Saturday, December 18, 1943

The Charlotte News

Saturday, December 18, 1943


Site Ed. Note: The front page reports that in fierce hand to hand fighting, the Fifth Army in Italy closed in from heights taken east, south, and southwest of San Pietro. The Nazis were holed up in concrete pillboxes and caves, slowing the Allied advance and causing large numbers of losses in trying to take the position, seven miles southeast of Cassino. Taking the position was vital to obtaining a large section of the road leading to the entrance of the Cassino Plain. The attack was coordinated with an assault on the 1,000-foot high Mt. Lungo to the south of the road to Rome.

In hard street fighting, other Fifth Army troops captured a mountain village two miles west of Filignano, while in Central Italy the Germans successfully drove back the Fifth Army in a concerted lunge in the mountains, aided by their newly arrived reinforcements from the Leningrad area in the form of the Fifth Mountain Division, experienced mountain troops.

New Zealand troops with the Eighth Army encountered a severe tank attack by the Germans in the area north of the Orsogna-Ortona Road, especially in the vicinity of Orsogna. Thirteen German tanks were reported destroyed and two others captured intact.

A Swedish engineer passing through Berlin on the way to Stockholm reported that the Thursday night RAF raid on Berlin, while the shortest of the major raids on the capital, lasting unceasingly for an half hour, was also the most intense and had wreaked severe damage, especially in the areas within a third of a mile of Anhalter Station, where he had been in an air raid shelter, and in the suburbs of Neubelsberg and, fittingly, Babelsberg. In Babelsberg, Berlin’s largest munitions factory had been completely destroyed by the raid. Facilities at Tempelhof airfield were also badly damaged.

He indicated that Berliners had become accustomed to the raids at this point and thus took it calmly, with fire brigades being more in evidence and better organized than in previous raids the engineer had witnessed.

In the Pacific, the Sixth Army had occupied the entire Cape Merkus Peninsula in the Arawe sector and were moving forward. The peninsula, 260 miles southwest of Rabaul, plus the already-captured Pilelo Island, were the primary initial objectives of the operation.

Across the Vitiaz Strait to the northwest of Arawe, the Australian troops were moving north along the Huon Peninsula on New Guinea.

Bombing operations were pervasive and successful in the two areas of activity, and 25 Japanese supply barges had been destroyed or damaged.

In Russia, the Second Ukrainian Army moved closer to taking Kirovograd, tightening their circle around the city.

Associated Press reporter Henry Cassidy stated that the First Ukrainian Army’s defensive stop of the German tank counter-offensive west of Kiev was as important as some of the offensive victories which had occurred during the previous year. After five weeks of fighting, the German efforts, once numbering eight tank divisions, had dwindled only to scouting activity, having failed to break the Red Army line along the Dneiper. Despite taking Zhitomir and Korosten, the Nazis had failed to penetrate significantly the Soviet defensive line.

In Yugoslavia, Tito's forces were reported clearing out the German and pro-Nazi Yugoslav Chetnik forces in the Montenegro-Serbia border area, while also making advances in eastern Bosnia and Croatia, as well as winning another engagement with the Germans in northern Herzegovina.

The first trial of war criminals was taking place in Moscow. The two men on trial were a Nazi police corporal, Reinhardt Ratzlaw, and an alleged Russian traitor who had allegedly worked for the Nazi police, Petrovich Bulanov. Herr Ratzlaw testified that he had become an expert at torturing civilians in Kharkov during its Nazi occupation, pulling out hair from men‘s beards, sticking women with pins, and finally inflicting death.

An Ankara radio broadcast indicated that Allied landing barges had been reported concentrated in Sicily and predicted that an invasion of the Balkans by the Seventh Army led by General Patton was nigh. Stay tuned.

The Army and Navy Register, quoting reliable sources from within the military, accurately reported that a change in plans had resulted from the Tehran Conference such that General Eisenhower would lead the Allied effort from London as Supreme Commander of British and American forces in charge of the invasion of Western Europe. General Marshall, slated to take over as Supreme Commander, would instead remain in Washington as Army Chief of Staff, in which position it was said his particular skills at plotting strategy were more useful. British General Sir Harold Alexander, deputy commander to Eisenhower in the mid-Mediterranean area, would advance to become the commander of forces in that theater, encompassing the Battle for Italy.

President Roosevelt talked with reporters generally about the Tehran and Cairo conferences, merely describing them as a success, and promising more detail in his Christmas Eve address. He revealed that he had stayed at the British Embassy in Tehran, next door to the Russian Embassy where meetings were held for the reason that it was unsafe for the three leaders to walk the streets of the city. Premier Stalin had informed FDR and Churchill of a Nazi assassination plot against all three leaders.

They were properly wary of the alley cat.

Leaders of the five rail unions were scheduled to meet on Sunday with the President to try to resolve the looming strike, set to begin December 30. Another December 30 deadline also loomed with the order pending by the President's Fair Employment Practices Committee to provide for the elimination of racial bias in promotion and pay for engineers, firemen, and conductors. While the report was silent on this latter point, no doubt, it would figure in the mix of negotiations to try to avert a strike potentially crippling of war production and of domestic commerce and transportation, already hampered severely by gas and rubber rationing, and thus more dependent than in peacetime on the vitality of rail traffic.

Hal Boyle reports of Major Louis Hoffman, a medical officer with the Fifteenth Air Force, who had done a study of head injuries among the bomber pilots and crews, finding that they accounted for 14 to 27 percent of all injuries. Upon further examination of the pilots, he found that the reason was that they would not don their helmets during missions because of ill-fitment over their fleece-lined leather caps. At high altitudes, the tight fitting helmets cut off circulation and caused the crew's ears to freeze. He thus devised some adjusting straps within the lining to enable the helmets to be fitted to each crew member's specifications of comfort and as well permitted fitment over the radio headphones.

A private from Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin told Mr. Boyle of his copious and assiduous reading of the December 20, 1942 issue of The Washington Post. Nothing particular about it was recounted; it was popular simply for the fact that it was the only newspaper provided him and thousands of other soldiers, not just once but on several different occasions while in North Africa, as that single issue had been shipped apparently by the thousands. He read it, he said, nine times through, ads and all, including the comics.

Private First Class Leo Niebel, we salute you. We empathize, as we sometimes feel like we are reading the same front page and editorial page of The Charlotte News nine times through, including the ads and comics--no offense meant to the always informative, au courant, expertly indited and laid forth, and thus entertaining pages of The News.

Then Mr. Boyle--having had a tipple of goat's milk laced with vermouth and vodka, a kind of White Russian martini we take it, only emanating from the goat rather than the cow, a drink he says which caused ultimately the imbiber to have the irresistible urge to leap into the air, click his heels, and then utter "baa, baa", at which point the bartender knew to hold off on any more goat's milk--says that he met a fellow fancier of Greenwich Village--the home of country and western music--and thus proposed a toast of the goat's milk cocktail to Washington Square and the Sixth Avenue subway, then went to bed, hopefully in separate goat stalls.

On the editorial page, "Hold-Up" is irate over the delay in release of the story of the invasion by the Allies of New Britain on the Arawe Peninsula. The invasion had occurred Wednesday morning and the news of it was disseminated to the press organizations of the United States by Thursday morning. By 11:28 a.m., all the newspapers of the country had the story via the wire services, but were instructed to hold it until 7:00 p.m. Thus, from the time of the invasion, the story was withheld through Army censorship for 31 hours and 32 minutes. The piece finds it unconscionable and without reason, recommends that the officers within General MacArthur’s headquarters responsible for the delay be censured for the unnecessary censorship.

"Up, Rommel" finds significance in the rumor coming out of Germany that Rommel was about to be made Supreme Commander of all German ground forces. He had proved himself, after all, as a master of retreat and delaying tactics in North Africa during the last half of 1942 and into the spring of 1943, just before the surrender of the German forces in May in Tunisia, subsequent to his having physically left the area some weeks earlier. The prospective appointment thus suggested that Germany was girding itself for a final stand, but one which would involve retreat and delay rather than surrender.

Moreover, Rommel had come up through the ranks and was not of the Prussian military gentry now so distrusted by Hitler and appearing bent on removal of the Fuehrer and seeking in consequence their own more favorable terms of surrender.

In any event, it signaled the end of Germany's hope of any offensive drive other than limited counter-offensives within the overall strategic field of defense and retreat, hoping the while for favorable terms of surrender after weakening the resolve of the Allies through various and sundry tactics.

"Reynolds Hunt", demonstrating that Senator Robert Rice Reynolds was down, having renounced any intent to run for re-election in 1944, but not out in terms of stirring controversy, indicates that the Senator had incurred the ire of correspondent James Young who had covered the Orient for 13 years. Mr. Young wanted Reynolds impeached, maybe even indicted for treason, for his open stand on the Senate floor against relaxation of the Chinese Exclusion Act which had for decades banned immigration of Chinese. The statements had ripple effects in China, causing the Chinese fighting under Chiang to be more easily induced to join the Communists, as the Japanese had exploited the comments and broadcast that the Chinese were fighting alongside their enemy and not their ally. It made the work of General Claire Chenault, in command of the joint American and Chinese air force, that much harder and required the repairing of fences with his Chinese hosts.

The editorial finds Mr. Young’s carping gratifying and offers to join the effort to have Senator Reynolds abducted or hogtied at the earliest opportunity, as warranted by circumstances, before he could exact more damage than he already had, and not just against the alliance with the Chinese, but with respect to the Russians and British as well throughout the period of the war. He might as well have been shooting at the Allies, suggests the editorial.

And, of course, at the time the editors and Mr. Young didn't even know that Senator Reynolds had in 1940 provided to a German Abwehr agent valuable French shipping data which aided the Nazi invasion of France.

Samuel Grafton suggests the whopping wartime 150 billion dollar gross national product as a hot house in which all sorts of orchids and other botanical fancies were thriving, including a resurgence among Republicans of the popularity of Herbert Hoover and Alf Landon, creating a feel so heady that everyone felt the warm hands of deep massage on their backs, causing them to eschew the protective embrace any longer of Big Government, ready again to seek the loving warmth instead of the individual states.

Only problem was, he warns, the war would end, and, when it did, he hoped that the absence of planning for that eventuality would not find everyone once again in the grip of the cold, frozen solid.

Drew Pearson finds former Republican chairman John D. M. Hamilton going about the country on his stop-Willkie campaign, making the argument that reaction against Russia would soon sweep America as, after the war, Russia would make demands on Poland which would alienate American opinion. Thus, he continued, for his pro-Russian attitude, Willkie would not be a fit candidate. Herbert Hoover had apparently initiated the medicine ball in that direction.

Mr. Pearson next turns to Senator Burnet Maybank's tirade directed against Mr. Pearson, himself, for having stated on his radio show that War Mobilization Director James Byrnes was at odds with all Southern Senators, save Claude Pepper of Florida, regarding their opposition to the bill to provide easy and uniform access to soldiers to vote by absentee ballot in Federal elections, regardless of state laws. Senator Maybank had even written the FCC seeking to have the plug pulled on Mr. Pearson's radio show.

Mr. Pearson responded by rubbing it in even more, asserting that what the Senator did not know was that Mr. Byrnes, instrumental in getting former Governor Maybank into the Senate, was ready now to send him back to Charleston for his joining with Southern Senators unwilling to place the issue of democracy for soldiers above concerns over States’ Rights and, thus ultimately, race. Mr. Byrnes, says Mr. Pearson, had also obtained support for the bill from Senator Carter Glass of Virginia.

Raymond Clapper assesses the detriments and benefits of the airplane after 40 years on the planet and finds that, on balance, its beneficial aspects outweighed its detriments. Without the airplane, the recent conferences of the Allied leaders could not have taken place, and face to face discussion was the better course toward peace than other means of less personal communication--which would include teleconferencing, Ms. Bachmann.

He also asserts that after the war, the airplane could play a major role in preserving the peace, that it could prevent “drunken Saturday night shooting on the streets of the earth”.

Well, we don't know about that.

Anyway, happy birthday to Keith Richards, who was born this day in history.

As to the Side Glances, we almost got a date in the library once. In the seventh grade, 'twas, in December, as tears went by--and her name was not Michelle, nor Pamela, nor Loretta, nor even Norma. We hadn't the temerity of the moment to open our mouth, however, to form words in response in the face of momentary compliment. So, there we were, in the face of our love, love-lost. We weren't wearing a raincoat though. More's the pity, we suppose.

We have, incidentally, ventured a little further into the train wreck at Buie, or Rennert, as the case may be, near Lumberton, via the official Interstate Commerce Commission report on the accident filed in January, 1944. The proximate or legal cause of the worst part of the accident, the collision of the northbound Tamiami with two of the three derailed cars of the southbound Tamiami, was the negligence of the fireman in not soon enough setting up signals to the northbound train. And, when he finally ventured out to do so, he tripped over the icy ballast rock of the railroad bed and broke the only flare he had, put forth a red lantern which could not be seen by the oncoming train, and then failed to deploy at all a third required signal under conditions of distress, a "torpedo", an explosive device strapped to the rail of the track which sets off a loud alarm when detonated by the wheels of an approaching train.

The cause in fact of the entire accident, however, were three minute internal fissures in the rail of the tracks over which the southbound train was running, causing the track to separate and break up as the train passed over it, resulting in the last three cars derailing, as well as a fateful separation of the first two cars from the middle segment of the train. The latter separation misled the personnel at the front of the train into believing that the only problem with the train was the single separation, apparently caused by a broken hitch. Once fixed, they believed they were ready to proceed with the whole train intact. Failing therefore to inspect the rest of the train, despite a Federal regulation so requiring whenever a train is forced to stop under such circumstances, the engineer and fireman were unaware of the derailment of the rearmost three cars of the train and the fact that two of the cars were astride the northbound tracks. Thus, they did not understand the urgency of setting up signals for the northbound train.

The track had been inspected via a detector car on October 17 and cleared. Thus, the fissures, which had not penetrated to the surface of the track, had developed within the previous two months. Such fissures were exacerbated by the cold, icy conditions, making the steel more brittle. But, what caused them initially? The track had been laid in 1937 and thus there is no reason to suspect aging of the track as a factor. Nor was there any indication in the report of evidence of improper manufacture.

The facts that the track was the only section in the area which ran parallel and tangent to the northbound tracks, and only did so for a distance of seventeen miles, 4.63 of which were south of the point of derailment, combined with the proximity and service of the line to Fort Bragg personnel, and the presence on the scene after the accident of Army M.P.'s blocking press coverage of the wreck, suggest at least the possibility that sabotage either was suspected or in fact occurred.

Whatever the case, both trains were running behind schedule, the southbound, No. 91, by 65 minutes, and the northbound, No. 8, by 100 minutes. Thus, if neither train had been behind schedule, the accident would never have taken place: the northbound would have surpassed the position of the accident and cleared the entire parallel section of track well before the derailment would have occurred, despite No. 91 running five miles per hour faster than No. 8, running 80 miles per hour.

But, for all that, we shall take any day FDR over Mussolini and his getting the trains to run on time.

Whether also the absence of self-locking coupling pins on the cars, numbers two and sixteen, which separated from No. 91, had anything to do with the derailment, notwithstanding the cracked tracks, and thus with the entire tragedy, is not indicated by the report and, moreover, is at this point beyond our feeble powers of speculation.

For the rest, consult either Albert Einstein or Rod Serling.

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