world war ii: war correspondents

The standard form of Soviet war correspondence during World War II were letters folded into a triangular shape sent free from the front. The image shows the letters of Yakov Lazarovich Ashurov, born in Baku, Azerbaijan. He enlisted at 17 and was killed at Stalingrad in 1942. His letters to his parents survived, written in the Tat-Juhuri language (related to Farsi and Kurdish) used by the Caucasus Mountain Jews, as well as in Russian and biblical Hebrew.


Hemingway’s War,

During World War II, the famed writer Ernest Hemingway became a war correspondent, one who was responsible for photographing some of the fiercest of the frontline action.  Hemingway was no stranger to war, being wounded while serving with the Italian Army in World War I and working as a correspondent in the Spanish Civil War.  Unlike most journalists, Hemingway was not afraid to work right in the midst of combat, and on several occasions Hemingway was known to have had close calls with mortar shells, artillery shells, machine guns, and sniper bullets. 

Nor was Hemingway one who believed himself to be a mere observer or non-combatant.  On August 3rd, 1944, in the town of Villedieu-les-Poeles, Hemingway was embedded with a combat platoon and serving double duty as translator, being fully fluent in French and German.  When he learned from townspeople that some German soldiers had holed up in a cellar, he accompanied the platoon to root them out.  He shouted down the cellar stairs for them to surrender, when they refused, he responded, “OK, then divide these amongst yourselves”, at which point he tossed three hand grenades into the cellar.  Perhaps the most legendary of Hemingway lore was from the liberation of Paris, where he liberated his favorite drinking hole, the Ritz Hotel Paris.  Having befriended a number of French Resistance fighters, he entered Paris ahead of the Allied forces with his small private army, securing the hotel in case the Germans decided to loot or demolish it.

Perhaps Hemingway’s finest hour came on December 4th, 1944 when he was attached to the 22nd Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, commanded by Col. Charles “Buck” Langham.  The 4th Infantry Division had been ordered to clear out the Hürtgen Forest of German troops along the Belgian/German border.  The campaign was a dismal failure, and the 2nd Regiment alone suffered 2,678 casualties after 18 days of fighting.  In the midst of the battle, a platoon of German soldiers managed to break Allied lines and assaulted Langham’s command post. During the fight, Hemingway picked up a Thompson submachine gun and helped fend off the attack.

For his bravery during World War II, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Bronze Star, one of the few civilians to be awarded the decoration.

Speaking for myself, I have tried to be allowed to do the work I was sent to England to do and I have been unable to do it. I have reported war in Spain, Finland, China and Italy, and now I find myself plainly unable to continue my work in this theater, for no reason that I can discover than that I am a woman. Being a professional journalist, I do not find this an adequate reason for being barred. The position in which I now in is that I cannot provide my magazine, and three million American readers, with the sort of information and explanation which I was sent here to obtain.

…I have, too frequently, received the impression that women war correspondents were an irritating nuisance who, very tiresomely, kept asking to be allowed to do their job. I wish to point out that none of us would have our jobs unless we knew how to do them, and this curious condescending treatment is ridiculous as it is undignified.
—  Martha Gellhorn to SHEAF Staff HQ on the policy of barring female correspondents from crossing the Channel/24 June 1944
There are many of the living who have had burned into their brains forever the unnatural sight of cold dead men scattered over the hillsides and in the ditches along the high rows of hedge throughout the world.

Dead men by mass production—in one country after another—month after month and year after year. Dead men in winter and dead men in summer.

Dead men in such familiar promiscuity that they become monotonous.

Dead men in such monstrous infinity that you come almost to hate them.

These are the things that you at home need not even try to understand. To you at home they are columns of figures, or he is a near one who went away and just didn’t come back. You didn’t see him lying so grotesque and pasty beside the gravel road in France.

We saw him, saw him by the multiple thousands.
That’s the difference.
—  Ernie Pyle, a draft found in his pocket after his death on 18 April 1945
Shells and big guns cost money, but it’s better to spend money than lives. Along that line a bunch of us were sitting around conjecturing about how much it costs to kill one German with our artillery. When you count the great price of the big modern guns, training the men, all the shipping to get everything over, and the big shells at $50 each, it must cost, we figured, $25,000 for every German we killed with our shelling.

‘Why wouldn’t it be better,’ one fellow said, 'just to offer the Germans $25,000 apiece to surrender, and save all the in-between process and the killing? I bet they’d accept it too.’

It’s a novel theory, but personally I bet they wouldn’t.
—  Ernie Pyle, Artillerymen (Italy, December 1943—April 1944)
In another part of the camp they showed me the children, hundreds of them. Some were only six. One rolled up his sleeve, showed me his number. lt was tattooed on his arm. 8-ó030, it was. The others showed me their numbers; they will carry them till they die.

An elderly man standing beside me said, “The children, enemies of the state.” I could see their ribs through their thin shirts. The old man said, “l am Professor Charles Richer of the Sorbonne.” The children clung to my hands and stared. We crossed the courtyard. Men kept coming up to speak to me and to touch me, professors from Poland, doctors from Vienna, men from all over Europe. Men from the countries that made America.
—  CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow, 15 April 1945
The men didn’t dash ashore after being aboard a landing craft for five solid days. They just walked slowly and cautiously, fearful of bombs or mines that were thrown in the area…but this is the way we had to go ashore, and I needn’t tell you that a lot of the boys didn’t make it.

Jack H. Lieb, D-Day to Germany 1944

In 1944, Lieb was one of several correspondents who followed the Allied advance across Europe after Overlord. Working for the newsreel News of the Day, he shot silent color footage of the Utah Beach landing, and the liberation of Paris with his own 16mm camera.