The Pittsburgh Press (March 13, 1943)
U.S. weapons help Russians to take Rzhev
Snow limits use of tanks made in America on Central Front
By M. S. Handler, United Press staff writer
Rzhev, USSR –
American and British tanks and airplanes were used by the Soviet Army in their offensive that smashed the Nazi lines west of Moscow and paved the way for recapture of this city two weeks ago.
The use of Anglo-American equipment in the three-pronged attack on German forces was disclosed by Col. Yakov Dmitriev, Assistant Chief of Staff of the army which recaptured Rzhev, to foreign correspondents touring the wrecked city.
Where once stood big flax mills and terminals for Volga navigation, were only blasted factories and burned homes – the fulfillment of the German Army’s policy of destruction and extermination.
Only 247 left
Living among the ruins were only 247 inhabitants, out of a pre-war population of 65,000, when the Russians opened their triple assault from the north, east and west March 1.
The successful attack was carried out with the aid of Airacobras, Hurricanes and B-25 bombers, British Matilda and Valentine tanks and those of an unspecified American type.
Col. Dmitriev pointed out, however, that because of special winter conditions existing on the Central Front, the bulk of the Soviet armored units consisted of Russian heavy KV tanks and the T-34 mediums.
Use of tanks limited
He explained that U.S. and English tanks were used on a limited scale this winter because of insufficient clearance in heavy snowfields, which reduced their speed and made them easier targets for enemy guns. It was made clear the Russians will use these tanks under conditions for which they were designed.
Small units of Allied tanks were used against the German wings while big KVs and medium tanks concentrated on frontal operations.
One general staff officer expressed greatest appreciation for the British Churchill tanks and said they performed well under normal conditions.
Of the Allied planes, the officer described the B-25 bomber as “a highly effective bomber” and said the Airacobras and Hurricanes were “good planes.”
Tell of terror
The remaining 247 inhabitants of the city told many stories of mistreatment, semi-starvation and the ravages of typhus during the German occupation.
Three days before the Soviets retook the city, the Nazis rounded up more than 150 of the few residents and locked them in the “Old Believers” Church. We visited the church and found the interior one of indescribable horror.
The residents told how, while the Soviet forces were assaulting the city, German SS troops shot inhabitants who refused to go to the church.
Tried to block door
In one house, occupied by the Rumyanstev family, the body of the grandmother, her face smashed in by a rifle butt, lay across the corridor as she had fallen. Apparently, she had been trying to block the door to a tiny bedroom.
Across the bed, trying to hide a five-year-old blond girl, lay a young woman shot to death. She was still in a half-raised defensive position and almost lifelike.
Lying on the shelf of a big Russian stove was an eight-year-old boy, shot to death. Behind the young woman, crouching for protection, was a five-year-old girl. She had been shot in the back. Another boy, about 14, lay on two chairs, with seven bullets in his body.