June 6, 2024

1944. The Murrow Boys on D-Day

CBS War Correspondents Report on the Normandy Landings

June 6, 1944

DOUG EDWARDS: And now for the report of Richard Hottelet of CBS. Go ahead, London.

RICHARD C. HOTTELET: This is Richard C. Hottelet speaking from London.

The Allied forces landed in France early this morning. I watched the first landing barges hit the beach exactly on the minute of H-Hour. I was in a Ninth Air Force Marauder flying at 4,500 feet along twenty miles of the invasion coast.

From what I could see during those first few minutes, there was nothing stopping the assault parties from getting ashore. We spent about half an hour over enemy territory. We flew over and bombed some of the coastal fortifications, but except for some light flak from inland positions and from some tanks firing at us, we saw no enemy gunfire. The only other sign of life in enemy territory were some white and yellow parachutes dotting the ground, where all our paratroopers had hit the ground. The weather is favorable for the operation.

Offshore, Allied warships were bombing the enemy coast, and they seemed to be doing it without any opposition. As far as we were concerned, there was no opposition from the air, either. The Luftwaffe just didn't seem to be there.

What I saw was literally the last minute of the invasion preparation and the first minute of invasion. We were low, but we were traveling fast, and we could not tell how the battle for the beaches would develop. But if the ground action goes as smoothly as the air preparation, we can hope for the best.

I went in with a bomber group—probably the hottest group in the Ninth Air Force. Our mission was to plaster the invasion beach and some coastal fortifications with bombs seven minutes before our assault parties came ashore. This group was chosen for the hair-trigger work because of its previous superb record.

Well, we delivered, and we delivered on time.

This is the way it worked. Last night we were told briefing would be at 3 o'clock. We got up at 2, had griddle cakes and fried spam for breakfast, went into the Nissen hut that serves as a briefing room. The doors were closed, and the commanding officer announced that the invasion had begun. He said that, since midnight three hours before, our paratroopers—some 20,000 of them—had been landing in France. The men cheered. The colonel went on to say that the air forces were being called upon for their maximum contribution. There were going to be more than 1,500 Fortresses and Liberators flying ahead of us. Hundreds of medium bombers, too, were going to precede us, and our group was to wind up the pre-invasion bombing.

When he said this, the men really cheered. To top it off, we were going to have cover from more than 2,500 Allied fighters. The colonel made it plain that nothing was to be left to chance. The weather in the target area had been unsettled and cloudy, and as we were going to deliver precision bombing, we would have to fly below the clouds, and then we would go down and bomb from a thousand feet. When he said that, not a man blinked an eye, despite the fact that such a low altitude counts as suicide for the Marauders.

It was still dark when we took off, and raining. But one by one, those Marauders roared down the runway and took off. An hour and a half later we were out over the English Channel. First we couldn't see anything except a few stray vessels. Great care had been taken to keep our ships from firing at their own planes. Every single bomber and fighter had been painted overnight with special markings on wings and fuselage, and the direction we were to fly, the way we were to turn if we got into trouble, and the recognition signals we were to give, had all been very carefully worked out. Even so, when we passed over the first few barges, we had the uncomfortable feeling that we were being shot at. It didn't last long. We were out of the way in a matter of minutes.

By this time it was getting on, and the sun was painting the sky a bright orange color on our left. Below us, the English Channel was a fine, deep blue. There were a few whitecaps, but we got the impression that it wasn't very rough down below. About five miles off the French coast, we saw a plane in a steep dive laying a smokescreen. Just about the same minute, the pilot said he saw fires on the shore. I looked as hard as I could, and there down to the left were some naval vessels. They looked like cruisers firing broadsides onto the shore. Their guns belched flame and smoke. Once, I saw a fountain of water not far from one of them, which may have been a shot from the shore or a death charge. Near the cruisers were dozens of landing craft of all kinds, hardly visible in the early morning haze. All this while, we saw medium bombers and fighters crisscrossing on the way to the target without a sign of a German plane. Then, as we turned in over the coast about ten minutes before H-Hour, we saw a fast assault boat race along parallel to the beach laying a smokescreen. From the way the screen laid, smooth and even, it looked as if there were no wind.

We opened our bomb bay doors. Light flak began to come up after us; little balls of fire off to our right and to our left. Some heavy flak off to our left, not near at all, firing only sporadically. The flights ahead of us dropped their bombs. The guns on the ships offshore resumed fire. The bombs and the shells burst together on the target. There were sheets of flame down below, then rolling balls of brown and black smoke.

Four and a half thousand feet up, our plane was rocked by the concussion, and we got the stench of the explosives. We dropped our bombs as scheduled. And just then, we saw down below on our left dozens and scores of white streaks as the assault boats raced over the blue water to the beach, leaving their white wakes stretched out behind them.

As we turned away from the target, we saw the boats hit the beach. Then we took evasive action—I couldn't see anymore. Down below, except for some more sporadic flak, it was a dead country. No sign of life. No vehicles on roads; no troop movement. And all the way in, we saw our Marauders weaving in and out in perfect formation above us, below us, and around us on all sides. We didn't see a single one of our planes in distress.

The mission wasn't the way we had figured it. We had expected to see German fortifications give back blow for blow with our ships. There was no sign of it. We had expected to see the Luftwaffe out in its full remaining strength to try to stop our planes, or at least strike a blow against our landing craft. We didn't see either. We had expected to find enemy territory full of antiaircraft, alive with reserves moving into threatened areas. We didn't see that.

The circumstances of our flight, the fact that we got there simultaneously with the invading troops and left in a minute, make it impossible to draw any far reaching conclusions on how the battle is going. But one thing we can say already, and that is: our air supremacy over the coastal invasion zone today is not seriously challenged

I return you now to the United States.

June 6, 1944 (broadcast June 8)

EDWARD R. MURROW (from London): This is London. Late on the afternoon of D-Day, Charles Collingwood took his recording gear in a little 36-foot LCVP onto a French beach. Nearing the beach, the water was filled with floating objects. Part of a parachute; a K-ration box; a life jacket; wreckage from a ship; shell casings. Here is part of the recording.

CHARLES COLLINGWOOD: This is Charles Collingwood. We are on the beach today on D-Day. We've just come in. We caught a ride in a small boat which came in from our LST loaded with a thousand pounds of TNT, half a ton of high explosives on this beach which is still under considerable enemy gunfire.

While we have been here we have just seen one of the strangest and most remarkable sights of this invasion so far. Two great fleets of over a hundred gliders have gone overhead towed by C-47 transports, who are certainly proving the workhorses of this invasion. They've hauled them right over the beaches and it seems as though the German gunners, amazed at this incredible sight, have stopped firing on the beach now because it's quiet here, and the second batch are droning over now. I can see them. They're casting off the gliders as they circle around over the beach and the transports are circling around and beginning to make off home. Where they're landing we don't know because we're down here on the beach, and there's a seawall in front of us and we can't see the land behind.

This is the way the beach looks, which was hit by our troops about twelve hours ago early this morning. It's a flat, sandy beach, like almost any beach that you're likely to see, and it floats gently away from the shore—from the seashore up to the dunes and then to the seawall, which was the first objective of our troops and which they took early on in the game.

Since that time, we have been able to bring in quite a bit of equipment. There are various trucks and jeeps and motor vehicles of all kinds here. There are also antiaircraft guns. We breached the seawall in various places and have set up guns there to defend against any possible enemy counterattack on the beaches, which has not occurred.

A naval party has just come in from the shore and begun to unload our TNT here, which is taking a load off my mind as well as a load off this vessel. And I asked him how things were going and he said it was pretty rough still. I asked him how far the troops had gone on inshore and he said that they'd got five or six miles inshore, which sounds as though they're making good progress. He said that the beach was still under considerable gunfire. The Germans had some 88s which we haven't been able to silence.

These boys are apparently having a pretty tough time in here on the beaches. It's not very pleasant. It's exposed, and it must have been a rugged fight to get it—although as nearly as we can see there is not a great deal of evidence of damage. Perhaps that's because it has been smoothed up. We can look along down the coast now and see this flat part of the beach which joins the water, going all the way down to the lower beach which is marked for us by columns of white smoke which are arising from it. And further up at the end of this beach we can see another huge column of white smoke which has apparently been caused by naval gunfire.

Looking out to sea, all we can see of the vast invasion fleet which is assembled for us are the silhouettes of the big warships, the battleships, and cruisers which have been putting a steady bombardment against the enemy positions all day. We can also see a few of the transports, but the fleet of LCTs and LCIs and other craft, which we have brought and assembled back maybe ten miles offshore, is invisible from us at this moment. They're coming back now, taking off more and more of this ammunition.

We've got a captain here who has come by and is looking rather curiously at this gadget we've got. Captain, can you come over here a minute? Can you tell us how things are on the beaches?

LIEUTENANT: Thank you for "captain," but actually I'm a naval lieutenant. Sometimes we get on these beaches by—we get to look like all kinds of things, particularly after you take a few running jumps in the sand.

COLLINGWOOD: Well Lieutenant, what's your name?

LIEUTENANT: Well, I work for a rival network in New York City...


LIEUTENANT: So that—or I did and I don't think I wanna ruin your broadcast. Let's just—let's say we dropped in, and that alone.

COLLINGWOOD: Okay, well, how are things going on the beach there?

LIEUTENANT: I've only been in for a little while, while these other boys have been there all day and if you might have made—maybe an army word, it's "rugged" as a matter of fact.

COLLINGWOOD: Is the beach still under some enemy shellfire?

LIEUTENANT: The beach is being pounded by enemy shellfire, though we hope to have it knocked out in the near future.

COLLINGWOOD: Boy, those gliders that just went over were quite a sight, weren't they?

LIEUTENANT: That was an impressive thing. I think that all of you folks listening at home, if you could've heard the "oohs" and "aahs" from men who are really dug in the shell holes in the sand—if you had heard those it would've done your heart a lot of good. It certainly did mine to see them go by.

COLLINGWOOD: Well I can agree with that too because it was a very impressive sight.

And now looking out we can see them going back very low along the water. The C-47s—which brought the gliders in—they've cut loose. And here comes another flight. The third flight of gliders which is being pulled in. I can't tell how many of them there are. They're coming in over the beach here. Squadron upon squadron of them have lined up in perfect formation, with the gliders coming along behind the big C-47s, and they're coming in apparently to drop right where they dropped before. Further up the beach, there's a fire which has apparently just been started by enemy shelling. It's maybe a quarter of a mile up from us.

At the moment there's no shelling in our immediate vicinity, although when we first beached our little LCVP about a hundred yards down the beach, German 88s were kicking up big clouds of sand as they shelled our positions down there, and you can still see some smoke drifting off from it. And over to our left, there's what is left some small craft or other which has been hit and is burning.

A great big Rhino ferry is making its way into the beach loaded with every kind of vehicle and craft. I can make out jeeps and trucks on it, and men sitting up there manning their guns which are already in case of enemy air attack. But there is no enemy air to be seen anywhere around here. The sky however is filled with this third fleet of gliders which are coming in full of our airborne infantry.

There is something which just dropped into the ground—into the sea. I don't know whether it was a plane or what it was that it made a big splash up there as it dropped down from out of the sky. The gliders are coming in now hauled in by the C-47s and protected by fighters which are around there. I can make out Thunderbolts and Spitfires which are giving them cover, and they've just taken off the last of our thousand pounds of high explosives, which is making it considerably more pleasant on this little boat. They're having to wade in across maybe fifty yards of water to get it into the beach.

We've come in in this LCVP through the transport area where our ship is. It's taken us about two hours to get in, and we came in through the choppy seas, with every second wave breaking over the ship and dousing us with spray. Gene Ryder and I are—and everyone on this little boat—are soaked absolutely to the skin. We're wet through and through. The salt is caked in our eyebrows. Every time we lick our lips we taste the salt. Our hands are cold and chapped as... We just found ourselves lucky that, after having made a trip like that, we don't have to go onto the beaches and fight. All we have to do is make the trip again.

GENE RYDER: I might tell the Navy Department we owe them one recorder.

COLLINGWOOD: Gene is referring to the fact that we took our recording machine which the Navy has lent us along with us here, and it has been absolutely inundated with the spray. Somehow or other Gene has made it work. I don't know what—he was out there polishing it with his handkerchief. Gene says he doesn't know how he made it work either.

And looking back now, turning around with my back to the beach and looking out to the sea, more and more and more of these glider-borne troops are coming in. These gliders are coming in towed very slowly by the big C-47s in what is apparently an unending stream. It's an incredible sight. And as that navy lieutenant told us a moment ago, the troops are waving and pointing and talking about it on the shore, at least those of them who have time and are not too busy taking care of themselves.

The troops are well dug in here along the seawall which is partly covered by sand. They're sitting down now, most of them dug deep into the ground as close as they can to the seawall to protect themselves from the enemy shelling. Some men are lining up further down the beach near a sign which says "five." They are taking over a truck and are apparently about to move off, whether through a breach into the seawall back inland or not, one can't tell.

We're standing here—it's an absolutely incredible and fantastic sight. I don't know whether it's possible to describe it to you or not. It's late in the afternoon. The sun is going down. The sea is choppy and the beach is lined with men and materiel and guns, trucks, vehicles of all kinds. On either side of us there are pillars of smoke perhaps a mile, two miles away, which are rising from enemy shelling. And further back we can see the smoke and results of our own shelling. Looking behind us we can see the big ships and the—some of the transports which have brought the troops in.

And overhead this incredible sight is still going on as more and more gliders are towed in by the C-47s going over the seawall, disappearing out of sight in apparently a wide sweep, and dropping their men somewhere back there who—for a function which we don't know anything about. All we can do is stand here and marvel at the spectacle. Now our men—we're trying to get the LCVP in closer to pick up the men who have been waiting ashore in this cold sea and choppy wind to pick up the stuff.

This place even smells like an invasion. It has a curious odor which we all associate with modern war. It's a smell of oil and high explosives and burning things. All—thank you. Come on over here! [Inaudible], who is one of the sailors, has just come with a handful of sand because he heard me say a while ago that what I wanted to do most of all was just to get ashore and reach down and take up a handful of sand and say "This is France!" and I've got it in my hands. France at last, after four years. [Inaudible], how does it feel just to reach down and grab a piece of sand and say "I'm grabbing French soil," huh?

SAILOR: Well it's—since I was born in France it has special meaning to me.

COLLINGWOOD: Were you born in France?


COLLINGWOOD: Where were you born?

SAILOR: In Calais.

COLLINGWOOD: You were? Well that's not very far from here. Well it has a special meaning for me too, as you can imagine. Have you got some? We've gotta save this. We've gotta put it in a bottle or something.

Now the transport planes are going back. The C-47s who came in towing the gliders, they're going back very close to the sea and we're going back too. We've got our men aboard all with handfuls of France in their hands, and we're going to save it because this has been a momentous occasion for all of us.

There go our motors. The ramp is going up. We're backing away from the beach now, and soon we'll be out in the salt spray and it'll be impossible for us to broadcast anymore.

MURROW: That was a recording made by Charles Collingwood at a French beach on the afternoon of D-Day. We return you now to the United States.

June 6, 1944
DOUGLAS EDWARDS: And now we've just had word that we're to hear further news direct from overseas. And so for another report of the pool broadcasts, we take you now to London for the report of CBS correspondent Charles Shaw. Go ahead, London.

CHARLES SHAW: This is Charles Shaw in London. For an hour after the broadcast of Communiqué Number One, I played town crier to a London generally unaware that France had been invaded. I rode and walked through the Strand—Fleet Street, past St. Paul's, along the Thames embankment to the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, out to Piccadilly Circus and other parts of so-called downtown London—asking people here and there what they thought of the news. In most cases I found out that I had to report the news before getting any comment.

It looked like London any morning between 9:30 and 10:30. The streets comparatively deserted, soldiers of all nations dancing about, street cleaners running their brushes along the curbs. I asked a taxi driver to take me around the city because I wanted to see how people were reacting to the news. Incidentally, I asked him, "Have you heard the news?"

"I heard something about it," he said. "But I don't know whether it's official." I assured him it was, because I had just returned from the studio where the communiqué was broadcast.

Waiting for a traffic light, we drew alongside a car driven by a girl wearing the uniform of France. I leaned out and said, "What do you think of the news?"

"What news?" she asked.

"The Allies have landed in France."

All she said was, "Thank God."

Fleet Street, headquarters of the press in London, was normal. A couple of men who might have been reporters were seen dashing into buildings and up to St. Paul's Cathedral to see whether there were worshipers inside. And the only person in the vast auditorium was a black robed guide to the crypt who hadn't heard the news. His comment after being informed was, "That's good."

And so it was all over London. Two RAF sergeants were sightseeing in Westminster Abbey. A couple of women were trying unsuccessfully to gain entrance to the Houses of Parliament. Downing Street was empty except for a street cleaner almost in front of Number 10. All over London women were selling flags for the benefit of the Red Cross. The girl I patronized hadn't heard the news, and her expression changed little when she was informed.

The next interviewee was a roly-poly woman, dressed about as broad as she was long, who had heard the broadcast. "It's gewd," she said. Not a newspaper extra appeared on the street. London this morning, for at least an hour after the broadcast of Communiqué Number One, was the same London that it was yesterday morning.

Earlier this morning, the telephone rang at 7 AM. It was Ed Murrow. He said, "Better get dressed and wait for a call from me." A new world speed record for getting dressed was promptly set. The dressing was accomplished against a background of heavy sky noise, the sound of great fleets of planes. They were too high to be seen, but their roar seemed to fill the sky, and the planes seemed to be everywhere.

At 7:45 the phone rang again. "Get to such and such a building as quickly as possible." It was a building from which the big communiqué was to be issued.

It was going-to-work time for London, and masses of shopgirls and businessmen jammed the sidewalks leading to that building. Almost bursting with what I felt was the big secret, I studied the faces of those people. Their expressions were the same as those of going-to-work people all over the world. Most of them looked sleepy. Quite a few of the girls were white-lipped, apparently having got up too late to put on lipstick and intending to do so at their offices. Some were neatly dressed, others had ties askew just like the eight o'clock crowd in Pittsburgh or San Francisco.

But there was one difference. The clothes they wore neatly or carelessly were mostly of 1939 and 1940 vintage. The lipstick the girls wore or forgot to wear was of a hard, chalky substance—war stuff. The tiredness in their faces came not from a bad night, but from almost five years of working in the front lines of war. You felt like shouting to those weary people, "It happened! The invasion has started!" Because that's what these people have been working and fighting for; fighting beside antiaircraft guns, fighting with fire hoses, fighting with industrial tools since one day exactly four years ago when the tattered fugitives from Dunkirk reached these shores. In a few hours they would know, and you wondered how they would take it.

The building was reached, and the way correspondents were converging on the gates from all directions reminded you of the old Toonerville Trolley animated cartoons in which an incomprehensible number of people would enter small apertures. They were all hurrying; some of them just moved their legs faster without seeming to cover much more ground. Practically every pass that you've been issued since arriving in London had to be produced. No one-eyed Connellys could get in here.

Bureau chiefs were herded into one big room. One person from each press association, major newspaper, and broadcasting network. All others were barred. And downstairs, outside of news special studios, the other broadcasters were waiting and typing out last minute pieces. And one of those studios had been locked tightly since its construction was completed. That was the studio that which the communiqué was to be read to a waiting world. Already the German radio was broadcasting reports of fighting in France. London was maintaining silence.

The broadcaster's workroom was filling with colonels, majors, lieutenants, and GIs of both the American and British armies. Nobody seemed quite sure of what so many soldiers were supposed to do in so small a room. White legging-ed, white belted MPs, their garrison caps banded with what looked like white bandages, took spaces inside and outside the doors.

In came the official Allied spokesman with retinue. He began calling New York network headquarters, informing them that the first communiqué would be broadcast at 9:32 London Time. 9:32 arrived. The communiqué was broadcast. The big secret was out.

This is Charles Shaw in London returning you to New York.

June 14, 1944

BILL DOWNS: I'm speaking to you from a tent somewhere in Normandy—that bit of a truly free France liberated eight days ago by the invasion of British, Canadian, and American troops. It is 6:30 AM over here—the ninth day of the invasion is only a few hours old.

If you hear strange noises during this broadcast, it's the RAF and the Allied air forces and the American air forces on dawn patrol. It's more than dawn patrol—it's dawn attack.

I could take you right now in a thirty minute jeep ride to where the Allied troops are fighting. You can get to some part of the front in thirty minutes no matter where you happen to be.

So much has happened in these past eight days that they seem like eight months to every one of us over here. Americans have died, and British and Canadians have died—and a very great number of Germans have died. But the Allied forces have achieved what Hitler's henchmen said was impossible. We are in Europe to stay—and you only have to look at the face of an American doughboy, or into the eyes of a man from Calgary or from London, to know that we're not going to stop until we have completed the job.

All this comes under the category of making history.

The news from the front this morning is good. As a matter of fact, we've had no bad news to report since the Allied forces crossed the beaches.

On the American sectors of the front, the troops continue to widen the bulge, threatening the entire peninsula of Cherbourg. The British-Canadian sector likewise is slowly expanding. There are hold-ups at a village here or there which the Germans have strongly fortified. There has not been much forward movement [around the city of Caen on the left flank of the] beachhead.

But you might compare this bit of liberated France to a giant muscle, which daily is becoming stronger and stronger as the sinews of war pour into it. As more tanks and guns and men pour in, the muscle expands.

Thus far the Germans have been unable to do much about it. However, last night and today there are signs that the Nazi high command has finally been able to get some fresh troops into the line. The fact that it took a week for his first reinforcements to arrive speaks for itself as to the effectiveness of the Allied night and day bombing over the past few months.

But as the Germans reinforce—and we are reinforced—there can be little doubt that a big battle is developing. In this sense, the Battle of France is a race between supply systems of the opposing armies. The force that gains superiority first will strike. You'll be interested to know that our supply position is all right.

I have heard so many stories of gallantry and pure guts since I arrived here that it is difficult for me to begin to tell them. Heroes are not uncommon on this beachhead. I was lucky in my own personal invasion of France. I came in on a comparatively quiet sector.

As General Montgomery has announced, the battle for the beaches has been won. Sometime when we're not so busy, history will record the battle of the Commandos who landed behind the German defenses and so disrupted the Nazis that they were firing at each other. Or of the Canadians who walked point blank into German shellfire to silence these batteries.

And the most glorious single action of the whole invasion was performed by the American assault force. They clung to their position literally by their fingernails. They fought as no Americans have ever fought before. They were outnumbered; out-gunned with odds twenty to one against them.

They took their position coming through a wall of shrapnel, mortar fire, and machine gun bullets that was terrifying. The casualties were high—higher than on any other salient.

June 18, 1944

ROBERT TROUT: And now Admiral takes you direct to the invasion beachhead in France, Larry LeSueur reporting.

LARRY LESUEUR: This is Larry LeSueur speaking from the American sector of the Normandy battlefront. Tonight the American troops hold the entire neck of the Cherbourg Peninsula firmly in their grip.

The picturesque little town of Bonneville on the western side of the peninsula has been captured, and we are now astride every road leading to Cherbourg. Thus the big French port, with its large garrisons, is cut off from the German Army in the interior of France.

Although today is D-Day plus thirteen, the boys who are up on the front lines still find themselves talking about their adventures on D-Day whenever they get a chance to smoke a cigarette.

My experience was similar to that of many of the men in the 4th Division who made the assault on our beach. The 4th Division has the enviable record of being the last American division to leave Germany after the occupation in the last war, and it was chosen to be one of the first American divisions to land on the continent.

It was very rough on the Channel, and after hours of seasickness we all felt pretty gloomy. Most of us had spent the time resting in our soaking wet [inaudible] ... waves had crossed over the sides of our little landing craft. But after a sleepless night, D-Day dawned. And we tramped forth from our barge towards tiny personnel assault craft. And with the regimental combat team, we began a rough ride into the beach.

It was a fantastic sight. We could see great geysers of sand shooting up from the beachhead as our planes drenched the area with bombs in great green and yellow flashes. Every time a salvo of bombs hit the beach, our assault craft seemed to bounce back about ten feet. We were the first regimental command post to make the landing.

I don't remember wading ashore—I think I must have just skipped in to get my feet on the ground. Every one of us felt the same way. We didn't care what happened to us as long as we could get off that bucking, bouncing boat.

The din of gunfire was deafening, and the first thing I vividly remember was a little sergeant with a Brooklyn accent. He was standing on the beach, and he said to me with a grin, "Boy, we made it." Out of all things, he handed me a cigar.

The stunned Germans defending the beach were being gathered in, and I remember their tall, blond Nazi captain. Dressed immaculately, he was, and as arrogant as ever. He refused to lie down with the rest of his men, although German shellfire was hitting the beach, and when my colleague Bob Landry of Life magazine tried to take his picture, the Nazi officer turned his back on him and on the whole American landing with deepest scorn.

A few minutes later a German shell hit the beach, and the German captain went down forever. He was killed by his own shellfire.

The colonel of the regiment quickly made contact with his men and led them off the beach across the green watery wastes of the port of Carteret in the rear. We followed them—long, soaking lines of men armed to the teeth. The first tank that tried to cross was hit by a German antitank shell. The second American tank fired one shot at the German antitank gun and silenced it. We were on our way.

In ten minutes I had reached the position of the German gun. It was trained perfectly on the only road by which we could cross. But that first shell had panicked the German gunner, and he had fled leaving his gun perfect condition.

I looked back at the beach from his observation post. With just that one gun he could have held us up on that single road crossing the swamp for hours. Now I could see other German cells docking and pulling up sand on the beach in back of us. And landing craft was going skyward as they hit underwater mines. But I was already inland, and I was glad I had chosen an early landing before the enemy had time to recover from the bombings, the shellings, and his surprise.

The colonel kept pushing ahead—gathering his men, advancing his command post, and sending out the code to wipe out the machine gun nest that harassed us from time to time.

By mid-afternoon, Bob Landry and I were already in the little town of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont some three miles inland. Here we met the paratroops. They were fighting a steep battle with the Germans. While I watched one paratrooper in hand-to-hand combat with a German, a shot rang out from a church steeple, and both the paratrooper and the German fell together—killed by a German bullet from that church.

Other paratroopers immediately turned their attention to the church steeple, tossing grenades as high as they could. And meantime, a Frenchwoman doctor refused to take cover and was giving a wounded paratrooper morphine as he lay wrapped up in his red parachute on the village green.

Whenever the machine guns opened up or a grenade exploded, the French people of the town would run for cover. And as soon as it stopped, they would emerge again. It was a most confusing scene—like a Hollywood movie set, only the dead men littering the streets made it appear real.

It was glowing dusk by this time, and we decided to set down on the grass for the night. Nobody had bedrolls or blankets, but we were wildly excited over the success of the Second Front. As it hit dusk, the planes from England started to come in towing gliders. They put down in fields all around us—meeting us, murderous ground fire from the Germans who seemed to be all around us judging by the screams of color tracers that went up to meet the gliders.

And then I talked to the soldier next to me. He was a youngster from South Carolina, and he'd been carrying a flamethrower all day long. He allowed as to how he was tired and his legs hurt him. I rolled up his pants, and I saw a wicked shrapnel wound in his leg. He had walked all day long with it, and never complained.

Those were the American soldiers on D-Day. And this is Larry LeSueur returning you now to New York.

June 18, 1944

BILL DOWNS: I have just returned from another one of those "little wars"—an isolated battle which is becoming more and more common in this ever-growing struggle for Europe.

This little war in no way ranks in importance with the American drive across the Cherbourg Peninsula. Everyone on the British-Canadian sector of the front regards the cutting of the peninsula the most important single achievement since the Allied troops crossed the beaches of Normandy. But the Battle of the Hindenburg and Bleecker bastions in which I participated is the perfect example of the type of fighting that is going to occur more and more as our armies advance. I was with the Royal Marine Commandos which took these two strong points. I didn't intend to go with the commandos—it just happened that way.

We haven't been able to tell you before, but just west of the city of Caen, a group of Germans has been holding out for the past ten days in two very strong defense points. These strong points, about one hundred yards apart, were built along the lines of a miniature Maginot Line. They were dug twelve feet into the ground, filled with reinforced concrete with walls three feet thick, and several medium artillery guns. The whole position was set on a rise of ground surrounded by mine fields and an intricate trench system. The Germans were so proud of these defenses that they printed the names "Hindenburg" on one of the super pillboxes and "Bleeker" on the other. The Hindenburg and Bleeker bastions were so strong that it was decided to bypass them on D-Day, and let this group of Nazis stew in their own juice. There was no hurry—the Germans couldn't do much damage there. They were completely isolated and could be cleaned out at will.

Yesterday, the order came to blast them out.

The strange thing about this battle was that to get there, you merely turned off a busy Allied supply route jammed with trucks. You drove a block up another road, parked your jeep up behind the hedge, and on the other side of the hedge was the war. For half an hour, artillery whistled over our heads, bursting all over the Nazi island of resistance. Direct hits sent bits of masonry high into the air—dust from the bursting shells mixed with the black smoke of exploding mines and a burning gasoline dump to darken the sun. We were only some two hundred yards from where the shells were landing, and you had an uncontrollable tendency to duck your head just a little every time a shell came over. The artillery punctuated the barrage with shrapnel shells that burst in the air downward into the trenches. Then the barrage stopped and the tanks moved in. There were a dozen of them approaching from two directions. They crawled forward, their machine guns and heavy guns ripping into the super pillbox. Behind them moved the commandos.

I was watching the battle with Richard McMillan of the United Press. When the tanks moved in, we couldn't see very much so we decided to walk up behind the nearest one and have a look. Out of the embrasures of the two bastions, heavy German machine guns fired in our direction. We clamped down in the tall wheat, but no matter how low you got you still felt as if you were sticking up as high as the Empire State Building.

The funny thing about it was that we weren't particularly frightened. We were too excited to be afraid. McMillan, the British conducting officer, and myself were tremendously surprised to find ourselves in with the commandos. We had followed their attacks so closely that we had actually got caught up in the middle of it.

Up ahead, an assault engineer climbed on top of the Hindenburg bastion and placed a charge of explosives on it. As soon as he lit the fuse he ran like the very devil. We all ducked. The heavy explosion must have blown a hole in the top of the pillbox. Other commandos crept up to this hole and tossed in hand grenades. One explosion set the whole works off. Out of the hole came a German "potato masher" grenade. It was on fire. We ducked again, but it didn't go off.

By this time we had reached the trench system. On both sides of us men were going along the trenches with their Tommy guns. A tank assaulted one of the trenches and behind it was a young radio operator calmly chewing a stalk of wheat, waiting to flash the words that the bastion had been taken. Shouts of "come on out of there you Nazi so-and-sos" and "keep your hands up you such-and-such" announced the arrival of the 1st Troop. Then they began to pop up like prairie dogs. All told, there were between a hundred and fifty and two hundred of them.

For the number of them, the Nazis resisted surprisingly weakly. It took only two squadrons of commandos to dig them out. The tanks merely stood by and watched after they had escorted these troops into position. We lined them up; they were as shaken a group of men as I've ever seen.

There were all shapes and sizes of Nazis. Big ones, little ones, old, and young. But the most surprising discovery made was a large number of ordinary chicken's eggs in the bastion. The surprise was that these eggs were fresh. We could not confirm earlier reports that the Germans had women in the strong point with them. There also was plenty of food, and we shared a bottle of brandy with the victorious commandos. It was a glorious feeling being in on a success like that. But even so, I believe it's the last time that I want to be that close to a practicing commando in action.

This is Bill Downs in Normandy, returning you to the United States.

June 4, 2024

1944. CBS Announces Unconfirmed Reports of an Allied Invasion of Europe

German Sources Report Allied Landings in France

Robert Trout

CBS New York

June 6, 1944 - 3:00 AM

ROBERT TROUT: CBS World News, Bob Trout speaking. And again we bring you the available reports, all of them from German sources, on what the Berlin Radio calls "the invasion."

There is still no Allied confirmation from any source. Correspondents who rushed to the War Department in Washington soon after the first German broadcast was heard were told that our War Department had no information on the German reports. There's been no announcement of any sort from Allied Headquarters in London.

The first news of the German announcement reached this country at 12:37 AM Eastern War Time. The Associated Press recorded this broadcast, and immediately pointed out that it could be one which Allied leaders have warned us to expect from the Germans.

Shortly after 1:00 AM Eastern War Time, the Berlin Radio opened its news program with a so-called "invasion announcement." Columbia's shortwave listening station here in New York heard the Berlin Radio say, and I quote: "Here is a special bulletin. Early this morning the long-awaited British and American invasion began when paratroops landed in the area of the Somme estuary. The harbor of Le Havre is being fiercely bombarded at the present moment. Naval forces of the German navy are off the coast fighting with enemy landing vessels. We've just brought you a special bulletin." End of the quotation. That is the invasion announcement as heard from the Berlin Radio by Columbia's shortwave listening station.

Now here's what Trans-Ocean, one of the German news agencies, says, and I quote: "Early Tuesday morning, landing craft and light warships were observed in the area between the mouth of the Somme and the eastern coast of Normandy. At the same time paratroops were dropped from numerous aircraft on the northern tip of the Normandy peninsula. It is believed that these paratroops have been given the task of capturing airfields in order to facilitate the landing of further troops. The harbor of Le Havre is at the moment being bombarded. And," continues the broadcast, "German naval forces have engaged enemy landing craft off the coast." The Trans-Ocean broadcast, still unconfirmed, concludes this way: "The long-expected Anglo-American invasion appears to have begun." This is the full text of the German Trans-Ocean broadcast as recorded by the Associated Press.

The German broadcasts on the long-expected invasion by the Allies were relayed both to North America and to Germans in the homeland. Germans at home were told by DNB's  domestic broadcast at dawn in Europe. At 1:30 in the morning Eastern War Time, the DNB agency repeated the items describing what it called the "invasion operations." This was a departure from the usual DNB practice of giving fresh information at that time.

The German-controlled Calais Radio came on the air today with this announcement in the English language, quote: "This is D-Day. We shall now bring music for the Allied invasion forces." So said the German-controlled Calais Radio across the Channel from England.

Up to this time, almost an hour and a half after the first German broadcast, the United States Office of War Information, whose facilities will be used by American press organizations when Allied armies enter Western Europe, has not transmitted any information at all to support the German claims. Director Elmer Davis of the OWI rushed to his headquarters immediately when OWI officials advised him of the broadcasts from Germany. He told the United Press, "We have no more information than you have. I'll stay here until I find out whether the story is true or not."

Last night, Elmer Davis addressed the National Press Club on psychological warfare, and showed three motion pictures illustrating how the OWI was propagandizing on the war front. He had just reached his home when his office called him to hurry down. By 1:45 in the morning Eastern War Time, almost the entire public relations staff over at the War Department in Washington also had reported for duty.

Now, it should be remembered of course that the Germans are quite capable of faking this entire series of reports. Their main reason for doing so, in addition to trying to smoke out Allied plans, would be to try to start a premature uprising by the resistance movement along the Channel coast. But the French and the Belgians and the Dutch have all been warned about this possibility repeatedly, and you will recall that Prime Minister Winston Churchill some time ago warned that we could expect false alarms or diversionary feints before the big show began.

The British Radio, which at 1:00 AM Eastern War Time sent a warning to residents of the Dutch coast to evacuate inland to a distance of at least eighteen miles, might really have been broadcasting the latest in the series of such warnings that have been given to the civilian populations all along the so-called invasion coast of Europe. No other British report that might indicate that the invasion is on has been released, unless we are to take as significant the report from London half an hour ago that the Royal Air Force was over enemy territory during the night.

Even on the enemy side, there are clear reasons for doubting the German report that the invasion has started. The Paris Radio, at 1:00 AM Eastern War Time, said nothing about any invasion operations in its regular news report. In fact, half an hour after the first German broadcast announcing the landings, one German-controlled Paris Radio spokesman said of the war situation, and this is a quotation: "It appears we have been given another month of grace before the invasion will start. A press report from Washington says Roosevelt will come to London at the end of June. Surely this indicates the event will not start before the end of June," said the Paris Radio.

Well, as I said, there is as yet no reason to believe the German story. Nevertheless, because of high public interest in this country, Columbia is planning to continue overtime operations tonight to all of its affiliate stations until such time as the enemy accounts are proved false, or official word from Allied sources is forthcoming. You may listen to this network with assurance that all sources of news will be properly labeled, and that we will interrupt programs only with news of exceptional importance and will bring you frequent summaries of all information available.

The Columbia shortwave listening station here in New York has heard the British Radio report the German announcement of paratroop landings and report the announcement without comment. Then BBC followed that German announcement, which I've already given you, with this, and I quote: "Early this morning, people in German-occupied Western Europe received an urgent warning broadcast by a spokesman of the Supreme Command of the Allied Expeditionary Force. It was that a new phase of the Allied air offensive has begun. People living within twenty-two miles of the coast are particularly affected. The German overseas news agency," BBC goes on, "has been putting out repeated flashes. Here is one of them, quote: 'We have just learned that numerous Allied landing craft and other Allied warships were seen in the area between the Seine estuary and the eastern coast of Normandy.'" And that was BBC quoting the German report.

And now here in the studio with me is Columbia's military analyst Major George Fielding Elliot, and here's Major Elliot now.

GEORGE FIELDING ELLIOT: We must begin by assuming the—or understanding the possibility of that these German reports may be an outright German lie. We must also take into account the possibility that they may be a series of feints intended to divert the German defense and to draw the German forces to other places around the nose of which we actually intend to make a serious attack.

The report that a new phase of the Allied air offensive has begun, and the consequent request to the inhabitants of Western Europe to clear an area twenty-two miles from the coast, may be nothing more than an intensification of bombing attacks, or it may indicate the use of paratroops, or it may be, again, a part of the Allied attempt to throw the Germans off their guard.

But if we are to accept these German reports as having any value at all, there seems to be some uncertainty as to the location of the Allied landings in France which they report. It is clear that the Germans are saying that landing craft have been observe approaching the French coast between the eastern shore of what they call the "Normandy peninsula" and the mouth of the River Seine, where the port of Le Havre is situated. The Germans are also asserting that this port, Le Havre, is being bombarded, and that Allied paratroops are being landed near the tip of the Normandy peninsula.

What is not clear is the reference made to an Allied landing near the estuary of the River Somme, which is some distance northeast of Le Havre. This may possibly be an error for the Seine estuary, though the actual German translation has been checked several times here in the CBS shortwave listening station.

But to analyze all these German statements, what the Germans call the "Normandy peninsula" is undoubtedly the Cotentin Peninsula, at the end of which stand the port of Cherbourg. Allied forces would certainly wish, if they were actually landing in France, to obtain a well-equipped seaport as soon as possible, as such a port is essential in order to keep up continuous landings of troops and heavy equipment. We learned at Anzio and at elsewhere that it is not safe to leave such matters to the mercy of the weather, as has to be done when dependence is had on open beaches, or even small but undeveloped bays. Hence a double Allied attempt against the two key ports of northern France, Cherbourg and Le Havre, is well within the possibility if we are to accept these German reports that landings are taking place at all.

From the strategic point of view, there is nothing inconsistent in the report of the landing at the Somme estuary. There is no seaport of importance there, but the Allies might well wish to land on a broad front in order to divert the German defense as much as possible, and to keep the Germans from finding out, as long as we could, where the main effort was being made. The landing of paratroops behind the big seaport of Cherbourg would likewise be probable if a landing was really in progress in order to cut off a movement of German reserves toward that port, and thus facilitate its capture by the Allies.

But any military analysis must remain fragmentary and uncertain as long as it is based only on German reports which have so frequently proved to be unreliable in the past.

TROUT: That was Columbia's military analyst Major George Fielding Elliot, and I think that brings us up to date to the moment.

I'd like to repeat that there is as yet no reason to believe this German story which you have now heard. Nevertheless, because of high public interest in this country, Columbia is planning to continue overtime operations tonight, and I should like to take this opportunity to inform not only you, our audience, but to inform also the staff on duty at our affiliate stations around the country, that Columbia is planning overtime operations until such time as the enemy accounts are proved false, or official word from Allied sources is forthcoming.

And so, ladies and gentlemen, you may listen to this network with assurance that all sources of news will be properly labeled, and that we will interrupt programs only with news of exceptional importance, and will bring you frequent summaries of all information available.

This is the Columbia Broadcasting System.

May 8, 2024

1945. Bill Downs from Germany on VE Day

Bill Downs Reporting from Lüneburg on VE Day

Bill Downs

CBS News

May 8, 1945

This is Bill Downs speaking from Lüneburg. This VE Day has started out very quietly here in Lüneburg on the British sector. The convoys continue to roll through the narrow streets, and the long, long lines of surrendering Germans and liberated Allied war prisoners and slave laborers stream back to the rear areas. The people of Lüneburg are going about their business as if it was just another day. It may be VE Day for the Allies, but it's Surrender Day for the Germans.

The people I saw this morning looked like they're trying to ignore the whole thing. The shops are opening up, and already the long lines at the food stores are collecting. Ex-Nazi hausfrauen with their baskets and string bags beginning a life of queueing that has plagued all of Europe since the Nazis went on the warpath.

It's a beautiful day here; the weatherman could not have planned more perfect weather for a surrender celebration. But right now there's very little celebrating. The British are a reserved people, and out of propriety for the French and American and Russian forces still fighting, they did no dancing in the streets when Montgomery signed the surrender terms that put the British Second and the Canadian First Armies out of the war last Thursday.

But no doubt tonight the bottles of French champagne that we find in every rich German's wine cellar will make their appearance. But meanwhile the army is too busy to celebrate Victory in Europe Day. The millions of German soldiers must be kept moving to the concentration areas, the liberated Allied prisoners must be evacuated, and somehow the slave laborers who look to us for help must be housed and fed. But I have an idea that tonight there'll be a hot time in Lüneburg.

This is Bill Downs with the British returning you to CBS in New York.

May 1, 2024

1944. The British Home Guard Stands Down

The Home Guard Ceremony in London

Bill Downs

CBS London

December 3, 1944

Ten thousand men from all over Britain paraded the streets of London today to mark the passing of an era in this war against Germany. Representative Home Guard units from every part of the United Kingdom paraded before the King for the last time in an official stand-down ceremony which in effect disbands Britain's civilian army.

There were tears in the eyes of many spectators as the long line of very old and very young men slung past. They marched well; every man was well-equipped.

It was a far cry from the days of 1940 after Dunkirk when the government issued a call-to-arms for all civilians. In that time these same men, these civilians, took up shotguns and pitchforks and clubs to patrol Britain's vulnerable coastline. No one pretended in those days that the Home Guard could stop a modern Nazi invasion force, but the Home Guard was willing to die in the attempt.

Today they were either too old or too young for the army. There was the smart-stepping old veteran with only one arm. Many elderly men limped, and the beardless youngsters looked embarrassed.

Included were a Home Guard contingent of Americans; middle-aged businessmen long resident in England who for four years thought they should fight for the hospitality and freedom that allowed them to work in this country.

The significant thing about this farewell ceremony is that while this nation is disbanding its civilian army, the Nazis are just organizing theirs. But as late as last week, when I was on the Geilenkirchen front, I looked at the German civilians who were supposed to make up Hitler's Volkssturm civilian army.
They do not have the look of the British Home Guard. It's hard to explain, but in the lean, wrinkled faces of the men who marched for the last time today, there was something far different from what you can see in the face of a German. It's the look of a man who knows he's right—as opposed to the look of a man caught thieving.

This is Bill Downs returning you to Admiral.

April 19, 2024

1955. Prime Minister Ben-Gurion Returns Amid Tensions with Egypt

David Ben-Gurion Returns to Power
Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at the opening session of the Knesset in 1949
Bill Downs

CBS Jerusalem

November 1955

David Ben-Gurion is scheduled to give a foreign affairs statement before the Knesset on Wednesday. It will serve to intensify the increased discussion about whether the fiery old Zionist warrior should, like Churchill, finally be put to pasture.

Various political leaders who have been discussing the internal political picture following the growth of the right-wing in the last election are now fond of pointing out that perhaps Ben-Gurion faces "honorable retirement," as did Churchill—that Churchill had his Eden and Ben-Gurion has his Sharett.

Like Churchill, Ben-Gurion is certainly the most respected citizen in his nation. But more and more public thrusts are being directed at him, and there is a general feeling that Israel wants to terminate its pioneering phase and solidify its present gains.

Typical was the comment of a CBS News driver when we completed an interview with Ben-Gurion last week. The driver asked, "Was he wearing his shepherd's uniform?" Ben-Gurion had on battledress, which is now being referred to jokingly. Like Churchill's siren suit, the shepherd's uniform seems to be going out of style.

Although the right-wing swing brought a demotion for Sharett back to Foreign Minister, he, like Eden, is considered the almost inevitable successor if there is a change here—particularly after Sharett's propaganda trip in the Big Four foreign ministers conferences in Paris and Geneva which were regarded as a big success, spotlighting Israel's dangerous position and the threat of war following the Egyptian-Communist arms deal.

There have been serious second thoughts here following Ben-Gurion's return to power. Coincident with his designation as the new premier, there was an attack on the Gaza border. Shortly after assuming office, Ben-Gurion told the Knesset he is willing to sit down with Egypt's Nasser and discuss peace or border settlement or any kind of stabilizing arrangement to bring peace to the Middle East. A few hours later, the Israeli army moved in one of the year's biggest actions to remove Egyptian soldiers from Israel soil in the Nitzana area.

Although Ben-Gurion's critics refuse to condemn him or his record or personality, they point out that under the circumstances it would appear difficult for him to ever be able to arrange a sit-down with any Arab leader to discuss settlement of Israeli-Arab troubles.
One non-governmental independent intellectual explained that Ben-Gurion's roots in Poland—he is so intensely interested in establishing, organizing, and securing the new Israeli state that he never really understood or comprehended the subtleties of Arab-Muslim pride, sensitivity, and personality, and thus never worked out a formula to satisfy these "face" requirements in dealing with his neighbors. On the other hand, the same sources pointed out that Sharett was raised among Arabs as a youth, speaks their language, and generally has a greater understanding of their thinking and internal political problems.

Israel's tough retaliatory policy has been successful in maintaining the borders and security of this beachhead nation, although in the process it scared a large part of the world to death earlier this month.

Ben-Gurion's also so-called tough policy stands up as moderate compared with the hotheaded former Irgunists and extreme nationalists in right-wing groupings.

Barring more border crises or fedayeen attacks against civilians, popular temper in this country is right now for peace. The new situation created by Communist arms deliveries to Egypt made plain that Israel must make a long range settlement with her neighbors if possible.

Therein lies renascent talk that Ben-Gurion might be more valuable to Israel as an elder statesmen rather than an active politician. There is no government crisis looming or imminent in Israel, but as demands for settlement grow and as external and internal pressures are exerted on the governments in Cairo and Jerusalem, the situation could change. The only trouble is that no one, including Dulles or Eden, seems anywhere close to the formula for a solution to the problems in the Middle East.

April 11, 2024

1954. The Rise of Gamal Abdel Nasser

Bill Downs' Impressions of Egypt
Bill Downs meeting with Gamal Abdel Nasser for an interview in Cairo in 1954
Bill Downs interviewed Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in late 1954. In a memo to CBS management, Downs gave his impressions of Nasser and Egypt, noting the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolutionary government's economic reforms, and the future of the country. Below the memo is the list of the original questions Downs drafted months earlier for the interview.
December 2, 1954

TO: Sig Mickelson, Ed Murrow, Ed Morgan

FROM: Bill Downs, CBS Rome
This is intended as a rundown of impressions, observations, and news I picked up during my recent twelve days in Egypt. I talked with US Embassy officials, resident newsmen and, of course, had the two and a half hours with Prime Minister Nasser during the lengthy filming of the interview (which I hope someone has seen by this time). I also traveled in the desert some sixty miles north of Cairo on the western edge of the delta to look over their model reclamation project and over to the Suez Canal zone to talk with the British concerning their evacuation.

My impressions are limited to government spokesmen and, of course, I did not get to any members of the Moslem Brotherhood who form the biggest question mark in the new regime. I gather that there is little point in getting the spot interviews with the fellahin, since their ignorance and superstition are now augmented by fear of the police. Anyway, they are still mainly interested only in the next meal, and their policies are based on that one important fact.

My impression of the young men who are now running Egypt is that they are an extremely confident group of army officers dedicated to furthering the country into the twentieth century, but also nervous concerning the Moslem Brotherhood and its threat to them and the future of their national program. They have been shocked at the revelations concerning the Brotherhood plot to seize control of the country. It was extremely well-organized and involved fanatical cadres assembled along military lines assigned to assassinate the Revolutionary Command Council, take over, and bomb and burn government buildings and installations with carefully hidden caches of arms, ammunition, and explosives in every major city of the country.

At least a thousand leaders of this counterrevolution have been incarcerated and will go on trial. The bumf has it that upwards of four thousand conspirators and suspects have been arrested and jailed.

The plot was so well designed that some government officials suspect that professional revolutionaries might have had a hand—the main basis for the claims that the Communists are collaborating with the Brotherhood. Another obstacle in assessing the danger is that no one, not even Nasser, is exactly sure how large the secret organization is, the state of its discipline, the extent of its fanaticism, or the loyalty of its membership to the Moslem cause. It has been stated at various times by various officials that the Brotherhood membership ranges from 100,000 to 250,000 or 400,000.

When I saw him, Nasser appeared to be extremely careless of his personal safety. We met in the offices of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, a building across the street from the old Parliament in which he does much of his work. The Colonel laughed when he pointed out that Army troops had been placed around the Revolutionary Command Council headquarters around his own billets and the presidential palace.

But someone forgot about the Office of the Council Presidency. It was discovered that, across the street in an apartment building, the Brotherhood had staked out an observation post. They intended to move in and take the entire cabinet including the Prime Minister with some fifty troops dressed in military police uniforms. The plot didn't come off, but they found the uniforms. At the time, only two policemen were at the gate.

Still, the nervousness was evident, particularly when I asked him about rumors that his wife and four children had been threatened. What disturbs all of the Nasser regime is that they keep turning up belts of gelignite designed to be worn around the waist. The idea is that a fanatical member of the group will put on this explosive and at some propitious moment advance smiling to fact the Prime Minister, and then touch off the stuff—blowing the assassin and the assassinated to perdition. There is no way to address such fanaticism, and the leaders of the Brotherhood have money and the mosques behind them.

In a way, Egypt's is the strongest revolution in years. It had all the traditional aspects when Farouk was kicked out. The aristocracy fled, hangers-on were jailed, property was confiscated, and all the rest. Yet throughout it all it has been comparatively free of blood, and one of the features of this regime is the intentness to avoid bloodshed wherever possible. The speculation is that, in the current reason trials, there will be few, if any, death sentences. The handling of the problem of General Naguib is typical of the attitude.

As I wrote to you earlier on the Egyptian situation, General Naguib is a sincere Egyptian patriot, but now he is apparently not willing to go along with even the present mild RCC dictatorship. This was evident when they kicked him upstairs last spring and made him president. However, the General's personal popularity is tremendous—something like MacArthur's—and it was not politically expedient to move against him at that time. The unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Nasser provided the excuse, and apparently the Nasser boys are going to get away with it.

In my interview with Nasser I submitted the questions beforehand. His English is not very good, and they answers were prepared for him. One of my questions read: "Since the recent attempt on your life, the world has been wondering as to the future place of General Naguib in Egypt. Also, what effect does your government's banishment of the Moslem Brotherhood have on your relations with the other Arab countries?"

Nasser struck the first part of the question, but the answer had been supplied by his staff. I used it as coming from a government source, or at least I hope to use it by the time you get this. The unused answer was:

"General Naguib was prepared to listen to false promises made by subversive and extremist elements under the illusion that they would invest him with full power. While we are advancing toward real democracy, Naguib wanted to become an absolute dictator.  Unfortunately, he did not realize that they intended to utilize him to serve their end and then get rid of him."

As to the second part of the question, which you may by now have seen, Nasser replied that "the suppression of the Moslem Brethren and the Communists in Egypt will serve the security and stability not only of Egypt, but throughout the world." I suspect the Communist angle was inserted for American consumption. However, it is typical of the conciliatory attitude of this "revolution" that Naguib has now been given the use of two automobiles and a pension which I hear adds up to about eight hundred dollars a month.

The RCC is being attacked on two fronts by its friendly critics. One group says that it should make up its mind to be a revolutionary dictatorship—since it is a dictatorship anyway—and move in on its opposition, attack frontally the superstitions and customs the Moslem religion imposes which impede progress, and take over industries and businesses which refuse to cooperate and get along with the job of modernizing the economy.

The other group, comprised mostly of the wealthy and established families, are shocked by the RCC's treatment of and the charges against General Naguib. They admit that the facts of life about Farouk and Co. and generally applaud the agreement with the British on Suez, but they cannot believe that Naguib was a conspirator in the Moslem Brotherhood plot as charged.

Neither does the RCC, apparently, as per the Prime Minister's reply above. But they felt Naguib had to be removed from their government so they could operate freely. They are conscious of the fact that Naguib is still alive and a symbol of the opposition, but they choose to do nothing about it—yet.

The "revolution" can yet become bloody. But the present policy it to avoid bloodshed and attempt to build up confidence in the regime to promote foreign investment, increase tourism, and most of all un-scare domestic capital to risk new industry and business in the country. This, I believe, is the key to the present policy. If it doesn't work, or if the Brethren make an all-out attempt to take over the country, then watch out.

What you have then is a group of young military men all under forty who are determined to make something of their country, but are on the surface a little embarrassed about how to do it. Many have been educated in British schools and have inherited something of the British attitude of "not being beastly." Nasser continually speaks of the time which will come when "we can have real democracy in Egypt." One gets the impression that he is embarrassed by his dictatorial powers and wants to get rid of them.

To this end, the RCC is about to set up an Advisory Council which will act as a kind of parliament advising the government. They hope to draw in the best brains in the country from all phases of national life. The problem is to make the country secure so that anyone accepting such a position will not automatically become an assassin's' target.

However, the revolution is there even though the RCC is treading carefully and slowly. The speak with pride of "getting rid of the British," and one of their big agricultural projects that I visited, the "Liberation district" some sixty miles north of Cairo, reflects what has become a rote kind of dislike for the British. The new villages in this reclamation are being named after heroes who died in the running fight with the English troops preceding the Suez agreement.
Bill Downs (right) preparing to interview Nasser in 1954
There is also a national pride arising. On any project underway where it applies the officials take care to point out that "this is an entirely Egyptian effort." Nasser talked in terms of "the uneven distribution of wealth that prevailed before the revolution" and said the revolution "is responsible for overturning a system which made for the wide differentiation between classes and the feudal system of trade industry and agriculture in which a privileged few enrich themselves at the expense of those who have only their own labor to sell."

The RCC claims that land reform—the law which specifies that no person can own more than two hundred acres—has been eminently successful. The monarchist estates seized and cut up amount to a small portion of the country, but officials claim that the psychological effect on the population has been tremendous. For the first time in centuries, if ever, someone has concerned himself with the plight of the fellah. He has worked under slave conditions for hundreds of years with no hope of improvement for himself and his family. The mere fact of making it possible for such a man to own land is a tremendously important political factor in the new Egypt. I gathered that this revolution will be extended to industry where eventually there might be such things as labor unions, child labor laws, and industrially sponsored social benefit schemes. At present, such things are unheard of an hardly contemplatable in that primitive society.

The RCC's big project right now is harnessing the Nile, incidentally something comparable to the building of the pyramids. The aim is to not only make more acreage tillable—and they can increase there agriculture about 1/5th by 1.5 million acres—but the idea also is to industrialists.

Toward this end the RCC is electrifying the Aswan Dam, which will be accomplished in 1959 and produce something like 345,000 kilowatt hours. But the big project now awaiting an international study and some financing from the World Bank and other sources is the "High Dam" cutting across a narrow pass some four miles south of Aswan and which will be four times the size of our Hoover Dam, producing the largest artificial lake in the world. This project, if it comes off, might be said to be the true revolution in Egypt.

The High Dam is now being studied by international experts, and the Cairo government is applying to the World Bank for financing as well as seeking loans elsewhere. It will be an electrification project as well as one controlling the annual floods of the Nile. Economic planning experts have already laid out the places for future industry to build its iron and steel plants, nitrate, and fertilizer industries and others. The High Dam will produce ten billion kilowatt hours per year, enough to supply these industries and also to give power to Cairo.

Behind all of this is a sincere desire to raise the standard of living for the fellahin, and one way to do this is to industrialize and get the people out of the villages and plots and into factories. With this in view, the Revolutionary planners are attempting to lure foreign firms to establish spare-parts and machine tool industries there. There are also plans for rubber, sugar beet, Jute, and paper industries. A survey is underway to study the existing Egyptian industry with a view towards expansion and allying into the national economy as a whole.

Exactly what socioeconomic pattern the new Egypt will take is not yet clear. There has been no seizure of business or industry, but Egyptian risk capital is still mightily scared and is in hiding. It may be that the government itself will have to institute the new industries unless foreign companies come in. I think the RCC would prefer capitalists to do the job, but if they do not, then the government will probably move in.

The RCC is particularly proud of its record of social betterment. A slum-clearing program is underway in major cities. In the past two and a half years the government has built some 230 schools as opposed to only seven built by the former regime in the same period immediately preceding. Over two hundred million dollars has been earmarked for such projects since the RCC came to power.

In the land distribution and land reclamation programs the system being set up is quasi-socialistic. People given land are usually organized into settlements similar to the Israeli system. Each new farmer has the right to buy and own a few acres of land of his own as well as his house, but he must raise the crops assigned to him and work on the larger acreage owned by the settlement. His children will attend the village nursery and school. His marketing will be done for him on a cooperative basis. He must buy his bread from the village bakery. He must not be allowed to keep his animals in the house, as is the tradition. He must learn and observe the rudimentary rules of hygiene. And in some cases he will wear the distinctive uniform of his village, perhaps dark trousers with blue shirts. These projects are intended to build up a generation of modern Egyptians and to get away from the traditional nightgown on the street.

In the field of foreign policy, there seems to be an almost deliberate attempt to ignore Israel. One gets the idea that the Egyptians wish somehow the whole mess would go away. Nasser's reply to questions about the "little war" to the north is automatic. He says Israel must first abide by the 1947-48 decisions of the United Nations. Any recognition of the Israeli state would be a fait accompli and thus impair the effectiveness of the UN and establish a precedent wherein conquest by arms is to be recognized. However, one gets the impression that the RCC would like a face-saving solution. One feeler put out concerns giving assurance of communication between Egypt and the other Arab states now cut in two by the Jewish occupation of the Negev.

But the most fascinating phase of Egyptian foreign policy now underway concerns the Moslem Brotherhood vis-à-vis the other Arab states to the north. The Brotherhood is strong in each of the governments of Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, and Egypt's banishment of the Brotherhood is bound to be considered an affront. How deeply this will affect the relations between the countries remain to be seen, but it's significant that many Egyptians with Brotherhood connections have received asylum in these countries.

This is about all of it. I apologize for the length—but you can always read this stuff in the can.




The purpose of this interview is not to create controversy but rather to project the views and personality of Lt. Col. Nasser. In other words we hope to educate and produce understanding. Because of the problems of lightings and in order to produce an atmosphere of informality, we would appreciate it if our camera could set up in a garden or some place outside where Lt. Col. Nasser and Bill Downs could talk, Downs asking the questions and receiving the Colonel's replies. Informatively, the question and answer technique is preferred since the soundtrack of the film also is utilized on the coast-to-coast facilities of the CBS Radio Network. It is understood that Lt. Col. Nasser can rephrase, eliminate, or add to the following list of questions, all of which are mere suggestions as to the course of the interview.
1. Colonel Nasser, the Egyptian Revolution will soon be two years old. How do you visualize the future development of the revolution? What phases does the Revolutionary Council see before it? In other words, what has yet to happen before you can turn over the revolution intact to the people? Where does General Naguib fit into this picture?
2. What are the outstanding domestic problems now facing your government? Economic, political, educational, or what?

3. The world has been watching with intense interest the Anglo-Egyptian struggle over Suez. Have there been any recent positive developments? What is your next step if a satisfactory solution is not found?

4. Another major foreign policy problem facing your government is the question of Israel. If I remember correctly, you listed your revolutionary goals "the restoration of the honor of Egyptian arms." Can this be done without reengagement with the Zionist army? What do you regard as the minimum terms for the settlement of the Israeli-Arab dispute? Do you regard the US Middle Eastern policy as recently set down by Undersecretary of State [sic] Byroade as furthering peace in this dispute?

5. What do you see as Egypt's role in the Moslem world? In the Arab world?

6. In the current worldwide East-West Cold War, do you believe that Egypt can remain neutral? Do you regard Soviet Russia as a potential ally or a potential threat to the Middle East?

7. There are persistent reports of increased Communist activity in the Middle East, particularly among the poor and working classes. Do you regard this as a threat to the Egyptian Revolution or to the stability of the Middle East? What is your domestic policy toward Communism?

8. There is admitted suspicion of United States policy and motives in this part of the world. Why is this, and what can be done about it?

April 3, 2024

1968. The Tet Offensive Weakens Morale

Pessimism and War Weariness in Washington
"U.S. Marines advance past an M48 Patton tank during the battle for Huế," February 2, 1968 (source)
Bill Downs

ABC Washington

February 11, 1968
No war in modern history has had so many armchair generals, cocktail party strategists, and amateur field marshals who second-guess everything than does the conflict in Southeast Asia.

Politicians, whose military experience was probably limited to World War II gasoline rationing, suddenly became experts on jungle tactics and psychological warfare. Editorial writers, some of whom have boarded nothing larger than a swan boat, turn up as critics of Navy intelligence procedures which led to the capture of the USS Pueblo.

Perhaps this is as it should be. Since the first Colonial farmers shouldered flintlocks to take on the British Redcoats, Americans have fought their wars as much with their mouths as with their muskets. As General Omar Bradley once pointed out, "If the troops aren't griping about something, then there's something wrong with morale."

By this standard, morale here in Washington and across the country was exceptionally high this past week as people followed with dismay the second week of the hydra-headed Viet Cong offensive against the cities and key towns of South Vietnam. It was an offensive that burst on the world the week before, and it had been described by US military men in Saigon as a "last gasp" desperation attack, a "diversionary move" which failed in its design to force the American command to weaken its defense of the northern province, and finally, as told by General William Westmoreland: in repulsing the guerrilla uprising, the Allied forces in South Vietnam had won a significant victory. At the same time, Westmoreland alerted his troops to the possibility that the Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese allies could reorganize themselves and launch a similar new offensive at any time—an admission that the General's so-called "victory" was not quite as complete or decisive as his words implied.

It was less than two months ago that General Westmoreland and the US Ambassador to Saigon, Ellsworth Bunker, were in Washington and broadcasting to the world such statements as: "The Viet Cong has suffered such losses in the South that the guerrilla army now is incapable of mounting a major attack." Ambassador Bunker stressed that last year's elections and the adoption of a democratic constitution by the new South Vietnamese legislature meant that the people of the South at long last were showing their showing their confidence and gratitude for the military shield the United States was providing them. Thus the US was not only winning the military struggle for the country, but also that important "other war" as well. The "other war," of course, is also called "pacification of the countryside," or sometimes "revolutionary development." And more and more rarely it's also called "the battle for men's minds."

Viewed in the retrospect of only six weeks, it would appear that the highly optimistic year-end assessments by Westmoreland and Bunker were not only wrong, but also that these two top US officials in Saigon perhaps made a dreadful mistake and somehow became victims of their own wishful thinking and, even worse, became victims of their own propaganda.

It is now obvious that Westmoreland badly underestimated the guerrilla capabilities of the Viet Cong. In fact, professional military men at the Pentagon privately give grudging admiration to the to the Communist guerrilla command for its skill in organizing simultaneous attacks by an estimated force of some sixty thousand irregulars on more than thirty-five population and military centers the length and breadth of South Vietnam.

The attacks ranged in size from small commando squads of fifteen to twenty men—as was the group which blasted its way into the US Embassy grounds in Saigon—to combat teams of two hundred or so men such as those that moved in on the ancient capital of Huế in the north.

Whether or not the Viet Cong attained all of their objectives, the fact remains that the guerrilla offensive paralyzed the country, embarrassed the US and its allies in Vietnam, demonstrated the laxity of the Saigon government leadership and, most of all, exposed the weakness of Allied intelligence about the enemy in Vietnam.

It is true that Westmoreland's headquarters had issued warnings at least two weeks prior that there might be a Viet Cong attack during the Tet New Year's celebrations. In fact, partly because of this advance knowledge, the US refused to observe the Tet truce in the northern part of the country where the North Vietnamese army had massed four and possibly five divisions for an attack across the Demilitarized Zone.

But neither the US Military Assistance Command nor the South Vietnamese counterintelligence net had information that the guerrilla offensive would be so widespread or ambitious, or as deadly. Apparently the end is not yet in sight.

The most melancholy and discouraging aspect of the whole dreary business is the knowledge that the Viet Cong could not have mounted its countryside uprising without either the cooperation or at least the acquiescence of great numbers of the Vietnamese people who live and still seek refuge in every major town and city in South Vietnam.

The explanations that are still coming in say that this demonstrates the basic ignorance and neutrality of the mass of the peasantry, now weary of more than twenty years of war. Others say that it demonstrates the ruthlessness of the Viet Cong terrorists and their hold over the people.

But the past two weeks have proved that all of the bright predictions about "political neutrality" and progress in winning the "other war," as well as the increasing signs of confidence in the new Saigon regime—that all of this optimism was badly out of joint with the facts. In fact, some of the pessimists reporting from Saigon say that the guerrilla offensive—with all the civilian bloodshed and unprecedented devastation in cities and towns which up to now had escaped the ravages of battle—that this injury to the civilian population in South Vietnam means that the United States and its allies have left the "other war." They say that the real meaning of the past two weeks of fighting is that the Communist commandos have inflicted a most tragic and irretrievable defeat on the United States. Maybe so. We must wait and see.

Meanwhile there is much soul-searching going on here in Washington as well as in Saigon, and of course there will be the demand for investigations. For in the aftermath of the Viet Cong offensive, the American people are grousing, and their grumbling is being heard on the national sounding-board which is the Congress. The Hawks and the Doves will be at it again, hot and heavy.

It is to the credit of the political leaders here in Washington that there has been no crisis in confidence in the US military leadership in Vietnam. As of now there has been no hue and cry for a scapegoat, although at least one Washington columnist, Marquis Childs, speculated the other day that President Johnson may want to re-juggle his generals before long and get a fresh approach to the Southeast Asian conflict.

There has also been speculation that the Vietnam crisis may require another 200-250 thousand American GIs to bring the situation under control. It's a suggestion which gets short shrift at the White House with the presidential campaigns now only months away.

Standing in the wings and waiting to be heard is another group of critics who say that the US military command has never understood the basic nature of the entire Vietnam struggle, and who maintain that American actions and strategy are in fact pushing the country into the Communist orbit rather than the other way around. These critics maintain that the Southeast Asian struggle is basically political rather than military. They contend that General Westmoreland's "forward strategy" pits American power against the Communist main-force units and ignores the basic elements wherein US influence should be most effective: against the guerrillas and the Communist regional forces.

This "forward strategy" left it to the South Vietnamese army to secure the rear areas, and this has been a failure. Instead of securing these population centers, the Saigon troops have succeeded mostly in antagonizing the people while the South Vietnamese officers impose bribery, embezzlement, and shakedowns on the urban centers.

The reassessment of US tactics and strategy—which eventually will come—must also consider the one political and military fact to emerge paramount from the Viet Cong guerrilla offensive. That is, the guerrillas were ready to fight and die for their own cause.

There was no such motivation among the great bulk of the Vietnamese people who became victims of that attack, nor apparently from a large section of the South Vietnamese army. In any case, the Southern army wasn't in great evidence, because the Saigon generals and their military colleagues in the field had given many of their men official leave in order to celebrate the Buddhist New Year.

It was a most expensive holiday.