First U.S. Reporter Given Tour of War-Torn Smolensk

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First U.S. Reporter Given Tour of War-Torn Smolensk

Post by Globalization41 » 28 Mar 2004 18:44

Smolensk, Russia, By Telephone Through
Warsaw and Berlin, Associated Press, The
New York Times,
By Alvin J. Steinkopf,
Monday, August 11, 1941: I walked through
the ashes of Smolensk today on a tour
conducted by German military authorities. The
ruins of this once proud city are still in the
battle zone. To the east the fighting was close
enough for me to hear the boom of cannon a
few kilometers away. German soldiers
swarmed everywhere, and overhead German
planes roared on their missions of death and
... Past rows of fire-blackened
chimneys, past ruined heaps of factories,
banks, and stores, past shattered walls, past the
shells of homes -- for that is all there is left of
this historic city -- rumbled trains of military
trucks feeding the endless demands of war. ...
Only 20,000 persons of the normal population
of 160,000 remain. Frightened and
resourceless, the people seek shelter at the base
of chimneys and under bits of roof and, with
familiar landmarks gone, guide their
movements by distinguishing features of the
debris. ... Standing in the expanse of the
devastation, I was told by a German officer
that fully 90% of the city had been destroyed
and that most of the destruction had been
wrought by the Russians under orders of
Premier Joseph Stalin for a "scorched earth in
the face of the enemy." ... I am the first
American newspaper man to reach Smolensk
since the Germans announced its capture July
16. A hundred miles of travel in this combat
zone, much of it by German military transport
showed that Mr. Stalin's policy of
destroying all before the Germans had not been
uniformly successful. ... Minsk [190 miles
s.w. of Smolensk]
and Vitebsk [80 miles n.w.
of Smolensk]
-- our plane flew low over those
places -- appeared desolate enough, but not so
utterly devastated as Smolensk. In between the
larger cities were hundreds of straw-thatched
villages that seemed almost untouched.
Between the villages stretched miles of golden,
gleaming fields where peasants still were at
work gathering the harvest.
The crops were
too green to burn when the Germans came.
Many of the workers were women, barefoot,
bronzed, and sturdy, carrying on oblivious of
the war about them.
... Here and there,
however, were the blackened remains of a
village. One entire village of about 60 houses
was seen blazing briskly as we flew over.
The parts of the front I visited naturally were
comparatively quiet, but the German Air Force
was flying about, observing, photographing,
directing the fire of artillery, spotting Russian
troop movements, telling German tanks and
troops where to go, warning them of counter-
attacks, and advising them of weak spots in the
Russian lines. The Russians did not seem to
be in the air. ... The Germans in Smolensk
are occupied with their own affairs, with little
time to pay attention to the native population.

One wonders what the Winter will bring when
the bitter winds sweep around these bare
chimneys. There may be enough grain to feed
most of the rural population, but what will
people of the towns do? ... An effort is being
made by civilian organizations now springing
up to relieve what is sure to be agonizing
distress. One of their problems will be the
ragged children who today played in the streets
without realizing what is to come,
or indeed
what has already happened in their lives. ... I
found the German commander of Smolensk
eating a thick soup from a dish on a dirty
tablecloth spread in what once was the
directors' room of a savings bank. He is
managing an important part of the front, and
besides is directing the clearing away of debris
so that military traffic can go through. The
time he can give to the problem of the civilian
population is limited. However, he has
appointed a Russian lawyer, who secretly had
been an anti-Communist, as burgomaster. ...
Germans ostentatiously pointed to an old ornate
white and gold Orthodox church standing
almost undamaged on a hill and said that
yesterday the first public mass in 21 years had
been celebrated there. A stone mason who was
a priest under the Czar read the mass, the
Germans said. A big sign in Russian, still on
the front of the church, describes it as an anti-
religious museum.
... ... Berlin, By
Telephone to The New York Times,
11, 1941:
First Lieut. George Bones of the
Guderian Tank Army talked before foreign
correspondents today about the taking of
Smolensk and his general observations of life
in Russia. Smolensk was set afire by retreating
he declared, and now is in ruins.
German motorized infantry entered the blazing
city on the evening of July 16th, but the heat
from the fires was so intense that they had to
leave. At 3 o'clock the next morning, a bridge
having been built to enable the transport of
tanks, Smolensk was again entered and held to
the present. ... In the Smolensk area the gauge
of the railroad has been readjusted to
correspond to the European gauge and the
railroad system is operating almost to the front
lines. In describing German communications
directly behind the lines, Lieut. Bones said,
that he had come from Elnya, some 50 miles
east of Smolensk, to Berlin in 48 hours by
... The heat during the opening
days of the invasion was tropical, the
correspondents were told. The lieut. expressed
"surprise" at the extent and technical quality of
the Russian armaments,
particularly the
artillery, but said that the individual Soviet
soldier was abominably equipped.

London, Wireless to The New York Times,
Tuesday, August 12, 1941: [Late Monday,
U.S. time]
For the first time in many months
aerial hostilities on the Western Front between
Britain and Germany were at a halt all day
[Monday], apparently because of bad weather
over the Continent. ... There was dense mist
and driving rain over the Strait of Dover.

Washington, Special to The New York Times,
Monday, August 11, 1941: For the second day
the Navy Department received no report today
from the yacht Potomac, on which President
set sail on a cruise. In view of
rumors that Mr. Roosevelt was meeting Prime
Minister Churchill,
this silence set up a new
wave of speculation on such a possibility. ...
The President continued to keep the capital in
the dark as to his whereabouts and, up to the
time reports from the Potomac ceased
altogether, only scanty information came
through as to activities of the party aboard the
craft. ... In Britain, mystery was still
deliberately maintained as to the whereabouts
of Mr. Churchill and Harry L. Hopkins,
Lease-Lend Supervisor, who are officially
declared to be together. ... Many important
decisions, including the final one on which
American supplies are to go to the Soviet
are awaiting the Chief Executive's
return to Washington. Officials said they did
not expect the President to return to the White
House before the end of the week. Rumors
have been persistent here that the President
transferred to an escort cruiser to go to a
rendezvous soon after boarding the Potomac
eight days ago. ... Officials maintain,
however, that they cannot comment upon these
reports since they are not permitted to discuss
the movements or prospective movements of
naval units. Newspapers, moreover, have been
requested by Secretary Knox not to publish the
specific location of ships. ... On Saturday, the
report to the Navy Department from the
Potomac said that the craft was anchored in a
That was the last word received from the
vessel, Navy officials said. [At this time it
seemed Russia would soon fall, leaving
Germany free to war on Britain. It appeared
that Britain's only chance, besides making
peace, was for a reluctant America to enter the
war. Consequently Churchill grabbed a
battleship and sailed to North America for a
meeting with Roosevelt.]

[Stay tuned for late breaking war bulletins.
... Globalization41.]

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