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.