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World Battlefronts: BATTLE OF RUSSIA: One War in Europe

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At Teheran, beyond all lingeringdoubt, the British, U.S. and Russian strategists were finally joined. The official handouts—”. . . from the west and south”—concealed the precise positions of the new fronts. But it was clear that the next Red offensive would be part of an integrated Allied pattern.

In another two or three weeks, Russia’s harsh winter should cement the autumn’s mud until it holds up heavy guns and tanks, clear the skies enough to permit large-scale operations. At some later time—perhaps on a date decided by the Big Three at Teheran—the Red Army will lunge forward.

The Russians’ winter drive will probably precede the coordinated Allied blows in the west. The Russians are not likely to forego operations in their favorite season, winter. Nor are they likely to launch their offensive in spring’s thaw.

If past strategy is an indication, the Russian armies will strike in, two directions:

>Along the famed Smolensk road to wards the BalticStates and Poland, to form a nutcracker with a later Allied push through western Europe;

>Southwest from the Dnieper bend to wardRumania, perhaps to form a nutcracker with an Allied push through the Balkans.

Drive Stalled. But last week a “freak autumn” had fallen upon the Eastern Front, slowed down the great fall offensive to a near stalemate. From Gomel south ward to the Black Sea, hard rains alternatedwith snows. A three-foot sheet of mud covered the battleground, made every step an effort. From Gomel northward, blizzards raged for days, blinded men, blocked roads.

At one of the focuses of the Red push, in the middle Dnieper, General Ivan Konev’s forces advanced only ten miles in a fortnight. In some places ammunition was passed from hand to hand because no vehicle could traverse the muck. After winning mastery of the skies, the Red Air Force was grounded by muddy airfields and low visibility.

Battle for Roads. More than ever, the two armies now battled for the control of roads and communication centers. The names studding the German and Soviet communiqués this week—Zhlobin, Orsha, Mogilev, Korosten, Zhitomir, Znamenka— were all key railroad points. Railways provided the most efficient—often the only—way to move men and supplies.

For once the Germans enjoyed an advantage over their foes: their rail lines were in working order; many lines behind the Russians were still wrecked. Thus the Red Army was forced to rely mainly on horse carts, on trucks, where they could be used, on air transports on the infrequent clear days.

Stubborn Nazis. But its snail’s progress was no measure of the Red Army’s effort. According to German sources, the Russians used at least 102 infantry divisions, four tank corps, and three tank brigades be tween Smolensk and Kiev. If this report was true, the Russian force well exceeded one million men.

To hold a million men at bay, more was needed than the elements. A strong factor in the stalemate was the stubborn and skilled German resistance. Last week, Moscow’s press found it necessary to warn exuberant optimists that the Wehrmacht was still a tremendously powerful force. It still held a sizable portion of the lower Dnieper’s right bank. It was still able—and willing—to throw fresh men and tanks into the battle to hold or gain an important point.

To recapture the important rail station of Korosten, the German Command reportedly boosted its forces in the sector by eight fresh tank divisions. Moscow claimed that during the last month in this and other battles west of Kiev the enemy had lost 800 tanks.

For weeks this reckless expenditure of armor kept Moscow worried. The loss of Kharkov in similar circumstances last March was still fresh in everyone’s mind; would Kharkov’s fate befall Kiev? But by a prodigious effort, General Nikolai Vatutin halted the German advance. As in the summer, Russian artillery won its duel with German armor.

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