“THE SOVIET INFORMATION BUREAU REPORTS…”
(Soviet writers’ contribution to the USSR war effort)
by Olga Troshina
“The Soviet Information Bureau reports” were the first words the best-known Soviet radio announcer Yury Levitan said when reading reports about the situation at the frontline, as well as about developments in the world and at home, in the war years. That was the Information Bureau’s basic objective, and millions of people all over this country listened in with abated breath. The Bureau staff members were prominent Soviet writers, poets and journalists. They wrote articles, sketches and reports both for the Soviet newspapers and the radio and also for numerous foreign publications.
In August 1941 Alexei Tolstoy sent a letter to “The Horizon Magazine” in the United States. The letter said:
“The struggle we are fighting is hard and bitter. The enemy is exerting itself, yet the Red Army resistance is growing stronger by the day… Please, give the warmest of regards from Soviet writers and poets to British and American writers, to all those who are bending every effort to wipe out the bloody and bestial Nazism off the face of the earth. Whether the dark night we’re living through lasts long or short depends on all of us.”
The Commander of the 19th Army Lieutenant-General Ivan Konev wrote this in his memoirs about his meeting with a group of war correspondents in August 1941.
“…I felt that the nation realized how heavy the burden the Soviet military had to shoulder was, so the best Soviet writers came to help us, soldiers… In those days it was great moral support for me… This made me feel confident that…our intelligentsia was prepared to fully share our fate and, absolutely certain of our ultimate victory, withstand the horrible German onslaught that had already brought the enemy to the distant approaches to Moscow.”
Americans, far away from the Soviet-German frontline, took a keen interest in articles by the Soviet Information Bureau war correspondent Yevgeny Petrov. Here’s a brief report that he telegraphed for the “North American Newspaper Alliance”:
Since the breakout of the Great Patriotic War the Soviet Embassy to the UK had been issuing a daily bulletin, and later on the weekly newspaper “The Soviet War News”.
“November 29th. Today on the approaches to Moscow. The greatest of battles has been fought into its 14th day. Far away in front of us we can see our villages on fire, the villages our troops retreated from some time ago… The Germans will surely want some respite soon and will check their advance. But the moment they stop, they’ve lost their general battle. This will mark the beginning of the end. Yevgeny Petrov. The field army.”
Admiral Nikolai Kharlamov, in charge of the Soviet military mission to London in the war years, wrote this in his memoirs:
“I remember very well the day when the newspaper editor Semyon Rostovsky brought me the just printed first issue of “The Soviet War News”, which still smelt of printing-house. That was a good reason for celebration… The publication of “The Soviet War News” had come to symbolize the increasingly stronger ties between the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom… We realized that our newspaper would prove instrumental in briefing the British on the actual situation on the Soviet-German front and on the Red Army’s heroic fighting.”
When Nazi troops approached Stalingrad in August 1942, Konstantin Fedin wrote an article headlined “The Volga – the Mississippi” for readers in the United States, which said:
“We are exerting ourselves to stop the avalanche of Hitler’s tanks, to wipe out the hated Nazi troops that have been sent to cut off the Volga. We can’t even think of surrendering the Volga. We will not surrender it. But, our dear American friends, please, don’t forget that the Volga is the Mississippi and that Hitler’s troops are a mere 60 miles away from it. We must not lose time to defend such rivers as the Volga and the Mississippi.”
And this is what the Soviet Information Bureau war correspondent Yevgeny Kriger wrote about the Battle of Stalingrad, the one that determined the course of the entire Second World War:
“There has never been a battle in human history that was fought for months on end non-stop. It was impossible to hold Stalingrad, yet the defenders of the city on the Volga did hold it… I remember the day when the people in Europe and overseas heard the incredible news, one that overshadowed all they knew about the valor of soldiers and of the wisdom of military leaders in war history. At Stalingrad the Russians launched a counteroffensive.”
The greatest battle on the Volga ended in the Soviet victory. The Soviet Information Bureau reported about it on February 2nd, 1943:
“Earlier today… the troops of the Don Army Group wiped out all of the Nazi German troops that had been encircled in the area of Stalingrad. The Soviet troops broke down the enemy resistance and forced the Germans to lay down their arms… The history-making Battle of Stalingrad ended in the complete victory of our troops on February 2nd, 1943.”
The prominent war journalist, writer and poet Konstantin Simonov wrote down in his diary an excerpt from a letter by his reader who fought in the war, an excerpt that, Simonov felt, “featured a surprisingly brief and precise description of the change that was taking place in the course of fighting”:
“There is a world of difference between the morale of an army on the defensive and that of an army on the offensive. We know only too well how it feels in each of the two cases”. “Nazis,” Konstantin Simonov added, “also knew how it felt, only they felt it in reverse order.”
The Soviet Information Bureau reported increasingly more often that “On the Western front our troops continued fighting offensive battles,” and people gradually got used to this kind of news. “…The advancing Soviet troops broke down the fierce resistance of the enemy and captured the city of Belgorod,” the Soviet Information Bureau reported on August 5th, 1943.
“The events have been unfolding so fast,” wrote Yuri Zhukov in an article, “that war correspondents find it increasingly more difficult to cover them… We are now in Belgorod, an old Russian city that’s located close to Ukraine… A nearby road sign that Germans set up two years ago says “Kharkov – 80 kilometers”. …But very soon the Soviet Information Bureau will report that the Soviet troops have engaged the enemy in the Kharkov sector of operations. The Belgorod sector of operations is already a thing of the past, now it is the Kharkov sector. And we are certain that the day will come when this sector is replaced by others, lying further westwards. And this will continue until one fine day we’ll read in an Information Bureau report that the advancing Soviet troops have mounted an offensive in the Berlin direction…”
In 1943 the Soviet writer Mikhail Sholokhov wrote his “Letter to American Friends” to point to the need for a speedy opening of the second front by the USSR allies:
“It is almost two years now that we’ve been fighting the Germans in a fierce and bloody war. You are aware, of course, that we have managed to stop and repel the enemy. But, perhaps, you know little of the Herculean effort we have had to make to achieve this …I’ve been to the Southern, South-Western and Western Fronts as a war correspondent, and currently I’m writing a novel I will entitle “They Fought for their Motherland”. I want to show how hard it is for people to fight for their freedom. But since I am not through with the novel yet, I’d like to address you not as a writer, but just as a citizen of an allied nation… The fight is growing in scale and bitterness, and we’d like to see our friends fighting by our side. We need your help in that fight. What we suggest is more than just friendship between our nations, but friendship between our soldiers… We must be aware that your armies… will deliver powerful strikes at the enemy from the rear.”
The Second Front was opened in the summer of 1944, when the Allied troops landed in Normandy on June 6th. Later on Konstantin Simonov offered this comment on the development:
“We awaited the recent occurrence in Normandy back in 1942, when it seemed a sheer miracle that we did manage to hold out, we looked forward to the second front opening in the spring of 1943, when everybody in this country was worried about the forthcoming German offensive. No other development in recent years has disappointed our hopes so much as this - the second front! But this only serves to help retain every detail of the way I perceived the landing in Normandy; the second front has indeed been opened at last, for the allied troops to fight to the death! For me personally that day was a happy one.”
The Soviet writer Vassily Grossman wrote an article he entitled “The Power of an Offensive”, to describe the Red Army’s and its allies’ joint military action:
“We are now at the Oder, on the approaches to Berlin. The powerful enemy defenses are now back to the east. The Red Army and the Allied forces are now separated by a mere 500-odd kilometers. The interaction of the armies rolling into Germany from the east and the west has become a reality. A while ago I saw dozens of “Flying Fortresses” making a circle high up in the sky as they were getting ready to attack Berlin from the east. A low muffled humming sound can be heard in the towns and villages overlooking the Oder when the allied aircraft drop their bomb load on the Nazi capital…”
“Red Army units mounted an offensive in the Berlin direction…” That happened in the spring of 1945.
On April 21 the Soviet Information Bureau reported:
“The Red Army central group has been going on with its offensive operation west of the Oder…”.
The Soviet writer Vsevolod Ivanov wrote a sketch about fighting at the Oder. Here’s an excerpt from it:
“Tomorrow Red Army units will storm the enemy fortified area on the western bank of the Oder. Bridges are being laid and troops and artillery pieces are being brought along. The first thing we shall hear tomorrow morning will be a long piece of artillery music, as it were, a symphony of sorts, with a leitmotif kind of saying: “To Berlin!.. Into Berlin!”
This is the way the war correspondent Pavel Troyanovsky describes those tragic for the Nazi Germany capital days:
“The Red Army was advancing on Berlin, a huge city that stretched out before it. That was the place where the war had been planned and prepared, a city that in the autumn of 1941 expected the Wehrmacht to capture Moscow any minute… We were so close to the city that we needed no binoculars to see the vast endless panorama of the German capital. …Black smoke was rising from all around the city to form a huge heavy cloud over Berlin. The German capital was ablaze. The cannonade thunder made the air, the ground and the buildings shake. Many thousand artillery guns were firing on Berlin, which was responding with thousands of shells and mines.”
“A report by the Soviet Information Bureau. Following fierce street fighting, the troops of the 1st Belorussian Front under the command of Marshal of the Soviet Union Zhukov with support from the troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front under the command of Marshal of the Soviet Union Konev put the Berlin group of the German troops to rout and established earlier today, May 2nd, full control of the German capital – the city of Berlin…”
“The war is over. The Nazis are defeated”. On May 8th Nazi Germany surrendered. Here’s how the prominent Soviet war correspondent Boris Gorbatov described that historic day:
“On the 8th of May 1945 humanity gave a sigh of relief. The war was over, and Nazis were defeated. …We had to cover a very long road to make this happen. It was a road of fighting, of blood and victories. And so, this is it, - the day of our Victory. Berlin has a thin haze around it, the sun is high up in the sky above the Tempelhof airfield… The wreckage of the destroyed “Junkers” aircraft is scattered about the concrete runways, the splinters of exploded aerial bombs, now dead and cold, are all over the place. This airfield was a battlefield… Today it will become the venue of friends and allies who will meet to dictate their will to the defeated enemy.
“…Soviet Generals under General Sokolovsky, representing the Red Army Command, arrive at the Tempelhof airfield at 14 hours. Then we can see “Douglas” planes with US and British military commanders aboard… The colors of the Allied nations are fluttering in the breeze. The band is playing the national anthems.
“…Everybody feels the importance of the moment. Everyone realizes that they are attending an event that is determining the future of many generations of people.
“Then the members of delegations and all the others at the airfield leave for the Berlin suburb Karlshorst, where Germany’s unconditional surrender is due to be signed. They are traveling through Berlin, a destroyed and defeated Berlin that the Soviet troops took by assault just days ago.
“…Finally they arrive at Karlshorst. …The historic meeting gets under way. It is a brief meeting. Few people are attending, and few words are said.
“…I suggest that those representing the German High Command,” Marshal Zhukov says slowly, “should come up to the table and sign the Act of Unconditional Surrender.” …The authorized German Generals sign the Act in silence. Then it is Marshal Zhukov and Air Chief Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Tedder who sign the Act… The German Generals stand up and leave the hall…”
Reading the Soviet Information Bureau report on Germany’s surrender was the famous Soviet radio announcer Yury Levitan:
“We, the undersigned, acting on behalf of the German High Command, agree to the unconditional surrender of all our armed forces on the ground, at sea and in the air, and also of all the forces that are currently under German command, to the Red Army Supreme Command and simultaneously to the Supreme Command of the Allied Expeditionary Force”. Signed: Keitel, Friedeburg, Stumpf. May 8th, 1945”.
“It’s victory! Today humanity can breathe a sigh of relief. Today guns do not fire,” wrote Boris Gorbatov.
In his article, dedicated to the Great Victory, the prominent Soviet writer Leonid Leonov summed up the results of the bloodiest war that humanity has ever fought:
“…We have defended not only our lives and our property, but also the very notion of a human being, which Nazism sought to deprive us of.”
Copyright c 2003 The Voice of Russia