go back! This ain't our kind of war!"

He was accurate on all points but it was too late to turn back. Five months later, the AP messaged Boyle to return home as soon as feasible. Boyle received the message in Korea and said: "I wonder where Feasible is? I can't leave until Feasible gets here."

That started a great search by the correspondents for Feasible. He must have arrived at last, because Boyle is back in the United States.

•      •      •

My own experience as a war reporter began in 1942 when I flew from New York to Egypt to join Montgomery's British Eighth Army in its drive across the Western Desert.

For the correspondents, this was a leisurely sort of war and a soft touch compared to Korea. Each three correspondents had a conducting officer to do most of the worrying. We had a sedan in which to follow the army and a truck—pardon me, a lorry—to catch food, water, and camping gear. Each morning, Bert, the truck driver, would wake us for a steaming cup of tea.

Our only communication link with Cairo, the censorship and cable point, was by courier plane once a day. This meant we had ample time to get our stories, write them, and even polish up the prose.

Since then, the tempo of war reporting has increased by bounds as a result of better communications in the field and keener competition to get news to the American public. Rapid transmission from war zones is a break for the daily newspapers and the readers—but the wear and tear on the correspondents is terrific.

The Korean war—uncensored until late December—added some staggering burdens which made it the most difficult war of all to cover. (Note: I went into Korea in July with 185 pounds and a 38-inch waistline. I came out with 159 pounds and four inches less suet around the middle.)

•      •      •

When General Patton took his 7th Army into Sicily in July, 1943, combat reporting still was on a comparatively leisurely basis. We often went into the line to live with the troops and follow them in battle to get the feel, sight and smell of war at close range. After four or five days, we would return to the press camp and write a series of stories to describe that particular phase of the campaign. These dispatches went by courier plane to Algiers for relay home.

The Sicily campaign ended a month after it began and in September the Allies invaded Italy. The pressure increased on correspondents for faster coverage of frontline developments.

The army had radio facilities for transmitting dispatches to Algiers from Italy. This called for a new technic, at least for the reporters representing wire services and the large dailies which were in competition. Except for columnists such as Ernie Pyle, who had no spot news deadline to meet, the correspondents were forced to battle for minutes. Stories filed with the censors were released on a first-in, first-out schedule. There was no time for leisurely reporting or polishing a story. A two-minute headway on a story filed in Italy might stretch into a twelve-hour beat in New York.

On the invasion of Europe, the reporting was geared to its present swift pace. The cause of it all, for better or for worse, was the arrival of mobile Press Wireless transmitters which handled press dispatches exclusively. They followed the combat units closely. A story filed by Press Wireless was in New York in a matter of minutes.

This rapid transmission, even faster than it was in Italy, put a premium on mobility of reporters in the field, quick judgment on news values, and speed in getting the story from typewriter to censor.

I remember the day that Cherbourg fell to our troops. I entered the city with Clark Lee and H. R. Knickerbocker. We followed the troops in the street fighting to the center of the city where we wrote our eyewitness stories of the fight.

We completed our stories at 12 noon (Cherbourg time) and sent them by courier to the Press Wireless unit a few miles behind the fighting front. My story was radioed quickly to New York. It appeared in the 9 a. m. editions—by a quirk of time three hours "earlier" than I had written the story—since we were in a time belt five hours ahead of New York time.

An old campaigner, Knick said later: "Wars are getting too fast for me. Now you write a story that may appear in print before you have written it."

•      •      •

Veteran correspondents agree Korea has been the toughest of them all. The country itself is depressing. And then there was the weariness of constantly fighting for communications. You spent one-fifth of your time reporting and the other four-fifths getting the story to Tokyo. There were 100-mile jeep rides over washboard roads to find a telephone. There were weeks when the correspondents traveled as much as 4,000 miles between Korea and Japan to file dispatches.

The army in Korea had no mobile radio transmitters such as the armies in Europe. The only direct link with Tokyo was by telephone or teletype from 8th Army headquarters—an unreliable link often denied to us by the crush of official army business.

Cut off from a telephone, we had only one alternative—to send our stories to Japan by Air Force courier or else carry them back ourselves. Most of the time we took the stories back ourselves to avoid delays.

When the 8th Army began its retreat before the Chinese hordes last November, it was one of the great tragedies of our times. The United Nations army had been defeated. General Douglas MacArthur's "end the war by Christmas" drive was shattered. All hopes for a quick end to the conflict were destroyed.

I was with the 25th Infantry Division at the time and watched the drive falter, grind to a halt, and then fall apart. I had to get the story out—but to telephone from division C. P. through Corps to Army headquarters in Seoul was impossible. The lines ware jammed.

There was only one thing left to do. I hitch-hiked a 20-mile ride by truck, then persuaded an artillery observation pilot to fly me across a mountain range to an air strip near the west coast. An ambulance filled with wounded took me to an evacuation airfield at Sinanju. From the Sinanju strip, I thumbed a plane ride to Ashiya, Japan, from where I dictated the retreat story to Tokyo.

The trip spread over seven hours but was worth it. I was able to give my office the first news that the 8th Army was falling back in retreat.

This experience is cited only as an example of what all the correspondents in Korea were doing to get stories to their papers. The trip was not unusual and, in fact, was an everyday sort of thing.

Frequently we had the premonition we were pushing our luck too far in riding the war-worn cargo planes day after day. Seven correspondents were killed and others injured in plane accidents. We began to feel that plane rides were a greater hazard than the enemy.

Once a British correspondent, Denis Warner, was returning to Korea aboard a "flying box-car" loaded with 500-pound bombs. The two-engine ship was an hour out of Ashiya when one of the engines dropped off. The plane rapidly began losing altitude.

The pilot ordered the cargo jettisoned. Warner pitched in to help the crew shove bombs into space as air gushed into the open doors and threatened to suck him out of the cabin.

Finally the bombs were pushed into the sea and the plane limped back to Ashiya. Warner recalled: "I didn't know I was frightened until I opened my mouth to speak and not a sound came out."

Before Warner could regain his speech, an Air Force officer had pushed him aboard another plane and he was on his way to Korea again. This time he rode with a load of high octane gasoline.

Sometimes we worked to the point of complete exhaustion, traveling from the front to a communications point—then hurrying back to the front to start all over again.

Covering the Southern battlefront in the early part of the war was a cruel test of stamina for some of us whose joints were beginning to creak a bit. Day after day, we went to the front at Chindong-ni to get the story of the fighting. Then we would climb into a jeep for the 50-mile ride to Pusan, three hours of teeth-rattling over one of the roughest roads in Korea.

Usually, we arrived in Pusan before midnight. Often it was dawn before the story was finished and dictation completed by telephone to Tokyo. I have seen reporters like William H. Lawrence of the New York Times, Phil Potter of the Baltimore Sun and Bob Miller of the United Press hunched over typewriters—filthy and gray with fatigue—punching out stories in the slow motion of men whose fingers refuse to keep pace with their thoughts. After two or three hours of rest, they would return to the front.

•      •      •

Tempers became ragged in this rat-race. We felt keenly that the army was giving us little help with transportation and communications. Once a group of us called on a major general who was in charge of the port operations at Pusan. He greeted us cordially and then announced if he could do anything for us—all we had to do was command him.

Frank Holeman of the New York Daily News unkinked his six feet seven inches and growled: "Would you tell your people, General, to quit treating us like pisoners of war?"

After that, our relations with the army in Pusan were a little better.

There were occasions, of course, when the impossible happened and communications were perfect. Once I picked up a telephone at the 25th Division C. P. and dictated a bulletin to AP's Leif Erickson at 8th Army headquarters—the Reds were in retreat toward Chingju. Within eight minutes that bulletin was flashed across the United States.

On another occasion, Lee Ferrero of International News Service completed three consecutive calls from a division C. P. in North Korea to Tokyo while other reporters sweated for hours to get their calls through over the same circuit. But these small triumphs were the exception. For the most part, the battle of communications in Korea was heartbreaking.

Two of the most fabulous characters in all Korea were the Jones twins, Gene and Charlie. Ex-Marines, they took some of the greatest television movies of the war for NBC. They swarmed all over the front, causing Hal Boyle to comment: "That Jones boy works so hard you'd think there were two of him."

During the Inchon landing, Gene was hit in the chest by mortar shrapnel. He spent weeks on a hospital ship. Finally, Charlie brought Gene to Japan for a rest. I met them at Ashiya where I had flown with a story.

The Jones boys were hungry as usual. Neither of them had a dime. I took them to a little snack bar at the Air Force base and asked them what they wanted.

They chorused: "Malted milks."

I lined up eight malted milks—four each—and they went to work on them. Finally Gene looked up and said dreamily: "Malted milks! They're better than women."

That is a point of view not shared universally—but the story illustrates at least what the rigors of war reporting can do to a man.

September 18, 2023

1943. "Harvest of Death"

War Correspondents Return to Ukraine
Newsweek cover from September 20, 1943: "Little Man, What Now?"
From Newsweek, September 20, 1943, pp. 35-36, 38:
Harvest of Death: Behind the Lines in Russia's Reconquered Villages
The almost incredible grimness of the war in Russia was never better illustrated than in this notable dispatch from Bill Downs, Newsweek and CBS correspondent in Moscow, telling of his second trip to the front.

The big twin-engined Douglas transport took off from the Moscow airdrome with thirteen British and American correspondents and four escorting Russian officials. We were flying back into the summer toward the Ukraine—welcome enough after the first chilly fall breezes now turning the leaves of Moscow's trees. We stopped for a brief landing in the ruined city of Voronezh, where Russian and German troops had sat and looked at each other for more than a year until the Nazis were finally kicked out last January. Then we picked up four Yaks as an escort for the rest of the journey. These four fighters, piloted by Russian women, didn't make the men in the party feel any more masculine.
We landed on what had once been a wheatfield at the town of Valuiki. This had been one of the main bases for Italian troops in Russia until they were completely surrounded by the Red Army last winter. Valuiki was hardly damaged at all, as the Fascists had had very little if any chance.

While we were sitting in the hot sun waiting for our transportation, there was an ominous roar. Eight jeeps stormed over a hill, running in line like baby partridges. Bringing up the rear was a ¾-ton Dodge ammunition carrier that followed us thereafter.

In the late afternoon we headed into the setting sun. Each jeep had a driver with a Tommy gun at his side. Dave Nichol of The Chicago Daily News shared my car. We called our driver Junior because when we pronounced his real name, it didn't come out so good. We soon found out that Junior was a frustrated fighter pilot. That would have been all right if only he hadn't tried to loop the damn thing.

Driving along a dusty Ukrainian road over the rolling steppe past white-washed, thatch-roofed Ukrainian villages was one of the most beautifully peaceful experiences I have ever had. The war was a million miles away as we went through mile after mile of wheat and rye plantings and fields of sunflowers as yellow as butter. We stopped and picked the ripened heads of these flowers and for the rest of the trip everyone ate sunflower seeds in the best Ukrainian manner.

But as we drove into the sun, we also drove back into the war. By nightfall the villages had become more and more damaged, with army traffic heavier and army control points more frequent. As night fell, we turned on the convoy lights—dull slits visible only a dozen feet away. We had been warned we were driving through mined fields—that the roads had been de-mined but that the fields had not. Once in a while Junior, wandering off the road, would turn on the driving lights. Twice when this happened sentries fired warning shots into the air.

At a farm near a crossroads where the railroad cut the highway, the cars stopped for butter and eggs. Mikhail Vasseff, assistant chief of the foreign-press department, walked down the line and warned the drivers of danger. Meanwhile, there was a roar of German bombers overhead, but they couldn't be seen against the starry sky.

The jeeps started out again. Vasseff was in the second jeep, and the United Press correspondent Henry Shapiro was in the third accompanied by two British correspondents. Nichol and I were in the fourth. Just as the cars went over the railroad right-of-way, there was a muffled explosion. On the road ahead a deep orange and red flash bloomed like a giant poppy and shot about 20 feet into the air. The concussion flattened the brim of my hat. The cars stopped, and everything was silent for a few seconds while parts of a jeep began falling to the ground.

Then there were a few groans—deep shuddering ones. Vasseff's jeep somehow had run over an anti-tank mine. The groans came from Maj. A. A. Volkoff, the representative of the Soviet General Staff, and Viktor Kozhemiako, the chief censor of the press department. Volkoff's legs had been blown off, and Kozhemiako's legs and back were lacerated. Vasseff's body was not found until the next morning because it had been blown 60 feet away. The major and the censor died shortly after being taken to a nearby base hospital.

The jeep was blown a dozen feet off the road, turned over, and was almost torn in two. The driver escaped miraculously with only a wound in the back of his head. It was a freak mine that somehow hadn't gone off although hundreds of cars had driven over the spot on the road throughout the day.

The next day at dawn there was some question as to whether or not to continue to the front—the explosions and deaths had shaken us all. Our surviving escort, Lt. Col. Studyonoff of Moscow, got in touch with headquarters in the capital, and it was decided that since the Steppe Front headquarters were expecting us, we would continue. All night long we tried to wrap ourselves around the jeeps in such a way as to get a few hours' sleep, but our efforts were mostly a failure because of the German and Russian planes flying overhead.

On the approaches to Belgorod we came to a village in the region where the Red Army made its initial break-through. Every house in these villages was burned or blown up. The trees were shattered and blasted. In the fields and alongside the road were the hulks of tanks—both Russian and German—which were burned, blown up, and filled with holes.

The battlefield had been pretty well cleaned up, and the people were beginning to come back. Every peasant stove had a small group of women around it digging in the ruins for salvage. In some places there had been attempts at reconstruction, but for the most part the people were now sleeping in haystacks, dugouts, or on top of the ground.

Right now there was a big rush to get in as much of the crops as possible. The lack of labor, machinery, and sometimes even scythes made this a primitive job. The method mostly used was that of the old scythe and cradle, dating back to the times when women flailed the grain and gathered the wheat by winnowing the chaff in the wind, although some of the women were even picking the wheat by hand. This scene, with the kerchiefed and barefooted women using these ancient methods of harvest, made this part of the Ukraine appear almost biblical—except for those ruined villages and the blasted tanks of the new Philistines.

Belgorod, which had changed hands four times, looked much as could be expected. Not a single major building was intact. I have seen so much damage in so many ruined cities, towns, and villages here in Russia that only the strongest adjectives could be used to describe this ruin.

We drove to the town of Liptzy, 15 miles north of Kharkov, where Gen. Ivan Konneff's staff had established our headquarters in the peasant cottages. The first thing the army did was to take us to a portable shower tent in a field near a small stream. It was the army version of the famous Russian baths. The tent was about 50 feet square, and inside there were a dozen shower taps of steaming, running water, which was heated in a portable boiler on a truck. That hot shower was worth all the bumps I had suffered in the jeep.

Then we were taken to breakfast which included steak, vodka, tomatoes, sardines, potatoes, rice, and more vodka. There was not a single reference throughout the trip to the tragedy that befell the second jeep. It was strictly the army attitude toward death at the front. That evening Col. Ivan Vorobieff came to our headquarters and outlined the situation at the front.

The following day I still felt dead even after a night's sleep on a comfortable mattress stuffed with straw. However, no one can remain sleepy after a breakfast of sardines and tomatoes washed down with vodka followed by a hamburger steak and potatoes.
"Extremity: Here is what German propaganda has come to. This ghastly line-up is supposed to show the bodies of women killed in an Allied air raid on Cologne. It probably is not faked, but it demonstrates the lengths to which the Nazis have gone in building up the horror aspects of the Allied bombing offensive against the Reich" (p. 38)

A colonel from an engineers corps who had fought in the battle for Kharkov took us for a tour of the city's circular defenses. Their basis was a huge anti-tank ditch extending 30 kilometers around the vital sectors of the city. However, the Germans depended mostly on a system of trenches emanating like ganglions from deep pillboxes and shelters. Over them timber was laid and then the wood was covered with earth.

There was bitter fighting on the northern approaches to the city, where you could see that Russian mortars had covered every foot of the ground. As in the last war, mortars are still the best weapon against trench defenses. On the southern defense sector the Germans had built their defenses through a canning factory by barricading the basement windows.

Our colonel also turned out to be an expert on German mines. He said there were some ten different types of German anti-personnel mines and about five different anti-tank types. He showed us the newest type of each category.

The new German anti-personnel mine looks like an oversized potato masher and is made of concrete. Painted green and stuck upright in clumps of bushes or high grass, it is hard to detect. It is discharged by a trip wire.

The Nazi anti-tank mine must have been devised by someone with a personality as nasty as Hitler's. It is made of steel about a foot in diameter and 4 inches thick. Besides an ordinary detonator on top, it also includes one on the side and bottom. Thus the detecting sapper must handle it like a cracked egg; he can't shift it or lift it without having it go to pieces in his hands.

Next, we loaded up the jeeps again and headed southwest over the muddiest road in Russia. Ukrainian gumbo is a special kind of mud which looks like tar and glue. This was in the Udi River valley with low rolling hills on each side. It was typical of the Russian collective-farm country, but it was nearly all uncultivated.

There was a definite change in the atmosphere. We saw more soldiers, more transport, and greater alertness. The village ruins looked fresher, and we passed an occasional loaded ambulance. We drove between mine and bomb craters for 10 miles on this road, which was remarkably solid considering its condition.

Then we began to see an occasional wrecked tank. Alongside an orchard we could see dozens of them off to the left among the young apple trees. They looked like broken toys. But a gust of wind put reality into the scene. It was putrid with the smell of death, and from then on we breathed through our mouths. This tank battle had been fought three days before. Not all the bodies had been buried.

We turned off the road directly southward and came to what had once been a collective farm in the village of Korotich. There were only a dozen houses with fifteen or twenty outbuildings, but it was completely dead. The sole inhabitants were two women, two chickens, and one German who had died after crawling some 25 feet from his tank.

Korotich was surrounded by a large truck garden with several acres of fully grown cabbages, tomatoes, beets, and potatoes. Most of this garden had been ruined by a battle between more than 100 Russian tanks and a similar number of German ones. The Russians knocked out 60 Nazi machines in this engagement, and forced the Germans, who were concentrated for a large-scale assault aimed at recapturing Kharkov, into retreating.

There is not much use in trying to describe a tank battle unless one sees it personally, but this one must have been terrific. The Germans used Tigers as well as medium types. They also employed oversized Ferdinand mobile guns. Down in the cabbage patch there was on wrecked Ferdinand and one Tiger almost side by side. Their crews were buried among the cabbages. The smell of rotting bodies turned a few of us pale, but no one lost his breakfast—although there were a few bad moments when we had to chase away two chickens pecking at a German's body.

Until I started to examine details, Kharkov looked about the same as when I saw it five months ago. Last March sometimes at least one floor remained in some buildings, while there was occasionally even a building intact. When the Germans worked over it the second time, they missed nothing. The entire city will have to be rebuilt. Sixty per cent of the residences have been destroyed. There is an atrocity commission now investigating the Nazi war crimes of the second occupation. The civilians told us the usual stories: 300 wounded of the Red Army were burned to death in the local hospital and another 400 by the occupying SS troops.

That is what history looks like when you are shown it firsthand here in Russia. This war and this front will cover many chapters. Every paragraph will reflect the skill and courage of this 1943 Red Army and people who are defeating the 1939 Nazi Germans.

September 16, 2023

1952. "Korea: Our Biggest Military Lesson"

Lessons of the Korean War
"Pfc. Roman Prauty, a gunner with 31st RCT (crouching foreground), with the assistance of his gun crew, fires a 75mm recoilless rifle, near Oetlook-tong, Korea, in support of infantry units directly across the valley," June 9, 1951 (source)

From This Week magazine, July 6, 1952, pp. 4-5, 12, 14:


An expert reveals what our Army, Navy and Air Force have learned in their bitter struggle. This costly knowledge can save our country and the world.

CBS correspondent Bill Downs talked to GIs, flyers, Marines in Korea, to generals and admirals there and in Washington for this article.

"It breaks your heart," the young second lieutenant was saying. "Those kids don't even know how to dig." It was in the early days of the Korean war. The lieutenant was returning to his unit. He had been wounded two weeks before and was still pale and limping, but determined to leave the Pusan hospital to get back to his men.

"I tried to teach them," he continued, "and after we took some casualties, they learned fast enough." He shook his head and again said, "But we lost a lot of boys because they didn't know how to dig."

The young Navy rating had come topside for a breath of fresh air. "What do you mean, 'the great United States Navy?'" He spat over the rail. "Do you realize that when this mess in Korea started, the United States Army was actually sailing more ships than the Navy?"

And still later, the ancient 28-year-old jet pilot, just rotated from the battles over the Yalu River, toyed with his drink in a Washington tavern. "This isn't loose talk," he declared. "You'd find it out in any read room on the spot." He gripped the glass and set it on the table for emphasis. "If we were flying those MIG-15s, we would have aces over there with 40 aircraft to their credit. We would clean out that Communist 1,000-plane air force in combat in six months."

The Lesson of Weakness

Korea has been a gigantic military proving ground that revealed in bloody detail the mistakes and inadequacies of the United States armed forces. The cost has been high—more than a hundred thousand casualties. Those casualties will have been in vain if US military leaders—and the American people themselves—do not learn the lessons of this war.

When the Korean conflict first broke out, it became apparent how tragically weak the United States has become in five years of uneasy peace. American military planning, understandable perhaps, was directed at the defense of this country in event of a third global war. The possibilities of the atomic weapon and its delivery to any spot on the earth's surface occupied most of the attention of the policy-makers.

The US Army was not a combat force. Particularly in Japan it was more of a gigantic social club, broken into unmilitary units for the necessary occupation duty softened by the easy life of a conqueror.

General Walton Walker, later to die in Korea while commanding the Eighth Army, had recognized the dangerous situation created by the state of the troops and command of our forces in Japan and only some three months before had started to reorganize the scattered occupation units into a fighting force. He also had ordered toughening maneuvers. But the job was barely under way when the Communists crossed the 38th Parallel.

Lessons came quickly in Korea. The American fighting man is the most mobile soldier in the world. He has more wheels per unit than any other Army. But in the precipitous valleys and bad roads of Korea, wheels are not much good near the front. In the early days, it was the enemy who had the mobility, simply because he could climb the mountains. The American soldier had to learn how to walk again, a fact giving rise to the criticism that "they have the best shoes and the worst feet in the world." And when winter came and the shoe-pac shortage developed, they no longer even had the best shoes.

Frontier Fighting

The American infantryman also had to relearn a lot of things he had forgotten. He had to learn to fight as his great-great-grandfather did on the frontier with the perimeter defense of the wagon trains against the stealth of the Indian. Night attacks and infiltration often put as many of the enemy behind him as in front of him. He also learned that while the Garand M-1 rifle is an excellent weapon in daytime, its value is dubious against a mass night attack by a fanatic enemy when firepower counts more than accuracy or range

On the other hand, the value of the new recoil-less weapons was proved to him—particularly the 3.5-inch bazooka with its shaped charge which proved so effective against enemy tanks.

The shortcomings of the Army often are more obvious than deficiencies in the other services. But the Air Force had parallel faults. The morale of the pilots in the early days of the fighting was complicated by the fact that many of them could breakfast at home, fly their missions to the battlefront and then return home to their families.

And only recently has the most glaring weakness of the Air Force been revealed: the fact that the Russian-built MIG-15 swept-wing jet fighter is a superior flying weapon to our F-86 Sabre Jet. The MIG engine weighs less and is more efficient. The plane itself is lighter and stripped of safety gadgets which American planes carry—gadgets which have value for flying in the United States but which are useless over North Korea. And the MIG-15 can outperform the Sabre in every department at altitudes over 12 thousand feet. Most jet fighting is done between 25 and 35 thousand feet.

Although it is not the intention here to go into the "Great MacArthur Debate," one of the reasons that the Air Force command concurred in the decision not to attack Manchuria was that the aircraft industry in this country was in critical condition. The major strategic bombing plane on hand at the time was the obsolescent B-29, then in process of being replaced by the B-50 and other models.

Had the decision been made to bomb Manchuria, an admittedly costly venture, there would have been no new B-29s to replace those in Japan and Okinawa when they were lost.

The lesson here is easy: the nation let its aircraft industry lapse into dangerous inactivity. It takes four to seven years to develop a fighter plane and longer than that to develop a bomber.

Such limitation of action in a larger conflict could prove to be a national disaster.

But the most valuable lesson to come out of Korea was that all the atom bombs, jet aircraft and battleships in the world cannot replace the infantryman—the man with the gun who moves in and occupies real estate.

The lesson has been learned in Korea. The question is, has it been learned at home? In Congress?

The Lesson of the Enemy

First they called the enemy "Gooks." Marines and soldiers soon learned that the derisive term "gook" did not adequately describe the well-organized army of the North Koreans which poured south to the perimeter.

For the Korean war gave the United States and her United Nations allies the first measure of the new Red military power in the Far East. The lesson has been a valuable one.

Although the Air Force maintains complete mastery of the air over the battlefront, the enemy has also proved that no amount of aerial attack can completely halt a determined force from advancing. Even though enemy supply lines are blasted continuously, a walking army can live off the land and walk its supplies to the front under cover of darkness.

The enemy also proved that new and complicated weapons often are less effective than older, simpler ones. The Communists' most effective weapon was the simple Russian copy of the old Thompson sub-machine gun—the kind that became famous in the Stalingrad fighting. Crude by American standards, it is easy to handle and seldom jams.

One infantry officer said, "It can probably fire under water." The finely tooled American carbines easily jammed with Korean dirt.

And a more subtle lesson also was learned from the Communist—that a man's race has nothing to do with his ability to fight. In this connection, Korea proved that a non-segregated American army is as effective as any that has fought in any war under the Stars and Stripes.

The Communists taught the Air Force that even on so primitive a battlefield as Korea, they are capable of accurate and efficient use of antiaircraft weapons—and they have good ones.

And in the most recent fighting, it is obvious that the Communists have powerful radar equipment which can pick up and count the number of planes which take off from Seoul's Kimpo Airport, and relay the information to the MIG fighter bases across the Yalu. That is the reason there is seldom surprise on our fighter sweeps in North Korea and why the Sabre jets almost always are outnumbered by two to one or more when they arrive at their destination.

In short, Communist power in the Far East is not only grounded in overwhelming masses of men, but also in the modern scientific equipment, such as electronically laid antiaircraft fire, excellent communications and extremely efficient radar operation.

"Combat School"

The United Nations air forces have maintained their edge over the Communist air force—even though outnumbered—simply because our pilots are better trained and their combat techniques far superior to anything the Communists have to offer. But as the aerial fighting progresses, the enemy too is becoming better trained.

As one pilot put it, "We feel as if we're running a combat school for the Communists when we go up there."

But the most sobering lesson we have learned from the enemy in Korea is that the Soviet Union as of this moment appears to have opened a technological gap that will take the United States time to close and surpass. At present, the US Air Force has kept that gap closed through tactics and training in its pilots. They cannot keep it closed forever.

The Lessons Applied

Colonel "Mike" Michaelis, one of the outstanding field commanders in Korea, was raked over the coals at one time when he declared in effect that "we spend so much time teaching the GI what he's fighting for that often he's not taught how to fight."

For the Army, the lesson most quickly learned was that American training methods had to be tightened up. General Matthew Ridgway, when he took command of the Eighth Army, messaged the Pentagon that he wanted no soldiers who could not climb a Korean mountain as fast as any native and still be able to fight when they got to the top.

The Marines proved the value of tough training. It is now under way wherever American troops are stationed around the world.

The Korean war also underlined the lesson that American military power hits hardest when all branches combine to deliver the blow. The result has been that never before has there been seen such cooperation between the ground, air and sea forces as has been developed on that embattled peninsula. Close-support strafing and bombing were developed in the last war—but the "cab rank" attack, wherein spotter planes and ground observers are able to call in planes from an aerial attack above them, never before was practiced with such efficiency.

The Navy's bombardment of enemy front-line positions along both coasts, on order from the Army, was never so extensive. And the Naval air arm for the first time used jet planes off carriers in combat operations. The Navy's blockade of the Korean coast has been complete. Naval gunfire has interdicted the road and rail center of the east coastal town of Wonsan for more than a year.

And of longer-range importance, the Navy has been able to refine and develop its mobile supply system, making it for more rapid movement of supplies and rendering our Pacific fleet completely self-sustaining. This is of paramount importance in case a major blockade of the Asian coast becomes necessary.

But perhaps the most important development—both for the Air Forces and the infantry—is the development in Korea of new uses for the long-ignored helicopter.

Its use in rescuing men from behind enemy lines and from the sea has been unprecedented. As a flying ambulance, it has saved countless lives by quick ferrying of casualties to the rear.

And finally it became a combat aircraft, carrying Marines behind the enemy to capture a mountain peak without having to climb the mountain.

The Korean war has been fought without two of America's most popular weapons—all-out strategic attack from the air, and the atomic bomb. There were valid reasons for withholding both.

It was decided that extension of the bombing program into Manchuria would risk a third world war while the nation was unprepared to fight one and while the critical condition of the US aircraft industry could not replenish losses incurred in such a bombing program.

No Targets

Regarding the atomic bomb, the sparsely settled and mountainous terrain of Korea simply offers no targets worthy of this weapon. Although tactical atomic weapons are now in development, to use such weapons in Korea would supply the enemy and his allies with valuable intelligence of our progress. Also it is felt that we do not presently have enough fissionable materials stockpiled to waste any.

And finally, the reaction of the Oriental peoples throughout the Far East was a factor in withholding the atomic bomb. It was feared that such mass destruction might alienate those whom we someday hope to draw out of the Communist camp.

The Korean war, which started out with the unfortunate name of a "United Nations police action," has developed into what history may record as a most fortunate trumpet call of alarm for the free nations of the world. History may also record that Josef Stalin made Communism's biggest mistake when he ordered the North Koreans across the 38th Parallel in June, 1950.

For the Korean war aroused the most powerful nation in the world to a sense of its own weakness.

Restating these mistakes shows how they are interrelated:
1. Our policy-makers concentrated too heavily on global defense and the atomic bomb.

2. Our infantrymen had forgotten how to walk and lacked tough combat training.

3. Some of the Army's finely tooled weapons were too specialized for all-purpose fighting.

4. Our pilots flew into action in planes designed more for training safety than combat performance.

5. Our aircraft industry had fallen behind Russian aviation in the output of highly maneuverable jet fighters.

6. We made the classic military error of underestimating the enemy.
But over and above these lessons, the Korean war taught that in this modern world, peace is only preservable through strength, and that if we value freedom, justice and the dignity of the individual, we must be willing and able to defend them.

The men who have suffered and died in Korea will not have given their lives uselessly if we remember what it has cost so much to learn.