There were two entrances into the Vorbunker; one from the Foreign Ministry garden and the other from the New Reich Chancellery. Both led to a reinforced steel gas proof door leading to a set of small rooms.
On the left was the Water Supplies/Boiler Room, to the right the Air filters Room.
The engine room was the technical heart of the Vorbunker. The generator was able to provide power for the Bunker even during a power failure. Left in the picture shown are the 4 air filters of the Bunker filter system. Only after filtering the air through these filters, was it then possible to distribute the air through the ventilation openings into the rooms of the Bunker.
Moving forward there was a middle Dining Area with a Kitchen to the left, which was where Hitler’s cook/dietician Frau Constanze Manziarly prepared the Führer’s meals. There was also a well-stocked Wine Store. To the right of the Dining Area was the Personnel/Guard Quarters. Moving forward again, there was a Conference Room in the middle and on the left two rooms that originally housed Hitler’s physician Dr. Theodor Morell and, following his dismissal in April 1945, Dr. Göbbels’ wife Magda and her six young children.
To the right of the Conference Room was a room used for guest quarters, two storerooms and then a stairway set at right angles connecting to the Führerbunker that was 8.2 feet (2.5 m) lower than the Vorbunker and west-southwest of it. Steel doors could close off the Vorbunker and Führerbunker from one another and the SS closely guarded all entrances and exits.
Hitler’s Führerbunker, or Lower Bunker, was built in 1942-43 28 feet (8.5 m) beneath the Old Reich Chancellery Garden 131 yards [120 m] north of the New Chancellery at a cost of 1.4 million Reichsmarks. It was deep enough to withstand the largest bombs that were being dropped by the British and Americans over the city.Designed by the architectural firm Hochtief under Albert Speer’s supervision, the Führerbunker was one of about twenty Bunkers and air raid shelters used by Hitler’s inner circle, bodyguards and military commanders in the region of the Reich Chancellery.
Albert Speer built two barracks for the "SS-Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" on the western edge of the Reich's Chancellery property.
These barracks were a part of the informal section of the Chancellery, and were not a part of the official government headquarters. Even though these buildings were planned and constructed in conjunction with the New Reichs Chancellery, Speer ensured that their design set them apart from the Chancellery itself. He achieved this by utilising a more functional architectural style typical of residential buildings. Here the difference between the ornate architecture of official government buildings and that
of purely utilitarian structures can be clearly seen.
Many cellars in the surrounding buildings were also utilised as auxiliary Bunkers during the Battle of Berlin
Mittelbau (literally "Centre Building) was the physical and political centre of the New Reich's Chancellery. The Reich's Cabinet Room, the Grand Reception Hall, the Marble Gallery and Hitler's office were all located within this section of the Chancellery. This central role of Mittelbau was outwardly indicated by its prominent placement, size, and the materials used in its facade. The street facade was covered with a natural stone cladding, and showed no visible access to the building. This gave the building section a somewhat fortified appearance, which was further emphasized by a recessed facade, 16 meters from the road. However, this exclusive appearance was simply an illusion of design - in actuality Mittelbau was constructed on top of a public air raid shelter. Five hidden entrances to the shelters were located in the paving in front of the building. These entrances could be opened independently from within the Chancellery. They opened hydraulically to provide access to stairways leading to the air raid shelters.
The Führerbunker suffered from noise caused by the steady running of aeration ventilators twenty-four hours a day and also had a problem with cool moisture on the walls as Berlin has a very high ground water level.
The exit of the Vorbunker was located opposite the elevator. It is likely that this exit was used as a second entrance to the Vorbunker. While the residents of the Old Reich Chancellery used the main entrance to the Vorbunker, at the same time the residents of northern extension could enter the Vorbunker through the air lock of this Bunker exit.
The garden facade of the New Reich's Chancellery reached over the entire length of Mittelbau, and one quarter of the two administrative buildings. The focal point of the garden facade was the terrace with portico which led to Hitler's office. The terrace was flanked by two bronze horses, created by the Austrian sculptor Josef Thorak. Two staircases to the left and right of the terrace led to the portico with it's giant marble pillars from which doors led to Hitler's office. .
Hitler's accommodations by February 1945 had been decorated with high-quality furniture taken from the Chancellery, along with several framed oil paintings.
A door connected Hitler’s Sitting Room with Hitler’s Bedroom. A door on the right of Hitler’s Study led back into the central corridor, this section is called the Conference Room.
The last three rooms on the left of the Führerbunker were not connected to Hitler’s suite and consisted of the Map conference/map room [also known as the briefing/situation room] which had a door that led out into the waiting room/ante-room, Hitler held most of his military situation conferences during the last weeks of the war, the Cloakroom and a Ventilation Room.
The left side of the Führerbunker consisted, moving from the staircase connecting it with the Vorbunker to the emergency exit to the Reich Chancellery Gardens, of a series of rooms. First was the Generator/Ventilation Plant Room. This was connected to the Telephone Switchboard Room where SS-Oberscharführer Rochus Misch of the SS-Begleit-Kommando worked, Martin Bormann’s Office and the Guard Room. Hitler’s loyal Valet SS-Obersturmbannführer Heinz Linge lived here. Next were two rooms: Göbbels’ Office and the Doctor’s Room.
The last two rooms on the right of the central Conference Room were Göbbels’ Bedroom and the Doctor’s Quarters. Parts of the two Bunkers were carpeted and one section of this material was recently discovered in a British regimental archive. It reveals that the carpet had a floral pattern of yellow flowers and blue leaves on a fawn background. The rooms were furnished with expensive pieces taken from the Reich Chancellery above and there were several framed oil paintings on the walls. But the interior, in keeping with Hitler’s other field headquarters, could not be described as anything other than Spartan and functional.
By the beginning of 1945 the personnel, technical equipment and weapons of the Soviet army reached the highest level in all the war years. On the Soviet-German front the Soviet Army had 6.7 million people, 107.3 thousand guns and mortars, 12.1 thousand tanks and self-propelled artillery installations and 14.7 thousand war aircraft; it outnumbered its foe 5:1 in men, 15:1 in artillery, 5:1 in tanks and 3:1 in aircraft.
A powerful defense system had been set up between the Vistula and the Oder by the Hitler Command, consisting of seven borderlines and a great number of fortified lines and positions. On the front from Warsaw to Jaslo defense was maintained by the main forces of the "A" army group numbering up to 560,000 soldiers and officers, some 5,000 guns and mortars, 1,220 tanks and storm guns. The army group was backed by 630 war aircraft. It was decided to use strong frontal blows, above all, to be delivered by the tank troops to split the enemy's grouping into two parts, crushing the main forces. The troops had to advance at high speed and arrive before the enemy could capture the defence lines. These actions are known as the Vistula-Oder operation.
The operation started on the morning of 12 January. Initially the offensive was planned to begin on 20 January or later. But the date was changed because on 16 December the Germans struck a blow at the American-British units in the Ardennes. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill turned to the head of the Soviet government Josef Stalin for help. Soviet troops opened fierce fire on the enemy, causing heavy losses. To avoid being surrounded, the Germans began to retreat. On 16 January, the Soviet troops began to press the enemy along the entire 250-km front line. It took them six days to force their way farther to the West, covering 150 km. On 17 January, the Soviet troops liberated the cities of Radomsko, Czestochowa, and the capital Warsaw though Hitler's orders were that the city should not be surrendered whatever the cost. To mark the liberation of the Polish capital the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet established the medal "For the Liberation of Warsaw", which was conferred on more than 682 thousand Soviet and Polish soldiers and officers.
The Final Days in the Bunker
There are few stories as enigmatic as the last days in the Berlin Bunker. Historians cannot agree on what exactly occurred 8.5 metres below the Reich Chancellery garden, providing for some intriguing theories.
Some bizarre myths have been spawned about the Bunker - people claimed the structure it had a dozen levels and that an underground railway line may have enabled Hitler to escape at the last minute.
There were myths, embellished by Hollywood movies, depicting the Bunker as being a lavish subterranean palace complete with a banquet hall and cinema.
Rochus Misch, a German Wehrmacht sergeant who was the SS telephonist in the Bunker, is one of the last surviving members of the entourage that was ensconced with Hitler in the bunker in early 1945.
Now 88, he knows the mundane truth about the place and is eager to dispel the myths in frequent interviews.
"Too many myths were allowed to grow up about it - that it was a multi-story shelter, that it was capable of holding hundreds of people," he says.
"In fact, it was small and cramped and dingy and smelled of blocked toilets and Diesel fumes from the generator".
-- "The Sydney Morning Herald" 19 July 2006
Following the failure of the last German offensive in the West, a dispirited Hitler returned to Berlin on 16 January 1945 aboard his private train, the Führersonderzug.
While the train gathered speed toward Berlin, Otto Günsche. remarked within his hearing: "Berlin will be most practical as our headquarters: we’ll soon be able to take the streetcar from the eastern to the western front!" Hitler laughed wanly at this witticism, and the rest of his staff joined in.
As the long train wound its way through the devastated capital Hitler reportedly looked out at the ruins from his Pullman carriage, both surprised and depressed by the grim sights that greeted him. He needed no more than to look out the window to see the reality of his military failure, however, snowdrifts concealed Berlin’s cruelest injuries.
Arriving at Grünewald Station at 9.40 am, Hitler climbed down from the Führersonderzug for the last time and was driven in a convoy of armoured Mercedes to the Reich Chancellery, passing through bomb-damaged streets whose gutted and roofless apartment buildings and shops bore silent witness to the final collapse of the Third Reich.
The old wing of the Reich Chancellery, scene of his prewar political triumphs, had suffered unmistakably, and he could make out snow-filled craters in the gardens. A rectangular concrete slab elevated some feet above ground level marked the site of the deep shelter which Albert Speer had built for him. It looked an inhospitable place. Hitler decided to sleep in his usual first-floor bedroom for the time being—a hurricane seemed to have blasted through it, but it had been repaired—and to continue holding his war conferences in the ornate study overlooking the ravaged Chancellery gardens.
Martin Bormann—who returned from a two-week leave on 19 January, brought Eva Braun to Berlin with him.
By the end of the month the Soviets were only seventy miles from Berlin. Hitler continued to live in his apartments in the Old Reich Chancellery until mid-February before moving into the Führerbunker to sleep-
Built in 1738/39 by CF Richter, this building was originally constructed as an aristocratic palace. After several changes in ownership it was eventually bought by Otto von Bismarck, in 1869, for the use of the Prussian state government.
At the time Bismarck had his residence in the adjacent Ministery of Foreign Affairs. Shortly before, the Palais Voss had been demolished, the property subdivided and a section cleared for the construction of a new road – Voss Street. Bismarck wanted to prevent the same fate befalling the old Palais, and so the land was acquired for the German Reich in 1875. It was decided that the building would be used as a residence and headquarters for the Reich's Chancellor. The Palais was renovated in 1875-1878 by Georg Joachim Wilhelm Neumann. When the renovation was completed, Bismarck used the building as residence and headquarters. Since Bismarck directed the newly established Authority Central Bureau of the Reich's Chancellor, he proposed the renaming of the building to “Reich’s Chancellery” In the same year the building became part of international history when the Berlin Congress met here to regulate the problems in the Balkans. The meeting took place in the reception hall, in the centre of the first floor, with Bismarck as mediator. In 1934-1935, the Palais was renovated once more, when Paul Ludwig Troost refurbished the building to serve as residence and office for Adolf Hitler. In 1938 Albert Speer rebuilt the entrance, and when he was commissioned by Hitler to construct the New Reich's Chancellery, he incorporated the baroque Palais into the architectural design of the new structure. From this time the Palais was called the Old Reich's Chancellery.
In March 1945, during the repair of bomb damage, the reception hall of the Old Reich's Chancellery was destroyed by a bomb. The entire building was destroyed between 23 April and 2 May 1945 by the intense artillery fire
focused on the Reich's Chancellery during the Battle of Berlin.
Until mid-March 1945 Hitler also continued to take his meals in the New Reich Chancellery and to hold his military situation conferences there inside his enormous study. The grand hallway outside was still intact, though the artworks and priceless tapestries had been removed to protect them from the bombing.
Although Hitler continued to come up from the Führerbunker into both Chancelleries, to continue working in his study and used some of the building’s other rooms, he did not see the vast amount of damage that had been caused to both buildings by British and American aerial bombing. Staff officers visiting the Reich Chancellery for meetings had to take long and circuitous routes to reach Hitler’s Study, as corridors had been reduced to rubble by direct hits.
Soon the Reich Chancellery would start to come under artillery and rocket fire from the advancing Red Army.
Because of the constant bombing raids and air raid alerts Hitler decided to move his headquarters underground into the Führerbunker beneath the Old Reich Chancellery gardens in mid-March 1945.
Although now safe from aerial attack, the Führerbunker was completely inadequate for use as a military headquarters as it was too small to accommodate sufficient staff or visiting generals attending conferences. It came to be described by many who visited it during the last weeks of the war as a fetid hole in the ground or a ‘concrete coffin’. The Führerbunker had its genesis in air raid shelters built under and adjoined to buildings on Wilhelmstrasse and Vossstrasse in 1935.
When the New Reich Chancellery complex was completed in January 1939 it included more air raid shelters.
Adolf Hitler had planned already since 1934 an enlargement of the Reich's Chancellery.
Originally it was planned to only use Voßstraße 2-5, the properties already owned by the German Reich by this time. However By 1936, with the increasingly aggressive foreign policies that Hitler implemented,
he also wanted to demonstrate his power with a new big building.
So in early 1936 he gave Albert Speer the contract to build him a New Reich's Chancellery which should start at the Palais Borsig and stretch then over the whole length of northern Voßstraße.
The construction began in 1937 and was completed in 1939.
One was the Vorbunker, or Upper Bunker. Architect Leonhard Gall submitted plans in 1935 for a large reception hall cum ballroom to be added to the Old Reich Chancellery. Completed in 1936, the Vorbunker had a roof that was 5.24 feet [1.6 m] thick, the Bunker’s thick walls partially supporting the weight of the large reception hall overhead.
The air raid shelter and the reception hall were designed to form a static symbiosis. The shelter, with its thick concrete ceiling, formed a solid foundation for the marble columns in the reception hall. These columns reached 50 cm downward through the air cushion beneath the reception hall floor, resting directly on the Bunker ceiling.
The placement of the pillars was also determined by the layout of the shelter. Each pillar was placed squarely
on top of an intersection between two Bunker walls. The extra pressure bearing down on these intersections
added strength and stability to the air raid shelter.
Entry into the Führerbunker was via the Vorbunker, passing down the dogleg staircase, which led to a guarded door giving access to a long Hall/Lounge, where RSD and SS-Begleit-Kommando sentries checked identity papers before permitting entry to the Führerbunker proper.
East of the winter garden was the staircase, which linked the basement of the reception hall directly to the
“Führer's Apartment”. The entire northern part of the Old Reich Chancellery was called “Führer's Apartment” including the dining room and the winter garden. Directly opposite the staircase was the main entrance to the Vorbunker.
This was through double steel gas proof doors set into the Bunker’s 7.2 feet [2.2m] thick protective wall. The Führerbunker was divided along a central corridor that gave access to an emergency exit staircase at the far end that led up to the surface in the Reich Chancellery Garden.
In the western area of the basement, one can recognize the air cushion of the reception hall above. On the right is the western outer wall of the Bunker is recognisable on which stood the western pillars of the reception hall.
The garden facade of the reception hall rested on the basement wall to the left.
This picture shows the emergency exit of Vorbunker fenced by a railing.
This exit was only used as an emergency and it remained closed at all times.
The basement rooms were connected by passages on the eastern and western sides of the shelter. These could be used as escape routes, should it become necessary to evacuate the Bunker in an emergency. The rooms and passages that surrounded the shelter also had another function. They created a space between the exterior walls of the building, and the Bunker itself. This offered additional protection, as bombs which hit the construction from the side would explode in this space, before reaching the air raid shelter itself.
This corridor was divided into two long rooms. The first of these on entering the Führerbunker was the Corridor/Lounge. A door on the left led to the Toilets and Electricity Switch Room. From the Toilets a connecting door led to the Bathroom/Dressing Room with Eva Braun’s bedroom/sitting room [also known as Hitler's private guest room], an ante-chamber [also known as Hitler's sitting room], which led into Hitler's study/office, on the right of the Bathroom.
Hitler's private rooms were a bedroom with army bed, wardrobe, chest of drawers, and a safe; and a tiny, low-ceilinged living room with desk, table, and hard upholstered sofa. A large portrait of Frederick the Great, that Hitler would spend much time staring at as the Soviets fought their way into Berlin’s suburbs, hoping that he could emulate Frederick and turn back the Bolshevik horde with some final grand military gesture, hung over the desk.
A replica of Hitler’s Study in the Bunker in Berlin. It was built about a mile from the original site by a private company, "Historiale", which also runs the Berlin Story Museum next door.
Credit: Gordon Welters for "The New York Times"
On 18 January the troops of the 1st Ukrainian and the 1st Belorussian Fronts met in the area of Szydlowiec. This allowed the Soviet troops to launch an assault along the frontline of over 500 km and break through the German defense lines on the Vistula.
The Rearguard by David Pentland
Preussisch Stargard, East Prussia, February 1945. Following the departure of the platoon's two other vehicles, after expending all their ammunition,
the single Jagdpanther of Oberfeldwebel Hermann Bix remained to cover the withdrawal of all supporting infantry in the area. Hidden behind a muck heap, with only twenty armour piercing and five high explosive shells remaining he made the attacking Soviet Shermans pay a heavy price, destroying sixteen of
their number before he too fell back out of ammunition.
On 25 January 1945, in spite of Himmler's lack of military experience, Hitler appointed him as commander of the hastily formed Army Group Vistula [Heeresgruppe Weichsel] to halt the Soviet Red Army's Vistula–Oder Offensive into Pomerania. Panzer general Heinz Guderian considered Himmler's appointment "idiocy" and regarded the officers Himmler chose to organize the defense as "uniformly incapable of performing their allotted tasks".
Guderian had originally planned to execute a major offensive against the 1st Belorussian Front, cutting off the leading elements of Georgy Zhukov's forces east of the Oder. The Soviet forces were to be attacked from Stargard [Pomerania] in the north as well as from Glogau [Silesia] and Guben [Brandenburg] in the south. In order to carry out these plans, he requested that the Courland Pocket be evacuated to make available the divisions trapped there, removed troops from Italy and Norway, and involved Sepp Dietrich's 6th Panzer Army which had been intended for counter-attacks in Hungary. In a meeting with Guderian Hitler insisted that Courland be held and that the army continue with its planned attacks in Hungary.
Himmler established his command centre at Schneidemühl, using his special train, 'Sonderzug Steiermark', as his headquarters. The train had only one telephone line, inadequate maps, and no signal detachment or radios with which to establish communication and relay military orders. Himmler seldom left the train, only worked about four hours per day, and insisted on a daily massage before commencing work and a lengthy nap after lunch.
The attack was launched on 16 February 1945, but could make little headway against Pavel Alexeyevich Belov's 61st Army and Semyon Bogdanov's 2nd Guards Tank Army. Zhukov responded by redirecting two Soviet tank armies against the German forces. Within five days, tanks of the Red Army had reached the Baltic, trapping the German forces, who sought to escape by sea. Himmler was unable to devise any viable plans for completion of his military objectives. Under pressure from Hitler over the worsening military situation, Himmler became anxious and unable to give him coherent reports.
Hitler was unwilling to admit that his choice of commander had been inadequate. After an intense argument with Guderian, who insisted on a change of command of the Army Group Vistula, Hitler assigned Walther Wenck to Himmler's headquarters to take over command of a limited counter-offensive; Hitler then observed that it was not possible for him to move the troops needed for Guderian's planned double pincer attack from neighbouring regions.
When the counter-attack failed to stop the Soviet advance, Hitler held Himmler personally liable and accused him of not following orders. Himmler's tenure as a military commander ended on 20 March, when Hitler replaced him with General Gotthard Heinrici as Commander-in-Chief of Army Group Vistula. By this time Himmler, who had been under the care of his doctor since 18 February, had fled to a sanatorium at Hohenlychen. Hitler sent Guderian on a forced medical leave of absence, and he reassigned his post as chief of staff to Hans Krebs on 29 March. Himmler's failure and Hitler's response marked a serious deterioration in the relationship between the two men. By that time, the inner circle of people which Hitler trusted was rapidly shrinking.
The operation was a complete failure for the Germans, however, it convinced the Soviets to postpone their attack on Berlin while Pomerania was cleared in the East Pomeranian Offensive.
The enemy's "A" army group sustained a heavy defeat. The Soviet Army was moving rapidly toward German borders.
Turning the Tables, Kurland, Baltic Coast
25 January - 3 February 1945
During the Fourth Battle of Kurland,
Major Josef William Sepp Brandner, commander
of Sturmgeschütz Brigade 912, personally
counter-attacked a Soviet breakthrough; then, with
only his headquarters of 3 guns continued without infantry support to pursue and rout the enemy units.
By the end of this action he had destroyed his
57th tank, his final tally rose to 66 by the wars end
By the end of January the Soviet troops reached the Oder, forced it and captured a position to the north and the south of Küstrin.
The Vistula-Oder operation was of paramount military and political importance. The Soviet troops with the participation of the 1st Polish Army and guerillas liberated a considerable part of Polish territory. War moved on to German territory and was waged now 60 km from its capital. The enemy sustained heavy losses: 35 divisions were destroyed, and 25 lost from 50 to 70 percent of their personnel. To oppose the advancing Soviet troops the Hitler Command had to transfer 29 divisions and 4 brigades from other directions of the Soviet-German Front, from inside of Germany and from the Western Front and to stop its offensive in the west. In this way the Soviet Army helped its allies.
While in Italy the stalemate continued, the "race for Berlin" between East and West convinced Hitler that the two world hemispheres must within months be at war with each other, a war from which Germany would emerge as the 'lachender Dritte'. His analysis was correct in all but one essential detail: the time scale. Had his war lasted a full seven years, he might have reaped the Cold War rewards that fell to his successors. Yet Hitler had good reason to expect them to come sooner. Until the very last days of his life his Intelligence experts nourished his beliefs with evidence of the coming conflict.
Since late February 1945, and a further ruinous American air raid on Berlin, Hitler and his staff had spent their nights in the Reich Chancellery’s shelters. Albert Speer had begun building the main deep shelter for Hitler in mid-1944, and now it lay becalmed and impregnable—compared by Julius Schaub to “a U-Boat prowling the depths below Berlin’s sea of houses and ministry buildings". Such was the scene of this final chapter of Hitler’s life, with its narrow concrete passageway and cell-like rooms, the constant hum of air-conditioning machinery, the glare of artificial light, the throng of military and Party officials—some curious, some concerned, but most clinging to Hitler and his infectious belief that this crisis would be overcome.
Hitler spent the hours of the big alerts, watching with tired eyes the arrows approaching Berlin; each week the tracks grew more complex, for now the British bombers attacked from behind "screens" of radio jamming and electronic counter-measures, feinting first toward one city, then another, while "fast raiding forces" mounted diversionary attacks far from the main targets of the night. Since the holocaust of Dresden, British bomber forces had cascaded incendiaries and explosives into Chemnitz [Karl-Marx Stadt], Duisburg, Worms, Kassel, ancient Würzburg—the list was endless.
The Americans too had begun attacking area targets. Nuremberg and Munich were laid waste. But by day the tide was beginning to turn, as the Me-262 jets with the heavier armament and air-to-air rockets joined the squadrons. The pages of the Luftwaffe High Command’s war diary reported: "Four Me-262s shot down four bombers. . . ." But as the Luftwaffe’s fuel stocks ran out, this last hope expired.
Against all odds, a final Focke Achgelis Fa-223 'Drache' helicopter was completed in February 1945 at Tempelhof Airport, and was almost immediately dispatched on a special mission, the details of which remain murky to this day, to Gdansk, then known as Danzig, on the express orders of Adolf Hitler.....
On 25 February 1945, the Fa-223, was ordered to fly to Danzig. It took off from Tempelhof the next morning to proceed on its mission, flown by Leutnant Helmut Gerstenhauer, possibly the Luftwaffe’s premier helicopter pilot, accompanied by two other pilots. Plagued by bad winter weather, Allied bombing attacks, and having to search for fuel, the helicopter's pilot did not arrive on the outskirts of Danzig until the evening of 5 March, having flown the perilous last leg of the journey directly over the Russians’ heads, making it impossible to fly into the centre of Danzig as ordered. While awaiting orders on where to proceed, the crew got word that a fighter pilot had gotten lost in a snowstorm and had made a crash landing. Lt. Gerstenhauer took off in the Fa-223 and proceeded to search the area. The helicopter crew spotted the downed Me-109 with the injured pilot still in the cockpit. They rescued him and flew him back to the base for medical attention. By this time, Danzig was falling to the Russians, and the Fa-223's crew took off to try to reach a safer haven. When they found fuel stockpile, they realized that the Allies push had captured or destroyed all the friendly airfields along their projected route. After topping the tanks off, they loaded a 55 gallon drum of gasoline and a hand pump on board, and overflew the Soviet forces. They finally put down at the German base at Werder, on 11 March 1945, after an aerial odyssey covering more than 1,500 kilometers [932 miles], and logging 16 hours, 25 minutes of flight time.
The Luftwaffe’s impotence against the air raids began to corrode his mind. A million people in Germany’s domains had been slain by the enemy’s bombers or machine-gunned to death in fields, streets, and trains. He was obsessed by the idea that those responsible were escaping unpunished.
On 1 March 1945, Hitler appointed Colonel Werner Baumbach to the post of plenipotentiary for preventing Allied crossings of the Oder and Neisse rivers. At his disposal were Mistels and Hs-293 guided bombs. On 6 March, an Hs-293 hit the Oder bridge at Göritz.
Germany developed the Henschel Hs 293 air-launched missile in World War II for use against ships or ground targets. It was basically a glide bomb assisted by a liquid-fuel rocket that fired for 10 seconds. The Hs 293 was carried under the wings or in the bomb bay of an He 111, He 177, Fw 200, or Do 217 aircraft. Its warhead was a modified SC 500 bomb containing Trialene 105 high explosive. A bombardier guided the missile by means of a joy stick and radio control.
The same bridge was attacked two days later by five Mistels escorted by Ju-188 bombers. The Ju-188s scattered air defences, and the Mistels destroyed two bridges.
These victories and those in following days did little to change the inevitable outcome of the war. KG 200's remaining pilots and machines were shuffled to various air bases in futile attempts to destroy the Oder bridges.
On 8 March, 1945, Heinz Guderian predicted that since the Pomeranian threat to the Red Army’s northern flank had now collapsed, Stalin’s main attack on Berlin would begin “in about one week".
"We have invisible aircraft, submarines, colossal tanks and cannon, unbelievably powerful rockets, and a bomb with a working that will astonish the whole world. The enemy knows this, and besieges and attempts to destroy us. But we will answer this destruction with a storm and that without unleashing a bacteriological war, for which we are also prepared.... All my words are the purest truth. That you will see. We still have things that need to be finished, and when they are finished, they will turn the tide".
--Adolf Hitler, 13 March 1945, addressing officers of the German Ninth Army
How high Hitler set his chances we do not know. On 15 March he was inspiring Albert Kesselring, Rundstedt’s successor, with promise of a great "defensive victory" coming in the east, after which Germany’s main tank output would revert to the western front.
His new master plan must not fail: a sudden northward thrust from the Ninth Army’s narrow bridgehead at Frankfurt-on-Oder would destroy Zhukov’s forces massing at Küstrin and thus disrupt the big offensive for weeks to come. In conference with Himmler, Göring, and Guderian, Hitler instructed them to deceive the Russians into expecting the thrust to turn south, not north. That day he drove to the corps headquarters in the Frankfurt bridgehead to inspect for himself the unit strengths and their stocks of ammunition. Refugees swirled past his car windows in anonymous multitudes; ten million were now fleeing the Russian tanks and guns.
On the road back from the Oder River to his capital, Hitler remained sunk deep in thought.
By 28 March 1945, Germany’s position was militarily hopeless. Asked by Hitler ten days earlier to comment on the loss of Saar coal and its effect on their arms production, Albert Speer had answered in one sentence, "It will speed up the general collapse". When Gauleiter Albert Forster had arrived from Danzig late on the nineteenth with word that "four thousand" Russian tanks were converging on that city, Hitler had still confidently sworn that Danzig would be saved. But in the west a catastrophe had already occurred. All attempts at destroying the Remagen bridge across the Rhine failed until too late; by the time the German naval frogmen and jet bombers had between them brought it down, the Americans had another bridge in service and the enemy bridgehead had swollen to unmanageable proportions.
Counter Attack at Königsberg
German forces encircled in the fortress town of Königsberg by 3rd Ukranian front prepare to break through the besieging Soviet lines to re-establish
a supply line to the Baltic. Here some Stug III assault guns moved up to their assembly area next to the
town's World War One memorial. From here the attack was launched on 18 February 1945 and successfully opened a supply corridor which remained
in place until 8 April 1945
The civilian evacuation of Königsberg and Danzig was in full swing. In Hungary and Pomerania the counterattacks in which Hitler had vested his hopes had failed dismally. In the west one disaster overtook another. It was clear that the Ruhr was about to be encircled. Whole companies of German troops were throwing away their weapons and deserting. There were reports that German civilians had actually helped the Americans cross the Main near Frankfurt and were dancing with them in the streets at night. General Koller confided to Göring: "My own faith in our army commanders and in our striking power is exhausted". He regarded the southern American operation as strategically the most dangerous: it was the old French interwar strategy of thrusting eastward astride the Main toward Czechoslovakia so as to slice Germany in two.
The speed of events in the west stunned Hitler, who had been confident that in the east a great German defensive triumph lay in store. On 25 March he told Gauleiter Fritz Sauckel that for the first time he feared the war was lost.
Defeat seemed certain to all but the most blindly loyal. The hours Hitler spent with them increased, for they alone still displayed the kind of caged fanaticism that might even now see Germany through her misfortunes. Hitler’s earlier sycophants discreetly bowed out or were impatiently dismissed. As the end approached, old scores were settled all around—by Göbbels against Ribbentrop, by Bormann against Speer, by Speer against Göring, and by Robert Ley against "that petty and pitiable" Heinrich Himmler. On 20 March, Hitler had relieved the Reichsführer of command of Army Group Vistula. "The Führer saw through Himmler," wrote Ley. "I had a long talk with the Führer at the time, in which he bitterly complained of Himmler’s disobedience, dishonesty, and incompetence".
Fundamental to Hitler’s predicament was that many of his generals and ministers were already secretly preparing window-dressing for the war crimes trials they regarded as inevitable: Gotthard Heinrici, the mild-mannered, church-going general Hitler was forced to appoint as Himmler’s successor—for want of any better commanders—lacked the wholehearted commitment of a Ferdinand Schörner or Walter Model: Model held out with Army Group B in the encircled Ruhr pocket until his guns had fired their last ammunition; he then took his own life to cheat the enemy.
The historian Gerhard Weinberg states that Model had benefited from the hastening of the evolution that occurred in the relationship of Hitler to the military following the defeat at Stalingrad. Hitler had always resented his dependence on a professional higher officer corps whom he hoped to replace at the earliest opportunity with men more ideologically attuned to National Socialism. Since Stalingrad, Hitler relieved his generals with higher frequency, while pushing up into the higher ranks those "whose dedication to extreme National Social views made them more congenial to his way of thinking". Weinberg includes Model, alongside with Ferdinand Schörner and Heinz Guderian, in this group.
This was the bold spirit which had saved Stalin’s Russia in 1941 and 1942. But Hitler’s lieutenants lacked even the will to cheat the enemy of the spoils of war: the arms factories of Upper Silesia had fallen intact into Russian hands and were now adding to the arms and ammunition stockpiles being built up on the eastern bank of the Oder. Speer had not hesitated to order the destruction of Hungarian oil refineries in January—a premature destruction that the OKW was just able to stop in time. But by March he was planning less for Germany’s defense than for his own.
Speer’s character was ambivalent and complex, and Hitler evidently changed his mind about him; after a half-hearted attempt at dismissing him late in March he cut him out of his political testament entirely one month later. He was disappointed by the failure of Me-262 jet aircraft production to reach Speer’s predictions, and he appointed SS General Hans Kammler—already special commissioner for V-weapons—to take charge. Another of Speer’s projects—codenamed "Iron Hammer"—had also fallen short of expectations: 82 special aircraft, arranged in tandem, had been built for a daredevil attack on the main Soviet power stations, producing between them 1,904,000,000 kilowatts for Stalin’s tank and arms factories.
The operation, known as 'Plan Eisenhammer', to cripple the Soviet war industry, was the 1943 brainchild of Professor Heinrich Steinmann of the German Aviation Ministry, who had pointed out the benefit of raiding selected points in the Soviet infrastructure in order to damage the whole. Iron Hammer was meant to attack the Soviets' Achilles' heel--their electrical generation turbines. The Soviets relied on a haphazard system of electrical supply with no integrated grid, which revolved around a center near Moscow that supplied 75 percent of the power to the armament industry. The Germans sought to destroy an entire factory system in one quick blow.
A bombing raid KG 200, was to destroy twelve turbines in water and steam power-plants near Moscow, Gorky, Tula, Stalinogorsk the Volkhovstroi plant on Lake Ladoga, and under the Rybinsk Reservoir, as well as to attack certain substations, transmission lines and factories. If the attack were to succeed in destroying just two thirds of the turbines it would have knocked out about 75 percent of the power used by the Soviet defence industry. Only two smaller energy centers behind the Urals and in the Soviet Far East would have been left intact. At this time the Soviet Union had no turbine manufacturing capabilities -most of the equipment scheduled for attack under the 'Iron Hammer' plan had been supplied by the Germans before the wara- nd the only repair facility [in Leningrad] had been heavily damaged.
The Heinkel He 111 was a German aircraft designed by Siegfried and Walter Günter at Heinkel Flugzeugwerke in 1934. Through development it was described as a "wolf in sheep's clothing"ecause the project
masqueraded the machine as civilian transport, though from conception the Heinkel was intended
to provide the nascent Luftwaffe with a fast medium bomber.
Perhaps the best-recognised German bomber due to the distinctive, extensively glazed "greenhouse" nose of later versions, the Heinkel He 111 was the most numerous Luftwaffe bomber during the early stages of World War II. The bomber fared well until the Battle of Britain, when its weak defensive armament was exposed. Nevertheless, it proved capable of sustaining heavy damage and remaining airborne. As the war progressed,
the He 111 was used in a variety of roles on every front in the European theatre. It was used as a strategic bomber during the Battle of Britain, a torpedo bomber in the Atlantic and Arctic, and a medium bomber, supporting the German campaigns in the field until 1943 when, owing to Western Allied and Soviet
air superiority, it reverted to a transport aircraft role in the Western, Eastern, Mediterranean,
Middle Eastern, and North African Front theatres.
To accomplish the goal, Mistel long-range bombers were to be employed.
As early as 1942, German researchers also began to develop 'Mistel; (mistletoe), a piggyback aircraft–a smaller aircraft mounted above a larger, unmanned aircraft such as a medium-sized bomber. After a series of false starts, the combination settled upon was a Messerschmitt Me-109 or Focke-Wulf Fw-190 fighter atop a Junkers Ju-88 bomber. The machines were joined by a three-point strut apparatus, which was fitted with explosive bolts that would sever the connection when the carrier aircraft–armed with an 8,377-pound hollow-charge warhead in the nose–had been aimed at its target. The warhead would detonate on impact in an explosion that could penetrate 8 meters of steel or 20 meters of ferro-concrete.
The Mistel idea had little to commend it, for the expenditure of one Ju 88 bomber to deliver a mere 3 ton warhead to a target was
a grossly uneconomical method. But if a special warhead could be fitted to the explosive aircraft, a warhead which could punch
through almost any protective layer of armor, the possibilities became very attractive.
The warhead fitted to the Mistel was of the hollow charge type. Such warheads were used a great deal during the war against tanks,
but on the Mistel a hollow charge warhead far larger than any built before or since, was to be used. The picture above shows an early Mistel combination, with the hollow charge war head fitted in place of the crew compartment of the Ju 88 lower component.
This warhead was capable of "drilling" a hole clean through the hull of even the most heavily armored warship.
To destroy the water turbines special floating mines called Sommerballon [summer balloon] were to be dropped into the water from Heinkel He 111 planes. In theory, a Sommerballon would ride the water currents until it was pulled straight into the hydroelectric turbines of a dam.
Due to the shortage of Bombers and fuel, technical problems with the floating mines, and the Red Army over-running advance bases, the plan was postponed repeatedly. In February 1945, however, it was resurrected, and Kampfgeschwader 200 assembled scout planes and about 100 Mistels near Berlin and waited for favourable weather to attack the plants around Moscow. After a US air raid on the primary Rechlin 'Erprobungstelle' military aviation test headquarters facility, which destroyed 18 Mistels, and with the targets now, also, lying beyond the range of the He 111's. the plan was postponed again.
The idea of the knock-out blow was revived in December 1944, when the plan was expanded in scope and re-scheduled for the spring of 1945. The operation's supporters believed that such a powerful blow from the supposedly dying German Air Force would come as a great shock to the Russians, and might well have the useful secondary effect of causing them to pull back fighter units for home defense.
Despite the deep penetration necessary to reach the Iron Hammer targets, the German planning staff felt that the operation had a good chance of success. Since the autumn of 1943 German bomber activity over rear areas in the east had been negligible, and as a result the Russian home air defenses were weak and underdeveloped. The only German unit to fly regular missions over Russia since then had been KG 200, which was engaged in dropping and supplying agents. The unit's aircraft had regularly carried radar observers, and as a result the Germans knew that the radar cover in the rear areas was thin. Since the targets were both large and ill-defended, a night attack using flares was judged feasible.
For the operation specially modified Mistel combinations were prepared, able to cover the 760 mile distance from the base airfields to the targets. The Fw 190 upper components were each to carry two drop tanks for fuel, and additional tanks for both fuel and oil. Following tests held at Udetfeld with the warhead, it was calculated that two hits with hollow-charge fitted Ju 88's would be sufficient against the smaller power stations, while six hits would be necessary against the larger ones.
Iron Hammer was resurrected in February 1945, with several new twists. The revived plan had intended that the Mistel combinations should take off from airfields in East Prussia; as the front line had moved back with disconcerting speed during the Russian offensives in January and February, 1945, the Soviets having overrun all the advance bases included in earlier planning, the operation was re planned to use airfields at Oranienburg, Parchim, Laertz, Marienehe and Peenemunde; bases near Berlin and on the Baltic. The return flights were to be either to the home bases or else to airfields in the Courland Peninsular pocket, depending upon fuel and weather conditions.
Mistels would now be the primary weapon. Furthermore, Iron Hammer had become a part of a master strategy to regain the initiative in the East. After the strike rendered the Soviet production centers impotent, the Wehrmacht would wait until the Soviets had exhausted their front-line materiel. Freshly re-armed Waffen SS divisions would swarm northward from western Hungary, attempting to drive straight to the Baltic Sea and catch the advance elements of the Red Army in a huge pincer movement. After the Soviets had been eliminated and Central Europe was safe, the Germans would negotiate a separate peace with the Western Allies, and the struggle against Bolshevism could be continued.
Lieutenant Colonel Werner Baumbach was made responsible for the execution of the Iron Hammer operation. Under his control were the Mistel combinations of K.G. 30 and K.G. 200, as well as a number of He 111's, Ju 88's and Ju 290's which were to act as route and target markers during the attack. However, by the time sufficient Mistel combinations were available, there were other tasks for which they could be used.
By March 1945, the Russians were streaming westwards over the Vistula bridges. Something of the dilemma that faced the Germans may be sensed from a conversation held between Hitler and General Karl Koller, the Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, on 26 March 1945:
Koller: Altogether there are 82 Mistel combinations ready for use. If the urgent attacks on the Vistula bridges are carried out as you, my Führer, have commanded Lieutenant Colonel Baumbach, there will remain 56 combinations for the "Iron Hammer" operation. Since the report from General Christian would you not prefer that we carry through a smaller 'Iron Hammer' with these 56 Mistels? I wish to propose that as well as the urgent Vistula bridge attacks, the 'Iron Hammer' operation should be carried through with these 56 Mistel combinations. The attack on the Gorky group of targets would then have to be omitted. We should then knock out 80 per-cent of their electrical generating capacity; of their 1,094 million kilowatts, the reduction would be only 378 million kilowatts. I ask therefore that the proposed "Iron Hammer" operation be approved; technically we can be completely ready by the 28th/29th, provided the weather conditions are favorable.
Hitler: I do not wish to divide the effort, because when we do it a second time the enemy will be ready, and will reply with strong defensive measures.
Koller: Naturally it would be a shame if the complete Iron Hammer operation could not be flown, but I do not know when we could ever do it again; the earliest that it could be done again is during the next moon period. I should also like to believe that the range of the targets is such that strong defenses will not be met, because presumably the enemy will not expect us to attack over such great distances.
Hitler: Nevertheless, one knows how significant it would have been if the enemy had attacked our power stations simultaneously. It is exactly the same with the enemy. For the present I prefer to give up the Vistula Bridge attacks; that can be done later.
Koller: So the "Iron Hammer" operation can be carried out in full with no diversion of effort for the Vistula Bridge attacks?
The transcript ended: "The Führer agreed with this". But the Iron Hammer operation was not to be mounted on the 28 March. Shortly after the conversation it became clear that the bridge attacks could not be "done later". The Russians were massing for a breakthrough along the line of the Oder River where for the time being they were held, though in places less than 35 miles from Berlin itself. At Küstrin they had already established a bridgehead on the west bank which had resisted all German attempts to throw it back. When the Russian attack came, there could be no doubt that the crossings at Küstrin would play a major part in it; accordingly, the carefully husbanded stock of Mistel combinations was sent in to smash them.
Hitler did not even resent Speer’s uncomfortably frank 15 March memorandum on the economic situation. He told Guderian he had stuffed it, "unread," into the man-high safe at the foot of his bed. It bravely exposed Speer’s conviction that the war was hopelessly lost: the enemy air raids, and the loss of the coal-bearing regions, made Germany’s "final economic collapse" inevitable within four to eight weeks. "After this collapse the war cannot even be militarily continued". Speer’s memorandum urged Hitler to remember the government’s obligation in the coming hours of trial to aid its people; and he demanded strict orders prohibiting the destruction of factories and bridges, as this could now only harm Germany. Hitler turned a deaf ear on Speer when he again argued these points, in person this time, late on the eighteenth. Speer was an intellectual foreign to the dictates of strategy; and it was the minister’s fortieth birthday next day. But his indulgence toward Speer cooled when he learned a week later through Party channels that Speer had secretly driven to the west to sabotage Hitler’s orders for a scorched-earth policy to slow down the enemy advance. Hitler had issued these orders on 19 March, after Keitel’s orders issued on 4 January had failed to prevent the scandalous events of Upper Silesia and the Saar, where entire industries had fallen intact into enemy hands. Hitler’s emphatic directive called for the destruction of all military installations and transport-, communications- and public utility equipment "insofar as they may be of use to the enemy in the furtherance of his fight".
Both Speer and his energetic deputy, Karl-Otto Saur, shuttled between Berlin and the Ruhr, but Hitler soon learned that their purposes were very different. Saur admitted that further production in the Ruhr was hopeless, but he bitterly criticized the response of the General Staff officers there to his own expressions of optimism. Speer on the other hand had spread despondency and gloom, infecting everybody he had met and urging them to turn their factories over to the enemy intact. Meanwhile the American spearheads were plunging deeper and deeper into Germany. At Hanau and Aschaffenburg two more key bridges fell undemolished into their hands. Probably only Speer’s friendship with Hitler and Eva Braun now spared him from an unkinder fate. Late on 28 March the Führer coldly received him and instructed him to stand down as armaments minister, giving the customary ill-health plea as an excuse. Speer clearly lacked the necessary faith that the tide could still turn in their favor, the Führer pointed out. Speer flushed and protested, but Hitler challenged him outright. "Do you still hope for a successful continuation of the war, or is your faith shattered?" When after twenty-four hours Speer had still not given him a straight answer, Hitler virtually sacked him, although he continued to value his presence at the Chancellery as a friend. Meanwhile, Jodl and his military staff attempted to put Hitler’s defense doctrines into practice—instilling into the western army group commanders the need to bring home to the enemy that they were plunging into a Germany "fanatical with fighting spirit". Only this would enable the western front to be stabilized. "This is not the time or place for considering the civilian population," the OKW order concluded.
Bormann added his own characteristic warning to his Gauleiters:
"Devil take the one who deserts his Gau under enemy attack except with express orders from the Führer, or who does not fight to the last breath in his body—he will be cast out as a deserter and dealt with accordingly".
Hitler spent the last week in March 1945 purging his followers of the faint of heart. Hans Lammers, his chief of Chancellery, came for the last time on the twenty-seventh and mentioned his high blood pressure; Hitler sent him to Berchtesgaden on sick leave. On 29 March he dismissed General Guderian too, fearing that when the crisis came his poor health would produce a breakdown similar to his collapse in the Moscow winter of 1941. General Hans Krebs, a young and tough idealist strongly reminiscent of Kurt Zeitzler in his heyday, took over as Chief of the General Staff. Heinrich Himmler had also fallen from grace, for the SS Sixth Panzer Army in Hungary under SS General Sepp Dietrich had not only failed in its big counter attack north of Lake Balaton, but had been routed and thrown back onto the Austrian frontier. Nothing could stop the Russians from pouring into Vienna; the Hungarian oil fields were lost. "If we lose the war, it will be his fault!" Hitler raged, and ordered that as a punishment Sepp Dietrich’s principal divisions were to be stripped of their brassards and insignia for three days. Himmler was packed off to Vienna to issue a stern reprimand to his Waffen SS generals.
'Operation Frühlingserwachen' [Spring Awakening] was the last major German offensive of World War II. The offensive was launched in Hungary on the Eastern Front. This offensive was also referred to in Germany as the Plattensee Offensive, in the Soviet Union as the Balaton Defensive Operation [6 – 15 March 1945], and in English as the Lake Balaton Offensive.
The offensive begun by the Germans in great secrecy on 6 March 1945. They launched attacks in Hungary near the Lake Balaton area. This area included some of the last oil reserves still available to the Axis. The operation involved many German units withdrawn from the failed Ardennes Offensive on the Western Front, including the 6th SS Panzer Army. Almost inevitably, Operation Spring Awakening was a failure for the German Army.
After the Ardennes offensive failed, in Hitler’s estimation, the Nagykanizsa oilfields southwest of Lake Balaton were the most strategically valuable reserves on the Eastern Front. Hitler ordered Sepp Dietrich's 6th SS Panzer Army to take the lead and move to Hungary in order to protect the oilfields and refineries there.
The Germans planned to attack against Soviet General Fyodor Tolbukhin's 3rd Ukrainian Front. The 6th SS Panzer Army was responsible for the primary thrust of the German attack. The army was to advance from an area north of Lake Balaton on a wide front. They were to push east through the Soviet 27th Army and to the Danube River. After reaching the river, one part of the army would turn north creating a northern spearhead. The northern spearhead would advance through the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Army and move along the Danube River to retake Budapest, which had been captured on 13 February 1945. Another part of 6th SS Panzer Army would then turn south and create a southern spearhead. The southern spearhead would move along the Sio Canal to link up with units from German Army Group E, which was to thrust north through Mohács. If successful, the meeting of the southern spearhead and of Army Group E would encircle both the Soviet 26th Army and the Soviet 57th Army.
German 6th Army would keep the Soviet 27th Army engaged while it was surrounded. Likewise, the German 2nd Panzer Army would advance from an area south of Lake Balaton towards Kaposvár and keep the Soviet 57th Army engaged. The Hungarian Third Army was to hold the area north of the attack and to the west of Budapest.
By the second half of February Soviet intelligence identified large German tank formations in western Hungary, and soon realized that preparation for a major offensive was underway. Using the experience gained in the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets built multi-layered anti-tank defenses, using 65% of available artillery to create 66 anti-tank ambush points over 83 km of front in Lake Balaton area. The depth of the defense zone reached up to 25–30 km. To ensure sufficient supply of war materials and fuel, additional temporary bridges and gas pipelines were built on the Danube River.
On 6 March 1945, the German 6th Army, joined by the 6th SS Panzer Army launched a pincer movement north and south of Lake Balaton. Ten Panzer and five infantry divisions, including a large number of new heavy Tiger II tanks, struck 3rd Ukrainian Front, hoping to reach the Danube and link up with the German 2nd Panzer Army forces attacking south of Lake Balaton. The attack was spearheaded by the 6th SS Panzer Army and included elite units such as the LSSAH division. Dietrich's army made "good progress" at first, but as they drew near the Danube, the combination of the muddy terrain and strong Soviet resistance ground them to a halt.
By 14 March, Operation Spring Awakening was at risk of failure. The 6th SS Panzer Army was well short of its goals. The 2nd Panzer Army did not advance as far on the southern side of Lake Balaton as the 6th SS Panzer Army had on the northern side. Army Group E met fierce resistance from the Bulgarian First Army and Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavian partisan army, and failed to reach its objective of Mohacs.
On 16 March, the Soviets forces counterattacked in strength. The Germans were driven back to the positions they had held before Operation Spring Awakening began. The overwhelming numerical superiority of the Red Army made any defense impossible, yet Hitler somehow had believed victory was attainable.
On 22 March, the remnants of the 6th SS Panzer Army withdrew towards Vienna. By 30 March, the Soviet 3rd Ukrainian Front crossed from Hungary into Austria. By 4 April, the 6th SS Panzer Army was already in the Vienna area desperately setting up defensive lines against the anticipated Soviet Vienna Offensive. Approaching and encircling the Austrian capital were the Soviet 4th Guards Tank Army, the Soviet 6th Guards Tank Army, the Soviet 9th Guards Army, and the Soviet 46th Army.
The Soviet's Vienna Offensive ended with the fall of the city on 13 April. By 15 April, the remnants of the 6th SS Panzer Army were north of Vienna, facing the Soviet 9th Guards Tank Army and 46th Army.
By 15 April, the depleted German 6th Army was north of Graz, facing the Soviet 26th and 27th Armies. The remnants of the German 2nd Panzer Army were south of Graz in the Maribor area, facing the Soviet 57th Army and the Bulgarian First Army. Between 25 April and 4 May, the 2nd Panzer Army was attacked near Nagykanizsa during the Nagykanizsa–Körmend Offensive.
Some Hungarian units survived the fall of Budapest and the destruction which followed when the Soviets counterattacked after Operation Spring Awakening. The Hungarian Szent László Infantry Division was still indicated to be attached to the German 2nd Panzer Army as late as 30 April. Between 16 and 25 March, the Hungarian Third Army had been destroyed about 40 kilometres [25 mi] west of Budapest by the Soviet 46th Army which was driving towards Bratislava and the Vienna area.
Operation Spring Awakening was a failure for Germany. Given the timing of the offensive and the relative strength of German forces compared to the Red Army, the plan was doomed from the start.
This failure is known for the "armband order" that followed. The order was issued to the 6th SS Panzer Army commander Sepp Dietrich by Adolf Hitler, who claimed that the troops, and more importantly, the Leibstandarte, "did not fight as the situation demanded". As a mark of disgrace, the Waffen-SS units involved in the battle were ordered to remove their treasured cuff titles. Dietrich did not relay the order to his troops.
Guderian’s dismissal resulted from a similar defeat just east of Berlin. Hitler had clung to the ancient city of Küstrin to deny its important Oder bridges and road junctions to the Russians; since mid-March he had been preparing a limited counterattack toward Küstrin from his own Frankfurt bridgehead, hoping to destroy the enemy assault forces massing for the attack on Berlin. But before General Theodor Busse’s Ninth Army could begin the counterattack, the Russians struck and encircled Küstrin completely; Busse’s own attack on 22 March failed, but Hitler insisted that it must be repeated immediately. General Heinrici, Himmler’s successor as army group commander, came to the Bunker in person on 25 March to argue for Küstrin to be abandoned to the enemy so that he could conserve what ammunition and gasoline he had for the big defensive battle looming ahead. But again Hitler insisted on a policy of attack. A purely defensive stance would allow the Russians to pounce at will—the German reserves would be tied down in hasty repair jobs, and then Heinrici would begin clamoring for new reserves all over again. "Since the enemy will always be stronger than us," Hitler wearily reminded him, "they will then ultimately break through and that will be your downfall". Their only hope was to throw rapid punches at the enemy before they were ready to attack, delaying them week after week while Hitler stockpiled ammunition for the major battle. Most Russian strength was massing south of Küstrin—particularly artillery. Hitler admitted that a renewed counterattack here would be a gamble, but with the necessary faith, he insisted, it would succeed.
The new attack began on 28 March. The German tanks reached Küstrin’s outskirts, but once again the infantry failed to follow through and the tanks were brought back. Against Hitler’s explicit orders the Küstrin garrison then broke out to the west, knifing through Russian lines which Heinrici and Busse had described as impenetrable. Hitler summoned General Busse to the Bunker and informed him of his displeasure. Guderian loudly and intemperately defended him, purpling with rage. Hitler cleared the Bunker conference room and advised Guderian: "You need sick leave. I don’t think your heart can stand the strain. Come back in six weeks".
Along the Oder, Marshal Zhukov had assembled over 750,000 troops for the offensive; farther south along the Neisse Marshal Konev had 500,000 more under his command. Additional Soviet forces were approaching from the battlefields of East and West Prussia, but Hitler believed that the attack might begin without them, because the Russians were determined to reach Berlin before the Americans.
On the day after Guderian’s dismissal Hitler issued a clear-sighted appraisal of the situation "now that we have failed to shatter the enemy preparations by counterattack". He demanded a fanatical defense effort by Army Group Vistula, from General Heinrici himself right down to the youngest recruit. In particular Hitler ordered Heinrici to construct a "main battle line" two to four miles behind the present front line—a bitter lesson he had learned from the Americans on the dawn of his own Ardennes offensive. The moment the Russian offensive was seriously anticipated, Heinrici was to fall back on this second line; the huge enemy artillery bombardment would then fall on the empty trenches of the original front line. Heinrici was also ordered to resite his artillery farther back, where it could saturate the countryside between the present front and the “main battle line” when the Russian attack began.
Unaware of this Hitler Order of 30 March 1945, Cornelius Ryan in "The Last Battle" gives Heinrici the credit for this stratagem.
Thus his malevolently brilliant brain was still functioning logically and flexibly, even though his physical frame was a palsied shadow of the Hitler that had sprung this war on central Europe in 1939. His doctors were unanimous in agreeing that his sanity remained intact until the end, even though he could not walk more than thirty paces without gripping something firm for support, and his bloodshot eyes became so poor that he had to put on his spectacles even to read documents typed on the special big-face typewriters.
A Common By-Product of Ageing
Hitler suffered from Presbyopia, a degenerative condition in which the eye finds it
harder to focus on nearby objects.
The condition is believed to be caused by degeneration of the eye's lens, and is a very
common effect of ageing, affecting millions of people over 50.
Presbyopia is nearly always rectified by reading glasses, but those who start to wear
glasses in middle age are often unhappy about doing so.
Hitler is certainly not the only person to have felt self-conscious about his specs.
Reading glasses Hitler tried to keep secret set to fetch £5,000 at auction
By Allan Hall for MailOnline
5 October 2011
They were made for him as his eyesight began to fail as the Second World War dragged on. But few photographs of Adolf Hitler in his reading glasses exist because he regarded them as a weakness and believed it would undermine his authority with his subjects. To compensate for not having to use glasses as a result of his worsening Presbyopia, from 1933 onwards he had all his speeches and official documents written on a special typewriter with large print and huge line spaces.
Sixty-six years after the end of the war, however, the glasses are in the news as they come up for sale in a major auction of the Nazi leader’s possessions. Expected to fetch £5,000, the glasses come in their original black leather case with dark blue velvet embossed with the name of the Ruhnke opticians in Berlin which made them for him under great secrecy.
The spectacles form part of a large cache of Hitler memorabilia going under the hammer later this month.
Other objects include a large silver cigarette case with a starting price of £9,500. Hitler was a non-smoker but the cigarettes were offered to visiting dignitaries at his Reich Chancellery in Berlin before Allied bombers turned it into brick dust. An Eagle clutching a Swastika flanked by Hitler’s initials is on the lid.
Some £4,600 is the starting bid for a lamp from his apartment in Munich at Prinzregentenplatz - today a police station - and five pieces of cutlery with his personal monogram have a reserve price of £1,700.
Most serious collectors have their eyes on a precious gold watch that was given to Hitler as a gift in 1929 and which was found on his body in the Führerbunker in Berlin after he committed suicide in 1945. It has a starting price of £9,000 but could fetch more than twice that price.
Another major piece with a reserve price of £20,000 is a gold and emerald badge bearing the Swastika which he received on his birthday, 20 April 1942.
Other items coming under the hammer include his sugar tongs from his study at his mountain retreat, the Berghof, valued at £1,100, a salt cellar with his initials on the top valued at £1,700.
A signed copy of his book "Mein Kampf" for which starting bids begin at £5,000, is of enormous historical importance as it is dedicated to Rudolf Hess, his companion in Landsberg Fortress where he was imprisoned in the 1920’s for trying to overthrow the state.
"To my faithful fortress companion Rudolf Hess, dedicated by Adolf Hitler, Munich, 17 October 1925," it reads.
The Hermann Historica Munich auction house, one of Germany’s most reputable, is behind the sale and says all the items have been authenticated and come from a wide variety of sources.
But when frontline commanders were brought down to the shelter, his willpower and perseverance appeared undiminished—the central powerhouse, coordinating and commanding, that alone seemed to enable Germany to withstand the onslaught of the whole world in indignant coalition against her. A year before he had dominated all Europe from the North Cape to the Crimea and the Spanish frontier; now millions of enemy troops were only an hour’s drive away, east and west of his capital, and his headquarters was this shelter. Yet the admiration of his strategic advisers was unimpaired.
"Looking at the whole picture," General Jodl unashamedly told his interrogators, "I am convinced that he was a great military leader. Certainly no historian can say that Hannibal was a poor general just because ultimately Carthage was destroyed".
Admiral Dönitz, himself no simpleton, unreservedly echoed this judgment on Hitler.
For Hitler the spring had brought encouraging signs for the future, which blinded him to the remorseless approach of the enemy armies. Hundreds of the new jets were now reaching the squadrons. Jet reconnaissance planes had reopened the skies over England and Scotland.
The Arado Ar 234 B Blitz [Lightning] was the world's first operational jet bomber and reconnaissance aircraft. The first Ar 234 combat mission, a reconnaissance flight over the Allied beachhead in Normandy, took place 2 August 1944. With a maximum speed of 735 kilometers [459 miles] per hour, the Blitz easily eluded Allied piston-engine fighters. While less famous than the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighters, the Ar 234s that reached Luftwaffe units provided excellent service, especially as reconnaissance aircraft.
It was the last Luftwaffe aircraft to fly over Britain during the war, in April 1945.
An account published in the 18 January 1948 issue of the right-wing, Chilean "Diario Illustrado" newspaper said on 30 April 1945, Berlin was in dissolution but little of that dissolution was evident at Tempelhof Airfield. At 4:15 p.m. a Ju52 landed and S.S. troops directly from Rechlin for the defense of Berlin disembarked, all of them young, not older than 18 years. The gunner in this particular plane sought to tank up and leave Berlin as quickly as possible. During this re-fueling interval he was suddenly elbowed in the ribs by his radio operator with a nod to look in a certain direction.
At about 100-120 meters he saw an Arado 234, and without any doubt whatsoever, standing in front of the jet, their Commander in Chief, Adolf Hitler, dressed in field-grey uniform and gesticulating animatedly with some Party functionaries, who were obviously seeing him off. For about ten minutes whilst their plane was being refueled the two men observed this scene and around 4:30 p.m. they took to the air again. They were extremely astonished to hear during the midnight military news bulletin, some seven and a half hours later, that Hitler had committed suicide.
On 17 March the first Mark XXI submarine—capable of voyaging submerged to Japan—had set forth, bound eventually for the east coast of the United States. Underground oil plants were being built by the SS. He and the General Staff believed that Stalin could be held off, for Soviet tank losses were outrunning production: in February, Stalin had lost 4,600, against a monthly output of only 2,300; in the first twenty-two days of March no fewer than 5,452 Soviet tanks were claimed destroyed. "The enemy’s reserves will shortly be exhausted," the General Staff assured the Führer. Stalin had been provoked into launching a sixth attack on Hitler’s besieged army in Kurland; again he had suffered a bloody defeat, and he made no further attempts. In the beleaguered fortresses of Breslau and Königsberg German garrisons were still holding out. "And as long as I have Königsberg I can still claim to the German people that East Prussia is not lost," Hitler explained in private.
Königsberg [later Kaliningrad] is an ice-free port city situated on the Baltic Sea coast, the farthest western corner of modern Russia. It was founded by the Teutonic knights when they spread eastward during the 13th century.
Ever since its foundation, Königsberg has been a city of paradoxes and enigmas. The knights originally planned to build the city some 200 kilometers to the east, at the Neman River. During their rest stop at a mountain that contained a heathen place of worship, the knights observed a solar eclipse. The Teutonic Order’s Magisters considered the phenomenon to be a sign from God, and decided not to disobey it. The mountain later became known as 'Königs Berg', or Royal Mountain.
Formerly the capital of the dukes of Prussia and later the capital of East Prussia, Königsberg was ceded to the Soviet Union in 1945 under the Potsdam agreement. The city’s strategic importance was all too apparent to Stalin. In June of 1941 it had been used by the Germans as a staging ground for one of the main assaults against Soviet Russia, and it remained a very important naval base for the duration of the war. Over 100,000 Soviet soldiers lost their lives in the operation to take the city from the Germans.
On the Czech frontier, the tough General Ferdinand Schörner fought a grim twenty-day defensive battle for the industrial city of Moravian Ostrau [Ostrava] which ended on 3 April in a convincing victory for his Army Group Center. Hitler appointed him field marshal.
During the first week of April 1945 this optimism was severely shaken. On 2 April the Reich surgeon general, Dr. Karl Brandt, privately warned him that one-fifth of all essential medical items was already unobtainable, and that stocks of two-fifths more would run out completely in two months. This put the shortest time-fuse yet on Hitler’s strategy: without medicines disease and epidemic would cut his people down. Now that the Ruhr and Saar arsenals had been overrun, crippling production shortages in weapons, small arms, ammunition, and explosives made a mockery of his efforts to raise fresh divisions from the Hitler Youth or Reich Labor Service battalions. Virtually all aircraft production had ceased; the ground-attack and air-transport squadrons were already running out of replacement aircraft. An airlift to Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B, encircled in the Ruhr pocket, was out of the question.
Hitler Suggests Negotiations With Allies?
Townsville Daily Bulletin [Qld]
2 April 1945
Hitler is reported to have told his Generals at a meeting of the Council of War that they could negotiate with the Allies while he and Himmler answered for internal order. The Generals did not accept the proposal. The final result of the meeting was not reported.
The German High Command told Hitler that the continuation of the war was impossible, says the Stockholm newspaper "Tidnlngen". Both Stockholm and Zürich circulated reports of the meeting which is stated to have been held at Hitler's headquarters and to have lasted until the early hours of to-day. The "Exchange Telegraph's correspondent quoting the "Tidningcn" savs le High Command emphasized to Hitler that the German officers in the west had lost control of their troops. The Volksstürmers were surrendering without attempting to fight. Stocks of Petrol bad been exhausted. There was insufficient food for the troops.
The "Exchange Telegraph's correspondent in Zürich, says neither Kesselring nor Göring were present at the meeting. Even Hitler realised he had played bis last card, and the war was lost. The party leaders were informed by the High Command that control had been lost of the armies on the Western Front, and further organised strategical or tactical warfare cannot be conducted. Even the most drastic measures could not cope with the mass desertions and defeatism extending to the highest military ranks. All Gauleiters with families were now moving to the Nazi fortress of Bavaria.
The general opinion was the war would end in less than three weeks. Hitler, it is stated, told the Council be was prepared to give up sole leadership and form a Führer's Council, beaded by Kesselring, Hitler and Schörner, with Görlng, Himmler and Dönitz as members. The correspondent says it is generally believed in Berlin that Kesselring has been deprived of rank, and there have been rumours he has suicided.
Hitler As "War Genius"
The Courier-Mail [Brisbane, Qld]
11 May 1945
LONDON, 10 May: "Hitler was a genius in his operations sense and in conceptions" said Marshal Albert Kesselring. after his capture by the Allies yesterday.
"I only regret," he went on, "that Hitler had to direct Germany's military and economic life.
"He was overtaxed, with the weight of the problems".
Kesselring, who was the last German commander on the Western Front, was interviewed by war correspondents in a luxurious special train in Austria. He ascribed Germany's defeat to the Allied air superiority.
Reasons for the defeat, he explained were:
1. The Allied strategic bombing.
2. The attacks by low-flying fighters.
3. The terror raids against the German civilian population.
Kesselring singled out Montgomery [whom he referred to as "Monty"] Arthur Tedder, and George Patton as commanders who had won his respect.
The "British United Press" correspondent in Berne says the German Minister to Berne, Kocher, has departed for an undisclosed destination. The Germans were tense this weekend, and Berliners expected Easter to bring surprises, says "Reuter's Stockholm correspondent quoting Swedish Press dispatches from Berlin.
"German Press" thinks the war would end soon, but implied it would be a German victory. The newspaper warned the population that increasing numbers of Allied agents were operating in Berlin, and were spreading reports of disaster.
The Red Army paid a bloody price for the honor of delivering Hitler’s capital to Stalin, who ordered the attack accelerated when he met with his Front commanders on 3 April. The reason for the shift in gear was almost certainly the Kremlin master’s concern over the rapid progress being made by the Western Allies, as resistance collapsed into small unit action and a few holdout pockets in western Germany.
The Breslau garrison was barely surviving, but in Königsberg—despite Hitler’s repeated instructions that the fortress was to be held to the last man-the commandant, General Otto Lasch, surrendered to the Russians on 9 April; during the following night Hitler ordered a message sent to all surviving command posts and radio units at Königsberg: "General Lasch is to be shot as a traitor immediately".
Otto Lasch was a highly decorated General der Infanterie in the Wehrmacht during World War II who commanded the LXIV. Armeekorps. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves.
Lasch after graduation took part in World War I in the Jäger-Battalion "Fürst Bismarck“ Nr. 2 in Kulm [Westprussia]. After 1918 he joined the police and in 1935 the Wehrmacht. He advanced to the rank of Generalleutnant and functioned as Commandant of Königsberg in East Prussia from November 1944.
Following heavy fighting and surrounding of the city during the Battle of Königsberg by the 36-division strong 3rd Byelorussian Front under Ivan Chernyakhovsky, Lasch, with only badly crippled divisions under his command, decided to surrender the city to the Red Army on 9 April 1945. For this act, Hitler condemned him in absentia and his family to death. His wife and daughters were arrested in Berlin and Denmark. However at the end of the war they were released. Lasch was to remain until 1953 in Soviet labor camp captivity in Workuta, but was released late October 1955, when due to Adenauer's Moscow visit remaining German war prisoners were released. Lasch died in Bonn in 1971.
In 1958 he wrote the book: "So fiel Königsberg. Kampf und Untergang von Ostpreußens Hauptstadt" about the battle and fall of Königsberg, capital city of East Prussia. In 1965 he wrote about the years of his time in Soviet war prison, titled "Zuckerbrot und Peitsche".
But which generals heeded Hitler’s orders now? His authority was waning, and they were beginning to act arbitrarily, in disregard and ignorance of the central strategy laid down in Berlin. "Blomberg always told me that obedience stops short at generals," Hitler was to recall a few days before the end. At his midday war conference on 1 April, Hitler had expressly laid down: "Anybody retreating in Austria is to be shot!" But now every day Martin Bormann submitted sheafs of telegrams from the angry and bewildered Gauleiters reporting the Wehrmacht’s headlong retreat from across the Hungarian frontier. During the afternoon of 5 April, General Otto Wöhler’s Army Group South retreated fifty miles, Bormann jotted in his diary: "The Bolsheviks are outside Vienna!" But Hitler merely sacked the general and replaced him with Lothar Rendulic, the gritty general who had just thwarted Stalin’s last assault on the Kurland army group. One of Bormann’s Party officials had telephoned that night: "None of the army group gentlemen"—meaning Wöhler’s staff "has the slightest faith in their ability to hold off the enemy penetration into the [Zisterdorf] petroleum fields ; nor in fact, and this I must state plainly, do they believe we can still win. The Luftwaffe blew up all Vienna’s searchlight sites on the night of 3 April without a word to the army group. In the Lower Danube Gau the Wehrmacht rout goes on".
The Last Bridge
Floridsdorf, Vienna, 3 April 1945. Soviet assaults had almost cleared German resistance from the south bank of the Danube. Only one small bridgehead remained open to allow troops a chance to escape, and this exit was defended by only 2 tanks and a few anti-tank guns. Defending the eastern approaches to the bridge was
the Panther tank of SS Obersturmführer
Arnold Friesen, 2nd SS Panzer Division.
Despite being only 19 he was a veteran of Kursk, Normandy, the Ardennes and Hungary with a tally of 97 tank kills to his credit. By the end of the day Friesen
and his crew accounted for a further 14 [the last two with Panzerfausts], before covering the final withdrawal of the last German units across the bridge
under cover of darkness
Zisterdorf, outside Vienna, was Hitler’s only remaining source of petroleum. On 6 April he ordered its defense until the last possible moment. Vienna itself seemed bent on suicide. From there SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny reported on the tenth that while the tank brigades were running out of gasoline, retreating Luftwaffe units were passing through with truckloads of "girls and furniture"; a handful of tough SS commanders could stop the rout—he himself had just ordered three traitors hanged from a bridge. Three days later Vienna was overrun.
Warily—because he knew Hitler’s loathing of astrologers—Dr. Göbbels had sent for the Führer’s horoscope, which the Gestapo kept filed away. Two separate horoscopes came to a remarkably unanimous conclusion—and both could be interpreted as having already predicted the outbreak of war in 1939, the victories until 1941, and the hammer blows of defeat since then; the hardest blows, they prophesised, would fall in this first half of April, while the second half would temporarily give Germany the upper hand again. A period of stalemate would follow until August 1945, in which month peace would return. After three cruel years, the horoscopes concluded, Germany’s ascent to greatness would be resumed in 1948.
Stalin’s big Oder offensive might begin any day now. General Theodor Busse was confident that his Ninth Army could stop it from reaching Berlin. In the west, Hitler planned to launch in mid-April a counterattack against the long exposed American flank as they thrust eastward. Göbbels strove to persuade Hitler not to lose hope, for he was sure the clash between Russia and the West must come within the next three to four months—by August 1945, in short. Early in April he came to the shelter and, in his melodious and theatrical voice, read aloud to Hitler from Carlyle’s fine description of the darkest hours of the Seven Years’ War. It was a moment in which Frederick the Great saw no way out, his generals and ministers were convinced of imminent defeat, and Prussia’s enemies already gloated over its fall. With an uncertain future stretching darkly before him the great king wrote one last letter to Count Finckenstein proclaiming that if the tide had not turned by a certain date he would accept defeat and swallow poison.
Here Carlyle apostrophized: "Brave King! Tarry awhile, because your days of travail will soon pass. Already the sun has risen behind the clouds of your misfortune, and soon it will shine forth".
Three days before the king’s deadline, the Czarina Elizabeth died, the accession of Peter III took Russia out of the war, and thus the House of Brandenburg was saved. Göbbels saw tears starting in Hitler’s eyes as he laid the book aside.
One of the great myths about Hitler is that at the end he was a broken man, that he had lost control of events, that he directed armies which no longer existed, that he fantasized over victory in the ruins of Berlin, that, in short, the only place he was fit to command was the lunatic asylum. Hitler was ill at the end of the war and suffered [like Roosevelt and Churchill] from attacks of nerves, but this never constituted a collapse. In fact, if anything the contrary is true. In August 1944 Hitler emerged from what Göbbels in his diaries called the Führer-crisis of 1943 and early 1944 [the crisis consisted of indecisiveness and lack of interest in the war] and once more displayed his qualities of old.
In August 1944 Germany had reached a position akin to that of September 1918. In both instances it was clear that Germany had lost the war even though German territory had not yet been occupied. Allied troops were advancing everywhere against weaker German forces and internally Germany was beginning to suffer as a result of the Allied blockade. However, Hitler confirmed his professed desire to fight until "five minutes past midnight".
He began a Propaganda campaign which stressed the potential of the new wonder weapons, the V-ls and the V-2s, and the Ardennes offensive, the last German attack of the war in winter 44/45, must be seen for its importance in both foreign and domestic affairs. By attacking in the West Hitler put the question to Churchill and Roosevelt: "Whom do you wish to see standing at the Rhine, me or Stalin?" More important, he also made clear to those elements of the German population who wanted to let the Western Allies in [and they were numerous] that even partial-defeatism was not part of his strategy.
Putting himself in Stalin’s now enviable shoes, Hitler himself believed the buildup before Berlin was only a feint and that the real Russian offensive would first be toward Prague. Stalin must surely intend to embrace the important Czech industrial region before his American rivals could reach it—just as Hitler had striven for the Donets Basin and the Caucasus in 1941.
Hitler had chided General Heinz Guderian:
"The Russians won’t be as stupid as us. We were dazzled by our nearness to Moscow and just had to capture the capital. Remember, Guderian—you were the one who wanted to be first into Moscow at the head of your army! And just look at the consequences!"
Whether this was intuition or on General Staff advice the records do not disclose, but at this crucial juncture, he impulsively ordered General Theodor Busse to relinquish four SS Panzer divisions to Schörner’s army group defending Czechoslovakia.
Even as Zhukov and Koniev began feverishly preparing to hurl thirteen armies with more than a million men at Berlin, Adolf Hitler had another of his famous intuitive flashes. The massing of the Russian armies at Küstrin, directly opposite the capital, was nothing more than a mighty feint, he concluded. The main Soviet offensive would be aimed at Prague in the south - not at Berlin. Only one of Hitler's generals was gifted with the same insight. Colonel General Ferdinand Schörner, now commander of Army Group Center on Heinrici's southern flank, had also seen through the Russian hoax. "My Führer," warned Schörner, "it is written in history. Remember Bismarck's words, 'Whoever holds Prague holds Europe.'" Hitler agreed. The brutal Schörner, a Führer favorite and among the least talented of the German generals, was promptly promoted to Field Marshal. At the same time, Hitler issued a fateful directive. On the night of 5 April he ordered the transfer south of four of Gotthard Heinrici's veteran Panzer units - the very force Heinrici had been depending on to blunt the Russian drive.
--"The Last Battle" by Cornelius Ryan
In early March, Schörner had commanded 413,000 troops, and 527,000 more were under Heinrici’s command; since then Hitler had moved strong reinforcements to the Oder and Neisse fronts.
The Soviet forces were not so overwhelming in terms of troop strength as they were in purely material strength: tens of thousands of Russian guns and rocket launchers waited mutely on the Oder’s higher eastern bank overlooking the German positions; the Luftwaffe was powerless to interfere. Against the enemy’s frightening tank superiority, Hitler could set only his own anti-tank and anti-aircraft batteries, and the bravery of individual tank-killer squads equipped with hand-held bazookas. Yet he was confident of a swift victory. He summoned General Heinrici to the shelter again on 4 April and subjected the Oder defenses to a mile-by-mile scrutiny. He reminded Heinrici of the need to lay down deadly minefields at the obvious Schwerpunkt positions; he ordered the Ninth Army to drive tunnels into the strategically crucial Seelow Heights—which commanded the marshy valley west of Küstrin through which the Russian attack must advance—to protect the army’s reserves from enemy artillery. He gave Heinrici control of all army and Luftwaffe anti-aircraft batteries and warned him against "Seydlitz officers" infiltrating in German uniforms. Behind the main front line, thousands of trees were being felled and anti-tank trenches dug. Evidence of Russian occupation methods, seen by General Busse’s officers and troops in villages they had recaptured, determined them to keep Soviet forces from advancing one more yard into Europe.
Walther Kurt von Seydlitz-Kurzbach was a German general. He was born in Hamburg, Germany, into the noble Prussian Seydlitz family. He was also a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves.
During World War I he served on both fronts as an officer. During the Weimar Republic, he remained a professional officer in the Reichswehr; from 1940 to 1942 he commanded the 12th Infantry Division of the German Army. When the division was encircled in the Demyansk Pocket, Seydlitz was responsible for breaking the Soviet cordon and enabling German units to escape from encirclement; for this action he was promoted to General of the Artillery and appointed commander of the LI Corps.
The corps was subordinated to the Sixth Army during the Battle of Stalingrad. When the entire Army was trapped in the city in the course of the Soviet Operation Uranus, Seydlitz was one of the generals who argued most forcefully in favor of a breakout or a surrender, in contravention of Hitler’s orders. On 25 January 1943, he told his subordinate officers that they were free to decide for themselves on whether to surrender. Paulus immediately relieved him of command of his three divisions [the 100th, 71st and 295th Infantry Divisions].
A few days later, Seydlitz fled the German lines under fire from his own side with a group of other officers. He was taken into Soviet custody, where he was interrogated by Captain Nikolay Dyatlenko. He was identified by the interrogations as a potential collaborator. In August 1943, he was taken with two other Generals to a political re-education center at Lunovo. A month later, he was sent back to prisoner of war camps to recruit other German officers.
He was a leader in the forming under Soviet supervision of an anti-Nazi organization, the League of German Officers and was made a member of the National Committee for a Free Germany. He was condemned by many of his fellow generals for his collaboration with the Soviet Union. He was sentenced to death in absentia by Hitler's government. His idea of creating an anti-Nazi force of some 40,000 German POWs to be airlifted into Germany was never seriously considered, while in Germany his family was taken into Sippenhaft, detention for the crimes of a family member. Seydlitz was ultimately exploited by both Soviet and German propaganda: he was used by the former in broadcasts and literature to encourage German soldiers to surrender, while the latter cultivated the idea of "Seydlitz troops" [German: Seydlitztruppen]. His role in Soviet propaganda was largely equivalent to that of Andrey Vlasov in Nazi propaganda.
In 1949 he was charged with war crimes. He was specifically put on trial for responsibility for actions against Soviet POWs and the civilian population while in Wehrmacht service. In 1950, a Soviet tribunal sentenced him to 25 years’ imprisonment, but in 1955 he was released to West Germany, where in 1956 his Third Reich death sentence was nullified.
Seydlitz died on 28 April 1976 in Bremen. On 23 April 1996 a posthumous pardon was issued by Russian authorities.
By 11 April American forces had reached the Elbe at Magdeburg—only sixty miles from Berlin. Hitler was told that a Russian deserter had revealed that the Oder offensive would begin in four days time, but he suspected it might come even earlier, as the Russians would want to reach Berlin before the Americans. Again he asked for a complete report on Heinrici’s army group. He was assured that no other sector in Germany was so powerfully manned with troops and artillery. He congratulated Heinrici’s officers. "The Russians are going to suffer their bloodiest defeat ever!" But late on 12 April he admitted to his staff that he was uneasy about the sector east of Cottbus—where Schörner’s and Heinrici’s army groups met at the junction of Oder and Neisse.
One thing was certain: He could not fight a long battle of attrition because his stocks of aviation fuel would keep the Luftwaffe airborne over the Oder battlefield for only a few days, and—as the quartermaster general warned explicitly on 15 April —all German munitions supplies would shortly cease. Their munitions factories and dumps were almost all in enemy hands. "There may shortly occur the most momentous consequences for our entire war effort," the general had warned.
As American troops advanced across Thuringia, Hitler was confronted with the problem of the concentration camps. Göring advised him to turn them over intact and under guard to the Western Allies, who would sort out the criminals from the foreign laborers and Russian prisoners, thus preventing hordes of embittered ex-convicts from roaming the countryside and inflicting additional horrors on the law-abiding. Hitler did not share Göring’s trust in the enemy. Sitting casually on the edge of the map table after one war conference, he instructed Himmler’s representative to ensure that all inmates were liquidated or evacuated before the camps were overrun.
Nor had he forgotten his special collection of prominent prisoners—among them his star defendants for planned postwar trials. On 8 April prison officials loaded them aboard prison vans for transfer to the south. There was a kaleidoscope of famous names: the Schuschnigg family, General Georg Thomas, Dr. Hjamar Schacht, General Franz Halder, Molotov’s nephew, Captain S. Payne Best [a British Intelligence officer kidnapped in Venlo, Holland, in November 1939], and Colonel Bogislaw von Bonin. Behind them at Flossenbürg camp they left Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and General Hans Oster. A few days before, General Walther Buhle had stumbled by chance on the long-sought secret diaries of Canaris, and they sealed the Abwehr chief’s fate. He and General Oster were hanged after a summary court-martial on the ninth. The surviving VIPs were moved to Dachau, near Munich. A vague notion of continuing the war from the easily defended mountain region of Bohemia, Bavaria, and northern Italy had begun to crystalize in Hitler’s brain. When Gauleiter Franz Hofer came from the Tirol on 9 April and urged Hitler to abandon most of northern Italy—arguing that the only arms production of any significance came from the South Tirol—the Führer pointed out that virtually the entire arms effort now relied on electrosteel supplied by northern Italy. Late on 10 April he ordered Karl-Otto Saur—Speer’s de facto successor as armaments minister—to investigate the possibility of creating an independent arms industry in the Alps.
If the remaining Reich was cut in two by the American and Russian spearheads, military governments under Admiral Dönitz and Field Marshal Kesselring would rule the northern and southern Reich respectively—a curious but significant rebuff by Hitler to the Party’s ambitions. He briefed Kesselring at length late on 12 April. Kesselring ever after recalled the Führer’s radiant optimism. "I’d even say, in retrospect, he was a man possessed by the idea that he might yet be saved—he clutched at it like a drowning man at straws". Hitler talked of the coming great victory on the Oder, of his new secret weapons, of the Twelfth Army he was raising under General Wenck to defeat the Allies on the Elbe, and of the coming rupture between the Russians and the West. General Busse, commanding the Ninth Army on the Oder, shared Hitler’s confidence. "If need be, we’ll stand fast here until the Americans are kicking us in the arse," he said, earthily expressing his strategic convictions to Göbbels that evening; and the Propaganda Minister assured Busse’s more skeptical staff that if there was any justice, some miracle would surely save the Reich, just as the House of Brandenburg had been saved in 1762. With gentle irony an officer inquired, "Which Czarina is going to die, then?" All along the Oder, a troublesome Russian artillery activity had just begun.
The news of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sudden death on 12 April in Warm Springs, Georgia, reached Hitler only a few minutes after an American news agency announced it that night. Göbbels telephoned, his voice shrill with excitement. “Mein Führer, I congratulate you! Now Roosevelt is dead! It is written in the stars that the second half of April will be the turning point for us. This is the turning point!" All Hitler’s ministers agreed that God had wrought a swift and terrible Judgment on their hated enemy. Speer and other doubting Thomases were fetched. Hitler brandished the news agency report at them. "Do you still say we have lost the war!"
The next morning he began dictating his famous proclamation to his soldiers on the eastern front—to be released the moment Stalin’s offensive began :
"For one last time our mortal enemies, the Jewish Bolsheviks, are throwing their weight into the attack. They are attempting to shatter Germany and annihilate our people. You soldiers in the East already know full well the fate awaiting German women and children. The older men and children will be murdered, women and girls will be debased to barrack-room whores. The rest will go on foot to Siberia.
"We have been expecting this attack, and since this January everything has been done to build up a strong front. A mighty artillery is waiting to greet the enemy. Our infantry losses have been made good by innumerable new units.... This time the Bolsheviks will meet the old fate of Asia—they must and shall bleed to death at the gates of the German Reich’s capital.
"Whoever fails in his duty now is a traitor to our people. The regiment or division that abandons its position will be a disgrace to the women and children who have withstood the bombing terror in our cities".
Again Hitler warned them to be on guard against German traitors in the pay of Stalin and perhaps even wearing German uniforms.
"Berlin stays German! Vienna—which the Russians had overrun that very 13 April—will be German again. Europe will never be Russian".
He issued the proclamation to the army groups that night. It closed with a reference to Roosevelt.
"At this moment when fate has carried off the greatest War Criminal of all times from the face of this earth, the war’s turning point has come".
Hitler seemed to have shut his eyes to the possibility that Berlin itself might become a battlefield; but late on 13 April 1945, when Ribbentrop spoke with him; he gave permission for the nervous diplomatic corps to leave the capital for southern Germany. The next day the shelling of Busse’s positions increased, and two hundred Russian tanks launched attacks of up to regimental strength; ninety-eight tanks were destroyed. 15 April brought a lull. According to a Russian prisoner, the attacks had been for reconnaissance purposes.
The 512th Heavy Panzerjäger Battalion [Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 512] was a tank destroyer unit of the Wehrmacht, active during the closing months of World War II, serving on the Western Front.
It was one of only two units to be equipped with heavy Jagdtiger tank destroyers, the heaviest armoured fighting vehicles produced during the war, mounting a 128 mm main gun inside a 72-tonne chassis.
Iserlohn, Ruhr, 15 April 1945
In the closing days of the war, US forces surrounded the town of Iserlohn.
Lying in wait, Oberfähnrich Heinrich Rondorf destroyed 3 of the advancing Shermans, bringing his total score of enemy tanks destroyed to 106 - at least 5 of these in the giant Jagdtiger.
This action was the last for Panzerjäger Battalion 512, as it surrendered itself and the town the following day.
It was on this day that Eva Braun unexpectedly arrived back in Berlin. Some of those who knew Hitler intimately found the decision to remain at his side comparatively easy. The last letter from one of his adjutants to his wife admitted, however:
"It is certainly hard for us men to stand in our last battle far from our families, knowing that our wives and children will later have to face the trials of life alone. But hundreds of thousands of others have found the strength, and I am trying to set an example, however humble, to all my compatriots".
During the night General Wenck’s new army succeeded in destroying one American bridgehead on the Elbe south of Magdeburg and in reducing another. But a Russian prisoner taken south of Küstrin revealed that the big Oder offensive would begin the next morning, 16 April —he spoke of a colossal artillery barrage and of mighty new tanks and howitzers standing by, and he reported that the Red Army troops had been ordered to tidy up their uniforms and wash and shave every day "to make a cultivated impression" from now on. This had the ring of authenticity; Hitler ordered Busse’s Ninth Army pulled back during the remaining hours of darkness into the secret second line of defense [a line which, he now learned, Heinrici had built without much enthusiasm]. At his midnight conference Hitler learned with stabbing misgivings of a puzzling request by General Heinrici—for permission to transfer his army group HQ to a new site which Hitler found, after much searching on the map, to be to the rear of Berlin and thus behind the Führer’s own headquarters.
In defiance of the orders he had accepted from Hitler, Heinrici had secretly decided that if his Oder front collapsed, he would abandon Berlin to the enemy without even the pretense of a fight. He did not inform Hitler of this—although the decision affected not only his own two armies, but also the defenders of Berlin and the capital’s three million civilian inhabitants. Albert Speer claimed to have brought about Heinrici’s remarkable decision in a secret conference with him on 15 April 1945.
He flatly forbade such a transfer and again ordered General Krebs to telephone instructions to the army group to build up its rear positions as fast as possible.
It was not until 16 April, that Zhukov launched his gigantic offensive across the river and into the Seelow Heights, the last significant German defence line east of Berlin.
The Soviet drive into the German Reich was a strange and unlikely success story. The main thrust was stalled at Breslau, where the Silesian capital held out until Berlin capitulated, tying up several Red Army divisions that would have been free to assist in the drive on Berlin. Without these units, Marshal Georgi Zhukov had no choice but to dispatch Marshal Ivan Konev to the Seelow Heights. This would provide a secure left flank for Zhukov's effort and place the Red Army in a strategically advantageous position. Konev, should the situation dictate, would be able to drive on Berlin as a relief element or shift to the south should assistance be needed in the attacks into Czechoslovakia.
Stalin, already livid at the failure to subdue Breslau, would hear no excuse from Zhukov about his progress toward Berlin. The diversion in the Kurland, where 300,000 men were bottled up with their backs to the Baltic, had been time-consuming. Those German forces continued to fight, remaining a very real threat to Zhukov's rear. The two problem areas created a logistical nightmare, and later battles were no doubt influenced by those hold-ups.
Seelow was to become an obscure battle, with the attention instead going to Breslau, Kurland and the Berlin struggle. However, to the men who fought there on both sides, it was some of the most savage fighting many of the hardened veterans had ever seen. For the Soviets it was do or die, literally. They had unyielding orders, and many Red Army soldiers were in fact shot for not showing proper enthusiasm.
For the Germans, the Battle of Seelow Heights was their death knell. Konev, for his failure to dislodge the German defenders in a timely manner, would fall into obscurity after the war. Many would blame him for the delay in helping Zhukov. Most of the charges against Konev were no doubt fomented in Zhukov's camp, just as Konev had accused the commanding general at Breslau of malingering there.
Probably the most heart-wrenching part of the bitter struggle was the suffering of the civilians at the hands of the Soviets. During the advance into Prussia, word of the rape and murder of women, the destruction of homes and the killing of children in retribution for Nazi atrocities terrified the Germans. This in itself explains much of the "fanaticism" encountered by the Soviets as they approached each stronghold. The men at the Seelow Heights were fighting not for the preservation of Germany, or even to save their own lives. In their minds, they knew that their actions might save a few more civilians, most of whom became refugees whose only hope of survival was the delaying actions of their fighting men.
Historians can only wonder how the pages of history would have been rewritten if the Anglo-American forces had continued on to Berlin, forgetting the Yalta Conference. Many Germans believe that there would have been virtually no strong-armed resistance to a Western invasion, given the unpalatable alternative. It would have most probably changed the map of Europe and the course of human history.
Some of the Soviet commanders thought in early February that there was nothing much to stop them driving across the Oder and on to Berlin, less than sixty miles away. Given the chaos of the German retreat, they were probably right. But Stalin did not want just to reach Berlin. He wanted to encircle it, which meant getting his main forces across the river and deep into central Germany. No doubt he hoped to be the captor of Hitler and his cronies; no doubt he was after the Uranium oxide stocks at the nuclear research institute in western Berlin. But above all he understood that Berlin, conquered in battle by the Red Army, would be the keystone in the triumphal arch of Soviet power over Central Europe. The other Allies would have to take over their Berlin sectors in due course, but Stalin wanted to be massively and invincibly in possession of the city before the Americans and the British could get there. This is why he lied, so often and so shamelessly, to Allied emissaries about the goal of the Oder offensive. Berlin no longer had military significance, he said, and his thrust would head south-west towards Dresden.
Eisenhower believed him, or at least had no time for the implications of not believing him. Montgomery and Churchill knew well what Stalin was up to, but the decision was not theirs. On 15 April, General William H. Simpson of the US 9th Army was flown back from the Elbe front to meet General Omar Bradley at Wiesbaden. The Russians were still on the wrong side of the Oder; the Seelow Heights offensive did not begin until the next day. Simpson, on the other hand, had actually got across the Elbe and saw nothing much but sixty miles of Autobahn between his lead tanks and Berlin. Bradley passed on 'Ike's order': he was to halt. Simpson was "dazed".
Too much shouldn't be made of this. The notion that the Allies could have reached Berlin first and changed the history of Europe is fantasy; the zones and sectors of occupied Germany and Berlin had already been demarcated and agreed. The next morning, Zhukov unleashed his huge offensive across the Oder against the main surviving formations of the Wehrmacht and SS, supported by a pathetic rabble of Hitler Youth children and Volkssturm civilian conscripts. But the Germans fought cleverly and stubbornly.
Zhukov made shocking tactical mistakes which cost thousands of lives, and the Seelow Heights battle, supposed to take one day, lasted three. As the three Fronts converged on Berlin, from north, east and south, rivalry between marshals and sheer muddle slowed the advance.
Confusion and bad staff work may have held the Red Army back. But so did the enemy. Reading records of a hysterical Führer squalling nonsensical orders at his generals, it is hard to explain how armies under such leadership resisted at all. But in fact the forces up against the Red Army in those final months fought bitterly and skilfully to the very end.
While Heinrich Himmler posed as commander of the Vistula Army Group in a luxurious special train parked well away from the front, some of his colonels knocked whole armies off balance with expertly delivered flank attacks. The Nazi commissars screamed for "fanatical resistance" and then ran away; the old sergeants and junior officers stuck with their men until there was nothing left but surrender. When there was no fuel left and no cover against Allied aircraft, a handful of heavy tanks were still giving Zhukov grief in central Berlin on the war's last day.
How these men kept up something like an effective defence under such conditions remains a puzzle. Sometimes they were just fighting for their lives, as in the frightful forest battles south of Berlin as the 9th Army tried to break through to the West and surrender to the Americans. But sometimes they must have been outstandingly well led. Just possibly, a book will one day be written in which Hitler gives some shrewd orders and his overruled generals are not always in the right.
Hitler recognized that the end of what he envisioned as his lone fight against Bolshevism was approaching, and there are clues in the documents as to how long he believed he could postpone it: for example, he had ordered the General Staff to provide the Berlin area with logistics sufficient for three divisions to hold out for twenty days, should the city be surrounded. If open conflict had not broken out between Stalin and the Americans by then, Hitler realized, his gamble had failed; it would be his “Eclipse,” to use the code name assigned by his victorious enemies to the postwar carve-up of the Reich. By 15 April 1945, the document outlining this plan—captured from the British in the west—had been fully translated and was in the hands of Hitler, Himmler, and the military authorities; its appended maps revealed that Berlin was to be an enclave far inside the Russian occupation zone, divided like Germany itself into British, American, and Russian zones.
What encouraged Hitler was the fact that the American spearheads, in reaching the Elbe, had already encroached on Stalin’s zone, while the Russians had duly halted at the demarcation line on reaching Saint-Polten in Austria late on 15 April. A clash seemed inevitable, and Hitler’s General Staff toadied to this desperate belief. Colonel Gerhard Wessel, the new chief of Foreign Armies East, reported with emphasis on the fifteenth that Russian officers were apprehensive that the Americans were preparing an attack.
"We must drench the Americans ‘accidentally’ with our artillery fire to let them taste the lash of the Red Army".
Wessel also disclosed that the British too were adopting a dangerous new propaganda line to subvert German security forces in Slovenia. "Britain is shortly going to start fighting the Soviet Union herself, and with better prospects than the Reich; Britain has already begun raising Russian units for this purpose". Over and over during the next two weeks Hitler restated the belief that sustained him : "Perhaps the others"—meaning Britain and the United States—"can be convinced, after all, that there is only one man capable of halting the Bolshevik colossus, and that is me". This was the real point of fighting an otherwise hopeless battle for Berlin.
Americans on the Elbe
It was this idea that disturbed Stalin so profoundly at the beginning of April. Once Model's Army Group B with over 300,000 men was encircled in the Ruhr on 2 April, the divisions in Simpson's US Ninth Army began racing for the Elbe opposite Berlin. They and their army commander were convinced that their objective was the Nazis' capital. After a row with the British, Eisenhower had left open the capture of Berlin as a distinct possibility. In the second part of the orders to Simpson, the Ninth Army was told to "exploit any opportunity for seizing a bridgehead over the Elbe and be prepared to continue the advance on Berlin or to the north-east".
The West Australian [Perth, WA]
13 April 1945
LONDON: "There was "Berlin Fever" among staff officers in the operations tent of one of the Ninth Army divisions on 12 April when a great map marked 'Berlin' was unrolled", says a "Daily Mail" correspondent with the Ninth Army.
"It can now be stated that in the last few days there has been a slight tightening of the reins on the Ninth Army be cause some divisions overran the limits 'of safety' in their eagerness to get to Berlin. They were leaving too many pockets behind to threaten their immediate communications. Therefore it was thought essential to bring up fresh infantry reserves.
"But the advance is now on again and there is a bad case of 'Berlin fever' throughout Lt-General [William Hood] Simpson's army tonight".
Last-Ditch Battle for Berlin Being Fought
The Sun [Sydney, NSW]
16 April 1945
LONDON. Germans are fighting desperately to hold the flanks and center of their front guarding the North Sea ports, Berlin and the cities of Leipzig, Chemnitz and Dresden. A the same time German-controlled "Scandinavian Telegraph" bureau reports that small US scout detachments reached Berlin's western suburbs "but were forced to turn back when they met stiff resistance".
25 April 1945: Units of the US Ninth Army [Simpson] and the Soviet 1st Ukrainian Front [Konev] meet on the Elbe at Torgau, 100 miles SW of Berlin. For Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, Berlin was the major prize and he feared that the Red Army might be beaten to the city by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group that was advancing rapidly from Holland into North Germany after German resistance in the west had more or less collapsed after the failure of the Ardennes offensive in December 1944 and the surrounding of Army Group B in the Ruhr Pocket in March 1945. This was averted however, by Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower's change of mind.
In September 1944 he had outlined his belief in a letter to his two principle subordinate commanders, Montgomery and General Omar Bradley, that " . . . . Berlin is the main prize . . . . There is no doubt whatsoever, in my mind, that we should concentrate all our energies and resources on a rapid thrust to Berlin" and "it is my desire to move on Berlin by the most direct and expeditious route". Montgomery wrote back and urged the Supreme Commander to decide what was necessary to go for Berlin, plan and organize the operation and then undertake it to "finish the war".
While plans existed for crossing the Rhine and at the same time encircling the Ruhr, something that would be effected by the US 9th Army under Montgomery's 21st Army Group and the US 1st Army from Bradley's 12th Army Group, there were no real plan for what was to happen afterwards. Eisenhower's strategy had always favoured a broad front advance but there was a lack of decision on what would happen once the Allied forces had rejoined and created a unified front again, roughly in the area of Kassel, apart from a vague notion of making a "great thrust to the eastward". The British had always viewed Berlin as the central objective and had envisaged that their forces, 21st Army Group, would be the ones to make the main thrust to the north and east. Indeed, Montgomery had already issued orders that after the encirclement of the Ruhr was complete, the British 2nd and US 9th Armies would advance with maximum speed to the River Elbe via Hamburg and Magdeburg while the Canadian 1st Army cleared Holland. Eisenhower effectively demolished this plan by continuing to plan for a broad front offensive with the US 9th Army reverting to Bradley's command in order to help conduct mopping up operations in the Ruhr and then advance eastwards to an Erfurt–Leipzig– Dresden line with Montgomery's 21st Army Group protecting the northern flank and General Jacob Devers' 6th Army Group protecting the southern flank. Eisenhower thus intended to concentrate the Western Allies' advance in the center with Bradley in order to meet the Soviet advance around Dresden and cut Germany in two – as far as he was concerned, Berlin had become "nothing but a geographical location; I have never been interested in those. My purpose is to destroy the enemy forces and his power to resist".
While it is easy to see Eisenhower's decision in light of the fact that at the time it was made, Montgomery's 21st Army Group was still 300 miles from Berlin and the Soviets, who had reached the River Oder, were less than 50 miles from the city; that Model's Army Group B in the Ruhr should be properly dealt with so that there was no chance of them breaking out and reforming a coherent defensive line in the center; or that Hitler might retire to the "National Redoubt' in the Bavarian and Austrian mountains that might require many months and the expenditure of large resources to reduce. What is not so easy to understand is that, given Eisenhower's insistence that military operations should be in pursuit of political aims [and therefore in line with Clausewitz's dictum of "war is the continuation of state policy by other means"], and given Berlin's enormous importance as a political objective, why he suddenly made a complete turnabout and pronounced it as having no significance, as well as it having the one military objective that would destroy the German will to resist with its capture or demise – Adolf Hitler. The pleasure with which this change of mind was received [in a communication sent to Stalin, the Combined Chiefs of Staff and the British Chiefs of Staff on 28 March] in Moscow was equal to the consternation in London.
On 12 April 1945, Hitler, who had earlier decided to remain in the city against the wishes of his advisers, heard the news that the American President Franklin D. Roosevelt had died. This briefly raised false hopes in the Führerbunker that there might yet be a falling out among the Allies and that Berlin would be saved at the last moment, as had happened once before when Berlin was threatened [the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg]. No plans were made by the Western Allies to seize the city by a ground operation. General Eisenhower lost interest in the race to Berlin and saw no further need to suffer casualties by attacking a city that would be in the Soviet sphere of influence after the war, envisioning excessive friendly fire if both armies attempted to occupy the city at once. The major Western Allied contribution to the battle was the bombing of Berlin during 1945. During 1945 the United States Army Air Forces launched a number of very large daytime raids on Berlin and for 36 nights in succession, scores of RAF 'Mosquitos' bombed the German capital, ending on the night of 20/21 April 1945 just before the Soviets entered the city. General Eisenhower's Armies were facing resistance that varied from almost non-existent to fanatical as they advanced toward Berlin, which was located 200 km [120 mi] from their positions in early April 1945.
Britain's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, urged Eisenhower to continue the advance toward Berlin by the 21st Army Group, under the command of Field Marshal Montgomery with the intention of capturing the city. Even General George S. Patton agreed with Churchill that he should order the attack on the city since Montgomery's troops could reach Berlin within three days. The British and Americans contemplated an airborne operation before the attack. In Operation Eclipse, the 17th Airborne Division, 82d Airborne Division, 101st Airborne Division, and a British brigade were to seize the Tempelhof, Rangdor, Gatow, Staaken, and Oranienburg airfields. In Berlin, the "Reichsbanner" resistance organization identified possible drop zones for Allied paratroopers and planned to guide them past German defenses into the city. After General Omar Bradley warned, however, that capturing a city located in a region that the Soviets had already received at the Yalta Conference might cost 100,000 casualties, by mid-April Eisenhower ordered all armies to halt when they reached the Elbe and Mulde Rivers, thus immobilizing these spearheads while the war continued for three more weeks. 21st Army Group was then instead ordered to move northeast toward Bremen and Hamburg. While the U.S. Ninth and First Armies held their ground from Magdeburg through Leipzig to western Czechoslovakia, Eisenhower ordered three Allied field armies [1st French, and the U.S. Seventh and Third Armies] into southeastern Germany and Austria.
So what are the reasons for Stalin's hurry to reach Berlin? After all, he was happy to share the city with his western allies after the city's surrender. The traditional explanation is that it was a question of Soviet prestige and mistrust of the west.
However, during his research, Antony Beevor discovered a startling new document:
"It struck me so powerfully that the moment I started to read it I knew I had to look at a totally different aspect of Stalin's interest in Berlin".
The document shows that Stalin was desperate to get his hands on the German nuclear research center, the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in the southwest of Berlin, before the Americans got there. The Soviets knew through their spies of the American atomic bomb program. Stalin's own nuclear program, Operation Borodino, was lagging behind and Soviet scientists wanted to find out exactly what the Germans had come up with during the war. As it turned out, the special NKVD troops dispatched to secure the German institute discovered three tons of Uranium oxide, a material they were short of at the time.
"So the Soviets achieved their objective", says Beevor, "the Uranium oxide they found in Berlin was enough to kick start Operation Borodino and allow them to start working on their first nuclear weapon".
Since Roosevelt’s death, Foreign Minister Ribbentrop had secretly circulated to German diplomatic channels abroad a fourteen-page memorandum designed for Allied consumption—a forbidding and not wholly inaccurate prophecy of Stalin’s postwar position as the cruel and authoritarian ruler of both a Soviet Union of proven "biological strength" and of three hundred million non-Soviet eastern Europeans too. German technicians and factories captured by Stalin were already working to expand Stalin’s power; could England, asked the memorandum, afford to abet this menace to her traditional routes to the Middle East and India, particularly once the United States had withdrawn her forces from western Europe as one day she must?
On 16 April, Helmuth Weidling prepared to take part in the Battle of the Seelow Heights which was part of the broader Battle of the Oder-Neisse. Weidling's LVI Tank Corps was in the center with the CI Army Corps to his left and the XI SS Tank Corps to his right. All three corps were part of General Theodor Busse's 9th Army which was defending the heights above the Oder River. While all three corps were in generally good defensive positions, all three were conspicuously short of tanks. Weidling's commander, Gotthard Heinrici, had seen that earlier in the day, Hitler had transferred three tank divisions from Army Group Vistula to the command of recently promoted Field Marshal [Generalfeldmarschall] Ferdinand Schörner.
Colonel [Oberst] Theodor von Dufving was Weidling's Chief-of-Staff and Colonel [Oberst] Hans-Oscar Wöhlermann was his Artillery Officer during the time that Weidling commanded the LVI Tank Corps.
At 5 am 16 April, a mighty Russian artillery barrage began all along the Oder and Neisse rivers. Nearly half a million shells thundered down on the—now virtually abandoned—German forward positions. At 6:30 am Zhukov’s tanks and infantry began pouring across both sides of the Frankfurt-on-Oder strongpoint still held by Busse’s Ninth Army; an hour later the main assault on the Fourth Panzer Army defending the Neisse front began. Savage battles developed between tank and gun, while overhead two thousand Russian planes bombed and harrassed the defenders; the German air force threw all it had into the battle. Sixty planes manned by suicide pilots crash-bombed the Oder bridges across which the enemy was flooding westward.
In charge of the Oder bridge attacks was Colonel Hans-Joachim Helbig. This use of Mistel combinations against bridges was a measure of desperation, for although they were potentially a very effective weapons against ships or concrete buildings whose walls would contain some of the force of the explosion, they were quite unsuitable for this task. Not only was the accuracy of the Mistel inadequate for use, against such long narrow targets, but the specialized warheads merely blew holes through the bridges without damaging any vital part of the structure.
Typical of the attacks on the bridges at Küstrin was that on 12 April 1945. At 1825 hours that evening Second Lieutenant Hans Altrogge took off from Peenemünde in a Ju 88 of I/jK.G. 66, to act as lead aircraft for the attack. Four Mistel combinations followed him into the air, and the curious formation headed south towards the target. The view from the upper component Fw 190's was not good, and the Ju 88 pathfinder flew some two miles in front and 1,500 feet above the combinations, so as to stay in sight. It was dusk when Altrogge arrived at Küstrin. When overhead the bridges he rocked his wings then climbed away; this was the cue for the Mistel pilots to push their aircraft down and go straight into the attack. In the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire the pilots pressed home their dives, separated, then pulled away.
The salvo of explosive Ju 88's continued on, and from his vantage point Altrogge watched the bridges disappear in a cloud of smoke, mud and spray. Freed of their burdens the Fw 190's became potent fighters once again, and now vengefully curved in to strafe the Flak pits which had made things so hot for them during the attack run. Before the smoke cleared it was dark, and Altrogge was unable to observe the results of the strike. But from Russian records we know that the bridges continued in use after the attack. The Küstrin bridges were of the simple pontoon type, erected by Soviet army engineers; pontoons are easy to replace. The Russians launched their great offensive on 16 April, and within two days had forced two bridge-heads, one 20 miles wide and one 30 miles wide, on the western bank of the Oder. More and more pontoon bridges were thrown across the river, and such was the force of the Russian push that even when some of the crossings were temporarily put out of action the drive was not slackened in the least.
By nightfall, although a five-mile-deep breach had been torn into the front near Wriezen, held only by the ill-experienced 9th Paratroop Division, there was no doubt in the Chancellery that a resounding defeat had been inflicted on the enemy.
Christa Schröeder asked quietly whether they would now be leaving Berlin. Hitler answered almost resentfully, "No. Calm down—Berlin will always be German!" The secretary replied that she was not afraid and regarded her life as spent already.
"But I can’t quite see how it’s all going to end, with the Americans coming closer every day on one side and the Russians on the other".
"Time!" explained Hitler. "We’ve just got to gain time!"
To force the troops to fight to the end, Hitler issued a special order on 16 April to the armed forces, stating specifically:
"Anyone who orders you [soldiers] to retreat is subject to immediate arrest or, if necessary, is to be shot, regardless of his rank."
To raise the morale of the Berlin garrison personnel, Josef Göbbels was named Commissar of Defense for Berlin. But all of the orders, special steps, and the draconian measures taken, attested to the fact that Berlin was doomed to destruction and the population to annihilation. While there was relative calm in Berlin during the first half of April, panic literally broke out later in the month among the Fascist and militarist elite.
For example, the OKW log records an episode on 21 April as follows:
"When the breakthrough to Berlin by Marshal [Georgi K.] Zhukov's forces became obvious, and when refugees from the east appeared in the grip of panic in the streets...Göbbels was the first to lose control of himself. At 11:00, under the wail of sirens signaling a tank attack, his associates gathered in the film room of his private residence for their regular meeting...Göbbel's face was deathly pale.... He was the first to see that the end had come.... His inner stress poured out in a terrible paroxysm of hate.... 'The German people,' he cried, '...what can be done with such a people, if they do not want to fight anymore.... All the plans of National Socialism, its ideas and goals were too lofty, too noble for this people. They were too fainthearted to accomplish them. In the east they run. In the west they will not let the soldiers fight and they meet the enemy with white flags. The German people deserve the fate which now awaits them....'
Göbbels' frantic assessment prompted this note in the OKW log:
"The final act of the dramatic ruin of the German armed forces is beginning for the High Command".
German Units identified at the Battle of Berlin. April-May 1945
56th Panzer Corps
20th Panzer Grenadier Division
18th Panzer Grenadier Division
9th Fallschirmjäger Division
Müncheberg Panzer Division
11th SS Panzer Grenadier Division "Nordland" [SS Volunteers]
15th SS Grenadier Division "Latvian No 1" [SS Volunteers]
33rd SS Grenadier Division "Charlemagne" [SS Volunteers]
Sturmgeschütz Brigades; 249, 243, Stug-Lehr-Brig.I, II, III.
Guard Regiment "Grossdeutschland" [2 Battalions]
SS Chancellery Guard Battalion - this unit designated either Wachtbattalion [mot] "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" or SS Führer Begleit Kommando "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler"
Some small units from the Naval School - "Gross Admiral Dönitz" Marine Battalion
Various Volksturm units. [92 battalions]
24,000 regular troops.
60,000 Volksturm men.
6 plus Tiger II Tanks
Some French Tanks either Somua 35-S [Panzerkampfwagen 35-S 739(f]] and/or Hotchkiss H-35 [Panzerkampfwagen 35H 734(f)], One Russian T-35
Some Panthers and Pz IVH/J, with some Tiger I
StuG IIIG and StuH IIIG, with some JgPz IV
Estimate of German forces
LVI Pz Kps as 13-15,000 men, the equivalent of two  divisions, Waffen-SS forces under Wilhelm Mohnke as half [1/2] a division, and the remaining miscellany of units as equating to some two  to three  divisions, a total of four  to five  divisions in all, with about 60,000 men and some fifty  to sixty  tanks.
1966 Estimate: 44,630 soldiers, 42,531 Volkssturm, 3,532 Hitlerjugend, RAD and Org Todt on 23 April.
Notes on Unit condition:
1. 18th Pz Gren Div [MG Josef Rauch] - relatively intact
2. 20th Pz Gren Div - severely reduced
3. ‘Müncheberg’ Pz Div - one-third [1/3] strength
4. 9th Para Div [Col Harry Herrmann] - severely reduced
5. SS "Nordland" Pz Gren Div - reasonable shape
For artillery-integral units of 18th, 20th Pz Gren and "Müncheberg" Pz Divs, city Flak batteries, local units seven  light and seven  heavy batteries of foreign guns manned by Volkssturm and soldiers of all arms; and six  batteries of training artillery. 408th Volks Artillery Corps.
Artillery sited in Tiergarten and larger squares, such as Lützowplatz, Belle-Alliance Platz, the Lustgarten, Alexanderplatz, and railway cuttings between the Potsdamer and Anhalter stations in the centre of the city. Mortars at Belle-Alliance-Platz, Lützowplatz and Steinplatz, and guns on the railway tracks. 15cm battery in the Botanical Gardens. Artillery command from Zoo Flak-tower.
Ammunition Depots: Jungfernheide Volkspark next to the Siemensstadt complex, War Academy site in the Grünwald, Hasenheide Volkspark next to Tempelhof Airfield. Smaller one in the Tiergarten. All 80% full - all quickly overrun.
SS Brigadeführer Dr Gustav Krukenberg brought 350 volunteers, mainly French, from his old command, SS "Charlemagne" Pz Gren Div, when this had been disbanded on 24 April.
20th Pz Gren Division was defending [24 April] Teltow and Stahnsdorf bridgeheads but was forced back on to the Wannsee "Island’ where it was effectively isolated from the rest of the defence, although it continued to preoccupy the 10th Guards tank Corps until the end of the battle.
18th Pz Gren Division had to take over SW defence from Wannsee Havel river to Westkreuz S-Bahn station at the northern end of the AVUS [race-track].
9th Para Division around the Humboldthain Flak-tower. "Müncheberg" Pz Division armour dispersed, it fought at Tempelhof Airfield.
11th SS "Nordland" Pz Gren Division in Neukölln and the east end of Kreuzberg.
5,000 boys from the Hitlerjugend Regt were sent to defend the two southernmost of the three bridges leading over the Havel River into Spandau, with the primary aim of keeping this route open for Wenck’s 12th Army’s entry into the city.
All Russian armies seem to have had to fight independently. The 3rd Shock army’s three corps for example:
79th Corps separated by the Schiffahrts Canal.
7th Corps on Alexanderplatz was isolated from the 12th Guard Corps in the centre.
Revised LVI Pz Korps Disposition 25 April
A & B [East] MG Werner Mummert - Later MG Erich Bärenfänger These sectors mainly Volkssturm and Grossdeutschland Regt
C [Southeast] SS "Nordland" Pz Gren Div
D [astride Tempelhof Airfield] Corps Artillery Col Hans-Oskar Wohlermann
E [Southwest and Grünwald Forest] 20th Pz Gren then 18th Pz Gren MG Josef Rauch. Two days later [27 April] 20th Pz Gren transferred to Army Detachment "Spree"
F (Spandau and Charlottenberg) Lt-Col Anton Eder - Commandant of Alexander Barracks, Ruhleben.
G & H [North] Col Harry Herrmann 9th Para Div
Z [Zitadelle] Lt-Col Seifert then MG Wilhelm Mohnke
Tempelhof Airport is roughly one mile square, with a massive arc of concrete hangars and administrative buildings in the northwest corner covering a complex of underground hangars and cellars where aircraft were known to be on stand-by to fly out the remaining Nazi leaders.
Airport defence [on 25th April] consisted of:
Bulk of the "Müncheberg" Pz Div
Strong Flak units with DP guns
Hitlerjugend Pzjägers in Kübelwagens armed with Panzerfausts.
Normal base personnel organised as infantry.
Tanks dug in along the southern and eastern edges of the perimeter.
"But also, here and there, women with Panzerfausts, Silesian girls thirsting for revenge".
By 15:00 hrs "Müncheberg" has only a dozen  tanks and thirty  APC’s.
11th SS "Nordland" Pz Gren Division reduced to brigade size before the battle: 23rd "Norge" and 24th "Danmark" Pz Gren Regts down to 600 and 700 men each. Div HQ at Hasenheide.
Luftwaffe Aircraft from Rechlin [including Helicopters] had been trying to supply ammunition via the Airfields Gatow and Tempelhof. This was not possible after 25 April and the emergency airstrip in the Tiergarten was used. Mainly Ju 52/3m transports with Bf 109’s dropping containers of ammo on 26 April.
Further on this day [26 April) Six Fiesler "Storch" aircraft flown in under fighter escort from Rechlin were all shot down, as were twelve  Ju 52/3m transports bringing SS reinforcements [approx. 170 men].
On 26 April the last telephone links were finally severed.
Gatow Airfield Defence on the west bank of the Havel continued to hold out on the 26th under command of Luftwaffe MG Gottlob Müller. Gatow finally fell on 27 April.
By 28 April 1945, the defense was in a sausage-shaped area extending from Alexanderplatz in the east some eight and half miles to the banks of the Havel in the west, but barely a mile wide in places. There was about 30,000 combatants and a handful of tanks and guns still fighting.
Position on 30 April 1945:
City centre defence: 10,000 troops, police and Volkssturm, many of the troops being foreign volunteers of the Waffen-SS, including the SS "Nordland" Pz Gren Div and the 15th SS "Latvian" Fusilier Battalion.
Zisterdorf fell to the Russians. On the seventeenth Gauleiter August Eigruber cabled from Linz that "the petroleum fields are in jeopardy" - by the next day General Hans Kreysing’s Eighth Army had already abandoned them precipitately, after prematurely destroying the installations. Himmler reported to Hitler that in Austria the army’s tendency was to retreat everywhere even though "Ivan is obviously both wary and weary of fighting".
Last Days of Berlin
Americans in Suburbs, According to Germans
Fanatical German Resistance
National Advocate [Bathurst, NSW]
17 April 1945
LONDON: A German report says that American patrols reached the western suburbs of Berlin but were forced back. There is no confirmation of this from Allied sources.
All Allied reports indicate that the Germans are continuing their desperate last ditch stand against the American bridgehead over the Elbe. The American 9th Army's bridgehead across the middle reaches of the Elbe is still building up against violent German. Today's communique from Allied Headquarters reveals that the crossing was made by the 83rd division about 15 miles south of Magdeburg, near Bardei. Resistance by the Germans is violent and at times al most fanatical. American tanks keep attacking on their own in spite of all the artillery, self-propelled guns, tanks and aircraft that are brought up against them. They have not yet mounted full scale attack on Magdeburg itself but on the west side of the river the town is completely ringed.
North of Magdeburg 9th Army troops are clearing the west banks of the Elbe at points less than 50 miles from Berlin. American 1st Army trcops, south-east of Magdeburg, have cleared the northern half of Halle, but the stubborn German resistance at the outer defences of Leipzig have so far prevented assault on the city. Between Leipzig and Chemnitz, Third Army columns are firmly established across the river Mulde on which Chemnitz stands. Spearheads are now only eight miles from the Czechoslovak frontier. In splitting the Ruhr pocket in two small units, the commanding General and s staff of a Panzer division were taken prisoner.
This was Hitler’s second motive for making a last stand in Berlin - to set an example to his generals and thereby restore his personal authority over them.
Great slaughter had been inflicted on the Russians, but by early April 18 alarming fissures were appearing in the defenses. On the sixteenth Busse’s Ninth Army had destroyed 211 tanks—and 106 more the next day—on the Oder front; while General Fritz Graser’s adjacent Fourth Panzer Army had knocked out 93 and 140 tanks on the Neisse front. Busse’s front was still intact, though mauled and buckled by the sheer weight of Zhukov’s onslaught; at Wriezen in particular a deep wedge had been hammered into the main German line. But southeast of Berlin Marshal Konev’s army group had thrown two bridgeheads across the Neisse on the very first day—in fact just where Hitler had foreseen the Russian Schwerpunkt, though angled differently. Russian tanks were already approaching Cottbus and the Spree River at Spremberg: Konev’s objective, like Zhukov’s, was obviously Berlin and not Prague. This gave Hitler less time than he had thought.
Counterattacks by Heinrici and Schörner failed to restore the old battle line. On 17 April, Hitler ordered the Autobahn bridges blown up and every available aircraft, including the Messerschmitt jets, thrown in to stop the enemy from reaching Cottbus. At his midday conference he proclaimed : "The Russians are in for the bloodiest defeat imaginable before they reach Berlin!" But the failure of the counterattacks unsettled him. He sat brooding far into the night with Eva Braun and his secretaries, trying to convince them and himself that the wedge at Wriezen was just the natural luck of the attacker, but that such luck would not hold for long. Now he had to agree to pull troops out of the German bridgehead east of Frankfurt-on-Oder to strengthen the fortress' flanks. He began to blame General Heinrici for the sudden plight of the Oder front—calling him "a plodding, irresolute pedant lacking the necessary enthusiasm for the job".
During the eighteenth a furious battle was fought for Seelow, the high plateau commanding the Russian assault area. By evening it was firmly in Zhukov’s hands, and Hitler learned that only the SS "Nederland" Division—a volunteer unit of Dutch mercenaries—had been thrown into a counterattack. Perhaps this was the cause of his petulant outburst to General Karl Hilpert, the new commander of the Kurland army group, that day: "If the German nation loses this war, that will prove it was unworthy of me". A further eruption came when he learned that Göbbels had sent five battalions of wholly unsuitable Volkssturm troops to the Oder front—although Hitler had insisted that such troops were only to be used as a last resort in defense of their own towns and villages. There were enough able-bodied airmen and sailors who could have been sent—if only they had had the guns and ammunition.
From now until the end, Hitler slept only fitfully and irregularly. The long days were punctuated by an unending series of ill tidings, each one bringing the end much closer than its predecessor. Restless and pallid, Hitler rambled around the shelter, took brief strolls upstairs, then sat in the telephone exchange or machine room—where he had never set foot before—or visited his dogs in their makeshift kennels behind the lavatories; he took to sitting in the passageway with one of the puppies on his lap, silently staring at the officers passing in and out of the shelter.
On 19 April, a day before Adolf Hitler's 56th birthday, Hans Ulrich Rudel was called to the Bunker for a report before he left with his group to the airfield Märisch-Schönau in Bohemia. The Russians had crossed the Oder River and amassed their forces east of the Seelow heights for the final assault on Berlin.
According to his own account, Rudel suggested to the Führer that victory in the East is possible if "we can succeed in getting an armistice" with the West. He writes:
"A rather tired smile flits across his face as he replies: 'It is easy for you to talk. Ever since 1943 I have tried incessantly to conclude a peace, but the Allies won't; from the outset they have demanded unconditional surrender'.
-- Hans Ulrich Rudel, "Stuka Pilot", Ballantine books, New York, 1958
When the Russians were closing in, Rudel called the Führerbunker on the phone and requested to inform Hitler that he was ready to immediately land his Stuka on the avenue Unter den Linden and take Hitler away with him. After a while, the answer came telling him that the Führer had no plans of abandoning Berlin.
Hitler Expected Allied Rift
The Sydney Morning Herald [NSW]
7 May 1945
LONDON: Hitler on 19 April told General Karl Wolff [Supreme Commander of the S.S. and Police in Italy] that there would be a break between the Western Allies and the Russians.
"Then I shall join the party that approaches me first; lt makes no difference which," he said.
This is disclosed in a detailed account of General Wolff's negotiations for the surrender of Italy, issued from Field-Marshal Alexander's headquarters.
Wolff, who was visiting Berlin, interviewed Hitler at a place two hours drive from the capital. Hitler was in low spirits, but not hopeless.
Himmler mentioned possibilities for the future for himself and Hitler. He said they might fight out the battle in Berlin, retreat to the Alpine Redoubt, or by air to Berchtesgaden. Himmler added that Hitler was unlikely to fly, but he might in an emergency.
By 19 April, Schörner's Army Group Centre was collapsing and the position of Army Group Vistula was becoming untenable. Gotthard Heinrici was forced to pull back what was left of his forces, including Weidling's LVI Tank Corps. The defensive line on the Seelow Heights was the last major defensive line outside of Berlin. With the loss of this position, the road to Berlin lay wide open. To escape envelopment and total annihilation, Weidling pulled his corps back with the rest of Army Group Vistula.
On 19 April of 1945, SS-Hauptscharführer Karl Körner [platoon commander from the 2nd Company] was supporting an infantry counterattack in the Bollersdorf area [east of Berlin], when he encountered two Soviet JS-II heavy tanks at a distance of 200m. He quickly destroyed the first one, and second one, trying to reverse in order to take a firing position, drove into an anti-tank ditch and was abandoned by the crew.
On the road from Bollersdorf to Strausberg, Körner observed additional 11 JS-II tanks and around 120 to 150 enemy tanks in the process of being refueled and re-armed on the edge of the village. He then fired and destroyed all 11 JS-II tanks on the road and attacked the rest of the tanks and their surprised crews. A number of fuel and ammunition trucks exploded causing even more panic among the Russian tankers, while Körner fired all 39 rounds he had left and knocked out 39 enemy tanks before he withdrew.
Following this action, sSSPzAbt 503 and other units were falling back to defend Berlin. On his way to Berlin, Karl Körner destroyed over 100 Soviet tanks and 26 anti-tank guns in total, an achievement for which on 29 April, he was awarded the Knights Cross in the Bunker of the Reichs Chancellery.
After the ceremony, Körner returned to his unit on the frontline at the Charlottenburg district of Berlin.
Hitler had news that separatist movements were stirring in Württemberg, Bavaria, and Austria. Late on 19 April, Saur reported back to Hitler from the south, where he had conferred two days earlier with Gauleiter Hofer and SS General Kammler on the possibility of establishing an "Alpine Redoubt". In one of the Chancellery’s few remaining rooms, Saur laid the unpalatable news squarely on the line: there was not enough time left to start large-scale arms production in the Alps; the most they could count on would be small factories for re-machining captured ammunition to fit German weapons. It was an uninspiring end to the armaments empire Speer had created. As Hitler accompanied Saur to the exit, he talked nostalgically of Speer’s deceased predecessor.
"Who knows—if Todt hadn’t been killed, the war might have gone very differently!" He gave the stocky arms expert his hand, and he prophesied : "“Within the next twenty-four hours we shall have won or lost the war".
"We are fighting until the last but I'm afraid the end is threatening closer and closer": Despairing words of Hitler's bride Eva Braun in 'last letters' from besieged Bunker
By Allan Hall in Berlin for MailOnline
11 June 2013
As the Red Army smashed into the suburbs of Berlin in April 1945, the mood of Hitler’s bride-to-be Eva Braun turned from fragile hope to black despair.
Letters she is said to have written from the Bunker hideout she shared with the Führer and his henchmen reveal her growing sense of doom.
In one, dated 19 April 1945, she writes that, despite the thud of artillery and falling bombs, she is "happy to be close" to Hitler and remains "convinced that everything will turn out all right".
But three days later, as Soviet troops overwhelm the German capital’s exhausted defence force –many of them old men and boys– her mood has changed. She says: "We are fighting here until the last but I’m afraid the end is threatening closer and closer".
She also writes of preparing to die and her bewilderment at how God could let such things happen.
Eight days later, 33-year-old Braun was dead, killing herself alongside her husband of only a few hours, Adolf Hitler.
The letters are published this week in a book called "The Women of the Nazis", by Third Reich expert Anna Maria Sigmund.
The writer, whose books have been translated into more than 30 languages, insists the letters are genuine and were written by Braun to her friend Herta Schneider.
"I have no doubt that the letters are genuine and Eva Braun has typed them, correcting her faults by hand", she said.
She claims the descendants of Schneider, who died nearly 20 years ago, showed her the letters. She said she copied them down before they were sold on to a collector.
In the second letter Braun says: "Greetings to all my friends, I’m dying how I’ve lived. It’s not difficult for me. You know that".
Anna Maria Sigmund explained: "Eva Braun reflects the change of mood in the Führerbunker over four days – the vague hope on the 19th and the despair of 22 April".
Thirty years ago the news magazine "Stern" in Germany became a laughing stock when it published diaries which it claimed were Hitler’s.
They were exposed within days as the work of a master forger.
Mrs Sigmund said she is, however, convinced of the authenticity of the letters – and of the "normality" of the relationship between Hitler and Eva. "I think they had a pretty normal love and sex life", she added..
This echoed the latest dispatch of Heinrici’s army group: at Müncheberg, due east of Berlin, and at Wriezen, farther north, the Russians had finally broken through into open country between 5 and 6 pm. Immense tank forces were pouring through the two breaches; at Müncheberg alone tank-killer squads and aircraft destroyed 60 tanks during the next few hours, while the Ninth Army’s total that day was 226 Russian tanks knocked out. "The battle," Heinrici’s army group reported that evening "is about to be decided". A stabbing headache assailed Hitler as this news reached his Bunker. He weakly called for a servant to fetch Dr. Morell, and at his behest the physician crudely drained a quantity of blood from Hitler’s right arm until it blocked the hypodermic needle and Morell had to force a somewhat larger needle into the veins. The servant blanched as the blood ran into a beaker, but wisecracked: "Mein Führer, all we need do now is mix the blood with some fat and we could put it on sale as Führer blood sausage!" Hitler repeated the unpleasant witticism to Eva Braun and the secretaries over tea that evening.
Midnight would bring his fifty-sixth birthday. Bormann wanly observed in his diary that it was "not exactly a birthday situation". Hitler had asked his staff to refrain from ceremony, but Eva Braun cajoled him into stepping into the anteroom and shaking hands with the adjutants who had gathered there. Saur had brought a perfect scale-model of a 350-millimeter mortar for Hitler’s collection. Hitler spoke for a while with Göbbels and Ley about his determination to defend the Alpine Redoubt and Bohemia-Moravia in the south, and Norway in the north; then he retired to drink tea with Eva in his low-ceilinged drawing room-cum-study.
All night after that he lay awake, until the knocking of Heinz Linge, his valet, told him it was morning. General Burgdorf, the chief Wehrmacht adjutant, was outside the door. He shouted that during the night the Russians had broken through Schörner’s army group on both sides of Spremberg; the Fourth Panzer Army was trying to repair the breaches by a counterattack. Hitler merely said, "Linge, I haven’t slept yet. Wake me an hour later than usual, at 2 pm".
Abel Basti, reveals that one of the piece of evidence he investigated about Hitler's active double existence in the last days of Nazism is found in an apparently innocuous book published in Spain.
He refers to the memoirs of Joaquín Navarro Cristóbal correspondent of "La Vanguardia" in Berlin during World War II -which he signed with the pseudonym of Cristóbal Tamayo- reissued in 2005 under the title of "The Last Days of Berlin". Navarro, who died in 1970, describes in this book his experience aboard the last Lufthansa air service between Spain and Berlin in April 1945.
"For someone who is not very familiar with the subject of Hitler's death, the passage is irrelevant, just another story of the last days of war in Berlin. But it contains a fact that contradicts all the official versions.
"Navarro wanted to see Berlin fall, wanted to get there before the Russians took it. He arrived at the Tempelhof airport, located 20 kilometers from Berlin, mid-morning on 20 April 1945. There was no way to get to the capital, besieged by the Red Army, so he stays at the airport until German fighters soon appear. He asks what is happening of some SS officers and they tells him that it is the Führer arriving. Indeed, he sees Hitler coming down from a Junker 290 and being transferring for the trip to Berlin. Navarro manages to travel in a military truck as well, and he bumps into Hitler's car in the streets of Berlin.
"The astonishing thing is that the official history maintains - and in that everybody agrees - that Hitler entered the Bunker 16 January 1945 and that he never left there".
Abel Basti's statement is proven wrong by these pictures....
|German troops on the Oder front, salute Adolf Hitler in March 1945||Hitler visiting Berlin defenders in early April 1945 with Hermann Göring|
"Navarro's innocent testimony highlights the theme of Hitler's doubles, which is to be used in the farce of suicide in the Bunker. The truth is that nobody knew for sure where Hitler was in those chaotic days of the fall of Berlin".
Katyusha multiple rocket launchers (Russian: Катю́ша)) are a type of rocket artillery first built and
fielded by the Soviet Union in World War II. Multiple rocket launchers such as these deliver explosives
to a target area more quickly than conventional artillery, but with lower accuracy and requiring a longer time to reload. They are fragile compared to artillery guns, but are inexpensive, easy to produce, and usable on any chassis. Katyushas of World War II, the first self-propelled artillery mass-produced by the Soviet Union, were usually mounted on ordinary trucks. This mobility gave the Katyusha [and other self-propelled artillery] another advantage: being able to deliver a large blow all at once,
and then move before being located and attacked with counter-battery fire.
German troops coined the nickname Stalin's organ [German: Stalinorgel], after Soviet leader
Josef Stalin, prompted by the visual resemblance of the launch array to a church organ
and the sound of the weapon's rocket motors.
On 20 April, Hitler’s 56th birthday, Soviet artillery came in range of the Berlin suburbs and opened fire.
When he awoke Berlin was under heavy air attack—a birthday bombardment that continued all day. His eyes were stinging, but the pain subsided after Linge administered cocaine eyedrops. Morell gave him a glucose injection, then Hitler fondled a puppy for a while before lunching with Eva and the two duty-secretaries, Johanna Wolf and Christa Schröder. There was no conversation.
To the subterranean Bunker came some usual and some unusual visitors, bringing their formal, and for the most part insincere congratulations on the Führer's birthday. From noon onwards they came and went, and the day was taken up by receptions, speeches and conferences. In spite of the catastrophic situation, they found the Führer still confident; the Russians, he still believed, were going to suffer their bloodiest defeat of all before Berlin.
Wrapped in a gray coat with its collar turned up, he climbed the spiral staircase to the Chancellery garden followed by Göbbels. The Berlin air was thick with the dust and smoke from a hundred fires.
In the Chancellery garden he received a delegation of boys from the Hitler Youth, under their leader Artur Axmann, and in the presence of Himmler, Göring and Göbbels he thanked and decorated them for their efforts in this now decisive battle.
At about 4 pm he retraced his steps into the shelter, having seen the sky for the last time.
He withdrew to his small conference room, and before the main war conference began, he allowed his principal ministers in singly and in turn, to proffer formal birthday greetings: Dönitz, Keitel, Jodl. Among others present on this last ceremonial occasion were Bormann, Ribbentrop and Speer.
The main conference began immediately.
Kalgoorlie Miner [WA]
21 April 1945
London, 20 April: At noon today -Hitler's birthday- Berlin's sirens wailed as the German "Achtung" radios reported bombers, says Reuter's monitoring service.
Germany's principal radio station, Deutschlandsender, believed to be situated at Königs-Wüsterhausen, had not been heard for 17 hours up to 2 p.m. A few of the remaining medium wave stations were working at half or quarter power, and to hear Germany's voice clearly one had to tune in to Oslo or the transmitter operating on the former Vienna wave length.
Thus, on Hitler's birthday, Germany's once great network, which once filled the ether from Calais to the Caucasus, began to operate on two different programmes — one for the Reich's southern rump and the other for the northern. The German News agency said that many Berliners had to read Göbbels's speech for Hitler's birth day from the newspapers because the electric current had failed. Berlin papers featured the speech, with photographs.
The great question concerned the imminent threat to the geographical unity of the Reich. Both north and south of Berlin the Russians had indeed decided the battle, and armored spearheads were dashing westward. Unless Schörner’s counterattack succeeded, in a few days, perhaps hours, the last land route to the south would have been cut. Would Hitler, or would he not, move his headquarters to the south, whither all the service headquarters and ministries had gone or were going? His advisers were unanimous that the Russian ring around the city would ultimately close; that once caught in it, there would be no escape; that the only alternative was to withdraw to the south, to Obersalzberg; while the road remained open, or perhaps never.
General Koller pointed out that the truckloads of OKW equipment and documents would have to leave Berlin for the south immediately—certainly there was neither the fuel nor the fighter escort for the OKW to evacuate Berlin by air.
Göring, Keitel, Himmler and Bormann, Göbbels, Krebs and Burgdorf all entreated Hitler to leave the doomed city; but Hitler would neither agree nor disagree. The most he would do was to implement the decision reached ten days earlier against such a situation as had now arisen. Then it had been decided that if the Allied armies should cut the Reich in half, two separate commands should be set up in the two disconnected areas. In the north, Grand Admiral Dönitz, in the south Field Marshal Kesselring should command all the German forces, unless Hitler himself chose to move his headquarters to one or other of the two theatres. Now Hitler decided to confer upon Dönitz full military powers in the north; but in regard to the south he still made no appointment. It was not that he distrusted Kesselring, or knew the truth - that even this favourite Field Marshal had now abandoned hope, and was meditating unconditional surrender. [The unconditional surrender of all German armies in Italy was actually negotiated by Kesselring's successor in Italy, General Vietinghoff, and SS General Wolff; but the first steps had been taken by Kesselring before his transfer]. Hitler simply had not yet made up his mind. Sooner or later he would decide - or rather, as he put it, he would leave it to Providence to decide.
For Hitler's indecisions were not, like Himmler's, a permanent state of mind; they were a preliminary to decision; and once he had declared his decision, it was as impossible for any other man to alter it, as it would have been futile to have sought to hasten it. How he would decide, no one as yet could tell. When the conference was over, Bormann assured his secretary that in a day, or at most two days, Hitler and the rest of his staff would leave Berlin. Others were less certain. Colonel Nicolaus von Below, Hitler's air force adjutant, who had worked with him for eight years, was convinced that now he would never leave.
Bormann left the room to organize sufficient armored transport and omnibuses for the transfer. Göring—whose own truckloads of property were already at Karinhall waiting for the word to go—inquired, “Mein Führer, do you have any objection to my leaving for Berchtesgaden now?" Hitler was dumbfounded that Göring could so casually desert him but did not betray his disappointment; he frigidly granted Göring’s plea.
After the conference ended, the visitors left the Bunker, and a long convoy of lorries led the general exodus from Berlin to Obersalzberg.
At 6 pm Spremberg fell to the Russians; they were now only a few miles from the vital Autobahn from Berlin to the south. At 9:30 pm as a new air raid started, Hitler sent for the two older secretaries with whom he had lunched. Christa Schröder wrote a few days after :
"Pale, tired, and listless, he met us in his tiny shelter study where we had eaten our meals or had tea with him of late. He said that the situation had changed for the worse over the last four days. 'I find myself compelled to split up my staff, and as you are the more senior you go first. A car is leaving for the south in one hour. You can each take two suitcases, Martin Bormann will tell you the rest'. I asked to stay in Berlin, so that my younger colleague could go as her mother lived in Munich. He replied, 'No, I’m going to start a resistance movement and I’ll need you two for that. You mean the most to me. If worse comes to worst, the younger ones will always get through—Frau Christian at any rate—and if one of the young ones doesn’t make it, that’s just Fate'. He put out his hand to stop any further argument. He noticed how downcast we were, and tried to console us. 'We’ll see you soon, I’m coming down myself in a few days’ time!' Absolutely numbed, my colleague and I left his room, to pack the two suitcases permitted us in the Bunker where we four secretaries had shared a bedroom for some time. The hall outside was packed with pedestrians who had taken refuge from the air raid outside. In the midst of our packing the phone rang. I answered it—it was the Chief. In a toneless voice he said, 'Girls, we’re cut off'—we were going to drive down through Bohemia—'your car won’t get through there now. You’ll have to fly at dawn'. But soon after he phoned again. 'Girls, you’ll have to hurry. The plane’s leaving as soon as the all clear sounds'. His voice sounded melancholy and dull and he stopped in mid-sentence. I said something, but although he still had not hung up, he made no reply".
The Russians had now reached Baruth just ten miles south of OKW and OKH headquarters at Zossen, south of Berlin, and still more tanks were pouring through the big gap between the Fourth Panzer and Ninth armies. Schörner’s counterattack had begun, but when Hitler called on Heinrici to attack, in order to close this gap, the army group commander demurred, demanding permission to pull back the Ninth Army’s right flank instead, as it seemed in danger of encirclement. But Heinrici could give Hitler no assurances that this would not cost the flank corps its entire artillery, so Hitler—after hours of deliberation—ordered the line held where it was. Heinrici dramatically telephoned the General Staff half an hour after midnight to protest that Hitler’s order was "unrealizable and hopeless".
"I ought to declare : 'Mein Führer, as the order is against your interests I request you to relieve me of my command ... then I can go into battle as an ordinary Volkssturm man with a gun in my hand!'
General Krebs drily pointed out:
"The Führer expects you to make a supreme effort to plug the gaps as far east as possible, using everything you can scrape together, regardless of Berlin’s later defense".
Again Hitler ordered every available jet to attack the Russians south of Berlin.
In fact General Heinrici had already decided to "override" Hitler’s order to stand fast. The Ninth Army, he felt, should withdraw westward while it still could. Thus the breach which must eventually seal Berlin’s fate—and Hitler’s too if he stayed for the capital’s defense—was further widened. But at the time Hitler believed that his orders were being obeyed. That night he resolved not to leave Berlin.
Cramped with his two remaining secretaries in his study he had explained:
"I feel like some Tibetan lama, turning a useless, empty prayer wheel. I must force the decision here in Berlin or go down fighting".
Hardly anybody arrived for the night conference—most of his staff, like his secretaries, were packing feverishly. Kreb’s operations officer brought the grim news that the breach in the Fourth Panzer Army had widened still farther. Hitler calmly blamed this on that army’s "betrayal". The general challenged him. “Mein Führer, you often talk of your betrayal by your commanders and troops. Do you really believe so much has been betrayed?" Hitler cast him a pitying look. "All our defeats in the east are solely the result of treachery"—and he spoke with deep conviction. At 1 am, Hitler dismissed the two stenographers, Kurt Peschel and Hans Jonuschat, so that they too could catch that night’s plane south. As the general also departed, Ambassador Walther Hewel stuck his head around the door. "Mein Führer, do you have any orders for me yet?" Hitler shook his head. Ribbentrop’s representative exclaimed, "Mein Führer, the zero hour is about to strike! If you still plan to achieve anything by political means, it’s high time now!" Hitler replied with an exhausted air, "Politics? I’m through with politics. It sickens me. When I’m dead you’ll have more than enough politics to contend with".
Outside, the all clear was just sounding. Karl-Jesko Puttkamer—his naval adjutant since 1935—was leaving, evacuating too General Schmundt’s dangerous diaries in a suitcase; Saur joined him on the plane, with orders to organize in the Alps what arms production he could.
Rudolf Schmundt was a General of the Infantry on 1 September 1944, became the Chief of the Personnel Department of the German Army.
Throughout the war, Rudolf Schmundt was one of Adolf Hitler's many adjutants, and flew with Erwin Rommel in early 1941, just before the Afrika Korps was created.
Schmundt was one of the casualties of the failed 20 July plot, planned to kill the Adolf Hitler. One of the conspirators, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, placed a bomb in a briefcase beside Hitler. Colonel Heinz Brandt moved it behind a heavy table leg and unwittingly saved Hitler's life, but as a consequence, he lost his own. Severely injured in the assassination attempt, Schmundt initially made a promising recovery, but ultimately died of complications resulting from his injuries on 1 October 1944.
After Schmundt's death, all current Generals and Field Marshals were summoned by Hitler to attend a funeral service at the Tannenberg Memorial, in east Prussia. As reported by Hauptmann Alexander Stahlberg [aide to Field Marshal Erich von Manstein] in his book "Bounden Duty", the group were entrained back to Berlin and General Schmundt was buried, on Hitler's orders, in the hero's cemetery — the Invaliden. Hitler did not attend either ceremony.
Schmundt was posthumously awarded the German Order on 7 October 1944. He was replaced as the Chief of the Personnel Department by General Wilhelm Burgdorf, the Deputy Chief.
About eighty other staff members and their families flew south that night. But in the early hours Martin Bormann cabled to the Berghof: "Wolf [i.e., Hitler] is staying here, because if anybody can master the situation here, it is only he".
The next morning, 21 April 1945, there was a hammering on Hitler’s bedroom door. Linge shouted that Russian artillery had begun pouring shells into the heart of Berlin. Hitler shaved rapidly—"I can’t stand anybody else hovering near my throat with an open razor," he used to say—and stepped into his study. General Burgdorf announced that the Russians had evidently brought up a heavy battery by rail across the Oder. Hitler telephoned orders to the OKL to identify and attack the battery at once. General Koller assured him: "The Russians have no railway bridges across the Oder. Perhaps they have captured and turned around one of our heavy batteries". Soon after, Koller came on the phone again; the offending Russian battery had been spotted from the observation post atop the towering anti-aircraft Bunker at the zoo. It was just eight miles away—at Marzahn.
General Vasily Kazakov had pushed forward his breakthrough artillery divisions and all the other heavy gun batteries with 152mm and 203mm howitzers.
The gun crews were encouraged into a frenzied rate of fire by political officers. Senior artillery officers felt especially proud and made self-satisfied remarks about "the bloody god of war", which had become an almost universal euphemism for Soviet gunnery.
From that morning until 2 May, they were to fire 1.8 million shells in the assault on the city.
Throughout the day, as the rain of shells on Berlin continued, a growing sense of isolation gripped Hitler’s Bunker. Koller was unable to brief Hitler on the Luftwaffe operations south of the city because of communications failures. Nothing had been heard from General Helmuth Weidling’s Fifty-sixth Panzer Corps, due east of the city, since 8 pm the previous evening. According to one incredible report, Weidling himself had fled with his staff to the Olympic village west of Berlin; his arrest was ordered. The jets had been prevented by enemy fighter patrols from operating from Prague airfields against the Russian spearheads south of Berlin. Hitler angrily phoned Koller. "Then the jets are quite useless, the Luftwaffe is quite superfluous!" Infuriated by a Saar industrialist’s letter with further disclosures about the Luftwaffe, Hitler again angrily called up Koller. "The entire Luftwaffe command ought to be strung up!" and he slammed the phone down. Heinrici—ordered to report in person to the shelter that day—asked to be excused as he was "completely overburdened". He successfully avoided having to look his Führer in the eye ever again.
During the afternoon Hitler began planning a last attempt at plugging the widening breach torn in Heinrici’s front between Eberswalde and Werneuchen, northeast of Berlin. An ad hoc battle group [Armeeabteilung Steiner] under the bullet-headed SS-Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner must—like a sliding door—push south during the night from Eberswalde to Werneuchen; if Steiner succeeded, Zhukov’s advanced forces north of Berlin would be cut off. But north of Eberswalde the Soviet Marshal Rokossovski had now breached the Oder front sector held by General von Manteuffel’s Third Panzer Army, and Hitler’s detailed order to Steiner, issued about 5 P.M., had an hysterical undertone :
"Any officers failing to accept this order without reservations are to be arrested and shot at once. You will account with your life for the execution of this order. The fate of the German capital depends on the success of your mission".
Krebs repeated this to the over-busy Heinrici by telephone, but Heinrici was also preoccupied with salvaging his right flank—the Ninth Army’s flank corps—from Russian encirclement at Fürstenwalde. “All I can manage now is to pull it back south of the string of lakes southeast of Berlin," Heinrici warned. This was tantamount to abandoning Berlin. As for the Steiner attack, if the Führer insisted on it, then Heinrici asked to be replaced as Steiner’s superior.
Hitler insisted, but did not replace him; perhaps Krebs did not report the conversation to him, for Hitler now pinned all his hopes on Steiner’s attack. At 9 pm he learned that a battalion of the "Hermann Göring" Division was still defending the Reichsmarschall’s abandoned stately home at Karinhall. He ordered the force handed to Steiner, and when Koller plaintively telephoned at 10:30 P.M. to ask where Steiner was, the Führer snatched the phone from Krebs’s hand and rasped, "The Luftwaffe is to transfer every man available for ground fighting in the north to Steiner. Any commander holding men back will have breathed his last breath within five hours.... You yourself will pay with your life unless every last man is thrown in". Krebs confirmed this. "Everybody into the attack from Eberswalde to the south!"—and then hung up.
What orders Heinrici now issued to Steiner we do not know. But even Steiner was no fool, and to attack Zhukov’s flank with a motley collection of demoralized, ill-armed, and undermunitioned troops would be courting disaster. He stalled while ostensibly girding himself for the attack.
The war conference on 22 April began routinely at about 3 pm. First Göbbels telephoned, and later Ribbentrop; but then Hitler asked about the operation which had obviously been in the foreground of his mind all night—Steiner’s counterattack in the north. An SS authority assured him the attack had begun well, but Hitler mistrustfully asked the Luftwaffe to check; within the hour General Koller came on the phone with word that Steiner had not yet begun his attack and would not begin before nightfall. This betrayal and deceit by the SS, of all people, shook Hitler to the core. He asked if the Luftwaffe troops had duly come under Steiner’s command; General Eckhard Christian replied that they had still not received any orders from Steiner. Hitler straightened up and purpled. He suspected a fait accompli, to force him to leave Berlin. His eyes bulged. "That’s it," he shouted. "How am I supposed to direct the war in such circumstances! The war’s lost! But if you gentlemen imagine I’ll leave Berlin now, then you’ve another thing coming. I’d sooner put a bullet in my brains!" Everybody stared. Hitler abruptly stalked out, while the adjutant Otto Günsche started after him, calling out, "But, mein Führer. . . ." Walther Hewel telephoned Foreign Minister Ribbentrop in extreme agitation : "The Führer’s had a nervous breakdown—he’s going to shoot himself!"
Hitler’s oratory, his sway over an audience, was always one of his greatest strengths. Its wane in the twilight of his rule—and the pathos of his terrible outburst in the Bunker—was disconcerting to those accustomed to it. But even at the end, Hitler retained remnants of his political instinct and charisma. SS general Felix Steiner’s failure to obey the Führer’s command on 22 April to attack numerically superior Red Army forces had precipitated the Nazi leader’s dramatic collapse. Steiner’s army group—depleted and outnumbered by the Russians—was unable to perform the military role Hitler demanded.
This may well have been recognition from Steiner of practical reality—that the resources of men, equipment and resolve necessary to carry out this order were no longer available. But it may also have carried the vestiges of treachery, as the Führer had claimed. Earlier that month, Steiner held secret discussions in Berlin with SS comrades Richard Hildebrandt and Otto Ohlendorf. Their intention was to create a new German government and procure a separate peace with the Western Allies. Steiner hoped it would be led by Himmler and that Hitler would simply be pushed aside. Steiner wanted to encourage the Anglo-American forces to advance to the River Elbe without opposition in return for a tacit agreement that they would halt there, allowing Germany to continue its struggle against the Russians in the east. The chances of such a deal were slight, but the Nazi position was desperate enough to risk exploring it. Accordingly, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, left Hitler on 20 April, headed to northern Germany and within a matter of days, on his own initiative, attempted to open talks with Britain and America. With Hitler remaining in Berlin, it probably suited Steiner to simply abandon him there. His inaction did not stem from military weakness alone, but was an act of deliberate disobedience. The Führer—always the political bloodhound even at this critically late stage of the war—may well have sensed it.
As Germany’s military fortunes declined, members of the SS hierarchy— a bastion of Nazi ideology—began to contemplate different policies from those of their leader. The warning signs had been there for months. One of them was Himmler’s decision, without Hitler’s authorization, to train an army of anti-Bolshevik Russians, led by General Andrei Vlasov. Hitler, who loathed the Slavs and was hidebound by his racism, could not countenance ever using Russians, even those who renounced Stalin’s regime, in any military capacity whatsoever. Yet Himmler—once his devoted disciple in such prejudice—now struck out on a path of his own. By February 1945 two full-strength divisions had been formed; the first of these was subsequently thrown into combat against the Red Army—Russian against Russian—on the Oder front in the east.
It is unclear whether reports of such recruitment were deliberately concealed from Hitler, or that he chose instead to ignore them and act as if such formations did not exist. The soldiers of the 1st Vlasov Division remained on active service, and would play a remarkable role at the war’s very end. The existence of this force showed the beginnings of Himmler’s estrangement from Hitler’s war policy, which in the last days of the Reich would lead him to undermine the authority of his political master.
In March 1945 the Alliance did indeed fall under strain. On 7 March American troops seized the bridge over the Rhine at Remagen in a daring "coup de main". Four days later, they began preliminary negotiations in Switzerland with the SS leader Karl Wolf about a possible German surrender in Italy. It was uncertain whether Wolf had Hitler’s backing—although Himmler had given his cautious support—and discussions were held in strict secrecy. The Western Allies correctly informed the Russians that they were taking place, but then unwisely, and tactlessly, refused a Soviet request to send a representative to them.
This played to Stalin’s suspicion that the West was engineering a secret peace with Germany, to enable the Nazis to continue the fight in the east. Over the next month the telegrams between Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin saw some of the most unhappy and mistrustful exchanges of the war. On 3 April the Soviet leader stated that either the American president was lying or he was being deliberately deceived by his advisers. Stalin himself had played a part in the sudden frosting of relations, for in response to the perceived slight of the Swiss negotiations with Wolf he began discussions of his own with a Polish nationalist group—offering them the chance to join an enlarged pro-communist government—and then promptly arrested them on charges of sabotage, a sequence of events acknowledged by Russia only in early May. All the Western powers knew in mid-March was that this group of sixteen Poles had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.
As suspicions grew, the possibility arose that Anglo-American and Russian armies would make a dash for Berlin at the same time. The military situation gave Stalin the initiative. Two Russian fronts [the Soviet equivalent of an American or British army group]—the 1st Belorussian and the 1st Ukrainian—were on the Oder river, only 50 miles from the German capital. In fierce fighting, Red Army troops were also moving into Czechoslovakia and eastern Austria, and it was clear that the Russians would soon capture Vienna. In the west, British and American armies had crossed the Rhine on a broad front, and were advancing into Germany at speed. The Anglo-American forces were farther from Berlin than their Russian allies, but Germans might offer less resistance to them. Churchill and his commander in northwest Europe, Field Marshal Montgomery, urged that an attempt on Berlin be made.
General Dwight Eisenhower—Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force—now took a crucial decision. He decided that Anglo-American forces would halt on the River Elbe. An exception was made for Montgomery’s 21st Army Group to the north, which would cross the river and strike at the Baltic ports of Lübeck and Wismar. Denmark could then be secured by the Western Allies, ahead of the Russians. In the center, American armies would halt at the river boundary; in the south, they would push on into Bavaria and western Austria.
Eisenhower’s decision to halt on the Elbe minimized the chances of American and Russian forces colliding. However, the military Intelligence behind it was faulty—a concern over the so-called National Redoubt, an Alpine fortress guarded by elite SS divisions where it was believed Hitler and his followers would make a final stand. The evidence for such a mountain fastness was largely illusory, but once Göbbels realized the American preoccupation with it he delightedly arranged for a mass of false documentation to fall into their hands—most of it concocted within his Propaganda Ministry. General Omar Bradley, commander of the 12th Army Group and a close personal friend of Eisenhower, would later confess ruefully that "it was amazing how we fell for this in the way we did".
United States forces were racing southward to secure a fairy-tale fortress complex that in reality was non-existent, and the decision to halt at the Elbe left Berlin to the Russians. Eisenhower had conferred with General Bradley about the likely cost in American lives of reaching the German capital. Bradley reckoned about 100,000 men—"a lot for a prestige objective"—and General George Marshall, the army chief of staff, concurred. Eisenhower allowed the Red Army the honor of storming Hitler’s capital, knowing that Soviet troops would also pay the price in casualties to take the city. He communicated directly with Stalin, saying that Berlin was no longer a major objective for him—he would be halting his armies on the Elbe and pushing southeast instead.
Stalin was taken aback. Bluffing, he said that Berlin was no longer of particular importance to him either, and then summoned his military commanders Zhukov and Konev and ordered them to take the city as soon as possible. The assault would take place on 16 April 1945. Zhukov launched the main Russian offensive directly against the last German defense line, the Seelow Heights on the western bank of the Oder, and headed straight for Berlin.
On the same day Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front crossed the Oder farther south and wheeled round the German capital. By 23 April the city was encircled and no further supplies or reinforcements would reach its defenders. Stalin—who knew Churchill was still lobbying for an attack—wanted to block any last-ditch attempt by the Western Allies to reach Berlin. But Eisenhower kept his promise to the Soviet leader and Roosevelt’s successor, President Harry Truman, was content to let him do so. Even when General Wenck’s 12th Army pulled out of the German battle line on the Elbe, on the same day, and marched east in an attempt to save Berlin, American troops kept to their agreed position on the far side of the river. The Grand Alliance held firm.
Hitler ordered a telephone call put through to Göbbels. When the Propaganda Minister’s voice came on the line, he dictated to him an announcement: "I have decided to stay to the end of the battle in Berlin". He ordered Göbbels to bring his family to the shelter and sent for Julius Schaub, his lifelong factotum. By the time Schaub came, Hitler had recovered some of his composure. "Schaub—we must destroy all the documents here at once. Get some gasoline". He fumbled with his ring of safe keys, handed them to Schaub, and went into the tiny bedroom. While Schaub opened the small safe at the foot of the bed and stuffed its contents into a brown suitcase on the bed, Hitler took his lightweight 6.35-millimeter Walther pistol from his trouser pocket and exchanged it for the more lethal 7.65-millimeter Walther from the bedside table. The bulging suitcase was carried upstairs; from the upstairs safes more suitcases were filled, and then emptied into a crater in the garden. For a while Hitler stood with Schaub, watching his collection of memoirs, memoranda, and secret letters from world statesmen consumed by the flames. "Richelieu once said, give me five lines one man has penned!" Hitler lamented afterward. "What I have lost! My dearest memories! But what’s the point—sooner or later you’ve got to get rid of all that stuff". He indicated that Schaub must leave for Munich and the Berghof and destroy the papers there too. But first there was something he wanted to dictate—evidently something for posterity.
Hitler’s anguished staff realized that he intended to remain in Berlin and brave the coming storm. "I have been betrayed by those I trusted most," he declaimed. "I’m going to stay here in Berlin, the capital of our crusade against bolshevism, and direct its defense myself". Göbbels, Bormann, Keitel, and Jodl begged him to reconsider. Dönitz and Himmler telephoned. Ribbentrop arrived, but was not even given a hearing. Keitel cornered Hitler alone but was interrupted almost at once. "I know what you’re going to say: 'It’s time to take a 'Ganzer Entschluss'! I’ve taken it already. I’m going to defend Berlin to the bitter end. Either I restore my command here in the capital—assuming Wenck keeps the Americans off my back and throws them back over the Elbe—or I go down here in Berlin with my troops fighting for the symbol of the Reich". He felt that if he had stayed in East Prussia in November, the Russians would never have got through there. That was why, he disclosed to the furious field marshal, he had just ordered his decision to stay in Berlin announced to the people; he could not change his mind now.
Jodl joined the argument and pointed out that if at the last moment Hitler committed suicide in Berlin, the German army would be leaderless. He also candidly explained that given the Führer’s trembling hands he was too infirm to handle a rifle or bazooka in the street fighting and that in any case there was the danger that he might be captured. Hitler called Martin Bormann in, and ordered him, Keitel, and Jodl to fly to Berchtesgaden that night to continue the war with Göring as acting Führer. All three refused. Somebody objected that there was not one German soldier who would be willing to fight for the Reichsmarschall. Hitler retorted, "There’s not much fighting left to be done. And when it comes to negotiating, the Reichsmarschall will be better at that than I".
It was nearly 5 pm, and the Russians had now taken the Silesia station. The Führer’s Bunker vibrated with the distant echoes of exploding shells. His petrified staff was clustered in the passageway, many of them expecting to hear pistol shots announcing that Hitler had abandoned them. In a private aside to Eva Braun, General Burgdorf put their chances now at only 10 percent. But Jodl argued on—pointing out that Hitler still held powerful trump cards in the form of Schörner’s undefeated army group and the armies on the Elbe and in Norway. He reminded Hitler of the demarcation line shown on the captured “Eclipse” maps and suggested that now they should swing Wenck’s Twelfth Army around from west to east and use it to relieve Berlin. Hitler shrugged. "Do whatever you want!" Secretly he may have been relieved, like a convict granted a last-minute reprieve. Perhaps, as Jodl argued, now the Allies would take his anti-Bolshevik intent seriously. Keitel announced that he would drive in person to give the necessary orders to Wenck that night. Hitler ordered a hearty meal prepared for the field marshal before he set out.
Hitler was not appalled at the prospect of imminent death. At an August 1944 war conference he had told his generals he was almost looking forward to it, just as an artisan savors the coming of the evening, when he can set his gnarled hands to rest; in death Hitler looked for "a release from my sorrows and sleepless nights and from this nervous suffering. It takes only the fraction of a second—then one is cast free from all that and rests in eternal peace". Ever since World War I he had lived on borrowed time. Besides, as he told Schörner, his death might remove the last obstacle preventing the Allies from making common cause with Germany. If Model could find the courage to take his own life, so would he; he, Hitler, was no Friedrich Paulus. "Did not Varus command his slave: 'Now kill me !' he noted in a comparison to the Roman general who had led three legions to their destruction.
He gruffly instructed Eva Braun and the two remaining secretaries to get changed and fly south. "It’s all over—it’s quite hopeless". Eva took both his hands in hers. "But you know I am going to stay here with you!" Hitler’s eyes glistened, and he did something nobody had seen him do before—he kissed her lightly on the lips. Frau Junge chimed in, "I’ll stay too!" and Frau Christian echoed her. "I wish my generals were as brave as you," Hitler replied.
Despite a telephone call from his liaison officer, Hermann Fegelein, Himmler had failed to show up at the shelter, evidently fearing from what Fegelein told him that he would be arrested for SS General Steiner’s passivity; Fegelein was sent to meet him halfway but failed to return. Instead Himmler’s doctor, Karl Gebhardt, a potbellied, bespectacled Bavarian, arrived about 11 pm; he pleaded with Hitler to leave or at least to let the women and children sheltering in the adjacent Vorbunker escape under Red Cross cover. Hitler learned that Himmler had a battalion of six hundred SS troops for his own safety outside Berlin; he invited Himmler through Gebhardt to contribute them to the defense of the Chancellery. Some time after, Himmler’s chief lieutenant, General Gottlob Berger, arrived. Hitler repeated to him his reproaches about the SS’s disloyalty and asked Berger to go to Bavaria to crush the dissident and separatist movements stirring there and in Württemberg and Austria. "Everybody has deceived me! Nobody has been telling me the truth! The Wehrmacht has lied to me! Even the SS has left me in the lurch!" His last instruction to Berger before the latter flew south was to round up as many British and American officer-prisoners as possible and transport them under guard to the Alpine Redoubt—as hostages; though for what purpose even Hitler did not seem clear.
By that evening, Red Army tanks had reached the outskirts of Berlin.
Little now stood between Berlin and a seemingly inevitable defeat. Although crippled by 90 percent power failures, Daimler-Benz, Alkett, and the other arms factories were still sending their remaining tanks and assault guns straight to the nearest front line. But fuel and ammunition were running out, and there was already heavy street fighting in the suburbs. The Russians were in Köpenick and approaching Spandau. By evening they might well be fighting in the government quarter itself. This was the military position as Krebs finally secured Hitler’s authorization for the garrison at Frankfurt-on-Oder to abandon that city to the enemy as well.
Under cover of darkness, still more of his staff left Berlin. General Koller flew to Bavaria. Morell came to the shelter, clutching his heart and gasping that he needed a change of climate; he offered Hitler a last injection before he left, a morphine pick-me-up, but Hitler suspected that a plot might be afoot to drug him and evacuate him from Berlin by force. He contemptuously dismissed the gaudily bedecked professor. "You can take off that uniform and go back to your practice in the Kurfürstendamm!" Morell chose Munich instead and flew out that night. Hitler sent out the remaining two staff stenographers as well; their orders were to take the last shorthand records to the "outside world".
Hitler’s press officer, Heinz Lorenz, was instructed to take down the remaining historic war conferences as best he could. His fragmentary notes—which begin with Keitel’s exhausted return with Jodl from the battlefield at 3 pm on 23 April—reveal the growing desperation at Hitler’s shelter. East of Berlin the Fifty-sixth Panzer Corps had vanished without trace, as had General Weidling, its commander. “It is all so abominable! When you come to think it over, what’s the point of living on!” exclaimed Hitler. Steiner had made no discernible move with his 25th Panzer-Grenadier and 7th Panzer divisions at Eberswalde, north of the capital. The Russians had swarmed across the Havel River between Oranienburg and Spandau—unless the Havel lakes could be defended, the city would be completely encircled at any moment.
The situation on Germany’s other fronts no longer occupied Hitler. With tanks swarming as far as the eye could see toward the heart of Berlin along the Landsberg Chaussee from the east—and the new "Stalin" tanks at that, virtually impregnable to German shells—the bunker conferences devolved only on the defenses of Berlin. Hitler’s last stratagem began unfolding. At noon Göbbels’s ministry released the news. "The Führer is in Berlin.... Our leadership has resolved to remain in Berlin and defend the Reich capital to the end". Perhaps if Stalin knew that Hitler was still in Berlin, his armies might overreach themselves and suffer the same kind of defeat Hitler himself had suffered at Moscow. Lorenz recorded Hitler’s belief thus: "The enemy now knows I am here. They will do all they can to concentrate on us. That gives us an excellent opportunity of luring them into an ambush. But this depends on all our people realizing the importance of this hour and genuinely obeying the orders they get from above; they must be honest about it! This business up here"—indicating Steiner on the map—"was downright dishonest! Steiner had too many nagging doubts about the defenses confronting him". General Krebs interjected, "I believe we still have four days’ time". "In four days we’ll know the outcome," agreed Hitler.
The "ambush" to which Hitler referred was the plan Keitel and Jodl had proposed—for the army on the Elbe and Mulde fronts, facing the Americans, to be turned around, to link up south of Berlin with Busse’s Ninth Army and then strike northward toward Potsdam and Berlin, mopping up the elite Russian troops they thereby cut off. Wenck’s objective would be the Autobahn at Ferch, near Potsdam. At the same time the Forty-first Panzer Corps—commanded by the reliable General Rudolf Holste, an old regimental comrade of Keitel’s—would be brought back across the Elbe, to counterattack between Spandau and Oranienburg; Steiner was to turn over his mechanized divisions, the 25th Panzer-Grenadiers and the 7th Panzer, to Holste, northwest of Berlin.
The realist in Hitler whispered that defeat was inevitable, and he made no secret of this to his intimates, even if he felt constrained to put on a braver face to his generals.
Eva Braun wrote that 23 April:
"The Führer himself has lost all hope of a happy ending. But while we still live all of us have hope, including me".
Later she added:
"At present things are said to be looking up. General Burgdorf who gave us only a 10 percent chance yesterday has raised the odds to 50-50 today. Perhaps things may turn out well after all!".
The Ian Sayer Archive is one of the world’s largest collections of Second World War-related original documentation in private hands, with more than 100,000 items in all.
One its star documents is the last letter Hitler wrote apart from his Last Will and Political Testament. On 23 April 1945, Field Marshal Ferdinand Schörner sent a radio message to Hitler exhorting him to leave Berlin as the Russians approached, and carry on the war from southern Germany. Hitler wrote out his response, which was radioed to Schörner. Asking him to push his group northwards, he wrote "every effort must be made to win the struggle for Berlin".
With the forces available to him, Schörner was unable to break through the tightening Russian encirclement but was nonetheless promoted to commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht on 29 April, the day before Hitler committed suicide. In this last letter Hitler stated: "I shall remain in Berlin, so as to take part, in honourable fashion, in the decisive battle for Germany, and to set a good example to all the rest".
Before Keitel returned to Wenck’s headquarters, he came in to see Hitler and quietly inquired whether any talks at all were proceeding with the enemy. Hitler replied that before he could start talks he must win "one more" victory—the Battle for Berlin. He disclosed that he had opened up one channel to the Allies through Italy and that he had asked Ribbentrop to discuss further steps with him that evening. Ribbentrop’s only proposal of substance was to have top Czech industrialists flown that night to France, where they would attempt to persuade the Americans to protect Bohemia and Moravia from the Bolsheviks. "The Führer has agreed to this," Ribbentrop informed Karl-Hermann Frank by letter. For the first time Hitler now admitted to Ribbentrop that the war was lost—but he insisted that he had been right all along, that Britain would have done better to have fought at his side and not against him. He dictated to Ribbentrop four secret negotiation points to put to the British if he got the chance, points vital to the future of Europe. If the Continent was to survive in a world dominated by Bolshevism, then somehow London and Berlin must bury the hatchet between them. He instructed Ribbentrop to write secretly to Churchill in this sense. "You will see," Hitler predicted. "My spirit will arise from the grave. One day people will see that I was right".
When Ribbentrop left—eventually attaching his diplomatic staff to General Wenck’s Twelfth Army staff—an adjutant announced that Albert Speer had just arrived in the Chancellery, having made a venturesome landing by light plane on the East-West Axis across the Tiergarten after a flight escorted by a whole fighter squadron from Rechlin. Eva Braun, who like Hitler had been troubled by the recurring rumors of Speer’s inexplicable behavior, greeted him warmly. "I knew you’d return—you won’t desert the Führer!” Speer grinned. "I’m leaving Berlin again tonight!" According to Julius Schaub—who also left that night—when Hitler asked his friend’s opinion on his decision to fight the battle for Berlin to its end, Speer’s almost brutal advice was that it was better to die there than in his weekend cottage on the Obersalzberg, that is, if the Führer attached any importance to the verdict of history. The remark reveals much about Speer’s own motives. Hitler, unaware that Speer had secretly arranged with Heinrici for Berlin to be abandoned to the Russians, agreed.
After the war conference, Bormann brought to Hitler a startling telegram just received from Göring at Berchtesgaden. Göring, it seemed, was seizing power.
In view of your decision to remain in the fortress of Berlin, are you agreed that I immediately assume overall leadership of the Reich as your Deputy, in accordance with your decree of 29 June 1941, with complete freedom of action at home and abroad ?
Unless an answer is given by 10 pm, I will assume you have been deprived of your freedom of action. I shall then regard the conditions laid down by your Decree as being met, and shall act in the best interests of the people and Fatherland.
You know my feelings for you in these the hardest hours of my life. I cannot express them adequately.
May God protect you and allow you to come here soon despite everything.
Your loyal Hermann Göring.
Bormann no doubt read this aloud to Hitler in tones worthy of a public prosecutor. But that Ribbentrop and Speer, Göring’s other archenemies, were by chance also in Hitler’s Bunker was a double misfortune for the Reichsmarschall. Ribbentrop had received from Göring a telegram asking him to fly down immediately unless ordered to the contrary by 10 pm. Keitel also heard from Göring. Somehow Hitler learned that Göring’s plan was to fly to the American supreme commander, General Eisenhower, and ask for peace terms. Hitler immediately cabled Göring that he alone would decide when the Decree of 29 June 1941, took effect; Göring was forbidden to undertake any steps in the direction he had hinted at. The Führer then ordered Göring and his staff on the Obersalzberg placed under house arrest. The shelter was in an uproar over Göring’s "treachery". Speer undoubtedly fanned the flames, for that same day he wrote to General Galland, now a jet-fighter squadron commander in Bavaria, enclosing a copy of Göring’s telegram to Ribbentrop. "This telegram is clear. The Führer has reacted to it accordingly and ordered Göring’s arrest. I request you and your comrades to do everything to prevent an airplane flight by Göring as discussed".
[Speer does not refer to this in his memoirs. The only acceptable explanation is that if Göring tried to fly to Eisenhower, Galland was to have him shot down. Speer evidently feared Göring would get the credit for peace moves, leaving high and dry his own hesitant preparations—which included a radio speech prerecorded at Hamburg ordering the German people to stop fighting].
Thus with characteristic hesitancy and with prodding from Bormann, Hitler took the decision with which he had been grappling since September 1944—dismissing Göring. But even then he spared his feelings, telegraphing the Reichsmarschall :
"Your actions are punishable by the death sentence, but because of your valuable services in the past I will refrain from instituting proceedings if you will voluntarily relinquish your offices and titles. Otherwise steps will have to be taken".
Göring hastened to comply. Hitler meanwhile ordered General Robert von Greim from Munich to Berlin; Koller was also instructed to return, and the Luftwaffe’s General Josef Kammhuber was sent for as well. Greim’s take-off was, however, prevented by an air raid; Koller pleaded ill-health, and Kammhuber also avoided coming to the capital. The Luftwaffe was in chaos anyway. General Galland’s fighter squadron had somehow amassed ninety-five new Me-262 jets on its Munich airfield, but the squadron had only twenty pilots; on the other hand, the crack jet-fighter wing JG.7 had only twenty Me-262s left and could not obtain replacements. Nothing had prevented the British bomber squadrons from executing a precision attack in broad daylight on the Obersalzberg early on 25 April, leaving the Berghof a smoking ruin.
The last week of Hitler’s leadership was plagued by the crumbling communications system. From 24 April 1945, onward, it is difficult to relate the orders emanating from his bomb- and shell-shattered Chancellery building to either the war information reaching him or the actions of his commanders in the field. On 24 April, Hitler himself contributed to the command chaos by an order upending the existing command structure and subordinating the General Staff's eastern front to the OKW operations staff. But three days later Hitler’s only radio-telephone link with Jodl’s headquarters was silenced, and Hitler could communicate with the outside world only via a telephone to the admiralty’s still-functioning signals room. Jodl’s clear instructions to the armies were repeated by Hitler on 24 April: Generals Holste, Wenck, Schörner, and Busse were to speed up their relief attacks toward Berlin, from northwest, southwest, and south, respectively, and "restore a broad land contact with Berlin again, thereby bringing the Battle of Berlin to a victorious conclusion". But apart from Wenck and Schörner, Hitler’s commanders no longer even paid lip service to his authority—they were driven only by the compulsion to escape the Russian grasp themselves before the final collapse came.
On 22 April, Hitler had also ordered that Weidling be executed by firing squad. Hitler believed that, as commander of the LVI Tank Corps, Weidling had ordered his tank corps to retreat in the face of advancing Soviet forces. Ordering a retreat would be in defiance of Hitler's standing orders to the contrary. As such, Weidling's actions required a death sentence. This situation turned out to be a misunderstanding and it was cleared up before Weidling's execution could take place.
As the Red Army began to close a ring around Berlin and began to fight through the city suburbs in several directions aiming for the nearby Reichstag building, efforts were taken to increase the protection afforded to the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker.
On 23 April, Hitler appointed Weidling as the commander of the Berlin Defense Area. He replaced Lieutenant General [Generalleutnant] Helmuth Reymann, Colonel [Oberst] Ernst Käther, and Hitler himself. Reymann had only held the position since 6 March. Starting 22 April, Käther had held the position for less than one day. For a short period of time, Hitler took personal control of Berlin's defenses with Major General Erich Bärenfänger as his deputy. Weidling was ordered by Hitler to defend the city of Berlin. Specifically, he was ordered not to surrender and to fight to the last man.
The forces available to Weidling for the city's defence included roughly 45,000 soldiers in several severely depleted German Army [Wehrmacht Heer] and Armed SS [Waffen-SS] divisions. These depleted divisions were supplemented by the Berlin police force, boys in the compulsory Hitler Youth, and about 40,000 elderly men of the Home Guard [Volkssturm]. The commander of the central district was SS Brigade Leader [SS Brigadeführer] Wilhelm Mohnke. Mohnke had been appointed to his position by Hitler himself and he had over 2,000 men under his direct command. The Soviets were to later estimate the number of defenders in Berlin at 180,000. But this was based on the number of prisoners that they took. The prisoners included many unarmed men in uniform, such as railway officials and members of the Reich Labour Service [Reichsarbeitsdienst].
Weidling organized the defences into eight sectors designated "A" through to "H". Each sector was commanded by a colonel or a general. But most of the colonels and generals had no combat experience. To the west of the city was the 20th Motorized Infantry Division. To the north of the city was the 9th Parachute Division. To the north-east of the city was the Müncheberg Tank Division [Panzer Division Müncheberg]. To the south-east of the city and to the east of Tempelhof Airport was the 11th SS Volunteer Armored Infantry Division Nordland [SS Nordland Panzergrenadier Division]. Weidling's reserve, the 18th Armored Infantry Division [18th Panzergrenadier Division], was in Berlin's central district.
Kampfgruppe Mohnke was formed out of all available elite guard units from across Berlin and sent to defend the government quarter, Sector Z [Citadel], from the Soviets. Its commander, 34-year-old Wilhelm Mohnke had been one of the founding members of the SS-Stabswache [Staff Guard] in Berlin in 1934. A highly decorated Waffen–SS field commander, by 1945 Mohnke commanded the Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler Division.
Weidling's task was nigh impossible. Hitler and Göbbels had optimistically sacrificed the capital’s resources of men, ammunition, and gasoline to the forward defenses on the Oder, and little now remained for Berlin. According to Keitel, a decamping army commandant had blown up Berlin’s last major ammunition dump at Krampnitz. Weidling would have little infantry, limited artillery, virtually no tanks, and no viable Luftwaffe over the capital.
The Germans defending Berlin were outnumbered virtually 10-1, German units had been severely degraded and worn down by almost continuous fighting since the start of the Soviet spring offensive in January. One hundred thousand Volkssturm, mostly consisting of older men above military age, Hitler Youth, mustered into a "tank-killer brigade" and assigned to the defense of the bridges across which the relief armies must march into Berlin, and foreign SS volunteers, was backing up the regular troops in the hopeless defence, against trained, professional Russian combat troops with the glint of final victory in their eyes.
The focus of the Soviet assaults was the Reichstag, close to the Chancellery and Hitler’s Bunker.
Late on 24 April, Hitler appealed to the Navy for troops; from Flensburg, Admiral Dönitz promised to airlift 2,000 of his best sailors and fortress troops into Berlin in the next forty-eight hours and to put 3,500 more of his most cherished fleet personnel—including crews trained to operate the new secret U-Boats—on standby for the fight; unless Berlin won this last battle—which Hitler described to Dönitz as "a battle for Germany’s whole future" outranking all other theaters in importance—those U-Boats would never operate.
Dönitz kept this promise—unlike Himmler, who had eventually parted with only half his personal security battalion. [According to stenographer Ewald Reynitz, in these last days of his life Hitler refused to speak to Himmler even over the telephone and flatly forbade Himmler to participate in the war conferences].
On 28 April Admiral Karl Dönitz flew a battalion of naval cadets into stricken Berlin as a gesture of solidarity with his Führer.
The commander, Lieutenant Franz Kuhlmann, remembered his nightmarish arrival:
"Toward the end of our flight we recognized the capital, burning from a recent bombing raid. It was a truly apocalyptic picture. Despite the lack of contact from the radio tower, our pilot immediately attempted a landing and the plane careered wildly all over the runway".
In the circumstances, a rough landing was hardly surprising. On 27 April both Tempelhof and Gatow airports had been lost to the Russians. An emergency landing strip was then prepared in the grounds of Berlin’s Tiergarten. This was where Kuhlmann had arrived. By the evening of 28 April this landing strip could not be used either, because of the deep shell holes.
"When we came to a juddering halt there was a sharp command—'To the shelters—at the double!'—and we raced toward an enormous concrete silo, where military stores and equipment were kept.
"In a while, an SS officer appeared, and told us we had been ordered to the Zoo Bunker [a key defense point in the center of Berlin]. When I objected, and said we had been instructed to go immediately to the Reich Chancellery, to defend Hitler’s own quarters, he looked completely bewildered. Eventually we set off in an easterly direction, toward this seemingly prestige objective—along a bombed-out military road. Time and time again we were forced to dive for cover, as Russian planes swept down, strafing the route ahead.
"The SS officer accompanied me to Mohnke’s command post—in one of the underground shelters of the Reich Chancellery—announced my arrival to the general, and then disappeared. SS General Mohnke, the commander of Citadelle [the government district of Berlin, with Hitler’s Bunker at its heart], was surprised and delighted to see us, showing a degree of interest that was flattering in view of our relatively insignificant combat strength".
General Mohnke had about 2,000 men under his command—including 800 soldiers from the elite Leibstandarte SS Guard Battalion. These formed the last bulwark against the Russians.
"Mohnke inquired carefully about the number of men I had brought, their weaponry and combat experience—quickly grasping that most were cadets, and neither properly equipped or trained for this kind of fighting. His manner was well-disposed and friendly, until I perhaps unwisely told him that I was under orders to announce myself to Hitler personally. Then his tone changed. He told me bluntly that it was hardly practicable for every junior officer to request an audience with the Führer".
Kuhlmann accommodated his men in the cellars of the nearby Foreign Office and awaited further orders. The artillery fire raining down on the Reich Chancellery became ever more violent, as groups of Red Army soldiers began to approach Citadelle’s defenses.
Despite the command to stay put, Kuhlmann was summoned into the labyrinth of the Führer Bunker. Dönitz, keen to curry favor with his master, asked—through his representative in the Bunker, Admiral Hans-Erich Voss—that the marine battalion’s commander formally present himself. The Führer assented—and Kuhlmann descended into this subterranean world. A shock awaited him. He arrived at the lower section of the Bunker as Hitler was holding a situation conference. Voss was presiding, with General Hans Krebs, Josef Göbbels and Artur Axmann [the head of the Hitler Youth] also present.
"Hitler’s body had completely shrunk in on itself. His left arm and leg shook uncontrollably. Much of what he said was incomprehensible to me—it was as if, in a state of delirium, he had discovered a completely made-up language. Odd fragments of it lodged in my mind. An oft-repeated refrain: 'Oh those citizens of Berlin! Those citizens of Berlin!' or 'One can never do without a Hanna Reitsch!' [the woman pilot who had just then audaciously landed a plane on the Unter den Linden, Berlin’s main thoroughfare] Knowing nothing of what had happened to him in this vault, I was unable to make any coherent sense of such disjointed outpourings".
The reference to a "made-up language" is striking. It may have been partly the result of extreme stress and disorientation, but it strongly suggests that the Führer had never fully recovered from his breakdown of 22 April.
"Hitler then dismissed me," Kuhlmann continued, "by offering his steadier right hand, and I climbed with Voss back up the Bunker stairs. Although I was deeply shaken, I said nothing of my impression to Voss—and he also avoided saying any word about the state Hitler was in. But I noticed that he was aware of my embarrassment, and probably guessing the reason for it, talked about plans to bring more naval troops into Berlin instead".
Even Ribbentrop courageously requested permission to take up arms in Berlin. But Hitler forbade this: Ribbentrop knew too many secrets to be allowed to fall into enemy hands; and Walther Hewel—whom Hitler urged with the rest of his staff to take poison before the Russians could capture them—telegraphed the foreign minister in Mecklenburg: "The Führer appreciates your intentions but has turned you down. Until the ring encircling Berlin has been broken open or until you receive further instructions, you are to stand by outside the combat area". Hewel added significantly: "I have no political information whatever". Schörner, whose army group had just recaptured Bautzen and Weissenberg, south of Berlin, inflicting heavy losses on the Russians, also began moving northward toward the capital. "The attack by Schörner’s army group proves," Dönitz was signaled by Hitler’s staff on 26 April, "that given the will, we are still capable of beating the enemy even today". These distant victories glowed faintly through the thickening gloom of the communications breakdowns besetting Hitler’s shelter.
"The British and Americans along the Elbe are holding back," Hitler observed. ". . . I think the time has now come when out of a sheer instinct for self preservation they must act against this bloated proletarian Colossus, this Bolshevik Moloch.. . . If I can win through here and hang on to the capital, perhaps hope will spring in British and American hearts that with our Nazi Germany they may after all have some chance against this entire danger. And the only man capable of this is me.... But I am only Führer as long as I can really lead. I can’t lead if I go south and sit on some mountain, but only if I have authority over armies and those armies obey me. Give me one victory here—however high the price—and then I’ll regain the right to eliminate the deadweights who constantly obstruct. After that I will work with the generals who’ve proved their worth". Later he again digressed on this theme. "First I must set an example to everybody I blamed for retreating, by not retreating myself. It is possible that I will die here, but then at least I shall have died an honorable death". Hitler proclaimed that this Battle of Berlin was as important as the 1683 Battle of Vienna, which had turned the tide of the Turkish conquest of Europe.
The first battalion of Dönitz’s naval troops arrived, and Weidling threw them straight into the fight. The makeshift hospital in the Vorbunker next to Hitler’s Bunker filled with casualties. The streets were strewn with burning vehicles and tanks. The government quarter was under nonstop bombardment by artillery and bombers. But Weidling reported to Hitler that it was proving difficult to demolish bridges—for example along the Teltow Canal defense line—because Speer’s staff had decamped with all the bridge plans. Speer had also fought tooth and nail against the dismantling of the bronze lampposts along the East-West Axis, as Hitler had ordered, to prepare an emergency landing strip. [Speer had protested to Weidling’s predecessor: "You seem to forget I am responsible for the reconstruction of Berlin"].
On 25 April, Weidling ordered Major-General of the Reserve [Generalmajor der Reserve] Werner Mummert, commander of Müncheberg to take command of the German LVI Army Corps. Weidling ordered that the command of "Müncheberg" be handed over to Colonel [Oberst] Hans-Oscar Wöhlermann. Wöhlermann was the artillery commander for the city.
On 26 April, Weildling ordered "Müncheberg" and "Nordland" to attack towards Tempelhof Airport and Neukölln. At first, with its last ten tanks, "Müncheberg" made good progress against a surprised Soviet foe. However, the surprise wore off and was replaced with fierce defensive fire and several local counter-attacks. These soon halted the tank division's advance.
Sometime around 26 April 1945, Weidling chose as his headquarters the old army headquarters on the Bendlerstrasse, the "Bendlerblock. " It possessed well-equipped air-raid shelters and it was close to the Reich Chancellery. In the depths of the Bendlerblock, his staff did not know whether it was day or night.
Around noon on 26 April, Weidling relieved Wöhlermann of command and Mummert was reinstated as commander of the Müncheberg Tank Division.
During 26 April spirits soared in Hitler’s Bunker, as the news of Wenck’s approaching army and Schörner’s successes trickled in.
Hitler summoned Field Marshal Robert Ritter von Greim from Munich to Berlin to take over command of the Luftwaffe from Hermann Göring. On 26 April, while flying over Berlin in a Fieseler Storch, von Greim was seriously wounded by Soviet anti-aircraft fire. Hanna Reitsch, a crack test pilot, with her long experience at low-altitude flying over Berlin and having already surveyed the road as an escape route with Hitler's personal pilot Hans Baur, landed von Greim on an improvised air strip in the Tiergarten near the Brandenburg Gate.
Throughout the remainder of her life, Hanna Reitsch remained a controversial figure, tainted by her ties -- both real and suppositious -- to the dead Führer and his henchmen. The circumstances surrounding her 1945 sojourn in Hitler's Berlin Bunker especially haunted her.
In a postscript to a new edition of her memoirs, published shortly before her death from a heart attack in 1979, she wrote that "so-called eyewitness reports ignore the fact that I had been picked for this mission because I was a pilot and trusted friend [of Greim's], and instead call me 'Hitler's girl-friend'....I can only assume that the inventor of these accounts did not realize what the consequences would be for my life. Ever since then I have been accused of many things in connection with the Third Reich".
Von Greim's injuries were tended, then he was put to bed in a room opposite Hitler’s conference room. For many hours Hitler sat at his bedside, morosely describing Göring’s "ultimatum" and the history of the Luftwaffe’s failure—only General Koller had dared tell him the truth about the technical inferiority of German planes. At 10 pm, German radio broadcast Greim’s promotion to field marshal and his appointment as Göring’s successor. Hitler urged suicide capsules on Greim and Reitch, and instructed them—if worse came to worst—to arrange their own cremation so that the Russians would find nothing. "I firmly believed that Berlin could be saved on the banks of the Oder. Everything we had here was moved forward to that position. You must believe me—when all our efforts there failed I was the most stunned of all," he mused. But Wenck was now approaching Berlin. "If he can relieve Berlin, we shall fall back to a new line and fight on". He ordered his new Luftwaffe commander to concentrate the Messerschmitt jet squadrons around Prague.
General Hans Krebs made his last telephone call from the Führerbunker. He called Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel Chief of German Armed Forces High Command [OKW] in Fürstenberg. Krebs told Keitel that if relief did not arrive within 48 hours, all would be lost. Keitel promised to exert the utmost pressure on Generals Walther Wenck, commander of the Twelfth Army, and Theodor Busse commander of the Ninth Army. Meanwhile, Bormann wired to German Admiral Karl Dönitz: "Reich Chancellery a heap of rubble". He went on to say that the foreign press was reporting fresh acts of treason and "that without exception Schörner, Wenck and the others must give evidence of their loyalty by the quickest relief of the Führer".
| What was.....|
| What might have been .....the "Maus"|
Late in the evening of 26 April, Weidling presented Hitler with a detailed proposal for a breakout from Berlin, offering to use the forty tanks still at his disposal to spearhead and attempt a breakout to the west, across the Havel River bridge at Pichelsdorf, to secure Hitler’s escape from the capital. When Weidling finished, Hitler shook his head and said:
"Your proposal is perfectly all right. But what is the point of it all? I have no intentions of wandering around in the woods. I am staying here and I will fall at the head of my troops. You, for your part, will carry on with your defence".
At night Hitler was kept awake by the shell fire and by his own vivid memories. This was Stalingrad all over again, but this time the miracle would happen.
"Imagine! Like wildfire the word spreads throughout Berlin: one of our armies has broken through from the west and restored contact with us!"
How could Stalin hope to reduce a great city of four million people with only four hundred tanks, especially if fifty were being knocked out each day?
"The Russians have already exhausted their strength in crossing the Oder, particularly the northern army group".
Against this Hitler had to set his own virtual helplessness and lack of precise information on the battle. Schörner’s forces were approaching, and within one day this pressure should begin embarrassing the Russians in the south. According to Keitel, General Holste’s battle group in the northwest had gained ground at Nauen and Kremmen and would gather its last reinforcements for its main attack early on the twenty-eighth. Hitler impatiently told Krebs, "It’s high time they got a move on!" General Wenck’s relief offensive from the southwest—three well-fueled divisions under General Karl-Erik Köhler—had already reached the Schwielow lake, and during the morning the Party announced that it had reached Potsdam, thus attaining the tactical objective laid down four days before. But a tough ring of Soviet troops still barred the way to Berlin.
By the last week of April 1945 Hitler’s world had shrunk to a few grey concrete rooms deep beneath the Reich Chancellery Garden in Berlin. Up above, Soviet artillery shells and rockets blasted the once immaculate Chancellery buildings into ruins. Huge sections of roof and walls had collapsed, while the remaining structures were shell- and shrapnel-scarred, fire scorched or windowless.
The Reich Chancellery Garden, its trees blasted and stripped of their foliage and the lawn churned up by shell craters, was only passable between bombardments and Hitler’s RSD and SS-Begleit-Kommando guards were largely withdrawn from exposed sentry posts on the Chancellery roof and outside the Bunker entrances. Each time another Soviet barrage went up the guards fled inside the Bunker entrances, slamming the thick steel doors closed behind them. Hitler forbade smoking in the Führerbunker, so smokers had to go up to the Vorbunker to enjoy a cigarette. With their nerves on edge, many of the Bunker inhabitants were smoking and drinking heavily. Some hardier souls would emerge into the shattered gardens to smoke or catch a few minutes of fresh air before Soviet shelling forced them once more into the dank subterranean Bunkers, while Hitler’s dog Blondi was still walked in the garden by his handler.
Hitler realized that time was running out fast. At 5 am on 27 April after a violent bombardment and with very strong air support, the Russians attacked on both sides of the Hohernzollerndamm and the Potsdamer Platz and Leipzigerstrasse were under heavy artillery bombardment.
As Göbbels nervously put it:
"I keep getting this nightmare picture: Wenck is at Potsdam, and here the Russians are pouring into Potsdamer Platz!"
"And I’m here at Potsdamer Platz, not Potsdam!" agreed Hitler uneasily.
His eyes were transfixed by the colored arrows marking the relief armies on the map. He recognized the problem his dwindling authority was causing. Wenck had the drive, the gasoline, and the loyalty to get to Potsdam, but he lacked the tanks to smash the Russian armor. General Busse’s Ninth Army—encircled southeast of Berlin—had the tanks, but its westward movement seemed designed to bypass Berlin to the south. Hitler was puzzled by this defiance of his orders.
Berlin's Last Hours
Cairns Post [Qld]
LONDON, 26 April: The end is coming now in Berlin - entire German companies and platoons are surrendering, stated the "British United Press" correspondent in Moscow.
The garrison's will to fight has been crushed in one of the most terrible city battles in history. There are slogans like "We shall never give in" on the crumbled walls, but the faces of the endless columns of prisoners tell a different story. They are grey, haggard men, but they are smiling, nevertheless.
In the heart of the city, fanatics, mostly S.S. men, are fighting on. The Russians make short work of those who refuse to surrender, and mercy is neither granted nor wasted in this furious battle. The barricades protecting the center of the city are falling fast under devastating gunfire, and the last exit has been sealed off. There can be no possible escape for the Nazis, and if Hitler is inside the city the Russians will get him, dead or alive. The Russians in one part of the city, found some planes with their motors still warm, and they apparently were intended for a last-minute escape of prominent Nazis. Thousands of terror stricken refugees are trying to run through the living hell from the German lines into the Russian-occupied districts. A bunch of women in "siren suits" carrying Rucksacks, told the Russians: "We couldn't stand it any longer". But some of these so-called refugees are merely spies and saboteurs and have been found carrying radio transmitters and signal flares.
Russian units swarming across the Spree are being followed up by tank borne infantry and artillery plunging in the direction of Tiergarten. Sappers have replaced the blown bridges in a matter of hours. Eighteen German soldiers at one point hid under the far bank of the river waiting until the Russians had finished building a bridge and then walked across and gave themselves up. A Russian writer just back from Berlin said that the artillery barrage in the heart of Berlin was so terrible that enormous stone buildings were simply dissolving to atoms. He said: "Berlin is a wilderness worse than Stalingrad, Warsaw or Sebastopol". Another Russian correspondent said that the Germans are now bombing their own capital by dive bombing the Russian attackers.
Reuter's correspondent in Moscow says that monster "Stalin" heavy tanks and heavy mobile guns are doing most of the hammering at the strongly-built buildings in which the German garrison is making its last stand, while inside the streets, cellars and basements specially trained assault troops clear blocks of apartment houses and the railway stations. Red Army forces have been told how to deal with any high-ranking Nazis. It is hoped to take Hitler alive, but the Soviet artillery is concentrated shelling any place where it is thought likely that Hitler bas established his headquarters. The German radio all day insisted that Hitler was in Berlin, and one speaker referred to Hitler as fighting with his last forces.
"Although our Mosquito is streaking over the blackened waste of Berlin at a great altitude, the scene below is awe inspiring," said an "Evening News" reporter in a dispatch written in the plane.
"Huge fires, the leaping brilliance of which is visible at 21,000 feet spread all over the south-western part of the centre of Berlin, and five or six other great regions of fires, from which vast plumes of smoke arise, are burning further to the west and north- west. As we circle over the heart of he Reich, we keep encountering 'Uncle Joe's Boys' - Red Air Force fighter pilots covering the Red Army's operations in the streets, far below. We greet them by dipping the wings, and neither we nor they seem to be interfered with by anti-aircraft shells".
What may be one of the last official German broadcasts from inside Berlin was relayed by Hamburg radio this afternoon. Dr. Naumann, Secretary of State in the Göbbels Propaganda Ministry, said that the highest ranking generals in the German army were personally directing the defenders of Berlin in their difficult task.
Naumann, in a broadcast, said:
"Only now do we realise how happy and contented we were in 1938-39. For more than five and a half years, we have taken upon ourselves unspeakable suffering".
"Red Star" today published a page width photograph showing thousands of German officers lined up as prisoners in one of Berlin's squares.
Late on the twenty-sixth Hitler radioed to Jodl:
"Make it clear to Ninth Army that it is to wheel sharply north with Twelfth Army to take weight off Battle for Berlin".
Throughout the twenty-seventh he speculated on this puzzle.
"I just don’t understand the direction of its attack. Busse’s driving into a complete vacuum. If he had pushed northwest instead, and covered as much distance as he has now, he would have accomplished much more. Wenck and the Ninth Army would already have linked up".
And, late that day, it occurred to him at last why the Ninth Army had pleaded its radio failure.
"If there’s a long radio silence, it is always the sign that things are going badly. It’s impossible to command if every plan that’s drawn up is adapted by every army commander as he sees fit. What’s happened now is just what I predicted: they’ve been encircled".
By the end of the day on 27 April, Weidling and the forces under his command in Berlin found themselves to be completely cut off from the rest of Germany.
The Bunker had lost secure radio communications with the main German units fighting desperately in the ruins and had to rely on the telephone network for news. To all intents and purposes the last Führer Headquarters was blind and incapable of really commanding anything. As Müncheberg was engaged in desperate fighting in Wilmersdorf, the encirclement of Berlin was completed and the remnants of the city's defenders were trapped. The Soviet Information Bureau announced that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front had broken through strong German defenses around Berlin and, approaching from the east and from the south, had linked up in Berlin and were on the Alexanderplatz and would soon reach the Potsdamer Platz, where the Bunker was located. The Soviet Information Bureau went on to announce that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front took Gartenstadt, Siemenstadt, and the Görlitzer Railway Station in eastern Berlin.
When Weidling discovered that a major part of the last line of the German defenses in Berlin were "manned" by Hitler Youth, he ordered German Youth Leader [Reichsjugendführer] Artur Axmann to disband the Hitler Youth combat formations in the city. But, in the confusion, his order was never carried out. In the end, many German youths did die defending Berlin.
SS-Brigadeführer Mohnke reported that enemy tanks had penetrated the nearby Wilhelmsplatz – they had been repulsed this time, but time was running out.
North of Berlin, the generals’ disobedience to orders was blatant. Heinrici’s remaining Oder sector, south of Stettin, had collapsed under the weight of Marshal Rokossovski’s attack. Since noon on 26 April, Heinrici had begged Jodl to allow General Steiner’s two armored divisions to repair the damage. But Hitler and Jodl mistrusted Steiner, and these divisions had been ordered to support Holste’s more promising relief attack instead. This order was ignored. Heinrici assured Keitel he was holding a line from Angermünde to Ðokerheim, but when the field marshal set out on a surprise visit to the battlefield he found the front line only a few miles away, in the midst of what was a well-prepared retreat; and the 5th Light Infantry Division—although its troops were still eager for combat with the Russians—was being pulled back westward because "its officers have decided not to fight any longer". Keitel telephoned Hitler about Heinrici’s deceit. Far from holding the line, Heinrici and Hasso von Manteuffel—commanding the Third Panzer Army on the breached Oder sector—were deliberately herding their troops across Mecklenburg toward the haven of the Allied lines.
At about 5pm Jodl radio-telephoned his grim decision to Hitler: Steiner’s two armored divisions would have to be thrown northward—away from Berlin—into the southern flank of the Russian spearheads pursuing Manteuffel’s troops.
Up to now Hitler had been sustained by the hope of relief. "If we can just hold on two, three, or four days more here, Wenck’s army may arrive and perhaps even Busse’s too," he had said. Admiral Voss had assured him: “Wenck’s coming, mein Führer ! The only question is—can he manage by himself!" And Hitler had responded, "I’ll sleep a bit better tonight. I don’t want to be awakened unless a Russian tank’s outside my sleeping cubicle. Then I must be given time to do what has to be done". But the new hysterical atmosphere created by Jodl’s radio-telephone message can be judged from the words Martin Bormann jotted in his diary :
"The divisions marching to relieve us have been halted by Himmler and Jodl! We shall stand by and die with our Führer, loyal unto death. If others think they must act 'out of superior judgment,' then they are sacrificing the Führer. And their loyalty—Devil take them!—is no better than their sense of 'honor'!"
A premature dusk had fallen over Berlin outside the shelter, as smoke clouds and mortar dust blotted out the sun. Gatow and Tempelhof airfields had been cut off. Junkers transport planes were redirected to the Axis landing strip, but the Russians had strung out anti-aircraft batteries along the flight path and many planes were lost. A hundred of Dönitz’s crack troops had been sent to the Chancellery for Hitler’s personal protection. Camouflaged by Swastika pennants, four enemy tanks had reached Wilhelms Platz before they were detected and destroyed. "Identification regulations are to be strictly obeyed!" Hitler ordered. The Russians announced that they were bringing up 406-millimeter and 370-millimeter mortars to reduce the last citadel of Hitler’s capital. Hitler handed his adjutants more of the brass-encased cyanide capsules, to use if absolutely necessary. When the time came he would order a general breakout toward Wenck’s army at Potsdam. He disclosed privately to Colonel von Below, his Luftwaffe adjutant ever since 1937: "Only my wife and I will stay behind". He compared Eva Braun’s loyalty with the gross disloyalty displayed by Göring and Himmler—whom he intuitively blamed for Steiner’s disobedience.
At the late night conference, General Krebs reassured Hitler that the battle lines in Berlin itself were stable again. Hitler Youth units were holding a big bridgehead south of the Pichelsdorf bridge in anticipation of Wenck’s arrival; isolated trucks from Wenck’s army had already broken through. But the first Russian snipers were roaming Potsdamer Platz and Hitler pointed out: "The subway and streetcar tunnels are a source of danger". Transport planes with more troops were standing by, but one had just crashed and was blocking the Axis Boulevard. Colonel von Below announced that the first air drops of ammunition had begun.
A ticking clock coming over the radio loudspeakers warned that enemy bombers were still over Germany.
Air Attacks Angered Hitler
Last Days In Doomed Berlin Described by Australian Associated Press
The Argus [Melbourne, Vic]
25 May 1945
London: In the last days of Berlin Hitler went to bed about 8 o'clock each morning, but was usually up again three hours later, when he had breakfast, and then asked for reports of air attacks. When these were shown to him he always became angry and criticised the German defences.
Fräulein Schröder, who had been Hitler's secretary since he first achieved power, told this to the "British United Press" correspondent at Berchtesgaden. She added that Hitler talked about music, architecture, and the theatre while Berlin burned. He talked at midnight parties of plans for rebuilding the German cities. Hitler preferred night to day. He and his staff began work in the evening and continued throughout the night. Military conferences were held late at night, after which Hitler took tea with his deputy, Martin Bormann, his secretaries, and doc- tor. All political discussions were forbidden at tea as Hitler said he needed relaxation. Toward the end he became most depressed, and had premonitions of assassination. Hitler declared that there was no one to succeed him. Göring had lost the people's sympathy, and the party had rejected Himmler, whom Hitler described as completely un-asesthetic.
A Russian general told the Allied Control party representing SHAEF at Flensburg that Hitler died in a Bunker under the Berlin Chancellery on 1 May from a lethal injection administered by his personal physician, and the body was afterwards burned, says "Reuter's correspondent at SHAEF.
Hitler brooded on the evening’s bulletin that Benito Mussolini had just been captured alive by Italian Communist guerrillas. He could hear the distant singing of the Göbbels children in six-fold chorus as they prepared for bed. During the evening he had unpinned his own golden Party medallion and bestowed it on their red-eyed mother, Magda. She wrote: "Our children are wonderful! ... Never a whimper or word of complaint. The thudding of shells is getting even on my nerves, but the little ones soothe their younger sisters, and their presence here is a boon to us because now and again they manage to prise a smile from the Führer". They told "Uncle Hitler" they were longing for the day when the new soldiers he had promised would come and drive the Russians away. For their sake Hitler hoped too, though he himself had long decided to stay. "In this city I have had the right to command others; now I must heed the commands of Fate. Even if I could save myself here, I will not do so. The captain too goes down with his ship".
At 3 am—it was now 28 April—Krebs telephoned Keitel at the OKW’s field headquarters. "The Führer is most anxious to know about the relief attack west of Oranienburg. What’s the news? Is it making any headway? The Führer doesn’t want Steiner to be commander there! Hasn’t Holste taken over there yet? If help doesn’t reach us in the next thirty-six or forty-eight hours, it’ll be too late!" Keitel replied that he was going to see Steiner in person. Some hours later Hitler learned that a small separatist uprising had begun in Bavaria; a Munich radio station had been seized, and it was broadcasting seditious proclamations to the local workers and foreigners.
It is unlikely that Hitler slept that night. The Chancellery was under direct and heavy shellfire. The Munich separatists had been bloodily suppressed by local forces, but in Berlin the Russians had now penetrated the last lines of defense. The Führer restlessly paced the Bunker passageways, gripping a Berlin street map that was disintegrating in his clammy hands. Over three hundred Russian tanks had been destroyed in the street fighting. Busse’s Ninth Army had at last linked up with General Wenck’s Twelfth, but both were beyond the limits of exhaustion. Moreover, by 4:30 pm General Krebs had learned from Jodl the full extent of Heinrici’s disobedience north of Berlin: Keitel had discovered the southern flank of Manteuffel’s Third Panzer Army retreating across the Schorf Heide in compliance with secret orders which Heinrici had concealed from both the OKW and Hitler. Steiner was covering this illicit retreat and doing nothing to seal off the breach at Prenzlau. Keitel was apoplectic with anger and instructed Heinrici and Manteuffel to meet him at a lonely crossroads to account for their actions. One thing was certain: Berlin’s northern defenses were wide open.
During the Battle of Berlin, Heinrici withdrew his troops westward and made no attempt to defend the city. By late April, Heinrici ordered the retreat of his army group across the Oder River. Hitler only became aware of the retreat of Army Group Vistula around 21 April, after a puzzling request by Heinrici, who sought permission to move his headquarters to a new site, which was further west than Berlin.
On 28 April Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht, was riding along the roads north of Berlin when he noticed that troops of the 7th Panzer Division and of the 25th Panzergrenadier Division were marching north, away from Berlin. These troops were part of General Hasso von Manteuffel's 3rd Panzer Army. As one of the two armies which made up Heinrici's Army Group Vistula, it was supposed to be on its way to Berlin. Instead, Heinrici was moving it northward in an attempt to halt the Soviet break-through at Neubrandenburg, contrary to orders of Keitel and his deputy, General Alfred Jodl. Keitel located Heinrici on a road near Neubrandenburg, accompanied by Manteuffel. The encounter resulted in a heated confrontation that lead to Heinrici's dismissal by 29 April for disobeying orders.
Heinrici was replaced by General Kurt Student. General Kurt von Tippelskirch was named as Heinrici's interim replacement until Student could arrive and assume control of Army Group Vistula. Student was captured by the British before he could take command. The rapidly deteriorating situation that the Germans faced meant that Army Group Vistula coordination of the armies under its nominal command during the last few days of the war was of little significance.
Heinrici was dismissed by Keitel for refusing to save Hitler. He was summoned to Berlin and would have decided to do so had Captain Hellmuth Lang not persuaded him to "drive as slowly as you can" to Plön instead, informing him that he would be murdered in Berlin like Rommel [who had been Heinrici's adjutant, and later Lang's commander] Heinrici then gave himself up to British forces on 28 May.
Hitler had hardly seen Himmler’s liaison officer SS General Fegelein, or the Gestapo chief, Heinrich Müller, this last week. But on 28 April his staff began receiving erratic and surreptitious telephone calls from Fegelein. Hitler suspected he was absconding, and he debated with Greim the possibility that the Reichsführer SS was condoning this—which might have sinister implications. Late that afternoon Bormann showed him yet another stunning news report: Allied radio had proclaimed that Himmler had had contacted Count Folke Bernadotte in Lübeck to offer Germany's surrender to the western Allies; the offer had been declined. Himmler had implied that he had the authority for such a surrender. Hitler considered this treason and his anger poured out into a rage against Himmler.
Bormann sneered, "I always said loyalty has to be stamped on your heart and not on your belt buckle!" Fegelein’s effects were searched and papers relating to Himmler’s treachery were found, along with two money belts of gold sovereigns and other enemy currencies. Eva Braun, whose sister had married Fegelein, mournfully noted: "The Führer is spared nothing. With his life drawing to a close even the SS and his trusted Fegelein are deserting him". Fegelein’s adjutant stated he had last seen him changing into civilian clothes at his Kurfürstendamm apartment; Bormann sent men out into the inferno to search for him.
Two hours later General Weidling, the city commandant, reported that the Russians were hammering Wenck’s relief army into the ground. Weidling reported that the garrison had only a two-day supply of ammunition, at best. He outlined the civilian population’s catastrophic situation, with food and water unavailable, and the dead and wounded lying untended. The general insisted on an immediate attempt to breakout to the west. He proposed to organize three ranks for the effort: the lead echelon to consist of the Ninth Parachute and 18th Panzer Grenadier Divisions reinforced by all of the available tanks and self-propelled guns; followed by a second formed from "Group Mohnke" and a Marine battalion and including the Bunker’s headquarters staff; and a third from what was left of the Müncheberg Panzer Division, the Bahrenfänger battle group, 11th SS Nordland Division, and a rearguard of the Ninth Parachute. It is doubtful whether such an effort could have succeeded in breaking out of the besieged city, particularly in the absence of any accurate information on the position of Wenck’s 12th Army. In any event, Hitler refused to consider any kind of "retreat, and replied that he would not himself leave the Chancellery. His naval liaison admiral radioed to Dönitz: "We are holding on to the very end". At midnight Keitel’s telegram arrived. At the crossroads rendezvous Heinrici had suavely promised to obey orders, but at 11:30 pm he admitted he had in fact ordered a further retreat; Keitel had dismissed him and his Chief of Staff General Ivo-Thilo von Trotha, who appeared to be equally guilty. At about the same time Eva Braun was phoned by Fegelein. "Eva, you must abandon the Führer if you can’t persuade him to leave Berlin. Don’t be stupid, it’s a matter of life and death now!" Within the hour he had been brought back to the Bunker, still in civilian clothes. Hitler told Bormann to hand him over to SS General Wilhelm Mohnke, to help the fight for central Berlin; but Bormann and Günsche —Hitler’s personal adjutant—pointed out that Fegelein would just run away again, so the Führer ordered him summarily court-martialed and executed.
"Our Reich Chancellery is reduced to rubble," wrote Bormann in his diary. "'On dagger’s edge the world now stands!' Treason and treachery by Himmler—unconditional surrender—announced abroad. Fegelein disgraced—the coward tried to clear out of Berlin in civilian clothes!" Hitler, reeling with suspicion, saw this as the origin of Steiner’s failure too. Perhaps at this very moment Himmler was plotting to kill or kidnap him? Suddenly he mistrusted the cyanide capsules supplied by the SS’s Dr. Stumpfegger. He sent for Professor Werner Haase from the Vorbunker operating theater and ordered him to test a sample capsule on Blondi—the largest animal available in the shelter. The dog’s jaws were forced open and an ampoule was broken inside them with pliers; a bitter almond smell wafted toward the expressionless Führer; the dog howled briefly and then stiffened. A short council followed on the best methods of suicide; then Hitler handed ampoules to the rest of his staff, apologizing for being unable to offer them no kinder farewell gift.
More Russian tanks were reported massing south of Potsdamer Platz for the assault on the Chancellery. Hitler was informed that Wenck’s guns were already shelling Russian positions there.
While Eva Braun, Göbbels, and Hewel hastily wrote last letters to their relatives, a chalk-faced Hitler slumped on Field Marshal Greim’s bed. "Our only hope is Wenck. We must throw in every plane we’ve got to cover his breakthrough". An Arado training plane had just made a brilliant landing on the shell-cratered Axis; Hitler ordered the injured Greim to betake himself and Hanna Reitsch to Rechlin air base to command the Luftwaffe to attack the Soviet forces that had just reached Potsdamerplatz [only a city block from the Führerbunker] and preparing to storm the Reich Chancellery—and to fly to Dönitz's headquarters at Plön and arrest Himmler, if his treason were found to be proved. Both begged to stay and share Hitler’s end. The Führer dismissed them with "God protect you". Bormann and Krebs signed a joint appeal to Wenck to break through as soon as he could, so as to furnish Hitler with a basis for political maneuver. But Hitler himself was already writing finis: Himmler’s treachery and the failure of the relief divisions left him with no desire to live on.
In the evening, von Greim and Reitsch flew out from Berlin in an Arado Ar 96 trainer. Fearing that Hitler was escaping in the plane, troops of the Soviet 3rd Shock Army, which was fighting its way through the Tiergarten from the north, tried to shoot the Arado down. The Soviet troops failed in their efforts and the plane took off successfully.
Hans Ulrich Rudel and Hanna Reitsch practiced with a Focke Achgelis Fa223, which had twin rotors on transverse outriggers, through November and December 1944 making rescue flights to the Tiergarten with this aircraft, but by April 29 the helicopter at Rechlin kept for this task was destroyed by air attacks. Von Greim and Reitsch flew in by Fi-156 but flew out on an Arado Ar-96
-- In "The Fall Of Berlin" by Anthony Read and David Fisher it says that the Luftwaffe pilot who flew Greim and Reitsch from Rechlin to Gatow was the same pilot who had flown Albert Speer to Berlin for his final visit.
"The FW190 had only one passenger seat, but the diminutive Hanna, who stood barely five feet tall, squeezed into the space in the fuselage behind it". The same "warrant officer pilot" [Luftwaffe Feldwebel] landed an Arado 96 training aircraft on the "East-West" axis to fly Greim and Reitsch out again, "setting course for Rechlin air base they flew safely on their way".
-- Anton Joachimsthaler, "The Last Days of Hitler,"1995:
"In the meantime, however, the Fieseler Storch in which both of them [Greim – Reitsch] had flown in from Gatow had been destroyed by shellfire near the Victory Column. A new plane was summoned from Rechlin Airfield".
-- Also Erich Kuby, in his 1978 account, "The Russians and Berlin 1945," says:
"Greim’s Fieseler Storch was now a wreck in the Tiergarten. Luckily a daredevil Luftwaffe pilot had succeeded in bringing a training machine into the city during the night, and now flew Greim and Hanna Reisch out of Berlin and back to Rechlin".
James P O'Donnell in his book "The Berlin Bunker" referred to Hanna Reitsch letting slip in her US Army interrogations that when she and von Greim went to fly out just before midnight on 28 April 1945 in an Arado 96 , that they saw a Ju-52 parked with a pilot in attendance. O'Donnell alluded it was waiting for SS LtGen Fegelein.
O'Donnell suggested that the Ju-52 was sent by Himmler for Fegelein and others have suggested that Fegelein was tasked to return with Hitler's corpse as proof to the Allies.
O'Donnell cited Speer saying that Baur had serious plans to fly Hitler out on 23, 28 and 29 April 1945. He also quoted Baur himself after the war saying "right up to the last day I could have flown the Führer anywhere in the world".
When Speer and Baur claimed after the war that there were serious plans to fly Hitler out on 28 and 29 April 1945, did they mean on the Ju-52 which had flown in for Fegelein on the evening of 28 April and left again in the morning of 29 April?
Probably not. That Ju-52, according to O'Donnell may have been the ship allocated to Fegelein by Himmler, but it is doubtful that it was known to Baur that it was even parked there as Baur had shut down his tower and thereby recalled its staff earlier that day. After 9:00 pm or thereabouts on 28 April, any pilot of a plane sent by Himmler to fetch Fegelein would have been arrested because Himmler's negotiations with Count Bernadotte became known to Hitler.
The Ju 52 that had 'successfully managed to land' on the Ost-West-Achse that night and then take-off again was apparently flown by one Oberfeldwebel Böhm from II./TGr 3. This was reported by another young Ju 52 pilot from this unit, Uffz. Johannes Lachmund who described events in his 2009 memoir. Although a pilot Lachmund flew on this sortie as a gunner. Lachmund records that this mission was flown from Güstrow to Berlin with five aircraft to evacuate high-ranking personnel from Berlin, including Ritter von Greim. As Lachmund reports, three of the five Ju 52s had to return after missed approaches, chiefly because the visibility was so poor from the heavy smoke from the fires everywhere on the ground. One Ju-52 was shot-down by the Soviets during the approach.
Lachmund mentions discussions via telephone from the "air traffic control" command-post at the Siegessäule [Berlin's Victory column] between Ofw Böhm and the Bunker in the Reichskanzlei. There was apparently some dispute over the passengers to be flown-out, chiefly because Hanna Reitsch wanted to fly out Ritter von Greim herself at the controls of the Arado Ar-96, and not leave Berlin as a passenger on this Ju-52 flight. Eventually, the Ju 52 boarded only a few other wounded passengers but not the VIPs. Because of damage to the "runway" from shelling, the Junkers transport had only 400 metres in which to get airborne. It is worth noting perhaps that Deutsche Lufthansa record the minimum take-off distance for their lighter [unarmoured and unarmed] Ju 52/3m as 500 metres.
--Johannes Lachmund : "Fliegen ; Mein Traumberuf – bis zu den bitteren Erlebnissen des Krieges", Verlagshaus Monsenstein und Vannerdat OHG Münster, 2009.
During the night of 28 April, General Wenck reported to Keitel that his Twelfth Army had been forced back along the entire front. This was particularly true of XX Corps, which had been able to establish temporary contact with the Potsdam garrison. According to Wenck, it was no longer possible for his army to relieve Berlin. This was even more apparent, as support from the Ninth Army could no longer be expected. Keitel gave Wenck permission to break off the attempt.
In the last days SS LtGen Wilhelm Mohnke gathered a formidable fighting force from the LVI Panzer Corps and the Charlemagne Division and other forces scattered around the city fighting for their lives. He collected 1500 battle-hardened troops and a special armored vehicle for Hitler as well as a number of Tiger II tanks and other vehicles and had them assembled in a bivuac area near the Führer Bunker. He implored Hitler to leave.
"Hitler however had planned to stay expecting his armies to surround the Russians as they attacked Berlin. Hitler's armies however had melted away and abandoned him.
"He made one last attempt to bargain with the Soviets for his own escape through Mohnke under a flag of truce. The Russians rejected a generous offer to surrender all German forces in North Germany and Denmark in return for Hitler's freedom but the Russians refused".
Mohnke's truce talks with the Russians whilst Berlin was surrounded are scarcely secret. Hitler offered the Soviets the surrender of all forces in Northern Germany and Denmark to Soviet forces on condition that he be allowed to fly to Tokyo. Mohnke was well placed to know these matters as head of Hitler's SS bodyguard in Berlin. He conducted talks with the Soviets. Did Hitler direct Mohnke in talks with Russian Major Belovsoff to reveal to the Soviets Nazi Germany's separate talks with the West?
The British were compelled by this to rush north and capture Lüneburg Heath, just southeast of Hamburg, before the Soviets got there.
Dönitz under Hitler's instructions had already begun the evacuation of German forces from Denmark.
Lüneburg Heath had been captured by the British forces on 18 April 1945 with Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery establishing his headquarters at a villa in the village of Häcklingen. On 4 May 1945, Montgomery took the unconditional military surrender in a carpeted tent at his headquarters at the Timeloberg, an area between the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen, from Generaladmiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, and General Eberhard Kinzel, of all German forces "in Holland [sic], in northwest Germany including the Frisian Islands and Heligoland and all other islands, in Schleswig-Holstein, and in Denmark… includ[ing] all naval ships in these areas", The number of German land, sea and air forces involved in this surrender amounted to 1,000,000 men. On 5 May, Großadmiral Dönitz ordered all U-Boats to cease offensive operations and return to their bases. At 16:00, General Johannes Blaskowitz, the German commander-in-chief in the Netherlands, surrendered to Canadian General Charles Foulkes in the Dutch town of Wageningen in the presence of Prince Bernhard [acting as commander-in-chief of the Dutch Interior Forces].
"German-Soviet truce talks are ended when a German sniper injures Russian Major Belovsoff. Soviet forces retaliate with a intense shell barrage".
"New York Times", 5 May 1945, Volume 94, Number 31878
-- "The Bormann Brotherhood", Stevenson, William. Corgi Books 1975. Stevenson was a wartime RN intelligence officer contemporary with Cmdr Ian Fleming and freely disclosed in his book his exposure to many top secret Intelligence reports on Hitler.
Stevenson's book also discloses that Mohnke revealed a series of secret communications for many months prior to the fall of Berlin, concerning a secret surrender deal.
In the early days of August 1942, a remarkable discussion took place in Shitomir in Ukraine [then part of the Soviet Union]. Partipants included Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, and the head of Office IV of the Reich Central Security Administration [RSHA], Standartenführer Walter Schellenberg, who later, in 1944, was to rise to chief of the SS Security Service [SD]. At this meeting, Himmler, who was second only in power to Hitler himself, was discussing Nazi Germany's political and military situation in the third year of war, with Schellenberg, a 32-year-old "rising star" in the SS hierarchy.
They came to the conclusion that Nazi Germany's strategic situation was rapidly deteriorating. Even before the defeats of Stalingrad and El Alamein, they recognized that with the entry of the United States into the war, Nazi Germany no longer had even a chance of victory. Moreover, the battle of Midway Island in June 1942 had demonstrated that Japan would no longer be able to tie down the bulk of U.S. forces in the Pacific theater. Himmler and Schellenberg agreed that Nazi Germany lacked the necessary forces to successfully conduct a two-front war. Therefore, an "alternative solution" had to be considered: A "compromise peace" was to be sought with Great Britain and the United States, in order to be able to pursue the war against Soviet Russia with some prospect of success. Himmler assigned Schellenberg to make secret overtures to the Western powers to that end, extending an offer that in exchange for peace, Nazi Germany would agree to relinquish the territories it had conquered in Western Europe. As a "token of goodwill," Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop was to be dismissed from his post at the end of 1942. And even though in his memoirs, where he reported at length on his Shitomir discussion, Schellenberg does not go into one final aspect, howver, we can presume that both men envisioned the removal of Hitler, because they knew all too well that as long as he remained in power, no separate peace with the Western Powers would be possible.
In spite of the rendezvous at Zithomir, and for all the contact with Western representatives that had been established, Walter Schellenberg recalls in his published memoirs, that he found himself facing the same old problems when it came to Himmler and his attitudes. Himmler listened to Schellenberg's plans, even agreed with them or went along for some time, but ultimately his bond with Hitler remained unbroken, leaving Schellenberg without a mandate for anything beyond setting up yet another meeting between Himmler and neutral representatives.
Schellenberg recalled Himmler, did not feel he could shoot Hitler, the Führer to whom he had pledged allegiance; he could not poison him, nor could he arrest him in the Reich Chancellery using SS troops. Any such action would cause the whole military machine to come to a halt. That would never do if Germany hoped to resist -even defeat- the Russians. Himmler complained that if he tried to talk Hitler into resigning, the Führer would become enraged and shoot him out of hand.
When Himmler Resisted Hitler
The largely overlooked story of how Heinrich Himmler saved thousands of Jews at the end of WWII
by Dr. Joanna M. Saidel
On 3 November 1944, Adolf Hitler’s deputy, Reichsführer SS and General Plenipotentiary of Nazi Germany Heinrich Himmler, was traveling on a German military train from Breslau to Vienna. Sitting with him was his longtime friend, Dr. Jean-Marie Musy, the former president of the Swiss Confederation.
Their conversation that day set in process a remarkable saga that led to thousands – and possibly even tens of thousands – of European Jews being saved from Nazi extermination. It ranks as one of the more extraordinary stories of the war, and yet it is an all but unpublicized one.
Musy had known Himmler since the 1930s and had been the publisher of a pro-German newspaper, "La Jeune Suisse". During that period he had worked to reduce the prominence of Jews in economic and public life. But by 1944, he had reversed his position, stopped his publication, and decided that the Nazis were criminals and murderers. Unbeknown to Himmler, Musy had gone so far as to switch his loyalties and become an emissary of the Irgun, the Revisionist Zionist movement.
Unsurprisingly, the Irgun’s route to Musy, and via him to Himmler, was a convoluted one. It originated with Dr. Reuben Hecht, who worked as an Irgun representative in Zürich. Hecht forged a close relationship with the American consul general there, Samuel Edison Woods, and persuaded him to embrace Zionism. Woods, in turn, introduced Hecht to Yitzchak and Recha Sternbuch, an Orthodox Jewish couple who ran the Swiss branch of the Emergency Rescue Committee (Va’ad ha-Hatzalah) of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis. They established contacts with the Papal Nuncio to Switzerland and gradually gained influence with the broader Swiss diplomatic community. And in September 1944, they came into contact with Musy, recruited him to the Zionist cause and, astoundingly, proved able to negotiate with Himmler through him.
A 1974 conference at Yad Vashem, and the resulting documentation, indicated that these negotiations ultimately saved the lives of many thousands of Jews. As World War II was drawing to a close, Hitler ordered the extermination of all remaining Jews in Nazi death camps throughout Europe. But under pressure from Musy, Himmler – the monstrous architect of the Holocaust, now seeking to save his own skin and that of his comrades rather than go down with the ship as Hitler intended to do – countermanded the Führer’s order.
On 19 July 1944 Hitler issued an order from his headquarter Wolfsschanze, "concerning preparations for the defense of the Reich". It put the German civilian population on a total war footing and issued instructions for preparations for evacuations of 'foreign labor' [slave labor] and civilians away from the advancing Soviet army in the east.
The camp evacuation marches are today known as “Death Marches” and the “official” history books still tell us that the Nazis forced these prisoners to march west because, even in the late stages of the war, they were not willing to do without their “slave laborers.”
However, hidden away in the archives of the Franklin D. Roosevelt library in Hyde Park New York lies the true story of why these thousands of prisoners were marched off from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, etc to Germany.
The factual story of these so-called Death Marches shows that the German authorities did it because it was “requested” of them by the Allies.
In December 1944 the American Embassy in Bern (Switzerland) bought forward two “intelligent Jewish women” [US description)]who had escaped an evacuation transport from Auschwitz and made it through to Switzerland, and these women had willingly testified to the Americans that the Germans were not murdering prisoners in Auschwitz, there were no indiscriminate shootings and most of the deaths in the camps were caused by malnutrition, disease and illness.
On 22 January 1945, German authorities reported to the Irish Department of External Affairs that all rumors of “mass exterminations” or murders were devoid of all foundation and that they were actually trying to keep the prisoners alive.
The U.S. State Department then contacted the German authorities through its consulates in Ireland and Switzerland and informed them that America had taken notice of this assurance, and expected that all inmates of all concentration and work camps would be kept alive by the German authorities.
The only way the German authorities could keep this promise when retreating, was by evacuating the prisoners west to Germany, and away from the Russians.
"At the beginning of 1945, when various camps came within the operational sphere of the enemy the Reichsführer ordered the HSSPF's, who in an emergency were responsible for the security and the safety of the camps, to decide for themselves whether an evacuation or surrender was appropriate".
-- Rudolf Höss' testimony at the IMT on 15 April 1946
Achim Besgen, "Der Stille Befehl" [The Unspoken Command, Munich, 1960] claimed without the slightest proof that Hitler in his despair in April, 1945, ordered a last-minute extermination of the Jews to accompany the Draconian measures which he was seeking to enforce on his own German people. This is the latest date offered by any author for a deliberate German effort to liquidate the Jews.
Himmler’s late November 1944 countermand ordered a halt to the murder of Jews throughout the Reich and called for the destruction of the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This order, it need hardly be stated, came far too late to save the millions upon millions of Jews and others whom the Nazis had murdered. Himmler, it also need hardly be stressed, was a central cog in that genocidal Nazi machine. His intervention to counter Hitler toward the very end of the war was entirely cynical and self-motivated. It was also not universally implemented. Hitler himself worked to ensure that his will not be subverted. And lower-level commanders took independent actions in the chaos at war’s end. Despite Himmler’s orders to the contrary, there were death marches which continued until the last day of the war.
But scholarly data indicates that at least some of the Jews who were still alive in the camps when the war ended were there because of Himmler’s intervention – a countermand that led Hitler to condemn his former faithful deputy for betrayal.
Evidence of Himmler’s intervention and its consequences derives from a number of reliable sources – some of which were cited at the 1974 Yad Vashem conference – including testimony from the Nuremberg War Trials, the Rudolf Kastner War Trial, the Archives of the Holocaust, the Hecht Archive [which includes an enlightening interview of Hecht by Monty Noam Penkover, professor emeritus of Jewish History at the Machon Lander Graduate Center of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem], and US Foreign Service documents.
These documents indicate that Musy was able to persuade his old friend Himmler that, while the war was lost, there was still a narrow window of opportunity available to him: that if he worked against Hitler to keep camp inmates alive, stopping the death marches, gassings and executions, he could expect somewhat more favorable international treatment and a greater chance of post-war survival.
It was these issues that were discussed by Himmler and Musy on that 3 November journey to Vienna. Two weeks later, on 18 November, Musy informed Himmler in writing that the United States government was prepared to participate in negotiations with him, through Musy, via its consul general in Zürich, Woods, over the possible transfer of hundreds of thousands of Jews from concentration camps in the Reich to freedom via Switzerland.
On 24 November 1944, Himmler ordered gassings to stop and crematoria to be destroyed at Auschwitz and its 51 sub-camps.
As is well known, no order or any other of kind directive from Hitler or Himmler exists that call for the extermination or gassing of the Jews.
Olga Wormser-Migot asserts on the subject: "No more than there exists a written order in clear text for extermination by gas at Auschwitz does there exist a written order to stop it in November 1944" .
She adds more precisely:
"Last remark on the gas chambers: Neither at the Nuremberg trial, nor in the course of the different[occupation] zone trials, nor at the trial of Höß at Cracow, of Eichmann in Israel, nor at the trials of the camp commanders, nor from November 1964 to August 1965 at the Frankfurt trial was there ever produced the famous order signed by Himmler 22 November 1944 ending the extermination of the Jews by gas and putting a finish to the Final Solution".
-- Olga Wormser-Migot, "Le Système concentrationnaire nazi [1933-1945]", [The Nazi Concentration (Camp} System, 1933-1945], Presses Universitaires de France, 1968
On the other hand, allied propaganda alleges that there exists an order from Himmler to stop the gassings. The allegation is question is based upon a written statement made by SS-Standartenführer Kurt Becher before the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal:
"Between the middle of September and October 1944 I caused the Reichsführer SS Himmler to issue the following order, which I received in two originals, one each for SS Generals Kaltenbrunner and Pohl, and a carbon copy for myself: 'Effective immediately I forbid any liquidation of Jews and order that, on the contrary, hospital care should be given to weak and sick persons. I hold you [and here Kaltenbrunner and Pohl were meant] personally responsible even if this order should not be strictly adhered to by lower echelons'. I personally took Pohl's copy to him at his office in Berlin and left the copy for Kaltenbrunner at his office in Berlin".
-- IMT Document PS-3762; IMT Volume XXXII, p. 68. [The original German text reads: Etwa zwischen Mitte September und Mitte Oktober 1944 erwirkte ich beim Reichsminister SS Himmler folgenden Befehl, den ich in zwei Originalen, je eins für die SS-Obergruppenführer Kaltenbrunner und Pohl und einer Copie für mich erhielt: "Ich verbiete mit sofortiger Wirkung jegliche Vernichtung von Juden und befehle im Gegenteil die Pflege von schwachen und kranken Personen. Ich halte Sie (damit waren Kaltenbrunner und Pohl gemeint) persönlich dafür verantwortlich, auch wenn dieser Befehl von untergeordneten Dienststellen nicht strikt befolgt wird!" Ich überbrachte Pohl das für ihn bestimmte Exemplar persönlich in Berlin in seiner Dienststelle und gab das Exemplar für Kaltenbrunner in seinem Sekretariat in Berlin ab].
No such order was ever recovered, and no-one could prove that it had existed.
Raul Hilberg wrote:
"In November 1944, Himmler decided that for practical purposes the Jewish question had been solved. On the twenty-fifth of that month he ordered the dismantling of the killing installations".
Raul Hilberg, "The Destruction of the European Jews", Quadrangle Books, Chicago 1961
In a footnote he states as his source:
"Witness statement by Kurt Becher on 8 March 1946, PS-3762."
The witness statement however does not say anything like this. That is, it does not mention the dismantling of any gas chambers or other kinds of killing installations.
Other Holocaust writers have thereafter copied Hilberg, using his book as their source.
"Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler met secretly near Vienna with Dr. Jean-Marie Musy, President of the Swiss Altbund, to discuss the fate of the remaining Jews held in Nazi concentration and death camps. At the meeting, Himmler declared that he was ready to release all Jews held in German custody and allow them to travel to Switzerland. Following the meeting, Himmler dictated a memorandum to SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the chief of the RSHA, Sipo and SD, to spare the lives of all Jews being held in concentration camps. According to SS-Standartenführer Kurt Becher, the message read: 'I forbid any extermination of Jews and order that on the contrary care should be given to weak and sick persons'."
-- Heinz Höhne, "Order of the Death's Head: The Story of Hitler's SS"
"Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler sent an order to SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, head of the SS Economic Administration of the concentration camps, and to SS-Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the Reich Central Security Office, ordering them to stop killing the Jews".
-- Nora Levin, "The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry 1933-1945"
"Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler telegraphed Kurt Becher: 'The crematoria at Auschwitz are to be dismantled. The Jews working in the Reich are to get normal eastern workers' rations. In the absence of Jewish hospitals they may be treated with Aryan patients".
-- Raul Hilberg, "The Destruction of the European Jews"
"Thus in the summer of 1944, the combined capacity of all the incineration installations reached the staggering number of 20,000 victims. A few months later, in light of Germany’s deteriorating situation on the war fronts, and possibly in connection with negotiations launched on Himmler’s instructions, gassing of prisoners was discontinued. The last victims to undergo selection was a transport from Theresienstadt, which arrived at Auschwitz on 30 October 1944. The next transport, from Sered, which arrived on 3 November 1944, was registered in the camp in its entirety.
"Three weeks later, on 25 November 1944, Himmler ordered the demolition of the Auschwitz gas chambers and crematoria. The same day, work began on dismantling the installations of crematorium II at Birkenau. After the furnace, the chimneys, the roof, and all the installations in the walls of the crematorium building were taken apart, openings were made for dynamite charges to blow up the entire structure. In connection with the halt in the influx of mass transports, a quarantine camp for male prisoners [BIIa] was liquated on November 3.
"Crematorium V, the last to remain in operation, as late as January, was blown up on 26 January 1945, one day before the liberation of the camp".
-- Franciszek Piper. "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp Gas Chambers and Crematoria". Indiana University Press 1998
A demonstrative example may be found in the work of Berenbaum and Gutman. There again of the alleged Himmler order is 25 November, to "demolish the gas chambers and crematoria in Auschwitz". In the note to this passage is the following:
"According to the testimony of the leader of the Hungarian Zionists, Reszo Kastner, the Himmler co-worker Kurt Becher had shown him the copy of an order to destroy the gas chambers and the crematoria. This order was dated to 25 November 1944".
-- Israel Gutman, Michael Berenbaum [eds], "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp", United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Indiana University Press, Bloomington/Indianapolis 1994
It seems very peculiar that SS Colonel Kurt Becher went around showing top secret Himmler orders to Jewish leaders.
The order was so secret that only three copies were made and no record of it was preserved – yet Jewish representatives were allowed to read it!
Strangely, this phantom order the "Auschwitz Kalendarium" puts at 26 November 1944 ["Hefte von Auschwitz (Auschwitz Notebooks), Wydawnnictwo Panstwowego Muzeum w Oswiecimiu, 8, 1964] is deemed to have gotten into the Auschwitz crematories on 17 November, or nine days before the order itself was delivered! [Miklos Nyiszli, "Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account", trans. Tibere Kremer and Richard Seaver, New York, 1961]
According to other testimony reported in 'Het doedenboek van Auschwitz', the order came from Berlin even sooner, on 2 November 1944. [Léon Poliakov. Bréviaire de la haine (Breviary of Hate}, Paris, 1979]
At Nuremberg Dieter Wisliceny declared that Himmler's counter order was sent in October 1944 [IMT, Vol. IV, p. 398]
Why the order was only issued in three copies and kept so secret that it had to be handed over in person by a colonel, is easily explained: what Himmler had written in it constituted a clear admission, that the war was lost and that enemy forces would advance and reach the inner parts of Germany. It thus was a clearly defeatist piece of writing, for which the author could expect the death penalty, should it fall into the wrong hands.
Basically, at the end of September/beginning of October 1944, Kurt Becher received an order that the concentration camps should be peacefully surrendered to the approaching enemy in order to save human lives. Out of this, the allegation, that on 25 November 1944 Himmler had issued Kurt Becher an order to cease the gassings and destroy the Auschwitz gas chambers, arose.
Subsequently, a first trainload of 1,200 Jews from Theresienstadt concentration camp were indeed released, as agreed upon, but no other Jews were liberated in this manner under the Musy-Himmler agreement. Hitler intervened and halted the plan to move these Jews out of Nazi territory by train. Instead, a secondary plan evolved, by which many thousands of Jews were ultimately saved through Himmler’s intervention in Hitler’s evacuation plan and by stopping the complete destruction of the concentration camps late in the war.
Dr. Rudolf Kastner, the former president of the Hungarian Zionist Organization, said in a 1945 affidavit:
"After the fall of 1944 Himmler granted several concessions. Thus he permitted the departure for Switzerland of 1,700 Hungarian Jews deported to Bergen-Belsen and also agreed to suspend the annihilation of the Jews of the Budapest ghetto. Himmler permitted the handing over to the Allies the Jews of Bergen-Belsen and Theresienstadt without a shot being fired, which in his eyes and the eyes of his colleagues was a very generous concession, and certainly one [for] which he expected some political concession be granted in return. In hopes of contact with the Western Allies, Himmler even made concessions without any economic returns. To this end Himmler may be ascribed the general prohibition dated 25 November 1944, concerning the further killing of Jews…. [Adolf] Eichmann, at first, did not obey this order".
Hitler was unprepared for Himmler’s turnabout, which did not become completely clear to him until April 1945. Himmler had been known as "der treue Heinrich", the faithful Heinrich. But though dedicated to the Führer throughout the war, Himmler was not part of Hitler’s inner circle. And despite his unconditional obedience to Hitler – which lasted at least until late 1944 – Himmler preferred socializing with rank-and-file German soldiers. It was of great importance to Himmler that German concentration camp guards be treated as prisoners of war rather than being shot on the spot when Allied victors entered and took over the camps.
As Himmler issued orders to release trainloads of Jews, he was met with resistance and counter-commands from Hitler. Underlings faithful to the Führer brought news of the release of the first trainload of Theresienstadt Jews to Hitler’s attention, and the transfers were halted. Now the secondary course of action went into effect – the effort to halt death marches and the preservation of camps marked for destruction. Himmler was able to partially prevail and keep some camps intact, preventing the immediate death of many prisoners.
Did the Germans try to surrender immediately after D-Day?
by Ken Kreckel
On 18 August 1944, a little over two months after the D-Day landings, a German staff car pulled off the road near Claremont-en-Argonne, France. En route to Führer Headquarters, it would never reach its destination. Field Marshall Günther von Kluge and his aide alighted from the car, heading to a peaceful spot shaded from the heat of the midday French sun. After a pleasant lunch, the Field Marshall handed his aide a personal letter addressed to his brother, and calmly swallowed a cyanide capsule.
The Field Marshall, who had just been relieved as Commander-in-Chief West, was in disgrace. Like his predecessor Gerd von Rundstedt and subordinate Erwin Rommel, he had failed to hold back the growing tide of Allied power breaking out from Normandy. In common with them, he had come to believe the task was impossible. But there was another similarity, one infinitely more important. Although lacking the pugnacity of Rundstedt, who advised the High Command to "make peace", or the moralism of Rommel, who allied himself with the active opposition to Hitler, Kluge too came to believe there was only one way out for Germany, that of making peace with the western Allies.
Unfortunately Hitler suspected as much. Just days before, when the Führer HQ lost contact with the Field Marshall for several hours, Hitler shouted "Kluge must have been involved in the bombing plot and has now sneaked off for secret surrender talks with the enemy". Why did Hitler jump to this remarkable conclusion? Was it simply a case of his well-known paranoia, stoked by his recent escape from the 20 July plot, or were there more concrete reasons for this statement?
Rommel made no secret of his opinion that the time had come for a political solution to counter the inevitable defeat looming in the West. In a meeting with Hitler as early as 17 June, barely a week and half after D-Day, Rommel cautioned that conditions at the front were impossible. On his way to a Führer conference at Berchtesgaden set for 29 June, Rommel commented to his superior von Rundstedt: “...you and I both believe that this war must be stopped now. I intend to make no bones about it when we see the Führer". However, at the conference, Hitler refused to let him speak on political matters, eventually dismissing him from the room. As Rommel repeated his attempts to persuade Hitler through memoranda on 3 and 15 July, it is clear he had made up his mind. In his own words, “the unequal struggle is approaching its end".
By mid July Rommel decided on a course of action:
"I have given him [Hitler] his last chance. If he does not take it, I will act".
When asked what would happen if Hitler refused, he replied:
"Then I’m going to open up the Western Front. Only one thing matters now, the British and Americans must get to Berlin before the Russians do".
General Fritz Bayerlein, Rommel’s old desert comrade who commanded the Panzer Lehr division at Normandy, flatly states:
"Rommel and Hans Speidel...[intended]...to open independent peace negotiations with the Western Allies. Everything had been prepared and von Kluge and many others won over...."
Indeed they were. Von Kluge endorsed his subordinate’s view. He explored ways to contact the enemy himself, even to the point of speaking with some German nurses who had just been released from American captivity in Cherbourg. Most of Rommel’s subordinates in Army Group B were ready. SS General Sepp Dietrich, an old crony of Hitler’s, stated he would follow Rommel’s orders, even if they contradicted the Führer’s.
Rommel’s intent was clear. Speaking shortly before his forced suicide, in October, 1944, he insisted:
"The revolt should not have started in Berlin, but in the West...the expected forcible American and British occupation of Germany would have become an unopposed 'march-in'.
General Günther Blumentritt, Kluge’s chief of staff, reports:
"If it had succeeded, his [Kluge’s] first step would have been to order the discharge of the V1's against England to be stopped, and that his second step would have been to get in touch with the Allied Commanders".
It was not to be. Rommel was removed from play by strafing British fighters, severely wounding him on 17 July. In a few days, it became clear the 20 July plot had failed. Kluge, however, remained free to act. But did he?
Besides recording Hitler’s suspicions, history is mostly silent on this question. There is, however, one tantalizing clue. In September of ‘44, Wilhelm Keitel, of the Army High Command, related to Blumentritt, that he had "documentary evidence about his [Kluge’s] treasonable activities". He went on to say they had intercepted a wireless message from an Allied headquarters asking to be put in touch with von Kluge. Was Kluge successful in making contact? While some sources assert the Allied command was aware of this, no record of this message has ever been found. But does this mean it did not exist?
The best reply to this question died with the Field Marshall on that lovely French summer afternoon. Recalled to Germany to answer Hitler’s suspicions, he chose his own way out of the war. With his failure went the chance that the millions killed over the next year might have survived.
In the book "Body Guard of Lies" by Anthony Cave Brown, the alleged attempt by von Kluge to surrender, or at least meet with the Americans, is more or less confirmed by reporting an account shown in "Times Magazine" of 25 June 1945 which stated:
"One day last August [Kluge] suddenly left his headquarters on the Western Front....With some of his staff, Kluge drove to a spot on a lonely road near Avranches in nortwestern France. There he waited hour after hour, for a party of U.S. Third Army officers with whom he had secretly arranged to discuss surrender. They did not appear. Fearing betrayal, Kluge hurried back to his headquarters".
[This above quote was originally given to the magazine by General George Patton]
The book also said that von Kluge actually went missing that day [15 August 1944] for seventeen hours and was unaccounted for.
During that time, however, his radio truck was attacked by Allied planes and destroyed and he never made it to his pre-arranged meeting with some staff officers. There was a report indicating that radio messages made by von Kluge had been intercepted.
Hitler was desperate when von Kluge did not return on time to his HQ and Hitler said several weeks later, that that day was the worst day of his life.
The story seems kind of confusing and contradictory, but something must have happened that day in light of the fact that von Kluge was dismissed and shortly thereafter and committed suicide.
Most histories of the events of D-Day -- 6 June 1944 -- suffer from the presumption that the Normandy invasion led inexorably to Germany's surrender 11 months later, as if the Eastern Front no longer mattered.
D-Day in fact was only half the story in June 1944. The other half -a far more sanguinary tale- unfolded in Belarus, where the Red Army launched "Operation Bagration" on 22 June. This massive assault destroyed Hitler's Army Group Center and drove the Germans back into Poland.
Bagration was a worse disaster for the Nazis than the Battle of Stalingrad. Unlike Churchill and FDR, Josef Stalin had no aversion to casualties. He stationed NKVD goon squads in the rear of his armies, ready to machine-gun any Soviet soldier unpatriotic enough to retreat. Stalin's soldiers died in droves, but his armies kept moving forward.
Once Poland's capital fell, their path to Berlin would lie open. But in early August, the Soviets paused for breath at the Vistula River, which separates central Warsaw from its eastern districts.
Poland of course was where the war had begun in 1939, when Hitler unleashed his first Blitzkrieg and Britain and France honored their commitment to the Poles by declaring war on Germany. Stalin had been Hitler's partner in crime, seizing eastern Poland for himself. The defeated Poles set up a government in exile in London and contributed troops to other fronts while awaiting the chance to liberate their homeland. But things changed when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, forcing Stalin into an alliance with the West. By the summer of 1944, Britons and Americans were cheering the unstoppable Soviet advance into Poland. The Polish exiles and their underground forces in Warsaw were less thrilled; they knew that a triumphant Stalin would hand over their country to his Polish Communist stooges.
The Polish people were no more eager to be occupied by the Communists than by the fascists, but their options were limited. As the Red Army approached the Vistula in late July, Warsaw's underground commanders decided on a desperate gamble. They would rise against the Germans in hopes of claiming a share of the credit for liberating Poland. [This 1944 uprising often is confused with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943, a separate and smaller-scale event]. The Poles launched their rebellion on 1 August, expecting aid from the nearby Soviet troops. Not much was forthcoming. For the most part, the Soviets hunkered down on the far bank of the Vistula and looked on impassively while the Germans brutally put down the uprising.
Paris was liberated that month, but Warsaw was left to its agony. On 5 August alone, an estimated 35,000 men, women, and children were shot by the SS in cold blood..
Might the West might have been able to keep Stalin from swallowing Poland in 1944, if only Roosevelt had been willing to try? That seems unlikely. How could FDR have prevented the all-conquering Red Army from overrunning Eastern Europe?
No one in the West realized it, but the Cold War already had begun, and Warsaw was its first victim. After the rebels finally capitulated on 2 October, the city was razed on Hitler's orders. What little was left of it fell to the Soviets in January 1945 with hardly a shot fired. Now there was nothing blocking the Soviets' path to Germany, where they would do to Berlin what the Nazis had done to Warsaw.
The Americans, having advanced to the Elbe, could have tried to take Berlin ahead of the Soviets. But Dwight Eisenhower held back, in part because of the great number of casualties his troops would have sustained as they fought their way into the capital. Stalin, of course, had no such compunctions; German author Joachim Fest asserts in "Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich" that 300,000 Red Army soldiers died to take Berlin. That estimate sounds high -- Antony Beevor pegs the Soviet dead at 78,000 -- but even the lower figure is a horrific toll for a battle to wrest a dying city from a defending army of mostly old men and teenage boys.
What if the invasion of France had taken place in 1943, rather than 1944?
Churchill and Roosevelt gave the idea little serious consideration; in fact, Churchill would have preferred to wait until 1945. In August 1942, a 6,000-man force, mostly Canadian, had launched a raid on the French port of Dieppe. The result was total defeat, with a 60 percent casualty rate — the worst of any major battle of the entire war, for the Allies.
Partly as a result, the Allies spent the rest of 1942 and all of 1943 on an invasion of Vichy North Africa [Operation Torch, November 1942], followed by a landing in Sicily [July 1943] and an attack on the Italian mainland. These offensives caused the fall of Mussolini and the collapse of the Italian army and navy; but the Germans were eventually able to establish the Kesselring Line south of the Po River, and stop the Allied advance for the rest of the war.
The seven-division Allied army that landed at Sicily was actually larger than the Normandy invasion force. In 1943, Rommel's Atlantic Wall in northern France [machine-gun Bunkers, underwater barriers to block landing craft, and “asparagus” poles to prevent glider landings] was much inferior to the fortress that he had built by 1944. Thus, a D-Day in June 1943 very likely would have succeeded, and the invading army would have broken out into France more rapidly than the 1944 invaders did. The American and British armies could have conquered almost all of Germany.
There would have been no Yalta Conference, for Germany would have been defeated almost a year before. Whatever post-war conferences did take place would have found Churchill and Roosevelt in a much stronger position relative to Stalin. Eastern Europe might still have been in a Soviet sphere of influence, but Communist hegemony would not have been enforced by a Red Army that occupied so many nations by the end of the war.
On 5 August 1944, Hitler, Ribbentrop and Keitel met with Romania's Marshall Antonescu and discussed the tremendous destructive power of Germany's new "Wonder Weapon". Hitler described Germany’s latest work on "new explosives, whose development was already advanced to the experimental stage". Hitler stated he would not use his atomic weapons until he had a defence system able to repel a comparable nuclear attack by the Allies; Hitler was well aware he was unable to defend against streams of Allied bombers and a B-29 painted in European Theatre Operations ETO green camouflage operated from UK airbases in March/April 1944, was spotted by the Germans overflying Austria in daylight far too high to intercept.
Hitler was quite distressed at the prospect of high flying B-29s armed with atomic bombs as Germany had no real high altitude fighters operational until the Ta-152H came on strength in March 1945.
There were also two threats which apparently caused Hitler to commence peace negotiations in Lisbon in December 1944, with the prospect of a separate peace in the West but continuing to fight the Soviets in the East. There appears to have been at the very least some humoring of Hitler if not an actual agreement for capitulation to US forces.
In August 1944 Churchill threatened to respond to any German nuclear attack by using the RAF to spread Anthrax all over Germany. Germany had no antibiotics and would have faced starvation within 2 weeks had Anthrax been used.
Germany was also threatened by USA via Lisbon in July 1944 with the nuclear destruction of Dresden unless Hitler sued for peace.
"During July 1944 Heisenberg was visited in Berlin by Maj Bernd von Brauchitsch, Göring’s adjutant, with a report that the German legation in Lisbon had learned of an American threat to drop an Atomic Bomb on Dresden during the next six weeks if Germany did not sue for peace in some way before then".
-- Irving, David. "Virus House. 'Abandonment of nuclear research under threat of retaliation by USA via Lisbon to bomb Dresden'
-- Operation "Epsilon" [conversation between Karl Wirtz, von Weizsäcker and Heisenberg 6-7 August 1945] National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, RG 77, Entry 22, Box 164 [Farm Hall Transcripts].
At the Nuremberg Trials the British produced Maj General Walter Dornberger secretly recorded conversations he had with other German generals during British internment at CSDIC camp 11.
Dornberger described secret surrender talks which he and von Braun had at Lisbon in December 1944.
In late 1943 Roosevelt had sent Moe Berg as a special OSS envoy to Rome whilst it was still under German occupation. Wernher von Braun's brother Sigismund was a diplomat at the Vatican and private talks were held there which resulted in further talks between Wernher von Braun and two GEC officials at Lisbon in December 1944.
-- "The Secret History of the Rockets and Flying Craft of the Third Reich" by Friederich Georg. English language edition published by Helion & Company Ltd. in the UK citing previously classified document by the Headquarters Mediterranean Allied Air Forces Target Intelligence Section.
As to the threat to bomb Dresden in 1944, USA expected to have sufficient Plutonium for their first bomb in 1944, however the first operation of the Hanford B reactor resulted in severe Xenon-135 poisoning of the reactor. It had to be de-fueled and restarted with fresh fuel which delayed Plutonium production until the end of 1944.
The nuclear attack on Dresden that was planned, was only withdrawn in October 1944.
"Hitler promptly canceled all bomber construction and abandoned plans for a major offensive in October 1944 intended to use nukes and stockpiled Tabun B nerve gas deployed by the Arado 234-C5 bomber or Dornier 217P/He-277".
In January 1945, faced with the imminent Soviet invasion, Hitler authorized Gerd von Ribbentrop’s first cautious feelers to the western powers. His mind was clear on the general terms. Once he had said he would fight on until "a peace that is honorable, acceptable to Germany, and will safeguard the life of her coming generations becomes possible; because I need hardly add how distasteful I find this war". Failing that, Ribbentrop’s feelers might still drive a wedge into the enemy alliance.
With his Ardennes offensive still causing acute embarrassment to the Allies, Hitler authorized Ribbentrop to draw up proposals for the western governments; the form of these proposals was to be such that they could not be attributed to Hitler himself. When Ribbentrop brought the proposal document to Hitler, the political climate seemed propitious; London and Washington could surely find little comfort in the Red Army’s immense offensive. The document proposed that Germany retain her national frontiers and renounce both her economic autarky and her ambitions to a hegemony over Europe that she cooperate in her foreign policy and in economic affairs; that freedom of religion would be restored and the Jews resettled somewhere in an international community. The proposals were stated to be the views of "authoritative sources in Berlin including the foreign minister". Hitler approved it. Ribbentrop signed it and sent one of his most experienced diplomats, Dr. Werner von Schmieden, who had a distinguished League of Nations record, to Switzerland to make contact with Allen Dulles—Roosevelt’s Intelligence chief there—and an equivalent British official.
Now Berlin could only wait for the reply.
On 7 February, Hitler conducted a conference with Waffen SS-Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, Supreme SS and Police Leader and acting military commander of ccupied Italy. No note survives, but Wolff later described having drawn Hitler’s attention to the military stalemate in Italy and to the western Allies’ "increasingly concrete peace feelers extended via Switzerland," coupled with similar offers of mediation by the Vatican. Hitler took note of his remarks and pointedly refrained from forbidding him to pursue these channels to the West. Ribbentrop notified Wolff that Hitler’s reaction was thus one of guarded approval. Wolff then began secret talks in Switzerland with Allen Dulles whom Herr von Schmieden had been sent to contact.
Almost all Silesia had been overrun. In Breslau, the capital, 38 Volkssturm battalions had been raised from the city’s quarter-million population and from the surrounding countryside. With these 15,000 men and 30,000 regular troops, Breslau defied air and artillery bombardment and ground attack in a long siege that was not ended until a week after Hitler himself had perished. Here Bormann had a more than usually fanatical Gauleiter—Karl Hanke, Göbbels’s former state secretary and an intimate friend of Albert Speer. "Hanke’s a devil of a fellow," said Hitler approvingly. "He’s a Silesian himself". Hitler knew, however, what the loss of the Silesian coal would mean, now that the Ruhr was virtually isolated by the rail and canal destruction. Germany’s economic collapse seemed inevitable. Japan was in a similar plight. The enemy blockade of her seaways to the south—now that the Philippines had been retaken by the United States—would deprive her of rice, oil, bauxite, and iron ore; Hitler’s attache in Tokyo warned that Japan could not fight on longer than another year.
This was the economic background to his "nod" to Karl Wolff early in February—the go-ahead to contact the western Allies. The oil crisis had already forced on Hitler a strategic choice between East and West anyway. In January the bomb-battered refineries had produced only 50,000 tons of gasoline and 12,000 tons of aviation fuel; the latter figure represented only 6 percent of the May 1944 output. It was unlikely that the new U-Boats and jet aircraft—145 Me-262 jets had been produced in January alone—would get the Diesel and J-2 kerosene they needed. Because of the fuel shortage, the air war against Antwerp was now restricted to single-engined fighter-bombers. At the end of January Hitler ruled that in the future the western front must go short of fuel and ammunition to aid the eastern front: although at any moment Eisenhower might begin his new offensive toward the Ruhr and fuel was lacking to move up reserves accordingly.
Since Yalta, however, Hitler had emphatically opposed all peace feelers to the enemy, but Joachim von Ribbentrop persisted nonetheless. He sent his English affairs expert, Fritz Hesse, to Stockholm, and when the Swedish press exposed Hesse’s mission on 15 March—earning for Ribbentrop a thunderous rebuke from Hitler—a few days later the foreign minister again sent Werner von Schmieden to Switzerland and Consul Eitel Friedrich Möllhausen to Madrid, to contact Allen Dulles and the American ambassador, Robert Murphy, respectively, about terms for a halt to the "frightful bombing and carnage"; but Schmieden was still waiting for an entry visa to Switzerland when the war ended, and Murphy had evidently just left Madrid for Washington before Möllhausen could get to see him. Reichsmarschall Göring referred to Hitler’s stubbornness in a private conversation late in March; General Karl Koller noted that when he complained to Göring about the lack of clear directives from Hitler "the Reichsmarschall agreed—he is just as much in the dark, the Führer told him nothing. Nor is it permissible to make the slightest political move, for example, the attempt of a British diplomat in Sweden to contact us was strictly rebuffed by Führer. The Führer also flatly forbids Reichsmarschall to make any use of his own comprehensive contacts abroad".
Count Lutz Schwerin von Krosigk noted in his unpublished diary a talk with Göbbels on 9 April 1945, in which Göbbels described how Germany had put out cautious peace feelers. The Russians and Americans had reacted positively, but the British had rejected them out of hand.
In April 1945 Heinrich Himmler was informed that, Karl Wolff had been negotiating with the Allies for the capitulation of Italy. When questioned by Himmler about the matter, Wolff explained that he was operating under Hitler's orders in negotiating prisoner exchanges and was attempting to play the Allies against one another; Himmler believed him. Ernst Kaltenbrunner did not and asked to speak privately with Himmler whereupon he revealed that an informant claimed Wolff also negotiated with Cardinal Schuster of Milan and was about to surrender all of Italy and with it, the German southern front to the Allies. Himmler angrily repeated the allegations and Wolff, feigning offense, boldly challenged Himmler to present these statements to Hitler in his presence. Unnerved by Wolff's demands, Himmler backed down and instead sent Kaltenbrunner and Wolff to the Führerbunker.
On the night of 17 April, SS General Hermann Fegelein—Himmler’s representative—informed Hitler that the secret talks between SS General Karl Wolff and Allen Dulles in Switzerland had resulted in principle on terms for an armistice on the Italian front. The Americans were still talking of unconditional surrender, but that was a minor problem if thereby the enemy alliance could be torn asunder. At 3 a.m. the Führer sent for Wolff and congratulated him. "I hear that you and your skill have managed to establish the first official contacts to top Americans". He asked Wolff not to leave Berlin until the next evening, to give him time to think it over.
“I am grateful that you’ve succeeded in opening the first doorway to the West and America. Of course, the terms are very bad—there can be no talk of unconditional surrender, obviously".
Strolling with Wolff, Kaltenbrunner, and Fegelein in the Chancellery garden later in the afternoon, Hitler enlarged on his own hopeful theories.
"I want the front to hold for eight more weeks. I am waiting for East and West to fall out. We are going to hold the Italian fortress at all costs, and Berlin too".
This was the message Hitler gave Wolff to pass on to General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, Albert Kesselring’s colorless successor as Commander in Chief in Italy.
The warm reception by Hitler and Wolff's open discussion concerning the fruitful negotiations with Allen Dulles must have silenced Kaltenbrunner, as Hitler sent Wolff back to Italy to seek better terms with the Americans.
Under "Operation Sunrise" Wolff used Swiss-national Max Waibel to make contact in Switzerland with the headquarters of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, under Allen W. Dulles as to surrendering the German forces in and around Italy. There were secret negotiations between Wolff and Allen Dulles on 8 March 1945 in Lucerne, organized by Waibel. Wolff offered the following plan: Army Group C goes into Germany, while Allied Forces Commander Harold Alexander advances in the direction of the Southern Alps. Subsequently, on 15 and 19 March, Wolff conducted further secret negotiations on the surrender with American general Lyman Lemnitzer and British general Terence Airey.
On 12 March the U.S. ambassador in the USSR, W. Averell Harriman, notified Vyacheslav Molotov of the possibility of Wolff's arrival in Lugano to conduct negotiations on the German Forces surrender in Italy. On the same day, Molotov replied that the Soviet government would not object to negotiations between American and British officers and Wolff, provided that representatives of Soviet Military Command could also take part in them. However, on 16 March the Soviet side was informed that its representatives would not be allowed to take part in negotiations with Wolff in any case.
On 22 March Molotov, in his letter to the American ambassador, wrote that "for two weeks, in Bern, behind the back of the Soviet Union, negotiations between representatives of the German Military Command on one side and representatives of American and British Command on the other side are conducted. The Soviet government considers this absolutely inadmissible".
With the German war effort was on the verge of collapse and Himmler's relationship with Hitler deteriorating, Himmler considered independently negotiating a peace settlement. His masseur, Felix Kersten, who had moved to Sweden, acted as an intermediary in negotiations with Count Folke Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Red Cross. Letters were exchanged between the two men, and direct meetings were arranged by Walter Schellenberg of the RSHA.
Himmler and Hitler met for the last time on 20 April 1945—Hitler's birthday—in Berlin, and Himmler swore total loyalty to Hitler. Himmler seized the occasion to talk alone with Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger. What passed between them is not reliably known, but Amt VI Intelligence officer Wilhelm Höttl later claimed in his postwar memoirs that his boss, Schellenberg, had told him, "Himmler tried to persuade his friend [Stumpfegger] to get rid of Hitler by means of a lethal injection".
-- Wilhelm Höttl, "The Secret Front: The Story of Nazi Political Espionage", New York, 1954
At a military briefing later that day, Hitler stated that he would not be leaving Berlin, in spite of Soviet advances. Along with Göring, Himmler quickly left the city after the briefing. On 21 April, Himmler met with Norbert Masur, a Swedish representative of the World Jewish Congress, to discuss the release of Jewish concentration camp inmates.
Under postwar interrogation, Schellenberg stated that on the night of April 24-25, during a meeting between Himmler and Bernadotte, at the Swedish consulate in Lübeck, the Reichsführer formally asked the count to convey to the Swedish government for onward transmission to General Eisenhower a message expressing his willingness to order a cease-fire on the Western Front. But Himmler's statement, as remembered by Schellenberg, made Allied acceptance impossible because of its special enmity shown toward the USSR.
The text read:
"To the Russians it is impossible for us Germans, and above all for me, to capitulate".
-- U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, RG 165, July 1945, declassified January 1995, 'Report on the Case of Walter Friedrich Schellenberg,' British-U.S. interrogation of Schellenberg.
According to Schellenberg's interrogation report:
"Himmler also declared that he had the authority to make these declarations to Bernadotte for further transmission at this time since it was only a question of one or two, or at the most three, days before Hitler gave up his life in this dramatic struggle".
Höttl confirmed this, asserting that Himmler made this statement to Bernadotte during the night of 24-25 April. Höttl later also confirmed that "Schellenberg considers that there is a connection between the Himmler-Stumpfegger conversation and the statement to Bernadotte; and that Himmler had Stumpfegger's promise to give a lethal injection within that specified period".
-- Höttl, "The Secret Front"
Höttl added in his memoirs that immediately after his talk with Bernadotte, "Himmler had a long telephone conversation with Stumpfegger in Berlin, and may have had a plan-obviously never carried out-to murder the Führer".
After hypocritically describing how he had remained loyal to the Führer, Himmler had rationalized that now Hitler was on the edge of death, it was up to him to act soon to save what was left of Germany. That was why he asked Bernadotte to send a message from him to the Swedish government for transmittal to Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower surrendering German forces on the Western Front.
Bernadotte's version of these events appeared in his 1945 book "The Fall of the Curtain" [London: Cassell, 1945], rushed into print as the War ended. In it, he told how he had on 23 April found Schellenberg on the phone line, wanting to arrange a meeting that afternoon to discuss a most urgent matter. When they met, "Schellenberg lost no time in letting off his bombshell: Hitler was finished. It was thought that he could not live more than a couple of days at the outside".
Hearing from Schellenberg that Himmler wanted him to see Eisenhower and tell the Allied commander that the Reichsführer was prepared to assume command of German forces in the West and order them to capitulate, Bernadotte insisted that German forces in Norway and Denmark be ordered to surrender as well. And he warned Schellenberg that the Western Allies would never recognize Himmler in any capacity except war criminal - certainly not as Germany's head of state. There were many things to talk about, so a meeting between Himmler and Bernadotte took place.
Bernadotte did, allow for the fact that Himmler's involvement might prevent Germany from falling into complete chaos. Bernadotte presented a number of conditions under which he would be willing to go to Eisenhower. First of all, Bernadotte expected an announcement by Himmler that Hitler, who had stepped down for medical reasons, had chosen him as his successor. Secondly, Himmler was to dissolve the Nazi party, remove all of its functionaries, and instruct the cessation of all Werewolf -Nazi guerilla- activities. Lastly, true to his own initial mission, Bernadotte expected Himmler's permission to transfer all Norwegian and Danish concentration camp inmates to Sweden. This discussion with Schellenberg took place at the very beginning of April 1945, and Bernadotte stressed that it would have meant the end of Nazi Germay.
"Schellenberg," Bernadotte wrote, "did not hesitate, he told me that he would try to induce his chief to accept them". This shows, however, that Schellenberg might have played a double game.
After Bernadotte had left, Schellenberg met with Himmler again, this time planning, albeit in vague terms, for the time after Hitler's death. In the afternoon of 22 April 1945 Himmler relented and allowed Schellenberg to contact Bernadotte again. This time, Himmler was willing to request that Bernadotte transmit a surrender offer to the Western powers in his name.
-- Final Report on the Case of Walter Schellenberg, National Archives, RG 319, IR.R, XE 001725, Walter Schellenberg, Folder 7 and 8; Autobiography, NA, RG 226, Entry 125A.
Regardless of whether Himmler was acceptable to the Western Allies, whether the Allies were interested in separate surrender negotiations at all, or whether Bernadotte deemed them useless, Schellenberg had achieved what he wanted and needed most at this point in time. He was the man who had convinced Himmler to offer Nazi Germany's surrender.
During the meeting in Lübeck, Himmler declared that he had the authority to offer, surrender as he expected Hitler to be dead within a matter of days. He emphasized, however, that he was by no means surrendering to the Soviet Union, stressing that the German army would keep fighting in the East until the arrival of the Anglo-American relief troops.
-- Final Report on the Case of Walter Schellenberg, NA, RG 319, I~XE 001725, Walter Schellenberg Folder 7 lind 8; Autobiography, N1\ RG 226, Entry 125A, Folder21.
Despite the obvious friction, Bemadotte agreed to transmit Himmler's message to the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, as long as Himmler was willing to include Denmark and Norway into the surrender. Himmler agreed and proceeded to write down his offer.
The conditions under which Himmler made his final bid are worth considering.
He obviously assumed that Hitler was dead or would be within a matter of days; he considered himself Hitler's rightful successor. Himmler simply assumed power before the preconditions, namely Hitlers death and Himmler's official nomination as the successor, were fulfilled. Secondly, Himmler offered unconditional surrender to the West alone. Moreover, he expected the Western Allies to join the German army in their battle against the common enemy of Bolshevism. Himmler's surrender offer created a temporary stir among Allied leaders, but it was ultimately rejected.
Himmler's offer of surrender was the topic of a telephone conversation between Churchill and Truman on 25 April 1945 in which the two Western leaders decided immediately to inform Stalin about Himmler's offer. In his reply of 26 April 1945, Stalin made it clear that the offer should also be extended to the Soviet Union according to the common policies adopted at Casablanca. The same day, Truman requested the American Minister in Sweden, Johnson, to "inform Himmler's agent that the only acceptable terms of surrender by Germany are unconditional surrender on all fronts to the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States".
For the exchange of telegrams as well as for the phone conversations between Churchill and Truman, see "Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers 1945", Volume III, European Advisory Commission, Austria, Germany [Washington, D.C.: GPO. 1968].
Schellenberg failed to inform Himmler that his involvement was part of the problem. In the end, though, Schellenberg yet again walked away from this meeting with a special task from Himmler; Schellenberg was now ordered to negotiate the cessation of hostilities in the Northern Sector. During their earlier meeting, Bernadotte had indicated Scandinavian interest in that matter, and Schellenberg jumped onto the opportunity this. presented. Himmler all but appointed him as the special envoy for Scandinavia. He was to negotiate with the Swedish government. This was quite a positive development for Schellenberg. Rather than stay in Germany, Schellenberg began to travel between Northern Germany and Denmark while keeping in close contact with Bernadotte and his assistants.
However, Hermann Göring had sent a telegram on 23 April, asking permission to take over the leadership of the Reich—an act that Hitler, under the prodding of Martin Bormann, interpreted as a demand to step down or face a coup. On 27 April Himmler's SS representative at Hitler's HQ in Berlin, Hermann Fegelein, was caught in civilian clothes preparing to desert; he was arrested and brought back to the Führerbunker.
On the evening of 28 April, the BBC broadcast a "Reuters" news report about Himmler's attempted negotiations with the western Allies. Hitler, who had long believed Himmler was second only to Josef Göbbels in loyalty—calling Himmler "der treue Heinrich" [the loyal Heinrich]—flew into a rage about this apparent betrayal. Hitler told those who were still with him in the Bunker complex that Himmler's act was the worst treachery he had ever known and ordered his arrest. Fegelein was court-martialed and shot.
In his Last Will and Testament, completed on 29 April—one day prior to his suicide—Hitler wrote:
"Before my death, I expel the former Reichsführer of the SS and Minister of the Interior Heinrich Himmler from the party and from all his state offices. Apart altogether from their disloyalty to me, Göring and Himmler have brought irreparable shame on the whole nation by secretly negotiating with the enemy without my knowledge and against my will, and also by illegally attempting to seize control of the State".
On 29 April 1945, the day before Hitler died, Lt. Col. Victor von Schweinitz, chief of staff for the commander of German forces in Italy, Generaloberst Heinrich von Vietinghoff, and SS Sturmbannführer [Major] Eugen Wenne, plenipotentiaries for von Vietinghoff and SS Obergruppenführer Karl Wolff, signed a surrender document at Caserta after prolonged unauthorised secret negotiations with the Western Allies, which were viewed with great suspicion by the Soviet Union as trying to reach a separate peace. In the document, the Germans agreed to a ceasefire and surrender of all the forces under the command of Vietinghoff at 2:00 p.m. on 2 May.
At Caserta, the staff at Allied headquarters spent the first part of the day wondering if the surrender was actually going to happen or not. Field Marshal Alexander had set a deadline the previous night for a response from Wehrmacht HQ, allowing both sides time to give the necessary orders for a cease-fire.
The German High Command was still divided over whether to accept the surrender terms agreed to at Caserta. Some generals had already passed the word to their troops, ordering them to cease fire at two o’clock that afternoon. Others were refusing to comply, arguing that there could be no surrender while the war continued against the Russians. Hitler’s death had released them from their binding oaths, but they still would not budge without a direct order from Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, who was nominally in command of the Wehrmacht forces in Italy. But Kesselring was in the field somewhere and could not be contacted by phone.
The situation was so tense that the generals at Bolzano had begun to arrest each other as they disagreed vehemently about what to do. General Karl Wolff of the SS had been in secret negotiations with the Allies for weeks and was determined to honor the agreement signed at Caserta. Sitting in Wehrmacht headquarters at about half past one that morning, he feared the worst as orders came for surrender-minded officers to be arrested at once. Sneaking out of the tunnel complex with a couple of other generals, Wolff hurried back to SS headquarters in the Duke of Pistoia’s palace. There he learned that the Wehrmacht was about to surround the building with a tank unit.
Wolff had tanks of his own, which he quickly deployed around his command post. SS troops took up defensive positions while Wolff sent an urgent message to Field Marshal Harold Alexander, pleading for help from Allied paratroopers. The SS were crouching over their weapons, waiting for the Wehrmacht to attack, when the telephone rang. It was Field Marshal Kesselring for Wolff.
Kesselring had just learned that the proposed surrender was going ahead without his authorization. He rang at 2:00 a.m. and, over a bad line, blasted Wolff for the next two hours, calling him every name under the sun as he lambasted him for his treachery in talking secretly to the Allies. Other officers joined in, discussing the situation over the phone and swearing at one another as they argued about what to do next. Wolff stood his ground, pointing out that surrender was not only inevitable but the best option still open to them, since there was nothing to be gained from fighting on. Unusually for an SS officer, he saw no point in fighting to the last man. He told Kesselring so quite bluntly:
"It is not only a military capitulation in order to avoid further destruction and shedding of blood. A ceasefire now will give the Anglo-Americans the potential to stop the Russian advance into the west, to counter the threat of Tito’s forces to the port of Trieste and of a Communist uprising that will try to establish a Soviet republic in northern Italy. Since the Führer’s death has released you from your oath of loyalty, I beg you as the most senior commander of the entire Alpine region devoutly and with the greatest sense of obedience to give your retroactive sanction to our independent action which our consciences impelled us to take".
Kesselring was not convinced, but could see Wolff’s point. Ringing off at 4:00 a.m., he promised to think it over and get back to him. Half an hour later another officer rang to say that Kesselring had reluctantly agreed to the surrender and was withdrawing the directive for various officers to be arrested.
Later that morning, when the Allies learned that General von Vietinghoff had been restored to his command, surrender began to seem possible. It was confirmed at noon when Wolff sent Alexander a message from Kesselring promising that the surrender would go ahead at two that afternoon, as agreed.
Nevertheless, Alexander waited until late afternoon before going public with the news. The Germans had asked for it to remain secret for another twenty-four hours, but the orders for a ceasefire had already gone out en clair. Alexander was adamant that the timetable agreed at Caserta must be adhered to. He was under pressure from Harold Macmillan, his political adviser, to confirm the surrender in time for Winston Churchill to announce it in Parliament that day. He did not want to do so unless he was quite sure the surrender was actually happening.
It was not until 5:00 p.m., therefore, with good reports from the front and the surrender going ahead as planned, that he and Macmillan felt able to make the announcement. They released the news at six thirty. An hour later Churchill stood up to give the details to a cheering House of Commons. The war in Italy really was over.
The surrender in Italy, negotiated by Karl Wolff, was also signed on 29 April 1945, and Wolff succeeded in persuading German military authorities in Northern Italy to surrender to the Anglo-Americans on 2 May 1945, five days before the end of the war, agreeing to a cessation of hostilities on 2 May.
On 30 April 1945, as Russian troops fought to within yards of his subterranean Bunker, Adolf Hitler put a pistol to his head, pulled the trigger and closed the curtain on the Third Reich. Before his death, Hitler anointed Admiral Karl Dönitz as his successor with orders to continue the fighting. Hitler was unaware that the German surrender had already begun, on the day before his death all German troops in Italy laid down their arms.
In the following days, Schellenberg, with Himmler's backing, managed to establish himself on Dönitz' staff, preparing, jointly with Wirsing, a memorandum on the earlier negotiations and future strategies for Krosigk. Judging from the little that is known about this memorandum, Schellenberg still believed that it would be possible to deal with the Western allies only.
This document was primarily intended to demonstrate that the results of any political bargaining with the Western Powers would depend on the internal political measures adopted by the new Government and it also contained the suggestion that Dönitz should dissolve the Nazi Party, the Gestapo and the SD and announce this action by radio.
-- Final Report on the Case of Walter Schellenberg, NA, RG 319, lRR, XE 001725, Walter Schellenberg, Folder 7 and 8; Autobiography, NA, RG 226, Entry 125A, Folder 21.
As late as the first days of May 1945, Walter Schellenberg still believed that a peace could be negotiated, hoping that musings by American representatives, dating back to 1943, and anti-Bolshevist attitudes would be sufficient to sue for a separate peace. In the last days of the war, Schellenberg engaged in a frenzied shuttle diplomacy, going back and forth, between Copenhagen and Northern Germany, discussing the cessation of hostilities in Denmark and Norway with his Swedish counterparts. [Schellenberg, "Labyrinth"].
At one point on 3 May, one of his Swedish contacts noted that the cessation of hostilities in Scandinavia was by now a rather academic question; it was patently obvious that a complete and unconditional German surrender was a matter of days anyway - if it would be that long. [Schellenberg, "Labyrinth"]
On 5 May 1945, Schellenberg and his entourage boarded Bernadotte's plane, which brought them to Sweden. While keeping up the pretense of negotiations, Walter Schellenberg had at least reached one of his goals. Unable to end the war -be it by breaking up the anti-Hitler alliance or by negotiating a separate peace- he had at least achieved his own personal goals: He had established, himself as a humanitarian and as the man who cajoled Himmler into a surrender offer. Schellenberg had it on good authority that this surrender offer would be rejected, but he neither could nor would believe Bernadotte's assertions; he trusted his own, ideologically tainted analysis of the situation.
On 8 May 1945, the Dönitz government finalized Nazi Germany's unconditional surrender; the document was signed that night at Karlshorst, near Berlin. General Zhukov represented the Soviet Union; the alliance against Nazi Germany held until the War in Europe ended.
Within days, Schellenberg found himself living at Bernadotte's home, near Stockholm, where he took some time to recover from the "constant journeys and negotiations". Soon. he was busy contemplating his future, mostly with Bernadotte.
Schellenberg initially envisioned creating an outline for a later book, but, realizing that voluntary surrender to the Americans or the British was on the horizon, Schellenberg opted to write an autobiographical summary. Slightly more than nine-tenths of the text discusses Schellenberg's good deeds, in particular his collaboration with Bernadotte, which began in February of 1945. While Schellenberg wrote his own autobiographical text, two other authors were puttng pen to paper: Bernadotte and Göring. Over the years, the question of how much of Bernadotte's account was ghostwritten by Schellenberg has occasionally come up.
Recently, Charles Whiting in "Hitler's Secret War: The Nazi Espionage Campaign against the Allies" brought an interesting new claim against Schellenberg's memoirs, suggesting that the manuscript was ghostwritten by the British Intelligence service. This suggestion is absolutely baseless.
The ghostwriting charges are most certainly taking the issue too far. There were differences between the two accounts, which Schellenberg would have smoothed over if he had been the ghostwriter. For example, Bernadotte told him early on the Himmler would not be an acceptable partner for peace negotiations for the West. On the other hand, there can be little doubt that the three men must have discussed their respective writing efforts; therefore, a strikingly coherent picture emerges.
In this context, the question of how much influence Schellenberg had over Göring's writing seems to be the much more interesting question. Göring's account, sometimes labeled as excerpts from his wartime diaries, is only rarely identified as what it really was: an "annex" to Schellenberg's writing. As it was, Schellenberg "asked him [Göring] to write an eye witness account, in order to supplement and confirm certain 'part of his [Schellenberg's] story'.
Schellenberg was Göring's supervisor and the main reason that Göring found, himself [at his fiancee/mistress] on a Swedish estate and not in a British prisoner of war camp in the middle of May 1945. Göring also had reasons to use Schellenberg's last-ditch humanitarian effort and his own role in it to sanitize his own record. At any rate, it is likely that Schellenberg set the tone for both of their accounts, effectively establishing ninety per cent of what will ever be known about these negonatiotis. Therefore, Göring's account should by no means be considered independent confirmation of Schellenberg's statements, as it is sometimes done.
U.S. Assistant Military Attache in Stockholm, Colonel Rayens noted that, Schellenberg had a good influence on Himmler:
"This may stem from the fact that Schellenberg, a Catholic, employed an approach that appealed to the Catholic teaching of Himmler's youth".
-- CMs. E. Rayens; Assistant Military Attache to Military Air Attache, American Legation, Stockholm, Sweden, Subject: Disposition of SS-Brigadier Walter Schellenberg, 8 June 1945, NA RG 226, Entry 119 A, Box 26, Folder 29.
Schellenberg was brought to Nuremberg in the fall of 1945. The Allies wanted to prosecute a number of high-ranking Nazi officials to the fullest extent of the law: Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Otto Skorzeny, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Heinrich Müller, who had disappeared at war's end. There was very little doubt among the Allies that these men should be considered war criminals. As Schellenberg's luck would have it, these were precisely the men he had interacted with closely, competed with viciously, and grown to dislike intensely over the years. He had much to say about them and none of it was positive. In addition, Schellenberg was the quintessential insider; therefore, he was able to speak to many other matters in which the Allies were interested. And by 1947 Schellenberg had managed to recast his own role in Nazi Germany as that of a diplomat; no small feat for an early and important member of the SD and the RSHA, and most certainly the more agreeable alternative for Schellenberg personally.
However, Schellenberg was found guilty of "Membership of a Criminal Organization" as his SS and SD memberships finally caught up with him. However in that day and age, a "Persilschein", an affidavit noting that a person was a not a Nazi or had helped victims of Nazi persecution, was a valuable commodity. In the face of prosecution, old animosities were easily shoved aside. High-ranking Nazi officials vouching for Schellenberg assumed, and rightly so, that he would do the same for them. Similarly, Western representatives had something to gain from Schellenberg receiving a lenient sentence: They had dealt with the devil and establishing the negotiation partner in Nazi Germany as a less than completely despicable person also helped to save their own reputations. Everybody won. By 1948, Schellenberg was a sick man however. Having been a frequent patient at the Nuremberg hospital, he was never transferred to the Landsberg prison, as were most of the men sentenced at Nuremberg. Instead, he spent his time in a guarded room in the Nuremberg City Hospital. An operation in the spring of 1949 did not help matters; he was kept alive by very strong doses of penicillin. A subsequent operation was deemed necessary, but Schellenberg was by far too weak and his long-term prognosis was abysmal. On 27 March 1950, the US High Commissioner for Germany, John J. McCloy signed Walter Schellenberg's medical pardon.
When he was well enough, Schellenberg traveled to Switzerland, and managed to see some specialists. In June 1950, the CIA traced Schellenberg to a hospital near Osnabrück.
-- "Heidelberg to Special Operations", 26 June 1950, NA, RG 263, CIA Name Files, Reference Collection, Box 45, Schellenberg. vol. 2.
According to CIA documents, he visited Spain in May 1951, where he was in contact with his old colleague and adversary Otto Skorzeny; nothing else is presently known about this trip. He died of heart failure, liver cirrhosis, and infection of the spleen on the last day of March 1952.
A significant document is a lengthy interrogation of Otto Ohlendorf by a British Intelligence officer of 7 July 1945, which concerns the final days of the war, particularly regarding Heinrich Himmler.
-- CSDIC [UK] GG Report, SRGG 1322 [C], 7 July 1945, IRR File Ohlendorf
Ohlendorf was in a unique position to comment. Following Hitler's suicide, Ohlendorf was a senior economic official with the 23-day government of Karl Dönitz in Plön and then Flensburg. He spoke on the following during his interrogation:
Discussions were held in Berlin in April 1945 between senior SS officials including Ohlendorf, SS-General Felix Steiner, and SS-General Richard Hildebrandt. These discussions aimed at the creation of a new government that could procure a separate peace with the Allies. Himmler, these men hoped, would lead this government and Hitler would be pushed aside if necessary.
"Our aim," said Ohlendorf, "was not to put up any resistance, but to let the Allies advance as far as the Elbe, having first concluded a tacit agreement that they'd halt there and thus to cover our rear for the continuation of the struggle against the East. These men, who were sober enough in all other respects, still believed that we had a sporting chance against the East".
Referencing to telephone orders by Himmler days before Hitler's suicide, Ohlendorf said that Gestapo Chief Heinrich Müller was "ordered to stay in Berlin as long as the Führer remained there, as he shared responsibility for the Führer's safety". Müller vanished after the war, and for years it was surmised that Müller offered himself to the U.S. or USSR for intelligence purposes. Ohlendorf's comment that Müller was ordered to remain adds weight to the probability that Müller died in Berlin.
New Questions Arise on Fate of Gestapo Chief
By Henry Weinstein
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
27 February 2001
For more than 50 years, Nazi hunters and historians have tried in vain to discover what happened to Gestapo chieftain Heinrich Müller, who vanished in 1945 at the end of World War II. Of all the major Nazis, Müller, who was Adolf Eichmann's immediate superior, is the most important still unaccounted for, according to numerous Holocaust experts. Now, efforts to solve the mystery are resurfacing, including attempts to answer the most provocative question of all: Was Müller briefly in U.S. custody after the war? If so, did he escape, or was he freed to become a CIA spy?
Müller is officially registered as dead in Berlin. But his grave turned out to contain two unknown soldiers when it was opened more than 30 years ago. His children subsequently removed the headstone from the burial plot. U.S. Army Intelligence records indicate that Müller -- who was nicknamed "Gestapo Müller" to distinguish him from the hundreds of other Müllers in the Nazi hierarchy -- was captured by Americans in 1945, says historian George Chalou, who worked at the National Archives for 28 years. But what happened after that "is the $64 question," he said. According to sometimes contradictory intelligence documents and media reports, over the years Müller was "sighted" in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Cairo, Damascus, Moscow, Washington, D.C., and Portsmouth, N.H. In about a month, the National Archives plans to release a 500-page Central Intelligence Agency file on Müller, which may shed further light on his postwar activities, according to Greg Bradsher, a historian at the archives. So far, the bulk of publicly available material on Müller comes from U.S. Army Intelligence files and material gathered by historians. Müller "has been the subject of interest for decades, including to this day by my office," said Eli M. Rosenbaum, head of the Office of Special Investigations, the Justice Department's Nazi war criminal unit, who believes it is possible that Müller became a Soviet intelligence agent at the end of World War II and scoffs at the idea that he ever played a similar role for the United States.
The reason for Rosenbaum's interest is clear. Müller rounded up thousands of Jews from the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia to be deported to Auschwitz for extermination. In addition, one recently released U.S. government document states that Müller ordered the execution of prisoners at Buchenwald, a death camp near Weimar, Germany. "We've never given up" the hope of finding Müller, "though it is now more a historical question than a law enforcement question," Rosenbaum said.
Müller, who was born in 1900, is presumed to be dead. Last week, a German television network aired a program - based in part on documents from the U.S. National Archives in Maryland- claiming that Müller was captured by the U.S. Army, but released for unknown reasons. The program speculated that Müller may have been employed by a U.S. intelligence agency, but offered no substantiation for that assertion. This weekend, Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said if there is any possibility that Müller played such a role "the U.S. government should launch a formal inquiry. There is an obligation to those who suffered under the Gestapo." However, Rosenbaum, who reviewed the same records, said "the conclusion that 'Gestapo' Müller was apprehended by American authorities and used by American intelligence is supported by no credible evidence". Efraim Zuroff, who runs the Wiesenthal Center's office in Israel, said he thought it highly unlikely that the United States would have used Müller after the war. "It would be surprising if the Americans tried to use someone of Müller's stature. . . . He was an incredibly important player in the implementation of the 'final solution' " -- Hitler's program to exterminate the Jewish people, Zuroff said. The veteran Nazi hunter said he thought it probable that Müller, who was reportedly in Hitler's secret Bunker the day before the Führer killed himself on 29 April 1945, was killed at the end of the war. But he quickly added, "I have no proof". What happened to Müller remains "the big question mark in terms of the perpetrators of the Holocaust," Zuroff said from Jerusalem.
Müller was born in Munich. He became a fighter pilot and was awarded several medals. After the war, he joined the Munich police force. In the late 1920s, he became the Munich police's expert in the battle against "leftist movements," according to the "Encyclopedia of the Holocaust". Müller became a key aide to Reinhard Heydrich, the Bavarian police chief. His reports on Communists brought him to the attention of Heinrich Himmler, who eventually became the second-highest official in Nazi Germany. During the 1930s, Müller won a rapid series of promotions in the SS, the German secret police that served as the Nazi regime's principal tool of terror, and his power continued to grow. He was one of 15 people who participated in the January 1942 Wannsee conference, where the "final solution" was planned. Within a few months, the first gas chamber camps were set up in Poland, according to professor Louis L. Snyder's "Encyclopedia of the Third Reich". Müller also played a key role in investigating a plot by a group of German army officers to kill Hitler in 1944 and remained loyal to Hitler until the end, according to Holocaust historians.
Whether Müller lived past 29 April 1945, has been the subject of intense speculation for years. There have been unconfirmed reports that he served as an "enforcer" for former Nazis living in South America and that he was kidnapped from Argentina in 1956 by Czech agents. When famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal issued a list of the 10 most wanted former Nazis in 1987, Müller was on it. In December 1999, the National Archives issued a one-paragraph news release stating that it was opening 135 pages of files on Müller, primarily covering the period from 1945 to 1963, but also including some earlier Nazi government documents. The files contain tantalizing material, including many items that contradict one another. Despite the fact that the files were opened more than 50 years after the end of World War II, numerous portions have been redacted. In February 1999, eight months before the Army records were made public by the National Archives, Army officials sent Rabbi Hier a letter saying some of his requests for information on Müller were being denied on grounds of "national security," including the possibility that more complete disclosure could compromise intelligence-gathering methods. Among the materials the National Archives made public are the following:
• A December 1945 interview with a former Nazi stating that Müller escaped from Berlin through a secret underground passage that only he and Eichmann knew about.
• A July 1946 Army Counter-Intelligence Corps document saying "reports from the Russian zone of Berlin seem to indicate" that Müller shot and killed his wife and three children and then himself, two days before Hitler died.
• Index cards stating that Müller was in custody first in the town of Ilmenau and then in December 1945 in a "civilian internment" camp in Altenstadt in Upper Bavaria. The card does not state what happened to Müller at Altenstadt. It ends with the cryptic and provocative sentence, "case closed 29 January 46." It is unclear who placed the information on the card, which states that a Müller dossier was to be sent to Frankfurt.
• Another U.S. Army document dated 11 July 1946, states that British officials requested an investigation of Müller in the Würzburg area, saying that it was believed he was dead. But the document ends with: "results negative".
• A 1951 document, saying an informant had said Müller was in Czechoslovakia where he "is supposedly directing intelligence activities for the Soviets against the U.S. zone of Germany".
• An August 1960 document saying Müller was believed to be corresponding with relatives.
• Numerous other documents from the 1950s and early 1960s indicating the belief that Müller was alive and that U.S. officials were interested in finding him.
There are no new reports after 1963. Hier said he hopes that the soon-to-be-released CIA files will shed new light on Müller. Rosenbaum, who has spent nearly two decades in the Justice Department's Nazi war crimes unit, said he has reviewed those files and they provide no definitive answer. "If ever a Nazi just disappeared into the mist, it was Müller," Rosenbaum said. "It's one of the great unsolved mysteries of World War II. The answer may be in Soviet files," he said.
"Times Washington" Bureau Chief Doyle McManus contributed to this story
Analysis of the Name File of Heinrich Müller
Record Group 263: Records of the Central Intelligence Agency
Records of the Directorate of Operations
The CIA file on Heinrich Müller, chief of Hitler's Gestapo and a major Nazi war criminal, sheds important new light on U.S. and international efforts to find Müller after his disappearance in May 1945. Though inconclusive on Müller's ultimate fate, the file is very clear on one point. The Central Intelligence Agency and its predecessors did not know Müeller's whereabouts at any point after the war. In other words, the CIA was never in contact with Gestapo Müller. To assist other scholars, the press, and the general public in making sense of this new information about the CIA's investigation of this controversial war criminal, the authors have drawn on other documents at the National Archives for this report.
The heart of the file comprises documentary support for all the key judgments in the 1971 CI Staff report "The Hunt for Gestapo Müller". Whatever confidence one can have in the integrity of the file's declassified contents thus hinges on judgments regarding the CI Staff's objectives in assembling and writing its report. In 1971 the United States was not being accused of having harbored Gestapo Müller. Instead it seems that the CI Staff was prompted to investigate the Müller case both as a possible example of Soviet deception and as a check on the reliability of key CIA defectors and West German informants. If the CIA had evidence that Müller had been contacted by the West and not the Soviets, then the CI Staff's handling of theses defector cases that most likely involved Bittman, Deriabin, and Goleniewski makes no sense. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the CIA was riddled with doubt over the reliability of its stable of Soviet defectors. There were fears that Moscow had sent agents to the West to mislead the Allies about Soviet capabilities and intentions. It was in the interest of the CI Staff in particular and the CIA in general to determine whether high profile defectors like Bittman, Deriabin and Goleniewski were telling the truth about Müller. Moreover, in assembling materials for its report, the CI Staff had no reason to believe that these documents would eventually be declassified. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the CI Staff report, and by extension the CIA Müller name file, represents a compilation of the best information on Gestapo Müller available to CIA at that time.
More information about Müller's fate might still emerge from still secret files of the former Soviet Union. The CIA file, by itself, does not permit definitive conclusions. Taking into account the currently available records of the War Room as well as other documents in the National Archives, the authors of this report conclude that Müller most likely died in Berlin in early May 1945.
There is some new detail concerning Himmler's state of mind on 6 May 1945 after Hitler's Last Testament appointed Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz as the successor while expelling Himmler from the Nazi Party. Ohlendorf described the broad extent of Himmler's "degrading" and "unworthy" efforts to gain a post in the Dönitz government and Himmler's real anger on hearing that he was an "encumbrance" who would do the new government more harm than good. Also new is mention of Himmler's belief on 6 May that Field Marshall Ferdinand Schörner, the new Commander-in-Chief of the Army, might protect him, and his consideration of joining Schörner's army so that he could be killed in battle.
Ohlendorf mentions a personal letter, dated 9 May 1945, which Himmler wrote and sent to British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Montgomery had accepted the surrender of German forces in the Northwest on the 4 May. Ohlendorf obliquely mentioned this letter's existence at his trial in 1947 but this British interrogation provides more detail. Ohlendorf said that Himmler showed the letter to him and that he altered Himmler's text because "it had been unfortunately worded". Himmler then had an adjutant take the letter to Montgomery. Himmler, Ohlendorf said, was anxious about the answer. After leaving Flensburg on 9 May, he regularly sent a man to Ohlendorf to see if Montgomery had replied. Accounts of Himmler's final days do not mention the letter, so one can only surmise what it said. It was likely a final attempt to split the Anglo-Soviet alliance. Ohlendorf said that Himmler until the very end believed that an agreement could be struck and that he hoped to be the Allies' "confidence man in Europe".
-- Ohlendorf testimony in Case 9 Transcripts, NARA, RG 238, Entry 92, Box 1, vol. 2
Even, after Himmler's capture by British forces on 21 May 1945, he still hoped for an interview with Montgomery. See Peter Padfield, "Himmler: Reichsführer-SS" [New York: Holt, 1991]
With the shelter’s concrete membranes reverberating under the blast of Russian shells, and a table being laid for eight in his small study, he sent for his youngest secretary—the widowed Traudl Junge. "Perhaps I can just dictate something to you now". For a while Hitler stood at his usual midtable place, leaning on the now bare map-room table with both hands and staring at her shorthand pad. Suddenly he barked out : "My Political Testament" and began dictating without notes—part piece justificative, part paean of praise for his brave troops’ accomplishments against such odds. "From the sacrifice of our soldiers and my own comradeship with them unto death, we have sown a seed which one day in Germany’s history will blossom forth into a glorious rebirth of the National Socialist movement and thus bring about a truly united nation". Even dictated under stress, and without notes, the document betrayed, at least in its drafting and construction, no trace of any mental disequilibrium. Hitler formally expelled Göring and Himmler from the Party and appointed Dönitz as his own successor; Speer was also sacked. Field Marshal Schörner—"the only man to shine as a real warlord on the entire eastern front," Hitler had sighed a day before—was appointed Commander in Chief of the German army.
It was about 2 am, 29 April 1945. Another notable event lay ahead, and this was at the forefront of Hitler’s Private Testament, that he now dictated:
"During my years of struggle I believed I ought not to engage in marriage; but now my mortal span is at its end I have resolved to take as my wife the woman who came to this city when it was already virtually under siege, after long years of true friendship, to link her fate with my own. It is her wish to go with me to her death, as my wife. This will make up for all I could not give her because of my work on behalf of my people".
Hitler bequeathed his effects to the Party; or if it no longer existed, to the state. With neat realism he added that should the state also have been destroyed "further dispositions on my part would seem superfluous". He asked Martin Bormann as his executor and most loyal henchman to take care of his next of kin, his private staff and secretaries, his housekeeper, and Eva’s mother.
Elsewhere in the shelter the small wedding party had assembled. A city official had been fetched from Göbbels’s ministry as registrar, a slight, quiet-spoken man in Party uniform and a Volkssturm armband. Hitler signed with his most legible signature in months; Eva—wearing the black silk afternoon dress that was Hitler’s favorite—signed more nervously. From time to time during the funereal wedding supper Hitler left to discuss with Göbbels and Bormann the constitution of the Cabinet with which Dönitz must carry forward the war against "the poisoner of all nations, international Jewry". Göbbels was included as Reich Chancellor, but Göbbels warned Hitler that he would not leave Berlin. Most of the rest were "moderates" like Seyss-Inquart, Schwerin von Krosigk, and Backe. Gauleiter Karl Hanke, still defending his embattled Breslau, was to replace Himmler as Reichsführer SS and chief of police.
During the waning months of World War II, as the Soviet Red Army advanced into Silesia and encircled Breslau [Festung Breslau], Karl Hanke was named by Hitler to be the city's "Battle Commander" [Kampfkommandant]. Hanke oversaw, with fanaticism, the futile and militarily useless defense of the city during the Battle of Breslau. Göbbels, dictating for his diary, repeatedly expressed his admiration of Hanke during the spring of 1945. During the 82-day siege, Soviet forces inflicted approximately 30,000 civilian and military casualties and took more than 40,000 prisoners, while suffering 60,000 total casualties. On 6 May, the day before Germany's surrender, General Hermann Niehoff surrendered the besieged Breslau [the Soviet army already having reached Berlin]. Hanke had flown out the previous day in a small Fieseler Storch plane kept in reserve for him. In his memoirs, German Minister of Armaments Albert Speer claimed that he had heard from Anton Flettner that Hanke had actually escaped in one of the few existing prototype helicopters which Flettner had designed. Breslau was the last major city in Germany to surrender. Due to the Soviet forces aerial and artillery bombardment of the city, along with the self-destruction by the SS and Nazi Party, "80 to 90 percent" of Breslau had been destroyed.
Towards the end of World War II, most of the surviving Flettner Fl-282s, 'Kolibri' [Humming Bird], were stationed at Rangsdorf AB & Ainring AB at Mühldorf, Bavaria, in their role as artillery spotters, assigned to Transport Staffel [transport squadron] TS40, the Luftwaffe's only operational helicopter squadron but gradually fell victim to Soviet fighters and anti-aircraft fire. During the last few months of the War the Luftwaffe's Transport Staffel TS40 squadron made many flights into and out of besieged and encircled towns transporting dispatches, mail and key personnel. It was possibly one of this unit's Fl-282s that flew Hanke to his escape out of besieged Breslau, on 5 May 1945, letting him escape to Prague, just one day before the capture of that city.
Werner Baumbach and Karl Hanke's Mysterious Escape from Breslau
Excerpts: Brendan McCally
Werner Baumbach, Germany's leading dive bomber pilot is a person on the fringes of history, yet he ranks right up there alongside fighter aces like Adolf Galland, Ernst Rudel, Erich Hartmann, and a handful of others who somehow survived the war and then wrote books about it. But Baumbach is different. While everyone else’s fame rests on combat exploits which are more or less documented, Baumbach’s legend is fed by shadows. Around him whirl a host of stories, of rumors and innuendo, none which can ever be proven or disproven, of secret missions, of the daredevil helicopter rescue of one particularly loathsome individual, and reports that he might have flown out possibly hundreds of top Nazis to safe havens abroad during the final days of the war.
In addition to having flown Ju-88 dive-bombers in nearly every front of the war, Werner Baumbach also flew for a shadowy Luftwaffe special operations command known as Kampfgeschwader 200, or KG200. Very little has ever been found out about them other than that they were organized into different squadrons, or Staffeln, which were all kept far apart and mostly ignorant of each other. There was a special unit that flew long-range agent insertion missions, and another that flew shorter-range ones. There were units that flew captured B-17s, B-24s, Mustangs, Spitfires and Soviet aircraft. There were units that did electronic warfare and others with massive flying boats officially used to service distant weather stations, including robotic ones set up in Labrador. There was even a squadron being developed to fly suicide missions using manned versions of the rocket-powered V-1 buzz bomb.
Baumbach’s memoirs, titled "Zu spät: Aufstieg und Untergang der deutschen Luftwaffe" [English title: Broken Swastika], made no mention of any of it, not surprisingly, since it largely avoids mentioning the end of the war in the first place. It is mainly about flying Ju-88s and the art of dive bombing ships and bridges. But if Baumbach’s book fails to mention what he did at the end of the war, other memoirs do. Mostly it’s just fragments, but added up, they paint a picture of a man moving at incredible speed, in and out of a multitude of places.
In November, 1944, Baumbach was put in command of KG200. He apparently already knew something about it, having flown missions for them from time to time and also having advised actively on one of their weapons development programs. This time he was surprised to learn that a new Staffel was being organized made up of suicide pilots. Baumbach didn’t like the idea to begin with and after talking to some of them, he quickly concluded they didn’t really understand what they’d gotten signed up for and had the unit disbanded.
Sometime during March 1945, all or part of KG200 morphed into a "Special Escape Section," whose primary purpose was to fly Nazi bigwigs out of Germany to Spain and other neutral countries. They used whatever aircraft they had, including captured B-17s, B-24s, British Wellingtons and other Allied aircraft. How many got out? Dozens? Hundreds? No one knows.
KG200 remains one of the top mysteries of the Third Reich. Very little is actually known about it. It was organized into several different Staffels, none of which apparently knew anything about each other's existence. Some Staffels flew captured Allied aircraft, which they used for a variety of tasks, including parachuting secret agents abroad, as far away as Jordan and Iraq. They also flew massive BV222 'Wiking' flying boats to remote weather stations in the Arctic, as well as for who knows what else. It appears that not even Hermann Göring or Luftwaffe High Command knew anything about their activities. KG200 took its orders from Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler.
What almost no one, including Hitler, knew, was that Himmler was not quite the "Faithful Heinrich" everyone believed him to be. He had secret negotiations going with the West and when he started flying top Nazis out of Germany, most people who knew about it assumed that it was being done on Hitler's orders, but in fact it was not. By all indications, Baumbach was a die-hard Nazi. But according to some sources, most notably Albert Speer, his long-time friend, Baumbach was so disgusted with what he was being ordered to do, that he was entertaining notions of flying Hitler and other top Nazis into Allied hands, should he be given the opportunity.
Revealed: RAF's bizarre plot to kidnap Hitler through his pilot
Recently discovered Second World War documents detail how they planned to fly the Nazi leader to Britain after persuading his pilot Hans Baur to divert his flight across the Channel.
The plan was for the Führer’s plane to land at a Kent airfield, where he would be bundled into a car and driven to London for interrogation, reports the "Daily Express".
Senior RAF officers, including Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, had been told that Baur wanted to switch sides.
Details of the plot were revealed in research by Andy Saunders, an author and military aviation historian. He unearthed documents at the National Archives in Kew, South-west London, which described arrangements for the flight’s arrival.
The RAF files show that senior officers had hoped the German dictator would arrive on 25 March 1941.
Sir Arthur, who went on to lead Bomber Command, planned to bring Hitler’s hijacked luxury Focke-Wulf Condor aircraft into Lympne airfield in Kent.
Anti-aircraft batteries had been put on alert that a "special" German flight might be arriving and that it should not be shot down.
Mr Saunders’s research shows the plan sprang out of a tip-off that Baur, a General in the SS, might "turn".
Baur’s son-in-law, a Bulgarian called Kiroff, had walked into the British Military Attaché's office in Sofia with the information.
Extra men and weaponry were brought into Lympne, near Hythe, for the VIP prisoner.
However, the flight never arrived and Baur appeared to stay loyal to Hitler.
Mr Saunders said:
"Kiroff’s story checked out in terms of who he said he was. The British were therefore led to believe this was real. Once it had been put their way, it was something they had to respond to and so the plan was born".
Bizarre is Right....... Hans Baur was one of Hitler's most loyal followers; he was one of the few people who was truly close to Hitler.
SS-Gruppenführer Baur was Adolf Hitler's pilot during Hitler's political campaigns of the early 1930s, and later Hitler's personal pilot.
After Hitler became Führer, he increasingly relied on Baur for advice about air war policy and technical developments.
Although he tried to convert Baur to vegetarianism, Hitler also invited him to the Reich Chancellery for his favourite meal of pork and dumplings for his 40th birthday, and gave him a Mercedes Benz to replace his personal Ford. In September 1939, the squadron was renamed "Die Fliegerstaffel des Führers". Hitler's personal squadron now had a special insignia that was painted on the nose of all planes: a black eagle head on a white background, surrounded by a narrow red ring.
At the suggestion of Baur, Adolf Hitler specified a modified and unarmed prototype Condor, the Fw 200 V3, as his personal transport, as a replacement for his Junkers Ju 52. Originally configured as a 26-passenger Lufthansa transport aircraft, it was reconfigured as a plush two-cabin airliner. Hitler's seat in the cabin was equipped with a wooden table, seat-back armour plating, and an automatic parachute with downward throws. According to Baur, it was never armed, in line with Hitler's aircraft preferences. It carried the markings "D-2600" and was named "Immelmann III" in honor of World War I flying ace Max Immelmann. As the war progressed it changed designation to "WL+2600" and finally "26+00", and it served Hitler until it was destroyed at Berlin Tempelhof Airport in an Allied bombing raid on 18 July 1944.
Hitler’s final plane was the Ju-290, which both he and Baur saw together for the first time in September 1943, during an aircraft inspection at Insterburg.
As Baur recalled in 1958 in "Hitler’s Pilot":
"The Ju-290 struck me as specially suited for my purposes. It was a four-engine job, and each engine was of 1,800 horsepower. I was inside this machine and examining it very closely when Hitler put his head through the entrance. I invited him to come in and examine the machine with me, and he did. He was not long in recognizing the advantages of a powerful, long-range, heavily-armed plane that could carry 50 passengers".
In the summer of 1944, Baur recalled, the plane was converted for Hitler’s use. It had originally been designed as an Atlantic long-range reconnaissance aircraft with a range of almost 4,000 miles. The Ju-290 weighed 40 tons and carried a crew of 14 with heavy armament.
"The place where Hitler sat was protected with armor plate, and the safety glass was of a thickness calculated to withstand bullets. The escape hatch had also been improved. A powerful hydraulic device was installed capable of opening a special trapdoor at his feet against the strongest air pressure…. We tried this mechanism out repeatedly with a dummy of the correct weight and size, and it always worked satisfactorily".
Hitler never got to use the Ju-290, for on 17 March 1945, at Munich airfield a flight of American bombers returning from Italy bombed the field and destroyed Hitler’s new plane.
"In Berlin, I reported the fate of our Ju-290 to Hitler," recalled Baur, "but he took it very calmly, just nodding his head".
During the last days of the war, Baur was with Hitler in the Führerbunker. Baur had devised a plan to allow Hitler to escape from the Battle of Berlin; a Fieseler Fi 156 Storch was held on standby which could take off from an improvised airstrip in the Tiergarten, near the Brandenburg Gate. However, Hitler refused to leave Berlin. On 26 April 1945, the improvised landing strip was used by Hanna Reitsch to fly in Colonel-General Robert Ritter von Greim, appointed by Hitler as head of the Luftwaffe after Hermann Göring's dismissal. During the night of 29/30 April, Reitsch flew von Greim out on the same road-strip and Hitler suggested to Baur that he evacuate himself and Martin Bormann the same way. After Hitler's suicide, Baur found the improvised road-strip too pot-holed for use and over-run by the Soviet 3rd Shock army.
At their last meeting on 30 April 1945, Baur implored the Reichskanzler to let him fly him to anywhere in the world he wanted to go—Imperial Japan, Juan Péron’s Argentina, or the Arab countries of the still-volatile Mideast. But Hitler was adamant. He would stay in Berlin and die there, committing suicide rather than being captured alive by the Soviet Army.
He charged Baur with a final mission instead—seeing that Reichsleiter Martin Bormann got out of Berlin safely with some important papers that Hitler had placed in his care. As a parting gift, his grateful Führer presented Baur with a favored personal possession, a famous oval portrait of Hitler’s idol, Prussian King Frederick the Great, painted by Anton Graff in 1780. The portrait was rolled up and placed with Baur’s Knapsack as he fled the Führerbunker on 1 May 1945, under intense Russian shell fire. The Russians took the painting from him, but it has since been returned and is currently displayed at Schloss Charlottenburg in Berlin.
A plan was devised to escape out from Berlin to the Allies on the western side of the Elbe or to the German Army to the North. SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke split up the Reich Chancellery and Führerbunker soldiers and personnel into ten main groups. Baur and Bormann left the Reich Chancellery as part of one of the groups. During his escape, after losing touch with Bormann, Baur was shot in the legs, and the wound was so serious that his right lower leg was later amputated in Posen on 10 June 1945.
Captured by the Soviet forces in a hospital, Baur was of great interest to his captors, who believed he might have flown Hitler to safety before the fall of Berlin. He was imprisoned for ten years in the USSR before being released on 10 October 1955 to the French, by whom he was kept prisoner until 1957.
It is also rumored, though there is no way of proving it, that Baumbach had flown a giant Ju-390, a massive six-engine bomber/transport, out of Prague's Ruzyne airport, loaded with top Nazis, including SS General Hans Kammler, to Barcelona. Officially, Kammler died in Prague just as the Russians were coming in, but many now believe Kammler had been alowed to leave after cutting a deal with the Americans for German rocket scientists and secret weapons technology.
But possibly the strangest thing Baumbach is believed to have done was the way he broke with Heinrich Himmler. When Hitler found out Himmler had betrayed him, he removed him from the post of Reichsführer SS and gave the post to Karl Hanke, Gauleiter of Breslau. The moment Hitler did that, Baumbach was no longer obliged to take orders from Himmler or answerable to him, and his loyalty to Himmler ended and was to the new man. The problem was, Hanke was in Breslau, a German city inside Poland that had been surrounded by the Russians since February. Hanke was a die-hard Nazi, who had been hanging anyone in Breslau who questioned his orders to fight to the last, from a lamppost with a placard around his neck offering a suitable warning to anyone else whose resolve might be wanting. But now, suddenly, Hanke had pressing business elsewhere. His orders for KG200 were quite simple; "Get me out!" Luckily, Baumbach was also an old friend of Hanke’s, having been introduced by their mutual friend Albert Speer before the war.
Truth be told, no one actually knows how Karl Hanke got out of Breslau and showed up at Prague's Ruzyne airport. The accepted explanation is that Hanke probably already had a Fieseler Storch or some other light airplane waiting for him under a tarp on the airstrip in Breslau and that he flew off in that. Albert Speer, however, tells in his "Spandau Diaries". In that account, Baumbach flew into Breslau in a helicopter, picked up Hanke and then flew him all the way to Prague.
Baumbach somehow high-tailed it north to Rügen, an island in the Baltic, where KG200 had a fleet of five fiant BV222 flying boats. Nothing at all is known about how he got out of Ruzyne. Perhaps there was something there waiting there for him, a Ju-88 or some other longer-range aircraft. Perhaps he flew the helicopter to another location where he got flown out. Five or six days later, Baumbach flies into Flensburg, the little port city on the Danish border that was the Reich’s new capital city, with a flight of gigantic, six-engine BV-222 flying boats.
Apparently the plan was to take them to Flensburg and load them up with Nazis that were gathered there, waiting eagerly for a flight out. It alone would have been his greatest feat, flying several thousand top Nazis out in one fell swoop. But instead, once he arrived in Flensburg with his aircraft, rather than carrying out his plan, he simply stopped. He holed up at Schloss Glücksburg, a nearby castle owned by one of his friends, he invited Albert Speer to stay with him, and the two proceeded to get very drunk. At one point, they talked about flying one of the 'Wikings' to Greenland and spending the summer fishing, hunting walrus, kayaking and writing their memoirs together. Perhaps they would have done this, had Speer not been visited by a group of American economists, bankers and Wall Street lawyers, who wanted to interview him on the effects of strategic bombing on the German war economy.
It is not clear exactly what happened after that. Somehow the flying boats got blown up and sunk in the harbor. A few days later, the British rolled up the Flensburg government, and Speer and Baumbach were both arrested..
Speer was tried at Nuremberg as a major war criminal and served twenty years in Spandau Prison, and Baumbach spent three years in Britain in a POW camp, prisoner, during which time he was repeatedly interrogated. What he might have told them about KG200 and his end-of-the-war exploits has never been learned. He did testify against members of the SS during the Nuremburg war crimes trials. during later war crimes trials.
Finally Baumbach was freed,, and he moved to Argentina and became a test pilot and flight instructor for the Argentinian air force. He gave interviews to "Time Magazine" and to visiting American scholars.
On 20 October 1953, he test flew a British Lancaster bomber, which the Argentinean air force had just acquired. Some time after taking off, something exploded on the bomber. Baumbach managed to bring it down to a watery landing in the Rio de la Plata, but drowned before he could be rescued.
Bormann, the new Party minister, was still transmitting strongly worded messages to Dönitz at Flensburg:
"Foreign press reports fresh treason. The Führer expects you to strike like lightning and tough as steel against every traitor in north zone. Without fear or favor. Schörner, Wenck, and rest must prove their loyalty to the Führer by fastest relief of Führer. Bormann".
In his diary he recorded Himmler’s treason, Hitler’s wedding, and the dictating of the political and private testaments:
"The traitors Jodl, Himmler, and Steiner are abandoning us to the Bolsheviks! Yet another heavy barrage! Enemy reports state Americans penetrated Munich".
By 4 am. Frau Junge had finished typing the testaments in triplicate [Hitler wanted to make certain that one copy reached the outside world]. Hitler himself was still reminiscing softly with Göbbels about the exhilarating struggle for power and empire which was now approaching its end. Death would be a merciful release—and all the easier now that he had been betrayed by so many of the living.
Hitler’s conferences over the next thirty-six hours were irregular and brief, for a Stygian information blackout was descending: his armies were silent and for days he had seen no diplomatic cables. The street fighting in Berlin could be followed only by ringing up telephone numbers at random. Often Russian voices answered. During the night, rain had grounded the OKW’s aerial-carrying balloon, so VHF radiotelephone contact was interrupted. At noon on 29 April, Jodl reported briefly that Wenck was at a standstill, but at 12:50 pm the VHF channel again went dead.
From now on the enemy news bulletins provided Hitler’s main information on his own armies. Italian radio was monitored describing the scene as the corpses of Mussolini and a dozen other Fascist leaders “shot in the back” were strung up at the Standard Oil station in a Milan square.
Admiral Voss signaled from the shelter to Dönitz at 4 pm:
"All contact with army authorities outside cut off. Urgently request information on fighting outside Berlin via naval signals channel".
Hitler’s now idle liaison staff began edging toward the exits. Krebs’s aide, Captain Gerhardt Boldt, suggested that he and two fellow officers attempt to contact the Twelfth Army. Hitler willingly dispatched them.
"My regards to Wenck—and tell him to hurry, or it’ll be too late!"
The three sets of testaments were entrusted to three other hardy souls who were ordered to smuggle them out to Dönitz, Schörner, and to the Berghof.
General Burgdorf wrote to Schörner:
"The testament is to be published as soon as the Führer so orders or his death is confirmed".
On 29 April, the Soviet Information Bureau announced that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front continued to clear the streets of Berlin, occupied the northwest sector of Charlottenburg as far as Bismark Street, the west half of Moabit, and the east part of Schöneberg. Troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front occupied Friedenau and Grünewald in northwest Berlin.
During the evening, Weidling's headquarters in the Bendlerblock was now within metres of the front line. Weidling discussed with his divisional commanders the possibility of breaking out to the southwest to link up with Wenck's Army. Wenck's spearhead had reached the village of Ferch on the banks of the Schwielowsee near Potsdam. The breakout was planned to start the next night at 22:00.
Later, Krebs contacted Jodl by radio: "Request immediate report. Firstly of the whereabouts of Wenck's spearheads. Secondly of time intended to attack. Thirdly of the location of the Ninth Army. Fourthly of the precise place in which the Ninth Army will break through. Fifthly of the whereabouts of General Rudolf Holste's spearhead." In the early morning of 30 April, Jodl replied to Krebs: "Firstly, Wenck's spearhead bogged down south of Schwielow Lake. Secondly, Twelfth Army therefore unable to continue attack on Berlin. Thirdly, bulk of Ninth Army surrounded. Fourthly, Holste's Corps on the defensive".
After midnight on 29 April, as the Soviet forces continued to fight their way into the center of Berlin, Hitler married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony in a map room within the Führerbunker. [There are conflicting accounts by witnesses to Hitler's wedding that it happened before midnight on 29 April and before Reitsch departed Berlin, yet Reitsch denied all knowledge of the wedding. The Marriage certificate stated the wedding happened on 29 April, yet at least four witnesses said the wedding happened before the 29th]. Thereafter, Hitler then took secretary Traudl Junge to another room and dictated his Last Will and Testament. At approximately 04:00, Hans Krebs, Wilhelm Burgdorf, Göbbels, and Bormann witnessed and signed the documents. Hitler then retired to bed.
Up to six Ju-352, two Ju-52, two FW200, and two Ju-290 flew marine reservists into central Berlin from 25-29 April 1945. The last flight out was a Ju-352 on the morning of 29 April after Hitler's wedding.
Noon 25 April, Operation Reichskanzlei and Operation Berlin were ordered. 1.FuMLAbt under command of F.Kpt Bormann [brother of Hitler’s Deputy] were ordered to Berlin to form a Führer bodyguard.They were transported from Puttgarden /Isle of Fehmarn to an airport near Rerik. On arriving at Rerik, they found no aircraft available. 1.FuMLAbt were ordered to sleep in a nearby hangar/shed. However at 22:00 hrs new orders were given.
Night 25/26 April 1945, Ju 52 floatplanes of 3./I./TG 1 convey 175 men of Stralsund Alarm Batallion [1.SStR] from Pütnitz [near Ribnitz] to Havelsee, Berlin
Night 25 April, KG.zbV2, Lufttransport Gruppe 4 ["Großraumtransportstaffel"] Ju-352s arrived at Tutow air-field at about 22:00.
26 April 1945, 1.FuMLAbt under command of F.Kpt Bormann were flown to the Ost-West-Achse by aircraft of the Fliegers des Führers [F.d.F.] These aircraft included Fw-200 "Condor" [CE + IC] piloted by Hptm Joachim Hubner, a Ju-290 [9V + BK], piloted by Lt Wagner and Ju-352 [KT + VJ], piloted by Olt Schultz and a fourth aircraft. Olt z.S. Clemens Zuborg of the naval reserve and then adjutant in the staff of the alarm-batallion reported two Ju-352 landed at Ost-West-Achse near the Reichskanzlei, which they had to defend.
26 April, between 01:35 hrs and 02:35 hrs, Ju-352 depart Tutow for Berlin-Gatow, conveying 288 men, part of the 1.SStR, each carrying 40 infantry per aircraft and 4 tonnes of weaponry/ammunition.
Tutow 01:35 departure OFw Herbert Schultz [G6 + ?X] was the first to take-off from Tutow. His plane came under heavy attack from all types of weapons. It was not possible to fly a full laden Ju 352 with only one engine so OFw Schultz made a forced landing. Somehow, the entire crew managed to escape the explosion of 4 tonnes of 'Panzerfäuste' cargo being carried with the troops. On 29 April they flew back to their unit at Großenbrode.
Tutow - time unknown ? StFw Kurt Becker [G6 + RX] failed to land at Gatow airport, due to heavy anti-aircraft fire. Becker decided to return to Tutow, where he landed a 03:00 hrs. His infantry passengers, including the acting CO of the 1st coy, Kptlt Brandt, were stood down.
Tutow 02:35 hrs - OFw Paul Köhler [G6 + EX] left Tutow but according to some of the passengers, took almost two hours to land in Berlin-Gatow after attempting to land at Berlin Staaken. After 20 minutes on ground at Gatow, Köhler took off for Tutow, where he landed a 05:40.
Night 26/27 of April 1945 Squadron "Mauß" conveyed 476 men of Kriegsmariene alarm Batallion from Rostock to Berlin. The road leading from Waren to Güstrow was used for one day as an airstrip on 27 April.
Other floatplanes Ju-52 and BV-138 flying boats from a KG200 seaplane base at Rügen also landed at Havel See up to 30 May 1945 evacuating VIPs and the wounded to Rügen and Denmark. A persistently repeated claim is that Hitler did in fact escape on a Ju-52 floatplane, flown by pilot Hans Baur.
The navigator of a giant BV 222 Wiking flying boat based in Norway refers to being ordered to prepare for an evacuation flight to Greenland on 30 April 1945.
Did Hitler and Eva flee as early as 28/29 April, but staged a wedding to leave false evidence implying he remained at Berlin?
The evidence of witnesses after 28 April is all contradictory. Witnesses recollect Hitler's wedding before midnight 28 April, however the marriage certificate said 29 April.
Escape by floatplane on 28 April was far more achievable than after 30 April 1945.
With virtually no tanks, limited artillery and no viable Luftwaffe over the capital, the defence of Berlin would not last for long. Ammunition supplies were dwindling rapidly alongside the mounting casualties. The main Reich Chancellery Bunker had been transformed into an emergency casualty clearing station and refugee shelter.
Topside, the remaining men of Kampfgruppe Mohnke, the defenders of the last Nazi perimeter in Berlin, fought the Soviets around the Chancellery and Hitler's Bunker site from prepared positions and a multitude of other Bunkers and cellars, as well as utilizing the remaining portions of the underground railway system that was still in German hands.
With the tattered street map in his hand, Hitler spoke to his chauffeur, Erich Kempka, who had driven him on so many historic journeys since 1933. Kempka told him his motor pool was ferrying supplies to the troops guarding the Chancellery, from the Brandenburg Gate to Potsdamer Platz: "Their courage is exceptional. They’re waiting for General Wenck’s relief columns to arrive". Hitler calmly responded, "We’re all waiting for Wenck". In his study he wrote a last letter to Keitel: The fight would soon end, he would commit suicide, and Dönitz would succeed him as Reich President; Keitel was to support the admiral to the end. "My people and Wehrmacht have given their all in this long hard struggle. The sacrifice has been immense. Many people have abused my trust in them. Disloyalty and betrayal have undermined our resistance throughout this war. This was why it was not granted to me to lead my people to victory". He refused to believe that such great sacrifice could have been in vain. "The aim must still be to win territory in the east for the German people".
The Russians were pushing down Saarlandstrasse and Wilhelmstrasse and were nearly at the Air Ministry. At 7:52 pm Hitler signaled five urgent questions to Jodl. "I am to be informed at once: 1. Where are Wenck’s spearheads? 2. When do they attack? 3. Where is the Ninth Army? 4. In which direction is Ninth Army breaking through? 5. Where are Holste’s spearheads?” Hours passed without any answer. Bormann issued two signals. The first reflected the ugly atmosphere of the Bunker and read : "Our own impression is increasingly clear that for many days the divisions in Berlin battle zone have been marking time instead of hacking-out the Führer. We only receive information supervised, suppressed, or doctored by Teilhaus [Keitel]. We can only transmit via Teilhaus. Führer orders you to take rapid and ruthless action against all traitors". The second signal was briefer : "The Führer’s alive and directing defense Berlin".
At the last battle conference on the twenty-ninth, General Weidling announced that there was heavy fighting at the nearby Potsdam Station. There were no bazookas left. Tanks could no longer be repaired. He predicted that the fighting would end within twenty-four hours. A long silence followed this. Hitler wearily asked Mohnke, the Citadel commandant, if he agreed; Mohnke said he did. With great effort, Hitler lifted himself from his chair and turned to go. Weidling asked what his troops should do when their ammunition ran out. Hitler replied, "I cannot permit the surrender of Berlin. Your men will have to break out in small groups". He restated this in a letter to Weidling and Mohnke during the night. Soon after, he received Keitel’s telegram replying to his questions. It left no hope whatever that Berlin would be relieved. "1. Wenck’s spearhead is stalled south of Schwielow lake. 2. Twelfth Army is therefore unable to continue attack to Berlin. 3. Bulk of Ninth Army encircled. 4. Holste’s Corps forced onto defensive".
At Eva’s suggestion, all the women in the Chancellery shelters—refugees fleeing the Russians, nurses from the Vorbunker hospital, cooks, and officers’ wives—were brought to one of the passages. His eyes bleary and unseeing, Hitler went and shook hands with them and spoke a few words in a low voice to each. One of the nurses began a hysterical speech, insisting that the Führer would bring them victory after all, but Hitler brusquely silenced her. "One must accept one’s fate like a man". He knew he had taken a deliberate gamble by staying in Berlin; his gamble had failed.
Wolf Heisendorf, a personal assistant to Propaganda Minister Josef Göbbels, who remained with his master in the Führer Bunker, observed:
"By 30 April it was obvious to everyone that further defense of Berlin was hopeless. Germany was split into several parts by Anglo-American and Russian armies—the hoped-for clash between them had never in fact materialized. Our Army High Command no longer existed as a meaningful force—its resources were scattered in all directions by the rapid advance of our opponents. The machinery of government had virtually collapsed. Our last resort had been to pull out one of our armies [General Walther Wenck’s 12th] from its defense of the Elbe [turning its back on the American troops on the far side of the river] and instead push it toward Berlin. But by the 30th it was clear that these men were unable to reach the capital. In such circumstances, to try to hold out any longer against the well-equipped Russian forces of Marshal Zhukov was utterly pointless".
Heisendorf recalled the chaotic attempts to evacuate government ministries from the threatened city.
"As the Red Army neared Berlin there was utter panic. Those heads of departments who could flee did so, scattering in all directions, and leaving their staff largely to fend for themselves. Hitler’s own orders were disregarded. One head of the Propaganda Ministry jammed the boot of his car so full of secret documents that the catch would not close properly. As his car accelerated a mass of paper flew up in the air behind him. As the bureaucratic vestiges of our Ministry disintegrated it all seemed like a bad farce".
At Rheims in northern France, the headquarters of the Western Allies, the fate of Hitler’s capital was followed with somber expectation. "Berlin is near the end," SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force] liaison officer Colonel Richard Wilberforce wrote simply in his diary on 30 April.
Berlin—the capital of Hitler’s Third Reich—was indeed tottering. The Red Army had fought its way to the center of the city and the Führer’s domain had shrunk to a few square miles of government buildings.
On 30 April, the Soviet Information Bureau announced that troops of the 1st Belorussian Front captured Moabit, Anhalter Railway Station, Joachimsthal to the north of Berlin, and Neukölln, Marienwerder, and Liebenwalde. Troops of the 1st Ukrainian Front occupied the southern part of Wilmersdorf, Hohenzollerndamm, and Halensee Railway Station.
At 6:00 a.m. on 30 April 1945 Major General Wilhelm Mohnke was summoned to attend Adolf Hitler in the Reich Chancellery Bunker in the center of Berlin. Mohnke’s forces were responsible for defending the government quarter of the city. "I was taken to meet the Führer in his own bedroom," Mohnke recalled.
He sat on a chair beside his bed. Over his pajamas he was wearing a black military greatcoat . . . His left hand shook incessantly and yet he exuded a strange sense of calm, as if his thoughts were collected and he had slept well—which of course he had not.
Hitler was precise. He began: "Mohnke, how long can we hold out?" I answered "24 hours my Führer, no longer than that". I then described the military situation. The Russians had reached the Wilhelmstrasse and advanced through the U-Bahn tunnel under the Friedrichstrasse. Most of the Tiergarten was in their hands, and they had fought right up to the Potsdamer Platz, only 300 meters from the Bunker. Hitler digested this calmly.
Hitler’s dark yet compelling personality, which had held millions under its dominion, was now a mere shadow of its former self.
"With military matters concluded, he began to talk to me about politics. It struck me that this might be his last discourse of any length on this subject. The basic theme was the future fate of Europe. The western democracies were decadent, and the powerful momentum of the peoples of the east—successfully channeled by the Communist system—could not be opposed by them. The west would fall under their domination. His tone of voice, as this argument was developed, was subdued and distant. Shortly after 7:00 a.m. I left and returned to my command post".
At 1 am on 30 April Generalfeldmarschall Keitel reported to Hitler that all German forces that had been ordered to relieve the capital were either surrounded or had been forced on to the defensive. No relief of the government quarter could be expected. Hitler’s orders a message to be sent to Admiral Dönitz, head of the German navy: "Immediate ruthless action must be taken against all traitors".
Later that morning the attacking Soviets managed to penetrate to within 1,600 feet [500m] of the Führerbunker, despite the fanatical resistance being put up by Hitler’s guard detachments. Hitler met with General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the Berlin Defence Area, later that morning. Weidling informed the Führer that there was enough ammunition to sustain the defence for a maximum of twenty-four hours. Weidling asked permission for the remaining troops to attempt a breakout, but Hitler did not reply. Weidling returned to his headquarters at the Bendlerblock. At 1 pm he received permission from Hitler for a breakout.
The Russians were now fighting in the subway tunnels under Friedrichstrasse and Vossstrasse; they were at Weidendamm bridge and on the edge of Potsdamer Platz, where a counterattack had begun.
Hitler sent for Bormann and then for Otto Günsche, his personal adjutant. He told them he and his wife would commit suicide that afternoon; Günsche was to ensure that both were really dead—by delivering coups de grace if necessary—and then burn both bodies to ashes. "I would not want my body put on display in some waxworks in the future". His shelter was to remain intact. "I want the Russians to realize that I stayed here to the very last moment". Choking with emotion, Günsche replied, "Jawohl, mein Führer. I will see to it". His female staff was assembled, and a last lunch was taken together, and he then walked through the Bunker for the last time to say farewell to his staff and the remaining Bunker occupants, accompanied by Eva. Frau Göbbels sank to her knees and pleaded with him to stay, but he gently raised her and explained that his death was necessary to remove the last obstacle in Dönitz' path, if Germany was to be saved.
With his wife, Hitler went into his little green-and-white study and closed the door at 2.30 pm. Hitler closed the double doors, leaving Göbbels, Krebs, Burgdorf, and Bormann in the conference room. The doors sealed out all sounds but the murmur of the ventilation plant and the echoing explosion of shells.
Differing accounts of what happened next have surfaced over the years.
Thunder reverberated from a storm of Russian artillery that was bombarding the ruined capital. The day before, along with the incoming shells, came particularly bad news for the Führer, who by this late date in World War II was confined to his underground Bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery.
Hitler had learned that two days earlier his Axis partner, Italy's Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, had been captured by paramilitary Italian resistance fighters. Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were executed and their bodies were left hanging from lamp posts in a Milan piazza. This news was especially worrisome to Hitler because only hours earlier he had married Eva Braun in a small civil ceremony inside the Führerbunker.
Hitier had previously vowed never to be captured alive, and reiterated to his entourage that neither he nor his new bride would be made a "spectacle, presented by the Jews, to divert their hysterical masses". He made obvious preparations for the end of his reign. He handed out poison capsules to his remaining female secretaries and had Blondi, his favorite Alsatian dog, poisoned.
Two other household dogs were shot.
Dictating a last will, he stated, "I myself and my wife— in order to escape the disgrace of deposition or capitulation— choose death". He ordered that their bodies be burned immediately. But Hitler, decorated World War I soldier and hardened political fighter, made it clear that he and his philosophies would not leave the world stage quietly.
"From the sacrifice of our soldiers and from my own unity with them unto death will in any case spring up in the history of Germany the seed of a radiant renaissance of the National Socialist movement and thus of the realization of a true community of nations".
Hitler then passed along a line of his entourage, mostly women, and shook their hands while mumbling inaudibly. Frau Traudl Junge, one of the secretaries present, recalled that Hitler's eyes, "seemed to be looking far away, beyond the walls of the Bunker".
At about three p.m. on 30 April, members of Hitier's entourage heard a single shot from their leader's quarters. Some time later. Hitler's valet, SS Sturmbannführer Heinz Linge, and an orderly emerged with a blanket-covered body. Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary, head of the Nazi Party and the most powerful man in the Reich after Hitler, followed with the body of a woman. The corpses were carried up to a garden area, placed in a shell crater, and burned with gasoline. However, these remains were never found, reportedly due to the constant shelling. By evening, a Soviet flag was flying atop the Reichstag. It appeared that Hitler and his Third Reich were finished.
The Escape of Adolf Hitler
It was well known and publicly reported that Hitier often made use of doubles, men who closely resembled him, for use at certain public presentations. Pauline Köhler, a maid at Hitier's Berghof in Berchtesgaden, insisted that she knew of at least three men who doubled for Hitler. Did Hitler make use of one final double in the Bunker? After all, the few persons who testified that he was dead were ardent Nazis who were eager to please their captors— whether Russian, British, or American— with accounts of the leader's death. Was the strange execution of Eva Braun's brother-in-law, Hermann Fegelein, due to his knowledge of Hitler's escape plan with the use of a double?
Fegelein had left the Bunker but protested when captured by an SS search party that he planned to return. He was later shot by a firing squad in the Chancellery garden for desertion. Yet, days earlier. Hitler had urged others in the Bunker to flee. "Get out! Get out!" he cried. "Go to South Germany. I'll stay here. It is all over anyhow". Why make Fegelein the exception?
Evidence that Fegelein was privy to secret knowledge comes from Kristina Reiman, an actress who met with Fegelein in Berlin on 27 April.
She told author Glenn B. Infield:
"He was very worried. We had several drinks together and he kept repeating that there were two Hitlers in Berlin.... I thought he was drunk. Just before he left me, however, he said that if the Führer ever discovered that he, Fegelein, knew his secret. Hitler would kill him".
To fake Hitler's death would have been simple. A Hitler double could have been secreted into the Bunker any time prior to his reported suicide. After Hitler got Eva to take poison— or a dead duplicate Eva brought in— the double, dressed in the Führer's clothing, could have been shot, a poison capsule placed in his mouth, and left to be covered by Bormann and retrieved by the unsuspecting valet Linge. Hitler could have then passed from the study through his living quarters to a small conference room containing a stairway to the garden above. Hitler had instructed Linge to wait, "at least ten minutes before entering the room".
While Linge and others from the entourage waited in the hallway outside Hitler's study, the Führer's party and an armed SS escort could have made their way to a secluded spot to await darkness. Under the cover of night. Hitler could have moved along Hermann Göring Strasse, then cut across the Tiergarten to the Zoo Station near Adolf Hitier Patz. From there, they could have followed the rail lines to the Reichssportfeld and crossed the Scharndorferstrasse to the Piechelsdorf Bridge, a short walk to the Havel River, where a Ju-52 floatplane would have been waiting to fly the Führer out.
Indeed a Ju-52 pontoon plane had landed on the Havel the previous night, at the radioed request of someone in the Führerbunker. It took off that same night.
Author Glenn B.Infield has suspected this was a practice run for the following night. Once away from Berlin, an airplane could have taken Hitler almost anywhere in territory not under direct control of the Allies — Switzerland, Spain, or any number of other friendly locations.
But did this happen?
Conventional history says that Hitler and Eva Braun committed suicide in the Bunker — end of story, despite tantalizing tidbits of information that have surfaced since the war.
On 17 July 1945, during the Potsdam Conference, Soviet leader Josef Stalin reportedly told U.S. president Harry S. Truman that Hitler did not commit suicide but probably escaped.
Years later, the Russians produced photos purporting to be of Hitler's dead body, which contradicted their earlier accounts that the bodies of Hitler and his mistress had been immediately burned..
-- Jim Marrs, "Rise of 4th Reich: The Secret Societies That Threaten to Take Over America"
The officially accepted story is that at shortly after 3.30 pm Heinz Linge, with Bormann right behind him, opened the study door and was met with the strong smell of burnt almonds, a signature of hydrogen cyanide.
Why did everyone in the Bunker hear the shot?
The 'death room' had concrete walls two feet thick, a reinforced concrete ceiling sixteen feet thick, and there were two four inch thick hermetically gas-proofed doors between the bodies and the witnesses. If the shot was fired in Hitler's sitting room it was an absolute impossibility for those in the map room to have heard it. After all, a 7.65 mm Walther makes a sound about equal to bursting a child's party balloon.
Why did none of the witnesses mention the smell or cordite or gunpowder in the "death room"?
Each and every one of them smelled the cyanide emanating from the mouth of Eva Braun but not a single one reported the equally pungent odour of cordite or gunpowder. If a shot had been fired in this gas proof room, the smell had no way to escape.
Again accounts differ in the details but according to Linge, Eva Hitler was slumped to the left of the Führer on a sofa, her legs drawn up. Hitler "sat…sunken over, with blood dripping out of his right temple," wrote Linge. "He had shot himself with his own pistol, a Walther PPK 7.65". Hitler’s adjutant Günsche then entered the room, surveyed the scene and left shortly afterwards to declare to those waiting outside that the Führer was dead.
Hitler's valet Heinz Linge, on 9 February 1956, stated: "When we came into the living room Bormann and I saw the following. The bodies of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun were in a seated position on the sofa standing against the wall opposite the door from the antechamber".
Otto Günsche, who entered Hitler's room immediately after Linge and Bormann, gave the following description on 20 June 1956: "Eva Braun was lying on the sofa standing against the wall opposite the door from the antechamber. Hitler himself sat in an armchair standing to the left and slightly forward--as seen from the antechamber--but very close to the sofa".
Why the difference in accounts? Hitler and Eva on the couch, or Eva on the couch, and Hitler in the chair. Did someone move Hitler, after death, from the couch to the chair? Did one or the other of these witnesses lie, and, if so, why?
On 2 September 1955, frequent Bunker visitor Artur Axmann stated:
"Based on the signs I found, I had to assume that Adolf Hitler had shot himself in the mouth. For me the chin, which was pushed to the side, and the blood trails on the temples caused by an internal explosion in the head, all pointed to this. Later the same day SS-Sturmbannführer Günsche confirmed my assumption. I stick to my statement based on the signs I saw, that Adolf Hitler shot himself in the mouth".
Günsche, however, in his 20 June 1956 testimony stated:
"The head was canted [tilted] slightly forward to the right. I noticed an injury to the head slightly above the outer end of the angle of the right eyelid. I saw blood and a dark discoloration. The whole thing was about the size of an old three Mark piece".
While he was interned for several years in two Soviet POW camps in Strasberg and Posen, the Wehrmachtsurgeon-general, Major-General Walter Schreiber, had the opportunity to speak with four persons, each of whom had been present in the Bunker until Berlin fell to the Soviets. While he was unable to draw any information on the subject of Hitler's fate out of the "arrogant" Wilhelm Mohnke.
However, in a statement for Soviet authorities dated 18 May 1945, Mohnke wrote: "I personally did not see the Führer's body and I don't know what was done to it".
-- V. K. Vinogradov et al. [eds] "Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB", Chaucer Press, London, 2005
Hitler's pilot Hans Baur told him only that he had never seen Hitler dead.
During the last days of the war, Hans Baur was with Hitler in the Führerbunker, and was one of the last persons to see him alive. Baur stayed with him until Hitler committed suicide on the afternoon of 30 April.
Heinz Linge and Otto Günsche were more forthcoming. Linge told him that he "did not see Hitler, but toward the end noticed two bodies wrapped in carpet being carried out of the Bunker". Linge told Schreiber that while at the time he had assumed the bodies to be those of the Hitler couple, only later had he been told that this was the case. This admission is astounding, because Linge is the one person mentioned by all eyewitnesses as having carried Hitler's body up the stairs and into the Chancellery garden
As Linge wrote in his biography, "With Hitler to the End" : "I reached below Hitler's head, two officers from his SS bodyguard lifted the body, wrapped in a grey blanket, and we carried him out".
Although Hitler's valet, SS-Sturmbannführer Heinz Linge, was captured at the same time, his interrogation statements are not included in V. K. Vinogradov et al. [eds], "Hitler's Death: Russia's Last Great Secret from the Files of the KGB", Chaucer Press, London, 2005 and have never been made public. Given that Linge subsequently emerged as one of the central protagonists in the official story of Hitler's demise, this fact obviously raises questions about the pretensions of "Hitler's Death" to constitute virtually the last word on the subject.
Günsche, with whom Schreiber spoke only a short time after the regime fell, proved even more informative. Like Linge, Günsche admitted that he had never seen Hitler's dead body. He added the enigmatic comment: "Those things were all done without us".
-- 'Persons Who Should Know Are Not Certain Hitler Died in Berlin Bunker', "Long Beach Press-Telegram", California, 10 January 1949
Such evidence is corroborated by General Helmuth Weidling, who told the Soviets on 4 January 1946: "After I was taken prisoner, I spoke to SS Gruppenführer Rattenhuber and SS Sturmbannführer Günsche, and both said they knew nothing about the details of Hitler's death".
Hans Rattenhuber was not present when Hitler killed himself on the afternoon of 30 April in the Führerbunker. He did not see Hitler's body until after it was wrapped in grey blankets and carried out of the office/sitting room where Hitler died. He was not one of those who took the body up the stairs and outside. Instead, Rattenhuber followed Heinz Linge, Otto Günsche, Peter Högl, Ewald Lindloff and several others outside and watched Hitler's body be burned.
-- Joachimsthaler, Anton . "The Last Days of Hitler: The Legends, the Evidence, the Truth". Trans. Helmut Bögler. London: Brockhampton Press
-- "Hitler's Death"
On the basis of Schreiber's and Weidling's revelations, it can be regarded as certain that neither Günsche nor Linge, the two mainstays of the Hitler suicide legend, nor Mohnke nor Rattenhuber nor Baur, had anything to do with Hitler's death or knew anything about it. It would seem appropriate to conclude that no one who knew anything for certain about what happened to Hitler has ever spoken about it publicly. Hitler's inner circle in Berlin knew nothing about what had happened to him, and the stories they told publicly have been lies.
Dr. Walter Paul Emil Schreiber was a German medical military officer in World War I, a Major General [Generalarzt] of the Medical Service of the Wehrmacht and a key witness against Hermann Göring during the Nuremberg Trials.
On 30 April 1945, while caring for wounded in a makeshift hospital in Berlin, he was taken prisoner of war by the Red Army and transported to the Soviet Union. On 26 August 1946, Schreiber appeared as a surprise witness at the Nuremberg Trials, giving evidence in support of the Soviet Chief Prosecutor, Roman Rudenko, against, Hermann Göring and Kurt Blome, who had been in charge of German offensive biological weapons development. A recording of his testimony at the trial can be found at the online archive of the Imperial War Museum. The transcript became part of the Nuremberg proceedings against German major war criminals. Dr. Schreiber, whose long-standing record against the use of offensive biological warfare and human experimentation was well established, was himself never charged or considered for prosecution on war crimes charges.
In fall 1948, Dr. Schreiber reappeared in the West with his wife, his son and one of his adult daughters. In a press conference on 2 November, he explained that he had initially been held in Lubyanka Prison in the USSR where he became ill almost to death. Only when the captured former German ambassador to Russia, Norbert von Baumbach, became ill and refused care from anyone but Generalarzt Dr. Schreiber, was the doctor's true identity discovered by Soviet authorities. Schreiber reported he was then given medical attention and moved to a series of safe houses in the Soviet Zone of Germany. There he remained to provide medical care to former Nazi generals. Still under Soviet custody, he was later given the rank of 'Starshina', and was ultimately offered the position of Chief Medical Officer in the newly formed East German Police Force, the Volkspolizei. Rejecting this position, Schreiber reported that he was then offered a professorship at the University of Leipzig. However, in hopes of finding his family, requested the University of Berlin instead. In response, Soviet authorities reported they were holding Schreiber's family in the USSR, thereby convincing Dr. Schreiber to relocate and join other German scientists who had already been taken there. In the meantime, his daughter, who had presented herself to Allied military authorities in the American Occupation Zone, learned that the Soviets were transporting more German scientists to the Soviet Union, her father presumably among them. Boarding multiple trains, she walked the cars until she caught her father's attention. Seeing an opportunity, Dr. Schreiber evaded his handler and on 17 October took a train from Dresden to Berlin where he presented himself to the Allied Control Authority in West Berlin. Dr. Schreiber was subsequently hired to work with the Counter Intelligence Corps and beginning in 1949 was employed as post physician at Camp King, a large clandestine POW interrogation center in Oberursel, Germany.
In 1951, Schreiber was taken to the United States as part of Operation Paperclip.
On 7 October 1951 the "New York Times" reported that he was working at the Air Force School of Medicine at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas.
Schreiber, did not seek contract renewal, and left Texas for the Bay Area of California, where one of his daughters now lived. Thereafter the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency arranged a visa for him through an Argentinian general and he was provided with moving funds for himself and his family. On 22 May 1952 they were flown on a military aircraft to New Orleans and from there to Buenos Aires where he joined another daughter.
In Argentina, he worked as a physician and at an epidemiological research laboratory. He researched family history and compiled his journals. He died suddenly of a heart attack on 5 September 1970 in San Carlos de Bariloche, Río Negro, Argentina.
Legends say that Adolf Hitler did not die in his Bunker in Berlin, but managed to escape to Argentina aboard a submarine and reach Patagonia, where he lived until the end of his days in the company of Eva Braun. One of the alleged homes of the Führer, 'Inalco Estancia', a farm with 452 hectares of land and a house of 560 square meters, is now on sale for 35 million dollars. The property is located seven kilometers from Villa la Angostura, now known as Town of the Andes on the border with Chile. The magnificent mansion, designed by architect Alejandro Bustillo and built by Italian manufacturer Longaretti Pedro in the forties, has, in the arrangement of its interior, many similarities with the Berghof, the Führer's headquarters in Obersalzberg, in the Bavarian Alps.
Inalco, that in the original language of the Mapuche Indians means "on the shore of the lake" is located in the Nahuel Huapi National Park. The property includes five kilometers of coast and 90 meters of sandy beach, and a wooden pier for mooring of small boats.
The property, located on the corridor of the Seven Lakes basin, is also easily accessible from San Carlos de Bariloche, the center that immediately after the Second World War had given hospitality to many a war criminal.
There have been many years of testimonies from people who assure that they had seen Hitler and Eva Braun in San Carlos de Bariloche, then a small isolated town in the heart of the Patagonian steppe, where the only private institution was the German School.
These stories have been collected in various publications, such as ''Bariloche Nazi" by Abel Basti.
Preparations had already been made to dispose of the bodies of Hitler and his wife as Hitler had made sure that Günsche understood that on no account was his body to be found intact by the Soviets. A few hours before Hitler killed himself Günsche had telephoned the Reich Chancellery garage and spoken to Hitler’s principal driver, Erich Kempka. Günsche ordered Kempka to bring over a large quantity of petrol. "I was…to ensure that five cans of gasoline, that is to say 200 litres, were brought along," recalled Kempka. "I at once took along two or three men carrying cans. More were following, because it took time to collect 200 litres of gasoline". The cans were left near the Bunker’s emergency exit.
Hitler’s body was wrapped in a blanket and carried up the stairs to the Bunker’s emergency exit by Linge, SS–Hauptsturmführer Ewald Lindloff and SS-Obersturmführer Hans Reisser of the SS-Begleit-Kommando, and SS-Obersturmbannführer Peter Högl, deputy commander of the RSD. Bormann carried Eva Hitler’s body upstairs. Once outside, the SS officers placed both of the bodies, still wrapped in grey blankets, into a shell crater and then doused them liberally with petrol. An attempt was made to light the petrol, but it was unsuccessful. Linge went back into the Bunker and returned with a thick roll of papers. Bormann lit the papers and threw them into the hole, the petrol igniting with a whoosh. Others had joined them. Standing just inside the emergency exit door Günsche, Bormann, Högl, Linge, Lindloff, Reisser, Kempka and Göbbels raised their arms in the Nazi salute. But the party was soon driven inside as Soviet shells began to land in the Reich Chancellery garden.
Thirty minutes after the cremation of Hitler and his wife was begun, Günsche ordered Lindloff to go out and see how it was progressing. Lindloff reported that both bodies were charred and had burst open. He also said that they had been damaged by shellfire. During the afternoon, SS-Begleit-Kommando guards continued to add jerry cans of fuel to the burning hole in between the Soviet barrages.
A Soviet ammunition crate said to contain the charred remains of Hitler. This is the only photograph that the Russians have released that claims to show Hitler’s corpse. No photographs from his autopsy have been made public. In contrast,
there are numerous Red Army photos of Dr. Göbbels’ partially cremated body,
both at the Bunker site and in a
At 4.15 pm Linge ordered SS–Untersturmführer Heinz Krüger and SS-Oberscharführer Werner Schwiedel to roll up the bloodstained rug from Hitler’s study, carry it up to the Reich Chancellery garden and burn it. At 6.30 pm Lindloff reported to Günsche that he and Reisser had disposed of the remains. It appears that from the remains later found by the Soviets some days later that the bodies of Hitler and his wife were burned beyond recognition and possibly damaged by shellfire, if indeed they were the mortal remains of the tyrant and his spouse.
When Weidling reached the Führerbunker, he was met by Göbbels, Bormann, and Krebs. They took him to Hitler's room, where the couple had committed suicide. They told him that their bodies had been burned and buried in a shell crater in the garden above. Weidling was forced to swear that he would not repeat this news to anybody. The only person in the outside world who was to be informed was Josef Stalin. An attempt would be made that night to arrange an armistice, and General Krebs would inform the Soviet commander so that he could inform the Kremlin.
A rather dazed Weidling rang Colonel Hans Refior, his civil Chief of Staff, in the Bendlerblock headquarters soon afterward. Weidling said that he could not tell him what had happened, but he needed various members of his staff to join him immediately, including Colonel Theodor von Dufving, his military Chief-of-Staff.
By the end of that same day, 30 April, or during 1 May, the Soviets had captured the Reichstag, which was of huge symbolic importance to the Soviets and one of the last German strong-points defending the area around the Reich Chancellery and the Führerbunker.
Survivors from the volunteers of the 33rd Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS Charlemagne [1st French], now took on the full strength of two converging tank armies in a blatantly hopeless struggle, in particular distinguishing themselves as tank destroyers, knocking out dozens of Soviet T-34s with handheld Panzerfaust rocket launchers. Ironically, it was two Frenchmen who were the last soldiers to be decorated with Nazi Germany’s highest bravery award, the Knight’s Cross.
Escape from Berlin
2 May 1945
Leading one of the last columns attempting to breakout from the doomed city, Georg Diers battered Kingtiger
of SS Heavy Tank Battalion 503 smashed through the Soviet roadblock on the far side of the
The escape attempt was led by SS-Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg, mainly with troops of the
SS-Pz. Grenadier.Div. “Nordland”.
The group set off around 21:00hrs and was accompanied by many senior Nazi Party officials, including Martin Bormann. On reaching the Friedrichstrasse railway station, they came under continual fire from Soviet troops
Diers’ Kingtiger moved over the Weidendamm bridge with many troops and civilians behind, but the Soviet troops had clear fields of fire from across the Spree River and it was a bloody slaughter.
Diers’ Kingtiger 314 reached the Humboldthain park with a small group of survivors,
only to be disabled by a German mine.
With them, in the remnants of the Nordland Division - also Waffen-SS - were young Danes and Norwegians, still with a few heavy tanks. Hitler and Göbbels were dead, and most remaining German troops had wisely melted away, but the Frenchmen fought on in the wreckage of Gestapo headquarters to prevent the Soviets from capturing the Bunker on May Day. They were last seen in the early morning hours of 2 May, fighting and dying in a vain attempt to cover the Escape of Martin Bormann.
Although Hitler was dead, the business of government continued as well as the defence of the remaining areas of the government quarter by Hitler’s bodyguard units and associated troops.
Last Nazi Reservees in Berlin Battle
The Newcastle Sun [NSW]
2 May 1945
LONDON: With the great battle for Berlin nearing its end, all remaining German reserves have been thrown in to defend the last strongholds, says Moscow radio.
In two days the Russians have taken more than 23,000 prisoners. Red Army artillery, firing at point blank range, is razing to the ground converted strongpoints in the Tiergarten and Unter den Linden, heart of the administrative area.
Marshal Zhukov's troops today wiped out all enemy resistance in the factory district of Charlottenburg and in Schöneberg. where Berlin's main railway marshalling yards are located.
The Russians stormed more than 100 blocks of buildings. Charlottenburg extends to seven miles east of the central administrative area. Schöneberg is about three miles south.
"Berlin is in its death throes"', say Russian front-line reporters.
Storm troops and battalions of Volks Sturmers, holding the last inner defence positions along a railway, erected giant barricades of cobbles, bricks and wrecked railway wagons.
Hamburg radio says that the German garrison, gathering its last ounce of strength, has managed to maintain a coherent defence, but deep enemy breaches cannot be prevented.
"Reuter's Moscow correspondent says that the battle for Berlin, which is now well behind the main Russian front line, has developed into a gigantic mopping-up operation.
Hitler’s Last Will and Testament had broken up the position of "Führer" into three separate offices. Göbbels was named Reich Chancellor; with Grossadmiral Dönitz appointed Reich President and Bormann made Party Minister.
But at this stage, only Dönitz could exercise any limited control from Flensburg in the north. Göbbels made it very clear that he and his wife Magda would emulate their beloved Führer and commit suicide when the time came.
On 1 May Chancellor Göbbels drafted a letter to the Soviets and ordered 47-year-old General der Infanterie Hans Krebs, Chief of the Army General Staff [OKH], to deliver it under a white flag of truce to General Vasili Chuikov, commander of the 8th Guards Army which was occupying central Berlin. The letter informed the Soviet High Command of Hitler’s death, the appointment of Göbbels as Reich Chancellor and his offer of a cease-fire. When Krebs was sent packing with the clear instruction that the Soviets would only accept unconditional surrender, Göbbels knew that it was futile to continue. Later that day Vice-Admiral Hans-Erich Voss and almost a dozen other military officers arrived at the Führerbunker to say farewell to Göbbels as their supreme commander.
At 8 pm that evening Göbbels instructed dentist SS-Sturmbannführer Helmut Kunz to drug his six children with morphine. Then Hitler’s personal physician, SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr. Ludwig Stumpfegger, crushed a vial of cyanide in each of their jaws, killing them.
A little while later a subdued Göbbels pulled on his gloves and hat, and arm-in-arm with his wife, climbed the stairs to the Bunker’s emergency exit and emerged into the Reich Chancellery garden. His adjutant, 29-year-old SS-Hauptsturmführer Günther Schwägermann, followed him.
[Historical Footnote: at the time of writing in 2016 Schwägermann remains alive, aged 101. He is certainly the last living witness to the events in the Bunker, but has refused to give any interviews].
Schwägermann went to collect more petrol to burn the Göbbels' bodies while Göbbels and his wife went around the corner out of sight. Schwägermann said that he heard a pistol shot and came upon his master and Magda Göbbels dead. She had taken poison while Göbbels had shot himself in the head. Schwägermann ordered the SS-Begleit-Kommando sentry at the Bunker emergency exit to shoot Göbbels again in the head to make sure – Schwägermann could not face doing so himself. The two men then poured petrol over the bodies and set fire to them. Unfortunately, there was insufficient petrol remaining to burn the bodies and the fire-blackened corpses remained easily recognizable to Voss when he was forced by the Soviets to identify them the following day.
On 30 April, Voss was among the group of officers whom Hitler informed that he had decided to commit suicide rather than attempt to escape from Berlin, which was surrounded by the Red Army. One of Hitler's security officers, Johann Rattenhuber, later testified:
"In Hitler's reception room at 10 o'clock in the morning there assembled Generals Burgdorf and Krebs, Admiral Voss, Hitler's personal pilots General Hans Baur and Standartenführer Georg Beetz, Obersturmbannführer Hegel, his personal servant Sturmbannführer Linge, Günsche and myself. He came out to us and said: 'I have decided to abandon this life. Thank you for your good and honest service. Try to escape from Berlin with the troops. I am staying here'. Saying goodbye he shook hands with each of us".
Interrogated by Soviet officers on 6 May, Voss recounted:
"When Göbbels learned that Hitler had committed suicide, he was very depressed and said: 'It is a great pity that such a man is not with us any longer. But there is nothing to be done. For us, everything is lost now and the only way out left for us is the one which Hitler chose. I shall follow his example'."
On 1 May, Voss saw Göbbels for the last time:
"Before the breakout from the Bunker began, about ten generals and officers, including myself, went down individually to Göbbels's shelter to say goodbye. While saying goodbye I asked Göbbels to join us. But he replied: 'The captain must not leave his sinking ship. I have thought about it all and decided to stay here. I have nowhere to go because with little children I will not be able to make it'.
Voss then joined the group led by SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke which broke out of the Bunker and tried to escape from Berlin. Most of the group were captured by Soviet forces the same day. Voss was brought back to the Bunker for questioning, and to identify the partly burned bodies of Josef and Magda Göbbels, and also the bodies of their six children, who had been poisoned, as was Hans Fritzsche, a leading German radio commentator who had answered directly to Göbbels, the following day.
The Soviet account states:
"Vice-Admiral Voss, being asked how he identified the people as Göbbels, his wife and children, explained that he recognised the burnt body of the man as former Reichsminister Göbbels by the following signs: the shape of the head, the line of the mouth, the metal brace that Göbbels had on his right leg, his gold NSDAP badge and the burnt remains of his party uniform".
The bodies were then brought to the Buchau Cemetery in Berlin for autopsy and inquest by Soviet doctors.
Voss was made a Soviet prisoner of war. In August 1951, he was prosecuted by the Soviet authorities on charges that "he held a command post in Hitler's war fleet, that was involved in an aggressive war in breach of international laws and treaties". In February 1952, the Court Martial of the Moscow Military District sentenced him to 25 years imprisonment. By a decree of the Praesidium of the Supreme Soviet in December 1954, however, he was released and handed over to the German Democratic Republic authorities.
Panther on the loose
Berlin, 2 May 1945
Hauptscharführer Karl Körner, a platoon commander
in the of SS Heavy Tank Battalion 503, who was awarded the Knight's Cross in the Führerbunker
on 29 April 1945, makes his escape from the city
in an abandoned Panther via the suburb of Staaken.
On the way he destroyed a JSII, and a couple of
Assault guns, before his tank broke down for a
final time later that night
On 2 May, General Weidling had his Chief-of-Staff, von Dufving, arrange a meeting with General Chuikov. At 01:00 the Soviets picked up radio message from the German LVI Corps requesting a cease-fire and stating that emissaries would come under a white flag to Potsdamer bridge.
Per Chuikov's direction, Weidling put his order to surrender in writing. The document written by Weidling read as follows:
"On 30 April 1945, the Führer committed suicide, and thus abandoned those who had sworn loyalty to him. According to the Führer's order, you German soldiers would have had to go on fighting for Berlin despite the fact that our ammunition has run out and despite the general situation which makes our further resistance meaningless. I order the immediate cessation of resistance. -- Weidling, General of Artillery, former District Commandant in the defence of Berlin".
The meeting between Weidling and Chuikov ended at 8:23 am on 2 May 1945. Later that same day, loudspeakers announced Weidling's surrender and copies of his order were distributed to the remaining defenders. With the exception of scattered areas of resistance and of desperate efforts to break out, the Battle for Berlin was over.
Early in the morning of 2 May the Soviets stormed the Reich Chancellery. General Weidling surrendered with his staff at 06:00.
General Burgdorf [who played a key role in the death of Erwin Rommel] and General Krebs chose to commit suicide rather than attempt to break out. A few people remained in the Bunker, and they were captured by Soviet troops on 2 May. Soviet intelligence operatives investigating the complex found more than a dozen bodies [including the six Göbbels children].
The Soviet forces took Weidling into custody as a prisoner of war and flew him to the Soviet Union. He never returned to Germany alive.
On 4 January 1946, General Helmuth Weidling, who was interned in a Soviet prison camp, furnished a long statement for the Soviets in which he conceded that he had grown sceptical about the suicide theory. He had meditated on the problem of Hitler's escape possibilities and concluded:
"On the night of 29/30 April there were still opportunities to leave— through the Zoo underground station in western Berlin and through the Friedrichstrasse station in the north. One could have escaped relatively safely through the underground tunnels".
-- "Globe and Mail" 9 May 1945
On the night of 2–3 May, General Hasso von Manteuffel, commander of the III Panzer Army along with General Kurt von Tippelskirch, commander of the XXI Army, surrendered to the US Army.
On the morning of 7 May, the perimeter of the XII Army's bridgehead began to collapse. Walther Wenck crossed the Elbe under small arms fire that afternoon and surrendered to the American Ninth Army.
Dietrich von Saucken's II Army, that had been fighting north-east of Berlin in the Vistula Delta, surrendered to the Soviets on 9 May.
On 8 May, Saucken received notice that he had been awarded the Knight's Cross with Oakleaves, Swords, and Diamonds [Ritterkreuz des Eisernen Kreuzes mit Eichenlaub, Schwertern und Brillanten], making him the last of 27 officers to receive this award. Though an airplane stood by to evacuate him, he refused to leave his troops when they surrendered to the Red Army on the following day.