The Final Days in the Bunker

The collapse of the German Army Group Center in June and July of 1944 set the stage for the final campaigns in the northern half of the eastern front. Though estimates vary widely, the losses in that campaign were nothing short of catastrophic. The Germans lost almost a half million men, close to 2,500 tanks and self-propelled guns, over 55,000 other vehicles, and the organizational resources of 25 divisions. This campaign, called Operation Bagration" by the Soviets, was their greatest victory against the German Army up to that point, and to celebrate 50,000 prisoners were paraded through Moscow on their way to a railhead for camps further to the east. Not only were German losses close to 25% of their manpower on the eastern front, but the territory lost brought Soviet forces to the border of the Reich. Desperate battles ensued in East Prussia, while a large concentration of German forces was cut off in the Courland peninsula further north.

A pause followed this disaster, but it was only the calm before the storm. Soviet forces, refitted and supplied, smashed their way from several bridgeheads on the Vistula River and advanced through Poland in January 1945. Lacking any defense in depth, the German front disintegrated, with Marshal Ivan Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front pushing west almost 300 miles. Near the end of the advance, Soviet units breached the Oder-Neiße River line, establishing several bridgeheads against almost no German opposition and but 60 kilometers from Berlin.

Words of encouragement and faith in victory from German senior military and political leaders caused a delay in the evacuation of the area, with the resulting consequences that long lines of refugees clogged the roads while repeatedly strafed by Soviet aircraft or overrun by marauding Soviet armored columns.  Moreover, the stream of refugees made it difficult for those German units still cohesive enough to fight to maneuver effectively. The Germans left behind three major fortified cities, Thorn, Poznan and Breslau, which helped to slow the Soviet advance. In addition, a large portion of German forces, remnants of three armies, were still in areas of East Prussia and Pomerania to the north of the Soviet route of advance. Stavka, the Soviet High Command, decided it was better to destroy these forces before launching any assault on Berlin and through much of February this was accomplished.

German losses had again been massive and the effort needed to rebuild units or create new ones had become extremely difficult. Yet, by early March, a new German front began to take shape along the Oder and Neiße Rivers. The stage was set for the final battle for the German Third Reich.

-- Battle of Seelow Heights and the Fall of Berlin, March-May 1945 Campaign Preparations: An Operational Overview By Russ Rodgers USAREUR Command Historian

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 postwar 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. Most of the two million Jews who were killed during the last year of the Final Solution would have been saved.

Amidst all the hyperbole surrounding the  Anglo-American and Canadian invasion of enemy-occupied France in the Second World War, which claims that it was the “beginning of the end” of the German army, sight of an important, and much-overlooked fact is lost: Compared with the eastern front, it was a mere sideshow.

Objectively speaking, the real D-Day, the real “beginning of the end” for the Wehrmacht, and Nazi Germany, was the Soviet Operation Bagration, the codename for the Soviet 1944 Belorussian Strategic Offensive Operation  fought between 22 June and 19 August 1944. The Wehrmacht had 58 divisions in the west, of which only 11 were deployed against the D-Day landings. At the same time, however, the Germans deployed 228 divisions in the east. Thus, the Germans had almost four times as many troops facing the Soviets. And they had less than one-20th of that number in Normandy. That alone is an indication of where their priorities lay.

At no time after 6 June, 1944, did the German high command contemplate transferring forces from the east to the west to counter the Normandy landings, but  46 divisions, including some from France, were redeployed to the eastern front. Bagration showed, by the time the western Allies got around to launching their second front, which Stalin had been clamouring for since 1941, the Red Army almost didn’t need it

Operation Bagration, and the earlier eastern-front battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. Taken together, these battles broke the back of the Wehrmacht, and made ultimate victory over the Nazis possible.

Geographically,  Operation Bagration, dwarfed the campaign for Normandy. In four weeks, it inflicted greater losses on the German army than the Wehrmacht had suffered in five months at Stalingrad. With more than 2.3 million men, six times the artillery and twice the number of tanks that launched the Battle of the Bulge, it was the largest Allied operation of World War II. It demolished three Axis armies and tore open the Eastern Front. Operation Bagration, the Red Army’s spring 1944 Blitzkrieg, was designed to support Allied operations in France, liberate Russian territory and break the back of the Wehrmacht once and for all.

Many German and Soviet accounts agree that it was Hitler’s worst military setback of the war. But the offensive lacked a single, dramatic focal point, such as at Stalingrad, and the commanders and place names sound strange to Western ears. For those reasons, the operation was never acknowledged in the West to the same degree as any number of smaller campaigns — such as Overlord, the Ardennes Offensive, the Torch landings in Africa or Operation Husky in Sicily.

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 1944, 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 old men and teenage boys.

The Ardennes offensive [the German name for the attack was "Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein" - Operation Watch on the Rhine] the American press called it the "Battle of the Bulge" to describe the way the Allied front line bulged inward due to the German advances, launched on 16 December 1944, intoxicated Hitler loyalists with revived morale. The tables had at last turned. Belief in the Führer and in the Wunderwaffen, the miracle weapons such as the V-2, blinded them to reality. It was a major gamble and the odds were stacked against Germany. However, at a minimum, perhaps the war could be extended for another year or more and this would give time for German super-weapons to come online.

Seemingly invincible, large German Panzer columns surged westward. The latest German weapons technology was concentrated to this offensive: Mighty Königstiger tanks, a revolutionary new assault rifle, flying bombs and modern jet aircraft. The Germans even dispatched electric mini U-Boats, the Type XXIII, to support the offensive.

Respected British historian Barrie Pitt noted:

"[T]he Nazi war machine swung into action utilizing as much as it could of the most up-to-date scientific knowledge available, and as the war developed, the list of further achievements grew to staggering proportions... the list is awe-inspiring in its variety".

Pitt stated while some German technology was less developed than imagined at the time, "some were dangerously near to a completion stage which could have reversed the war’s outcome".

The German attack was so grim that Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr., not known for his faint-heartedness, confided to his diary on 4 January 1945:

"We can still lose this war".

Rumours spread that the US First Army had been completely surrounded and taken prisoner due to an anaesthetic gas.

There are many cases where the Nazi leadership, and specifically Adolf Hitler, would attempt to gain a psychological advantage by exaggerating German technological capabilities. For example, when the Germans invaded Belgium in May, 1940, they seized the fortress of Eben-Emael in 24 hours, much to the astonishment of the Allies. In a speech, Hitler attributed the success to a special weapon or "Angriffsmittel", whose character he would not divulge. His coy announcement immediately created apprehension among the Allies, as well as speculation about the nature of the wonder weapon: bombs containing liquid oxygen as well as a paralyzing and non-lethal nerve gas were both suggested as possibilities. In fact, the legendary Angriffsmittel turned out to be nothing more complicated than a shaped explosive charge.

They thought that they could hold the world to ransom and take revenge for all that Germany had suffered. Veteran NCOs appear to have been among the most embittered. Paris was about to be recaptured, they told each other with fierce glee. Many regretted that the French capital should have been spared from destruction the year before while Berlin was bombed to ruins. They exulted at the idea that history might now be corrected.

For the Offensive to be successful, four criteria were deemed critical by the planners:

- The attack had to be a complete surprise;
- The weather conditions had to be poor to neutralize Allied air superiority and the damage it could inflict on the German offensive and its supply lines;
- The progress had to be rapid. General Walter Model declared that the Meuse River had to be reached by day 4, if the offensive was to have any chance of success; and
- Allied fuel supplies would have to be captured intact along the way because the Wehrmacht was short on fuel. The General Staff estimated they only had enough fuel to cover one-third to one-half of the ground to Antwerp in heavy combat conditions
.

 The necessary fuel [four million gallons] and ammunition [fifty trainloads from the sacrosanct Führer reserve], above and beyond the current needs of the theater, were promisedby Hitler.

The Luftwaffe, Hitler assured his commanders, would support the attack of the ground forces with 1,500 fighters including 100 jets.

This was Hitler's original concept put into a directive. Except for the number and effective strength of units, it remained virtually unchanged until the offensive began on the morning of 16 December 1944.

On the eve of his offensive Hitler could point with satisfaction to the fulfillment of the basic prerequisites he had specified when he had.

In the book entitled "Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's Ardennes Offensive, 1944-1945" by Danny S. Parker, he states  that the Germans had plenty of fuel, but they did not have the trucks to move it from the supply dumps east of the Rhine to the combat units.  

Quite obviously the German problem was transport rather than an overall shortage of fuel.

The Official History states:

"It was still possible even so to gather a substantial ammunition reserve for the Ardennes offensive, and after the war the supply officers at OKW were able to say that before the US counterattack on 3 January 1945 there was no shortage of artillery ammunition in the field. This statement merely reflects the rarefied and isolated view of the high headquarters, for despite the 100 ammunition trains of the special Führer Reserve the troops in the Ardennes operation did suffer from a shortage of ammunition".

Which is different than Hitler's promise by 50 train ammunition train loads.

Danny Parker writes:

"There had been some hope on the part of the German field commanders that their attack force might advance off fuel supplies captured from the Allies. In actuality, this source failed to materialize".

The German Army's high command did not share this enthusiasm for the offensive in the west. General staff officers feared that Hitler's strategic coup against the Americans in the Ardennes would weaken the Eastern Front at a decisive moment. The plan was in any case vastly over-ambitious. The operation was spearheaded by the Sixth SS Panzer Army of Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich and the Fifth Panzer Army of General Hasso von Manteuffel. Yet the lack of fuel made it extremely unlikely that they would ever reach their objective of Antwerp, the Western Allies' main supply base.

Adolf Hitler was fixated by dreams of dramatically reversing the fortunes of war and forcing Roosevelt and Churchill to come to terms. He, and leading members of the National Socialist political elite believed that the Allied structure of cooperation was about to come apart, and thus staked the future of Germany on such a hope.

Hitler had decisively rejected any suggestion of overtures to the Soviet Union, partly for the sound reason that Stalin was interested only in the destruction of Nazi Germany, but there was also a fundamental impediment. Hitler suffered from strongersonal vanity. He could not be seen to sue for peace when Germany was losing. A victory in the Ardennes was therefore vital for every reason. But American doggedness in defence, especially at Bastogne, and the massive deployment of Allied air power once the weather cleared, broke the momentum of the attack within a week.

On Christmas Eve 1944, General Heinz Guderian, the chief of the army supreme command, OKH, drove to Führerheadquarters in the west. After abandoning the Wolfsschanze, or Wolf's Lair, in East Prussia on 20 November 1944, Hitler had moved to Berlin for a minor operation on his throat. He had then left the capital on the evening of 10 December in his personal armoured train. His destination was another secret and camouflaged complex in woods near Ziegenberg, less than forty kilometres from Frankfurt am Main, designated the Adlerhorst, or Eagle's Eyrie. Guderian, the great theorist of tank warfare, had known the dangers of such an operation from the start, but he had little say in the matter.

Although the OKH was responsible for the Eastern Front, it was never allowed a free hand. The OKW, the high command of the Wehrmacht [all the armed forces], was responsible for operations outside the Eastern Front. Both organizations were based just south of Berlin in neighbouring underground complexes at Zossen.

Despite having as quick a temper as Hitler, Guderian was very different in outlook. He had little time for an entirely speculative international strategy when the country was under attack from both sides. Instead, he relied on a soldier's instinct for the point of maximum danger. There was no doubt where that lay. His briefcase contained the Intelligence analysis of General Reinhard Gehlen, the head of Fremde Heere Ost, the military Intelligence department for the Eastern Front. Gehlen calculated that around 12 January the Red Army would launch a massive attack from the line of the River Vistula. His department estimated that the enemy had a superiority of eleven to one in infantry, seven to one in tanks and twenty to one in artillery and also in aviation.

Guderian entered the conference room at the Adlerhorst to find himself facing Hitler and his military staff, and also Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer SS who, after the July plot, had also been made commander of the Replacement Army. Every member of Hitler's military staff had been selected for his unquestioning loyalty:

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of staff of the OKW, was famous for his pompous servility to Hitler [behind his back he was known as "Lakeitel" - a pun on "lackey"].

Colonel General Alfred Jodl, who had a cold, hard face, was far more competent than Keitel.

General Wilhelm Burgdorf, Hitler's chief military adjutant and chief of the army personnel department controlling all appointments, had replaced General Rudolf Schmundt, who was mortally wounded by Stauffenberg's bomb at the Wolfsschanze.

Using the findings of Gehlen's Intelligence department, Guderian outlined the Red Army's build-up for a huge offensive in the east: It had been reported that 225 Soviet infantry divisions and 22 armoured corps had been identified on the front between the Baltic and the Carpathians assembled to attack which would take place within three weeks and he requested that, since the Ardennes offensive had now ground to a halt, as many divisions as possible should be withdrawn for redeployment on the Vistula front.

Hitler stopped him. He declared that such estimates of enemy strength were preposterous. Soviet rifle divisions never had more than 7,000 men each. Their tank corps had hardly any tanks. "It's the greatest imposture since Genghis Khan," he shouted, working himself up. "Who is responsible for producing all this rubbish?"

Guderian resisted the temptation to reply that it was Hitler himself who talked of German "armies" when they were the size of a single corps, and of "infantry divisions" reduced to battalion strength. Instead, he defended Gehlen's figures. To his horror, General Jodl argued that the offensive in the west should continue with further attacks. Since this was exactly what Hitler wanted, Guderian was thwarted. It was even more provoking for him to have to listen at dinner to the verdict of Himmler, who reveled in his new role of military leader. He had recently been made army group commander on the upper Rhine in addition to his other appointments. "You know, my dear Colonel General," he said to Guderian, "I don't really believe that the Russians will attack at all. It's all an enormous bluff".

Guderian had no alternative but to return to OKH headquarters at Zossen. In the meantime, the losses in the west mounted. The Ardennes Offensive and its ancillary operations cost 80,000 German casualties. In addition, it had used up a large proportion of Germany's rapidly dwindling fuel reserves. Hitler refused to accept that the Ardennes battle was his equivalent of the Kaiserschlacht, the last great German attack of the First World War. He obsessively rejected any parallels with 1918. For him, 1918 symbolized only the revolutionary "stab in the back" which brought down the Kaiser and reduced Germany to a humiliating defeat.

Yet Hitler had moments of clarity even  during those days. "I know the war is lost," he said late one evening to Colonel Nicolaus von Below, his Luftwaffe aide. "The enemy's superiority is too great". But he continued to lay all the blame on others for the sequence of disasters. They were all "traitors", especially army officers. He suspected that many more had sympathized with the failed assassins, yet they had been pleased enough to accept medals and decorations from him. "We will never surrender," he said. "We may go down, but we will take a world with us".

Horrified by the new disaster looming on the Vistula, Guderian returned to the Adlerhorst at Ziegenberg twice more in rapid succession. To make matters worse, he heard that Hitler, without warning him, was transferring SS Panzer troops from the Vistula front to Hungary. Hitler, convinced as usual that only he could see the strategic issues, had suddenly decided to launch a counter-attack there on the grounds that the oilfields must be retaken. In fact he wanted to break through to Budapest, which had been surrounded by the Red Army on Christmas Eve.

The Nazi regime was acutely aware of the political necessity of protecting the Reich capital against devastation from the air. Even before the war, work had begun on an extensive system of public air-raid shelters, but by 1939 only 15% of the planned 2,000 shelters had been built. By 1941, however, the five huge public shelters [Zoo, Anhalt Station, Humboldthain, Friedrichshain and Kleistpark] were complete, offering shelter to 65,000 people. Other shelters were built under government buildings, the best-known being the so-called Führerbunker under the Reich Chancellery building. In addition, many U-Bahn stations were converted into shelters. The rest of the population had to make do with their own cellars.

In 1943, the Germans decided to evacuate non-essential people from Berlin. By 1944 1.2 million people, 790,000 of them women and children, about a quarter of the city's population, had been evacuated to rural areas. An effort was made to evacuate all children from Berlin, but this was resisted by parents, and many evacuees soon made their way back to the city [as was also the case in London in 1940–41]. The increasing shortage of manpower as the war dragged on meant that female labour was essential to keep Berlin's war industries going, so the evacuation of all women with children was not possible. At the end of 1944 the city's population began to grow again as refugees fleeing the Red Army's advance in the east.

Berliners, gaunt from short rations and stress, had little to celebrate at Christmas in 1944. Much of the capital of the Reich had been reduced to rubble by bombing raids. The Berlin talent for black jokes had turned to gallows humour. The quip of that unfestive season was, "'Be practical: give a coffin".

The mood in Germany had changed exactly two years before, when rumours had begun to circulate just before Christmas 1942 that General Friedrich Paulus's Sixth Army had been encircled on the Volga by the Red Army. The Nazi regime found it hard to admit that the largest formation in the whole of the Wehrmacht was doomed to annihilation in the ruins of Stalingrad and in the frozen Steppe outside. To prepare the country for more bad news,

Josef Göbbels, the Reichsminister for Propaganda and Enlightenment, had announced a "German Christmas", which in National Socialist terms meant austerity and ideological determination, not candles and pine wreathes and singing "Heilige Nacht". By 1944, the traditional roast goose had become a distant memory.

In streets where the facade of a house had collapsed, pictures could still be seen hanging on the walls of what had been a sitting room or bedroom. Messages from families were scrawled on gutted buildings to tell a son returning from the front that they were all right and staying elsewhere. Nazi Party notices warned, "Looters will be punished with death!"

Air raids were so frequent, with the British by night and the Americans by day, that Berliners felt that they spent more time in cellars and air-raid shelters than in their own beds.

The lack of sleep contributed to the strange mixture of suppressed hysteria and fatalism. Far fewer people seemed to worry about being denounced to the Gestapo for defeatism, as the rash of jokes indicated. The ubiquitous initials LSR for Luftschutzraum, or air-raid shelter, were said to stand for "Lernt schnell Russisch": Learn Russian quickly. Most Berliners had entirely dropped the "Heil Hitler!" greeting.  The most common greeting had become "Bleib übrig!" — Survive!

The Zoo Flak tower [German: Flakturm Tiergarten, Tiergarten Flak Tower or commonly shortened to Zoo Tower], was a fortified Flak tower in Berlin, one of several that protected the city from Allied bomber raids. Its primary role was as a gun platform to protect the government building district of Berlin, in addition the Hochbunker [blockhouse] was designed to be used as a civilian air-raid shelter. It also contained a hospital and a radio transmitter for use by the German leadership, and provided secure storage facilities for art treasures.

During the Battle of Berlin, it acted as a citadel and by depressing its large anti-aircraft artillery, its garrison was able to provide support for ground operations against the encroaching Soviet Red Army.

The Berlin Flak towers were originally built as a response to an attack on Berlin by a relatively small force of British bombers. Hitler ordered the construction of these towers after the first bomber attack on Berlin by the RAF on 25 August 1940.

Although only 95 RAF bombers constituted the attack force, this was a grave domestic political embarrassment to Adolf Hitler, and in particular Hermann Göring, who had said that Berlin would never be bombed.

Die englische Presse wirft ihm nun vor, daß er einmal erklärt habe, er wolle Meier heißen, wenn je ein englisches Flugzeug über Berlin erscheine [The English press now reproaches him that he once said he would be called Meier, if ever an English plane appeared over Berlin].

-- Josef Göbbels, Diary entry of 1 February 1943

The Zoo tower,  the first one built, was close to the Berlin Zoo, hence the name, and is the most famous of the Flak towers.

The Zoo tower, as did all Flak towers, consisted of two towers, the Main G tower, which held the anti-aircraft armaments, and the L tower which held radar and detection equipment. The G Tower could accommodate 15,000 people The two were connected by a landline that was buried in the ground and protected.

There was one cellar floor and six upper floors above that, though the tower rose to roughly the height of a 13-story building. The second floor was used to house the most priceless and irreplaceable holdings of 14 museums from Berlin, storing the Kaiser Wilhelm coin collection, the Nefertiti bust, the disassembled Altar of Zeus from Pergamon, and other major treasures. The rooms were climate controlled. On the third floor was an 85-bed hospital, used to treat wounded soldiers, shipped back from the front line. Famed Luftwaffe ace Hans-Ulrich Rudel had his leg amputated there in February 1945..

The Main G tower was crewed by 350 Anti-ircraft personnel, and assisted by Hitler Youth. It measured roughly 70 meters by 70 meters. The walls were 2.4 meters thick, and the roof was 1.5 meters thick. The two towers resisted all attempts to destroy them by air attack and ground forces.

The Soviets used their largest artillery pieces, their 203 mm Howitzer, which they withstood

 "The complex was so well stocked with supplies and ammunition that the military garrison believed that, no matter what happened to the rest of Berlin, the zoo tower could hold out for a year if need be".

-- Ryan, Cornelius [1995]. "The Last Battle"

From 1943, there were four twin mounts of 12.8 cm Flak 40 on the roof of the facility,

As bombers took to higher altitudes, these were the only guns that could hit them. Each barrel could fire 10 to 12 rounds a minute, thus each twin mounted battery was rated to fire a maximum of 24 rounds a minute, and four twin mounts could fire as many as 96 rounds a minute. The guns were loaded electrically, with the ammunition fed into hoppers. Younger Nazi Youth, while officially not supposed to be combatants, assisted the military during the loading process. Before the 12.8 cm Flak became available in sufficient numbers, the tower was armed with 10.5 cm Flak 38.There was also a range of smaller [20mm and 37mm] anti aircraft guns on the lower platforms

The primary purpose of the Flak Towers was to protect Berlin. Together with the Luftwaffe and a well organised fire brigade, the Berlin Flak towers prevented the levels of  aerial attack damage that the RAF and the USAAF expected to occur, and had occurred in other German cities. The RAF Bomber Command had been endeavouring to ignite firestorms in Berlin, but had been unable to do so.

There had been the option to use the Tower as a command facility for the defence of Berlin by General Hellmuth Reymann, the Reich Commissioner in charge of the cities defence effort, but he refused to move his headquarters there.

With Soviet and Polish troops entering Berlin in 1945, civilians moved into the Zoo tower to escape harm.

Soviet troops [150th and 171st Rifle Divisions] attacked across the Moltke Bridge covering the River Spree. This was defended by German infantry and rockets, who were under pressure from Soviet tanks crossing the bridge, until the heavier anti-aircraft guns from the Zoo tower could gain line of sight through the smoke.

They destroyed the tanks and left the bridge covered in destroyed vehicles, which blocked further vehicles from crossing the bridge. The heavier 12.8 cm Flak 40 anti-aircraft guns obliterated Soviet armour, particularly when hitting it from the side.

As the Soviet armies advanced inexorably towards the centre of Berlin, around 10,000 German troops retreated to the Government district. 

During daylight hours on 30 April, the Soviets were unable to advance across the open areas in front of the Reichstag to attack the building because of heavy anti-tank fire from the 12.8 cm guns two kilometres away on the Zoo tower.

Katukov's 1st Guards Tank Army and Chuikov's 8th Guards Army had attacked into the Tiergarten from the south across the Landwehr Canal. But the task of tackling the Zoo flak tower was left to two regiments from the 79th Guards Rifle Division. Storming it was out of the question, so on 30 April they sent German prisoners as envoys bearing an ultimatum written in pencil to the commander:

"We propose that you surrender the fortress without further fighting. We guarantee that no troops, including SS and SA men, will be executed".

On 1 May one of the prisoners eventually returned with a reply:

"Your note was received at 11 p.m. We will capitulate [tonight] at midnight. Haller, garrison commander".

According to Antony Beevor, Haller was not in fact the garrison commander and the reason for the long delay was to allow the forces in the Tiergarten area prepare a breakout that evening through the Soviet lines and away from Berlin. This they did, shortly before midnight. The civilians then left the facility.

Commander of 1.Flak-division and Commandant of the Flak-tower, Generalmajor Otto Sydow organized a breakout from the Zoo [Tiergarten] position.

In "Berlin: Dance of Death" by Helmut Altner, Tony Le Tissier says that Helmut Altner saw Gen. Sydow in a tank in the break through at the Havel river on 1 May.

The humour also reflected the grotesque, sometimes surreal images of the time. The largest air-raid construction in Berlin was the Zoo Bunker, a vast ferro-concrete fortress of the totalitarian age, with Flak batteries on the roof and huge shelters below, into which crowds of Berliners packed when the sirens sounded.

There was a pervasive atmosphere of impending downfall in personal lives as much as in the nation's existence. The air-raid shelters, lit with blue lights, provided a foretaste of claustrophobic hell, as people pushed in bundled in their warmest clothes and carrying small cardboard suitcases containing sandwiches and thermos.

In theory, all basic needs were catered for in the shelters. There was a Sanitätsraum, with a nurse, where women could go into labour. The ceilings were painted with luminous paint for the frequent occasions during the air raids when the lights failed, first dimming then flickering off. Water supplies ceased when mains were hit, and the Aborte, or lavatories, soon became disgusting, a real distress for a nation preoccupied with hygiene. 

For a population of around 3 million, Berlin did not have enough shelters, so they were usually overcrowded. In the main corridors, seating halls and Bunk rooms, the air was foul from over-use and condensation dripped from the ceilings. The complex of shelters under the Gesundbrunnen U-Bahn station had been designed to take 1,500 people, yet often more than three times that number packed in. Candles were used to measure the diminishing levels of oxygen. When a candle placed on the floor went out, children were picked up and held at shoulder height. When a candle on a chair went out, then the evacuation of the level began. And if a third candle, positioned at about chin level, began to sputter, then the whole Bunker was evacuated, however heavy the attack above.

Berliners suffered from an atavistic and visceral fear of the Slav invader from the east. Fear was easily turned to hate. As the Red Army approached, Göbbels' propaganda harked on again and again about the atrocities at Nemmersdorf, when Red Army troops had invaded the south-eastern corner of East Prussia the previous autumn and raped and murdered inhabitants of this village.

The Nemmersdorf massacre was a civilian massacre allegedly perpetrated by Red Army soldiers in the late stages of World War II. Nemmersdorf was one of the first pre-war ethnic German villages to fall to the advancing Red Army in World War II. On 21 October 1944, Soviet soldiers reportedly killed many German civilians as well as French and Belgian noncombatants.

The 2nd Battalion, 25th Guards Tank Brigade, belonging to the 2nd Guards Tank Corps of the 11th Guards Army, crossed the Angerapp bridge and established a bridgehead on the western bank of the river on 21 October 1944. German forces tried to retake the bridge, but several attacks were repelled by the Soviet tanks and the supporting infantry. During an air attack, a number of Soviet soldiers took shelter in an improvised Bunker already occupied by 14 local men and women. According to the testimony of a seriously injured woman, Gerda Meczulat, when a Soviet officer arrived and ordered everybody out, the Russians shot and killed the German civilians at close range. During the night, the Soviet 25th Tank Brigade was ordered to retreat back across the river and take defensive positions along the Rominte. The Wehrmacht regained control of Nemmersdorf and discovered the massacre.

Nazi German authorities organized an international commission to investigate, headed by Estonian Hjalmar Mäe and other representatives of neutral countries, such as Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. The commission heard the report from a medical commission. It reported that all the dead females had been raped [they ranged in age from 8 to 84]. The Nazi Propaganda Ministry used the "Völkischer Beobachter" and the cinema news series "Wochenschau" to accuse the Soviet Army of having killed dozens of civilians at Nemmersdorf and having summarily executed about 50 French and Belgian noncombatant POWs, who had been ordered to take care of thoroughbred horses but had been blocked by the bridge. The civilians were allegedly killed by blows with shovels or gun butts.

The former chief of staff of the German Fourth Army, Major General Erich Dethleffsen, testified on 5 July 1946 before an American tribunal in Neu-Ulm. He said:

"When in October, 1944, Russian units temporarily entered Nemmersdorf, they tortured the civilians, specifically they nailed them to barn doors, and then shot them. A large number of women were raped and then shot. During this massacre, the Russian soldiers also shot some fifty French prisoners of war. Within forty-eight hours the Germans re-occupied the area".

Karl Potrek of Königsberg, leader of a Volkssturm company present when the German Army took back the village, testified in a 1953 report:

"In the farmyard stood a cart, to which more naked women were nailed through their hands in a cruciform position ... Near a large inn, the 'Roter Krug', stood a barn and to each of its two doors a naked woman was nailed through the hands, in a crucified posture....In the dwellings we found a total of 72 women, including children, and one old man, 74, all dead. ... Some babies had their heads bashed in".

At the time, the Nazi Propaganda Ministry disseminated a graphic description of the events in order to inspire the German soldiers. On the home front, civilians reacted immediately, with an increase in the number of volunteers joining the Volkssturm. A larger number of civilians responded with panic, and started to leave the area en masse.

To many Germans, Nemmersdorf became a symbol of war crimes committed by the Red Army, and an example of the worst behavior in Eastern Germany. Marion Gräfin Dönhoff, the post-war co-publisher of the weekly "Die Zeit", at the time of the reports lived in the village of Quittainen in western East Prussia, near Preussisch Holland.

She wrote in 1962 that:

"In those years one was so accustomed to everything that was officially published or reported being lies that at first I took the pictures from Nemmersdorf to be falsified. Later, however, it turned out that that was not the case".

After 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union, new sources became available and the dominant view among scholars became that the massacre was embellished, and actually exploited, by Göbbels in an attempt to stir up civilian resistance to the advancing Soviet Army. Bernhard Fisch, in his book, "Nemmersdorf, October 1944. What actually happened in East Prussia" [the first book to also include the Russian view of the event] was the first to present this picture of the events.

Fisch, a native of East Prussia who had served as a Wehrmacht soldier during the war, had been in Nemmersdorf a few days after it was re-taken and remembered a totally different scene from the one depicted by the "Wochenschau" series shown in cinemas. He resolved to research the matter and separate fact from fiction. He interviewed many witnesses still alive on both sides [e.g., Soviet General Kuzma Galitsky, former commander of 11th Guards Army] and crossing out faulty memories against each other, he found out some disturbing details: the German army itself was responsible for destroying the strong German defensive position in front of Nemmersdorf, and after the event no attempt had been made to identify the photographed victims by name.

He was able to conclude that liberties were taken with at least some of the photographs, that some victims on the photographs were from other East Prussian villages, and that the notorious crucifixion barn doors were not even in Nemmersdorf. There also was the tight time schedule of witness Joachim Reisch, who claimed to have personally been at the scene of the bridge when the event was supposed to have occurred, reducing the Soviet presence at Nemmersdorf to less than four hours of heavy fighting in front of the bridge.

Sir Ian Kershaw is among those historians who believe that the Soviet forces committed a massacre at Nemmersdorf, although details and numbers are disputed. The German Federal Archives [Bundesarchiv] contain many contemporary reports and photographs by officials of Nazi Germany of the victims of the Nemmersdorf massacre. It holds evidence of other Soviet massacres in East Prussia, notably Metgethen. In the late 20th century, Alfred de Zayas interviewed numerous German soldiers and officers who had been in the Nemmersdorf area in October 1944, to learn what they saw. He also interviewed Belgian and French POWs who had been in the area and fled with German civilians before the Russian advance. De Zayas incorporated these sources into two of his own books, "Nemesis at Potsdam" and "A Terrible Revenge".

General Günther Blumentritt, like most of those in authority, was convinced that the bombing raids on Germany produced a real "Volksgenossenschaft" or patriotic comradeship. This may well have been true in 1942 and 1943, but by late 1944 the effect tended to polarize opinion between the hardliners and the war-weary. Berlin had been the city with the highest proportion of opponents to the Nazi regime, as its voting records before 1933 indicate. But with the exception of a very small and courageous minority, opposition to the Nazis had generally been limited to gibes and grumbles. The majority had been genuinely horrified by the assassination attempt against Hitler on 20 July 1944. And as the Reich's frontiers became threatened both in the east and in the west, they drank in Göbbels' stream of lies that the Führer would unleash new "wonder weapons" against their enemies, as if he were about to assume the role of a wrathful Jupiter flinging thunderbolts as a symbol of his power.

Guderian's visit on New Year's Day coincided with the annual procession of the regime's grandees and the chiefs of staff, to transmit in person to the Führer their "wishes for a successful New Year". That same morning Operation North Wind, the main subsidiary action to prolong the Ardennes Offensive, was launched in Alsace.

The day turned out to be a catastrophe for the Luftwaffe. Göring, in a grand gesture of characteristic irresponsibility, committed almost 1,000 planes to attack ground targets on the Western Front. This attempt to impress Hitler led to the final destruction of the Luftwaffe as an effective force. It gave the Allies total air supremacy.

The Großdeutscher Rundfunk broadcast Hitler's New Year speech that day. No mention was made of the fighting in the west, which suggested failure there, and surprisingly little was said of the Wunderwaffen.

A number of people believed that the speech had been pre-recorded or even faked. Hitler had not been seen in public for so long that wild rumours were circulating. Some asserted that he had gone completely mad and that Göring was in a secret prison because he had tried to escape to Sweden.

Albert Speer, Reichminister for Armaments and War Production, wrote, “The failure of the Ardennes Offensive meant that the war was over".

General Gehlen's estimates of Soviet strength were certainly not exaggerated. If anything, they were well short of the mark on the threatened sectors. The Red Army had 6.7 million men along a front which stretched from the Baltic to the Adriatic. This was over twice the strength of the Wehrmacht and its Allies when they invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941.

Hitler's conviction last summer that the Red Army was about to collapse had proved to be one of the most catastrophic miscalculations in history. The disasters of the previous year, above all the encirclement and destruction of Army Group Centre during Operation Bagration, were hard to forget.

On 9 January, after an urgent tour of the three main eastern fronts — Hungary, the Vistula and East Prussia — General Guderian, accompanied by his aide, Major Baron Freytag von Löringhoven, had again gone to see Hitler at Ziegenberg. He presented the latest estimates of enemy strengths, both Gehlen's compilation and also those of the Luftwaffe commander, General Seidemann. Air reconnaissance indicated that there were 8,000 Soviet planes concentrated on the Vistula and East Prussian fronts.

Göring interrupted the army chief of staff."'Mein Führer, don't believe that," he said to Hitler. 'Those are not real planes. Those are just decoys.' Keitel, in a sycophantic show of resolution, smashed his fist down on the table. 'The Reichsmarschall is right,' he declared.

The meeting continued as a black farce. Hitler repeated his view that the Intelligence figures were "completely idiotic" and added that the man who compiled them should be locked in a lunatic asylum. Guderian retorted angrily that since he supported them completely, he had better be certified as well.

Hitler refused out of hand the requests of General Josef Harpe on the Vistula front and General Georg-Hans Reinhardt in East Prussia to withdraw their most exposed troops to more defensible positions.

He also insisted that the 200,000 German troops trapped on the Courland peninsula in Latvia should remain there and not be evacuated by sea to defend the Reich's borders.

The Courland Pocket [Kurland-Kessel] refers to the Red Army's isolation of Axis forces on the Courland Peninsula from July 1944 through May 1945. It  was created during the Red Army's Baltic Strategic Offensive Operation, when forces of the 1st Baltic Front reached the Baltic Sea near Memel during its lesser Memel Offensive Operation phases. This action isolated the German Army Group North [Heeresgruppe Nord] from the rest of the German forces between Tukums and Liepāja in Latvia. The Army Group remained isolated until the end of the war.

Hitler's military advisors—notably Heinz Guderian, the Chief of the German General Staff, urged evacuation and utilisation of the troops to stabilise the front in central Europe. However, Hitler refused, and ordered the German forces in Courland and the Estonian islands Hiiumaa and Saaremaa to hold out, believing them necessary to protect German submarine bases along the Baltic coast. Hitler still believed the war could be won, and hoped that Dönitz's new Type XXI U-Boat technology could bring victory to Germany in the Battle of the Atlantic, forcing the Allies out of Western Europe. This would allow German forces to focus on the Eastern Front, using the Courland Pocket as a springboard for a new offensive.

Hitler's refusal to evacuate the Army Group resulted in the entrenchment of more than 200,000 German troops largely of the 16th Army and 18th Army, in what was to become known to the Germans as the "Courland Bridgehead". Thirty-three divisions of the Army Group North—commanded by Ferdinand Schörner—were cut off from Prussia and spread out along a front reaching from Riga to Liepāja.

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.

Awards: Knight's Cross on 17 January 1945, and Oak Leaves on 30 April 1945.

  

Hitler permitted Schörner, to commence withdrawal from Riga on 11 October 19444, and the city was taken by the 3rd Baltic Front on 13 October The front stabilised with the main remnant of Army Group North isolated in the peninsula.
 
On 15 January 1945, Army Group North was renamed Army Group Courland [Heeresgruppe Kurland] under Colonel-General Dr Lothar Rendulic. Heinz Guderian got Hitler’s permission to withdraw 7 divisions from Courland, however, Hitler refused to consider a total withdrawal.

On 8 May, Germany's Head of State and President Karl Dönitz ordered Colonel-General Carl Hilpert—the Army Group's last commander—to surrender, however, they were in "blackout" and did not get the official order before 10 May, two days after the capitulation of Germany, beings one of the last German groups to surrender in Europe.
 
Hilpert, his personal staff, and staffs of three Armies surrendered to Marshal Leonid Govorov, the commander of the Leningrad Front. At this time, the group still consisted of the remnants of 27 divisions and one brigade.

By 12 May, approximately 135,000 German troops surrendered in the Courland Pocket. On 23 May, the Soviet collection of the German troops in the Courland Pocket was completed.

Guderian, disgusted with this "ostrich strategy", prepared to take his leave.

Hitler, suddenly trying to charm him, said:

"The Eastern Front has never before possessed such a strong reserve as now. That is your doing. I thank you for it".

"The Eastern Front," Guderian retorted, "is like a house of cards. If the front is broken through at one point all the rest will collapse".

Ironically, Göbbels had used exactly the same simile in 1941 about the Red Army.Just over twenty-four hours later, Guderian's staff at Zossen received confirmation that the attack was now hours rather than days away.

Red Army sappers were clearing minefields at night and tank corps were being brought forward into the bridgeheads. Hitler ordered that the Panzer reserves on the Vistula front should be moved forward, despite warnings that this would bring them within range of Soviet artillery. Some senior officers began to wonder whether Hitler subconsciously wanted to lose the war.

By the beginning of 1945 the personnel, technical equipmentand 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, which Hitler had dismissed as an imposture, 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 historians always tried to maintain that Stalin was planning to launch the attack on 20 January, but then, when he received a letter from Churchill on 6 January begging for help, he gave the order the next day to advance the attack to 12 January, even though the weather conditions were unfavorable. This was a gross misrepresentation of Churchill's letter. It was not a begging letter to save the Allies in the Ardennes. He had already written to say that the Allies were now "masters of the situation" and Stalin knew perfectly well from his liaison officers in the west that the German threat there had collapsed by Christmas. Churchill was simply asking for information on when the Red Army was going to launch its great winter offensive, because the Kremlin had resolutely refused to reply to such requests, even when Soviet liaison officers were kept abreast of Eisenhower's plans.

The Vistula offensive, planned since October, had been prepared well ahead: One Soviet source even says that it had been possible "to start the advance on 8-10 January". Stalin was therefore more than happy to give the impression that he was saving his Allies from a difficult situation, especially when he had reasons of his own for pushing forward the date. 

The Crimean conference at Yalta was imminent and Stalin wanted to make sure that his armies controlled the whole of Poland by the time he sat down with the American and British leaders. His law could be imposed ruthlessly on Polish territory purely because it constituted the immediate rear area to his operational troops. Anyone who objected could be classified as a saboteur or fascist agent. Finally, there was a much more down-to-earth reason for bringing the great offensive forward. Stalin was worried that the predicted change in the weather for the beginning of February would turn hard ground to mud and therefore slow up his tanks.

In the late afternoon of Monday 15 January, "because of the big advance in the east", Hitler left the Adlerhorst at Ziegenberg to return to Berlin on his special train.

Guderian had been forcefully requesting his return for the last three days. At first, Hitler had said that the Eastern Front must sort itself out, but finally he agreed to halt all activity in the west and return.

Without consulting Guderian or the two army groups involved, he had just issued orders for the Großdeutschland Corps to be moved from East Prussia to Kielce to shore up the Vistula front, even though this meant taking it out of the battle for at least a week.

Hitler's journey by rail to Berlin took nineteen hours. He did not entirely neglect domestic matters. He told Martin Bormann to stay at the Obersalzburg for the time being, where he and his wife kept Eva Braun and her sister Gretl Fegelein company.

The next twenty-four hours proved that the Soviet armies which had broken through the Vistula front were indeed advancing at full speed. Each seemed to outbid the other.

The rapid advances of Zhukov's tank armies were partly due to the simplicity and robust construction of the T-34 tank and its broad tracks, which could cope with snow, ice and mud. Even so, the mechanic's skills proved at least as important as cavalry dash, because field workshops could not keep up.

Once the weather cleared, Shturmovik fighter bombers, known to the Germans as "Jabos" for Jagdbomber, were able to support the headlong advance.

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
.

The small German garrison in Warsaw did not stand a chance. It consisted of engineer detachments and four fortress battalions - one of them was an "ear battalion" made up of hearing casualties recycled back into service. The thrust of the 47th Guards Tank Brigade up to Sochaczew from the south and the encirclement of Warsaw from the north by the 47th Army meant that the garrison lost contact with its parent formation, the Ninth Army.

General Harpe's staff at Army Group A warned OKH in Zossen on the evening of 16 January that they would not be able to hold the city. Colonel Bogislaw von Bonin, the head of the operations department, discussed the situation with Guderian. They decided to give army group headquarters a free hand in the decision, and Guderian signed the signals log with his usual "G" in green ink. But in the Nachtlage, Hitler's midnight situation conference, the proposal to abandon Warsaw was reported to Hitler by one of his own staff before Guderian's deputy, General Walther Wenck, brought the subject up. Hitler exploded. "You must stop everything!" he shouted. "Fortress Warsaw must be held!" But it was already too late and radio communications had broken down. A few days later Hitler issued an order that every instruction sent to an army group had to be submitted to him first.

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 fall of Warsaw led to another bitter row between Hitler and Guderian, who were still arguing over Hitler's decision to move the Großdeutschland Corps. Guderian was even more furious to hear that Hitler was transferring the Sixth SS Panzer Army not to the Vistula front, but to Hungary. Hitler, however, refused to discuss it. The withdrawal from Warsaw was, in his eyes, a far more burning issue.

The Soviet Army was moving rapidly toward German borders.

On 19 January Martin Bormann returned to Berlin. The next day, he recorded in his diary:

"The situation in the east is becoming more and more threatening. We are abandoning the region of Warthegau. The leading tank units of the enemy are approaching Katowice". It was the day that Soviet forces crossed the Reich border east of Hohensalza.

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. 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.

During WWII, the Western Allies were often very worried about the possibility of Nazi Germany and the USSR signing a separate peace treaty, thereby allowing Germany to throw the bulk of its resources against Britain and America. Was this ever a realistic possibility?

On 6 November 1942, shortly before the Red Army encircled the Germans at Stalingrad, Stalin declared in a public speech that "it is not our aim to destroy all organized military force in Germany, for every literate person will understand that this is not only impossible . . . but . . . also inexpedient from the point of view of the victor".

Stalin had already, on 23 February 1942, publicly refused "to identify Hitler's clique with the German people, suggesting "that Hitlers come and go, but the German people and the German state remain". But now he was more specific than ever before in offering friendship to the German military, the caste from which had been recruited so many prominent Russophiles in the past. Following the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922, the German military had been the chief instigators of the deals behind the scenes that enabled them to bypass the restrictions of Versailles by secretly rearming in Russian territory and enabled the Soviet Union in return to obtain German technical assistance. In 1943 the German military were more likely than other Germans to perceive that Hitler's war was lost and to seek salvation in an understanding with Moscow in the spirit of Rapallo.

His speech did not even mention the Allies. It presented the war as an exclusively Soviet-German affair. Stalin's words were not calculated to reassure Western military planners, many of whom feared that the Russians would stop fighting once they reached their prewar frontiers.

B.H. Liddell Hart in "History of the Second World War" states there seem to have been three peace offers from the Soviets; December 1942, June 1943 and finally September 1943. The June 1943 offer involved a face to face meeting between German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov at Kirovograd. Ribbentrop offered that the future frontier between the two empires "should run along the Dnieper [sic]", while Molotov wouldn’t accept anything less than the restoration of their original frontier; that is, the Curzon Line bisecting Poland.

Henry Picker wrote:

"When Bormann ordered me for a final discussion of my proposed later publication of "Hitler's Table Talk" into his house at Obersalzberg, I collected all my courage and informed him about Stalin's offer for separate peace talks which had been received in Stockholm. My friend Dr. Helmut Pfeiffer, Generalsecretary of the International Chamber of Law had asked me to do so.

Bormann was more than surprised, since Joachim von Ribbentrop, whose demission Stalin wanted, had trivialized this proposal. The German foreign minister took pride in having achieved the understanding with the Russians in 1939, and, if his postwar statements are to be trusted, he would have liked to see its renewal in 1943.

Bormann, who was becoming increasingly concerned about developments on the Eastern Front was not successful in convincing Hitler to accept this unique proposal for separate peace talks with Russia in March 1943.

The first German-Soviet negotiations that took place in 1943, were initiated by the Soviets, conducted for the Germans in Sweden by Dr. Peter Kleist of the Ostministerium and Abwehr agent Edgar Klauss, who was in contact with Andrej M. Alexandrow, the Soviet attaché in Stockholm, Vladimir S. Semyonov, the Legation Counsellor, and maybe even Alexandra Kollontay, the Soviet ambassador. The Russian peace plan called for a return to the 1939 boundaries in the East.

At the time of Stalingrad, Klauss allegedly said:

"I guarantee you that if Germany agrees to the 1939 frontiers you can have peace in a week". 

Kleist was scheduled to meet Alexandrow again on 7 July, but Hitler's objections temporarily ended the negotiations. Kleist reported to Hitler again on 10 September, but Hitler's opposition continued.

There are all sorts of claims about the issue. Much of the Stockholm claim is based on the memoirs of Peter Kleist, the less than reputable former aide of the Nazi foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop. In his postwar memoirs Kleist maintained that during the war he had received several Soviet peace feelers in Stockholm. They are analysed by Vojtech Mastny ['Stalin and the Prospects of a Separate Peace in World War II'. "American Historical Review" 77(5} 1972], in conjunction with analysis of Soviet moves and some US archive documents. In short, Mastny argues that Kleist' claims have some credibility; that low-level talks were initiated in Stockholm in March 1943 by the Soviets, leading to a late April meeting at a location outside Stockholm, in which Alexandra M. Kollontay and the German envoy Hans Thomsen, may have had some participation. However, no agreement was reached and the talks were broken by the Soviets in early May.

In addition to Thomsen, in early 1943 Ribbentrop dispatched several respectable diplomats of conservative leanings to other important neutral capitals such as Madrid and Tokyo.  The propaganda minister, Josef Göbbels, was another prominent Nazi favorably disposed to a settlement with Moscow.

Another set of low-level meetings may have occurred in mid-June 1943, again initiated by the Soviets. They were reported by the Swedish press on 16 June, and vehemently denied by both Soviets and Germans, but they were confirmed by US and British Intelligence reports. The details and persons involved differ from account to account.

Finally, a half-hearted attempt at negotiations may have been initiated by the Germans in early September 1943. The Soviets still seemed responsive, but no actual meeting took place.

Kleist claims that on 8 September the Russians again attempted to establish contacts in Sweden through Klauss. The intermediary alerted Kleist that Vladimir Dekanozov, the former Soviet ambassador to Berlin and another of Beria's proteges, was going to visit Stockholm and was eager to meet a German negotiator. According to Klauss, Moscow merely awaited a signal from Berlin and was deeply disappointed when none came.

On 13 September Molotov rejected a mediation offer by the Japanese ambassador, Naotake Sato, intimating to him that whatever chances there had been of an understanding between Germany and Russia no longer existed. Molotov is quoted as having said: "Under different circumstances, the Soviet government would have considered it its duty to accept the Japanese offer of mediation". 

A week later Stalin proved that he cared more about winning the Allies confidence than about keeping open any secret channels to the enemy: Andrei Gromyko, charge d'affaires in Washington, duly reported the Japanese mediation offer to the secretary of state, Cordell Hull. Equally significant, Konstantin Vinogradov of the Soviet legation in Stockholm revealed to an American colleague that "German agents and intermediaries" had recently approached Russian diplomats there — a disclosure in striking contrast to his consistent denials of such approaches in the past.

Rumors of peace feelers proliferated throughout the summer and fall of 1943 despite Russian and German efforts to suppress them. They were especially rife in Latin America, where amateurs and imposters, within and without the diplomatic corps, disseminated the most sensational stories. On 28 September 1943, for example, the newspapers in Arequipa, Peru's second largest city, announced that an armistice between Germany and Russia had just been signed. In Switzerland there was much talk about mediation by the Vatican. And various Eastern European sources reported alleged discussions between German and Russian agents in Sofia.

No evidence has been found to substantiate any of these reports.

This is, however, a little-known episode from the war. The only place it is entioned is in Earl F. Ziemke's "Stalingrad to Berlin: The German Defeat in the East" [Barnes & Noble 1996].

Ziemke gives as his source Alfred Jodl's War Diary [Tagebuch] from 16 Sepember 1944.

This was the same time that Finland was pulling out of the war. Hitler thought very highly of the Finns, and their departure after over a year of mulling it over must have had an effect on him. The Finns were negotiating through the Soviet Ambassador to Sweden, Madame Alexandra Kollontay.

This sheer speculation: During those talks between Finland and the Soviets, which were prolonged over several years and which everyone realized were increasingly real as the war got further along, the Soviets  may have dropped some hints that they would be willing to at least discuss a separate peace with Hitler. Kollontay, for instance, could have seen her growing progress with the Finns and said something along the lines of, "You are being quite reasonable, why don't you talk to Adolf and have him send somebody along that I can work with next time we meet, too?" However, nothing is known about those talks or any mention during them of Germany, and it is sheer speculation. However, it is difficult to see where else any serious thought of peace talks with Stalin could have arisen at that point.

By that point, the vulnerability of Army Group North had become critical, and General Ferdinand Schörner requested permission to withdraw. It was the prudent military course, and Schörner was one of the Generals that Hitler knew was a fanatic and would not request a withdrawal unless it were absolutely critical. When faced with such a reasonable request, Hitler approved more often than is commonly realized [and also often made completely insane decisions to hold hopeless positions against all  military logic].

Schörner showed up at Hitler's East Prussian headquarters to get approval.

Ziemke writes:

"As always, Hitler was reluctant to approve a retreat. With inverse logic, he argued that III SS Panzer Corps on the outer flank between Lake Peipus and the Gulf of Finland would not be able to get away in any event. He also claimed that the Soviet Union had peace feelers out, and he needed the Baltic territory to bargain with".

Ultimately, Hitler did approve the withdrawal, probably only because it was Schörner requesting it.

There is one more curious entry that is the only other reference to this incident:

"That night [16 September] General Heinz Guderian told General Georg-Hans Reinhardt that because 'great things' were in progress in foreign policy' [the alleged Soviet peace feelers?], Hitler 'absolutely had to have a success either at Third Panzer Army or at Army Group North'. The 'instant' that he could see that the attack was not going to succeed, Reinhardt was to report it to Hitler and  get ready to transfer the divisions to Army Group North".

The parenthetical question is Ziemke's, who apparently found this to be curious, too.

These passages raise all sorts of questions that have no answer. The possibility that Hitler may have been fabricating the occasion of peace talks is always possible. However, this is a very rare incidence where Hitler mentioned anything like this.

More likely, Madame Kollontay said something off-hand to the Finns, who, knowing that they would face casualties from kicking the Germans off their territory as part of any peace deal of their own, gave Hitler some kind of indication that a peace deal was also possible to include Germany. Since there is no other reference to this particular talk of peace, it obviously went nowhere even though Hitler's troops did solve their short-term problems in the north.

This incident may help explain why Hitler was so adamant about keeping troops in the Courland pocket long after they ceased to have any use there. It cost many German troops their lives, since they ultimately wound up in Soviet captivity, where the vast majority perished

Paradoxically the peace scare reached its climax when the time for a Stalin-Hitler rapprochement had already passed.

On 12 November Molotov handed to the United States ambassador, W. Averell Harriman, a memorandum that, is the only available document of Soviet origin that directly concerns the happenings in Stockholm.The foreign commissar stated that German agents had recently attempted to establish contact but had been immediately turned away. He mentioned Klausss and Kleist by name — an authoritative confirmation of their roles as intermediaries that bestows a measure of authenticity on Kleist's memoirs. The only discrepancy is in dates: Kleist referred to early September, Molotov to mid-October. The different dating may have been necessitated by Kollontay's statement for "Daily Express" on 3 October, in which she said, "There have never been any such feelers put by the Germans to my Legation".

Historians debate as to how serious peace feelers between the Soviets and Germany were, in part because Stalin attempted to suppress all evidence of the contacts after the War. The problem for Stalin was not all the evidence was located in the Soviet Union or involved Soviet officials. There is evidence that the Soviets initiates quite a number of contacts to negotiate ae sparate peace. Evidence has come from American, British Bulgarian, Japanese, German, and Swedish sources. The Americans and British were of course not directly involved, but learned of the contacts through Magic and Ultra. Some historians make the plausible argument that Stalin ordered reports of the contacts leaked to the Western Allies to improve his bargaining power with them. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union more details have become available from Russian sources, although there is considerable debate among historians about the circumstances.

The contacts between the Sovies and Nazis resulted in a range of high level calculations and not just in Berlin and Moscow. Churchill's and Roosevelt's war policy have to be seen with this threat in mind. It appears to have been a major motive for Roosevellt's Unconditional Surrender dictum issued at Casablanca [January 1943]. The peace proposals on both sides were generated at subordinate [and deniable] levels. Stalin has left no record of his involvement.

It is notable that the peace feelers were between the Nazis and Soviets who had been actual allies. Once the British declared war there was no negotiating with the Germans. The Germans invased Poland as a Soviet ally. There were several meetungs as allies. And then after Barbarossa there were several peace feelers. The British on the other hand rejected Nazi peace feelers even when it looked like they had lost the War. America rather than countenancing negotiations, demanded unconditional srrender.

Göbbels who thought an arrangement was necessary, in his diary describes Hitler's state of mind:

"I asked the Führer whether he would be ready to negotiate with Churchill or whether he declined this on principle. The Führer replied that in politics principles simply do not exist when it comes to questions of personalities. He does not believe that negotiations with Churchill would lead to any result as he is to deeply wedded to his hostile views and, besides, is guided by hatred and not by reason. The Führer would to prefer negotiations wuth Stalin, but he does not believe they world be successful inasmuch as Stalin cannot cede what Hitler demands in the East. Whatever may be the situation, I told the Führer that we must come to an arrangement with one side or the other. The Reich has never yet won a two-front war. We must therefore see how we can somehow or other get out of a two-front war".

-- 23 September 1943 

In selections from his [alleged] wartime diaries first published in 1947, Felix Kersten, physician and masseur to Heinrich Himmler, presented a detailed and dramatic account of his initiative to bring about a separate peace between Nazi Germany and the West in late 1943. Kersten met in Stockholm an American named Abram Stevens Hewitt, described as President Roosevelt's personal representative.

The two men worked out terms of a peace settlement that involved German surrender of conquered territories, abolition of the Nazi Party, and elimination of Hitler as dictator, among other things. According to Kersten, he  and Reich Security Main Office foreign Intelligence chief Walter Schellenberg [who also talked to Hewitt] subsequently laboured to persuade Himmler to talk to Hewitt on this basis, but by the time Himmler agreed to negotiate, it was too late: Hewitt had already left Stockholm. Schellenberg's short account of the episode in his postwar memoirs, however, had a different ending; Himmler became enraged at Schellenberg, and he was lucky not to be arrested. Nothing could break Hitler's spell over Himmler, Schellenberg wrote.

In the most detailed study of separate peace feelers in Stockholm, "Die Chance des Sonderfriedens", Ingeborg Fleischhauer devoted most of her attention to alleged Nazi-Soviet contacts during 1942-3, but she included Kersten's and Schellenberg's efforts to reach the West as well. Fleischauer claimed more for Kersten than he had claimed himself; the Reichsführer SS had given his doctor the mission of checking out a separate peace with the West.

Reversing previous research which had indicated that the Soviets had initiated separate peace feelers, Fleischhauer generally presented many high Nazi officials and resistance emissaries eager to reach a compromise peace, with only Hitler an obstacle. It is not at all clear, however, if the quality of her sources on internal deliberations within the Nazi government justifies confident conclusions.

Fleischhauer certainly presented important new information, including some solid material drawn from Swedish archives and some original German documentation, but did not take sufficient account of wartime disinformation, inaccuracies in hearsay and mendacious postwar testimony, so that her overall picture remains open to challenge.

The Reichsführer SS was not so blindly fanatical that he ignored Germanv's formidable military difficulties. He was pessimistic in a private conversation [apparentlv in Prague on 28 October] with Prince Max Egon Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a wealthy Liechtenstein national of German ancestry who owned property in the Sudetenland and who mixed occasionally in the world of Intelligence as an informant.
 
Interested in a compromise peace partly for reasons of self-interest, Hohenlohe had already established contact on one side with Himmler and Schellenberg and on the other in Switzerland with American Minister Leland Harrison and Allen Dulles, the head of the American OSS mission there. As Hohenlohe reported to Dulles in early November, Himmler denied that he would ever take any action to unseat Hitler, but nonetheless foresaw Hitler's disappearance [death]. Hohenlohe predicted that Himmler was in the best position to take control afterwards.

In contrast to some key officials in the Nazi Party. Himmler would rather deal with the West
, Hohenlohe reported. 

Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, by Hitler's order, met with Pope Pius XII on 11 March 1940.

The diplomatic correspondent of "The Times" says that all the evidence of von Ribbentrop's visit to Rome has been carefully sifted in London, where the Pope's resolute answers to von Ribbentrop's specious talk of peace are greatly appreciated. A more significant point was the fact that von Ribbentrop advanced a peace plan on behalf of Hitler. Von Ribbentrop glibly suggested to the Pope that once "peace" was established. Germany could resume her anti-Bolshevist campaign. The correspondent adds that the Nazi leaders obviously hoped to secure peace by any means, because in that lay an opportunity for preparing for another onslaught on European cities. During the campaign in France, the British Expeditionery Force along with a large contingent of French forces, were surrounded on the beaches of Dunkirk with the Germans poised to destroy them. Hitler on 27 May 1940, ordered his armies to halt. As a result 338, 226 allied soldiers were successfully evacuated from Dunkirk. The reason behind this is unclear to this day.

It may, however, be reasoned that Hitler wanted to give the British a sort of "golden parachute", allowing the bulk of their army to escape. This he felt would preserve British pride, which could be construed as a "carrot" to bring them to the peace table. As early as 27 June 1940 Josef Göbbels, Minister of Propaganda, stated in his diary:

"The great question: how does it go on against England. The Führer does not want it yet, but perhaps he will have to…. There are two parties [in England]: A war party and a peace-party. They struggle for power. Churchill’s stock is not high. Through Sweden and Spain there already are feelers. Perhaps the Führer will make a last offer to London in a Reichstag speech".  

These peace “feelers” came to nothing. Also, other channels came up empty to try and arrange a compromised peace. On 28 June 1940, Pope Pius XII through the British and German Catholic Nuncios tried to establish contact, but failed. Hitler finally gave the speech Göbbels alluded to on 19 July 1940; he offered his hand for peace:

"I feel obliged, in this hour, by my conscience to direct once more an appeal of reason to England. I believe I can do this not as someone who has been defeated, but as a victor speaking reason. I see no compelling ground for the continuation of this war…

"Herr Churchill may dismiss this declaration of mine, screaming that it is the result of my doubts about our final victory. In that case I have freed my conscience about what is to come".   

After Munich in 1938 Hitler’s word held little merit. However, in this case it did because it would directly benefit him so he could be free to move east. Churchill did not respond, stating to an associate. "I do not propose to say anything in reply to Hitler’s speech, not being on speaking terms with him" - thus no peace. General Field-Marshall Erich von Manstein, supported Hitler’s sincerity in his speech by writing in his memoir:

"Hitler knew that if the British Empire were destroyed, not he or Germany could be its heir, but the United States, Japan or the Soviet Union. Seen in this realistic perspective, his attitude to Britain does make sense. The point is that he did not want to land in Britain. His political concept was at odds with the strategic requirements that followed from the victory in the west. The disastrous part of it was that this concept of his encountered no sympathy in Britain".

In 1940 Ulrich von Hassell met with amateur diplomat James Lonsdale-Bryans to discuss a possible pact between Germany and the British Empire. Lonsdale-Bryans proposed that Germany would be allowed control of Europe whilst Britain would control the rest of the world. Hassell's offer was based on condition that British let Germany keep almost all of the Nazis's territorial gains in Europe, including Austria, Sudetenland and Poland. The British saw no reason to agree to a treaty that would be entirely beneficial for Germany alone.

The writer John Harris asserts that Carl Tancred Borenius, the Secretary-General of the Polish Relief Fund, was sent by the British [MI6] to Geneva in January 1941. The perilous journey was via Bristol [Whitchurch] to Lisbon [Sintra] by KLM DC3 and thereafter to Geneva via rail across Spain and Vichy France. The minute book of the Polish Relief Fund records Borenius' absence from mid January to mid March 1941. The diary of Ulrich von Hassell also records the trip and Borenius' meeting with Carl Jacob Burckhardt, then a leader of the International Red Cross.The diary entry makes it clear that Borenius was there to impart the knowledge that Britain was still ready to talk peace, "though not for much longer". The key question, Harris argues is on whose authority was Borenius sent? In the original German diaries von Hassell states that Borenius was sent by English "Stellen" and this is the key - who were the English "Stellen"? MI6, Royalty or was it merely a clever ruse?

Notwithstanding that question, Burckhardt clearly acted on the information and by 10 March at the latest, Albrecht Haushofer, Rudolf Hess's intermediary was aware of the meeting and what was discussed. It was on the pretext of a Haushofer/Burckhardt meeting that Albrecht travelled to Geneva on 28 April 1941. A fortnight later Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland.

Historian Roger Moorhouse, author of "Berlin at War" disputed the claims, stating that "MI6 would have little to gain from luring Hess to Britain. Although nominally important, he was actually a peripheral figure by 1941. [Harris disagrees, making the point that Hess was essentially Party chairman, responsible for party organisation and integration of the captured territories into the Reich]. The most likely theory is that he came over of his own volition.[

In 2011, Matthias Uhl of the German Historical Institute Moscow unearthed purported evidence: Hess's adjutant, Karl-Heinz Pintsch, had handed Hitler an explanatory letter from Hess on the morning after the flight, and Uhl discovered a report featuring Pintsch's description of that encounter in the State Archive of the Russian Federation.

Pintsch claimed that the Hitler received his report calmly. The flight occurred "by prior arrangement with the English," Pintsch wrote, adding that Hess was tasked to "use all means at his disposal to achieve, if not a German military alliance with England against Russia, at least the neutralization of England".

British historian Peter Padfield explores the “British duped Hess” theory in "Hess, Hitler & Churchill". Much of the definitive evidence is lacking but a few tantalizing possibilities exist. Padfield has unearthed intriguing nuggets from period sources: the diary of a well-placed Czech exile who had viewed a report suggesting an English trap, reports of Soviet spies who'd uncovered now untraceable evidence of the same. In 2010 the son of the Finnish Intelligence agent, Carl Tancred Borenius, who had been on Britain's payroll, claimed that his father was involved in the plot.

MI5 files declassified in 2004 suggest that Hess did have his adviser Albrecht Haushofer pen a letter to the Duke of Hamilton in 1940, suggesting that a neutral site meeting could advance secret peace talks. British Intelligence intercepted that letter, investigated [and exonerated Hamilton for being part of a pro-peace Nazi plot], and seriously considered the possibility of replying to set up a double-cross.

But they dismissed the scheme and simply let the matter drop without ever knowing that Hess was the man behind the communication, the official files suggest.

In Berlin, Hamilton had attended numerous functions, including a grand dinner for the British contingent hosted by Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador to Britain and later foreign minister, where he was introduced to Hitler and other leading members of the National Socialist government. Hamilton had previously met Ribbentrop in London as the Ambassador to the Court of St. James's. Hamilton was invited by Hermann Göring to inspect the newly reinstated Luftwaffe, for his professional interest in aviation. It has been suggested that Hamilton either through his own initiative or under instruction indulged in some minor espionage during these occasions. He claimed not to have met Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess while in Germany, although he did attend a dinner party in Berlin also attended by the deputy Führer. As both were highly competent pilots with an avid interest in aviation, there is speculation as to the reliability of this assertion.

Whilst in Germany Hamilton had met Albrecht Haushofer, who had studied alongside Hess at Munich University. On Hess's rise to prominence within the Nazi Party, Haushofer became his advisor on foreign affairs. There is speculation that Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess communicated with the Duke via Haushofer after the outbreak of war.

However those files are far from complete. Some of the Intelligence files on the Hess affair are known to have been "weeded", or destroyed. Whatever information they held is lost—but other classified files remain and have yet to be released.

Conspiracy theorists suspect that the documents could contain not only transcripts of interrogations but correspondence between Hess and other figures including George VI.

General Franz Halder’s diary entry on 13 July 1940 sheds light on the fact that it was not in Germany’s best interest to bring about a collapse of the British Empire. He wrote:

"The Führer is greatly puzzled by Britain’s persisting unwillingness to make peace. He sees the answer [as we do] in Britain’s hope on Russia, and therefore counts on having to compel her by main force to agree to peace. Actually that is much against his grain. The reason is that a military defeat of Britain will bring about the disintegration of the British Empire. This would not be of any benefit to Germany. German blood would be shed to accomplish something that would benefit only Japan, the United States, and others". 

On 30 July 1940, Halder entered into his diary the need to prevent a two front war. He wrote:

"The question whether, if a decision cannot be forced against Britain, we should, in the face of a threatening British-Russian alliance and the resulting two-front war, turn first against Russia, must be answered to the effect that we should keep on friendly terms with Russia. A visit to Stalin would be desirable…. With the aid of Russia, consolidate the Reich, which we have created in western and northern Europe. That much accomplished, we could confidently face war with Britain for years". 

Peace Feelers Put Out by Von Papen
Examiner [Launceston, Tas.]
27 June 1941

LONDON. The British United Press correspondent at Ankara says reports are circulating In neutral diplomatic quarters that the German Minister [Franz von Papen] has approached the British Ambassador [Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen] for the purpose of using Turkey as an intermediary for an Anglo-German peace. According to unconfirmed reports. von Papen put out the peace feeler on condition that Britain joined Germany in a coalition against Bolshevism. Sir Hughe is reported to have referred von Papen to Mr. Churchill's affirmation that Britain's supreme aim is the extermination of Nazism, in which Britain would support Russia. Reports also speak of similar German peace feelers in other European capitals.  

 Richard Overy in "Russia's War" writes:

"It was rumoured in Berlin in early October that Stalin had sought an armistice through Tsar Boris of Bulgaria. It [making peace as Lenin had done at Brest-Litovsk in 1918] would not have been an irrational choice, any more than was Lenin's.

"The evidence on the peace mission is far from clear. The story that emerged in the 1980s suggested that on 7 October 1941  Stalin ordered Lavrentiy Beria to send out peace feelers to Hitler via the Bulgarian ambassador to Moscow, Ivan Stamenov. The emissary was instructed to say that Stalin would give Hitler the Baltic States, Moldavia and parts of Belorussia and the Ukraine. According to the story the Bulgarian refused, telling either Beria or Molotov that the Soviet Union would, in the end, win. There is no evidence from the German side of any contacts in 1941. More recent revelations suggest a rather different picture. The attempt to make a peace offer may have been part of a political initiative sponsored by Beria to try to confuse the Germans long enough to form a more solid defence line outside Moscow. This version fits more comfortably with the rest of what is known of Stalin's behaviour in early October - frantic efforts to organize the defence and to recruit American and British assistance and his subsequent decision at the moment of acute crisis to stay in the capital".

Hitler had forced Bulgaria into the Axis, but the Bulgarians refused to participate in Barbarossa. Thus there was Soviet embassy in Sofia, and Stalin sent peace feelers through the Bulgarians.

In late July 1941, Bulgaria's Ambassador to Moscow, Ivan Stamenov, was invited to the restaurant "Aragvi" by a certain Pavel Pavlov, who introduced himself as the Secretary of Lavrentiy Beria. The words which Stamenov heard from his influential interlocutor, were amazing. It turned out that Stalin was going to send to the German Government a peace proposal - and was ready for the huge territorial concessions.

The role of the "Beria's Secretary" was successfully played by a senior security officer, the Head of the Special NKVD Group, Pavell Sudoplatov. And the issues and proposals voiced to Stamenov to be transferred to Berlin, were received directly from Beria. Their list and meaning leaves no doubt as to the authorship. It is a well-recognizable Stalinist style with a double repeat: "What would suit Germany, under what conditions is Germany willing to end the war, what it is necessary to end the war".

At the time, Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, even remarked that if the Soviets could get out of the war by giving up large amounts of territory to the Germans – like Ukraine and the Baltic States – then this would be a "possible second Brest-Litovsk Treaty" [the treaty which the fledgling Soviet state had concluded with Germany in 1918]. And that "if Lenin could have the courage to make such a step, we had the same intention now".

Hitler of course on the verge of total victory was uninterested.

One Russian author citing declassified Soviet Intelligence files reports that Stalin after the Wehrmacht had stabilized the Eastern Front, personally authorized the offer of a separate peace to Adolf Hitler in February 1942. At this time, the Red Army had stopped the Wehrmacht before Moscow and inflicted huge losses it. The Germans on the other hand,  as a result of Brbarossa had badly damaged the Red Army and occupied a vast swath of the western Soviet Union, including major industrial cities and the best agricultural [food producing] lands of the country. Stalin reportedly proposed that the Soviets and Nazis cooperate against the United States and the United Kingdom. A Soviet document dated 19 February 1942 reveals that Stalin offered Hitler a cease-fire on the Eastern Front and to join the Nazis in joint military operations against the Western Allies "to restructure the world" by the end of 1943 under the pretext of accusing "world Jewery of war-mongering". Another document dated 27 February 1942, provides a report on high-level discussions between Soviet and Nazi officials.

Vsevolod Merkulov, a Soviet security official reported on his meeting with SS Gen. Karl Wolf, in Mtsensk, Belarusia, at the time occupied by the Germans. Merkulov was the head of NKGB [February to July 1941 and again from April 1943 to March 1946]. He was a an important member of the "Georgian mafia" of NKVD chief Beria. Wolff, who ended the War in Italy, was for a time the Chief of Personal Staff for Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler and SS Liaison Officer to Hitler. Merkulov reported that Wolff discussed German demands that Stalin must "solve the Jewish question" in the Soviet Union before Germany would agree to an alliance against the Allies. Wolff also discussed concessions that the Nazis were prepared to make, including territorial concessions. There was even a curious offer to change the color of the Swastika on the Nazi flag from black to red. Merkulov described the world-wide view of the Nazis, including a demand that the Soviets acquiesce to German control over Latin America, the Arab world, and North Africa as well as Japanese control over China. This was reportedly unacceptable to the Soviets.

In late 1942, senior Italian officials first approached the Vatican with peace feelers, and when Mussolini sent his son-in-law, Count Ciano, as ambassador to the Vatican in 1943, the Germans and others speculated about the possibility of Ciano negotiating a separate peace.

"Mussolini's attempts, which became tangible in written and verbal form after 6 November 1942 and which were presented to Hitler on 18 December 1942 by Foreign Minister Ciano in the form of appropriate recommendations, were based on the idea of reaching a settlement with the Soviet Union--a second "peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk". Mussolini and Ciano argued that within the foreseeable future all available forces would be needed to repel the anticipated invasion of Sicily and Italy by the Western powers".

Sweden was a neutral country and several meetings took place in Stockholm "via various German and Soviet contacts . . . to discover how serious Germany was to conclude a separate agreement, on the basis, for example, of a return to the mutual frontiers existing before June 1941".
"By a note of 12 November Molotov informed the Western Allies of the Soviet feelers via representatives in Stockholm. It appears that Stalin took this step in order to strengthen his political position vis-a-vis Great Britain and the USA".

-- Heinz Magenheimer, "Germany's Key Strategic Decisions 1940-1945".

Simultaneously with the climax of the Battle of Stalingrad, when on 24 January 1943, the German Sixth Army was cut in two by Soviet forces, Roosevelt and Churchill announced the policy of "Unconditional Surrender". At precisely the moment when the German armed forces lost the possibility of waging an offensive war, the Western Allies declared what became in effect "total war," such as had not been seen in Western civilization since the destruction of Carthage. To underscore the point, Anglo-American bombing policies now concentrated on the civilian population, at the expense of strategic military targets. 

At least one person not directly involved in the conflict saw what was at stake:

Pope Pius XII in June, 1944, warned President Roosevelt...that "the temple of peace would stand and endure only if... not alloyed with vindictive passion or any elements of hatred". The Pope explained...that he considered the demand for "unconditional surrender" incompatible with Christian doctrine.

German General Heinz Guderian claims that "the demand for "unconditional surrender" certainly contributed to the destruction of every hope in Germany for a "reasonable peace". He called FDR the "gravedigger not only of Germany but also of Europe" and says that the "entire civilized world" will have to pay for Roosevelt's policy.

With the destruction of Germany Europe was deprived of the dam against Bolshevism. Guderian considers the policy an unmitigated disaster from every angle. "The effect...on the Army was great. The soldiers...were convinced...that our enemies...were no longer fighting...against Hitler...but against their efficient, and therefore dangerous, rivals for the trade of the world".

In April 1943, Canaris made contact with the former governor of Pennsylvania, Commander George H. Earle, Roosevelt’s personal representative for the Balkans, stationed in Istanbul. One morning there was a knock on Earle’s hotel room door and there stood - in civilian clothes - Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the German Secret Service. He told Earle there were many sensible German people feeling that Hitler was leading their nation down a destructive path. Admiral Canaris continued saying that the unconditional surrender policy recently announced...the German generals could not swallow.... An honorable surrender from the German army to the American forces could be arranged. That the real enemy of western-civilization [Soviet Communism] could then be stopped. The German Army, if so directed, would move to the eastern front and stop the Communist Army's march into eastern Europe.

Earle was convinced of the sincerity of Admiral Canaris and immediately sent an urgent message to Washington via diplomatic pouch, requesting a prompt reply. A month later, Canaris phoned, as had been agreed, but Earle could only say "I am waiting for news, but have none today".

While Earle was still left in doubt as to whether his message was getting through to the President the secret service chiefs of Germany, Britain and the U.S. decided on a momentous decision of their own. Wilhelm Canaris, General Menzies, Chief of British Intelligence and William J. Donovan met unofficially, and secretly [of course] at Santander, Spain, in the summer of 1943, for the purpose of searching for a way to get their respective countries to stop fighting.

Canaris had been the one to propose the meeting, and he also presented Menzies and Donovan with his peace plan... a cease fire in the West, Hitler to be eliminated or handed over, and continuation of the War in the East. The British general raised few objections and even the... American bowed to the German Admiral's logic.... F. Justus von Linem, an Abwehr officer who was present at Santander recalls: "Donovan, his British colleague and Canaris reached an agreement on the basis of Canaris' proposal..." But...Roosevelt called his presumptuous OSS chief to heel and the head of the SIS took pains to minimize the significance of his forbidden trip to Spain vis-a-vis the British Foreign office.

President Roosevelt flatly declined to negotiate with "these East German Junkers" and Canaris’ peace offer was rejected .

Two sources are "Göbbels Tagebücher 1942-43" and "Zwischen London und Moskau: Erinnerungen und letzte Aufzeichnungen" by Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Göbbels's diary indicates preparedness of the 3rd Reich for a separate peace with the USSR. Allegedly, Göbbels said to Hitler that they must come to an arrangement with one side or the other. Hitler replied that he would prefer negotiations with Stalin.

Shortly before the famous Nazi "Old Combatants" speech in the Münchener Bürgerbräukeller on 8 November 1942, Ribbentrop has suggested Führer to approach Stalin through the Soviet embassy in Stockholm but he dismissed the idea by telling him: A moment of weakness is not the right time for dealing with an enemy.

General Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma [interned as a POW at Trent Park]) talked with others generals about the possibility of a deal with Stalin before Stalingrad -- British Intelligence recorded him on 12 September 1943.

Heinz Magenheimer in "Hitler's War: Germany's Key Strategic Decisions 1940-1945", devotes a sub-chapter to this. The negotiations were said to take place in Sweden, and broke down due to Stalin's insistence that Germany retreat to her pre-Barbarossa borders.

Ian Kershaw, in "Hitler:Nemesis", describes Japanese Ambassador Hiroshi Ōshima's attempt to broker a peace between Germany and Russia in September 1944.

"Axis Must Keep Cool to Win"

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate [NSW]
7 January 1944

NEW YORK. According  to Tokyo Official Radio, the German Propaganda Minister, Dr. Göbbels, told Japanese correspondents in Berlin:

"The Axis could still win if the Japanese and German peoples tide themselves coolly and calmly over the present war crisis".

"The war", Göbbels added, "may last for many years, but we must fight on to victory; otherwise the golden opportunity of crushing Britain and America will not visit us for many centuries".

Göbbels concluded: "The Japanese iand Germans may retreat for strategical reasons in certain circumstances, but this will not affect our chances of victory".

In a postwar interrogation, Theodor Päffgen said that he met Prince Max Egon von Hohenlohe-Lagenburg in Switzerland in 1943. At that time Walter Schellenberg was trying to establish a link with the Americans in Swltzerland, and Hohenlohe knew the American Minister Leland Harrison. Hohenlohe was to set up an appointment for a German official named Lindemann. who said he was willing to undertake the job if Himmler gave his approval. At that time Schellenberg was trying to establish a link with the Americans in Swltzerland, and Hohenlohe knew the American Minister Leland Harrison.

Hohenlohe was to set up an appointment for a German official named Lindemann. who said he was willing to undertake the job if Himmler gave his approval. Schellenberg took the matter to Himmler, who found that Ribbentrop was opposed, so he declined to act. Himmler's telephone note says only "report from Switzerland", so it can only be conjectured whether Schellenberg asked Himmler for permission to proceed with Hohenlohe and Lindemann.

The definitive account of the Spring 1943 Soviet peace proposals to the Germans has not yet been written. But there is considerable evidence that they occurred. The Japanese embassy in Moscow was apparently involved. As the Americans had cracked the Japanese diplomaric [purple] code, U.S. Intelligence could have picked this up. And the Japanese by early-1943 realized they had made a terrible mistake. Not only had the Germans failed to defeat the Soviets, but the Americans had not only ended Japanese advances in the Pacific, but America's industrial might and commitment to fight was now readily apparent. The Soviet embassy in Sweden was also involved. Ambassador Alexandra Kollontai could authenticate the channels.

The offer came after Stalingrad [January 1943], but before Kursk [July 1943]. The German victory at Karkov may have given Stalin some pause as to what it was going to cost to defeat the Germans [February-March 1942. Apparently the Soviets were suggesting a late-April meeting at a location outside Stockholm. However, no agreement was reached and the talks were broken by the Soviets [early May]. Another Soviet offer of meetings may have occurred [mid-June 1943] This was reported in the Swedish press [16 June]. And of course the report was strongly denied by both the Soviets and Germans. American and and British Intelligence reports conform that the proposals were made. The details as to the individuals involved vary. There was also a half-hearted German proposal for negotiations [September 1943] but few details are available. One report suggests that the Soviets were still responsive, but no actual meeting occurred.

Hitler with no victories to bolster his bargaining position was just not willing to bring himself to offer needed concessions.

It is a historical fact that Soviet proposals for talks occurred. What is not known is Stalin's motives. It is not possible that Stalin was not personally involved: A Soviet official making such a proposal on his own would have been lucky to have reached the Gulag. It is known that Stalin was very disturbed about the Allies failure to open a second front on continental Europe [France] during 1942 and it was becoming apparent it would not occur in 1943 as well. He was not even sure it would come in 1944. He began to believe that the western Allies had adopted the policy of prolonging the War to weaken the Soviet Union.

The peace initiative may have been legitimate. It is at least as plausible that it was to motivate the Western Allies - essentially blackmail. Hitler was having none of it. His hatred of "Judeo-Bolshevism" was probably the main reason, but he made it very clear to intimates that negotiations could only be successful through strength. And the loss of the 6th Army at Stalingrad dramatically changed the military balance in the East. Perhaps had the Germans succeeded at Kursk, Hitler may have indicated an interest in talks, but of course this did not occur. For Stalin, the possibility of such an accommodation improved his hand at the Tehran Conference [December 1943]. It may also have been a factor in Churchill finally committing to Overlord.

Franz von Papen

had gotten the idea that the United States wanted a negotiated peace, in talks with his friend Paul Leverkühn, the chief Abwehr station chief in Turkey, who had contacts to the Hitler opposition through Wilhelm Canaris.

In the summer and fall of 1943, realizing the war was lost, von Papen began attending secret meetings with the agents of the OSS in Istanbul. The meetings were held in Istanbul as Papen was afraid to meet in Ankara because the SD officer Ludwig Carl Moyzisch had orders from Heinrich Himmler to monitor von Papen, which the ambassador knew about.

Von Papen exaggerated his power in Germany to the OSS, and asked for American support to make him dictator of a post-Hitler Germany, as Papen wanted a right-wing regime that would avoid the "excesses" of the Nazis. Moyzisch was aware of von Papen meeting the OSS, but Himmler was seeking a separate peace with the Western Allies to allow Germany to focus on defeating the Soviet Union, and ordered Moyzisch to allow the meetings to go ahead.

On 5 October 1943, Papen met with the American OSS agent and journalist Theodore Morde of "Reader's Digest", to tell him that he wanted American support to overthrow Hitler and make himself the new dictator of Germany, saying the terms of peace would be that Germany would remain the dominant power in Europe and suggested under his leadership that Germany and the United States would become Allies against the Soviet Union. President Franklin Roosevelt rejected this offer when he heard of it, saying he was very doubtful that von Papen had the sort of power that he claimed to have to overthrow Hitler, and told the OSS to stop talking to him.

At the same time, von Papen hedged his bets, telling Hitler that he had information from his American contacts to the effect that if the Republicans won the 1944 election, then the United States would make peace with Germany in order to focus on defeating Japan, thereby allowing Germany to defeat Britain and the Soviet Union, and therefore German foreign policy should aim at ensuring President Roosevelt lost the 1944 election. Von Papen claimed to Hitler that he was talking to the OSS with the intention of making contact with the Republicans to ensure Roosevelt's defeat in the 1944 election.

During the German occupation, French couturier Coco Chanel resided at the Hotel Ritz. It was noteworthy as the preferred place of residence for upper-echelon German military staff. Her romantic liaison with Baron [Freiherr] Hans Günther von Dincklage, the German Embassy in Paris press attaché and former Prussian Army officer and Attorney General who had been an operative in military Intelligence since 1920, eased her arrangements at the Ritz.

Declassified archival documents unearthed by biographer Hal Vaughan ["Sleeping with the Enemy: Coco Chanel's Secret War". New York: Knopf. 2011] established that Chanel committed herself to the German cause as early as 1941 and worked for General Walter Schellenberg, chief of the German Intelligence agency Sicherheitsdienst [Security Service] and the military Intelligence spy network Abwehr [Counterintelligence] at the Reich Main Security Office [Reichssicherheitshauptamt] in Berlin.

In 1943, Chanel travelled to the Reichssicherheitshauptamt in Berlin with her liaison and "old friend", von Dincklage, who was also a collaborator for the German Sicherheitsdienst; his superiors being Walter Schellenberg and Alexander Waag in Berlin [Von Dincklage was English by his mother and Chanel knew him before the War]. Chanel and Dincklage  reported to Walter Schellenberg with a breath-taking, almost crazy idea, that Chanel had proposed to Dincklage: She, Coco Chanel, wants to meet British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and persuade him to secret negotiations with the Germans.

In late 1943 or early 1944, Chanel and her SS superior, Schellenberg, who had a weakness for unusual actions, devised a plan to get a request to Britain to consider a separate peace to be negotiated by the SS. When interrogated by British Intelligence at war's end, Schellenberg maintained that Chanel was "a person who knew Churchill sufficiently to undertake political negotiations with him". For this mission, code named Operation Modellhut [Operation Model Hat], they also recruited a young Italian woman, Vera Bate Lombardi, as a courier.

Unaware of the machinations of Schellenberg and Chanel, Lombardi was led to believe that the forthcoming journey to Spain would be a business trip exploring the potential for establishing the Chanel couture in Madrid. Lombardi acted as intermediary, delivering a letter written by Chanel to Winston Churchill, to be forwarded to him via the British embassy in Madrid. Schellenberg's SS liaison officer, Captain Walter Kutschmann, acted as bagman, "told to deliver a large sum of money to Chanel in Madrid".

Ultimately, the mission proved a failure for the Germans. British Intelligence files reveal that the plan collapsed after Lombardi, on arrival in Madrid, proceeded to denounce Chanel and others to the British embassy as Nazi spies.

At the end of the war, Schellenberg was tried by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal, and sentenced to six years' imprisonment for war crimes. He was released in 1951 owing to incurable liver disease and took refuge in Italy. Chanel paid for Schellenberg's medical care and living expenses, financially supported his wife and family, and paid for Schellenberg's funeral upon his death in 1952.

Nazi Peace Talk Rumour
The Sydney Morning Herald [NSW] 
8 December 1943

LONDON. The Algiers Radio today quoted an Ankara message as stating that Turkish circles believe that despite Berlin denials, Franz von Papen, the German Ambassador to Turkey, toured satellite Axis countries in order to discuss peace possibilities, He is reported to have been unsuccessful.

On 11 December 1943 Himmler met Hitler, with no surviving record or indication of the subject. Two days later, at least according to information received by the British Minister in Stockholm, Himmler met a Swedish businessman described as pro-Nazi. [Identified only as Mr X in the British document, this man was probably Birger Dahlerus, a Swede close to Göring who had taken part in diplomatic negotiations before the outbreak of the second world war and who owned an estate in Germany]. According to Mr X, Himmler said he had consulted Göring, Milch, and Rommel, and that Hitler had now authorized him to seek clandestine contact between Germany and Britain. Ribbentrop had not been consulted, but Bormann was present during most of the meeting. Himmler said he wanted above all to clarify what was meant by unconditional surrender. He and Hitler realized that some change in the political system was necessary, but that would only cause anarchy at the present time. Himmler suggested that he name one army representative and one party representative to meet British counterparts. The British cabinet's suggested response to this feeler was that it had nothing to say to Hitler or Himmler. London so notified the United States and the Soviet Union, both of which concurred.

Von Papen's Hitler's Successor?
Barrier Miner [Broken Hill, NSW]
31 December 1943

NEW YORK. The German Ambassador to Turkey [Franz von Papen] regards himself as a likely successor to Hitler, says. Prank Gervasi, Middle East correspondent for "Collier's Magzine".

"Von Papen", says Gervasi, "has been talking freely to Turkish friends about the possibility of Hitler's downfall.  "He is so convinced that he will become leader of Germany that he has circulated what he calls his 'peace plan', which is really a blueprint for a negotiated peace, such as the Junker militarists in Germany would like to obtain. At Turkish tea parties, at which von Papen has spoken of himself as the coming new head of Germany, he promises to restore all the conquered lands to their rightful owners. He makes two important exceptions - Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland and Austria, on the claim that they are German lands".

Gervasi comments: "Von Patten's Plan could be dismissed if it did not fit so closely into the Nazi Junker militarist grand strategy of defensive war, to be waged with such ferocity that the Allies might be induced to set aside total victory for a negotiated peace. "Von Papen represents Germany's long-range diplomatic political aims just as its military leaders represent its immediate short-term strategy".

British Deny "Pravda" Story
Alleged Meeting with Ribbentrop
Queensland Times [Ipswich, Qld] 
19 January 1944  

LONDON.-The Foreign Office has authorized the issue of a complete denial to a story reported from Cairo and published in Soviet newspaper "Pravda" that a secret meeting recently occurred between the NazI Foreign Minister [von Ribbentrop) and leading English figures.

The "British United Press" correspondent at Moscow states:

"The "Pravda" published a report alleging discussions between leading Britons and Herr von Rlbbentrop on terms for separate peace with Germany. The report caused something of a sensation, also bewilderment in diplomatic circles in Moscow.

"The 'Pravda' report comes from its own correspondent in Calro and states:

'According to information from reliable Tugoslav-Greek circles two leading English personalities recently conferred secretly with Ribbentrop in a coastal city in the Pyrenees. The object of the meeting was to  elucidate terms for a separate peace with Germany. It is believed that the meeting was not without results'.

The "British United Press" correapondent says that the message was dated 12 January, but was not published until to-day, indicating either a transmission delay or that careful consideration was given to the desirability of publishing it.

"The 'Pravda' is probably
one of the world's least sensstional newspapers, and one of the most serious and responsible in Russia. Its publicatibn of such a story is excsptional," he says.

The Moscow representative of the National Broadcasting Corporation, after quoting the Cairo report, states:

"This story is not
official. It is important to note that it comes from a special correspondent of the 'Pravda,' and although printed in the central organ of th6 Communist party, the 'Pravda' carries it on the back page with the headline, 'Rumours from Cairo'.

It transpires from Cairo that it did not pass through the Cairo censorship, making the story's origin and motive a bigger mystery than ever. 

-- Chronicle [Adelaide, SA] 27 January 1944

There is no official Soviet comment, and British officals say they cannot understand either the report or its publications. They do not believe it.

The "Associated Press" correspondent in Moscow comments that the mere fact that "Pravda published the report is of considerable importance at a time when the United Nations appear to be indissolubly joined, following the Moscow and Teheran conferences.

The Reuter's correspondent in Moscow also cabled the story, commenting that the report has not been confirmed by any other source.

Peace Talk Rumours
Kalgoorlie Miner [WA]
22 January 1944

NEW YORK. The "New York Times" states:

"Diplomatic circles learn that Germany made a peace proposal to Britain several weeks ago through Spanish channels, which Britain ignored. The Germans are reported to have offered to remove Hitler, let the High Command take over, and withdraw the German armies from all occupied countries except Austria, on condition that Britain and America should not interfere in the German struggle against Russia".

Washington circles do not know whether this was the basis of the "Pravda" story [of a meeting be tween von Ribbentrop and British representatives].

Reuters Moscow correspondent says that Himmler a week ago was reported to have demanded the recall of von Papen [German Ambassador to Turkey] on the ground that he exchanged views with enemy Powers through intermediaries.

A German spokesman immediately depied, all rumours of alleged peace feelers by von Papen as being fairy tales.

The "Dally Telegraph" stated:

"If the story really started in Cairo, it undoubtedly originated from enemy agents. That they should even be troubled to start such an impossible story merely indicates the difficultles that Dr. Göbbels is experiencing in the campaign to disunite the Allies"..

Cairo Peace Story
British Denial - Publication in Russia
Kalgoorlie Miner [WA] 20 January 1944

London.-The Moscow radio broadcast without comment the British denial of "Pravda's Ribbentrop peace move story, but also broadcast a Tass news agency London despatch, dated 16 January reporting a story published in the "London Sunday Times", averring the alleged German peace proposals were made to Turkey two months ago. Turkey, accarding lo "The Times Ankara" correspondent refused to pass on these terms fo the Allies. Similar proposals were then made in Stockholm and Lisbon. One proposal was that Germany would renounce her claims lo colonies if she were given limiled freedom of action in the east. 

The Tass report was an accurate reproduction of the "Sunday Times" article, and was given the heading "British correspondent on German peace proposals".

Reuter's Moscow correspondent states that the Foreign Office denial of "Pravda's story about prominent Britons with Ribbentrop was published in the same position in "Pravda" as the original message from Cairo. The denial has also been published in the other principal newspapers, including "Izvestia" and the "Red Star". The denial, which appeared under the headline, "Statement by British Foreign Office". appeared as follows:

"London, Monday [Tass].— According to Reuter, the British Foreign Office repudiates the rumours cabled by "Pravda's Cairo correspondent, according to which there was allegedly a meeting of two English leading personalities with Ribbentrop".

Responding to questions at his press conference in Washington today President Roosevelt said he was as much mystified as anyone else by the "Pravda" publication of the rumour, that two British officials had discussed a "separate* peace with Ribbentrop".

Roosevelt said he had no additional information on it it beyond what was published in the newspaper.

The "Herald-Tribune's Washington correspondent says the State Department is treating the matter with more than usual reserve pending the arrival of information whether the "Pravda"  dispatch Is taken seriously by Stalin or was published without Stalin's direct authorization.

One high official regarded the move as part of the Russian nerve war against Germany and expressed the opinion that the Russians are trying to convince the German people that their leaders are desperate for peace.

Spanish Evidence - Ribbentrop did not visit Spain
Kalgoorlie Miner [WA]
20 January 1944

London.— The Vichy radio says that authoritative circles in Spain deny that Ribbentrop has recently been there.
 

How Peace Talk Story Started
News [Adelaide, SA]
8 February 1944

LONDON.  The great "separate peace negotiations" mystery is solved, according to a story from Turkey today. The story, which was circulated by "Pravda," the Russian Communist Party newspaper, was that British and German envoys had met in Spain to discuss a separate peace.

The Turkish story, quoting "usually wholly reliable neutral Intelligence," says that high members of the Gestapo, who had been using secret funds for building personal fortunes from occupied and neutral black markets and in other rackets, thought of a new line of graft.

To extort funds from the Nazi Foreign Minister [von Ribbentrop] they informed him that they were establishing direct contact in Spain with high British officials who were prepared to discuss the possibilities of a separate peace because Britain feared American commercial domination after the war.

Since this Gestapo explanation is the pet theory of Ribbentrop in his capacity as "English expert," the German Foreign Office swallowed it whole. Thus when "Pravda" published the story to clear the air, it was basing its statement on a perfectly correct Russian secret service report that inner circles at the German Foreign Office genuinely believed that such meetings were taking place.

This pulling of Ribbentrop's leg, which, of course, was eventually discovered, caused such a scandal among Nazi leaders that Hitler has given personal orders for the creation of a special security branch to investigate and stamp out the vast graft operations organised by the Gestapo.

Junior members of the Gestapo, who were jealous of the profits going to their superiors, had already complained in vain of these rackets.

Maybe Peace Talks
Thee Uralla Times [NSW] 
20 January 1944

London. — Ribbentrop's deput,  Count Adolf von Steengraf, invited three British prisoners — a brigadier and two colonels — to a New Year's Eve party, says "Reynolds News".

"Steengraf has been hotly criticised by "Das Schwarze Korps", official organ of Himmler's Black Guards", the paper says. "'The three British officers were brought by car from Offlag IX prison camp. 

"At Steengraf' s party were some leading members of the Herren Club, including Baron von Schroeder, notorious German financier".  

The attack lends coler to reports that Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, is in disfavor and is about  to be dismissed. The Sweedish newspayer "My Day" reralls that the Italian Premier [Pietro Badoglio] used a British prisoner, General Carton de Wiart, to contact the Allies to negotiate an armistice with Italy last September.

"Von Steengraf may have been commissioned by Ribbentrop or the Herren Club to look for another de Wiart," the paper says. 

Swiss newspapers say Prince Otto von Bismarck has been making more mysterious journeys to Stockholm. He is believed to be trying to test Allied reaction to proposals for a negotiated peace.  The papers recall that Bismarck, like Stengraf, was once a member of Ribbentrop's London staff.

Not on Peace Mission
The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate [NSW]
20 January 1944 

German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop was reported to have engaged in separate peace talks with the British. Britain denied this. Now it is stated Hitler is suing for a separate peace with Russia.

Washington officials were amazed at the rumors and the fact that they were published in "Pravda". They doubted that publication was intended to cover separate Russian negotiations with Germany.

Amazing Tale from Turkey
Truth [Sydney, NSW]
27 February 1944

LONDON, Saturday.— The Istanbul [Turkish] paper "Tanin" publishes a fantastic story that a special envoy from the German Foreign Minister [von Ribbentrop] has arrived in Ankara to contact the Russians if they, make important concessions to Finland, Rumania, Paland and Germany. Japan, it is stated, is prepared to intervene and woo Russia with promises of important advantages in India.

Is Hitler Seeking Separate Peace with Russia?
Daily Examiner [Grafton, NSW]
21 January 1944

NEW YORK. The National Broadcasting Corporation's reporter in Stockholm, David - Anderson, said that Stockholm newspapers today published a report that Hitler had dispatched semi-official representatives to Ankara to discuss separate peace terms with Russia. representatives.

[The story was credited to the Geneva newspaper "La Suisse"].

History can never be reversed. The past casts its iinfluence, beneficient or malign, over a long future. Thus, as this war approaches its climax the specter of the last one rises to prejudice relations between the allies. Both Russia and the western Allies watch to see whether a familiar pattern will be repeated.

The western allies remember the separate peace signed between a defeated Russia and a victorious Germany at Brest-Litovsk, which they held primarily responsible for Ludendorff's subsequent successful offensive. Now the situation between Germany and Russia is reversed, but the influence which a separate peace could have upon the fate of the western Allies is even more tremendous.

The Russians remember the Allied intervention against the Soviet regime, started on the basis of keeping Russian supplies, paid as indemnities under the punitive treaty, from reaching the Germans, but continued into 1921, long after German defeat, with Britain, Americans, French, Japanese, Poles and, for a time, Czech legionnaires, all supporting the "white" armies, with men, money and equipment, and fighting from Vladivostock to Murmansk and Odessa.

Especially the Russians remember the emergence of Poland as the "Bulwark against Bolshevism"; the demands laid down by the Poles including the western Ukraine, and the occupation of Smolensk as a guarantee, the attack of the Poles, which put them in Kiev, the subsequent war which brought the Russians to the gates of Warsaw, and again led to western intervention, and brought Russian defeat and the treaty of Riga, placing according to the Encyclopedia Britannica "4,000,000 Russians under Polish rule".

The Russians remember the western policy of building a "cordon sanitaire" against the Soviet Union along her entire western frontier.

They believe this program was never abandoned, right up to the time that Germany attacked Russia in this war. It is difficult to deny the logic in the evidence that The Baldwin and Chamberlain governments leading a hesitant France, worked consistently to build up Hitlerite Germany as the key of an anti-Soviet policy up to and culminating in Munich.

Has that policy been sincerely and permanently abandoned? That is the question in the Russian mind. Considering this vast suspicion, the Polish frontier question becomes a test. Russia offered a concession on the matter, accepting the "Curon line," bearing the name of a British statesman and once recommended by Britain before events took another turn. Will Britain stand on that, and toll the Poles unequivocally that they will support the Russians? The Polish answer was to ask the British and Americans to mediate, a request accepted by Mr. Eden and Mr. Hull. To the Russians that is plain indication that Britain and America may intend to continue to mediate in behalf of anti-Soviet Poles. The result is the news dispatch in "Pravda" - a fantastic story emanating from "Yugoslav and Greek sources," and recording British negotiations wilh Ribbentrop for a separate peace.

Now, it is extremely unlikely that the Germans in one way or another, are putting out peace feelers to both the Anglo-Amerioan and the Russians. Nations never surrender "unconditionally". They feel around to find out what "unconditionally" means. The Russians know this, so the purpose of the article must be primarily to issue a warning to the Allies, and bring pressure on the Polish question. But the appearance of the article in "Pravda" is disturbing, for such publication communicates suspicions of the British to the Russian people. Pravda has 4,000,000 circulation and its articles are copied by the provincial press. So all Russia, which yesterday was celebrating the unity of Teheran, is warned that the British may be up to skullduggery.

-- San Bernardino Sun, 25 January 1944


Peace Plotter von Papen Uses Business Contacts
Tribune [Sydney, NSW]
2 March 1944

Count Franz von Papen, aristocratic Nazi fixer from Berlin's Herren Club, is using British business circles in neutral countries for peace feelers, according to Soviet and American press suggestions. Writing in the Soviet paper "War and the Working Class", M. Shatrov says that Germany is putting out such feelers as she did in the last war when victory hopes faded.

"If it comes to light who is making 'peace proposals' on behalf of Hitler, it is no less interesting to know whom they are addressed to", he says.

"First world war experience shows that direct offers of a separate peace are not ordinarily made to governments". 

Interesting in this connection is the report of Mr. Lawrence, the "New York Sun" correspondent, who considers it possible for example that Papen, Nazi ambassador in Turkey, used some representatives of British business circles in Turkey and Portugal for establishing certain contacts and conveying some of his proposals.

"That there are such business circles in the countries of the anti-Hitlerite bloc can hardly be doubted. They are not only 'business men', but representatives of definite political conceptions, who don't want the complete defeat of Hitler and would like a compromise".

M. Shatrov concludes: "There can be no doubt that the German war machine will be defeated on the battlefields and that the same fate will overtake all the intrigues of Hitler's gangster-diplomats".

Another Nazi Peace Move Reported - King of Sweden Asked to Act
The Argus [Melbourne, Vic.]
18 March 1944

NEW YORK. The German Government has approached Sweden with an inquiry whether King Gustav would be willing to act as an intermediary to arrange German peace negotiations with the Allies, according to Frederick Kuh, London correspondent of the paper PM.

"Otto Abetz, German Envoy to Vichy, asked the Swedish Consul General in Paris whether King Gustav would act, pointing out that Berlin would make the request officially only if assured in advance that the King would agree," says the correspondent, quoting what he describes as a 'most reliable authority'.

"This move closely followed a conversation that Pierre Laval had with the Swedish Charge d'Affaires in Vichy, during which Laval said he had heard from von Ribbentrop that Germany was prepared to open peace talks with the Allies on certain conditions. 

 These were:

1. Germany was ready to give up all conquests in Western Europe. 2. Alsace-Lorraine to receive an autonomous status. 3. Regarding Eastern Europe, Germany would agree to reconstitution of Poland, but as long as the German army remained the main military force in the east. Germany could not concede Danzig or the Polish Corridor. 4. Germany intended to keep Bohemia as a protectorate. The Reich wanted an independent Slovakia.

"Laval is reported to have said he believed Germany could not win the war".

Alleged Nazi Peace Move -  Laval Puts Out Feelers
Chronicle [Adelaide, SA]
23 March 1944

LONDON. An exclusive story of peace feelers by Laval appears in the "Manchester Guardian". This newspaper, whose soundness is unquestioned, has always been careful to treat these peace-feeler stories most cautiously.

This story says that Laval recently approached a neutral representative in Vichy with what Laval described as an official German suggestion for an armistice with the Western Powers. Laval said that the proposals were forwarded to him by von Ribbentrop through the chief German agent in France, Abetz. Laval's story is that the Germans are prepared to retire behind the 1939 frontier, giving up all claims, except to Alsace Lorraine, where they suggested the establishment of a mixed German and French administration. The story continued that Germany would agree to an independent Poland, that Bohemia Moravia should be retained by Germany, while Slovakia would remain "independent". Laval made no secret of his belief that Germany must lose the war, but expressed the opinion that the United Nations' invasion of Europe would not bring a speedy, clear-cut decision.

The "Manchester Guardian" interprets the feeler not so much as a serious desire to come to terms, but as an effort to manoeuvre for position. It is evident that the Germans place considerable hopes on being able to secure a negotiated peace, and think that if they can hold an Allied invasion or prevent a deep penetration, the Allies may be more ready to listen.


Furtive Nazi Efforts to Seek Peace
Examiner [Launceston, Tas.]
28 March 1944

LONDON. According to Mr. Walter Farr, representative of the "Daily Mail" in Stockholm, the German Foreign Office is making new and more vigorous efforts to discuss peace with the British Government.

"German diplomats, business men, intellectuals and members of well known German families," he says. "are being, given special visas and sent to Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal, and Turkey. They all have the same orders to try to get into touch with the British Cabinet, either by talking directly with officials at our embassies and legations, or, failing that, by talking to neutrals who can be relied on to pass their views to us.

"Neutrals who have been in contact with these Germans in various parts of Europe tell me that their chief object is to convince the British Government that if we are to go on bombing Germany there will be such chaos that the Russians will move in, Sovietize Germany and take control of all Europe.

"It- is the-old theme, but this is the first time the Germans have made such calculating efforts.to give point to the Russian bogey argument- by squealing   about the effects of our bombing. and admitting. that it is slowly but surely smashing Germany.

"The Foreign Minister, von Ribbentrop, has chosen his men carefully. They are skillful talkers. and they claim to represent the 'good' Germans'.  "Some of them. in fact, are anti-Nazi who have been persuaded by the Wilhelmstrasse that by undertaking these missions they are helping to extricate their country from disaster". 

Harriman to Leave Moscow
San Bernardino Sun
30 March 1944

WASHINGTON.  It hasn't been officially announced, but U. S. Ambassador W. Averell Harriman is coming back from the Soviet, perhaps for good. He has not been the success that was hoped. That is not necessarily a reflection on Harriman, because being a successful ambassador in Moscow is the toughest diplomatic assignment in the world. However, an ambassador is like a newspaperman. He is supposed to report on what is going to happen in the country to which he is attached and he is not supposed to get scooped. Harriman, however, has been badly scooped on six different occasions. He has failed to notify the state department in advance regarding six resounding Soviet slaps. 

No. 1 was against the British when "Pravda" reported rumors of separate British peace talks with German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop.
No. 2 was the "Izvestia" slap at the Vatican. After this, the president couldn't help commenting sorrowfully that there are several million Catholic voters in the U. S. A., and that the Russians couldn't have thought of a better way to alienate them from F. D. R.
No. 3 was Russia's rebuff of Poland's government-in-exile, and the refusal of Allied intervention. Here again, there are some 3,000,000 Polish voters in this country, most of whom went down the line for F. D. R. from 1932 to 1940.
No. 4 was the "Pravda" slap at Wendell Willkie, who had fought for more Russian lend lease, raised the roof because the red army wasn't getting enough planes, and was one of Russia's best friends in the U. S. A.
No. 5 was the announcement of 16 autonomous Soviet states, interpreted by the "Chicago Tribune" and other isolationist enemies of the president as being a move to outvote the allies at the peace table.
No. 6 was the recognition of the Badoglio government in Italy just two days after we had made up our minds to ditch Badoglio.

None of these incidents was reported in advance by Harriman. However, the future of Mr. Harriman is not considered nearly as important as the question of why Russia slaps down her friends. Best explanation in diplomatic circles is that the Russians wage a new type of aggressive diplomacy unfamiliar to genteel U. S.-British diplomats. The Russians know exactly what they want and keep after it. For two years, their chief aim has been the second front. And since Teheran, where a definite pledge was given, the Russians have been disturbed over rumors that the second front might not materialize after all. So they have hammered home an aggressive, needling diplomacy, until they get what they want. This is one of the things Ambassador Harriman will be asked to report on if he can.

 

Von Ribeentrop Bluffed Finland with Stories of Secret Weapons
Army News [Darwin, NT] 
6 July 1944

Germany's Foreign Minister, von Ribbentrop, apparently persuaded Finland to stay in the war by telling a story of Germany's secret weapons - flying bombs, and a rocket gun with a 15-ton missile. Von Ribbentrop, it is believed, told the Finns that these, would bring Britain to her knees. This is also what the Germans, have been telling their other satellites and neutrals, evidently with some persuasion, because even Balkan waverers, regardless of the great Allied triple assault, still cling to the Axis.

What is really illuminating is that the German mind still thinks about Britain as it did in 1939 - that German terror will force capitulation.  Obviously von Ribbentrop has forgotten everything and learned nothing, and is wholly incapable of understanding Britons. Otherwise, he would realize that the sole effect of flying bombs and rocket guns, even if they blew London to a shambles, would be to make Britain more determined than ever to smash Germany and all Germans to utter defeat. Hitler's terror weapons, have so settled the Germans' fate; in British eyes that what, the Russians. may do to the Germans may prove anaemic compared, with the treatment Britons intend to mete out. No longer, does one hear, a few people saying: "There must be some decent Germans". No longer are Bishops, in the House of Lords questioning the bombing policy. People are simply saying, that no punishment is bad enough for the Germans and that Mr. Churchill :should stop at nothing to shatter these maniacal barbarians, seeking to sows terror among defenceless civilians. This, is Britain's reply to von Ribbentrop, and to those satellites and neutrals who will soon discover Britain's mood today.

Göbbels Appeals For Easier Terms
Army News [Darwin, NT]
17 July 1944 

NEW YORK, The German propaganda minister, Josef Göbbels, has launched "an implicit appeal to the United States and Britain to soften their demands for unconditional surrender". The US Office of War Information made this announcement on the basis of a monitored recording of a "Das Reich" article by Göbbels. The OWI said that Göbbels wrote that all nations are longing for post-war quiet and relaxation, economic prosperity and undisturbed happiness, but that this must be achieved "not at the expense of the happiness of other people, but must be secured out of their own strength".

Göbbels contended that Germany had never proclaimed "the same programme of extermination and destruction as our enemies".

Some American observers who monitored the radio accounts of Göbbels's article are inclined to think that its predominant note is not an appeal for a lenient peace, but an effort to drive a wedge between Russia, Britain, and America.

How Holy See Views German Situation: Vatican Officials Have Talks with Ambassador
Daily Examiner [Grafton, NSW]
25 July 1944

LONDON. There is reason to believe that the Holy See last night viewed the situation in Germany as sufficiently critical to require the utmost readiness on the part of the Vatican to mediate between the Allies and a Germany admitting defeat, says Reuter's special correspondent in Rome. High Vatican -officials questioned the German Ambassador, Baron Ernst von Weizsäcker. Officials are believed to have indicated to him the Pope's determination to profit by any changes in the German situation which might facilitate intervention. Von Weizsäcker gave a private opinion that any overtures would fail unless direct approaches were made from the Vatican to Russia. Officials asked the Ambassador informally whether a general Putsch might result in emergence of authority prepared to proclaim publicly that Germany had lost the war and desired peace. Von Weizsäcker is reported to have pleaded that fragmentary news from Germany did not enable him to prejudge the likelihood of a change in German leadership. He added that even if such a change occurred it would depend on the Allies not the German leaders whether armistice negotiations could be opened.

When received by the Cardinal Secretary of State Luigi Maglione on 6 January 1944, von Weizsäcker stated, "If Germany as a bulwark against communism should fall, all of Europe will become communist". To this, the cardinal replied, "What a misfortune, that Germany with its antireligious policies has stirred up such concerns". Similar representations were repeated by von Weizsäcker to Monsignore Giovanni Battista Montini the later Pope Paul VI].

In messages to Berlin, von Weizsäcker purposely painted Pope Pius XII as mild, diplomatic, indecisive, and pro-German, in order to help the Pope and to avoid anti-German sentiment in Italy. Like the commanding Waffen SS General Karl Wolff, von Weizsäcker was clearly opposed to Hitler’s plan to occupy the Vatican, during which, Weizsäcker feared, the Pope could have been shot, "fleeing while avoiding arrest".

Von Weizsäcker continued to present the Vatican with anti-communist slogans, and both threatened a separate Russian-German peace and requested from Monsignore Domenico Tardini the immediate mounting of a Papal peace initiative to stop the war in the West so Germany could finish Communism in the East [ardini saw in this a transparent effort to obtain a military solution]. Like several other German officials, von Weizsäcker attempted to negotiate the survival of some segment of the government and to avoid the "unconditional surrender" of Germany, but his efforts to bring up the topic of "a German transition government, and the likelihood of his being a member of it", failed.

Von Papen Hopes to Lead Germany
Said To Have Large Funds Abroad
The Argus [Melbourne, Vic.]
26 July 1944 LONDON
.

Tuesday Von Papen, German Ambassador to Turkey, has accumulated £1 million in the Argentine, with which he hopes to found a Catholic party in Germany after the war, says the Istanbul correspondent of the "Daily Express". He is known to fancy his chances of leading a Peace Government, and news from Germany seems to bring closer the day of his bid for power.

He believes that in the aftermath of defeat there will probably be a religious revival in Germany. His Catholic party would exploit this mood. As a Catholic and an aristocrat, von Papen would be far more acceptable personally to the Prussian Junkers than "Corporal Hitler". They are believed to favour him because they believe his non-military and semi-religious party would shield them during the immediate postwar period from the destructive attentions of the victorious Allies, bent on punishing the Nazis. This temporary obscurity will be essential to enable them to build up for a third bid for world domination.

Von Papen's fund has been increasing rapidly lately as German business men seek to insure themselves against a Nazi defeat by buying into the group they believe will make the peace.  

Japanese Effort to reconcile Nazis, Russians
Tweed Daily [Murwillumbah, NSW]
4 September 1944 LONDON.

The chief of the German News Agency in Turkey, Fritz Fiala, has deserted the Nazi cause. Fiala, in a statement, said that Japan had long been trying to effect an understanding between Russia and Germany.

"Giant submarines had long been bringing valuable cargoes from Japan to Germany".

Inside Germany Still Mystery
The Courier-Mail Brisbane, Qld.]
7 September 1944

LONDON. Mystery surrounds what is happening militarily and politically near and inside Germany. Rumours and unconfirmed reports are building up a state of "anythinq may happen at any moment".   Expectancy has been heightened by the report that Hitler has called his "greatest crisis conference".'

According to the "Daily Mail's Madrid correspondent, reports from Berlin say that not merely generals, but party leaders have been summoned to consider the threat to Germany. The correspondent adds that the reports agree that Göring considers further fighting useless, and that many generals and some party leaders concur. When Brussels Radio broadcast foreign reports early this after noon that "Germany has capitulated", many people were ready to believe it. but soon afterwards the Brussels Radio denied and regretted its own statement.

There is clearly much happening Inside Germany, of which we know or are told nothing, and it is true to-day, as it has been true for a fortnight or longer now. Rumours and speculation are prolific. They embrace almost anything from upheaval inside Germany to mysterious, high placed Germans supposedly arriving in a neutral capital see ing an armistice.

One development occasioning considerable attention is the fact that Antwerp port has been taken virtually intact, whereas the Germans dealt pretty thoroughly with most other ports before evacuation. It is suggested that they may not have damaged Antwerp because this will be a suitable port for the Allies to bring in supplies to feed the Reich.

It is apparently more than suspected in military quarters that Hitler's plan of campaign is being systematically sabotaged by his own generals, who instead of holding out as long as they can on the west front in accordance with the Führer's orders, are now in full retreat to Germany. The German Army, however, while abandoning the Balkans, is fighting very hard to prevent a Russian break-through into Western Poland. It is accordingly suggested that the German generals are trying to let the British and Americans into Germany before the Russians arrive, hoping to cause bad blood between the British and the Americans on one hand and the Russians on the other.  

Neutrals Report Renewed German Peace Bids
The Argus [Melbourne, Vic.]
7 September 1944

Neutral capitals are at present flooded with new crops of rumours and unconfirmed reports of German peace bids. A report from Madrid says that three leading Germans, rumoured to be von Papen, former Ambassador to Turkey; Dr Walther Funk, president of the Reichsbank; and Dr Julius Curtiush, Reich Foreign Minister in 1938, have arrived in Lisbon to sound out Portuguese on the temporary right of asylum for Nazi chiefs pending an attempt to negotiate peace terms with the Allies. The three are stated to have arrived in Lisbon by plane, supposedly seeking an improvement of German Portuguese relations.

Paris newspapers give prominence to Swiss reports that Germany is trying to contact the Western Powers directly, and Russia through Tokyo, presumably in the hope of securing something comparable with the Armistice of the last war, which would enable the regime to at least save a little face. 

Madrid Believes Nazi-Jap Peace Effort Near
Army News [Darwin, NT]
15 September 1944

An effort to secure a general peace, including Japan as well as Germany, may be imminent. That is the latest report from Madrid, where it also is stated, despite the German denial, that von Papen has been appointed Ambassador to Spain - almost certainly with power to start peace soundings through the neutrals. Von Papeno's whereabuts are not known, although he is said to be in Spa!n or Portugal.

Observers also forecnst peace soundings by three German diplomats -Kurt von Rohrcheidt, Else Linkkmeyer, and Werner Schultz- who have arrived by air in Lisbon from Germany with n military adviser, Hermann Grofmann. The German Minister to Portugal has returned to Germany for a conference.

In the meantime Japanese diplomats in Portugal also are active. Departures from Lisbon include Japanese attachés, secretaries, other members of Tokyo's Legatlon, and journalists. The Japanese Ambassador to Spain, Yakiamira Suna, flew to Berlin last week, and told Hitler and Ribbentrop that von Papen should be sent to Madrid to replace Hans-Heinrich Dieckhoff, who now has been summoned to Berlin.

Whatever these moves implied -and our best informed quarters declare that it is too early to expect a real peace move from Germany yet- Britain is speeding up her prepartions for going into Germany.

In September 1944, Schellenberg recruited a new collaborator, Giselber Wirsing, a nationalist [but non-Nazi] author of works on foreign affairs, who had written for the "Münchener Neueste Nachrichten" and "Die Tat". Schellenberg and Wirsing agreed, according to Wirsing's postwar testimony, that Germany's military position was hopeless, and that Hitler had to leave the government to create any chance for German participation in peace negotiations. To that end, Wirsing was to write a series of unvarnished analyses of Germany's military and foreign policy situation which Schellenberg would distribute to a select circle of high Nazi officials, among whom the primary audience was Himmler. One specific goal was to destroy the illusion that the Nazis could still exploit differences among the Allies. Wirsing sought to bring about the creation of a non-Nazi government, but Schellenberg simply envisaged Himmler's ascendancy. In any case, Himmler supposedly agreed with the thrust of Wirsing's reports, but failed to live up to promises to Schellenberg, because of either Hitler's opposition or lack of support from the extreme wing of the SS.

Desperate Peace Moves Reported
The Sun [Sydney, NSW]
4 September 1944

LONDON. The German Government has been making desperate efforts to contact Allied representatives in one European capital, Geneva reports state. Purpose of these feverish feelers is to secure compromise peace terms and all reports agree that the overtures are the most serious yet attempted. Other soundings have been made in Tokyo by the Germans endeavoring to contact the Russians. German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop apparently believes he can take advantage of Allied divergences over the Polish question.
Berlin is making capital of the fact that Stalin has never insisted on unconditional surrender for Germany.

Reports persist in Lisbon that during the next few days Hitler will make a public appeal to the Allies for a negotiated peace to avoid the German use of another secret weapon "more terrible than anything the world has ever known".

The Spanish Embassy in Washington today denies allegations broadcast by Moscow radio and published in US newspapers, implicating Spain. The Embassy says that only a very small number of German Customs officers, unable to reach Germany, have arrived in Spain. They were immediately interned. "No one", it says, "ever contemplated providing a hiding-place in Spain for enemies of the Allied countries". Six German ships which arrived at Pasajes were interned. "The Spanish Government", the Embassy states, "wishes to stress the fact that the Spanish regime has nothing in common with National Socialism, which Is condemned by the Church. Spain's regime is essentially based on Christian principles".

Hitler is Facing Grim Position
The Telegraph [Brisbane, Qld.]
6 September 1944

LONDON. There are no authentic news about Hitler. Berlin said today that Hitler and Ribbentrop conferred with the Japanese Ambassador, Hiroshi Ōshima, about the Pacific war.

Hitler might well be scouring the horizon, wondering which would be the most likely direction for his escape. He is in a grim position, knowing there is not a spot in the whole world where he would be welcome o r safe. The man in the street doubts whether Hitler will ever be brought to justice. There is always the possibility that he may be "bumped off": not many people reckon he will have the courage to commit suicide. The Allies would accept unconditional surrender from Germany from any person or group who could be considered responsible. The rumour that Rundstedt might be an appropriate spokesman is only a rumour. The ex-Mayor ot Leipzig, Gördeler, also has been mentioned as a possible emissary, but since the news of his arrest his fate is in doubt, although he probably is alive. The surrender overture must come from somewhere at the lop even it the surrender in fact occurs beforehand among the military rank and file.

Peace Rumour Denied - Alleged German Moves
The Sydney Morning Herald [NSW]
8 September 1944

LONDON. Rumours that Germany has been seeking opportunities to open peace talks with the Allies have been emphatically denied by a Government spokesman in London, in discussing various reports of the activities of German personages who are reported to have arrived in Lisbon and Madrid in the last few days in search of peace contacts. The latest suggestion reaching London is that German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop has gone to Lisbon either to make peace overtures or to arrange an escape route for the Nazi leaders, and his name is being associated with the mysterious "Herr Primavera" whom neutral correspondents for days past have been suggesting is in Portugal as a German envoy.

All these rumours are discounted here, but have received prominence in most newspapers. It is emphasized that, so far an Britain is concerned, peace talks with Germany will only be possible when German military leaders ask General Eisenhower for surrender terms, and he is the only individual empowered by the United Nations' Governments to accept unconditional surrender, and then only if offered by the German High Command.

Says the Stockholm [Sweden] correspondent of the "Daily Express":

"In Stockholm more Germans have been putting out tentative feelers, at least to Swedish friends, to learn the Allied reaction to any peace offer, either by Hitler or some so-called "opposition"   leader.

"Among scores of rumours sweeping Stockholm are reports:

"[1] That Hitler now plans to throw in all remaining surprise weapons, even though preparations for their use are not fully complete. [2] That there is yet another serious clash of opinions among German leaders about plans.[3] That more and bigger German peace feelers are on the way".

Dr. Göbbels and his fellow German propagandists are beginning to familiarize Germany with the prospect of defeat. Allied penetration of German territory is being admitted frankly, and hints are being thrown out, of the abandonment of big stretches of the Reich itself.

Dr. Göbbels, writing in "Das Reich", and warning Germans that "our path now lies through the 'vale of grief', states:

"However, we are firmly resolved to make use of any means for the defence of our country and its life, and never —never even in our most secret thoughts— to contemplate cowardly capitulation".

-- The Sydney Morning Herald [NSW] 16 September 1944
     

After the Allied invasion of Sicily [July 1943] and the strategic Soviet victory in the Battle of Kursk [July–August 1943], Göbbels began to recognize that the war could no longer be won. Following the Allied invasion of Italy and the fall of Mussolini in September, he raised with Hitler the possibility of a separate peace, either with the Soviets or with Britain. Hitler rejected both of these proposals.

In the last months of the war, Göbbels' speeches and articles took on an increasingly apocalyptic tone. By the beginning of 1945, with the Soviets on the Oder River and the Western Allies preparing to cross the Rhine, he could no longer disguise the fact that defeat was inevitable. Berlin had little in the way of fortifications or artillery [or even Volkssturm units, "civilian soldiers"], as almost everything had been sent to the front. Göbbels noted in his diary on 21 January 1945, that millions of Germans were fleeing westward. He tentatively discussed with Hitler the issue of making peace overtures to the western Allies, but Hitler again refused. Privately, Göbbels was conflicted at pushing the case with Hitler since he did not want to lose the confidence of his Führer.

When other Nazi leaders urged Hitler to leave Berlin and establish a new centre of resistance in the National Redoubt in Bavaria, Göbbels opposed this, arguing for a heroic last stand in Berlin.

Ribbentrop Fails Again
Army News [Darwin]
11 October 1944

LONDON:-Ribbentrop, Hitler's carpet-bagger for peace terms, again has had to report to his boss "Nothing doing".

Ribbentrop has again visited Spain trying to contact British and American representatives for a pre-arranged compromise peace. he abandoned the "threadbare plea that Germany was the European bulwark against Bolshevism". Instead, he obliquely argued that a prosperous unmutilated Germany was vital for the political and economic stability of Europe.

Göbbels' Article Gives First Hint of Peace
Army News [Darwin, NT]
28 October 1944

LONDON. Friday. In an article in his weekly newspaper, "Das Reich", the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Dr. Göbbels gave the first hint that Germany may be prepared to accept peace terms.

"We shall not lay down our arms until we are assured that our freedom and dignity will survive," he stated.

The trend of the article was fear of the occupation of Germany by the Russians.

"Decent Peace"
The West Australian [Perth, WA]
13 November 1944 LONDON.

The German Overseas News Agency's report of Dr Göbbels' speech to the Volkssturm today included the following passage omitted from the home radio version:

"Germany is not out and will fight until our damned enemies are prepared to conclude a decent peace".

New Job for von Papen - Appointed Ambassador to Portugal
Kalgoorlie Miner [WA]
16 November 1944

London. Von Papen, former German Ambassador to Turkey, has been appointed Ambassador to Portugal, and Berlin is awaiting Portuguese approval before sending him to Lisbon, according to neutral diplomatic sources in Ankara. There is no confirmation of this in London, and the diplomatic correspondent of the "Daily Mail" explains that the Portuguese are not compelled to accept von Papen's nomination, assuming that it has been forwarded. He suggests that the Nazis still consider von Papen useful, although his only purpose would be to sow discord between the Allies, or to attempt peace negotiations. The British Government, adds the correspondent, will not be unduly worried by any trouble von Papen might endeavor to cause if he goes to Lisbon, and will certainly not be interested in any peace feelers he might put out. The only peace available to the Germans now is through General Eisenhower.  

"Bickering with U.S. Should End"
The Courier-Mail [Brisbane, Qld.]
6 January 1945

LONDON. The "Daily Mail" says it is time to end current Anglo-American bickerina. It says that differences arise even in the best regulated families. Then plain speaking often degenerates into brawling.

"We are all for frankness, but we believe that these exchanges have gone beyond that desirable point, it is time to pause and reconsider the causes of the dispute.

"The most immediate question is that of military commands.

"The Allies suffered a setback on the west front. There have been questions and criticisms. "Now the Americans are saying somewhat defensively that there is no need to weaken Eisenhower's authority or displace him. Nobody in this country ever hinted that Eisenhower should go or should exercise divided authority.

"The second difference is political. This problem involves the wide and more vital question of the constitution of the post-war world. Such recriminations get us nowhere. They satisfy nobody except Göbbels, who is making great play with them.

"This danger, which increases with time, can be eliminated by an early meeting of the Big Three to hammer out the points at issue".

"Recent diplomatic developments in Europe are causing certain American voices to proclaim mournfully that we lost the cause for which we are fighting", says the "New York Times".

"This flurry, of talk is harmful to our morale, exasperating our Allies, and bitter to our troops. Much of the criticism is contradictory.

"It is preposterous to say that the winning of the war won't acccomplish a great purpose.   "We shall have preserved our independence, kept our friends, and turned back a very great threat to western civilisation. All is not lost when Britain and the great Commonwealths of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa can defend themselves so successfully in a life and death war that their free institutions, traditions, and liberty survive the struggle untarnished and unimpaired".

In Washington President Roosevelt and the British Amibassador, Lord Halifax, conferred for 45 minutes. Lord Halifax later said that they discussed a Roosevelt— Churchill-. Stalin meeting, the Polish and Greek situations, and Anglo-American differences.

Nazis Upset Allied Conceptions
The Argus [Melbourne, Vic.]
13 January 1945

The past four weeks of war in Western Europe have turned the strategical concepts of three months inside out. Instead of counting the future solely in terms of a German collapse, we are now looking at the war in terms of our own strength as well as that of the Germans. This upset in our complacent view of the war picture has led to a search for scapegoats, and a certain amount of international bickering between the British and American Press. The fact is that neither the British nor the American experts had any conception of the resilience of German industry, which enabled the enemy to build up such a formidable striking force in three or four months, when we thought the whole nation was prostrate as a result of the summer's defeats.

The fact now to be faced is that the all-out bid to end the war last year failed in its main object, and by concentrating on short-range tactical objectives, gave the Germans a chance to repair the industries which they need for long-range strategical purposes. While Allied heavy bombers were pounding rail- way centres and supply routes, the Germans were rebuilding smashed tank factories far in the rear, and, having weathered the autumn storm, they are now facing a winter stronger than they have been since D Day.

Having weathered the bitterest storm, Germany is prepared now to fight a longer, slower battle to the death, and she has temporarily gained the initiative in large sectors of the West Front by exploiting the complacency and overconfidence of the Allied armies. Perhaps the biggest immediate German gain is the uncertainty, querulousness, and dissension this upset has caused in the Allied camp.

Göbbels' propaganda machine is pumping out its poison with the familiar object of creating suspicion and hostility among the Allies, and breaking the united front of east and west. He is again suggesting that the British are "fighting the war to the last American", that Field-Marshal Montgomery's appointment was the result of the total collapse of the American Command; that the Allies are unwilling to defend Alsace be- cause they are not interested in France; and that the Red Army is deliberately holding back its winter offensive in order to bleed the Western Allies. These are familiar lines of talk, but because the situation has radically changed they have found fertile ground, and wrangles between sections of the British and American Press are raising a new hope in the enemy camp. The next meeting of the Big Three may help to re- establish fundamental Allied unity, but the present military setback has followed a long series of political setbacks in Greece, Poland, Italy, and Belgium, and found Allied unity and confidence at its lowest point. It is obvious to all observers that British, Soviet, and American policy is unsettled on political questions, and it is not thoroughly in accord with the aspirations of liberated Europe. The British handling of the Greek situation has been an awful warning for the future. The refusal of Britain and USA to recognize the Lublin Government of Poland and the apparent American desire to make capital of Britain's difficulties have sharpened differences between the Allies. On top of these political upsets has come the sharp military upset, which has set some British and American propagandists at each other's throats.

Behind these bickerings lies the possibility of a more serious clash with the Soviet when they have been resolved. This is Göbbels' plan. To short-circuit this development several facts may now be stated openly. Whatever errors of judgment may have been made by the Allied command in pursuance of policy of "calculated risks", no Allied generals have been "bowler-hatted" for incompetence, and the command retains the confidence of the political leaders. Sir Bernard Montgomery's command over large American forces was the direct result of a breach in Allied communications, and is a temporary reshuffle to meet unusual circumstances. This was truly stated for the first time by Lieut-General Omar Bradley in the Press conference which the commander of the 12th US Army Group gave on Thursday. The "Battle of the Bulge" is being fought mainly by American troops, but British units have been engaged since the third week in September, when they were switched to the south to race for the Meuse bridges and provide a screening force for Liege and Namur. These troops are still engaged with American units on both flanks on the western part of the Bulge.

Field-Marshal Montgomery was called in to take over command by General Eisenhower when the US 1st Army was split in two. He did not act on his own initiative, but according to the highest sources did a remarkably rapid and efficient job, sizing up the situation and taking steps to bring it under control. The future of Alsace has not been written off by the Allies, Although the battles have not yet taken final shape, and developments are obscure, General de Gaulle's assurance that the Allied armies will exert themselves to hold Strasbourg and the Alsace plain is a simple statement of fact. The German moves in this area are threatening, but there is no reason for panic The enemy could not gain any decisive military advantage by driving us back to the Vosges, as he could have gained by splitting the northern and central army groups, and pinning the British forces back to the Dutch coast.

Development of the Eastern Front can be accurately assessed only by correspondents who are writing from Moscow. But Marshal Stalin has never yet failed to deliver the goods in over three years of war, and there is no good reason to believe he has lost his determination to destroy Hitlerism by every means in his power now. He is doing a big job on his southern front, and if he has failed to put the central front into action there is no reason to doubt that it is for reasons of weather, supply, or tactics which we do not know of at this distance.

When the Big Three meet many of Göbbels' ghosts will undoubtedly be laid. Meanwhile, there is good precedent for keeping them locked in the cupboard rather than letting them walk abroad.

Berlin's Astonishingly Gloomy Admissions
The Mercury [Hobart, Tas.]
18 January 1945

LONDON. Although Göbbels says there is no cause for alarm, German military commentators continue to make astonishingly gloomy admissions regarding the great Russian breaks-through on the Eastern Front. One says the whole front is moving back like an avalanche, and another that the Russian aim obviously is to break into the heart of the Reich in one great sweep.

"Territorial changes as a result of new developments on the Eastern Front are unavoidable, but these should give no cause for alarm," said Göbbels in an article issued early today by the German News Agency.

"The Germans on the Eastern Front are facing a tremendous task, perhaps the most difficult they have ever faced," Göbbels added.

"Enemy superiority in the Kielce. Radom, and Warka sectors is inarticulately gigantic, and still more Russian forces are poised in the rear of the battle zones ready to intervene Map changes, therefore, must not surprise. We never aimed at a rigid defence. Instead, we shall counter-balance the mammoth weight of the Russian offensives by being elastic and mobile in our strategy, and bold and sweeping in our actions".

Alfred von Olberg, the German News Agency's commentator, said last night: "The Russian Winter offensive is aimed to sweep the entire German front aside and break into the heart of the Reich from the Baltic to the Adriatic". The German High Command late last night announced over Berlin Radio: "Every hour fresh Russian forces are being flung into the storm centres of the hattie. The enemy intends to deal a decisive blow". The Stockholm correspondent of "The Times" says Dr. Helmut Sünderman the German Deputy Press Chief at the Wilhelmstrasse, yesterday admitted that the whole front from the Carpathians to the Baltic, was moving back like an avalanche. "The vast Russian offensive has been made possible because the British and Americans are pinning down a large part of the best German troops on the Western Front.", the spokesman added.

New Fakes by Göbbels
Special Section for Propaganda
The Advertiser [Adelaide, SA]
25 January 1945

Göbbels is extending the "black" division of his Propaganda Ministry—the secret organisation behind German psychological warfare, and including the "Mary of Arnhem" broadcasts, says Gordon Young, special correspondent of the "Daily Express" in Paris.

"Since before the war," says Young, "the work of Göbbels' men has been divided into twc parts —the ordinary well-known propaganda section and the other the "black" section, which concentrates on underground subversive propaganda, including secret radioc stations, whispering and rumour campaigns in neutral and enemy countries, and every kind of fake and forgery designed to split the Allies and spread defeatism.

"Typical examples were the fake BBC broadcasts about Field Marshal Montgomery and the recent distribution in France of an alleged article from the 'New York Herald Tribune', filled with subversive suggestions". So are the rumors which agents are now busy spreading in cafes and food queues in France and Belgium designed to make the Allies hated, such as:

1. The reason for the Belgian coal shortage is that Belgium is forced to send coal to England;
2. the Allies are claiming £10 Million a month from Belgium for occupation expenses;
3. the British ordered that the French be given enough coal to keep them alive, but not enough to permit a resumption of industry.

"At the time of yon Rundstedt's offensive German agents circulated a report that Gen. Eisenhower had been superseded by Field Marshal Montgomery, the aim being to spread confusion and destroy confidence.

"Several thousand men and women are doing this work for Göbbels. but their identity is secret. The real brains of the 'black' propaganda are men known only to a few immediate colleagues. They are aided by a vast monitoring system in a big building outside Berlin, where a staff of 2,000 listen throughout the 24 hours to Allied broadcasts and reproduce them daily. 

"On the basis of the Allied broadcasts, the 'black' division prepares some of its counter-propaganda. It is this work which will be extended, for Göbbels believes that disguised propaganda can play a vital part in the Nazi scheme for past-war underground resistance. He is already working out schemes for post-war fakes and tricks to beat up sympathy in neutral countries for vanquished Germany".

Von Papen Seeking Peace Terms? 
The Mercury [Hobart, Tas.]
26 January 1945

LONDON. Ankara Radio, quoting reports which are unconfirmed elsewhere, says von Papen, former Nazi Ambassador to Turkey, has arrived in Madrid at the head of a German mission which is sounding "the possibilities of securing favourable peace terms for Germany".

German Foreign Office officials deny that von Papen or anyone else has gone to Madrid to negotiate peace terms. This denial is supported by Spanish Foreign Office officials.

Göbbels Sad Says Germany is Alone
The Sun [Sydney, NSW]
26 January 1945

LONDON.
Dr. Göbbels added his contribution to German gloom last night by asking "What will happen it we are unable to halt the Russians?"

"The German people today are abandoned by everyone on the Continent, and now battle alone," he said. Göbbels' article is the gloomiest he has written for his paper, "Das Reich". It was broadcast by Berlin radio.

Once more Göbbels exploits the well-worn theme that Germany is the savior of Western Europe against Bolshevism.

"Developments in the East have taken a dramatic turn," he said.

"The Russians have appeared on the scene with masses of men and material that baffle the imagination. 

"They are testimony to the determination and readiness for sacrifice with which Moscow pursues its aims.

"It may be that such a prospect inspires some pious Englishmen, but in Germany it is only one step from well-integrated order to anarchy.

"Anarchy is the soil in which Bolshevism thrives, even though Stalin's soldiers are still far away.

"The raging torrent in the East will be broken, even though our enemies in the West are tying our hands just when we are trying to build a dam to save not only ourselves, but civilization.

"We are subjected to. a tremendous test, but are certain we can stand it — because we must".

War's End In Sight?
The Telegraph [Brisbane, Qld.]
30 January 1945
 

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that when the western offensive now being prepared is brought into play in conjunction with the Russian offensive in the east, Germany's overtaxed military machine will be smashed. Even if the Germans continue to fight it out beyond Berlin, as Göbbels says they will, it is highly improbable that they will be able to continue to resist for long as an organised army. Every mile the Russians progress into Silesia means the loss of more essential war industry to Germany, and that, in turn, means the incapacity to replace losses which are mounting every day. Every bomb from the west, has the same effect. It cannot be long now before Germany, who fought on after all hope of victory had long since gone, will be unable to continue, and co-ordinated attacks from east and west would be the surest means of hastening the inevitable.

Even if the war continues longer than seems likely, the need for a common Allied plan to deal with Germany and the reconstruction of Europe would be no less acute. The defeat of Germany has been our major war aim. That now is within measurable distance of being attained, and we must consider what is to be done with a defeated Germany. Whatever plans are made —and they must be made thoroughly as well as quickly— will determine in great measure not only the future of Germany but the future of the relationships of the United Nations.

Versailles generated a series of antagonisms and frictions which contributed substantially to this war by throwing out of balance the economy of the world and frustrating the legitimate hopes of some of the Allies. Those mistakes must not be repeated. It is easy enough to think out a peace which would visit upon the Germans some of the horrors they have visited upon others, but while that would give temporary relief to pent up emotions, it would, in time, recoil upon us; Our major peace aim must be the elimination of all the elements, economic and political, as well as personal, which gave birth and nourishment to the philosophy of Fascism.

Germany cannot be annihilated
. She must remain on this earth in some form, and if she is to become a hopelessly depressed area, she will drag down the standards of the whole world. Germany must be disciplined so that she can live as a law abiding and constructive member of world society.

Himmler Rushes Black Guards To Quell Unrest
The Sun [Sydney, NSW]
31 January 1945

NEW YORK. Fourteen SS [Black Guard] divisions are being rushed from the battlefronts to cope with growing unrest in Germany. Reporting this, the "New York Times" correspondent at Berne [Switzerland] says that Munich is "besieged" by a ring of Black Guards. This Nazi Party city, he says, is now surrounded by SS divisions. Precautions are being taken in most of the larger cities.

Officially, the armed demonstrations are referred to as being designed to prevent the spread of an "outbreak of general unrest". The precautions include massive displays of strategically deployed machine-gun batteries. Prom time to time the guns are ostentatiously loaded. The "New York Times" adds that the withdrawal of the 14 SS divisions was arranged after Himmler's services had discovered the existence of a possible Wehrmacht plot to repeat the coup of 20 July last. Neutral sources, declares the paper, claim to have in formation Indicating a wholesale clean-up of Army commands at strategical centres. Arrests and shootings on a wholesale scale on both sides are going on. 
The paper's Stockholm correspondent says that a sign of the fear of approaching collapse is seen In the fact that Nazis are trying to place huge funds in Sweden by registering patents there. A perusal of patent applications recorded In the Swedish official Journal reveal that a good 50 per cent of all patent applications are now coming from German firms. These include such major organisations as I. G. Farben, Zeiss-Ikon, Bosch, Daimler, Benz, AEG and Siemens.

Paris radio states that General Heinz Guderlan, German Chief of staff and C.-ln-C. on the Eastern Front, has resigned and left Germany. It added that Hitler had appointed as his successor General Lothar Rendulic, who until recently was C.-in-O. in Norway,

Fall of Berlin Expected in Next Few Days
The Newcastle Sun [NSW]
1 February 1945

LONDON. Military commentators in London believe that Berlin will fall in a few days. This view is strengthened by reports that Marshal Zhukov is swinging one arm wide to the south-east from his bridgehead across the Oder to envelop the capital from the south. 

The "London Times", in a leading article, says:
"The march on Berlin has begun. The crossing of the middle Oder leaves no doubt about Zhukov's decision to strike boldly forward on the flood tide of fortune".

Other commentators are afraid that Zhukov must pause on the Oder [45 miles from Berlin] to build up reserves. The "Daily Telegraph's military writer says it is inevitable that Zhukov's advance guards on the Oder must have outrun their supplies in this weather.

Rumors Pop Up About Long-Range Planes Set for Nazi Flight
San Bernardino Sun
1 February 1945

LONDON. Oft repeated rumors that long-range aircraft are standing by in Germany to carry Nazi leaders into exile popped up again today in dispatches from neutral Sweden and Switzerland. The new reports were received here with the greatest skepticism. A Zürich dispatch said two military planes, loaded with fuel for a 40-hour flight and food for eight persons, were hurriedly prepared yesterday at Lockfeld, near Augsburg, Bavaria, and placed under a strong guard. A Stockholm dispatch to the "London Daily Mail" said eight planes capable of flying to Japan had been set aside for the use of such Nazi notables as Hitler, Himmler, Göring and Ribbentrop. The dispatch declared it had been decided that Göbbels would remain behind as supreme commander for the defense of Berlin and that he now is carrying a vial of poison for use in the event Russian parachute troops descend on the German capital.

Nazi Peace Feelers Reported
Separate Approaches To Allies
The Advertiser [Adelaide, SA]
2 February 1945

NEW YORK. Rumors of German attempts to gain a negotiated peace are numerous. Despite denials, von Papen, the former German Ambassador to Turkey, is believed to be casting out peace feelers, and a number of German industrialists have been sounding out neutral capitals.

Hugo Siemens, head of the great German electrical combine, recently spent several days in Sweden, with the full authority of the German Government to seek a separate peace from Britain and America. Himmler and von Ribbentrop earlier sought a separate peace with Russia. Each acted independently, as each wanted to exploit the situation to his own advantage. Neither, however, succeeded in making contact with the Soviet Government.

These conflicting attempts to split the Allies by the cross and double-cross of other Germans indicate the chaos which underlies Germany's façade of force.

Göbbels' Appeal
Asks for Overthrow of Russia
Singleton Argus [NSW]
2 February 1945 

"It is just before the hour of 12 and the hands of the clock of history are wavering, undecided whether to move nearer the danger point or away", declared Dr. Göbbels, in a newspaper article, in which he appealed to the Western powers to side with Germany to overthrow Russia.

A Berlin Fantasy
Formula for Surrender
The Age [Melbourne, Vic.]
6 February 1945

LONDON. Ribbentrop's official spokesmen in Berlin are busy, suggesting the meeting place of the "Big Three," and are putting out a story that when, they meet the three leaders will address a political Manifesto. to the German people modifying the unconditional surrender formula drawn up at the Casablanca conference. They are evidently basing this assumption on Mr. Churchill's latest statement In Parliament in which he said the enforcement of unconditional surrender in "no way. relieves the victorious Powers of their obligations to humanity or of their duties as civilised and Christian nations". German propaganda ls likening any attempt to address a direct appeal; to the people to the "farce of President Wilson's 14 points".

In addition to enemy speculation on the purpose of the meeting there, is also one suggestion that Marshal Stalin may take advantage of the presence of Mr. Churchill and President Roosevelt to announce formally his marriage to Rosa Kaganovitch, sister of Lazar Kaganovitch, vice-president of the Council of the People's Commissars. She would be Marshal Stalin's third wife.

London diplomatic correspondents say that the drawing up of the armistice terms to be imposed, is in an advanced stage of preparation, but that some questions, about zones of operation are outstanding, particularly France's part, for although General de Gaulle is not taking part in the conference, French interests in the armistice and long-term treatment of Germany, are recognised in London, Washington and Moscow. At the time of the Dumbarton Oaks conference the question of Germany's future was left over for further discussions between Mr. Churchill, President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin. Under the scheme at present envisaged, a security council will be given the main responsibility of deciding on the action to be taken to prevent or overcome aggression, and what was left un decided was whether action should, be taken only if the great Powers — Britain, America, Russia and France— are unanimous: The conference probably will also concern itself with the tension in the Russo-Polish relations, and with the allocation of supplies to the freed peoples of Europe.

Armistice Feeler By "Reorganised" German Government
The Canberra Times [ACT]
8 February 1945

LONDON. Referring to the political situation in Germany the Swedish newspaper, "Aftonbladets," quotes reports circulating in neutral countries about a reorganization of the German Government, which suggest that Hitler will give up the position of Führer and become President of the Reich with von Papen as Chancellor.

Commenting on the report the "Associated Press" says that the rumours, which began in German circles, have all the earmarks of a trial balloon designed to sound out Allied reaction as to whether or not such a reorganized Government would have any chance of suing for an Armistice.

War-Weary Nazi Broacast Appeal Seen for Peace on Terms
The Courier-Mail [Brisbane, Qld.]
8 February 1945

LONDON. Last night's broadcast by General Kurt Dietmar, spokesman for the German High Command, is seen as a last-minute appeal to the Allies for any terms except unconditional surrender. As Dietmar spoke Zhukov's guns were thundering 40 miles east of Berlin, while Koniev's men were breaking the Oder defences in Silesia. The despairing tone of the broadcast was its most sensational feature. Dietmar said that Germany was balanced over an abyss and was forced by her enemies to continue the war.

Clearly speaking in anticipation of an appeal by the "Big Three" to the German people over the heads of the Nazi leaders Dietmar said:

"The demand for unconditional surrender means that we sign a blank cheque for those who want to annihilate us. The unrestricted and unlimited war which the enemy wages against us reflects his will to exterminate us. What the enemy demands of us is suicide of our own free will.

"Unconditional surrender would be a noose strangling us, but the enemy does not give us an alternative. He does not offer 'either-or'. Passivity would lead to endless horror".

Dietmar continued:

"It would be better for the German people to continue to fight, even without any hope of success.  "Even the greatest sufferings which befall us now are blessings compared with what we have to expect from the enemy.

"We know we could fall. Any false or incautious step could throw us into the abyss. The will of our people to resist, but, principally, the fighting army, are our balance poles. Several times in past weeks it has looked as though we could not avoid a stumble and a fall. Nobody wants to prolong this tight-rope walk indefinitely, but if we throw away our balance pole, if we agree to unconditional surrender, then we shall fall.

He called the Oder "the river deciding Germany's fate", and described the Russian bridgeheads as "ulcers in the body of the Reich". Dietmar added that "since our sally in the west much has happened, our difficulties in both the east and the west have become apparent".  

No Comment In Berlin On Alleged Peace Move
Barrier Miner [Broken Hill, NSW]
13 February 1945

LONDON. Officials at the German Foreign Office, says the "Daily Mail" Berne correspondent, refuse to comment on reports that Germany has made peace overtures to the Allies. They will not say whether a German plenipotentiary has gone to the Big Three meeting.

The correspondent adds that irrespective of this, there is a general conviction in Berlin that the Big Three will offer the German people an armistice over the heads of the Nazi leaders. Hence the Nazis' efforts to neutralise any such offer by painting a picture that death would be better than the "horrors of surrender".

Göbbels has opened a new radio offensive, in which he is using faked voices purporting to come from the BBC and other Allied stations. A station calling itself "BBC" and addressing the Red Army last night used "God Save the King" as an interval signal. In guttural French and English the announcer said that an armistice had been concluded between Russia and Germany.

Final Chapter
San Bernardino Sun
16 February 1945

There is no end to the fantastic stories coming out of the war. Many of these concern the fate of Hitler and other Nazi leaders when Germany surrenders. There has been much discussion of possible punishment to be meted out by the Allied war guilt commission. Lack of agreement already has been disclosed. All this will be ironed out as the great day of victory approaches. 

Meanwhile, methods by which Nazi war lords will attempt to escape punishment are many and varied, according to correspondents. For months, according to one report, planes have been kept constantly warmed up to take Hitler and his gang to Tokyo when the jig is up. In a slight variation of this rumor, Argentina is named as the destination. Another report says the Nazi leaders will leave by a giant submarine, capable of staying under water days and provisioned and fueled for a long voyage. Most of these reports come from Switzerland and Sweden. One of the latest of these reports is a bit more elaborate. Two military planes, loaded with fuel for a 40-hour flight, and food for eight persons, are waiting in Bavaria to carry Hitler, Himmler, Göring, Ribbentrop and other Nazi leader to an undisclosed destination. Göbbels is missing from this list This story has it that he is to play the hero's role, staying behind to direct the final defense of Berlin, and then dying from a lethal dose of poison which he always carries on his person.

Reports arriving In Stockholm say that the Germans have drawn up detailed plans for the final house-to-house defence of Berlin. Göbbels has already been appointed "Supreme Commander" of the city, but the appointment will not be officially announced until the Russians have reached the city's outskirts. Göbbels will have as his military adviser General Walter Brehmer, a SS officer, whose suspicions upset the plot against Hitler last July.

Resistance will be concentrated in the heart of the city where the Tiergarten, the Kroll Opera Haus, and the old Reichstag building have been converted into strong points. Trenches have been dug, pill boxes have been rushed up, and ammunition dumps have been established. It is said that Göbbels will try to defend Berlin as the Russians defended Stalingrad. His plans have already led to a cessation of work in many factories. Outside the city, too, plans for the battle are being speeded up. Rivers, bridges and canals have been mined.

In February 1945, without Hitler's knowledge, Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler made contact with the Vice-President of the Swedish Red Cross, Folke Count Bernadotte, to talk to the Western powers.

On 4 March 1945, Hitler, in letter to members of the Nazi Party calling on them to remain faithful, wrote:

"I expect everyone to be ready to sacrifice his fife for me. I am determined, in the event of defeat, to fall together with my people".

The letter was quoted by Moscow radio.  

Nazi Party Leaders Clash With Army
The Evening Advocate [Innisfail, Qld.]
5 March 1945

BERNE. The ever latent conflict between the Wehrmacht and National Socialist Party extremists rears its head again as the Russians pierce the heart of Germany. Himmler and Guderian; Göring and Himmler; von Ribbentrop and Himmler, all are at daggers points. .Suspicion is everywhere. Everybody accuses everybody else of trying to make peace with the Russians, or the British and Americans — or both.

Rumors are rife, German negotiators are in neutral capitals. Franz von Papen, negotiator extraordinary, has been commuting between Madrid and Berne.  Fritz Thyssen, Göring's agent, has been seen, in a neutral country, where he is "visiting his niece, who is the wife of a diplomat". Himmler has a travelling agent, in the person of Obergruppenführer-SS Walter Schellenberg. So on, ad infinitum, and the bulk of these rumors appears to emanate direct from Berlin. It seems the German big-twigs don't mind talk of internal discord.

The main target of Himmler's venom, according to general concensus, is General Guderian, Germany's tank specialist, who is now Hitler's right hand man in command of the German Army on the Eastern Front. Guderian failed, Himmler's followers insinuate, to take the necessary steps to forestall disasters in the East. Guderian is furthermore reproached for his former friendship with Hungarian General Miklos, now President of the Russian organized Debrecen Government. This whispering campaign against Guderian inside the Reich hints that the General is being influenced by success of the Miklos decision and wishes to play "Miklos" in Germany. In other words, according to his accusers, Guderian is putting Germany before the Nazi party.

Himmler's mouthpiece, "Das Schwarze Korps", launched an all- out campaign against those whom the Gestapo Chief ironically calls the "innocents"— those who now declare that they did not want the war and cannot accept responsibility for its consequences. "A mountain climber," writes the paper, "cannot cry for help once he has reached the summit because he discovers that he would have preferred to remain at the foot of the ascent". Himmler is evidently trying to hit at those Wehrmacht Generals who now explain that they have never engaged in politics in order to wash their hands of the responsibilities of war, besides a certain number of lukewarm Nazis. The real importance of the Party-Wehrmacht conflict is the intense irritation that such attacks create among Guderian's colleagues and men: " The Wehrmacht to-day is Germany's only shield".

The potential peacemakers inside Germany are Wehrmacht Generals, not civilians. The General could make small-scale capitulations by simply refusing combat or by putting up formal resistance only. Any quarrel between the party and the Army at this stage augments the chances of this "piece meal" capitulation. Meanwhile, border reports reaching here state that heavy artillery and tremendous quantities of anti-aircraft guns are en-route to Bavaria. The German Ministries' archives and the Gestapo's papers are already installed in mountain hideouts, to which prominent Nazis and their families and belongings are preparing to evacuate. The bush is said to contain factories for synthetic oil and complete installations for making flying bombs. All Waffen S.S. Troops stationed inside these hidden fortifications have been placed under the sole command of General Sepp Dietrich, head of the famous Adolf Hitler division, it is reported.

Reported Split in Nazi Party
News [Adelaide, SA]
6 March 1945

LONDON. Nazi leaders are beginning to disagree openly among themselves, says the Stockholm correspondent of the "Daily Mail". The Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop spread himself recently to entertain neutral correspondents, and talking off the record at a dinner party, made the statement that Germany would fight to the bitter end in the west, but must let the Russians through in the east. This dinner party, said the correspondent, was a vital step in an attempted Ribbentrop-Hitler come-back against the swollen power o   Himmler and Göbbels, who evolved the eastern defence scheme.

Ribbentrop judged that the moment was ripe to demonstrate that the eastern scheme had failed. and faith in the Führer would be rebuilt. Swedish observers considered that the dinner party marked the first stage in a Nazi feud which might have spectacular results within a few weeks.

As an insurance against peace cliques, the Nazis had detained some members of the old Imperial German Court in addition to representatives of the Junkers. The "Daily Telegraph" correspondent in Stockholm stated that the royalists were being held as a surety for the good behaviour of all German royalties in the uncertain days ahead. A list of those in custody included Prince August Wilhelm of Hohenzollern; Baron von Endelia, former adjutant to the Bavarian ex-Crown Prince; one of the Princes of Pless; Graf Pickologmini of Vienna; Graf Truchseas of Württemburg: and Baron von Berchtold.

No Armistice Expected
The Sun Sydney, NSW]
8 March 1945

LONDON. Execution of Nazi leaders and how the war might end are discussed by London newspapers. Conclusions reached are that Hitler, Hlmmler, Göbbels. Ribbentrop, and others will probably be executed [when captured] without formal trial and that German troops will be given a time limit in which to lay down arms, failing which they win be shot. It is argued that there should hot be any farcical trial at which people like Hitler could build up a tradition of martyrdom.

No one expects a formal German surrender or armistice. Allied field commanders will report when there is no longer a German High Command directing operations. That will be when Allied troops are astride all lines of communication inside Germany. In Britain, an Order-in-Council will probably be issued announcing the official end of the war— this will be necessary because of contracts and agreements due to expire with that event, and similar action will be taken on the same date in America and Russia.

Rumors Peace Steps Spread In Stockholm
Madera Tribune,
17 March 1945

LONDON. Rumors were circulating in Stockholm today that Nazi Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, chief of the German high command, were expected to arrive at the Swedish capital. "United Press" dispatches from Stockholm said there was no sign that Ribbentrop, Keitel, or any other prominent Nazi leaders had arrived there today. A Stockholm dispatch to the "London Daily Mail" said the rumors were believed inspired by the German legation and diplomatic circles here were highly skeptical of the reports.

The rumors developed shortly after it was disclosed that Dr. Fritz Hesse, managing director of German’s "DNB News Agency", visited Stockholm recently with what Swedish dispatches described as “peace feelers.” Well-informed sources at Stockholm told the "United Press" that Hesse undoubtedly was sent to Sweden by Ribbentrop although his mission was not formally authorized. This was described by responsible quarters as a loophole to enable the Germans to disclaim any responsibility if the mission failed. Such a situation may account for the loud denials made by Berlin that Hesse was in Sweden as a peace emissary. Reliable informants at Stockholm, who met Hesse during his visit, said he had no proposals with him but had been authorized to tell British and Americans that Germans desired to discuss armistice or peace terms. Unconfirmed Swedish newspaper reports said Hesse also was empowered to talk to the Russians.

Hesse remained in Stockholm several weeks during which he saw several more or less influential Swedes and Anglo-Americans politicians, it was said. One of the Swedes, informed sources claimed, was the "Svenska Dagbladet’s Arvid Freoborg, who has good connection with conservative Swedish politicians. Stockholm observers believed Hesse’s mission was a mixture ot threats and pleading—threats of the Bolshevik bogey and pleading in the name of humanity.

Another significant report coming from Stockholm was that while Hesse was still in Sweden, Ribbentrop told a dinner meeting of Swedish journalists and several neutral diplomats at Berlin that the Nazis would let the Soviets occupy whole Germany "if the western powers aid not offer Germany 'reasonable peace terms'.

Moves for Peace by Nazis Expected
Truth [Brisbane, Qld.]
18 March 1945

LONDON. Considerable stir has been created in London, and throughout the Continent, by signs and portents which suggest that peace may arrive at any moment, so far as the European war is concerned. Von Ribbentrop and Field Marshal von Keitel, of the German High Command, are expected to arrive in Stockholm to-day, and while one theory is that von Ribbentrop may be on the run out of Germany, the fact that he is accompanied by von Keitel is taken to indicate something more important and significant. London newspapers report that dramatic developments might be expectable, and are pointing out that "any surrender proposals will have to be passed on to General Eisenhower". Von Keitel, as Chief of Staff of the German armed forces, is the man who would be most acceptable to the Allies if he came bearing an offer of unconditional surrender.

The "Daily Mirror" correspondent in Stockholm suggests that the fact Ribbentrop is accompanied by the Marshal can only mean that "important and dramatic developments" may be pending and adds, "While the Allies would not negotiate with von Ribbentrop because he is a Nazi gangster, they might listen to Keitel".

Reports from both the eastern and western fronts indicate that the fighting power of the Germans has dissolved considerably, and information to the British War Cabinet shows that while at a few remaining points the Huns are strong, generally resistance has become singularly weak. In the last few weeks the Allies have taken nearly 170,000 prisoners. In other words, it is easy to estimate that the Germans have lost in this period in killed, missing, wounded, and prisoners at least 250,000 men, Secret Reports keep stressing trouble in the German High Command. There is a lot of quarreling and confusion. Hitler is trying to assert himself and his Generals are throwing in their hands or being sacked. The German High Command, or what is left of it, must surrender or take the consequences. If Rundstedt surrendered with the Armies it would not be sufficient in itself. It would only be the first crack. The Allies would accept Rundstedt's surrender, but they would not stop fighting.

Reuters correspondent in Stockholm cables that the "Svenska Dagbladet" report of German peace offers made to British and American officials in Stockholm by the German Foreign Office officials through Swedish intermediaries is not supported in any quarter in London. Nothing is known of any offers in British official circles.

Reuter's correspondent In Stockholm later cabled that the British Legation spokesman in Stockholm said that an approach was attempted a few days ago through a third party to a junior' member of the Legation staff. The third party, however, was immediately told that "the Legation was not in the least interested in any such approach".

"Svenska Dagbladet" stated that the Germans moved after a conference at Berghof where von Ribbentrop spent the entire night persuading Hitler that peace was essential. The Germans offered to evacuate all the occupied territories, but asked that the Nazi regime should remain after peace, because only Hitler had sufficient authority to reconcile the German people to the sudden idea of asking for peace.

The German spokesman threatened that the Germans, if the offer was rejected, would cease to resist in the east and would allow the Russians to overrun Germany, leading to a complete Bolshevisation, which would hurt British and American interests.

 -- Cairns Post [Qld] 15 March 1945 

Peace Approach Plan to Disrupt Allies
The Canberra Times [ACT]
17 March 1945

LONDON. According to Reuters correspondent at Stockholm it is reliably stated that the peace offer to Allied officials in Stockholm was made by a protégé of von Ribbentrop, named Hesse, who was attached to the German Embassy in London until shortly before the outbreak of war. He is at present an official of the German Foreign Office and Propaganda Ministry and was sent specially to Stockholm by Ribbentrop. "The Times" correspondent says that Allied representatives there feel that the-real object was not to seek peace but merely to try and stir up suspicion between Western nations and Russia.

The German Overseas News Agency, in a statement broadcast by Berlin Radio, denied the reports of peace feelers at Stockholm. "These rumours have been received with amazement in Berlin because no one in the world could have credited them even for a minute," it was stated."Everyone should now be convinced that  the leadership of the army and people in Germany would never think of capitulation".

Informal steps toward peace had been taken in mid-January 1945 when Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop on his own initiative sent Dr. Werner von Schmieden to Bern and his English affairs expert Dr. Fritz Hesse to Stockholm to make contact with Allied representatives for the purpose of discussing a negotiated settlement. Von Schmieden found it impossible to establish proper connections, and Hesse reported that his efforts were ruined because of publicity concerning his mission—earning for Ribbentrop a thunderous rebuke from Hitler.

-- Interrogation of Dr, Werner von Schmieden, Secretary of Legation in German Foreign Office, 16 Aug 45, WD G-2 file; testimony of Fräulein Margarete Blank, Ribbentrop secretary, International Military Tribunal Nuremberg [Nuremberg, 1947]

However, 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 on 28 March;  General 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 flatly forbids the Reichsmarschall to make any use of his own comprehensive contacts abroad.  Again and again the foreign minister [Ribbentrop] submits fresh possibilities to Führer, but he just turns them down".  Thus nobody knew how long a war still to plan for  -  another year or longer? or just a few last desperate months?

Rumors of German peace feelers have been abroad in London as thick and fast as in the other Allied capitals, but this much officially can be stated:

"Unconditional surrender stands as unequivocally today as ever, and this must involve the complete capitulation of the German general staff and the German army. No surrender involving anything less will be even considered". 

What is considered most likely in London is that the real German peace bid will come when substantial German armies are surrounded and when the Wehrmacht is beaten to its knees. The Allies would hardly be prepared to discuss peace before then.

Further Approaches Believed To Be Imminent
The Mercury [Hobart, Tas.]
19 March 1945

LONDON.  After the abortive peace move made in Stockholm by an emissary from Ribbentrop, it is expected further attempts will be made, probably by military leaders towards the Russians, according to the diplomatic correspondent of the "Sunday Dispatch". The main motive for these German moves is the belief held by Germany's rulers that anything short of the destruction of he Nazi Party, the German General Staff, and the German war potential would be a victory for Nazi Germany, the correspondent says.

Regarding reports that Keitel has arrived in Stockholm on a further peace move, the correspondent added that it is the opinion of the Foreign Office that, even should this be true, which is doubtful, it is extremely unlikely that Keitel or any other, military personality would be in a position to undertake-a real peace negotiation with the Allies. The Allied commanders are prepared to accept the surrender in the field of any German units, including whole Army groups, but will not entertain any kind of "deal". There is not likely to be any formal general armistice, and it is more likely the war will go on until the Wehrmacht is unable to continue organised resistance. Reports of peace moves are denied strongly by the German Foreign Office, which declared that they were doubtless linked up with Anglo-American war weariness.

Seeking Peace?
Reported Move Through Vatican
Recorder [Port Pirie, SA]
21 March 1945

NEW YOKK. "The latest peace move with feelers from Nazi Home Front Commander Himmler and Mussolini was made through Rome 10 days ago".

This is reported by the Paris correspondent of the "New York Post". Two messages have reached the Vatican, he says. Soundings on the possibility of conditional peace originated with Himmler and were accompanied by a personal message from Mussolini.

The contents of the messages are said to be known to the Allies, although it is doubtful is they were officially communicated to Allied quarters. The methods by which the messages reached the Vatican cannot be revealed, but they indicate that Himmler's peace soundings were taken independent of those by von Ribbentrop in Sweden. 

Rumours About Hitler
Fantastic Stories
Kalgoorlie Miner [WA]
21 March 1945

London. "An unusually good crop of rumours was flourishing in Stockholm this weekend". reports a special correspondent of the "Daily Herald". "A travelling business man, who no passport formalities, no transort difficulties, no Gestapo can hinder in his journeys between Sweden and 'well-informed circles in Berlin', seems to have been particularly active. Here are some of the latest rumours circulating in Stockholm about Hitler: 

(1) He has retired to Berchtesgaden to prepare his defence against the charge of being a war criminal.
(2) He is going to marry his sister to his chief medical adviser, Professor Karl Brandt, who has been a friend of both of them for a long time.
(3) He has retired to a home in an unknown hide-out, accompanied by several full-blooded Germanic women. He is reported to be anxious to leave an heir to carry on the battle in the next generation.

"More peace rumours allege that Hitler is prepared to hand over Himmler and Göring to the Allies as a condition for peace discussions, and that von Papen has interviewed the Catholic Bishop of Berlin, who, so the rumour goes, was asked to approach the Vatican to try to obtain an armistice for a discussion of peace terms". '  

Many Nazi Peace Feelers
Activities In All Neutral Countries
The Argus [Melbourne, Vic.]
28 March 1945

LONDON. So many Germans are putting out peace feelers in every neutral country, says the "Daily Express" political correspondent, that the British Foreign Office is keeping a register of them, with full details of the agents employed. It is believed that the feelers are approved by the Nazi leaders, but it has been impossible to persuade the agents to admit any direct association with Hitler or Göbbels. Nevertheless they all want to know the minimum terms on which the United Nations will agree to order "cease fire". The answer has always been the same: "Unconditional surrender."

Numerous German personalities, says Reuter's correspondent at Kreuzlingen, Lake Constance, on the frontier of Germany and Switzerland, are flocking into Constance, one of the few German towns of any size that has not been bombed. The correspondent says that it is confirmed that von Ribbentrop's Foreign Office staff has its headquarters at the Constance Hotel, where Frau von Ribbentrop is also reported to be staying. Professor Ferdinand Sauerbruch, who is one of Hitler's medical' advisers, arrived recently. Until a few days ago he was in Vienna.

Council of Nazis Split on War or Peace
The Sun [Sydney, NSW]
28 March 1945

LONDON. An urgent Council of War called by Hitler at Berchtesgaden split into factions, with the group demanding that the fight be continued prevailing over those who wanted to surrender, says the Berne correspondent of the "Daily Mail".

Meanwhile, Dr. Karl Schnurre, one of Hitler's favorite "bargainers", has arrived secretly at Stockholm, according to the "Daily Express" correspondent. Diplomats in Stockholm believe Schnurre is one of a number of envoys the Nazis plan to send to neutral countries to explore the possibilities of securing some sort of peace terms, These diplomats, however, say it is too soon to expect a straight-out request for an armistice. They believe that as the German army comes nearer total collapse Hitler and Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop will send out emissaries of increasingly higher rank. The end may come quickly when the Nazis realize they have nothing left with which to bargain.

Peace rumors spread wildly throughout US yesterday, and for several hours thousands of Americans believed the war in Europe was over. Rumors first began when one American news agency advised its customers to stand by for an announcement of extreme importance to the nation. The announcement turned out later to be General Eisenhower's statement that German armies in the west had been defeated.

Meanwhile, radio stations had added support for the rumors by announcing that President Roosevelt had asked members of Cabinet and US diplomats abroad to stay at their posts during the San Francisco Conference. Blue Network commentator Gil Martyn promptly broadcast that electrifying news had come and that Mr. Roosevelt and his Cabinet were preparing for victory. Later, however. Blue Network explained that the White House announcement had been misinterpreted. Newspaper offices had a difficult time persuading callers that there was no truth in the peace rumors.

It is now taken for granted in London that V-Day in Europe will have to be fixed, not by an armistice as in 1918, but by official decision. The "Daily Express" political correspondent says the official end of the war will be determined, in agreement with the major Allies, by an Order-in-Council. The determination will probably be reached when it is apparent that Germany's armed forces are no longer able to act as a united force and only guerrilla fighting can be expected. The Order will declare that hostilities against Germany are considered over. This will automatically fix the date for the ending of leases, contracts and business arrangements dependent upon the "duration of the war". It will also fix official and other celebrations.

The first important overtures in northwest Europe were made by members of Himmler's staff. On 2 April 1945, Brigadeführer Walter Schellenberg of Himmler's Intelligence Service, apparently speaking only for himself and without Himmler's authority, approached Count Folke Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Red Cross. Bernadotte, who was in Germany attempting to get Norwegian and Danish prisoners released into the custody of Sweden, was asked if he would discuss with General Eisenhower the possibility of arranging a capitulation. The count refused to act in this capacity, insisting that Himmler would have to take the initiative. Schellenberg pointed to possible developments in Germany which might shake Hitler's position, and said that in such a case Himmler wanted Bernadotte to go to General Eisenhower and ask for the negotiation of a surrender. The Swedish nobleman declared that he would go to the Supreme Commander only after Himmler announced: (1) that he had been chosen as German leader by Hitler; (2) that the Nazi party was dissolved; (3) that the Werewolf organization had been disbanded; and (4) that all Danish and Norwegian prisoners had been sent to Sweden.

Count Bernadotte's conditions were not met and the Schellenberg suggestion was not passed on to SHAEF. Not until mid-April were peace feelers concerning the surrender of forces in northwest Europe communicated to the Supreme Commander. At this time, reports came from agents in Denmark that Generaloberst Georg Lindemann, German armed forces commander in Denmark [Wehrmachtbefehlshaber Dänemark], was willing to surrender the army there, but would not include SS and police units, Although the Supreme Commander authorized efforts through unofficial channels to get additional details of the proposal, he forbade Allied officers to be present at the conversations. In reporting this action to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, he suggested that the USSR be informed. Later information indicated that General Lindemann would continue fighting, but that commanders in Norway and in northern German cities such as Bremen would consider surrender, The Combined Chiefs of Staff, therefore, on 21 April informed the Soviet Government that unconditional surrender of large-scale enemy forces was a growing possibility and suggested that accredited representatives of all three allies be made available to the headquarters on each front for the purpose of observing negotiations for surrender. The USSR was asked to designate such representatives both at SHAEF and at AFHQ. General John R. Deane and Admiral Ernest Archer were authorized to represent the United States and Great Britain at Soviet headquarters. The Soviet high command readily agreed to the suggestion, saying that the names of their appointees would be submitted later.

Stalin had fears that his alliance with the West would no longer be holding up - the Americans could come to an arrangement with the Germans: His Intelligence service had informed him that the SS General and Himmler confidant Karl Wolff was negotiating in Switzerland with US espionage chief Allen Dulles.

"The Bolshevik will experience the old fate of Asia this time, that is, he must and will bleed to death before the capital of the German Reich," Hitler issued on 16 April 1945 in his daily order.

Hitler plays his last card, which he had not played since the beginning of the war: He wants to win the war, which had long since been lost militarily, by political means. The last two companions left to him in encourage his hope of a break-up of the hostile alliance: Josef Göbbels and Martin Bormann.

They are expecting the conflict between Moscow and the West, not an incorrect calculation: overtones at the Yalta summit conference in February, Anglo-American complaints about Stalin's grip on Greece and Poland announce an alienation which very soon leads to the decades-long confrontation of the Cold War - in fact, to the advantage of the Germans, who are now in demand as partners, as a buffer.

Was Hitler, therefore, rational to delay the end of the fighting and his own death as much as possible? He repressed the fact that it he was he, who in opposing the Allies united them despite their differences and thus had become an obstacle to any attempt at negotiation.

Göbbels, the inventor of the slogan of an "Iron Curtain" between East and West in the middle of Europe, keeps driving into the  Führer that the differences between the Bolsheviks and Anglo-Americans are growing day by day. It is only important to be prepared for the final break, which is inevitably imminent: Göbbels had told Finance Minister Lutz Count Schwerin von Krosigk in mid-April 1945 that within three or four months, the alliance will be broken.

On 18 April Hitler opened his last card to SS General Wolff, who was already conspiring with the Americans. Between Russians and Americans, the controversy about the zone boundaries arose to cause fighting, he would then with his remaining divisions as a counter-point in the scales support the side that offers the most.

Göbbels works on Hitler not to throw Germany's weak weight onto the Western scale, but rather to join Stalin's side, which Hitler had always admired, the "Tiger".

As early as September 1943, Göbbels had written in his diary: "With Stalin the Führer would be more ready to negotiate". In September 1944, he sent Hitler a memorandum [which fell into the hands of the Soviets]: "The only chance is now a special peace with the USSR". On 5 March 5, 1945, Göbbels writes: "As a goal, the Führer imagines finding a way of understanding with the Soviet Union, and then continue the struggle against England with the most brutal energy". And on 12 March: A special peace with the Kremlin "would of course radically change the war situation ... to eliminate the war in the East and to become operational in the West - what a beautiful idea!"

Walter Hewel, stated shortly before his suicide: "Even in the last few days, Hitler was firmly convinced that between the advancing troops of the Anglo-Americans in the West and the Russians in the East there would be a battle within a very short time . "

This is what kept Hitler alive:

He believed that the already completely divided partners of the anti-Hitler coalition would be fighting embittered battles over the Reichs chancellery, that if this merciless, world-historical battle had been ignited, National Socialism under his leadership would be purified, even new born, as a Phoenix rising from the ashes of this sixth year of war He was expecting the news of the beginning of the battle between Russians and the Western Allies from day to day.  

Hitler agreed that making peace with one or the other was essential, but did not believe that reasonable terms could be obtained without a battlefield success of some kind. The Western Allies of course were insisting on unconditional surrender. And Hitler told Göbbels that at any rate he saw Stalin as the most possible interlocutor because he was more realistic than the Western leaders and had the power to change policies radically without any concern with public opinion. He also saw Churchill and Roosevelt as controlled by Jewish interests.

Vatican Urges German Move for Armistice
Northern Star [Lismore, NSW]
5 April 1945

LONDON. The Vatican newspaper, "Osservatore Romano," today urges the Germans to lay down their arms.

"Some authority in Germany, having the power to order the laying down of arms along the front, must ask for an armistice," said the paper.

"Although Nazi propaganda itself now concedes that the war is lost, the Germans, rather than yield are plunging themselves into an abyss of suffering which will destroy all recuperative powers. Such conception of honour is an absurdity judged from any standard. In God's name end this blood shed," it added.

Hitler falls in with the propaganda of his Propaganda Minister, who read Carlyle's biography of Frederick II to him, including the Meditations of the Prussian King in a hopeless situation at the end of the Seven Years' War, with hardly any troops capable of fighting: If the war situation did not change by February 1762, he would give up and take poison.. The "brave king," Carlyle said, "had only to wait until 5 January, when the Russian Tsarina died, her son was an admirer of Frederick, and concluded peace".

When Göbbels read this passage, Hitler cried. He would have liked to be a Frederick whose image [by Anton Graff] hung in his Bunker apartment.

Nazi Leaders Will Not seek Peace
"Big Four" Still Control Affairs in Reich
The Age [Melbourne, Vic.]
9 April 1945

Nazi leaders in Germany have no intention of suing for peace, according to a member of the German Foreign Office who have fallen into American hands.  

"There will be no capitulation, you will have to occupy every town in Germany".

A young diplomat who left Berlin when it appeared to be in imminent danger of being captured by the Russians, said that at present the "Big Four" in Germany were Hitler, Himmler, Göbbels and Bormann. Bormann, who succeeded Rudolf Hess, was now leader of the party, and was extremely anti- Christian. Himmler was a true follower of Hitler, despite, his own growing importance and power as leader of the S.S. and police. Göbbels was adviser to Hitler, and had no power of his own.

"No one except this group could make a separate peace", explained the diplomat. "They have no intention of making a peace offer and there is no prospect other than fighting to the last. You can't imagine or understand the German people. They are living in a completely different world, one of heroism and romanticism. The fact that they have no manufacturing centres remaining does not make any difference to them".

The Foreign Office diplomat, who was taken into custody when American troops overran a town recently, was very frank about the position inside Germany,. "Life does not mean a thing," he said. "You are shot right away or hanged. The organisation surpasses imagination. I wonder myself that 1 am still living".

With the defeat of the Wehrmacht, he said the war would go underground, with resistance movements like "Werewolves" and S.S., based on German youth, doing the fighting. The threat from the east had been considered much worse than the threat from the west, and as many troops as possible had been committed to it.

Hitler's group admired particularly Russia's efficiency, and would ask for peace immediately if Marshal Stalin would guarantee Hitler's regime. Asked if that would be possible now, the diplomat replied, "No. Too much blood has been shed. It would be a terrible thing, anyway, because it would mean the destruction of the whole German life".

"Many people feel that they have made an enormous mistake following \Hitlerism', he explained. "The group now in power has lost its influence compared to the popularity it enjoyed in 1933 and the summer of 1940".

On Friday, 13 April -Vienna has just fallen to the Russians, the Ruhr area has been surrounded by US troops, and the Buchenwald concentration camp has been freed- Göbbels brought Hitler the news of "his Tsarina's death" by telephone: "My Führer, Roosevelt is dead".

In fact, Harry Truman, the new US president, showed himself not as submissive to Stalin as his predecessor. But it was a false dream to expect a change in the coalition so shortly before victory.

Optimistically, Hitler celebrates his 56th birthday on 20 April, while Soviet armies reach Bernau in the north and Baruth in the south of Berlin and shoot up an S-Bahn train.

He proclaims the state of siege. The Americans have conquered Magdeburg. On this day, Soviet sources learn that Hitler wants to stay in Berlin.

Afterwards Himmler rushes off to Mecklenburg: The previous day, without Hitler's knowledge, Dr. Norbert Masur, a representative of the World Jewish Congress landed in Berlin-Tempelhof, to negotiate with Himmler.

Hitler's Last Stand Inner Fortress
News [Adelaide, SA]
14 April 1945

The Nazis have an Inner Fortress of Berchtesgaden, in Bavaria, where Hitler may make his last stand.

Reports every few clays emphasise that as the Germans are driven back in the west and in the east the Nazi leaders are directing their retreat to Berchtesgaden. With the district of Obersalzburg as the nerve centre, small mountain lakes and shafts of salt mines have been cleverly used to make a fortress. Almost impassable mountain ridges have been incorporated in a system of fortifications that include machine-gun nests. Flak positions. radio transmitters, solid Bunkers built in on the passes. Berghof, where Hitler made his home, and where he installed his private Chancellery and the office of the Brown Shirt leadership under Martin Borman have gradually been transformed into a powerful fortress. Berchtesgaden has become a small town with innumerable concrete Bunkers and subterranean passages.

Obersalzburg. in which the Berghof is situated, has been gradually transformed into a fortified chain in the middle of which stands Hitler's observatory, built on a mountain rock 6,000 ft. high. known as the Adlerhorst. The approach to the Adlerhorst is through underground passages which are locked by double bronze doors. The walls are lined with copper plates. and a lift takes the Nazis up to the Führer's abode - a circular room with a columned gallery as an ante-room, with great window panes running right round.

In the last few months the district has been completely closed to visitors. Gigantic depots for war material, ammunition chambers, repair workshops have been in stalled in the caves of Königsee -the longest cave of which extends about two miles- in the old salt mines hollowed out in the mountain side. Factories have been built in under mountains. including air craft plants for making Messerschmitt and jet-propelled aircraft. There are great fuel dumps, also synthetic fuel plants. Subterranean airfields and hangars are ready. There are also motor and ball-bearing factories in former quarries. Grain and potatoes have been accumulated for food. as well as for the extraction of alcohol. In the district comfortable hide outs have been prepared for prominent Nazi leaders - Göring has built himself a Bavarian Karinhall at Hintereck, Ribbentrop has moved into a castle at Fuschl. and a commodious barracks has been erected for the Black Shirts.  

After rejecting suggestions about derailing Hitler's train to Obersalzberg and using poison in the train's drinking water, the British developed a plan named Operation Foxley in 1944. This one called for a sniper to kill Hitler on his daily 15-20 minute walk from the Berghof residence to the Teehaus on the Mooslahnerkopf Hill which had been revealed by a prisoner of war. The operation would be undertaken by a German-speaking Pole and a British sniper, wearing German uniforms, using a Mauser Karabiner 98K with a Mauser sight, after being parachuted into Austria. [They would be housed and led to the area by an anti-Nazi, identified as "Heidentaler", who lived nearby in Salzburg].The Foxley plan did not proceed due to a dispute as to whether killing Hitler was a prudent idea and the lack of Intelligence about his exact daily routine. By the time the plan might have proceeded, Hitler had stopped visiting his mountain retreat; he never returned to the compound after 14 July 1944.

The Obersalzberg was bombed by hundreds of British RAF Lancaster heavy bombers, including aircraft from No. 617 Squadron RAF [the "Dambusters"], which attacked the Berghof on 25 April 1945, twelve days before the surrender of Nazi German military forces [to the Western Allied nations] on the 7 May. At least two bombs successfully struck the Berghof and did considerable damage to the building. On 4 May, retreating SS troops set fire to the villa.

Only hours later, the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division arrived at Berchtesgaden along with the French 2nd Armoured Division. In his interview with the Library of Congress, Herman Louis Finnell of the 3rd Division, 7th Regiment, Company I, stated that he and his ammo carrier, Pfc. Fungerburg, were the first to enter Berghof, as well as the secret passages below the structure. The American troops reportedly muddled Berchtesgaden with the Berghof and a French Army captain and his driver were the first Allied military personnel to reach the still-smoldering chalet. A French tank crew soon joined them. The American 1st Battalion of the 506th Infantry Regiment [led by Company C] arrived four days later, on 8 May.

The 3rd Battalion of the 506th came into Berchtesgaden by a different route and sustained casualties in a skirmish with the crews of two German 88mm anti-aircraft/anti-tank guns.

Nazis in Argentina
Revealing Facts About Secret "Funk Hole" Funds Smuggled Out of Europe
The Argus [Melbourne, Vic.]
14 April 1945 

Today dispatches from Argentina report a number of curious happenings which may lead the reader to think that overnight Argentina's pro-Nazi Colonels' Junta have become fierce Democrats instead of stooge Nazis. Reports say that Fritz Mandi, former Austrian munitions magnate, has been arrested, that his big metal and plastics factory has been nationalised, and that the Government has also seized 150 German firms worth $40 million, as well as a few Japanese firms. These dispatches, allowed through Argentina's rigid newspaper censorship, are merely part of the campaign to get Argentina into the San Francisco conference, where, according to some outspoken American commentators, she will act as "front man" for Nazi third world war plans.

Argentina's eleventh-hour declaration of war on the Axis was not received with anything like jubilation by the United Nations; so Argentina is now work-ing very hard to prove that she is as anti-Nazi as anybody else.

In the following article, written for "Collier's, Stanley Ross, American newspaperman and only American member of the Argentine's underground, who was arrested and grilled for his underground activities, gives the lowdown on Argentina, which he left last month.

One dark night 18 months ago a German submarine rose quietly to the surface off the Argentine coast near Mar del Plata. Nearby a tugboat of the Axis-owned Delflno Line of Buenos Aires was standing by for the transfer of 40 big boxes and the person of Willie Köhn, chief of Latin-American section of the German Foreign Office. While Köhn conferred with German diplomats and spies and Argentine collaborators the U-Boat lurked offshore to take him back to Germany. But the boxes, bulging with millions of Dollars of war-looted securities, bullion, and valuables, remained in Argentina in safe keeping for Hermann Göring, Josef Göbbels, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and other Nazi leaders.

This lot was only a tiny part of the great exodus of Nazi capital that began several years ago as a wedge against a German defeat. Now the flow of escaping German wealth has increased to a frantic flood, for while we were trying to tear out Nazism by the roots in Europe, Germany's real war criminals were trying to replant it in our own backyard. For giant Cartels which created the Nazi war machine had been planning to be ready for business in new headquarters in Buenos Aires, despite the loss of Berlin. German cartel capital and the private fortunes of Nazi leaders are reaching Buenos Aires, Panama, and New York through Switzerland and Spain. Some money reaches Buenos Aires because the Swiss Government permits its bankers to use a diplomatic pouch to transmit letters of credit. Still more is transferred to South American banks [including US nnd British branches there] by Swiss banking institutions, which do not investigate the true ownership of the funds they accept or transmit abroad.

During 15 Months as a news correspondent in Argentina I was the only "Yanqui" member of Argentina's anti-Nazi underground, a movement which has agents reaching into all sections of Argentine economy. I secured information from the diplomatic corps, Allied and otherwise, and from members of an Argentine congressional comittee which investigated Nazi espionage until the Army dissolved Congress in June, 1943. From then on I learned enough about Nazi power in Argentina to cause the notoriously pro-German former Minister of the Interior, General Luis Perlinger, to order me to be arrested and grilled for six hours to see if I would betray my sources. From these same sources I learned that Göbbels recently smuggled $1,850,000 to a safety deposit box in a Buenos Aires bank, adding to the already considerable fortune he had previously sneaked out. Göring has cashed $25 million in Argentina.

At present Swiss funds deposited here anonymously are blocked by the US Treasury, which promises to release them upon definite proof that they do not belong to enemy aliens or war criminals. One secret agent [not of US] told me: "This will be embarrassing for the Swiss banks. They are agents for some very bad actors. For years Nazi war criminals, French collaborators, and people of similar types have been using Switzerland as a repository for their fortunes".

For centuries Switzerland's banks have been used by men who want to keep financial transactions secret. Allied sources say that German funds leak out in Swiss pouches without the knowledge of the Swiss Government, because of the Swiss practice of entrusting diplomatic missions to its bankers and businessmen travelling to the Western Hemisphere. The Schweitzer Bank, Basel, Switzerland, is agent for some 20,000 Nazi companies, cartels, and individuals. Its manager [A. C. Nussbaumer] is one of the most powerful men in the financial world. He was formerly representative in London of Alberto Pirelli when Pirelli was Minister of State in Mussolini's Government. Pirelli is now in Switzerland, where his "Swiss" holding company controls a Billion Dollar empire, including interests in several large US and Latin-American corporations. Swiss banks accept accounts under numbers or code words without the true name of the depositor ever appearing in the record. When account number 6789, say, asks a Swiss banker to cache $100,000 for him in US, the banker orders his New York agent to set aside the money under the subhead 6789. US officials demanding the identity of number 6789 are told that securities still belong to the bank - money has merely been put under a new subhead: A Swiss agent here really does not know whose money it is.

A year ago General Arturo Rawson, leader of the Argentine Army coup which overthrew the civilian government, told me that $750 Million had been cached by German leaders in the Argentine alone. Today the figure may be twice that, in two categories: (1) Cartel Money: Funds of the German industrial combinations who are already planning a new campaign for world domination. (2) Desperate Money: Sent by known war criminals, who hope that somehow they will be able to evade Allied prosecution and reach Argentina. Göring is Number 1 of this class. US economic war agents know that Göring recently sold his munitions plant in Argentina to the Argentine Government for $5 million. Admiral Karl Dönitz, of the German Navy, has a nest-egg in the care of a relative, Edmundo Wagenknecht, owner of a big German import and export firm in Buenos Aires. Von Ribbentrop recently sent $500,000 to the Argentine firm "Securitas" in the name of his cousin Martin, a German who hasn't earned that much in a lifetime, and within the last few months von Ribbentrop had $10 million deposited in the Argentine in the name of Pedro Rodriguez Panchino. Even Pierre Laval was recently reported to have sent $50,000 to Argentina via Spain.

The only important Axis leader about whom there are no money exporting rumours is Hitler himself. Der Führer either had a blind faith in the cause or knew he would not have a chance to escape once Nazism fell.

Eight weeks ago an Argentine friend told me I was mad when I said that the real war criminals were already established in his country. So I took him into the Buenos Aires subway. A shining new subway car had just been delivered by the Argentine branch of Siemens, the Nazi electrical trust, which in Germany makes the elaborate mechanisms that go into robot bombs and other weapons. After a while we took a cab past the block-square War Department building, just completed by a German construction company, which, had been exposed long before as branch headquarters of the Gestapo, and then drove to a tremendous factory which makes parts of tanks, bombs, and other lethal weapons. This factory's profits leaped from $140,367 in 1939 to six times that last year on an investment of $9 Million. I did not tell my doubting friend who owned the factory. The name was there for anyone to see "Thyssen, Lametal".

Fritz Thyssen, foster-father of Nazism, and author of "I Paid Hitler", is in Switzerland, but is an important man in Argentine economy. His colleague, smooth, steel-eyed Fritz Mandi, whom OWI officials call "one of the most dangerous men in the world". is leader of Argentina's current armament race, which threatens to throw South America into war. Mandi, who created and armed the famous Austrian Heimwehr Fascist Army [headed by Prince Ernst von Starhemberg, now working in Buenos Aires for Mandi] has experience in applied Fascism which Argentine army men lacked. The factories of Mandi, Thyssen, Goering, and other Nazi chieftains are short of material and equipment. But Germany's industrial cartels have promised postwar technical and financial aid to the nationalist extremists who now run Argentina, and who have a vision of some day dominating the hemisphere. It Is not hard to imagine that in five or ten years the Nazis could launch radio-controlled rocket bombs from Argentina bases capable of blasting entire cities out of existence. While the Germans were still winning the war in Europe they planned to use Argentina as a base for a series of Nazi-dominated governments in Latin America which would eventually force the USA to her knees. The plan, which would have exerted economic pressure on USA from three sides, came dangerously close to succeeding. Meanwhile Nazis bought the souls -for whatever they might have been worth- of hundreds of key military and political figures in Latin America.

In addition to local quislings, important Nazi economic and military officials are reaching Argentina regularly. Jorge Main, German financial expert, sneaked past British controls through Spain to take a post with the Argentine Finance Ministry recently. Colonel Walter Osterkamp, ex-chief of the air fighter school at Werneuchen, Germany, is said to be instructing fighter pilots at Cordoba, Argentina. Major-General Hans Stedemann of the Luftwaffe, is technical adviser to the Argentine Army.

Three days later, Ribbentrop left for Hamburg. He had heard of his Führer's regret about the war with America, "since we had no essential disagreements with this great nation". And that Germany must reach good relations with Soviet Russia, because as Hitler said, "since in the long run both peoples must live side by side".

On 22 April, a battalion commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army of SS General Sepp Dietrich, bringing as a birthday present - a check for 7.5 Million Reichsmarks, which members of the SS people had donated.

The messenger stumbles on a good mood in the Bunker: "Just wait," he hears, "two or three times 24 hours, then there will be a big bang, and the war is over and won".

At three o'clock, a situation conference was held, and the situation was such that Hitler got a nervous breakdown and talked of suicide. "It's over, there's no hope".

His military advisors consoled Hitler with his intact armies, which are still in Czechoslovakia, Austria and Norway. According to the captured Allied plans for the future zoning, the Americans would not cross the Elbe [they actually form only bridge heads]. If it were not for the defense, but "to negotiate," says Hitler, "the Reichsmarschall can do it better than me".

The next day, 23 April, Eva Braun wrote to her sister Gretl: "Adolf already looks brighter into the future today than yesterday".

Himmler on the evening of 23 April was in a conference, arranged by Schellenberg, with Count Bernadotte at the Swedish consulate in Lübeck. Himmler began the conference by saying that the Germans were defeated, that Hitler would soon be dead, and that he [Himmler] was ready to order a capitulation on the Western Front. Count Bernadotte doubted that an offer to surrender on one front only would be acceptable to the Allies, but he agreed to forward the proposal if Himmler would promise to surrender forces in Denmark and Norway. The SS leader approved this suggestion and wrote the Swedish Foreign Minister that he wished to act through the count. The Swedish Foreign Minister, who shared his fellow countryman's skepticism concerning the acceptability of a surrender on the Western Front alone, nonetheless arranged a meeting between Bernadotte and the British and U.S. ministers in Sweden, Sir Victor Mallet and Mr. Herschel Johnson, who dispatched Himmler's offer to their governments. Mr. Churchill relayed the information by transatlantic telephone to President Truman and the U.S. Chiefs of Staff on the afternoon of 25 April, the day that Soviet and U.S. patrols met near Torgau. The President, while emphasizing his desire to end the war quickly, declared he could accept only an unconditional surrender on all fronts and one made in agreement with the Soviet Union and Great Britain. This information was relayed to Marshal Stalin. General Eisenhower expressed his satisfaction with the reply and informed General Marshall that the Prime Minister had agreed that the peace overture was an attempt by the enemy to create a schism between the Allies. "In every move we make these days," said the Supreme Commander, making his position clear, "we are trying to be meticulously careful in these regards.

Later, the same day, on the east-west axis between Brandenburg Gate and Siegessäule, armaments minister Albert Speer lands in a  Fieseler Storch. He admits Hitler he had sabotaged the order to destroy German industry and infrastructure; Hitler is silent and grants permission to let the directors of the Czech Skoda plants travel to meet American businessmen. To make political contacts?

Speer is told by Göbbels that Hitler had made a "decision of world-political importance: He had stopped the fighting in the West, so that the Western troops could enter unhindered to Berlin".

Göbbels in Berlin Remaining with Colleagues
"Thousands of Tank Barriers"
The Armidale Express and New England eneral Advertiser [NSW]
23 April 1945

LONDON. "My colleagues and I are remaining in Berlin". Göbbels yesterday broadcast to Berliners over the internal relay system. "My wife and children are also here and will remain," he added. "Lieutenant General Reymann has been appointed to command the military defences of the capital in which are many thousands of tank barriers, barricades, roadblocks and earthworks, extending from the centre of the city to the outskirts".

According to Luxemburg radio, Göbbels and his family have fled from Berlin for Mecklenburg, despite his promise to stay in the capital.

From SHAEFF it is just announced that French troops are only 37 miles from Hitler's mountain redoubt, while another late message says Frau Ribbentrop has been refused admission to Switzerland after rowing with a 12-year-old boy across Lake Constance.

On 24 April, Hamburg radio's commentator,  Dr. Otto Kriegk said:

"From the appeal by Göbbels we know that the Führer is in Berlin. The Führer has decided to remain at this hour in the Reich capital. We announce it to the German people and tell it to the entire world. With every hour that passes we are becoming surer of ourselves, but the struggle is by no means over yet. A great effort will still be needed".

Dr. Kriegk in a later broadcast said that the climax of the crisis of the German people had been reached.

On 24 April, Generaloberst Alfred Jodl gave the armed forces their first indication of the policy to be followed during the remaining days of the war. Senior commanders in the west, southwest, and southeast were told that the fight against Bolshevism was the only thing that now mattered and that loss of territory to the Western Allies was of secondary importance.  The US troops would "reach Berlin in the next few days," Chief of staff, Hans Krebs, informs every one. The Wenck army was already opening the way for them at Potsdam.

Göbbels fired Hitler up with a scenario, which is probably the reasoning of Stalin: "I do not get the Europe I imagine ... So I am going to come to some deal with thee Germans and make some agreement".

And Göbbels makes a forecast for 1995:

"If the Führer in Berlin were to find an honorable death in Berlin and  Europe became Bolshevik...in five decades at the latest, the Führer would be a legendary figure and National Socialism a 'Mythos' because it would be sanctified by the last great commitment".

To the Gauleiter of Baden-Elsaß, Robert Wagner, Hitler said on the telephone that he was strictly against any negotiations with the Western powers. Does he have something else in mind, anything else, at all, planned?  Hitler senses that he is an "inglorious refugee from the parquet of world history". On the Elbe near Torgau, Americans and Soviets meet - they embrace, rather than shoot at each othe

At dusk on 26 April, a Fieseler Storch lands on the east-west axis, with Generaloberst Ritter von Greim and Reitsch in the cabin.

Htler told his visitors, that he had firmly believed Berlin would be saved on the shores of the Oder, but General Walther Wenck would strike the Russians. Hitler can still hypnotize the Greim, who reports by telephone to his chief of staff, Karl Koller, how the stay in the Bunker affected him like a bath in the "fountain of youth".

"Everything will still develop to a good ending".

Also on 26 April, Himmler, through Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte, attempted to contact Winston Churchill to negotiate surrender terms, attempting to surrender the western front only while allowing Germany to keep fighting the Soviets. Later on, Himmler tried to write a letter directly to Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower, offering to surrender Germany to the western Allies on the condition that he would not be turned over to the Soviets, but the letter was intercepted by German authorities.

Nazi Leaders Playing "Hess Card" To Last
Tribune [Sydney, NSW]
26 April 1945

LONDON. "Hitler is playing his Hess card to the lost!" says the "Daily Worker" [Communist] in discussing the surrender of leading Nazis to the Allies in the West, and the Nazis' failure to man the West Front with anything like the same strength as the East Front.

"The Nazis", says the "Daily Worker", "are strewing the path of the Anglo-  American advance with gold bars, and bank managers, police officials and industrial chiefs looking forward to resuming pre-war connections. Not only does von Papen surrender in the West, but, in case anything should be lacking for Allied convenience, even Sir Neville Henderson's former interpreter!" [ Neville Henderson was the British Ambassador to Berlin who, a few days before the German attack on Poland, made an eleventh-hour attempt to negotiate an anti- Soviet pact between Germany and Britain].

Franz von Papen's arrest caused consternation at the [British] Foreign Office. It raised in far more acute form than Ribbentrop's the danger of Soviet misinterpretation of his presence behind Western lines. "I cannot imagine a more unwelcome prisoner," wrote a Foreign Office official. "More peace feelers have been associated with his name than almost any other prominent German". The Foreign Office moved fast to head off any possible Allied misunderstandings. Within six days of his detention, Papen found himself at Eisenhower's headquarters facing the senior British and American military Intelligence chiefs in Europe—and two Soviet generals. He told them little of any military or political significance, but demonstrated an amazing self-confidence. "He was extremely well-dressed, beautiful silk suit, etc., and it was clear that he had intended to fall into the hands of the Americans and had dressed up for the occasion," said the Foreign Office report on the meeting. He indicated his belief that he still had a role to play in liaising between the Germans and the Allies. When Major General Kenneth Strong, the British head of Military Intelligence at SHAEF, asked the Foreign Office if he should seek a further, private interview with Papen, he was put sharply in his place: "Such an interview must under no circumstances take place—Papen is as dangerous as a hamadryad snake—he could do us no good".

-- Ann and John Tusa, "The Nuremberg Trial"

The "Daily Worker" adds that 11 Panzer divisions were thrown in by the Nazis to the Vienna battle alone, while not a single complete Panzer division contested the Allied advance over the Rhine.

"While everyone is ordered to fight and die on the East Front", says the Communist paper, "the Germans in the West are, on the contrary, instructed to smile and take service under the Western Allies".

In England, Budolf Hess is reported anxious to negotiate "the truce in the West", which Mr. Churchill spurned in May 1941, when Hess flew to the Duke of Hamilton's estate in Scotland. The answer to the "Hess card" has been the victorious link-up of West and East forces, which strengthens Allied unity.

The Soviet paper, "Pravda", reveals that no fewer than 44 divisions, including many Panzers, have been transferred from the West to the East in the last 10 weeks. The "London Times" also admits "large German movements to the East". The authoritative paper, "War and the Working Class", throws further light on the political manoeuvres behind this Nazi strategy. In an editorial, "War and the Working Class" says:

"Sensational reports of the unhindered advance of numerous columns of Allied troops deep into Germany without meeting any serious resistance, of towns being surrendered by telephone and of thousands of untrained Volkssturm surrendering without firing a shot confirm the indisputable fact that Albert Kesselring, who replaced Gerd von Rundstedt, has only a very inconsiderable number of troops left to resist numerous American, English, Canadian and French divisions.

"It is presumed that by acting in this way the German Command is playing a definite game".

Thus Reuter's military correspondent wrote recently:

"This completeness of the German collapse in the West while concentration against the Russians continues is more than suspicious. What's the German game? Having recognised their inability to stop Eisenhower advancing from the West, they decided after the successful Rhine crossing to act as if the West no longer concerned them. This move, of course, will do little to avoid the military catastrophe which faces the Nazis".

"And indeed", comments "War and the Working Class", "the Germans are faced with unavoidable military catastrophe. In face of this catastrophe, the fascist ringleaders have remained true to themselves as reckless adventurers and provocateurs. As Reuter's correspondent says, they are striving "to cause friction between the Allies" and "to stimulate" this friction by their suspicious behavior, which consists in acting "as if the West no longer concerned them". "But this virtually amounts to discontinuing resistance in the West . . . The Germans are obviously doing this with the hope of kindling end fanning disagreement among the Allies, not stopping at weakening or even completely terminating resistance in the West, while at the same time increasing their resistance in the East.

"Now, in face of this last and most frantic attempt of the Hitlerites to cause a split in the camp of the Allies, it is clearer than ever that anything that hinders complete eradication of Fascism and its baneful and at times skilfully camouflaged agencies works only to the benefit of the enemy".

Hitler Will Remain To Raise New Army; Secret German Order Claims
The Telegraph [Brisbane, Qld.]
27 April 1945

LONDON. Hitler will never be captured, says the German Foreign Minister [von Ribbentrop] in a secret order to German officials abroad. It was read privately by German diplomats to consular staffs, newspapermen, and Nazi leaders in neutral countries, but a copy has been obtained by the "Daily Mail's Geneva correspondent, Challinor James.

Ribbentrop said:

"Have courage even if as now seems probable Germany loses the war.

"Hitler will never fall into enemy hands. He will remain in the midst of the millions of new soldiers who will grow up everywhere under new signs and in new uniforms.

"Hostile armies cannot exist long among a subjugated nation of 70 million people.

"If every German remembers his oath and is responsible for one of the enemy the Reich will relive. Germany will never capitulate. 

"The Third Reich will possibly be relegated to an inferior position for a time, but it does not mean that it will cease. Many traitors inside and outside Germany are known and have already been tried and sentenced to death by the people's courts". 

The war's events are so conclusive now that they are being relegated into second place in public discussions to "What about Hitler?" whose whereabouts and fate are becoming one of the main war stories. There is an air of anti-climax about other great events, the linking of the Russians and Americans, and Berlin's fate, which is so sealed up that it is almost secondary to the possibility of its downfall and delivering. Hitler into Allied hands.

Stories that he is in Berlin, which are constantly plugged by Hamburg radio, have few believers here. For one thing, Britishers don't think Hitler would give the Russians an opportunity to take him, Russian treatment of war criminals is considered too forthright for Hitler to take that chance. The verdict here seems— if Hitler wants to become a martyr he may remain in Berlin, dying on the barricades.

The "Daily Express' correspondent in Moscow says in the present situation such a melodramatic event is possible. But two other theories wider held are that he is either in his southern redoubt or already has skipped out, probably to Norway, where further means for a later escape by submarine is open to him. Rlbbcntrop's order could be taken to substantiate the latter theory — but it must be emphasized they are all theories.

The "Dally Express" publishes an item picked up from the self-styled "Free German Press Agency" that Hitler's double, August Bartholdy, iIs acting for the Führer in Berlin. These stories from "Free German" news sources have not been re  liable In the past, but this at least is feasible.

Wherever he is the manhunt is on for Hitler. Special wings of Allied planes, including Spitfires, are searching roads, railways, and mountain areas for any signs that he may be using his armoured train or other means to scuttle to safety. Hitler is wanted dead or alive, but preferabiy alive so the Germans may witness the unforgettable example of the humiliation of their idol.

Fleet Street opinion Is reflected in the"Newspaper World," which says:

"It looks as if the enthusiasm over V-day celebrations is very much on the wane. Like champagne left standing too long, the sparkle has gone from us, and it will not be surprising if, when the great day arrives, we just take it in our stride".

But there will be plenty of interest over Hitler.

 

Clearly a Nazi Trick
Crude Attempt to sow Dissension - "No Separate Peace"
Kalgoorlie Miner [WA : 1895 - 1950]     

London, 28 April. "Himmler's reported offer to surrender to Britain and the United States is clearly a Nazi trick and a crude attempt long after the clock had struck 12 to sow dissension among the Allies", says the Press Association's diplomatic correspondent.

"Even if the ruse was not so obvious, Britain is solemnly pledged to Russia under the terms of the Anglo-Soviet agreement not to conclude a separate peace. Himmler was given a number of additional duties and powers recently, but Germany's unconditional surrender will be acceptable only from the German High Command, and only if made to the three Allies.

"It may be, however, that the rumours regarding Hitler's health and state of mind for once are true, and with Göring dismissed or dead and Göbbels bottled up in Berlin, Himmler, who was last reported to be somewhere in the south, is the only remaining German leader in a position to play the final card in the Nazi hand.

"That card, however, failed before it was played. The Allied terms will be presented after Germany's unconditional surrender. The Allied terms were drafted some time ago by the European Advisory Council sitting in London and they have since been revised and approved at Yalta".

Himmler has offered unconditional surrender to Britain and America. This is official from San Francisco today.

Downing Street has issued a non-committal statement. The British Government has no information to give about peace proposals at the moment but it is officially stated in London that only unconditional surrender to Britain, America and Russia will be accepted.

This is the first direct offer made by the Germans since it became apparent a few weeks ago that it was quite impossible for them to carry on the fight.

-- Truth [Sydney, NSW] 29 April 1945

German Surrender Offer Expected
Collapse Believed Imminent
The Sydney Morning Herald [NSW]
 

LONDON, April 29. There is authority for believing that within a few hours Germany will offer "full and complete unconditional surrender" and the cessation of fighting by Germany. If such an offer is made to all three major Allies by Himmler it will probably be accepted, for the Allies believe that Himmler, with the backing of the German High Command, is in a position to fulfil the conditions of unconditional surrender and force the remnants of the German Army, Navy and Air Force to lay down their arms.

This will be the climax to the series of "peace rumours" which rang round the world yesterday following Himmler's reported offer of surrender to Britain and America alone. There are many conflicting reports regarding the fate of the Nazi leaders.

A Swedish Foreign Office spokesman is reported to have announced that Himmler sent a message to Stockholm that Hitler was ill and "might not live another 24 hours".

Other reports state that Göring, his wife, and five daughters were shot by members of Himmler's bodyguard, and that both Hitler and Göbbels were shot three days ago.

All reports from the battlefronts in Europe speak of an utter breakdown in German morale, with wholesale surrenders by enemy soldiers and a rapidly rising tide of suicides among Nazi Party officials.

Rumours
Goulburn Evening Post [NSW]
30 April 1945

The spate of rumours which ran round the world yesterday was only a natural sequence to a last desperate effort on the part of the Nazis to obtain some kind of surrender to the foes they feared least, in the hope that they would "help" them against the enemy they fear most. It is plain that some such offer was made,. and it is plain that if the person making the offer had authority to do so-Himmler was mentioned- as being among them, they will do so again.

All kinds of rumours concerning Germans high in Nazi rank are circulating, and they must be expected. All kinds of exciting things are happening, outstanding being a wild flight for safety, everywhere arid anywhere. Some of the second rankers are shooting themselves to save others the trouble, and a significant statement is alleged to have been made in the offer that was made.

Hitler has probably only 48 hours  to live, it was said: Maybe  this was true and he is dying from wounds received, perhaps, in the explosion of last year - he certainly has been ill or mad or more use would have been made of him during the last critical months of Nazism. Maybe the idea was to shoot Hitler if the Anglo-Saxon Allies would accept this latest offer, for Himmler is a man who would stop at nothing to gain his wishes. But Hitler is not the only one about whom there have been rumours. Himmler himself, it was thought, might have been in that car which was burned outside Bremen. Göring has been shot by Himmler's orders. Göbbels is reported to have shot himself. All these things are extremely possible, and with the state of confusion reigning in Germany it must be an exceedingly difficult task, even for experts, to sort out what is really happening now that Nazism is in its death throes.

Even in Italy it is. not clear yet whether Mussolini is really dead, so numerous have been the assertions and denials concerning his fate. The report received this morning that he and his mistress and 16 or 18 other good Fascists were hanging in one of the streets of Milan makes an unpleasant picture, but if the Partisans or Patriots have disposed of him it will save a good deal of trouble, and it will be extremely difficult for future Fascists who may rise making a hero of the "sawdust Caesar" he knew himself to be. It seems that the only thing to write about Mussolini is his epitaph.

Another figure is Ribbentrop: He was Minister for Foreign Affairs and first woke England up to the methods of Nazism when he went there as ambassador. It was during his stay there that by his behaviour, he gave an indication of things to come. and it is probable that he did more than any other man in convincing Chamberlain of the uselessness of appeasement. A story came through about his wife and a son trying to get through into Switzerland.. His future will be awaited with interest by those who have been following closely the history of Europe. Von Ribbentrop's signature appears on the treaty with Russia which was negotiated under the noses of the British representatives on the same task in Moscow, and he was a frequent speech maker in the early days of the war.

Altogether, the radio had a busy day yesterday with rumours and denials, but at times of high crises these things are to be expected.

Surrender Negotiation Reports Continue
Revision of German Offer Awaited

LONDON, 30 April. With on unconfirmed Stockholm report that Himmler has had a further interview with Count Bernadotte, who is stated to be his peace move intermediary, news is awaited of a possible revision of Himmler's offer of unconditional surrender to include Russia. Although no additional official statement has been made in regard to the rumors, informed opinion in London is hardening to the view that there is no longer any doubt that armistice moves are in train, and that events are moving swiftly.

The British War Cabinet is standing by expecting big news at any moment. Only a clear-cut offer of complete unconditional surrender will be accepted from Himmler, who will be required to convince the Allies that he is in a position to give effect to the offer on behalf of the German General Staff. The British Parliament will re-assemble tomorrow, when Mr. Churchill will be ready to announce a cessation or hostilities, but if this is not forthcoming he will probably make a statement on week-end developments.

Surrender or no surrender, the end is very near for Germany. The political correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph" said this morning that it was generally expected in Whitehall that the Allied Governments would know within 48 hours whether or not an acceptable offer of surrender would be forthcoming from Germany. The report that Himmler had again met Count Bernadotte was given today by the Stockholm newspaper "Dagens Nyheter," quoting an "usually well-informed source". Other reports said that the intermediary was expected to return to Sweden today. According to the German-controlled Danish radio, Count Bernadotte last night went south "on a secret mission, after having held conversation with the Germans near Aabenroo, in Denmark. After his arrival, it was added, the prince had a number of important telephone conversations.

So far the German radio has made no comment on the week end reports, although generally it is quick to brand such stories as "Allied propaganda". 

The Stockholm correspondent of the "Dany Express" says that despite the Allies' rejection of Himmler's original plan, negotiations have been going on during the week-end. Some diplomats thought last night that they promised the possibility of results in a matter or days, even hours.

Both Count Bernadotte and the Swedish Government, adds the correspondent, were making pro digious efforts to bring off an early armistice in order to save further bloodshed and destruction, especially in Denmark and Norway. Himmler. adds the correspondent, provided Count Bernadotte with a special plane to fly to Sweden and back to Denmark. The diplomatic correspondent of "The Times"* says that there is expectation in official quarters that Himmler's reply to the Allied rejection of his offer will not be long delayed, and confidence that when it arrives, il will be found that the offer bas been extended to include Russia. The confidence is based on the consideration that Himmler would not have moved in the first place if he had not seen the hopelessness of Germany's position. The diplomatic correspondent of the Press Association says that in formed opinion in London sees Himmler's message as the opening gambit of the moves which will shortly end the war in Europe.

Himmler appears to have taken complete control, and as soon as be announces Germany's surrender the Allied terms will be presented to him for acceptance. The Stockholm correspondent of "The Times" says that authoritative military opinion there is that when the knowledge of Himmler's move spreads among Germany's military commanders, as it inevitably will, its effect on their will for continued resistance will be devastating.

Persistent reports continue from many quarters that Hitler is dead, perhaps the victim of Himmler. It was Himmler who first revealed that Hitler has not been well, and it was Himmler who, as disclosed a fortnight ago, sought unsuccessfully to win over the Führer to do a deal with the Allies. Himmler has now turned from Hitler and the other Nazis. This is precisely the crack at the top in the hierarchy rather than among the German people which best informed people here have long foreshadowed as the fore-runner of the Reich's swift disintegration. It is absolutely true to form and Himmler, although he made his unconditional surrender offer on 21 April as commander-in- Chief or the home forces, may at any moment speak for the whole army, which is expected to back him up.

Other reports reaching Stockholm say that von Ribbentrop, Nazi Foreign Minister, has been arrested by German partisans at Salzburg.

Tlie Stockholm newspaper "Morgon Tidningen" says that the German commanders in Denmark are believed, through Count Bernadotte, to have informed the Allies that they are ready to capitulate and withdraw their troops; from Zeeland and Jutland. The correspondent of the British United Press with the US 7th .Army says that the whole 7th Army front has been warned to be ready for a sudden cessation of hostilities. 

Himmler's Offer
Daily Advertiser [Wagga Wagga, NSW]
4 May 1945

The U.S. Ambassador to Russia today verified the reports that Himmler had offered a German surrender. He said that the offer was not extended to Russia, and therefore was not accepted by Britain and U.S.

Himmler said he hoped to be able to continue the fight on the Eastern Front. He was in full authority, consequent on Hitler's illness, and wanted to meet General Eisenhower and surrender on the whole Western Front.

The first surrender overture came through the Swedish Foreign Minister on 24 April. The Associated Press quotes a German officer, whom the Canadians captured yesterday, as saying that Admiral Dönitz had ordered German troops facing the Western Allies to cease fighting and withdraw to the east in order to oppose the Russians.

As the Nazi Reich lay in its death agonies, Göbbels offered to play Judas to his master, Adolf Hitler, and take over the leadership of a reorganized German Government which would conclude an armistice with the Soviet Union. This was revealed to jopurnalists on 23 July 1945 by Lt.-Gen. Peter Kosenko, Chief of Artillery in Col.-Ge. Nikolai Berzarin's Fifth Russian Striking Army, which played the lion's part in storming Berlin to Allied correspondents. It was the first time that any had been given a complete picture of the savage battle for Hitler's capital by senior Russian officers who themselves took part in the fighting.

At midnight on 30 April, with fighting for Berlin at its fiercest, a small group of Nazi officers under a flag of truce presented themselves to the Soviet H.Q. in the southern part of the local Gestapo H.Q. in Friedrichstrasse. Their senior officer said he came from General of Artillery Hellmuth Weidling, Commander-in-Chief of all German forces in Berlin, who had authorized him to ask for an armistice between the Russian Government and a German Government under the leadership of Dr. Göbbels.

No mention was made of what would become of Hitler, but the inference was that he had already left Berlin, was dead, or would be handed over to the Russians, alive or dead, if they agreed to this suggestion. In this connexion it is interesting to recall that Göbbels was always reckoned as the leader of the "Eastern" wing of the Nazi party, which favoured reconciliation with Russia and switching all Germany's resources against the Western Allies.

The answer of the Soviet High Command was immediate and uncompromising; "Unconditional surrender – or else..." The Germans returned to their lines and all that night and the next day the battle raged. During the night of May 1, Hitler's Chancellery was finally stormed after bloody hand-to-hand fighting, and with the first light of 2 May, General Weidling broadcast an order to all German troops in the Berlin area to lay down their arms.

General Kosenko said there was no evidence whatever to prove conclusively that Hitler was in the Chancellery during the final battle. He was certainly not there when  Maj.-Gen. Vladimir Antonov troops came in. Aircraft had been seen taking off from Charlottenburger Chaussee during the last days, but nobody could identify the type or say who were the passengers. The riddle of Hitler's fate remained unsolved.

On 6 May 1945, Karl Dönitz authorized General Alfred Jodl to "conclude an armistice agreement" with General Eisenhower. The Germans wanted a separate peace with the Allied troops in the West in order to continue their battle with the Russians ae civilian refugees in the East. Eisenhower would have none of it. He ordered the Germans to surrender unconditionally the next day.

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.

 

Ilya Ehrenburg's mesmerizing calls for revenge on Germany in his articles in the Red Army newspaper "Krasnaya Zvezda" [Red Star] had created a huge following among the "frontoviki", or frontline troops. Göbbels responded with loathing against "the Jew Ilya Ehrenburg, Stalin's favourite rabble-rouser". The propaganda ministry accused Ehrenburg of inciting the rape of German women. Yet while Ehrenburg never shrank from the most bloodthirsty harangues, the most notorious statement, which is still attributed to him by western historians, was a Nazi invention. He is accused of having urged Red Army soldiers to take German women as their "lawful booty" and to "break their racial pride". "There was a time," Ehrenburg retorted in "Krasnaya Zvezda", "when Germans used to fake important documents of state. Now they have fallen so low as to fake my articles". But Ehrenburg's assertion that the soldiers of the Red Army were "not interested in Gretchens, but in those Fritzes who had insulted our women" proved to be wide of the mark, as the savage behaviour of the Red Army soon showed. And his frequent references to Germany as "the Blonde Witch" certainly did not encourage a humane treatment of German and even Polish women.

The offensive against the German Second Army began "in weather which was perfect for the attack", as the corps commander on the receiving end noted regretfully. A thin layer of snow covered the ground and the River Narew was frozen. The fog cleared at noon, and Rokossovsky's armies were soon supported by constant air sorties. Progress was still slow for the first two days, but once again it was the Soviet heavy artillery and the Katyusha rocket launchers, named "Stalinorgel" after Soviet leader Josef Stalin, comparing the visual resemblance of the launch array to a church organ, and the sound of the weapon's rocket motors, a distinctive howling sound which terrified the German troops, adding a psychological warfare aspect to their use, which made the first breakthroughs possible. Iron-hard ground also made the shells much more lethal, with surface explosions. The snowy landscape was rapidly scarred with craters and black and yellow scorch marks.

On that first evening, General Reinhardt, the commander-in-chief of the army group, telephoned Hitler, then still at the Adlerhorst. He tried to warn him of the danger to the whole of East Prussia if he were not allowed to withdraw. The Führer refused to listen. The next thing Reinhardt's headquarters received, at 3 a.m., was the order to transfer the Großdeutschland Corps, the only effective reserve in the region, to the Vistula front.

Although the German armed forces had expected the assault on East Prussia for several months, disorganization and uncertainty reigned in towns and villages. In rear areas the hated military police, the Feldgendarmerie, exerted a harsh order. The Landsers called them Kettenhunde [chain-hounds] because the metal gorgette which they wore on a chain round the neck looked like a dog collar.

On the morning of General Ivan Chernyakhovsky's attack, 13 January, a leave train bound for Berlin was halted in a station by Feldgendarmerie. They bellowed orders that all soldiers belonging to divisions whose numbers they were about to call were to get out and form up immediately. The soldiers departing on leave, many of whom had not seen their families for two years at least, sat clenched, praying that their division would not be called. But almost all had to descend and line up in ranks on the platform. Anyone who failed to report faced execution.

The man most to blame for the chaos was Gauleiter Erich Koch, a Nazi leader already infamous for his rule as Reich's Commissar for the Ukraine. Koch was so proud of his brutality that he does not appear to have objected to his nickname, "the second Stalin". Completely imbued with the Hitlerian obstinacy of fixed defence, Koch had forced tens of thousands of civilians into digging earthworks. Unfortunately, he failed to consult army commanders on where they wanted them. He had also been the first to dragoon boys and old men into the Volkssturm militia, the Nazi Party's most flagrant example of useless sacrifice. But worst of all, Koch had refused to countenance evacuation of the civil population. He and his local Nazi Party chiefs, having forbidden the evacuation of civilians as defeatist, then slipped away themselves without warning anybody when the attack came. The consequences were appalling for the wives, daughters and children who tried to escape too late across a landscape a metre deep in snow and temperatures down to minus twenty Celsius. A number of women farm workers, however, remained voluntarily, convinced that they would just be working under new masters and that little would change.

Erich Koch was a Gauleiter of the Nazi Party [NSDAP] in East Prussia from 1928 until 1945. Between 1941 and 1945 he was Chief of Civil Administration [Chef der Zivilverwaltung] of Bezirk Bialystok. During this period, he was also the Reichskommissar in Reichskommissariat Ukraine from 1941 until 1944.

Koch was appointed as head of the Volkssturm of East Prussia on 25 November 1944. As the Red Army advanced into his area during 1945, Koch initially fled Königsberg to Berlin at the end of January after condemning the Wehrmacht from attempting a similar breakout from East Prussia. He then returned to the far safer town of Pillau, "where he made a great show of organizing the marine evacuation using Kriegsmarine radio communications, before once more getting away himself" by escaping through this Baltic Sea port on 23 April 1945 on the icebreaker 'Ostpreußen'. From Pillau through Hel Peninsula, Rügen and Copenhagen he arrived at Flensburg, where he hid himself after unsuccessfully demanding that a U-Boat take him to South America. He was captured by British forces in Hamburg in May 1949.

The Soviet Union demanded Koch's extradition, but the British government decided to pass him on to the Polish government instead. On 14 January 1950 he was handed over by the British to a prison in Warsaw, the Mokotów prison, where he remained imprisoned for another eight years before his trial began on 19 October 1958. He faced charges of war crimes for the extermination of 400,000 Poles, but was never indicted for his crimes in Ukraine.

Found guilty of these crimes, he was sentenced to death on 9 March 1959 by the district court in Warsaw for having planned, prepared and organized the mass murder of civilians.

His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment due to ill health, although many believe he was spared because the Soviets thought he possessed information about art looted by the Nazis during the war; in particular, information about the whereabouts of the Amber Room of Tsarskoe Selo palace near Leningrad which was dismantled on Koch's direct orders. The Soviets believed he had ordered parts of this famous room to be hidden on board the 'Wilhelm Gustloff' cruise liner, which was torpedoed and sunk in the Baltic whilst evacuating refugees from East Prussia in early 1945.

Salvage attempts by both Soviet and Polish diving teams in the 1950s revealed no evidence to substantiate this theory.

Koch remained unrepentant to the end, arguing that he would never have surrendered as "it was a matter of honour". He died of natural causes in prison at Barczewo, Poland [formerly Wartenburg in East Prussia] at the age of 90, as the last war criminal to serve a term in Poland.

Koch and Christianity

Koch was one of only a few openly Christian Nazi party members. In addition to his political career, Koch was also the elected praeses of Synod of the old-Prussian Ecclesiastical Province of East Prussia. Although Koch gave preference to the Deutsche Christen movement over traditional Protestantism, his contemporaries regarded Koch as a bona fide Christian, whose success in his church career could be attributed to his commitment to the Lutheran faith .Koch officially resigned his church membership in 1943, but in his post-war testimony he stated: "I held the view that the Nazi idea had to develop from a basic Prussian-Protestant attitude and from Luther's unfinished Protestant Reformation".

On the 450th Anniversary of Martin Luther's birth [10 November 1933], Koch spoke on the circumstances surrounding Luther's birthday. He implied that the Machtergreifung was an act of divine will and stated that both Luther and Hitler struggled in the name of belief.

The distant thunder of artillery when the offensives began created terrible fear in the isolated farms and villages of the mainly flat and forested East Prussian landscape. Women in East Prussia had heard of the atrocities at Nemmersdorf the previous autumn, when some of Chernyakhovsky's troops invaded East Prussia at the end of the headlong advance in the summer of 1944. They may well have seen in a local town's Kino [movie theater] the terrible newsreel footage of sixty-two raped and murdered women and young girls. Göbbels's propaganda ministry had rushed cameramen to the front to record the atrocity and exploit it to the maximum. Yet there still seemed to be little idea of the degree of horrors in store for them. The most prevalent for girls and women of all ages was gang rape.

The Soviet armies advancing in huge, long columns were an extraordinary mixture of modern and medieval: tank troops in padded black helmets, their T-34s churning up the earth as they dipped and rolled with the ground, Cossack cavalrymen on shaggy mounts with loot strapped to the saddle, Lend-Lease Studebakers and Dodges towing light field guns, open Chevrolets with tarpaulin-covered mortars in the back and tractors hauling great Howitzers, all eventually followed by a second echelon in horse-drawn carts.

Soviet ground force commanders were able to assemble a massive array of every conceivable weapon system and the fuel and ammunition needed to support them.  The impact of Lend-Lease from the United States and Great Britain was bringing the Soviet Army to the stage where they could more easily sustain extensive mobile operations. While Lend-Lease supplied everything imaginable to the Soviet military, arguably the most important item of the transfer was in the area of motorized transport. Over the course of the war, the United States alone sent the Soviet Union over 182,000 2 1/2 ton trucks, a number that represented 22% of the total wartime production of that type. An additional 418,000 trucks of all other types, for a total of 19% of all American wartime production, were shipped during the war, from Jeeps to the so-called “heavy-heavies” used for bulk transport.

The impact of the motorization of the Soviet Army can not be underscored enough. The Soviets used Lend-Lease trucks for field transport of infantry, as mounts for the Katyusha rocket launchers, and for the all-important movement of supplies. 

It is interesting to note that despite the prevalence of American trucks in the Soviet inventory, Soviet propagandists were very careful to ensure that few if any photographs of these trucks ever leaked out through official channels. True to their Communist ideals, Soviet leaders wanted to maintain the image that a Marxist nation was defeating their fascist foe with little or no help from their capitalist Allies

The variety of characters among the soldiers was almost as great as their military equipment. There were those who saw even young German boys as embryo SS men and believed that they should all be killed before they grew up and invaded Russia again, and there were those who spared children and gave them something to eat. There were freebooters who drank and raped quite shamelessly, and there were idealistic, austere Communists and members of the Intelligentsia genuinely appalled by such behaviour.

Zakhar Agranenko, a playwright serving as an officer of marine infantry in East Prussia, wrote:

"Red Army soldiers don't believe in 'individual liaisons' with German women. Nine, ten, twelve men at a time - they rape them on a collective basis".

Even Russian women liberated from forced labor camps were raped by Soviet soldiers. The rear-guard units of the advancing Soviet armies were responsible for a large proportion of the crimes committed by Red Army personnel.Soviet Officers like Lev Kopelev, who tried to prevent crimes, were accused of pity for the enemy and became Gulag prisoners.

Soviet propaganda was a purposeful goad to the Soviet soldier and reflected the will of the political authorities in the Soviet Union right up to Stalin.ere is no question that Stalin was aware of what was happening. Given the strict control of the Communist party over the military hierarchy, the pillage and rape in Prussia was the result of the Soviet command at all levels. Only when Stalin saw that it was in the Soviet Union's interests to check the behaviour of the Red Army did he take steps to stop it.

"Over two million German girls were repeatedly raped and tortured by Russian soldiers. Ten thousand of them did not survive. The Soviet propagandist Ilya Ehrenburg incited: 'Kill! Kill! There is no innocent German. Break with violence the racial pride of the German women! Take them as fair booty!"

-- Ostdokumentation 2/37/103-108

Dr. Arnold Niedenzu, a surgeon testified in Rössel:

"…Old [up to 80 age], girls [up to about ten years], Pregnant women and new mothers. The rapes went beyond the already hideous circumstances. The Russians subjected to torture women for days, often came at night from broken windows or doors torn, or from the roofs cleaved savagely raping the hapless women often with weapons in hand. The seviziavano holding the gun directly into the mouth of the unfortunate victims ... "

Laventi Beria, chief of the Soviet security and secret police apparatus [NKVD] and Stalin back in Moscow knew perfectly well what was going on. In one report they were told that "many Germans declare that all German women in East Prussia who stayed behind were raped by Red Army soldiers"..

Numerous examples of gang rape were given - "girls under eighteen and old women included". In fact victims could be as young as twelve years old. "The NKVD group attached to the 43rd Army discovered that German women who had stayed behind in Schpaleiten had tried to commit suicide", the report continued.

The Red Army attitude towards women had become openly proprietorial, especially since Stalin himself had stepped in to allow Red Army officers to keep a "campaign wife",  known as a PPZh, because the full term, "pokhodno-polevaya zhena", was so similar to PPSh, the standard Red Army sub-machine gun.

These young women, selected as mistresses by senior officers, were usually headquarters signallers, clerks or medics - young women soldiers who wore a beret on the back of the head instead of a fore-and-aft pilotka. The lot of a campaign wife was not an easy one when male lust was both intense and indiscriminate.

Marshal Rokossovsky issued order No. 006 in an attempt to direct "the feelings of hatred at righting the enemy on the battlefield" and to underline the punishment for "looting, violence, robbing, unnecessary arson and destruction". It seems to have had little effect.

There were also a few arbitrary attempts to exert authority. The commander of one rifle division is said to have "personally shot a lieutenant who was lining up a group of his men before a German woman spread-eagled on the ground".

But either officers were involved themselves, or the lack of discipline made it too dangerous to restore order over drunken soldiers armed with sub-machine guns.

Even General Andrei Okorokov, the chief of the political department of the 2nd Belorussian Front, opposed at a meeting on 6 February what he saw as a "refusal to take revenge on the enemy". In Moscow, the authorities were less worried about rape and murder than about the senseless destruction. On 9 February, "Krasnaya Zvezda" declared in an editorial that "every breach of military discipline only weakens the victorious Red Army . . . Our revenge is not blind. Our anger is not irrational. In a moment of blind rage one is apt to destroy a factory in conquered enemy territory - a factory that would be of value to us". Political officers hoped to adapt this approach to the question of rape as well. "When we breed a true feeling of hatred in a soldier," the political department of the 19th Army declared, "the soldier will not try to have sex with a German woman, because he will be repulsed". But this inept sophistry only serves to underline the failure of the authorities to understand the problem. Even young women soldiers and medics in the Red Army did not disapprove.

German crimes in the Soviet Union and the regime's relentless propaganda certainly contributed to the terrible violence against German women in East Prussia. But vengeance can be only part of the explanation, even if it later became the justification for what happened. Once soldiers had alcohol inside them, the nationality of their prey made little difference.

The subject has been so repressed in Russia that even today veterans refuse to acknowledge what really happened during the onslaught on German territory. They will admit to hearing of a few excesses, and then dismiss the subject as an inevitable result of war. Only a few are prepared to acknowledge that they witnessed such scenes. The tiny handful prepared to speak openly, however, are totally unrepentant. "They all lifted their skirts for us and lay on the bed," said the Komsomol leader in a tank company. He even went on to boast that "2 million of our children were born" in Germany.

The capacity of Soviet officers and soldiers to convince themselves that most of the victims were either happy with their fate, or at least accepted that it was their turn to suffer after what the Wehrmacht had done in Russia, is remarkable. "Our fellows were so sex-starved," a Soviet major told a British journalist at the time, "that they often raped old women of sixty, seventy or even eighty - much to these grandmothers' surprise, if not downright delight".

Drink of every variety, including dangerous chemicals seized from laboratories and workshops, was a major factor. In fact, compulsive drinking gravely damaged the fighting capacity of the Red Army. The situation became so bad that the NKVD reported back to Moscow that "mass poisoning from captured alcohol is taking place in occupied German territory". It seems as if Soviet soldiers needed alcoholic courage to attack a woman. But then, all too often, they drank too much and, unable to complete the act of rape, used the bottle instead with appalling effect. A number of victims were mutilated obscenely.

One can only scratch at the surface of the bewildering psychological contradictions. When gang-raped women in Königsberg begged their attackers afterwards to put them out of their misery, the Red Army men appear to have felt insulted. "Russian soldiers do not shoot women," they replied. "Only German soldiers do that".

The Red Army had managed to convince itself that because it had assumed the moral mission to liberate Europe from fascism, it could behave entirely as it liked, both personally and politically.

Domination and humiliation permeated most soldiers' treatment of women in East Prussia. The victims bore the brunt of revenge for the Wehrmacht's crimes during the invasion of the Soviet Union. After the initial fury dissipated, this characteristic of sadistic humiliation became noticeably less marked.

By the time the Red Army reached Berlin three months later, its soldiers tended to regard German women more as a casual right of conquest than a target of hate.

The sense of domination certainly continued, but this was perhaps partly an indirect product of the humiliations which they themselves had suffered at the hands of their commanders and the Soviet authorities as a whole.

Just as non-German nationality failed to save women from rape, so left-wing credentials provided little protection to men. German Communists who emerged from twelve years of clandestine belief to welcome their fraternal liberators usually found themselves handed over to SMERSH for investigation. The smiles of joy at the arrival of the Red Army soon froze on their faces in disbelief. The twisted logic of SMERSH could always turn a story, however genuine, into a conspiracy of calculated treachery. And there was always the killer question, formulated in advance in Moscow, to be posed to every prisoner or noncombatant who professed allegiance to Stalin: "Why are you not with the partisans?" The fact that there were no partisan groups in Germany was not regarded as a valid excuse. This pitilessly Manichaean line drummed in during the years of war naturally tended to compound the generic hatred of many Soviet soldiers. They asked their political officers why the German working class had not fought Hitler and never received a direct answer. It is not surprising, therefore, that when the Party line changed abruptly in mid-April to say that you should not hate all Germans, only Nazis, many soldiers took little notice.

The destructive urge of Soviet soldiers in East Prussia was truly alarming. It went far beyond the chopping up of furniture to make a fire. Without thinking, they torched houses which could have given them warmth and shelter for the night when all was frozen hard outside. They were also furious to find a standard of living among peasant farmers far higher than anything that they had ever imagined. This provoked outrage at the idea that Germans, who had already been living so well, should have invaded the Soviet Union to loot and destroy.

The Soviet authorities, no doubt to save Stalin from blame for the disaster of 1941, had managed to inculcate a sense of collective guilt in the Soviet people that they had allowed the Motherland to be invaded. There can be little doubt that the expiation of suppressed guilt increases the violence of revenge, but many motives for violence were much more straightforward. Red Army soldiers were astonished to see wirelesses in so many houses. The evidence of their eyes strongly implied that the Soviet Union was perhaps not quite the workers' and peasants' paradise they had been told. East Prussian farms produced a mixture of bewilderment, jealousy, admiration and anger which alarmed political officers.

The fears of army political departments were confirmed by reports from NKVD postal censors, who underlined negative comments in blue and positive comments in red. The NKVD drastically increased the censorship of letters home, hoping to control the way soldiers described the style of living of ordinary Germans and the "politically incorrect conclusions" formed as a result. The NKVD was also horrified to find that soldiers were sending German postcards home; some even had "anti-Soviet quotations from Hitler's speeches". This at least forced political departments to provide clean writing paper.

Clocks, china, mirrors and pianos were smashed in middle-class houses which Red Army soldiers assumed were those of German Barons. In village streets there were snow storms from eviscerated pillows and feather mattresses. Much was bewilderingly new to soldiers brought up in the provinces of the Soviet Union, especially Uzbeks and Turkmenians from Central Asia.  Others, including officers, tried to smoke looted cigars, inhaling as if they were one of their newspaper roll-ups filled with black makhorka tobacco.

Objects taken as plunder were often discarded and trampled a few moments later. Nobody wanted to leave anything for a  "shtabnaya krysa" [staff rat] - or especially for a "tylovaya krysa" [rear rat] from the second echelon. Alexandr Solzhenitsyn described scenes resembling a "tumultuous market", with soldiers trying on Prussian women's outsize drawers. Some fitted on so many layers of clothing under their overalls that they could hardly move, and tank crews stuffed so much plunder into their vehicles that it is amazing the turret could still traverse. The supply of artillery shells was also reduced because so many vehicles were loaded with indiscriminate loot. Officers shook their heads in despair at their men's choice of booty, such as dinner jackets, to send home in their specially permitted monthly five-kilo parcel.

For generals and SMERSH officers there was scarcely a limit, but generals did not really need to stoop to looting. Their officers brought select offerings. One chose an elaborate hunting rifle and a set of Dürer engravings for General Andrei Okorokov, his boss in the 2nd Belorussian Front political department.

A small group of pro-Soviet German officers was taken to visit East Prussia. They were appalled by what they saw. One of them, Graf [Count] Heinrich von Einsiedel, vice-president of the NKVD-controlled National Committee for a Free Germany, told fellow members on his return, "Russians are absolutely crazy about Vodka and all alcoholic drinks. They rape women, drink themselves into unconsciousness and set houses on fire". This was rapidly reported to Beria. Ilya Ehrenburg, the fieriest of all propagandists, was also deeply shaken on a visit, but it did not make him moderate his ferocity in print.

Von Einsiedel, a great-grandson of Otto von Bismarck, in World War II served as a German fighter pilot, initially with Jagdgeschwader 2 over the Western Front, flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109. He took part in escort operations over the cruisers 'Scharnhorst', 'Gneisenau' and 'Prinz Eugen' as they made their "Channel dash" from Brest to Germany in February 1942. Von Einsiedel claimed two of the six Fairey Swordfish of No. 825 Squadron Fleet Air Arm, who made an unsuccessful low-level torpedo attack. On one occasion he was shot down and crash-landed near Rotterdam and was also shot down into the Channel and rescued. In June 1942 von Einsiedel was transferred to Jagdgeschwader 3 on the Russian Front for the forthcoming offensive against Stalingrad. Over the next six weeks, he claimed 33 Russian aircraft downed, including four Petlyakov Pe-2 bombers in the space of six minutes on 20 August. He was awarded the German Cross in Gold.

On 30 August 1942, during combat with Russian "Ratas", he was forced to land and was captured by Russian ground forces, becoming a prisoner of war in the Soviet Union.

The Soviet authorities soon realised the pilot was a well-connected member of the German nobility and thus a potentially valuable propaganda weapon. On capture von Einsiedel refused to divulge any military Intelligence to his captors. He finally agreed however to send an open letter home stating he was being treated correctly and that Germany was going to lose the war, and that his great-grandfather Otto von Bismarck, would never have invaded Russia.

Released after the war, von Einsiedel initially worked for the "Tägliche Rundschau", the German newspaper of the Soviet Military Administration in Germany, but became increasingly disillusioned with the Soviet regime, experiencing at first hand the Russian corruption and inefficiency. He was given permission to visit West Berlin on behalf of the NKVD for Intelligence gathering purposes. While meeting his mother he was arrested by US Forces and sentenced by an American court for spying and having forged documents. He was released on appeal.

He thus moved to West Germany in late 1948, where he worked as a translator, script-writer and journalist. The governing Socialist Unity Party of East Germany acknowledged von Einsiedel as a bonafide anti-fascist but a petit bourgeois who, "as soon as the class war became acute", had wavered and switched political camps for his own self interests,

Red Army soldiers had never been well fed during the war. Most of the time they had been permanently hungry. If it had not been for the huge shipments of American Spam and wheat, many of them would have been close to starvation.

 They had inevitably resorted to living off the land, although it was never an official policy in the Red Army as it had been with the Wehrmacht. In Poland, they had stolen the seed corn of farmers and slaughtered for meat the few remaining animals missed by the Germans. In Lithuania the desperate urge for sugar had led to soldiers raiding beehives: in their ranks the previous autumn, many were conspicuous with faces and hands dramatically swollen by bee stings. But the well-ordered and well-stocked farms of East Prussia offered a bounty beyond their dreams. Cows mooing in agony from swollen udders because those who milked them had fled were frequently shot down with rifles and machine guns to be turned into improvised steaks. "They ran away and left everything behind," wrote one soldier, "and now we have lots of pork, food and sugar. We have so much food now that we won't eat just anything". 

Although the Soviet authorities were well aware of the terrible retribution being exacted in East Prussia, they seemed angered, in fact almost offended, to find that German civilians were fleeing. Countryside and towns were virtually depopulated. The NKVD chief of the 2nd Belorussian Front reported to G. F. Aleksandrov, the chief ideologist on the central committee, that there were "very few Germans left . . . many settlements are completely abandoned". He gave examples of villages where half a dozen people remained and small towns with fifteen people or so, almost all over forty-five years of age. The "noble fury" was triggering the largest panic migration in history. Between 12 January and mid-February 1945, almost 8.5 million Germans fled their homes in the eastern provinces of the Reich.

In East Prussia, a number went to hide in the forests, especially Volkssturm men and vulnerable women, praying for the fury to pass. The vast majority, on the other hand, had started to flee just ahead of the invasion. Some left messages for their menfolk.

Hardly any were to see their homes again. It was the abrupt and total destruction of a whole region, with its own marked character and culture, emphasized perhaps because it had always been at the extremity of Germany on the Slav frontier. Stalin had already planned to take the northern half with Königsberg as part of the Soviet Union. The rest would be given to a satellite Poland as partial compensation for the annexation of all of its eastern territories as "western Belorussia" and "western Ukraine". East Prussia itself was to be wiped from the map. Once Rokossovsky's 5th Guards Tank Army had cut through to the Frisches Haff, the only routes out were by sea from Pillau at the south-west tip of the Samland Peninsula, or over the ice to the Frische Nehrung, the long sandbar enclosing the lagoon from the Danzig end. Perhaps the most unfortunate fugitives were the ones who fled into Königsberg, which was soon cut off on the landward side. Escape from the city proved far from easy, mainly because the Nazi authorities had made no preparations for the evacuation of civilians, and it took some time before the first ships appeared at Pillau. Meanwhile, the siege of the East Prussian capital became one of the most terrible of the war.

The refugees who reached the Frische Nehrung, the sandbar of the lagoon, the only route still open to the west, received little pity from Wehrmacht officers. They forced them off the road, insisting that it was for military use only. Trekkers had to abandon their carts and belongings and stagger through the dunes. Many never even reached the Frische Nehrung. On the mainland, Soviet tank columns simply crushed any refugee farm carts in the way and raked convoys with machine-gun fire. When a detachment of tank troops overtook a refugee column on 19 January, "the passengers on the carts and vehicles were butchered". Even though East Prussia contained none of the Nazis' most notorious concentration camps, an NKVD detachment checking an area of forest near the village of Kumennen found 100 civilian corpses in three groups in the snow. They were presumably victims of a death march. Himmler had ordered the evacuation of camps when the Red Army approached.

"The majority are women aged 18-35," the report stated, "and clad in torn clothes with numbers and a six-pointed star on the left sleeve and on the front of their clothes. Some of them wore clogs. Mugs and spoons were fastened to their belts. Their pockets contained food - small potatoes, swede, grains of wheat etc. A special commission of investigation formed by doctors and officers established that they were shot at close range and all the executed women were half-starved". Significantly, they were not identified by the Soviet authorities as Jews, despite the mention of six-pointed stars sewn on their clothing, but as "citizens of the USSR, France and Romania". The Nazis killed around 1.5 million Soviet Jews simply because they were Jewish, but Stalin did not want anything to divert attention from the suffering of the Motherland. 

When German generals addressed their men in familiar tones they called them "Kinder" - children. This came from a Prussian sense of paternalism which extended to the whole state. "The soldier is the child of the people," said General von Blumentritt at the end of the war, but any idea of a family tie between military and civilian society was by then wishful thinking.

Anger was rising at the futile sacrifices. People were now prepared to shelter deserters. A Polish farmer who had been in Berlin on 24 January witnessed women shouting at the officers and NCOs marching a column of German soldiers through the streets, "Let our husbands come home! Make the Golden Pheasants [senior Nazis] fight instead!" General staff officers in their uniforms with thick red stripes down their trousers started to attract cries of "Vampire!" when spotted by civilians. But this did not mean that revolution was in the air, as in 1918, the year which so obsessed the Nazis. The Swedish military attaché observed that there would be no revolt before the food ran out. This was acknowledged in a popular Berlin saying, "The fighting will not stop until Göring fits into Göbbels' trousers".

Few had any illusions about what lay ahead. The Berlin health department ordered hospitals to provide another 10,000 bed spaces for civilians and another 10,000 for military use as "catastrophe beds". This decree was typical of Nazi bureaucracy: it made no allowance for the effects of bombing and the scarcity of resources and trained medical staff. It was one thing to provide bed spaces, but doctors and nurses were already desperately overstretched, and they simply did not have the personnel to move patients down into cellars during the nightly air raids. Meanwhile, hospital administrators were having to waste time negotiating with different Nazi Party departments to allow their staff to be excused call-up for the Volkssturm militia.

The Volkssturm had been born the previous autumn out of Nazi ideology and petty power struggles. Hitler's suspicions that the army's leadership was both treacherous and defeatist made him determined that control of this mass militia should be kept out of its hands. Himmler, head of the Waffen SS and commander-in-chief of the Replacement Army since the July plot, was an obvious candidate, but the ambitious Martin Bormann was determined that the Volkssturm should be organized locally by the Nazi Party Gauleiters who came under him. Since almost all German males between seventeen and forty-five had already been called up, the Volkssturm was an amalgam of teenagers and the elderly. Göbbels, now also Reich Defence Commissar for Berlin, whipped up a propaganda campaign with slogans such as "The Führer's call is our sacred order!" and "Believe! Fight! Win!" Cinemas showed newsreels of marching men, elderly and young shoulder to shoulder, Volkssturm detachments receiving Panzerfaust rocket-propelled grenades, then swearing the oath of allegiance to the Führer in massed ranks. The camera lingered on the faces of those listening to Göbbels' speech.

There were many believers, ignorant of military reality, who were convinced by this show of determination. The morale of soldiers at the front was not, however, raised by all this. Many were appalled to hear in letters from home that their father, in some cases grandfather, or young brother was being drilled and given weapon training every Sunday.

 

In fact most Germans, with their innate respect for professional specialization, were deeply sceptical. "The people were predominantly of the opinion," General Hans Kissel later told his captors, "that if the Wehrmacht was unable to cope with the situation, then the Volkssturm would not be able to do so either".

Most members of the Volkssturm guessed that they were to be thrown senselessly into battle for symbolic purposes and had no hope of making any impression on the Soviet onslaught. Some forty Volkssturm battalions raised in Silesia were allocated to defend their eastern and north-eastern frontiers. A few concrete emplacements were built, but since they had almost no anti-tank weapons, Soviet tank forces went straight through them.

In the industrial areas of Upper Silesia, the centre of "gold" indicated by Stalin, German company directors became increasingly anxious. They feared a revolt among the 300,000 foreign workers, mainly Poles and forced labour from the Soviet Union, and insisted on "security measures against enemy alien workers" before the Red Army's advance encouraged them to rise in revolt.

The Soviet advances also prompted the evacuation of prisoner-of-war camps as well as concentration camps. Guards and prisoners trudged through bleak, snow-covered landscapes without any idea of direction or purpose.

With Göring utterly discredited, the main struggle for power within the Nazi leadership was principally between Bormann and Himmler. The July plot had greatly increased Himmler's power. He was in charge of the only organizations -the Waffen SS and the Gestapo- which could control the army. With Hitler's physical and mental state gravely shaken by the same event, he was in a strong position to succeed as Führer but whether he had the qualities to play Stalin to Hitler's Lenin, as some feared, was a different matter.

Himmler hardly looked the part. His "chief physical characteristics were a receding chin, heavy jowls, and eyes which appeared not so much bespectacled as glazed in". For so cold a man, so alien to any sort of humanity, the Reichsführer SS could be astonishingly naive and complacent. Himmler, certain that he was next in line to the throne, gravely underestimated Martin Bormann, the bull-necked and round-faced secretary who had schemed his way into Hitler's confidence and now controlled access to him. Bormann secretly despised Himmler, and referred to him sarcastically as "Uncle Heinrich".

Bormann had long suspected that Himmler, the improbable creator of the Waffen SS, secretly longed to be a military commander in his own right. Offering the means to satisfy this fantasy was a good way of getting him out of Berlin and away from the centre of power. In early December, almost certainly on Bormann's suggestion, Hitler appointed Himmler commander-in-chief of a small army group on the upper Rhine. Buried in south-west Germany in the Black Forest, Himmler did not realize that he was rapidly losing power back in Berlin. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Reich Security Head Office, whom he himself had raised up after Heydrich's assassination in Prague, had been won over by Bormann, who gave him direct access to Hitler to receive his instructions in person. Himmler also did not realize that his liaison officer at Führer headquarters, SS Gruppenführer Hermann Fegelein, had also secretly joined Bormann's camp.

Unlike most English-speaking countries, Germany had universal military service for all young men for several generations, so many of the older members would have had at least basic military training, and many would have been veterans of the First World War. Volkssturm units were supposed to be used only in their own districts, but many were sent directly to the front lines. Ultimately, it was their charge to confront the overwhelming power of the British, American, Canadian, Polish, and Soviet armies alongside Wehrmacht forces to either turn the tide of the war or set a shining example for future generations of Germans  by fighting to the last, dying before surrendering. It was an apocalyptic goal which some of those assigned to the Volkssturm took to heart.

On some occasions, members of the Volkssturm showed tremendous courage and a determined will to resist, more so even than soldiers in the Wehrmacht. Fighting at Küstrin between 30 January to 29 March 1945, militia units made up mostly of the Volkssturm resisted for nearly two months. Losses were upwards of 60 percent for the Volkssturm at Kolberg, roughly 1,900 of them died at Breslau, and during the Battle of Königsberg another 2,400 members of the Volkssturm were killed.

The strategy of Bormann and Josef Göbbels, to fight a war of attrition by means of fanatical resistance,  did not occur, despite German hopes that public opinion, especially in the countries of the western Allies, would, because of the steadily rising losses and deaths, turn against their governments' strategy of unrestricted war until the unconditional surrender of the German armed forces.

The chances of the Volkssturm making a major difference were never realistic in the face of the overwhelming Allied numbers and material superiority.

While Nazi leaders were scheming among themselves, the Vistula front had completely collapsed, as Guderian had predicted. The Soviet tank brigades did not stop at dusk. They pushed on through the hours of darkness, one commander explained, because they were "less vulnerable in the dark, and our tanks are terrifying at night".

Soviet point units were sometimes advancing by sixty to seventy kilometres a day. 

There can be no doubt that the momentum of the Soviet advance upset the German staff system. Reports on enemy positions at last light, passed back up the chain of command, reached army group headquarters at 8 a.m. Then OKH had to prepare its digest and situation map in time for Hitler's noontime conference. This might go on for some time. Freytag von Löringhoven, Guderian's military assistant, remembered one which lasted for seven hours. So orders issued on the basis of Hitler's instructions did not reach frontline units until twenty-four hours after their reports on the situation.

In this theatre of power politics, outsiders' contributions to operational discussions were seldom constructive. They were usually self-serving, especially if there was a chance to score a point over a rival at court. Göring now seemed devoid of Machiavellian finesse. He had no idea of military strategy yet would hold forth at length, his vast bulk bent across the map table, rendering it invisible to everyone else. Then, having made a fool of himself, he would retire to a chair nearby. An astonishingly long-suffering Hitler did not reprimand him when he went to sleep in full view of everyone present. On one occasion, Freytag von Löringhoven observed Göring fall asleep in a chair. The spare map folded over his face made him look like a pre-war commercial traveler snoozing on a train.

Soviet tank drivers were so exhausted that they too frequently fell asleep, but a T-34 or Stalin tank could clearly withstand rather more than an ordinary vehicle if it blundered into something. The padded leather or canvas tank helmets were certainly needed inside the lurching steel monsters.

The crews were kept going to a large degree by the exhilaration of pursuit. The sight of German equipment abandoned brought fierce pleasure. "He's not going to be allowed a chance to rest," they swore. They reveled above all in the surprise they were achieving in the German rear.
At the slightest sign of determined resistance, Soviet commanders brought up their heavy artillery.

Zhukov's armies continued their virtually unopposed thrust north-westwards during the third week of January. The 2nd Guards Tank Army and the 5th Shock Army continued their partnership on the right, while the 1st Guards Tank Army and the 8th Guards Army co-operated closely on the left. Even the 1st Belorussian Front headquarters could not keep up with their progress, sometimes issuing orders for objectives which had already been seized. When General Chuikov's 8th Guards Army sighted the industrial city of Lodz on 18 January, five days ahead of schedule, he decided to attack without consulting Front headquarters. But as his rifle divisions deployed for their attack in the morning, they were very nearly bombed by Red Army aviation. The city was in their hands by evening. German soldiers lying dead in the streets had in many cases been killed by Polish patriots, carrying out "their merciless but just execution"'.

On 24 January, Vasily Chuikov, considered the best general for city fighting as a result of his Stalingrad experience, received orders to seize Poznan [Posen]. On receiving the signal, he wondered whether Zhukov's headquarters knew anything about this massive Silesian fortress. Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front to the south had a much shorter advance to the frontier of the Reich. First of all, they managed to surprise the Germans in Krakow and liberate the city undamaged. But the rapidity of the advance produced unexpected complications as well. Zhukov and Konev's armies had overtaken tens of thousands of German troops, many of whom had evaded capture and were desperately trying to make their way westwards, hiding up by day in forests. Some of them ambushed passing Red Army men just to seize their bread bags.

Large columns of mainly motorized formations also withdrew towards the Reich, trying to find a way through the mass of Soviet armies. They were known as "roving cauldrons", fighting their way or slipping from one encirclement to another, cannibalizing vehicles to keep going and ruthlessly destroying guns and equipment which could no longer be used. The strongest and best known of these was based on General Walther Nehring's Panzer Corps. They absorbed stragglers and units, and destroyed vehicles which broke down or ran out of fuel. They even sacrificed two tanks to prop up a bridge over which the lighter vehicles rushed before it collapsed. Nehring, helped by the unwitting choice of a route which ran roughly along the boundary between Zhukov's armies and Konev's, managed to avoid major engagements. In a brief radio message, Nehring heard that General Dietrich von Saucken's Großdeutschland Corps would try to link up with them. This they managed to do in heavy fog on 21 January. The combined group then withdrew to eventual safety beyond the Oder on 27 January.

On the same day as Nehring crossed the Oder, the barely believable criminality of the Nazi regime was revealed 200 kilometres to the south-east. Konev's 6oth Army discovered the network of camps round Auschwitz. Reconnaissance troops from the 107th Rifle Division, some on horseback, with sub-machine guns slung across their backs, emerged from snow-laden forests to discover the grimmest symbol of modern history.

Soviet officers, on realizing what they had found, called forward all available medical teams to care for the 3,000 sick prisoners, many too close to death to save. They had been too weak to walk when the SS began to evacuate the camps nine days before. Soviet officers started to question some of the inmates. The Red Army authorities estimated that more than 4 million people were killed, although this was later shown to be a considerable over-estimate. An army photographer was summoned to take pictures of the Arbeit-Macht-Frei gateway covered in snow, dead children with swollen bellies, bundles of human hair, open-mouthed corpses and numbers tattooed on the arms of living skeletons. These were all sent back to Alexander Aleksandrov, the chief of Red Army propaganda in Moscow. But apart from a report published on 9 February in the Red Army newspaper "Stalinskoe Znamya" [Stalin's Banner], the Soviet Union suppressed all news of Auschwitz until 8 May, when the war had finished.

A Soviet officer also discovered an order from Himmler agreeing "to delay the execution of those Russian prisoners sent to the camps who are physically fit enough for stone-breaking".

It was not before 1989, that is 44 years after the liberation of the POW and concentration camp complex known as Auschwitz, that an international dispute started about the actual number of victims who had died in this camp complex. For 44 years, the Polish authorities and with them most of the world's mass media had been claiming that some four million inmates had perished there, but in 1989 they suddenly changed their minds and reduced this figure drastically.

-- Daily press of 18 July 1990, e.g.: Krzysztof Leski, Ohad Gozani, 'Poland reduces Auschwitz death toll estimate to 1 million', "London Daily Telegraph", 18 July 1990; UPI, "Poland lowers Auschwitz toll", "Toronto Sun", 18 July 1990. In Germany, it was the left-wing radical daily newspaper "Die Tageszeitung" which published the lowest new victim figure on 18 July 1990: 960.000. [On 3 August 1990 "Aufbau", a Jewish newspaper in New York, reported the figure of 900,000].

Following this dispute, an investigative commission was formed to come up with a more acceptable number of victims. [Cf. 'Commission try to defuse Auschwitz controversy', "The Canadian Jewish News", 3 October 1990]


As a consequence, the memorial plates on display in the camp Auschwitz-Birkenau were removed in 1990, which had propagated the four million figure in many languages. New memorial plates were installed in Auschwitz in 1995, claiming an alleged "final" victim count of 1.5 millions.

Franciszek Piper, manager of the historical department at Auschwitz, calculates 1.1 million died: One million Jews, 70,000 to 75,000 Poles, 21,000 Gypsies, 15,000 Soviet POWs and 5,000 from other countries.

However, this "final" verdict did not end the controversy about the actual death toll of Auschwitz. In 1993 and 1994, the French pharmacist Jean-Claude Pressac, then promoted by the international media as the expert on technical questions surrounding Auschwitz, in his book, "Les Crématoires d'Auschwitz/La Machinerie du meurtre de masse". éditions du CNRS, 1993 stated the total of the deaths to be 775,000 - 800,000,  of whom 630,000 were gassed Jews. But, in a translation in German of the work referred to above: "Die Krematorien von Auschwitz/Die Technik des Massenmordes". Munich, Piper, 1994, Pressac evaluates the number of the victims  at 631,000 - 711,000, of whom from 470,000 to 550,000 were gassed Jews. 

"Not too far away from [Pressac's latest figures] is the result of this study with presumed 510,000 deaths, 356,000 of which were probably murdered in the gas".

-- Fritjof Meyer, "Die Zahl der Opfer von Auschwitz. Neue Erkenntnisse durch neue Archivfunde" [Number of Auschwitz Victims: New Insights from Recent Archival Discoveries]"Osteuropa",  May 2002

Meyer is a leading journalist of Germany's biggest news magazine, the left-wing "Der Spiegel". His article appeared in the German geopolitical magazine "Osteuropa", which is published by the German Society for Eastern Europe under the directorship of Prof. Rita  Süssmuth, who was once the president of the German parliament.

The fact that the Wehrmacht had been handing over prisoners of war, their responsibility, to the SS for extermination could only harden the hearts of the avenging Red Army even more. They even discovered from a German staff interpreter that in at least one camp for Red Army soldiers, "all prisoners on arrival were ordered to undress: those declared Jews were shot on the spot". Once again, the Soviet authorities were interested only in crimes against Soviet citizens and soldiers. For Red Army soldiers, however, the evidence before their eyes sent a clear message. They would take no prisoners. If those January days were disastrous for the Wehrmacht, they were far more terrible for the several million civilians who had fled their homes in East Prussia, Silesia and Pomerania. Farming families who for centuries had survived the harshest of winters now realized with horror how vulnerable they were. They faced merciless weather, with homesteads burned and foodstocks looted or destroyed in the retreat. Few acknowledged, however, that this had recently been the fate of Polish, Russian and Ukrainian peasants at the hands of their own brothers, sons and fathers.

The "treks" from the regions along the Baltic coast -East and West Prussia and Pomerania- headed for the Oder and Berlin. Those from further south -Silesia and the Wartheland- aimed for the Neisse, south of Berlin. The vast majority of the refugees were women and children, since almost all the remaining men had been drafted into the Volkssturm. The variety of transport ranged from handcarts and prams for those on foot to every sort of farm cart, pony trap and even the odd landau, exhumed from the stables of some Schloss. There were hardly any motor vehicles because the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Party had requisitioned them already, as well as all fuel. Progress was pitifully slow, and not just because of the snow and ice. Columns kept halting because carts were overloaded and axles broke. Hay carts, filled with household objects, hams, kegs and jars of food, were turned into covered wagons with a crude superstructure and carpets draped over the outside. Mattresses inside provided some relief to heavily pregnant women and nursing mothers. On icy surfaces, undernourished horses found it hard work. Some carts were hauled by oxen whose unshod hooves were worn raw by the roads, leaving bloodstains in the snow. And when an animal died, as was all too often the case, there was seldom time to butcher it for food. Fear of the enemy drove the refugees on.

At night the columns were directed into wayside villages, where they were often allowed to camp in the barns and stables of manor houses. The owners would welcome in fellow aristocrats fleeing from East Prussia as if they were extra guests arriving for a shooting party. Near Stolp, in East Pomerania, Baron Jesko von Puttkamer slaughtered a pig to help feed hungry refugees on a trek. A "short-legged, pot-bellied" local Nazi official turned up to warn him that slaughtering an animal without permission was "a serious offence". The baron bellowed at him to get off his property, otherwise he would slaughter him too.

Those who had escaped from East Prussia in trains were no better off. On 20 January, a freight train overloaded with people pulled slowly into the station in Stolp. "Huddled shapes, rigid with cold, barely able to stand up any more and climb out; thin clothing, mostly in tatters, a few blankets over bowed shoulders; grey, hollow faces". Nobody spoke. Stiff little bundles were removed from the cars and laid on the platform. They were children who had frozen to death. "Out of the silence came the cries of a mother who did not want to surrender what she had lost," recorded a woman witness. "Horror and panic overcame me. Never had I seen such misery. And behind this sight, a terrifying and powerful vision loomed up: we were these people; this was what was in store for us".

The weather was about to get much worse a week later, with temperatures at night dropping from minus ten Celsius to minus thirty. Also another half a metre of snow fell in the last week of January, creating snowdrifts that were sometimes impassable even for tanks. Yet the panic-stricken migration increased. As Soviet forces headed for the Silesian capital of Breslau, which Hitler had designated a fortress to be defended to the last man and the last bullet, loudspeaker vans ordered civilians to leave the city as quickly as possible. Refugees were trampled to death in the rush for the trains. There was no question of evacuating the wounded or sick. They were given a grenade each to use on themselves and any Russians. Trains were not always the most certain means of transport. Journeys which usually took three hours "in normal times", a report on the refugees noted, were taking twenty-one hours.

Eva Braun's sister Ilse, who lived in Breslau, was one of those to flee by train. An official car collected her from the Schlesischer Bahnhof in Berlin on the morning of 21 January and brought her to the Adlon Hotel, where Eva was living. They had dinner together that evening in the library of the Reich Chancellery. Eva, who had no inkling of the scale of the disaster in the east, chatted as though her sister could return to Breslau after a short holiday. Ilse could not restrain herself. She described the refugees fleeing through the snow out of fear of the enemy. She was so angry, she told Eva that Hitler was dragging the whole country into an abyss. Eva was deeply shocked and furious. How could she say such things about the Führer who had been so generous and even offered to put her up at the Berghof? She deserved to be put against a wall and shot.

By 29 January the Nazi authorities calculated that "around 4 million people from the evacuated areas" were heading for the centre of the Reich. This was clearly an underestimate. The figure rose to 7 million within a fortnight and to 8.35 million by 19 February. At the end of January, between 40,000 and 50,000 refugees were arriving in Berlin each day, mainly by train. The capital of the Reich did not welcome its victims. "The Friedrichstrasse Bahnhof has become the transit point of Germany's fate," an eyewitness wrote. "Each new train that comes in unloads a mass of amorphous suffering on to the platform". In their misery, they may not have noticed the sign there which proclaimed, "Dogs and Jews are not allowed to use the escalator!" Soon energetic measures were taken by the German Red Cross to push refugees on from the Anhalter Bahnhof as quickly as possible, or to force trains to go round Berlin. The authorities were afraid of infectious diseases such as typhus' and an epidemic in the capital. Other illnesses that they feared the refugees would spread were dysentery, paratyphus, diphtheria and scarlet fever.

A good example of the chaos was shown by the figures for Danzig. On 8 February it was estimated that Danzig had 35,000-40,000 refugees, but should expect 400,000. Two days later it was decided that the figure of 400,000 had in fact already been reached. Having made no preparations for the disaster which Hitler had refused to acknowledge, the Nazi authorities now had to be seen to be making up for lost time if they were to retain any authority. They made a great show of using Junkers 88s from the Luftwaffe to drop supplies to snowbound and starving columns, but privately complained that it was "a terrible strain" on their fuel reserves.

Food depots were set up for refugees round Danzig, but these were soon looted by German soldiers on short rations. Yet the area in most urgent need of help was still East Prussia, where the first ship to evacuate refugees did not arrive until 27 January, fourteen days after Chernyakhovsky's attack. Other vessels with supplies of bread and condensed milk for civilians did not leave until early February. Inevitably, a proportion of the relief never got through. An aircraft with 2,000 tins of condensed milk was shot down in one of the first attempts to fly in supplies.

Chernyakhovsky's and Rokossovsky's two groups of armies had forced the remnants of the three German armies defending East Prussia into pockets with their backs to the sea. Rokossovsky's left-flank armies had captured the Teutonic Knights' fortress towns on the east bank of the Vistula and Marienburg on the Nogat. This forced the German Second Army back into the Vistula estuary, but it still retained the Frische Nehrung sandbar. And with a third of a metre of ice on the Frisches Haff lagoon, refugees could still cross by foot from the mainland and then on to Danzig. Rokossovsky's right flank meanwhile had to redeploy rapidly to face a German attempt to break out to the west.

Hitler was obsessed with the idea of holding on to the defence line of the Masurian Lakes. He became incandescent with rage when he heard that General Friedrich Hossbach, the Fourth Army commander, had abandoned its corner stone, the fortress of  Lötzen, on 24 January. Even Guderian was shaken by the news. But both Hossbach and his superior, General Reinhardt, were determined to break Rokossovsky's encirclement and avoid another Stalingrad. Their attack, a battering ram to allow civilians to escape too, began on the clear, freezing night of 26 January. The sudden offensive smashed the Soviet 48th Army and almost reached Elbing, which the German Second Army had managed to hold after the first tank skirmish in its streets. But within three days of fighting in fierce cold and deep snow, Rokossovsky's armies had fought back the thrust. Hitler sacked both Reinhardt and Hossbach, whose divisions were now forced backwards into what became known as the Heiligenbeil Kessel or cauldron, an awkward quadrilateral with its back to the Frisches Haff. Over 600,000 civilians were also trapped in it.

The 3rd Belorussian Front had meanwhile surrounded Königsberg entirely on the landward side. The city's large garrison from the Third Panzer Army was thus cut off from the Samland Peninsula, which led to the small Baltic port of Pillau at the mouth of the lagoon. Close to 200,000 civilians were also trapped in the city with little to eat. This policy forced over 2,000 women and children a day to undertake the hazardous journey on foot, over the ice, to an already desperately overcrowded Pillau. Hundreds even walked out into the snow towards the Soviet troops to beg for food and throw themselves on their dubious mercy. The first steamer from Pillau taking 1,800 civilians and 1,200 wounded did not reach safety until 29 January. Gauleiter Koch, having condemned Generals Reinhardt and Hossbach for attempting to break out of East Prussia and having ordered the defenders of Königsberg to fight to the last man, fled his own capital. After a visit to Berlin, he then returned to the far safer Pillau, where he made a great show of organizing the marine evacuation using Kriegsmarine radio communications, before once more getting away himself.

Pillau could not handle very large ships, so the chief seaport for evacuations from the Baltic coast was Gdynia [or Gotenhafen], just north of Danzig. Grand Admiral Dönitz gave the order only on 21 January for Operation Hannibal, a mass evacuation of refugees using four large ships. On 30 January, Germany's largest "Strength through Joy" sea-cruise liner, the 'Wilhelm Gustloff', which had been designed to take 2,000 passengers, left with around 6,600 people aboard. The next evening, escorted by a single motor torpedo boat, it was stalked by a Soviet submarine of the Baltic Fleet. Captain A. I. Marinesco fired three torpedoes. All hit their target. Exhausted refugees, shaken from their sleep, panicked. There was a desperate rush to reach the lifeboats. Many were cut off below as the icy sea rushed in: the air temperature outside was minus eighteen Celsius. The lifeboats which had been launched were upset by desperate refugees leaping from the ship's side. The ship sank in less than an hour. At least 5,300 people lost their lives. The 1,300 survivors were rescued by vessels, led by the heavy cruiser 'Admiral Hipper'. It was the worst single maritime disaster to date, but was soon superseded by a greater one.


Russian historians, even today, still stick to the official Soviet line and claim that the ship carried "over 6,000 Hitlerites on board, of which 3,700 were submariners". The main interest in Russia seems to be not in the fate of the victims, but in that of the triumphant submarine commander A. I. Marinesco. The recommendation to make him a Hero of the Soviet Union was refused by the NKVD, because he had had an affair with a foreign citizen, a crime for which he narrowly escaped a tribunal and an automatic sentence to the Gulag. Only in 1990, "on the eve of the forty-fifth anniversary of the victory", was he finally and posthumously made a Hero of the Soviet Union.

One of the side effects of the mass migration was a fuel and transport crisis in Germany. Coal supplies had been interrupted by the need for wagons to bring refugees through Pomerania. The general situation was now so desperate that, "in order to save the Reich", full priority on goods trains was taken back from refugees and returned to the Wehrmacht and fuel distribution. This decision was made on 30 January, the twelfth anniversary of the Nazi Party's arrival in power.

Some generals regarded civilian refugees, not with pity as the chief victims of Soviet revenge for the Wehrmacht's invasion, but simply as a severe nuisance. One of Hitler's most favoured commanders, General Ferdinand Schörner, had given orders that a thirty-kilometre zone on the east bank of the upper Oder should be reserved for military operations. He also complained loudly that refugees were hindering military activity, and requested an order from Field Marshal Keitel that "evacuations must now cease". This presumably meant that he was prepared to take punitive measures against civilians fleeing from the Red Army.

German veterans particularly criticized Schörner for a 1945 order that all soldiers found behind the front lines, who did not possess written orders to be in that particular area, were to be court-martialed on the spot and hanged if found guilty of desertion. This is mentioned in the writings of Siegfried Knappe, Hans von Luck, and Josef Göbbels. "Deserters get no mercy from him," Göbbels wrote of Schörner on 11 March 1945. "They are hanged from the nearest tree with a placard round their necks saying: 'I am a deserter. I have declined to defend German women and children and therefore I have been hanged' [Ich bin ein Deserteur. Ich habe mich geweigert, deutsche Frauen und Kinder zu beschützen und bin deshalb aufgehängt worden}. The approving Göbbels continued with, "Naturally such methods are effective. Every man in Schörner's area knows that he may die at the front but will inevitably die in the rear".

Gottlob H. Bidermann, a German infantry officer who served in Schörner's command in 1944-45, reported in his memoirs that the General was despised by officers and men alike.
Schörner was said to never have uttered a word of praise, and would demote or punitively transfer soldiers on the spot for the most minor infractions, even as the war was ending. Bidermann was especially bitter that while Schörner's men were marched off to die in Soviet POW camps at the cessation of hostilities, Schörner made certain that he personally avoided their fate. When captured by the Americans in their sector, Schörner is said to have been dressed as a Bavarian non-combatant, behavior for which he had only recently had his own soldiers executed.

Though despised by his men, Schörner was loved in Berlin. He was very devoted to Hitler, a view that is seen as confirmed by Hitler's appointment of Schörner as his replacement as Commander-in-Chief of the German Army on his suicide. Moreover, Schörner did not hesitate to second Hitler's daydreams in the last weeks of the war, agreeing that the Red Army's main objective would be Prague instead of Berlin [in itself a colossal strategic blunder], and so leading him to weaken the already critically thin defense lines in front of the German capital to counter this perceived threat.

Historian Ian Kershaw described him in 2011 [BBC History Magazine] as "extraordinarily brutal".
In his book "The End", Kershaw further describes Schörner as "a fanatical [Nazi] loyalist", an indication of this being that he had served for a brief spell in March 1944 as Chief of the NS Leadership Staff of the Army. The latter was responsible for co-ordinating relations between the military and the Nazi Party.

National Socialist authorities at times treated German refugees almost as badly as concentration camp prisoners. Local administrators, the Kreisleiters, evaded responsibility for them, especially if they were sick.

Hitler himself decided that it would be a good idea to fill the "Protectorate" of occupied Czechoslovakia with German refugees. "He is of the opinion," explained an official, "that if the Czechs see the misery, they will not be tilted into a resistance movement". This turned out to be yet another miscalculation of intention and effect. A report came back less than three weeks later warning that the Czechs, on seeing this proof of German defeat, were wasting no time in preparing their own administration, to be led by Beneš.

On 19 June 1946, Beneš was formally elected to his second term as President.

The Beneš decrees [officially called "Decrees of the President of the Republic", among other things, expropriated the property of citizens of German and Hungarian ethnicity and facilitated Article 12 of the Potsdam Agreement by laying down a national legal framework for the loss of citizenship and the expropriation of about three million Germans and Hungarians.

The crisis of National Socialism did not fail to affect the army. Hitler convinced himself that all would be well if a sufficiently ruthless and ideological military leader were appointed to defend the Reich in the east. General Guderian could scarcely believe his ears when Hitler decided on 24 January that Himmler, the Reichsführer SS, was to command the new Army Group Vistula between East Prussia and the remnants of Reinhardt's shattered army group in Silesia. Hitler's decision was also no doubt influenced by his threat to Guderian of a few days before to smash "the general staff system", and revenge himself on a "group of intellectuals" who presumed "to press their views on their superior".

As the German military prepared to face the coming Soviet onslaught, there were significant challenges to face, many of them virtually insurmountable. The German Army High Command, or OKH, determined that it was necessary to create a new army group to control the forces along the Oder-Neiße line, along with those still in Pomerania. Named Army Group Vistula for the river already lost in Poland, one could almost think that its name represented some type of bad joke. Upon hearing of the new organization, the Soviets believed that perhaps the Germans were planning a major counteroffensive with the intent of securing the Vistula River line already lost. However, German military leaders had no such illusions, as fragments of shattered units were regrouped and rebuilt to form the semblance of a defensive front.

Colonel-General Heinz Guderian, at that time Chief of the OKH, had suggested that the commander of the new army group should be his deputy, General Walther Wenck, but this was summarily rejected. General Maximilian Freiherr von Weichs name was floated as well, but Weichs was already unpopular among senior staff surrounding the Führer, and this suggestion was dropped.

In 1942, for Fall Blau, Weichs was assigned to lead the newly created Army Group B. Army Group B was composed of Hans von Salmuth's 2nd Army, Hermann Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army, and Friedrich Paulus's 6th Army. In addition to the German armies, Army Group B included the 2nd Hungarian Army, 8th Italian Army, the Third and the Fourth Romanian Armies. The 6th Army was assigned to take the city of Stalingrad and cover approximately 800 km of front.

The Soviet Operation Uranus broke through the Romanian armies on his flanks, cutting off the 6th Army inside Stalingrad. Suggesting retreat, Weichs fell out of Hitler’s favor. Consequently, parts of Army Group B were taken away from the command of Weichs and incorporated into a new "Army Group Don", led by Erich von Manstein. Later in February, the remaining part merged with the Don Group into a newly reinstated Army Group South, also led by Manstein. Weichs was relieved of command.

With seemingly nowhere to turn, Hitler chose SS-Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, even though as a strictly political animal, Himmler had no qualifications whatsoever for the post. Appalled, Guderian managed to work in Wenck for the critical position of Chief of Staff for the new Army Group, but Wenck’s injury in a car accident at a crucial moment ensured that Army Group Vistula would founder at whatever task it was assigned.

-- Russ Rodgers

That afternoon, Colonel Hans-Georg Eismann of the general staff received orders to proceed to Schneidemühl.

UNDER HIMMLER'S COMMAND The Personal Recollections of Oberst Hans-Georg Eismann, Operations Officer, Army Group Vistula, Eastern Front 1945 [Helion WWII German Military Studies]

"Under Himmler’s Command" addresses two areas of WWII hitherto neglected – Heinrich Himmler as a military commander, and the German staff officer corps during the last months of the war on the Eastern Front. The author, Hans-Georg Eismann, was the Operations Officer for Heeresgruppe "Weichsel" [Army Group Vistula], a German formation created in late January 1945, to which Heinrich Himmler was appointed as commander. Eismann’s memoir of this period has remained unpublished for over fifty years, and its wider circulation is long overdue.

Full of fascinating detail he recounts the disturbing and sometimes bizarre atmosphere that pervaded the German high command in the East during the final months of the war. Much light is thereby thrown on Himmler the military commander, and on the final climactic battles fought on the Eastern Front during 1945.

Apart from Himmler, Eismann also had the opportunity to witness many of the other top men in the Third Reich, and wrote vivid and fascinating pen-portraits of personalities such as Göring, and Hitler, both of whom the author met in person as the war drew to a close, as well as detailed accounts of what it was like to work alongside officers such as Generaloberst Gotthard Heinrici and General der Panzertruppe Walther Wenck.

Colonel Eismann's deployment to the Army Group Vistula, to which he was assigned as a trained officer, was an unique event in military history. The group was under the command of Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler. As the sole ruler of the Waffen-SS and the entire police apparatus, Himmler was afraid because he lacked any training for military leadership.  An army group that to have been specially trained to deal with critical situations was a disaster in its design: Its commander was a complete layman, who  did not have the equipment and the staff to command such a large force. When the situation of the army group worsened, Reichsführer SS Himmler disappeared in his hospital bed, not available for decisions. When Himmler was replaced by Generaloberst Heinrici, however, the patient recovered immediatelly.

Eismann's unprejudiced report on his devoted service under the new commander is a testimony of the superior moral and military abilities of a sincere and capable man, who was an honorable soldier and officer in all areas. Eismann was involved when Heinrici risked his career and his life by ignoring Hitler's orders to save the men of his army group. Eismann also reports how General von Kurt von Tippelskirch took over the command of the army group at short notice, too late, surrendering to the United States Army on 2 May 1945. In addition, Eismann offers deep insights into the functioning of the Army Group, the co-operation with the armies and corps, as well as the OKH, 0KW and Hitler himself. Colonel IG Eismann's report is  and shows him as an . 

"Aside from being a very detailed chronology of the entire, largely unknown history of Army Group Vistula, this stellar work provides unequalled thumbnail portraits of Hitler, Göring, Himmler, Dönitz, Heinrici and many others as well. Once I started to read it, I hated to put it down ... Thus, this book fills in a hole that has existed in our knowledge for years. There may be other books surfacing on this period in coming years, but I doubt they'll be better than this one. In summation, if you read but one book on the era this year, make it this one!"

-- "The Military Advisor" Spring 2010

He was to be the chief operations officer at the headquarters of Army Group Vistula. Eismann had never heard of such an army group. The general in charge of staff officer postings explained to him that it had just been constituted. Eismann heard with just as much astonishment as Guderian that Himmler was to be its commander-in-chief.

The Volkswagen Kübelwagen was a light military vehicle designed by Ferdinand Porsche and built by Volkswagen during World War II for use by the German military [both Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS]). Based heavily on the Volkswagen Beetle, it was prototyped as the Type 62, but eventually became known internally as the Type 82.

The first VW test vehicles had no doors and were therefore fitted with bucket seats, so acquiring the name VW Kübelsitzwagen that was later shortened to Kübelwagen. Mercedes, Opel and Tatra also built Kübel[sitz]wagens.

With its rolling chassis and mechanics built at Stadt des KdF-Wagens [renamed Wolfsburg after 1945], and its body built by US-owned firm Ambi Budd Presswerke in Berlin, the Kübelwagen was for the Germans what the Jeep and GAZ-67 were for the Allies.

When the German military took delivery of the first vehicles, they immediately put them to the test on- and off-road in snow and ice to test their capability at handling European winters. Several four-wheel-drive vehicles were used as reference points. The two-wheel-drive Kübelwagen surprised even those who had been a part of its development, as it handily out-performed the other vehicles in nearly every test. Most notably, thanks to its smooth, flat underbody, the Kübel would propel itself much like a motorised sled, when its wheels were sinking into sand, snow, or mud, allowing it to follow tracked vehicles with remarkable tenacity.

Despite lacking four wheel drive, a mainstay of the American military Jeeps, the vehicle proved very competent at maneuvering its way over rough terrain, even in a direct comparison with a contemporary standard German army 4×4, and the project was given the green light for further development. The vehicle's light weight and ZF self-locking differential compensated for the lack of 4×4 capabilities.

Among the design features that contributed to the Kübelwagen's performance were:

- Light weight, although some 41 cm [16 in] longer than the Willys MB, it was over 300 kg [660 lb] lighter.
- Very flat and smooth underbody, that allowed the car to slide over the surface it was traversing.
- Considerable ground clearance, roughly 28 cm [11 in], in part thanks to: The use of portal gear hub reduction, providing more torque and ride height simultaneously.
- Independent suspension on all four wheels.
- Self-locking differential, limiting slippage and retaining traction.

Apart from that, the air-cooled engine proved highly tolerant of hot and cold climates, and less vulnerable to bullets, due to the absence of a radiator. For starting under winter conditions, a specially volatile starting fuel was required, contained in a small auxiliary fuel tank.

As the body was not a load-bearing part of the structure of the vehicle, it could easily be modified to special purposes.

The Kübelwagen could reach a top speed of 80 km/h [50 mph].

Eismann had no choice but to set off eastwards that evening by Kübelwagen, the German equivalent of the Jeep. As they drove through the freezing night out along Reichstrasse 1, "the whole extent of the chaos and misery" became clear to him. "Along all roads could be seen endless convoys of refugees from the east". Most gave an impression of exhausted aimlessness.

Eismann hoped to be able to form a clearer picture of the situation once he reached his destination but, as he soon found, Army Group Vistula headquarters was unlike any other. In Schneidemühl he asked a military traffic controller the way, but evidently its location was a closely guarded secret. He fortunately spotted Major Karl-Günther von Hase, whom he knew, and finally received directions.

The headquarters was established aboard Himmler's special train, the Sonderzug 'Steiermark', a sleek black line of sleeping cars with anti-aircraft wagons attached. Armed SS sentries stood along the platform at regular intervals. In a "very elegant dining car" Eismann found a young Untersturmführer who took him down the train to meet the Reichsführer SS and commander-in-chief.

Himmler was seated at a writing table in his saloon. When he stood up to welcome his visitor with a handshake, Eismann found that his hand was "soft like a woman's". Eismann, who had seen him only in pictures or at a distance, studied him carefully. The bespectacled Reichsführer SS was wearing not his usual black SS uniform, but field grey, presumably to emphasize his military role. He was slightly flabby, with an upper body that was too long. His receding chin and narrowed eyes gave him a "slightly Mongolian" look. He led Eismann over to a larger table to study the operations map. Eismann saw that it was at least twenty-four hours out of date.

"What have we got to close this gap and establish a new front?" Eismann asked. He was not new to crises exacerbated, if not created, by Führerheadquarters. In December 1942, he had been the officer flown into the Stalingrad encirclement on Field Marshal Erich von Manstein's orders to discuss the situation with General Paulus.

Himmler answered with all the thoughtless cliches of his master: "Immediate counter-attack", "smash in their flank" and so on. His replies were devoid of any basic military knowledge. Eismann had the impression "that a blind man was speaking about colour". He then asked what battle-worthy formations they had at their disposal. Himmler had no idea. He seemed unaware of the fact that the Ninth Army virtually existed in name only. Only one thing was clear. The Reichsführer SS did not appreciate direct questions in general staff style.

Army Group Vistula headquarters, it turned out, not only lacked trained staff officers, it also had no supply or transport organization and no signals detachment. The sole means of communication was the chief of staff's telephone. And apart from the road map which Eismann had brought on his journey from Berlin, the headquarters possessed no more than one map. Even those general staff officers who had experienced earlier disasters still found it hard to fathom the degree of incompetence and irresponsibility of Hitler's "Kamarilla".

Himmler, still determined on a counter-attack, wanted to throw together odd regiments and battalions. Eismann suggested a divisional commander, who at least had a staff and communications, to organize it, but Himmler insisted on a corps commander to make it sound impressive. He chose Obergruppenführer Karl Maria Demelhuber. [Army officers had given Demelhuber the nickname of "Tosca" after a well-known scent of that name which he was suspected of using]' A makeshift corps staff was assembled and the following day Demelhuber took over. Demelhuber, who had more experience than Himmler, was not overjoyed at the task given him. The operation, if it deserved such a name, proved a complete failure, and he became one of the very few Waffen SS generals to be dismissed. This perhaps provoked jokes among opera-lovers on the army general staff that "Tosca" may have been pushed out, but at least he had not had to jump.

Demelhuber was an Obergruppenführer in the Waffen-SS and a Army officer who served in both World War I and II. During World War II, Demelhuber commanded the SS-Standarte Germania, 6. SS-Gebirgs-Division Nord, XII. SS-Armeekorps and XVI. SS-Armeekorps. He was also winner of the German Cross in silver, and the prestigious Finnish Order of the Cross of Liberty.

Another Waffen SS officer arrived to take over as chief of staff of the army group. This was Brigadeführer Heinz Lammerding, a former commander of the SS Das Reich Panzer Division. Although a respected commander, he had little staff experience and no taste for compromise.

Lammerding was a commander of the SS Division Das Reich and a convicted war criminal who ordered the murder of approximately 750 civilians.

In 1953, he was tried in France for war crimes, for ordering two massacres in 1944: at Tulle and at Oradour-sur-Glane. He was sentenced to death in absentia by the court of Bordeaux, but he was never extradited from West Germany, nor was he ever sentenced by a German court.

According to Danny S. Parker in "Hitler's Warrior: The Life and Wars of SS Colonel Jochen Peiper", Lammerding had already been tried in West Germany, convicted of war crimes and had served a prison sentence. He therefore was not subject to extradition under the Bonn constitution, much to the consternation of the French. They threatened to send in a commando unit to seize him, as the Israelis did in the case of Adolf Eichmann. Before this could occur, Lammerding died in 1971.

Meanwhile, the Soviet advance on Schneidemühl forced Army Group Vistula headquarters to withdraw northwards to Falkenburg. Schneidemühl, designated a fortress by Hitler along with Poznan, was left to its fate, with eight battalions of Volkssturm, a few engineers and some fortress artillery. Hitler's dogma, "Where the German soldier has once stood, he will never retreat", remained the watchword.

The town of Schneidemühl had 45,000 inhabitants in January 1945 and was the "cornerstone" of the defence of East Pomerania. It was an important crossroad and railway center, so it was choosen by Hitler to be a "Wellenbrecher" [Strongpoint]. It also had two military airfields and the important Albatros Werke which fabricated parts for ME 262 jets.

The evacuation of the civilian population was only started on 24 January with Russian shells falling already on the town; party officials had held up the evacuation until the last moment. Trains were send from Deutsch Krone [15 miles north] but there were not enough, so many people left the town on foot or by cart. Temperature was about -25C and snow was piled up to 50 cm. The journey became a nghtmare.

Meanwhile remnants of the German 2nd Army were fallen back to the north and west and they could do little except attempt to avoid destruction. Elements of a newly formed Amy Group Vistula appeared under command of Himmler.

Erich von dem Bach Zelewsky, commander of the X SS Corps that defended the area of Schneidemühl proposed to give up the town to make the front shorter but Himmler insisted in defending the town.

Commanding officer was Oberst Heinrich Remlinger, who had about 12,000 men under him, and an artillery battery and anti-tank units from the 71nd Infantry division, and remnants of "Gneisenau" fortress grenadier regiments. with some Sturmgeschütze and modern anti-tank guns.

There was enough food in the town, for some bakeries and butcheries were kept running. Munitions was another story.

On 24 January, 2nd Guard Army and 5th Shock Army started their attack on Pommeronia. In very cold weather and on snow and ice covered roads the Russians made little progress, but this was not completely due to the bad weather conditions. Excessive looting and consumption of liquor found in farms resulted in deterioration in discipline. 30% of 5th Shock Army were no longer obeying orders.

Only on 31 January was Schneidemühl completely surrounded.

Some particularly heavy fighting developed against the troops of the 47th Russian Army in the extensive railway marshalling yards, where both sides tried to retrieve provisions left behind by the panicked flight of the civilian population.

A German armoured train operated to very good effect, that keeping the mostly drunk Russians at a distance and managing to retrieve a whole train loaded with ammunition and supplies from under their noses.

Slowly the Russians pushed the defenders into  the inner city. Ju 52's operating from Koslin and Stolp flew in munitions and provisions. They evacuated 1026 wounded soldiers and 215 civilians.

By the beginning of February the German front had fallen back and a counter attack became impossible.  After 12 February planes could no longer in the town and munitions were at an end.
 
Oberst Remlinger decided to break out. He knew he never should get authorisation for that from Hitler or Himmler and so he went on his own responsibility.

On 13 February the defender garrison  broke out in three groups. With help of the last surviving three Sturmgeschütze and the armoured train they broke through the Russian ring.

They did not get very far, every group was shot up outside the town and the survivors had to reach the German lines some 30 to 40 miles away. They hid out in the countryside for weeks, sometimes mixing
with broken out survivors from the fortress Posen, that had fallen on 23 February.

The Russians hunted them down and killed everyone they could get, but about 1000 reached the German front  - Army Group Vistula said only 186. The left behind civilians [15.000 to 18.000] to their fate. On 23 February, Russians and Poles entered the town and murder, rape and looting started like in the Middle Ages.

A Pomeranian Volkssturm battalion on its way to Schneidemühl train from Stolp passed Himmler's Steiermark train. This so-called "battalion" was commanded by Baron Jesko von Puttkamer, the land- owner who had threatened the pot-bellied Nazi official. He and his officers, dressed in their uniforms from the First World War, had brought their old service pistols. Their men, mostly farmers and shopkeepers, had no weapons at all, only Volkssturm armbands. They were supposed to receive weapons in Schneidemühl. Suddenly, the train came under fire from Soviet tanks. The driver managed to stop and then reverse with remarkable promptness.

Once they were well away from danger, Puttkamer ordered his men out of the train. He then marched them back to Stolp through the knee-deep snow, with the strongest placed at the front to trample a route for the rest. He refused to allow them to be killed for nothing. On their return, the townspeople greeted him as a hero in the Stephansplatz outside the town hall. But Baron von Puttkamer retired to his house, sick at heart, and put away the old uniform, which had become dishonoured "under these Hitlers and Himmlers"

By the fourth week in January, Berlin appeared to be in a state of "hysteria and disintegration". There were two air-raid warnings a night, one at 8 and the next at 11. Refugees from the eastern territories passed on terrible accounts of the fate of those caught by the Red Army. Hungary, Germany's last Ally in the Balkans, was now siding openly with the Soviet Union and rumours of the rapid advance of Soviet tank armies led to predictions that the whole Eastern Front was disintegrating. Ordinary soldiers hoped that the enemy would shoot only officers and the SS, and workers and minor officials tried to convince themselves that the Russians would do them no harm.

The most accurate news of the situation on the Eastern Front filtered back through railway workers. They often knew how far the enemy had advanced before the general staff. More and more Germans took the risk of listening to the BBC to find out what was really happening. If denounced to the Gestapo by a neighbour, they faced a spell in a concentration camp. Yet many Hitler and Göbbels loyalists still passionately believed every word of the news according to the "Promi", the Propaganda Ministerium.

Public transport was still repaired and people continued their struggle to work each day through the ruins. But more and more arranged to sleep in apartments closer to their work. A sleeping-bag had become one of the most essential items of equipment. Camp beds were also needed for relatives and friends fleeing from the east or who had been bombed out in Berlin. The well connected discussed different ways to escape the capital. Rumours of landowners shot out of hand by Soviet troops in East Prussia convinced them that the upper classes as a whole would be targets. Soviet propaganda was aimed almost as much at the eradication of "Junker militarism" as at National Socialism.

Those attempting to get out had to be careful, because Göbbels had declared that leaving Berlin without permission was tantamount to desertion. First of all, they needed a travel permit, which could be obtained only with some story of essential work outside the capital. Many of those who really did have an official trip to make away from Berlin received murmured advice from envious colleagues, "Don't come back. Stay there". Almost everyone dreamed of seeking sanctuary in a quiet corner of the countryside where farms still had food. Some even investigated the possibility of purchasing false passports, and foreign diplomats suddenly found themselves extremely popular. Members of ministries were fortunate. They were evacuated to the south over the next few weeks.

Most menacing of all was the wave of executions carried out by the SS on Himmler's orders. On 23 January, with the Red Army now breaching the old frontiers of the Reich, several members of the German resistance linked to the July plot were put to death in Plözensee prison. The victims included Count Helmuth James von Moltke, Eugen Bolz and Erwin Planck, the son of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck.

Göbbels' new slogan, "We shall win, because we must win", provoked contempt and despair among non-Nazis, but the majority of Germans did not yet think to question it. Even though only fanatics now believed in "final victory", most still held on because they could not imagine anything else. The strategy of Göbbels' relentless propaganda, ever since the war in the east turned against Germany, had been to undermine any notion of choice or alternative.

Göbbels, as both Reich Commissar for the Defence of Berlin and minister for propaganda, appeared in his element as chief advocate of total warfare: visiting troops, making speeches, reviewing Volkssturm parades and haranguing them. The population at large saw nothing of Hitler. He had disappeared from the newsreels, and they heard only Hitler's very last broadcast on 30 January, marking twelve years of Nazi government. His voice had lost all its strength and sounded completely different. It was hardly surprising that so many rumours circulated about his death or confinement. The public was not told whether he was at Berchtesgaden or in Berlin. And while Göbbels visited the victims of bombing, gaining considerable popularity as a result, Hitler refused even to look at his severely damaged capital.

The Führer's invisibility was due partly to his own withdrawal from public life and partly to the difficulty of concealing the dramatic changes in his appearance. Staff officers visiting the Reich Chancellery Bunker who had not seen him since before the 20 July bomb explosion were shaken. "He was sometimes hunched over so much," said Guderian's aide, Major Freytag von Löringhoven, "that he almost had a hump".

The once glittering eyes were dull, the pale skin now had a grey tinge. He dragged his left leg behind him on entering the conference room and his handshake was limp. Hitler often held his left hand with his right in an attempt to conceal its trembling. Still just short of his fifty-sixth birthday, the Führer had the air and appearance of a senile old man. He had also lost his astonishing grasp of detail and statistics, with which he used to batter doubters into submission. And he no longer received any pleasure from playing followers off against each other. Now, he saw treason all around him.

Officers of the general staff were all too aware of the anti-army atmosphere when they visited the Reich Chancellery Bunker each day from Zossen. Guderian's arrival in his large staff Mercedes was greeted by SS sentries presenting arms, but once inside, he and his aides had to offer up their briefcases to be searched. Their pistols were taken from them and they had to stand while SS guards examined the line of their uniform with a practised eye, searching for suspicious bulges.

Army officers also had to remind themselves before entering the Reich Chancellery that saluting in the traditional manner had now been banned. All members of the Wehrmacht had to use the "German greeting", as the Nazi salute was known. Many found themselves raising their hand to the cap, then suddenly having to shoot the whole arm outwards. Freytag von Löringhoven, for example, was not in the most comfortable of positions in such surroundings. His predecessor had been hanged as part of the July plot, and his cousin Colonel Baron Wessel Freytag von Löringhoven, another conspirator, had committed suicide.

The Reich Chancellery was almost bare. Paintings, tapestries and furniture had been removed. There were huge cracks in the ceilings, smashed windows were boarded up and plywood partitions concealed the worst of the bomb damage.

Not long before, in one of the huge marble corridors leading to the situation room, Freytag had been surprised to see two expensively dressed young women with permed hair. Such elegant frivolity seemed so out of place in the surroundings that he had turned to his companion, Keitel's adjutant, to ask who they were.

"That was Eva Braun".

"Who's Eva Braun?" he asked.

"She's the Führer's mistress". Keitel's adjutant smiled at his amazement. "And that was her sister, who's married to Fegelein". The Wehrmacht officers attached to the Reich Chancellery had remained completely discreet. Hardly anyone outside had ever heard of her, even those who visited the place regularly from the army high command headquarters at Zossen.

Freytag certainly knew Hermann Fegelein, Himmler's liaison officer. He thought him "a dreadful vulgarian with a terrible Munich accent, an arrogant air and bad manners". Fegelein used to interrupt generals in mid-conversation, trying to involve himself in everything. But despite his intense dislike, Freytag summoned up his courage to ask a favour. A friend of his had been one of the many arrested in the wake of the July plot and was still held in the cellars of Gestapo headquarters. He told Fegelein that he was virtually certain that his friend had had nothing to do with the conspiracy, and asked if he could at least find out what charges were being laid against him. To his surprise, Fegelein agreed to look into it and his friend was released shortly afterwards.

Fegelein, an SS cavalry commander who had won the Knight's Cross fighting partisans in Yugoslavia, was enamoured of his own rather louche good looks. He clearly enjoyed using his massive influence, which came partly from his position as Himmler's representative and partly from his proximity to the Führer. He had become very close to Eva Braun, with whom he danced and rode. Some suspected an affair between them, but this was unlikely. She was genuinely devoted to Hitler, while he was probably too ambitious to risk a dalliance with the Führer's mistress. On 3 June 1944, on the eve of the Allied invasion, Hitler had been chief witness at Fegelein's marriage to Eva's youngest sister, Gretl. It was the closest anyone could get to a dynastic marriage under National Socialism. Hitler's ostensibly military court managed to be both superficially austere and profoundly corrupt at the same time, a contradiction which the rhetoric of self-sacrifice failed to conceal. Incompetence and chaos between competing warlords and party functionaries were cloaked by a false unity of loyalty to their ideological godhead. The mentality of such an assembly, despite all its military uniforms, saluting and twice-daily situation conferences, could not have been further from the reality of the front. And while Hitler's health visibly deteriorated, intrigues and jockeying for position increased as the Reich crumbled. Göring, Göbbels, Himmler and Bormann all visualized themselves as the Führer's successor. Perhaps the true measure of the fantasy of Nazi leaders was the very notion that the world might accept any form of succession within the Third Reich, assuming that it had any territory left.

At the end of the third week in January, Marshal Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front surged into Silesia after the capture of Krakow and Radom. Konev, to preserve the mines and factories of Upper Silesia, as Stalin had instructed, decided to commence a semi-encirclement of the industrial and mining region from Katowice to Ratibor while leaving a route of escape for the German forces left in the area. The 3rd Guards Tank Army had been heading for Breslau but, on Konev's order, wheeled hard left on the march and came back up along the eastern bank of the Oder towards Oppeln. As if organizing a great shoot, Konev brought up the 21st, 59th and 6oth Armies to flush the Germans out.

On the night of 27 January, the German divisions of the Seventeenth Army pulled out and fled for the Oder. General Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army then acted as the guns, catching large numbers of them in the snow-covered landscape. Rybalko's tanks were camouflaged, rather improbably, with white tulle from a large supply captured in a Silesian textile factory supposedly devoted to total war.

Stalin's "gold" was secured intact over the next two days. It was a disaster for Germany, as Guderian had warned. Speer's forecasts for armaments production, presented to the corps commanders at Krampnitz only two weeks before, lay in ruins. He recognized this himself, predicting that Germany could now hold out for a matter of weeks at best. The loss of the mines as well as the steelworks and factories was probably a greater blow for German production than all the Allied bombing of the Ruhr industrial region over the last two years.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the operation was the fact that the German withdrawal was authorized by Führerheadquarters. Hitler had sacked General Harpe and replaced him with his favourite commander, General Schörner, a convinced Nazi whose motto was "Strength through fear". Schörner was only satisfied when his soldiers were more afraid of his punishment than they were of the enemy.

The Seventeenth Army managed to withdraw, but relatively few women and children escaped from Upper Silesia. Many, especially the old, stayed out of choice. Sometimes widows refused to leave the grave of a husband, while others could not face leaving farms which had been in their family for generations. They sensed that if they left, they would never return. A Swedish woman who managed to make her way through Soviet lines in a farm cart told the Swedish embassy that although Soviet troops "had acted in a correct manner" in some places, German propaganda stories seemed to be mostly true. She added that this did not surprise her after the way that the Germans had behaved in Russia. Soviet troops were equally ruthless whenever they suspected "partisan" activity. The officers of a rifle company, on finding a Russian soldier from a patrol lying dead in a village street, "ordered their men to liquidate the whole population of the village".

The rapidity of the 1st Ukrainian Front's advance created its own problems for the Soviet authorities. NKVD rifle regiments for the repression of rear areas were sometimes thrown into battle against bypassed German units. They had to reorganize rapidly, in some cases even having to refer to the Red Army instruction book. In the headlong advance, General Karpov, the commander of the NKVD rifle division following the fighting troops, complained on 26 January to Pavel Meshik, the Front's NKVD chief, that their three regiments were "clearly not sufficient for this area which has difficult terrain and is covered with large areas of forest". They would need even more troops and vehicles to guard their lines of communications and depots when they crossed the Oder.

In Konev's centre, meanwhile, the 5th Guards, helped by German chaos when faced with Pavel Rybalko's sweeping manoeuvre, managed to seize a bridgehead across the Oder around Ohlau, between Breslau and Oppeln. And Dmitry Lelyushenko's 4th Guards Tank Army on the right seized another bridgehead on the west bank of the Oder round Steinau, north-east of Breslau, even though Steinau itself was fiercely defended by NCOs from a nearby training school. His tank crews appear to have made good use of their time before the Vistula offensive began. Lelyushenko had given them intensive target practice on Tiger tanks captured the previous autumn, and their gunnery, seldom a strong point in Red Army tank formations, had improved. They now began target practice on German steamers heading downstream from Breslau.

The Germans, meanwhile, were rushing the 169th Infantry Division to stiffen the defences of the Silesian capital, which Führerheadquarters had declared to be "Fortress Breslau". Hitler, on hearing that Soviet troops had established the Steinau bridgehead, ordered General von Saucken and General Nehring to counter-attack immediately, even though their troops had not had a chance to recover and replenish since their hazardous escape from Poland.

Whether or not German refugees from Breslau went down with the steamers sunk by Lelyushenko's tanks, the fate of women and children who had left the city on foot during the panic-stricken evacuation was terrible. All husbands not already serving in the Wehrmacht were called up for the Volkssturm to defend the city. Wives were therefore left to fend for themselves entirely. All they heard were the loudspeaker vans telling civilians to flee the city. Although frightened, the mothers who did not manage to obtain places on the overcrowded trains took the normal precautions to look after infant children, such as filling a thermos with hot milk and bundling them up as warmly as possible. They took Rucksacks containing powdered milk and food for themselves. In any case, they expected after the announcements that the Nazi Party social welfare organization, the NSV, would have prepared some form of help along the way.

Outside Breslau, however, the women found that they were on their own. Very few motor vehicles were leaving the city, so only a lucky few received lifts. The snow was deep on the roads and eventually most women had to abandon their prams and carry the youngest children. In the icy wind they also found that their thermoses had cooled. There was only one way to feed a hungry infant, but they could not find any shelter in which to breast-feed. All the houses were locked, either abandoned already or owned by people who refused to open their door to anyone. In despair, some mothers offered their baby a breast in the lea of a shed or some other windbreak, but it was no good. The child would not feed and the mother's body temperature dropped dangerously. Some even suffered a frostbitten breast. One young wife, in a letter to her mother explaining the death from cold of her own child, also described the fate of other mothers, some crying over a bundle which contained a baby frozen to death, others sitting in the snow, propped against a tree by the side of the road, with older children standing nearby whimpering in fear, not knowing whether their mother was unconscious or dead. In that cold it made little difference.

Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front, meanwhile, had been progressing even more rapidly in its drive to the north-west. He told his two tank armies to avoid areas of resistance and to advance between seventy and 100 kilometres a day. Yet on 25 January, Stalin rang Zhukov in the afternoon to tell him to rein in. "When you reach the Oder," he said, "you'll be more than 150 kilometres from the flank of the 2nd Belorussian Front. You can't do this now. You must wait until [Rokossovsky] finishes operations in East Prussia and deploys across the Vistula".

Stalin was concerned about a German counter-attack on Zhukov's right flank from German troops along the Pomeranian coastline, what became known as the "Baltic balcony". Zhukov begged Stalin to let him continue. If he waited another ten days for Rokossovsky to finish in East Prussia, that would give the Germans time to man the Meseritz fortified line. Stalin agreed with great reluctance.

Zhukov's armies were crossing the region the Nazis had called the Wartheland, the area of western Poland which they had seized after their invasion in 1939. Its Gauleiter, Arthur Greiser, was an unspeakable racist even by Nazi standards. His Warthegau province had been the scene of the most brutal evictions imaginable. Over 700,000 Poles lost everything, their possessions as well as their homes, which were handed over to Volksdeutsche settlers brought in from all over central and south-eastern Europe. The dispossessed Poles had been dumped in the General Gouvernement without shelter, food or hope of work. The treatment of Jews had been even worse. Over 160,000 had been forced into the tiny ghetto in Lodz. Those who did not die of starvation ended up in concentration camps. Just 850 remained alive when the Soviet tanks entered the city.

The Polish desire for revenge was so fierce that Serov, the chief of NKVD of the 1st Belorussian Front, complained to Beria that it interfered with Intelligence-gathering. "Troops of the 1st Polish Army treat Germans especially severely," he wrote. "Often captured German officers and soldiers do not reach the prisoner assembly areas. They are shot en route. For example, on the sector of the and Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division, eighty Germans were captured. Just two prisoners reached the assembly area. All the others had been executed. The two survivors were questioned by the regimental commander, but when he sent them to be interrogated by his Intelligence officer, the pair were shot on the way".

Zhukov's decision to force forward with his two tank armies paid off. The Germans never had a chance to organize a line of defence. On the right, the 3rd Shock Army, the 47th, the 61st and the 1st Polish Armies advanced parallel to the Vistula and headed between Bromberg and Schneidemühl to protect the exposed flank. In the middle, Bogdanov's 2nd Guards Tank Army pushed on, followed by Berzarin's 5th Shock Army. And on the left Katukov's 1st Guards Tank Army charged ahead to Poznan. But Poznan was not like Lodz. On reaching Poznan on 25 January, Katukov saw that it could not be captured off the march, and pushed straight on as Zhukov had instructed. Poznan was left to Chuikov, following closely with the 8th Guards Army, to sort out. He was not pleased, and it seems only to have increased his dislike for Zhukov.

Gauleiter Arthur Greiser, like Koch in East Prussia, had fled his capital, having ordered everyone else to hold fast. He had refused to allow the evacuation of any civilians until 20 January, and as a result it seems that in many areas more than half of the population failed to get away.

The street battles in Poznan provided a foretaste of what lay ahead in Berlin.

"It really is amazing," Chuikov remarked sarcastically in one of his gibes against Zhukov, "when you consider our battle experience and our wonderful Intelligence, that we failed to notice one little detail. We didn't know that there's a first-class fortress at Poznan. One of the strongest in Europe. We thought it was just a town which we could take off the march, and now we're really in for it".

While Chuikov remained behind to deal with the fortress of Poznan, the rest of his army and the 1st Guards Tank Army pushed forward to the Meseritz line east of the Oder. Their main problem was not German resistance but their supply lines. Railroads had been smashed by the retreating Germans, but also Poland had a different gauge of track from the Soviet Union. As a result, the movement of supplies depended on trucks, mostly American Studebakers. Significantly, there has been little acknowledgement by Russian historians that if it had not been for American Lend-Lease trucks, the Red Army's advance would have taken far longer and the Western Allies might well have reached Berlin first.

Studebaker US6: The Lend-Lease "Deuce and a Half"

In 1940, with war looming, General Motors Corp. developed a six-wheel drive [6�] truck that entered U.S. Army service as the CCKW350. GIs called it the "Deuce and a Half," in reference to its 2�-ton cargo capacity. By war�s end GMC had produced more than a half-million Deuces, fitted with a variety of configurations aft of the cab, including a cargo bed, water and gas tanks, enclosed vans, air compressors, dump bodies and a tractor mount for hauling semi-trailers. GMC�s primary consumer for the truck was the Army. International Harvester built its own version, the M-5H-6, for the U.S. Navy and Marines, while Studebaker built the US6 model primarily for the Allies through the Lend-Lease program.

Studebaker built 105,917 six-wheel drive versions and 87,742 four-wheel drive versions of the US6 between 1941 and 1945, in 13 variations. Reo Motors built an additional 22,204 of the 6 wheel U3. Of that total the United States shipped 152,000 trucks to the Soviet Union, mainly through the Persian Corridor. The Russians found the "Studer," as they affectionately nicknamed it, robust and reliable, and its logistic contribution made it arguably the most significant American-supplied piece of hardware the Soviets used.

It would have been impossible for the Red Army to move the masses of troops and supplies on the primitive roads to the front lines without American Studebaker trucks, which also served as the launching pads for the dreaded Soviet rocket artillery.

Thousands of "Studer" trucks to resupply vehicles, move artillery and crews, and haul infantry were used at the Battle of Kursk. After the decisive Soviet victory, it became clearly obvious that the role of the US6, as a reliable heavy-duty battlefield truck, played a critical role for the advancing Soviet forces.

In appreciation, Soviet leader Josef Stalin himself sent Studebaker an official letter of gratitude from the Russian people.

The late Marshal Georgi K. Zhukov, in his memoirs stated: "Without U.S. Studebakers [trucks], we would have had nothing with which to pull our artillery. They largely provided our front transport. . . . "

His remarks stand in contrast to occasional Soviet press articles that have given the impression that the U.S. assistance was minimal.

Zhukov's assessment is important since he was chief of the Soviet general staff in the war and knew all major details of Moscow's military effort. 

Almost every Soviet soldier remembered vividly the moment of crossing the pre-1939 frontier into Germany. "We marched out of a forest," Senior Lieutenant Ivan Klochkov with the 3rd Shock Army recalled, "and we saw a board nailed to a post. On it was written, 'Here it is - the accursed Germany'. We were entering the territory of Hitler's Reich. Soldiers began looking around curiously. German villages are in many ways different from Polish villages. Most houses are built from brick and stone. They have tidily trimmed fruit trees in their little gardens. The roads are good". Klochkov, like so many of his fellow countrymen, could not understand why Germans, "who were not thoughtless people", should have risked prosperous and comfortable lives to invade the Soviet Union.

On Tuesday 30 January, the day that Hitler addressed the German people for the last time, the German army suddenly realized that the threat to Berlin was even greater than they had feared. Zhukov's leading units had not only penetrated the Meseritz defence zone with ease, they were within striking distance of the Oder. At 7.30 a.m., the headquarters of Army Group Vistula heard that the Landsberg road was "full of enemy tanks". Air reconnaissance flights were scrambled.

On 30 January 1945, twelve years after his appointment as Reichskanzler, Hitler let himself once again, for the last time, be heard on the radio: "No matter how difficult the crisis may be at this moment, it will be mastered. In this battle, as well, inner Asia will not be victorious..."

On the next day, Soviet tanks advanced across the Oder.

Himmler insisted on sending a battalion of Tiger tanks all on its own by train to restore the situation. His staff's protests had no effect because the  Reichsführer SS was firmly convinced that a battalion of Tigers could defeat a whole Soviet tank army. The fifty-ton monsters were still fastened to their railway flat cars when they came under fire from three or four Soviet tanks. The battalion suffered heavy losses before the train managed to withdraw urgently towards  Küstrin. Himmler wanted the battalion commander court-martialled until he was eventually persuaded that a Tiger tank fastened to a railway wagon was not in the best position to fight.

During this time of extreme crisis, Himmler imitated Stalin's "Not one step back" order of 1942, even if his version did not have the same ring. It was entitled "Tod und Strafe für Pflichtvergessenhei" - Death and punishment for failure to carry out one's duty. It tried to end on uplifting note. After hard trials lasting several weeks the day will come he claimed, "when German territories will be free again". Another order forbade women on pain of severe punishment to give any food to retreating troops. And in an order of the day to Army Group Vistula he declared, "The Lord God has never forsaken our people and he has always helped the brave in their hour of greatest need".

Both historically and theologically, this was an extremely dubious assertion.

Himmler, aware that word was spreading fast of the flight of senior Nazi officials, especially Gauleiters Koch and Greiser, decided to make an example at a lower level. On the same day as his other orders he announced the execution of the police director of Bromberg for abandoning his post. A B�eister who had "left his town without giving an evacuation order" was hanged at 3 p.m. at Schwedt on the Oder a few days later.

This twelfth anniversary of Hitler's regime was also the second anniversary of the defeat at Stalingrad.

Beria was informed of a conversation picked up by microphones hidden in a prison cell between Field Marshal Paulus, General Karl Strecker, the commander who held out for longest in the factory district, and General Walther von Seydlitz.

Karl Strecker [born 20 September 1884] worked for the German Federal Police during the 1920s until he retired with the rank of police general on 29 April 1934.

He re-joined the Army, which he had left as a captain in 1915, as major general on 1 July 1935 and reached the rank of infantry general on 1 April 1942, having been  awarded the Knight's Cross on 26 October 1941 as commander of 79. Infanterie-Division.

On 1 June 1942 he was appointed commander of XI Army Corps belonging to the German VI Army on its way to the Volga river.

After the remains of the VI Army in Stalingrad had surrendered since 8 January until 1 February, General Strecker organised the last defence of the tractor factory Dhzreshinsky with his XI Corps -only a few thousand men- which held the overwhelming Russian forces at bay for two days.


The Germans were absolutely outnumbered, starving and had no ammunitions nor water - except for melted snow. Defending themselves with handguns, grenades and bayonets -and in some cases pieces of broken metal from the factory instead of bayonets- they resisted several attacks from the Red Army causing them severe losses.

The German garrison, however,  was completely surrounded and all life conditions were gone: The dead remained where they fell and the wounded died of cold and starvation. Fierce man-to-man combat took place, while the starving Germans fought with metal and rocks against the attackers.

Strecker had a radio left on which he heard Hitler's exhortations to carry out their historical duty - which he and his men were doing.

The Russians attacked with tanks, artillery and mortars. At 08:40 hours the last  message was transmited and  by 09:00 all resistance had been crushed. Only a few men were taken prisoners.

The front cover of "Die Wehrmacht" magazine, 3 March 1943, shows a dramatic artist's impression of this event, with the greatcoat-clad General being handed a [presumably last] loaded MP40 magazine by one of his men.

Strecker was held in the Soviet Union as a war criminal until 1955, and died 10 April 1973.

His postwar claim that he was promoted to Generaloberst on the last day of the battle is unsubstantiated.

-- See "Dienstaltersliste des Deutschen Heeres" 1943 and 1944 volumes, NARA T-78 R-515 & R-516

"Captured German generals are in very bad spirits", Beria was informed. They had been horrified by Churchill's speech in the House of Commons six weeks earlier, supporting Stalin's proposal that Poland should be compensated with East Prussia and other areas. The German generals felt that their position in the Soviet-controlled Free Germany movement had become impossible. "The Nazis in this matter are more positive than we are," Field Marshal Paulus acknowledged, "because they are holding on to German territory, trying to preserve its integrity". Even General von Seydlitz, who had proposed the airlift of anti-Nazi German prisoners of war to start a revolution within the Reich, thought that "the ripping away of German lands to create a safety barrier will not be fair". All the captured generals now realized that the anti-Nazi League of German Officers had just been exploited by the Soviet Union for its own ends. "I am tormented by a terrible anxiety," said Seydlitz, "whether we have chosen the right course". The Nazi regime had labelled him "the traitor Seydlitz" and condemned him to death in absentia.

"All Hitler thinks about," said Paulus, "is how to force the German people into new sacrifices. Never before in history has lying been such a powerful weapon in diplomacy and policy. We Germans have been cunningly deceived by a man who usurped power".

"Why has God become so angry with Germany," replied Strecker, "that he sent us Hitler! Are the German people so ignoble? Have they deserved such a punishment?"

"It is two years since the Stalingrad catastrophe," said Paulus. "And now the whole of Germany is becoming a gigantic Stalingrad".

Himmler's threats and exhortations did nothing to save the situation. That very night Soviet rifle battalions led by Colonel Timofeyevich Esipenko, the deputy commander of the 89th Guards Rifle Division, reached the Oder and crossed the ice during darkness. They fanned out, forming a small bridgehead just north of Küstrin.

Berzarin's men from the 5th Shock Army achieved what Zhukov described as "a stunning surprise" late in the morning of Sunday 31 January, when they entered the town of Kienitz. '"German soldiers were walking around its streets calmly and the restaurant was full of officers. The trains to Berlin were still running on time, and the telephone lines were all working". The Reich Chancellery lay just over sixty-five kilometres away. The station master approached Colonel Esipenko and asked whether he would allow the Berlin train to depart. With equal gravity, Esipenko replied that services would be interrupted for a short period, which was to say until the end of the war.

On the same day, just south of Küstrin, the ebullient Colonel Josef Gusakovsky crossed the Oder with his 44th Guards Tank Brigade, forming another bridgehead. He thus won his second gold star of Hero of the Soviet Union. Soviet troops on both bridgeheads immediately began digging trenches in the frozen marshy ground of the Oderbruch, the Oder flood plain between the river and the Seelow Heights. Artillery regiments were rushed forward to give them support. They expected a rapid and furious counter-attack, but the Germans were so shaken by what had happened -Göbbels was still trying to pretend that fighting was going on close to Warsaw- that it took them time to rush in sufficient ground forces.

Focke-Wulf FW190 fighters, however, were in action over the Oder the following morning, strafing the freshly dug trenches and anti-tank gun positions. The Soviet anti-aircraft division which had been promised did not turn up for three more days, so Chuikov's men, laying ice tracks across the thinly frozen river, were extremely vulnerable. They managed nevertheless to pull anti-tank guns across on skis to defend their positions.

The news of Soviet bridgeheads across the Oder was just as much of a shock to soldiers as to local civilians. Walter Beier, who had been spared from the Feldgendarmerie's trawl of leave-takers on the train from East Prussia, was enjoying his last days at home in the small village of Buchsmühlenweg, between Küstrin and Frankfurt an der Oder. "Happiness in the bosom of the family did not last long," he recorded. On the evening of 2 February an agitated neighbour came running to the house to say that about 800 Russians had taken up position in an oak wood only 500 metres away.

There were no troops in the area except for a few Volkssturm companies armed with nothing more than rifles and a couple of Panzerfausts. Commanded by an old headmaster, they kept their distance. They found that Soviet snipers had climbed into the oak trees. An alarm battalion of anti-Soviet Caucasians, stiffened with some Germans from the 6th Fortress Regiment, was hurried to the spot from Frankfurt. Beier, as a frontline soldier, was put in charge of a group by an officer.

While Beier was observing the wood with them from a ditch, one of the Caucasians pointed at it and said in broken German, "You no shoot, we no shoot there. We no shoot at comrades". Beier reported this and the Caucasians were disarmed and sent back from the front line to dig trenches instead. Their fate, when captured later by the Red Army, would not have been softened by this refusal to fire at their own countrymen.

The scratch German force was joined by a group of very young trainee soldiers of the SS Panzergrenadier Division Feldherrnhalle. Most of them were between sixteen and eighteen years old. They began to mortar the oak wood, one of the few patches of deciduous woodland in the area. There were around 350 of them in a chaotic array of uniforms. Some had steel helmets, some had Käppis, or sidehats, others wore peaked caps. Many had nothing more than their Hitler Youth uniforms.

They were intensely proud of their task, yet many of them could hardly pick up a full ammunition box, and they could not hold the rifles properly into the shoulder, because the butts were too long for their arms. On their first attack, the Soviet sharpshooters picked them off with deliberate aim. The unit commander fell with a bullet through the head. Only a handful of the soldiers returned alive.

Beier managed to slip back to his parents' house. He found that a dressing station had been set up in the cellar and all their sheets were being torn up for bandages.

More weighty reinforcements arrived to attack the bridgehead as Chuikov's men pushed forward to seize the Reitwein Spur, a commanding feature which looked up the whole Oderbruch and across to the Seelow Heights on its western edge. On 2 February the 506th SS Heavy Mortar Battalion moved north to the edge of the bridgehead and in three days and nights it fired 14,000 rounds. A battalion of the Kurmark Panzer Regiment was also brought up. On 4 February the battalion, recently re-equipped with Panther tanks, was sent in to attack the Reitwein Spur from its southern end. The tanks, however, failed disastrously because the thaw predicted by meteorologists had started, and they slipped and slithered on the muddy hillsides.

News of Red Army troops crossing the Oder shocked Berlin. "Stalin ante portas!" wrote Wilfred von Oven, Göbbels' press attache, in his diary on 1 February. "This cry of alarm runs like the wind through the Reich capital".

National Socialist rhetoric became fanatical, if not hysterical. The guard regiment of the Großdeutschland Division was paraded. They were told that the Oder bridgeheads must be recaptured for the  Führer. Berlin city buses drove up and they were taken out to Seelow, overlooking the Oderbruch.

A new SS Division was also formed. It was to be called the 30. Januar in honour of the twelfth anniversary of the Nazis taking power. This division was given a core of SS veterans, but many of them were convalescent wounded. Eberhard Baumgart, a former member of the SS Leibstandarte at a recuperation camp, received orders to parade along with the other SS invalids. An Obersturmführer told them of the new division. Its task was to defend the Reich's capital. The new division needed battle-hardened veterans. He called on them to volunteer and yelled the SS motto devised by Himmler at them: "Unsere Ehre heisst Treue, Kameraden!" - Our honour is called loyalty.

Such fanaticism was becoming rare, as senior members of the SS recognized with alarm. On 12 February, Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger reported to Himmler that the organization was becoming thoroughly disliked both by the civil population and by the army, which strongly resented its "marked uncomradely attitude". The army, he concluded, was "no longer on speaking terms with the SS".

Even SS volunteers felt enthusiasm dissolving when they reached the Oderbruch, a dreary expanse of waterlogged fields and dykes. "We're at the end of the world!" one of the group earmarked for the 30. Januar announced. They were even more dispirited to find that this new formation had no tanks or assault guns. "This is no division," the same man remarked, "it's a heap that's just been scraped together".

Baumgart, because of his unhealed wounds, was attached as a clerk to divisional headquarters, which was established in a requisitioned farmhouse. The young wife of a farmer, who was serving somewhere else, watched in a daze as their furniture was manhandled out of the parlour and field telephones and typewriters were installed. The new inhabitants soon discovered, however, that the tile-roof of the farmhouse provided a clearly visible target for Soviet artillery.

Baumgart found himself hunched over one of the typewriters, bashing out reports of interviews with three Red Army deserters. They had apparently decided to cross to the German lines after being made to wade through the icy waters of the Oder, carrying their divisional commander on their shoulders to keep him dry. The Volga German interpreters at divisional headquarters later read out articles from captured copies of "Pravda". The communique published at the end of the Yalta conference described what the Allies intended to do with Germany. The idea of defeat appalled Baumgart and his comrades. "We simply have to win in the end!" they said to themselves.

On 9 February 1945, the anti-Soviet renegade General Andrey Vlasov, with Himmler's encouragement, threw his headquarters security battalion into the bridgehead battle. This Russian battalion, as part of the Döberitz Division, attacked the Soviet 230th Rifle Division in the bridgehead just north of  Küstrin. Vlasov's guard battalion fought well, even though the attempt was unsuccessful. The German propaganda account described them as fighting with "enthusiasm and fanaticism", proving themselves as close-quarter combat specialists. They were supposedly given the nickname "Panzerknacker" by admiring German units, but this may well have been the touch of a popular journalist turned propagandist. Their commander, Colonel Zakharov, and four men received the Iron Cross second class, and the Reichsführer SS himself sent a message to congratulate Vlasov "with comradely greetings" on the fact that his guard battalion had "fought quite outstandingly well".

Such marks of favour to those who had previously been categorized and treated as Untermenschen was a good indication of Nazi desperation, even if Hitler himself still disapproved. On 12 February, Göbbels received a delegation of Cossacks "as the first volunteers on our side in the battle against Bolshevism". They were even treated to a bottle of "Weissbier" in his offices. Göbbels praised the Cossacks, calling them "a freedom-loving people of warrior-farmers". Unfortunately, their freedom-loving ways in north Italy brought to Berlin bitter complaints about their treatment of the population in the Friuli district from the German adviser for civil affairs. The Cossacks, however, refused to have anything to do with Vlasov and his ideas of old Russian supremacy, as did most of the SS volunteers from national minorities.

The Führer's response to the onrush of Soviet tank brigades towards Berlin had been to order the establishment of a Panzerjagd Division, but in typical Nazi style, this impressive-sounding organization for destroying tanks failed to live up to its title. It consisted of bicycle companies mainly from the Hitler Youth. Each bicyclist was to carry two Panzerfaust anti-tank launchers clamped upright either side of the front wheel and attached to the handlebars. The bicyclist was supposed to be able to dismount in a moment and be ready for action against a T-34 or Stalin tank. Even the Japanese did not expect their Kamikazes to ride into battle on a bicycle.

Himmler talked about the Panzerfaust as if it were another miracle weapon, akin to the V-2. He enthused about how wonderful it was for close-quarter fighting against tanks, but any sane soldier given the choice would have preferred an 88mm gun to take on Soviet tanks at a distance of half a kilometre. Himmler was almost apoplectic about rumours that the Panzerfaust could not penetrate enemy armour. Such a story, he asserted, was "ein absoluter Schwindel".

With the enemy so close, it appears that the Nazi leadership had started to consider the possibility of suicide. The headquarters of Gau Berlin issued an order that "political leaders" were to receive top priority for firearms certificates. And a senior executive in a pharmaceutical company told Ursula von Kardorff and a friend of hers that a "Golden Pheasant" had appeared in his laboratory demanding a supply of poison for the Reich Chancellery.

Hitler and his associates now finally found themselves closer to the very violence of war which they had unleashed. Revenge for the recent executions of men associated with the July plot arrived in unexpected form less than two weeks after the event. On the morning of 3 February, there were exceptionally heavy US Air Force raids on Berlin. Some 3,000 Berliners died. The newspaper district, as well as other areas, was almost totally destroyed. Allied bombs also found Nazi targets. The Reich Chancellery and the Party Chancellery were hit and both Gestapo headquarters in the Prinz-Albrechtstrasse and the People's Court were badly damaged. Roland Freisler, the President of the People's Court, who had screamed at the accused July plotters, was crushed to death sheltering in its cellars. The news briefly cheered dejected resistance circles, but rumours that concentration camps and prisons had been mined made them even more alarmed for relatives and friends in detention. Their only hope was that Himmler might keep them as bargaining counters. Martin Bormann in his diary wrote of the day's air raid: "Suffered from bombing: new Reich Chancellery, the hall of Hitler's apartments, the dining room, the winter garden and the Party Chancellery". He seems to have been concerned only with the monuments of Nazism. No mention was made of civilian casualties.

The most important event on Tuesday 6 February, according to Bormann's diary, was Eva Braun's birthday. Hitler, apparently, was "in a radiant mood", watching her dance with others. As usual, Bormann was conferring privately with Kaltenbrunner.

On 7 February, Gauleiter Koch, apparently forgiven for having abandoned Königsberg after all his orders to shoot those who left their place of duty, had discussions with Hitler. That evening, Bormann dined at the Fegeleins. One of the guests was Heinrich Himmler, whom he, Fegelein and Kaltenbrunner were seeking to undermine. The situation at the front was disastrous, yet Himmler, although commander-in-chief of Army Group Vistula, felt able to relax away from his headquarters. After supper Bormann and Fegelein talked with Eva Braun. The subject was probably her departure from Berlin, for Hitler wanted her out of danger. The next night she held a small farewell party for Hitler, Bormann and the Fegeleins. She left for Berchtesgaden the following evening, Friday 9 February, with her sister Gretl Fegelein. Hitler made sure that Bormann escorted them to the train.

Bormann, the Reichsleiter of the National Socialist Party, whose Gauleiters had in most cases stopped the evacuation of women and children until it was too late, never mentions in his diary those fleeing in panic from the eastern regions. The incompetence with which they handled the refugee crisis was chilling, yet in the case of the Nazi hierarchy it is often hard to tell where irresponsibility ended and inhumanity began. In an "Evacuation Situation" report of 10 February, they suddenly realized that with 800,000 civilians still to be rescued from the Baltic coast, and with trains and ships taking an average of 1,000 people each, "there are neither enough vessels, rolling stock nor vehicles at our disposal". Yet there was no question of Nazi leaders giving up their luxurious "special trains".

On the morning of 2 February, just as the first German counter-attacks were launched against the Oder bridgeheads, the 'USS Quincy' reached Malta. "The cruiser which bore the President," wrote Churchill, "steamed majestically into the battle-scarred" Grand Harbour of Valetta. He went on board to greet Roosevelt. Although Churchill did not acknowledge that the President was ill, his colleagues were shaken to see how exhausted he looked.

The reunion between the two men was friendly, if not affectionate, yet Churchill's foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, was worried. Tension had continued to grow between the Western Allies over the invasion of Germany from the west. Now they were about to fly to Yalta in the Crimea to decide the post-war map of central Europe with Stalin. They were divided on this too, while the Soviet leader knew exactly what he wanted. Churchill and Eden were most concerned about the independence of Poland. Roosevelt's main priority was the establishment of the United Nations for the post-war world.

In separate aircraft, the President and the Prime Minister took off in the early hours of 3 February. Escorted by long-range Mustang fighters, and with no cabin lights showing, they flew east towards the Black Sea, following a fleet of transport aeroplanes carrying the two delegations. They arrived after a flight of seven and a half hours at Saki near Eupatoria. There, they were met by Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrey Vyshinsky, the former prosecutor at the show trials and now deputy foreign minister. Stalin, who suffered from a terrible fear of flying, did not arrive until the next morning, Sunday 4 February. He had travelled down from Moscow in his green railway carriage, still with some of its Art Nouveau decoration from Tsarist days.

The crux of the whole conference soon became apparent. The discussion began with the immediate post-war period and the treatment of defeated Germany. Victory was estimated to take place at any time from the summer onwards. Roosevelt talked about the European Advisory Commission and future zones of occupation. Stalin made it clear that he wanted Germany to be completely dismembered. Then Roosevelt announced without warning that United States forces would not remain in Europe for more than two years after Germany's surrender. Churchill was privately appalled. This would only encourage Stalin to be more obdurate, and a war-ravaged Europe might well be too weak to resist Communist unrest.

Stalin also made clear that he intended to strip German industry as a down payment in kind towards the Soviet Union's claim for $10 billion in reparations. He did not mention it at the conference, but government commissions composed of Soviet accountants looking very awkward in new colonels' uniforms were closely following each army in its advance.

Their task was "the systematic confiscation of German industry and wealth". In addition, the NKVD group at each army headquarters had a team specialized in opening safes, preferably before a Soviet soldier tried to blast the door off with a captured Panzerfaust, destroying everything inside. Stalin was determined to extract every ounce of gold he could.

On 13 February, two days after the Yalta conference ended, Soviet might was reconfirmed with the fall of Budapest. The end of this terrible battle for the city was marked by an orgy of killing, looting, destruction and rape. Yet Hitler still wanted to counter-attack in Hungary with the Sixth SS Panzer Army. He hoped to smash Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin's 3rd Ukrainian Front, but this was the compulsive gambler throwing on to the table the last few chips left over from the Ardennes.

That night, the British bombed Dresden. The following morning, which happened to be Ash Wednesday, the US Air Force followed in their path and also attacked several lesser targets. It was intended as a rapid fulfilment of the promise to the Stavka to hinder German troop movements by smashing rail communications. The fact that there were 180 V-bomb rocket attacks on England that week, the highest number so far, did little to soften the planners' hearts. Dresden, the exquisitely beautiful capital of Saxony, had never been seriously bombed before. Dresdeners used to joke, half-believing it, that Churchill had an aunt living in the city and that was why they had been spared. But the raids on 13 and 14 February were merciless. The effect was in some ways comparable to the Hamburg fire-storm raid. But Dresden's population was swollen by up to 300,000 refugees from the east. Several trains full of them were stuck in the main station. The tragedy was that instead of troops passing through Dresden to the front, as Soviet military Intelligence had asserted, the traffic was civilian and going in the opposite direction.

Dresden had once been a pivotal communications and rail center important to the Wehrmacht. But as David Irving, in "Apocalypse 1945: The Destruction of Dresden". London: Focal Point Publishing, notes, by the time it received its fatal blow:

"The city's strategic significance was scarcely marginal...It was home to 630,000 permanent residents, its numbers swelled by German and Allied wounded, Allied POWs and hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing areas in the path of the Red Army's advance. The city's authorities were convinced that a non-strategic city with a large number of military hospitals, POW compounds, etc., would not receive anything approaching the annihilative smashing so many other cities and towns had undergone. Therefore most of the air defense and flak batteries that would otherwise be in Dresden were transferred to areas where it was assumed they'd be needed".

During the Yalta Conference on 4 February 1944, the Deputy Chief of the Soviet General Staff, General Aleksei Antonov, raised the issue of hampering the reinforcement of German troops from the western front by paralysing the junctions of Berlin and Leipzig with aerial bombardment.  A British interpreter later claimed that Antonov and Josef Stalin asked for the bombing of Dresden, but there is no mention of these requests in the official record of the conference and the claim was assessed as possible Cold War propaganda.

An RAF memo issued to airmen on the night of the attack stated:

"The intentions of the attack are to hit the enemy where he will feel it most, behind an already partially collapsed front... and incidentally to show the Russians when they arrive what Bomber Command can do".

The bombing of Dresden by the Royal Air Force [RAF] and the United States Army Air Forces [USAAF] between 13 and 15 February 1945 remains controversial. The inner city of Dresden was largely destroyed by 722 RAF and 527 USAAF bombers that dropped 2431 tons of high explosive bombs, and 1475.9 tons of incendiaries.

Post-war discussions on whether the attacks were justified has led to the bombing becoming one of the moral causes célèbres of the war. A 1953 United States Air Force report defended the operation as the justified bombing of a strategic target, which they noted was a major rail transport and communication center, housing 110 factories and 50,000 workers in support of the German war effort. Several researchers have asserted that not all of the communications infrastructure, such as the bridges, were targeted, nor were the extensive industrial areas outside the city center. Critics of the bombing have claimed that Dresden was a cultural landmark of little or no strategic significance, and that the attacks were indiscriminate area bombing and not proportionate to the commensurate military gains, with mostly women and children dying. When interviewed after the war in 1977, Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris stood by his decision to carry out the raids, and reaffirmed that it reduced the German military's ability to wage war.

The following passage is from Edward Jablonski's "Airwar - Wings of Fire" Doubleday & Co.:

"Although it is unlikely that the true toll will ever be known, the number of people probably killed at Dresden was about 135,000 [as compared with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, which killed 71,379.

In "The First Casualty" Harcourt 1975, Philip Knightly wrote:

"Precise casualty figures will never be known. The German authorities stopped counting when the known dead reached 25,000 and 35,000 were still missing. Some post-war sources put the number of dead at from 100,000 to 130,000, which would greatly exceed the number killed in the atom-bombing of Hiroshima... Dresden was merely a staging center for a half million refugees from Silesia. The [rail] yards were not even attacked. There were no ammunition workshops and factories, only a small works making optical lenses for gunsights".

The news first came out in Sweden. At 10:15 am on February 15 a Swedish news bulletin transmitted in Danish to occupied Denmark said that the death toll in Dresden was already between 20,000 and 35,000.

Yet, Dresden did not become a tragedy merely for the destruction of its built-up area or the loss of its unique cultural heritage. It is best remembered for its terrific loss in lives. Benumbed and angered by the destruction of Dresden, Nazi propagandists initially claimed that the city had suffered a death toll of 350,000 to 450,000. Another report, released in March 1945 by the Dresden Police and the SS, known as "Tagesbefehl Nr 47" [Order of the Day 47] cited a mortality rate of 202,040. It is widely recognized by historians that the most authoritative figures come from a “Final Report” written by a Colonel Max Jurk at the behest of the Dresden Commander of Police, a few weeks after the bombings. Jurk’s extensive report [missing until 1965] showed that between 18,000 and 22,000 people had definitely died and about 35,000 people were missing, brings the total casualty rate to at least fifty thousand. In comparison, the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki claimed the lives of 66,000 and 39,000 respectively.

This figure is backed up by another document found in West German archives in 1966. Dated 22 March 1945, this document states:

"Situation Reports on Air Raids on Reich No 1404" cites that although 18,375 bodies had been counted, the final death toll may be 25,000, with another 35,000 missing".

Calculations of the death-toll from the Anglo-American bombing of Dresden in February 1945 have varied widely, but never ceased to be dramatic. Figures suggested have ranged from 35,000 through 100,000, and even up to half a million at the wilder fringes of speculation.

The death toll was staggering. The full extent of the Dresden Holocaust can be more readily grasped if one considers that well over 250,000 - possibly as many as a half a million ­persons died within a 14-hour period, whereas estimates of those who died at Hiroshima range from 90,000 to 140,000.

Allied apologists for the massacre have often "twinned" Dresden with the English city of Coventry, a raid which was declared a "German war crime".

But the 380 killed in Coventry during the entire war, cannot begin to compare with over 1,000 times that number who were slaughtered in 14 hours at Dresden. Moreover, Coventry was a munitions and aircraft producing town, a legitimate military target. Dresden, on the other hand, produced only china - and cups and saucers can hardly be considered military hardware.

It is interesting to further compare the respective damage to London and Dresden, especially when we recall all the Hollywood Schmaltz about the "London Blitz." In one night, 16,000 acres of land were destroyed in the Dresden massacre. London escaped with damage to only 600 acres during the entire war. Germany bombed Britain with a mere five percent of the tonnage that Britain slammed down on Germany, and more British bombs fell upon the city of Berlin alone than German bombs fell on the whole of Britain during the entire war.

The Allied bombing of Hamburg during World War II included numerous strategic bombing missions and diversion/nuisance raids. As a large port and industrial center, Hamburg's shipyards, U-Boat pens, and the Hamburg-Harburg area oil refineries were attacked throughout the war.

The attack during the last week of July 1943, Operation Gomorrah, created one of the largest firestorms raised by the Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Forces in World War II, killing 42,600 civilians and wounding 37,000 in Hamburg and virtually destroying most of the city.

No subsequent city raid shook Germany as did that on Hamburg; documents show that German officials were thoroughly alarmed and there is some indication from later Allied interrogations of Nazi officials that Hitler stated that further raids of similar weight would force Germany out of the war.

While Operation Gomorrah was more devastating it is the destruction of Dresden which has become, in the words of the historian Ian Kershaw, "the symbol of the bombing war". In part this reflects the fact that with its ports, armament factories and shipbuilding facilities, Hamburg could easily be presented as a military target — though it was the morale of the civilian population, particularly industrial workers, that the bombing sought to sap.

Air-warfare expert Sönke Neitzel concludes: "Indisputably during the first years of the war all heavy attacks of the German Luftwaffe against cities were planned as military blows and cannot be defined as terror raids...It is difficult to find any evidence in German documents that the destruction of Dresden had any consequences worth mentioning on the Eastern Front. The industrial plants of Dresden played no significant role in German industry at this stage in the war".

-- Darmstädter Echo, 25 September 2004

During the latter stages of World War II, Pforzheim, a town in southwestern Germany, was bombed a number of times. The largest raid, and one of the most devastating area bombardments of the war was carried out by the Royal Air Force [RAF] on the evening of 23 February 1945. A report compiled for RAF Bomber Command dated 28 June 1944, stated that Pforzheim was "one of the centers of the German jewellery and watch making trade and is therefore likely to have become of considerable importance to the production of precision instruments of use in the war effort".

There were no war-crucial targets; only war-relevant ones.

The German Army Report of 24 February 1945 devoted only two lines to reporting the bombardment: "In the early evening hours of February 23, a forceful British attack was directed at Pforzheim". The post-war British Bombing Survey Unit estimated that 83 per cent of the town's built-up area was destroyed, "probably the greatest proportion in one raid during the war". In the center, almost 90% of the buildings were destroyed.

In an area about 3 km long and 1.5 km wide, all buildings were reduced to rubble. 17,600 citizens were officially counted as dead and thousands were injured. People died from the immediate impact of explosions, from burns due to burning incendiary materials that seeped through basement windows into the cellars of houses where they hid, from lack of oxygen and poisonous gases, and from collapsing walls of houses. Some of them drowned in the Enz or Nagold rivers into which they had jumped while trying to escape from the burning incendiary materials in the streets, but even the rivers were burning as the phosphorus floated on the water.

The official historiography of the Federal Republic of Germany shamelessly reduce the death toll of the Dresden holocaust by several hundreds of thousands. On the other hand, nobody disputes that more than 12.000 houses in the center of the city were reduced to dust during the hellish firestorm. In view of the fact that, in addition to the 600.000 inhabitants of Dresden, another 600.000 people [refugees from Breslau] had found shelter in the overcrowded city, one can safely assume that each of these 12.000 houses contained no fewer than 50 people. But of these houses virtually nothing remained, and the people who had been dwelling in them were transformed into ashes due to a heat of 1600 degrees Celsius.

The deniers of this German holocaust brazenly claim that only 35.000 persons perished in Dresden. Considering that 28 square kilometers, were completely destroyed, this "politically correct” figure would imply that less than 1, 5 persons died on each thousand square meters. In February 2005 a commission of "serious” historians further reduced this figure, claiming that only 24.000 Germans had been killed in Dresden. But anybody familiar with the character of the political system of Germany knows that these "serious historians” are nothing but vulgar falsifiers of history who are paid for preventing the breakthrough of the truth with more and more bare-faced lies.

Now, more than 60 years later, it seems we are asked to lower our estimates. After four years of work, an impressive commission of German historians filed its report on this issue, and it seems that even the lowest figure so far accepted may be an overestimate. Drawing on archival sources, many never previously consulted, on burial records and scientific findings -- including street-by-street archaeological investigations -- plus hundreds of eye-witness reports, the Dresden Commission of Historians for the Ascertainment of the Number of Victims of the Air Raids on the City of Dresden on 13/14 February 1945, provisionally estimated the likely death-toll at around 18,000 and definitely no more than 25,000.

The casualty figures for Dresden have seen a constant, politically correct downward revision over the years, actually dipping as low as 35,000. However, as recently as 1991 Juan Maler wrote, very logically:

"If 55,000 people lost their lives in the bombing raid on Hamburg in July 1943, then it is impossible for the death toll to have been lower in Dresden. One must bear in mind that Hamburg possessed a functioning anti-air raid defense as well as the fact that the bomb payload dropped on Hamburg was not even one-third of that dropped on Dresden. [...] Irving was able to prove 135,000 dead. However, 480,000 bombing victims have been officially documented in in a German paper, "Eidgenosse", January 3 1986. These included 37,000 toddlers and infants, 46,000 school-aged children, 55,000 disabled ex-servicemen, invalids and nurses, Red Cross assistants and nursing personnel, 12,000 rescue workers, firemen, orderlies, air-raid assistants and air-raid police. Also, in light of the fact that at the time of the attacks Dresden was crowded with 1,200,000 people [including some 600,000 refugees], and that more than 70,000 bombs were dropped by 9,000 fighter bombers, it is quite absurd to speak of 35,000 dead [or even 135,000]. Just consider the ratio of one bomb per two city inhabitants!"

-- Translated from: Juan Maler, "Die Unvollendete", Buenos Aires 1991

In this context, it is also important to note the following information regarding the death toll of the Dresden civilians, and it cannot be stressed enough that these deaths were caused by the British and American terrorist air raid of February 13-14, 1945, at a time when the outcome of the war had already been decided.

- The "official" number of 35,000 victims -an insult to the dead- is specified by the relevant police protocol to refer to those bodies that could be identified.
- The city center of Dresden was turned to ash. Experts estimate that another 200,000 to 300,000 people were crushed, suffocated and incinerated in the air-raid shelters-turned-crematoria under the masses of rubble, scorched to ash by the 800°C firestorm and 290 km/h wind.
- The fact is that 900,000 food ration cards were issued before the catastrophe, whereas the official 1946 population statistic of Dresden showed 486,000 living inhabitants. The vast numbers of refugees who died [all of the city's buildings were overcrowded with refugees from Silesia] are largely disregarded in these figures. Furthermore, Dresden was Germany's largest hospital city. [The German Red Cross had also set up its headquarters there during the war].
- The exact number of victims, which some sources estimate at greater than 500,000, will probably never be precisely known. This also explains why the German leadership avoided announcing the magnitude of the death toll so as not to shock the German people even further. It would be very naïve to think that the Nazi propagandists were interested in exaggerating the death toll… As the allied bombing war had the declared purpose of breaking the morale of the civilian population, any propagandistic inflation of the real figures would only have increased this effect. The death toll of Dresden was so huge that Dr. Göbbels decided to downplay the extent of the massacre by 90%. He feared that publishing the real numbers would lead to chaos and a total breakdown of morale all over the Reich. The dimension of the slaughter simply defied imagination.One remark by Göbbels has become known: "How am I going to tell the German people about this?!"
 
The professional liars who act on behalf of the Holocaust Industry and the official historiography of the Federal Republic of Germany shamelessly reduce the death toll of the Dresden holocaust by several hundreds of thousands. On the other hand, nobody disputes that more than 12.000 houses in the center of the city were reduced to dust during the hellish firestorm. In view of the fact that, in addition to the 600.000 inhabitants of Dresden, another 600.000 people [refugees from Breslau] had found shelter in the overcrowded city, one can safely assume that each of these 12.000 houses contained no fewer than 50 people. But of these houses virtually nothing remained, and the people who had been dwelling in them were transformed into ashes due to a heat of 1600 degrees Celsius.

The deniers of this German holocaust brazenly claim that only 35.000 persons perished in Dresden. Considering that 7 x 4 kilometers, to wit 28 square kilometers, was completely destroyed, this "politically correct” figure would imply that less than 1.5 persons died on each thousand square meters! In February 2005 a commission of "serious” historians further reduced this figure, claiming that only 24.000 Germans had been killed in Dresden. But anybody familiar with the character of the political system of Germany knows that these "serious historians” are nothing but vulgar falsifiers of history who are paid for preventing the breakthrough of the truth with more and more bare-faced lies.

Erhard Mundra, a member of the "Bautzen Committee" [an association of former political prisoners in the GDR], wrote in the daily newspaper "Die Welt", 12 February 1995:

"According to the former general staff officer of the military district of Dresden and retired lieutenant colonel of the Bundeswehr, D. Matthes, 35.000 victims were fully and another 50.000 partly identified, whereas further 168,000 could not be identified at all".

It goes without saying that the hapless children, women and old people whom the firestorm had transformed into a heap of ashes could not be identified either.

In 1955 former West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer stated: "On 13 February 1945, the attack on the city of Dresden, which was overcrowded with refugees, claimed about 250.000 victims".

-- "Deutschland Heute", edited by the press and information service of the federal government, Wiesbaden 1955

In 1992, the city of Dresden gave the following answer to a citizen who had inquired about the death toll:

"According to reliable information from the Dresden police, 202.040 dead, most of them women and children, were found until 20 March. Only about 30% of them could be identified. If we take into account those who are missing, a figure of 250.000 to 300.000 victims seems realistic".

Most honest estimates range from 350,000 to 500,000 dead - many of whom were liquefied into a jellied mass that melted into the asphalt of the roads or were left in piles of ashes amid a city almost totally in ashes and ruins. England suffered less than 50,000 casualties from bombings.

The German weekly "Der Spiegel" stated in its 1/1995 issue: "About six million Germans were killed". As a matter of fact, the actual figure was about fifteen million. But although even the anti-German "Spiegel" admits that six million Germans were put to death, the German elite only bemoans Jewish victims.

On 12 February 1995, Ernst Cramer wrote in "Die Welt":

"When commemorating the victims, we should stop asking about guilt".

And what had the politically super-correct former German president, Roman Herzog, to say about who was guilty of the German genocide? Speaking in Dresden on 13 February 1995, Herzog chose to insult the victims by stating:

"It is meaningless to discuss if the bombing war, the inhumanity of which nobody disputes, was legally justified or not. What are such discussions good for, considering that fifty years have elapsed?"

--Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 14 February 1995

But when it comes to monstrously exaggerating the Auschwitz death toll [according to the well-known journalist Fritjof Meyer, three and a half million Auschwitz victims were simply invented in order to denigrate the German people] the professional hypocrites and liars never say: "It is meaningless to discuss this… What are such discussions good for, considering that so and so many years have elapsed?” As a matter of fact, all leading German politicians claim that Germany is guilty in all eternity. Even the unborn Germans are guilty!

Historians: "The British and American peoples share the burden of guilt for the genocide of the Germans”

In September 1988, military historians from five countries met at a conference in Freiburg. The event had been organized by the Institute for Military Research of the Bundeswehr. During a week, American, British, German, French and Italian specialist discussed various aspects of air warfare in the Second World War. After the conference, the daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine published a detailed and highly interesting article. Under the headline "Bombing the Cities”, the author, Professor Günter Gillessen, wrote:

"It is a remarkable fact that the Wehrmacht stuck to the traditional principles of moderate warfare until the very end, whereas the two Western democracies resorted to a revolutionary, radical and reckless type of air warfare”. Another interesting conclusion the historians arrived at was the following: "It cannot be disputed that the principles of international law forbade total carpeting bombing … The historians considered the indiscriminate bombing as an abomination, but refused to lay the whole guilt on Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris or the Bomber Command. According to them, the entire staff of the RAF, but even more the political leaders, especially Churchill and Roosevelt, plus the majority of their peoples shared the burden of guilt".

On 13 February 1990, forty-five years after the destruction of Dresden, British historian David Irving spoke at the Dresden "Kulturpalast". In his speech, Irving quoted the Winston Churchill: "I don't want any suggestions how to destroy militarily important targets around Dresden. I want suggestions how we can roast the 600.000 refugees from Breslau in Dresden".

There is a footnote to this story that many outside the United States don't know about. At the time of the bombing the Germans were moving a large number of American POW's threw the city in route to permanent POW camps. The exact number isn't known because the German records were destroyed in the raids. However, the International Red Cross had been notified by the Germans of what was happening and had passed the information on to the British and American governments. Thus an unknown number of American POW's were also killed. The survivors were employed in by the Germans after the raids and were used to help them dispose of the bodies. Many cellars filled with bodies were simply burned with flamethrowers and covered over, because the Germans did not have the manpower to clear them out. As an American POW, Kurt Vonnegut, latter the best-selling author of "Slaughterhouse-Five" in 1969] took part in the body clearing operations and his later in-depth research after the war showed the totals to be at least 130,000

The testimonies of these survivors confirm the accounts given by the Germans themselves.

Several years ago those former POW's who were still alive asked that the American and British governments admit to their responsibility for the unnecessary deaths of the other POW's in an attack on a city of no military or economic significance. This included the Kurt Vonnegut. When this request began to be mentioned in the press the various Jewish groups around the country went ballistic and began publicly accusing the surviving POW's of being Anti-Semites and even Nazi sympathizers. The ironic part about that was that Kurt Vonnegut  was himself a Jew, who had  was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.

Many other Jews already had it in for him because he said that he had not been mistreated by the Germans because he was a Jew while a POW.

On 22 December 1944, Kurt Vonnegut was captured with about 50 other American soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge. Vonnegut was taken by boxcar to a prison camp south of Dresden, in Saxony. During the journey, the Royal Air Force bombed the prisoner trains and killed about 150 men. Vonnegut was sent to Dresden, the "first fancy city [he had] ever seen". He lived in a slaughterhouse when he got to the city, and worked in a factory that made malt syrup for pregnant women. Vonnegut recalled the sirens going off whenever another city was bombed. The Germans did not expect Dresden to get bombed, Vonnegut said. "There were very few air-raid shelters in town and no war industries, just cigarette factories, hospitals, clarinet factories".

On 13 February 1945, Dresden became the target of Allied forces. In the hours and days that followed, the Allies engaged in a fierce firebombing of the city, the offensive subsiding on 15 February. Vonnegut marveled at the level of both the destruction in Dresden and the secrecy that attended it. He had survived by taking refuge in a meat locker three stories underground. "It was cool there, with cadavers hanging all around", Vonnegut said. "When we came up the city was gone ... They burnt the whole damn town down". Vonnegut and other American prisoners were put to work immediately after the bombing, excavating bodies from the rubble. He described the activity as a "terribly elaborate Easter-egg hunt".

The American prisoners of war were evacuated on foot to the border of Saxony and Czechoslovakia after General George S. Patton captured Leipzig. With the captives abandoned by their guards, Vonnegut reached a prisoner-of-war repatriation camp in Le Havre, France, before the end of May 1945, with the aid of the Soviets.

Vonnegut was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for research in Germany. By the time he won it, in March 1967, he was becoming a well-known writer. He used the funds to travel in Eastern Europe, including to Dresden, where he found many prominent buildings still in ruins. At the time of the bombing, Vonnegut had not appreciated the sheer scale of destruction in Dresden; his enlightenment came only slowly as information dribbled out, and based on early figures he came to believe that 135,000 had died there.

Vonnegut had been writing about his war experiences at Dresden ever since he returned from the war, but had never been able to write anything acceptable to himself or his publishers. However his sixth novel, his magnum opus  "Slaughterhouse-Five",  released in 1969, rocketed Vonnegut to fame. The book's anti-war sentiment resonated with its readers amidst the ongoing Vietnam War, and its reviews were generally positive. After its release, "Slaughterhouse-Five" went to the top of "The New York Times" Best Seller list, and Vonnegut was invited to give speeches, lectures, and commencement addresses around the country and received many awards and honors.

Vonnegut's works have evoked ire on several occasions. His most prominent novel, "Slaughterhouse-Five", has been objected to or removed at various institutions in at least 18 instances. In the case of Island Trees School District v. Pico, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a school district's ban on "Slaughterhouse-Five"—which the board had called "anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, and just plain filthy"—and eight other novels was unconstitutional. When a school board in Republic, Missouri decided to withdraw Vonnegut's novel from its libraries, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library offered a free copy to all the students of the district 

 
Göbbels apparently shook with fury on hearing the news. He wanted to execute as many prisoners of war as the number of civilians killed in the attack. The idea appealed to Hitler. Such an extreme measure would tear up the Geneva Convention in the face of the Western Allies and force his own troops to fight to the end. But General Jodl, supported by Ribbentrop, Field Marshal Keitel and Grand Admiral Dönitz finally persuaded him that such an escalation of terror would turn out worse for Germany. Göbbels  nevertheless extracted all he could from this "terror attack". Soldiers with relatives in the city were promised compassionate leave.

Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group's Operation Lumberjack  had  the goal of capturing the west bank of the Rhine River and seizing key German cities, near the end of World War II. The First United States Army launched the operation in March 1945 to capture strategic cities in Nazi Germany and to give the Allies a foothold along the Rhine.

The Germans had repeatedly frustrated Allied efforts to cross the Rhine. If successful, Lumberjack would capture Cologne, secure the Koblenz sector, and bring the 12th Army Group to the Rhine in the entire area north of the Moselle River. The 12th Army Group also hoped to capture a large number of Germans.

The Ludendorff Bridge, sometimes referred to as the Bridge at Remagen, was in early March 1945 one of two remaining bridges across the River Rhine in Germany [the other being the Wesel Railway Bridge] when it was captured during the Battle of Remagen by United States Army forces during the closing weeks of World War II. Built in World War I to help deliver reinforcements and supplies to the German troops on the Western Front, it connected Remagen on the west bank and the village of Erpel on the eastern side between two hills flanking the river.

In 1938, after the Germans reacquired the Rhineland and control of the bridge, zinc-lined boxes were placed at key structural points. They connected the boxes by electrical cable protected by steel pipe to a point inside the rail tunnel under Erpeler Ley where engineers could safely detonate the charges.

During World War II, the Allied bombing campaign destroyed more than half of Erpel's buildings, including all the buildings between Erpel's market place and the bridge, which had been built during the 17th and 18th century. On October 14–15, 1944, an American bomb had struck a chamber containing the demolition charges of the Mulheim Bridge in Cologne, destroying the bridge. German leader Adolf Hitler reacted by demanding that demolition charges on bridges could only be set when the enemy was within a specific distance, and only exploded by written order. He ordered those "responsible" for the destruction of the Mulheim Bridge court-martialed. This left officers responsible for destroying bridges in the event that the enemy approached nervous about the consequences if they failed. Hitler also issued orders that the Westwall be held at all costs which meant that the German forces paid less attention to the bridges across the Rhine.

In March 1945, about 5,000 people lived in the town. The Rhine near Remagen is about 300 metres [980 ft]wide. On 7 March 1945, the troops of the U.S. Army's 9th Armored Division Combat Command B, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion approached Remagen, they were very surprised to see that the railroad bridge was still standing.

When word reached General William Hoge, commander of Combat Command B, he ordered the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion to advance into Remagen with support from the 14th Tank Battalion. Despite all German aircraft bombing, direct artillery hits, and demolition attempts to destroy the bridge,  the U.S. troops captured the bridge intact.  

The unexpected availability of the first major crossing of the Rhine, Germany's last major natural barrier and line of defense, caused Allied high commander Dwight Eisenhower to alter his plans to end the war. The ability to quickly establish a bridgehead on the eastern side of the Rhine and to get forces into Germany allowed the U.S. forces to envelop the German industrial area of the Ruhr. Before it collapsed ten days after it was captured at 3:00 PM on 17 March, five U.S. divisions, with many tanks, artillery pieces and trucks, had already used it and two adjacent tactical bridges to cross into Germany, creating a well-established bridgehead almost 40 kilometers [25 mi] long, extending from Bonn in the north almost to Koblenz in the south, and 10 to 15 kilometers [6.2 to 9.3 mi] deep.
U.S. forces advanced rapidly through Germany. By 12 April, the Ninth United States Army had crossed the Elbe River.

On 7 March 1945, when troops of the It was one of the two damaged but usable bridges over the Rhine U.S. forces were able to capture the bridge. The Rhine was the last natural line of defense that the Germans hoped could be used to substantially resist the Western Allied advance. Up to then, crossings had been limited to small infantry reconnaissance patrols by boat.

General Albert Kesselring described the battle as the "Crime of Remagen. It broke the front along the Rhine". Hermann Göring said that the capture of the bridge "made a long defense impossible". Major General Carl Wagener, Chief of staff to Field Marshall Walter Model, said that capturing the bridge signaled the end of the war for the Germans:

The Remagen affair caused a great stir in the German Supreme Command. Remagen should have been considered a basis for termination of the war. Remagen created a dangerous and unpleasant abscess within the last German defenses, and it provided an ideal springboard for the coming offensive east of the Rhine. The Remagen bridgehead made the other crossing of the Rhine a much easier task for the enemy. Furthermore, it tired German forces which should have been resting to withstand the next major assault. 

On the Western Front, the Americans and the British had not been advancing anything like as rapidly as the Red Army. The battle for the Rhineland, which began during the talks at Yalta, was also slow and deliberate. Eisenhower was in no hurry. He thought that spring floodwater would make the Rhine impassable until the beginning of May. It was to take another six weeks before all Eisenhower's armies were ready on the west bank of the Rhine.

Only the miracle of capturing intact the Rhine bridge at Remagen allowed an acceleration of the programme
.

Eisenhower was deeply irritated by the continuing British criticism of his methodical broad-front strategy. Churchill, Brooke and Field Marshal Montgomery all wanted a reinforced breakthrough to head for Berlin. Their reasons were mainly political. The capture of Berlin before the Red Army arrived would help to restore the balance of power with Stalin. Yet they also felt on military grounds that to seize the capital of the Reich would deal the greatest psychological blow to German resistance and shorten the war. British arguments for the single thrust into the heart of Germany, however, had not been helped by the insufferable Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. At the end of the first week of January, he had tried to take far more credit for the defeat of the German offensive in the Ardennes than was his due. This crass and unpleasant blunder naturally infuriated American generals and deeply embarrassed Churchill. It certainly did not help persuade Eisenhower to allow Montgomery to lead a major push through northern Germany to Berlin. Eisenhower, as supreme commander, continued to insist that it was not his job to look towards the post-war world. His task was to finish the war effectively with as few casualties as possible. He felt that the British were allowing post-war politics to rule military strategy.

Eisenhower was genuinely grateful to Stalin for the effort made to advance the date of the January offensive, even if he was unaware of Stalin's ulterior motive of securing Poland before the Yalta conference. United States policy-makers simply did not wish to provoke Stalin in any way. John G. Winant, the United States ambassador in London, when discussing zones of occupation on the European Advisory Commission, even refused to raise the issue of a land corridor to Berlin in case it spoiled his relationship with his Soviet opposite number. The policy of appeasing Stalin came from the top and was widely accepted. Eisenhower's political adviser, Robert Murphy, had been told by Roosevelt that "the most important thing was to persuade the Russians to trust us". This could not have suited Stalin better. Roosevelt's claim, "I can handle Stalin", was part of what Robert Murphy acknowledged to be "the all-too-prevalent American theory" that individual friendships can determine national policy. "Soviet policy-makers and diplomats never operate on that theory," he added. The American longing to be trusted by Stalin blinded them to the question of how far they should trust him. And this was a man whose lack of respect for international law had led him to suggest quite calmly that they should invade Germany via neutral Switzerland, thus "outflanking the West Wall".

Soviet resentment was based on the fact that the United States and Britain had suffered so little in comparison. Nazi Germany also treated Allied prisoners in a totally different way from Red Army prisoners. A Belorussian Front report on the liberation of a prisoner-of-war camp near Torn underlined the contrast in fates. The appearance of the Americans, British and French inmates was healthy. "They looked more like people on holiday than prisoners of war," the report stated, "while Soviet prisoners were emaciated, wrapped in blankets". Prisoners from the Western Allied countries did not have to work, they were allowed to play football and they received food parcels from the Red Cross.

Meanwhile, in the other part of the camp, "17,000 Soviet prisoners had been killed or died from starvation or illness. The "special regime" for Soviet prisoners consisted of 300 grams of Ersatz bread and 1 Liter of soup made from rotten Mangelwurzels per day. Healthy prisoners were made to dig trenches, the weak ones were killed or buried alive".

They were guarded by "traitors" from the Red Army, recruited with the promise of better rations. These volunteers treated "Soviet prisoners of war with more cruelty than the Germans". Some of the guards were said to have been Volga Germans. They ordered prisoners to strip and set dogs on them. The Germans had apparently carried out "a massive propaganda" attempt to persuade prisoners to join the ROA, General Vlasov's army of former Soviet soldiers in Wehrmacht uniform. "Many Ukrainians and Uzbeks sold themselves to the Germans," stated a prisoner. He was described as an "ex-Party member" and "former senior lieutenant". This was because members of the Red Army were stripped of all status simply for having allowed themselves to be taken prisoner.

The punishments inflicted on Soviet prisoners included forcing them to do knee-bends for up to seven hours, "which completely crippled the victim". They were also made to run up and down stairs past guards armed with rubber truncheons on every landing. In another camp, wounded officers were placed under cold showers in winter and left to die of hypothermia. Soviet soldiers were subjected to the "saw-horse", the eighteenth-century torture of strapping a prisoner astride a huge trestle. Some were made to run as live targets for shooting practice by SS guards. Another punishment was known as "Achtung!" A Soviet prisoner was made to strip and kneel in the open. Handlers with attack dogs waited on either side. The moment he stopped shouting, "Achtung! Achtung! Achtung!" the dogs were set on him. Dogs were also used when prisoners collapsed after being forced to do "sport marches", goose-stepping in rapid time.

It may have been news of these sorts of punishment which inspired similar practices against German prisoners taken by Soviet troops in their recent advances. An escaped British prisoner of war, a fighter pilot, picked up by a unit of the 1st Ukrainian Front and taken along, saw a young SS soldier forced to play a piano for his Russian captors. They made it clear in sign language that he would be executed the moment he stopped. He managed to play for sixteen hours before he collapsed sobbing on the keyboard. They slapped him on the back, then dragged him out and shot him".

The Red Army advanced into German territory with a turbulent mixture of anger and exultation, encountering slave workers, attempting to return home. Many were peasant women with knotted head kerchiefs covering their foreheads and wearing improvised puttees for warmth.

The chief concern for the Stavka at this time continued to be the wide gap across the "Baltic balcony" between Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front and the left flank of Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front. On 6 February, Stalin had rung Zhukov from Yalta. He asked what he was doing. Zhukov replied that he was in a meeting of army commanders to discuss the advance on Berlin from the new Oder bridgeheads. Stalin retorted that he was wasting his time. They should consolidate on the Oder, and then turn north to join up with Rokossovsky.

Chuikov, the commander of the 8th Guards Army, who appears to have resented Zhukov since Stalingrad, was contemptuous that Zhukov did not argue forcefully for a push on Berlin. The bitter debate continued well into the post-war years. Chuikov argued that a rapid push at the beginning of February would have caught Berlin undefended. But Zhukov and others felt that with exhausted troops and serious supply shortages, to say nothing of the threat of a counter-attack from the north on their exposed right flank, the risk was far too great.

In East Prussia, meanwhile, German forces were contained but not yet defeated. The remains of the Fourth Army, having failed to break out at the end of January, was squeezed in the Heiligenbeil Kessel, with its back to the Frisches Haff. Its main artillery support came from the heavy guns of the cruisers 'Admiral Scheer' and 'Lützow', firing from out in the Baltic across the sandbar of the Frische Nehrung and the frozen lagoon.

The remnants of the Third Panzer Army in Königsberg had been cut off from the Samland Peninsula, but on 19 February, a joint attack from both sides created a land corridor which was then bitterly defended. The evacuation of civilians and wounded from the small port of Pillau at the tip of the Samland Peninsula was intensified, but many civilians feared to leave by ship after the torpedo attacks on the 'Wilhelm Gustloff' and other refugee ships. In the early hours of 12 February, the hospital ship 'General von Steuben' was torpedoed after leaving Pillau with 2,680 wounded. Almost all were drowned.

The Second Army, meanwhile, had been forced back towards the lower Vistula and its estuary, defending Danzig and the port of Gdynia. It formed the left flank of Himmler's Army Group Vistula. In the center, in eastern Pomerania, a new Eleventh SS Panzer Army was being formed. Himmler's right flank on the Oder consisted of the remnants of General Theodor Busse's Ninth Army, which had been so badly mauled in western Poland.

Himmler seldom ventured out of his luxurious special train, the Steiermark, which he had designated his "field headquarters". The Reichsführer SS now realized that the responsibilities of military command were rather greater than he had imagined. His "insecurity as a military leader," wrote Colonel Eismann, "made him incapable of a determined presentation of the operational situation to Hitler, let alone of asserting himself". Himmler used to return from the Führer situation conference a nervous wreck. Staff officers received little pleasure from the paradox that the feared Himmler should be so fearful. His "servile attitude" towards Hitler and his fear of admitting the disastrous state of his forces, "caused great damage and cost a vast amount of unnecessary blood".

Himmler, seeking refuge in the Führer's own aggressive cliches, talked of more counter-attacks. Following the Demelhuber debacle, Himmler set his mind on establishing the so-called Eleventh SS Panzer Army. In fact the whole of Army Group Vistula in the early days contained only three under-strength Panzer divisions. At best, the formations available constituted a corps, "but Panzer army", observed Eismann, "has a better ring to it". Himmler had another motive, however. It was to promote Waffen SS officers on the staff and in field command. Obergruppenführer Felix Steiner was named as its commander. Steiner, an experienced soldier, was certainly a much better choice than other senior Waffen SS officers. But he did not have an easy task.

General Guderian, determined to keep a corridor open to the edge of East Prussia, argued at a situation conference in the first week of February that an ambitious operation was needed. He was even more outspoken than usual that day, having drunk a certain amount at an early lunch with the Japanese ambassador. Guderian wanted a pincer movement from the Oder south of Berlin and an attack down from Pomerania to cut off Zhukov's leading armies. To assemble enough troops, more of the divisions trapped uselessly in Courland and elsewhere needed to be brought back by sea and the offensive in Hungary postponed. Hitler refused yet again.

"You must believe me," Guderian persisted, "when I say it is not just pig-headedness on my part that makes me keep on proposing the evacuation of Courland. I can see no other way left to us of accumulating reserves, and without reserves we cannot hope to defend the capital. I assure you I am acting solely in Germany's interests".

Hitler began trembling in anger as he jumped to his feet."'How dare you speak to me like that?" he shouted. "Don't you think I'm fighting for Germany? My whole life has been one long struggle for Germany!" Colonel Ulrich de Maiziére, the new operations officer at Zossen, had never seen such a row and stood there shocked and afraid for the chief of staff. To bring an end to Hitler's frenzy, Göring led Guderian out of the room to find some coffee while everyone calmed down.

Guderian's main fear was that the Second Army, trying to maintain a link between East Prussia and Pomerania, was in danger of being cut off. He therefore argued instead for a single attack southwards from the "Baltic balcony". This attack on Zhukov's right flank would also deter the Soviets from trying to attack Berlin immediately. On 13 February, a final conference on the operation was held in the Reich Chancellery. Himmler, as commander-in-chief of Army Group Vistula, was present, and so was Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich. Guderian also brought his extremely capable deputy, General Walther Wenck. Guderian made plain right from the start that he wanted the operation to start in two days time. Himmler objected, saying that not all the fuel and ammunition had arrived. Hitler supported him and soon the Führer and his army chief of staff were having another row. Guderian insisted that Wenck should direct the operation.

"The Reichsführer SS is man enough to carry out the attack on his own," Hitler said.

"The Reichsführer SS has neither the requisite experience nor a sufficiently competent staff to control the attack single-handed. The presence of General Wenck is therefore essential".

"I don't permit you," Hitler shouted, "to tell me that the Reichsführer SS is incapable of performing his duties".'

The argument raged for a long time. Hitler was literally raving in anger and screaming. Guderian claims to have glanced up at a helmeted portrait of Bismarck, the Iron Chancellor, and wondered what he thought of what was happening in the country he had helped to create. To Guderian's surprise, Hitler suddenly stopped his pacing up and down and told Himmler that General Wenck would join his headquarters that night and direct the offensive. He then sat down again abruptly and smiled at Guderian. "Now please continue with the conference. The general staff has won a battle this day". Guderian ignored Keitel's remonstrances later in the anteroom that he might have caused the Führer to suffer a stroke. He feared that his limited triumph might be short-lived.

On 16 February, the Pomeranian offensive, known as the Stargard tank battle, began under Wenck's direction. Over 1,200 tanks had been allocated, but the trains to transport them were lacking. Even an under-strength Panzer division needed fifty trains to move its men and vehicles. Far more serious was the shortage of ammunition and fuel, of which there were enough for only three days of operations. The lesson of the Ardennes offensive had not been learned.

Army staff officers had intended to give the offensive the codename "Husarenritt", or Hussar ride, which in itself seemed to acknowledge that this could be no more than a raid. But the SS insisted on a much more dramatic name: "Sonnenwende" or solstice. In the event it was neither a Hussar ride - a sudden thaw meant that the armoured vehicles were soon bogged down in the mud - nor a solstice, since it changed very little. The Wehrmacht could ill afford the heavy loss of tanks when the 2nd Guards Tank Army counter-attacked.

  
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.

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.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 center 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.

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 highest-ranking casualty was General Wenck, who, driving back to his headquarters from briefing the Führer on the night of 17 February, fell asleep at the wheel and was badly hurt. He was replaced by General Hans Krebs, a clever staff officer who had been military attache in Moscow before Operation Barbarossa. The attempt to force back the Soviet counter-attack, however, had to be abandoned after two days. All that can be said in favour of the offensive is that it bought time. The Kremlin became convinced that a quick dash to Berlin was out of the question until the Pomeranian coastline was secured.

Hitler's attempts to designate "fortress" towns and to refuse to allow the evacuation of encircled troops, were part of a suicidal pattern of enforced sacrifice and useless suffering. He knew that they were doomed because the Luftwaffe lacked the fuel and aircraft to supply them, and yet his policy deprived Army Group Vistula of experienced troops.

Königsberg and Breslau held out, but other towns designated as fortresses or breakwaters by Hitler soon fell. In southern Pomerania, Schneidemühl the smallest and the least well defended, fell on 14 February after a desperate defence. For once, even Hitler had no complaints and awarded Knight's Crosses to both the commander and the second-in-command. Four days later, on 18 February, just as Operation Sonnenwende became bogged down in the mud, General Chuikov gave the signal for the storming of the fortress of Poznan. His 7th Department, as at Stalingrad, had preceded the bombardment with loudspeaker programmes of lugubrious music interspersed with messages that surrender was the only way to save your life and return home. The Germans were told that they had no hope of escape because they were now over 200 kilometres behind the front line.

Siege artillery had begun the softening-up process nine days before, but by the morning of 18 February, 1,400 guns, mortars and Katyusha launchers were ready for the four-hour bombardment. Storm groups fought into the fortress, whose superstructure had been crushed by explosive fire. When resistance from a building continued, a 203mm Howitzer was brought up and blasted the walls over open sights. Flamethrowers were used and explosive charges dropped down ventilation shafts. German soldiers who tried to surrender were shot by their own officers. But the end was imminent. On the night of 22-23 February, the commandant, Major General Ernst Gomell, spread out the Swastika flag on the floor of his room, lay down on it and shot himself. The remnants of the garrison capitulated.

The siege of Breslau was to be even more prolonged: the city held out even after Berlin had fallen. As a result it was one of the most terrible of the war. The fanatical Gauleiter Karl Hanke was determined that the capital of Silesia should remain unconquered. It was he who used loudspeaker vans to order women and children to flee the city in late January. Those who froze to death were entirely his responsibility.

The city had good stocks of food but little ammunition. The attempts to drop ammunition by parachute were a terrible waste of Luftwaffe resources. Colonel General Schörner, the commander-in-chief of Army Group Centre, then decided to send part of the 25th Parachute Regiment at the end of February to strengthen the garrison. The regimental commander protested strenuously that there was no landing zone, but on 22 February the battalion boarded Junkers 52 transports at Jüterborg, south of Berlin. At midnight the aircraft approached Breslau. "Over the city," one of the paratroopers wrote later, "we could see extensive fires and we encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire". A hit on the radio left them out of contact with ground control and they landed at an airfield near Dresden. Another attempt was made two nights later. The Soviet Flak was even more intense as they circled the burning city for twenty minutes, trying to find a landing place. Three of the aircraft were lost: one of them crashed into a factory chimney.

Hanke's disciplinary measures, backed by General Schörner's policy of "strength through fear", were terrible. Execution was arbitrary. Even ten-year-old children were put to work under Soviet air and artillery attack to clear an air strip within the city. Any attempt to surrender by those who sought to "preserve their pitiful lives" would be met by a death sentence instantly carried out. "Decisive measures" would also be taken against their families. Schörner argued that "almost four years of an Asiatic war" had changed the soldier at the front completely: "It has hardened him and fanaticized him in the struggle against the Bolsheviks . . . The campaign in the east has developed the political soldier".

Stalin's boast at Yalta that the populations of East Prussia and Silesia had fled was not yet true. All too many were still trapped in besieged cities. German civilians in East Prussia also continued to suffer wherever they were, whether in Königsberg and the Heiligenbeil Kessel, attempting to leave the port of Pillau by ship, escaping on foot to the west or remaining at home. The February thaw meant that the ice of the Frisches Haff could be crossed only on foot and not by cart. The exit to Danzig, Pomerania and the west still remained open, but everyone realized that it was only a matter of time before the 1st Belorussian Front cut through to the Baltic.

Beria was informed by a senior SMERSH officer that the "significant part of the population of East Prussia" which had fled into Königsberg had found that there was little room for them and even less food. They were lucky if they received 180 grams of bread a day. "Starved women with children are dragging themselves along the road" in the hope that the Red Army might feed them. From these civilians, Red Army intelligence heard that "the morale of the Königsberg garrison is severely shaken. New general orders have been issued that any German male who does not report for frontline service will be shot on the spot . . . Soldiers put on civilian clothes and desert. On 6 and 7 February, the bodies of eighty German soldiers were piled up at the northern railway station. A placard was erected above them: "They were cowards but died just the same".

After the failure of Operation Sonnenwende, Danzig was increasingly threatened. The Kriegsmarine made great efforts to rescue as many wounded and civilians as possible. In the course of a single day, 21 February, 51,000 were brought out. The Nazi authorities estimated that only 150,000 remained to be evacuated, but a week later they found that Danzig now had a population of 1.2 million, of whom 530,000 were refugees. Greater efforts were made.

On 8 March thirty-four trains of cattle trucks full of civilians left Pomerania for Mecklenburg, west of the Oder. Hitler wanted to move 150,000 refugees into Denmark. Two days later instructions were issued: "The Führer has ordered that from now on Copenhagen is to become a target sanctuary". Also on 10 March, the estimated running total of German refugees from the eastern provinces rose to 11 million people.

Whether prompted by fear of retribution for war crimes or fear of the Bolsheviks and slave labour in Siberia, the exhausted Wehrmacht still marched and fought. "The Germans have not yet lost hope," stated a French Intelligence analysis that February, "they don't dare to". Soviet officers put it slightly differently: "Morale is low but discipline is strong".

On 14 February, in East Prussia, a convoy of military vehicles with Red Army markings turned off the main route from Rastenburg to Angeburg. This side road led into dense pine forest. The whole region was imbued with an atmosphere of melancholy.

A tall barbed-wire fence surmounted by concertina wire became visible from the road. The vehicles soon reached a barrier with a sign in German: "Halt. Military Site. Entrance Forbidden to Civilians". This was the entrance to Hitler's former headquarters, the Wolfsschanze. The trucks carried frontier guard troops from the 57th NKVD Rifle Division. The officers in command of the convoy wore Red Army uniforms, yet they owed no allegiance to its chain of command. As members of SMERSH counter-Intelligence, they were in theory answerable only to Stalin. Their feelings towards the Red Army at that time were not comradely. The dilapidated vehicles which they had been given came from army units who had taken the opportunity to rid themselves of their worst equipment. Although this was common practice, SMERSH and the NKVD did not appreciate it.

Their leader wore the uniform of a Red Army general. This was Commissar of State Security of the Second Rank, Viktor Semyonovich Abakumov. Beria had appointed him the first chief of SMERSH in April 1943, soon after the victory at Stalingrad. Abakumov occasionally followed his leader's habit of arresting young women in order to rape them, but his chief specialty was taking part in the beatings of prisoners with a rubber truncheon. In order not to spoil the Persian carpet in his office, "a dirty runner bespattered with blood was rolled out" before the unfortunate was brought in.

Abakumov, although still chief of SMERSH, had been sent by Beria "to carry out the necessary Chekist measures" behind the advance of the 3rd Belorussian Front into East Prussia. Abakumov had ensured that the 12,000-strong NKVD forces directly under his command were the largest of all those attached to army groups invading Germany. They were larger even than those with Marshal Zhukov's armies.

Wet snow lay all around. To judge from Abakumov's report to Beria, the NKVD troops dismounted and blocked the road, while he and the SMERSH officers began their inspection. Since German booby traps had been reported in the Rastenburg area, they were no doubt cautious. To the right of the entrance barrier stood several stone blockhouses which contained mines and camouflage material. On the left-hand side there were barrack blocks where the guards had lived. The SMERSH officers found epaulettes and uniforms from the Führerbegleit battalion. Hitler's fear the previous year of being captured by a surprise Soviet parachute drop had led "the Führer's guard battalion to be increased to a mixed brigade".

Following the road deeper into the forest, Abakumov saw signs on either side of the road. These were translated for him by his interpreter: "It is forbidden to step off the road" and "Beware mines!" Abakumov was clearly taking notes the whole time for his report to Beria, which he knew would be passed to Stalin. The Boss was obsessively interested in all details of Hitler's life.

The most striking aspect of Abakumov's report, however, is the degree of Soviet ignorance it reveals about the place. This is especially surprising when one considers how many German generals they had captured and interrogated between the surrender at Stalingrad and the beginning of 1945. They appear to have taken almost two weeks to find this complex, four kilometres square. Concealment from the air was indeed impressive. Every road and alley was covered with green camouflage nets. Straight lines were broken with artificial trees and bushes. All the exterior lights had dark blue bulbs. Even the observation posts, up to thirty-five metres high in the forest, had been made to look like pine trees.

When they entered the first inner perimeter, Abakumov observed the "ferro-concrete defences, barbed wire, minefields and large numbers of fire positions and barracks for guards". At Gate No. 1 all the Bunkers had been blown up after the Führer's departure on 20 November 1944, less than three months before, but Abakumov clearly had no idea when the complex had been abandoned. They came to a second perimeter fence of barbed wire, then a third. Within the central compound, they found Bunkers with armoured shutters linked to an underground garage capable of taking eighteen cars.

"We entered with great care," Abakumov wrote. They found a safe but it was empty. The rooms, he noted, were "very simply furnished". [The place had once been described as a cross between a monastery and a concentration camp]. The SMERSH officers were only certain that they had found the right place when they discovered a sign on a door which read, "Führer's Wehrmacht Adjutant". Hitler's room was identified by a photograph of him with Mussolini.

Abakumov did not reveal any emotion over the fact that they were standing at last in the place from where Hitler had directed his merciless onslaught against the Soviet Union. He seemed far more preoccupied by the ferro-concrete constructions and their dimensions. Deeply impressed, he appears to have wondered whether Beria and Stalin might like something similar constructed: "I think it would be interesting for our specialists to inspect Hitler's headquarters and see all these well-organized Bunkers," he wrote. Despite their imminent victory, Soviet leaders did not appear to feel so very much more secure than their arch-enemy.

The SMERSH detachments and NKVD divisions attached to the Fronts were, in Stalin's own words, "indispensable" to deal with "all unreliable elements encountered in occupied territories". "The divisions have no artillery," Stalin had told General Harold Bull of the US Army during the meeting with Air Marshal Tedder, "but they are strong in automatic weapons, armoured cars and light armoured vehicles. They must also have well developed investigation and interrogation facilities".

In German territories, such as East Prussia and Silesia, the first priority of the NKVD rifle regiments was to round up or hunt down German stragglers bypassed in the advance. Soviet authorities defined each Volkssturm man as a member of the Wehrmacht, but since almost every male between fifteen and fifty-five was called up, that included a large majority of local men. Those Volkssturm members who remained at home, rather than fleeing on the treks, were thus in many cases marked down as stay-behind sabotage groups, however elderly. Over 200 German "saboteurs and terrorists" were reported "shot on the spot" by NKVD forces, but the true figure was likely to have been far higher. In Poland, Stalin's description of "unreliable elements" did not refer to the tiny minority of Poles who had collaborated with the Germans. It applied to all those who supported the Polish government in exile and the Armia Krajowa, which had launched the Warsaw Uprising the previous year. Stalin regarded the Warsaw revolt against the Germans as a "criminal act of an anti-Soviet policy". In his eyes, it was clearly an attempt to seize the Polish capital for the "emigre government in London" just before the arrival of the Red Army, which had done all the fighting and dying. His shameful betrayal of Poland to the Nazis in 1939 and Beria's massacre of Polish officers at Katyn were evidently not worth considering. He also ignored the fact that the Poles had proportionately suffered even more than the Soviet Union, losing over 20 per cent of their population. Stalin was convinced that Poland and its government was his by right of conquest, and this proprietorial sentiment was widely shared within the Red Army. When Soviet forces crossed the German frontier from Poland, many "felt that we had at last cleansed our own territory", instinctively assuming that Poland was an integral part of the Soviet Union.

Stalin's claim at Yalta that the Communist provisional government enjoyed great popularity in Poland was, of course, a totally subjective statement. Zhukov's memoirs were rather more revealing when he referred to the Poles in general, then added, "some of whom were loyal to us". Opponents to Soviet rule were designated "enemy agents", whatever their record of resistance to the Germans. The fact that the Armia Krajowa was an Allied force was ignored. In another interesting sentence, Zhukov referred to the need to control his own troops: "We had to make the educational work even more developed among all troops of the Front so that there would not be any thoughtless acts from the start of our stay". Their "stay" was to last over forty-five years.

In East Prussia, reports referred to "German bands up to 1,000 strong" attacking the rear of Rokossovsky's 2nd Belorussian Front. NKVD units mounted "sweeps through the forest to liquidate them". In most cases, however, these bands consisted of a group of local Volkssturm men hiding in forests. Sometimes they ambushed trucks, motorcyclists and supply carts to get food. In Kreisburg, NKVD troops discovered two "secret bakeries" making bread for soldiers out in the woods. Young women taking food out to them were captured by NKVD patrols.

On a sweep on 21 February, the 14th Cordon of the 127th Frontier Guards Regiment, led by Junior Lieutenant  Fatkulla  Khismatulin, was searching a patch of thick woodland when Sergeant Zavgorodny noticed woollen stockings hanging from a tree. "This made him suspect the presence of unknown persons. They searched the area and found three well-camouflaged trenches leading to a Bunker where they found three enemy soldiers with rifles".

Mines and booby traps remained a major concern. To improve mine clearance, twenty-two dogs were allocated to each NKVD Frontier Guards Regiment. Sniffer dogs - "special dogs for smelling bandits", as the report put it - were also brought in to round up more of the Germans hiding in East Prussian forests.

Many reports appear to have been dramatized and exaggerated by local commanders wanting to make their work sound more important. A report on captured "terrorists handed over to SMERSH for interrogation" revealed that all these "terrorists" were born before 1900. Lavrentii Tsanava, the NKVD chief of the 2nd Belorussian Front, reported the arrest of Ulrich Behr, a German born in 1906. "He confessed under interrogation that in February 1945 he was engaged as a spy by a resident of German Intelligence, Hauptmann Schrap. His mission was to stay in the rear of the Red Army to recruit agents and to carry out sabotage, Intelligence and terroristic activities. Fulfilling this task, Behr recruited twelve agents". On a number of occasions, stragglers or local Volkssturm soldiers were described as "Left in the rear by German Intelligence with the task of committing sabotage". The most ridiculous incident was the "sabotage of an electric power line near Hindenburg", in Silesia. After a fearsome search for culprits, this turned out to have been caused by Red Army artillery practice. Pieces of shrapnel had severed the cables.

On the other hand, when the chief of SMERSH with the 2nd Belorussian Front claimed that his men had discovered "a German sabotage school in the village of Kovalyowo", he may have been right. The names of those trained there were all Russian or Ukrainian. The Germans, in their desperation, had been resorting to the use of Soviet prisoners more and more. Many of these Russians and Ukrainians had probably volunteered in the hope of an easy way home, but even their prompt surrender to Soviet military authorities would not have saved them, to judge by other cases.

NKVD detachments seem to have spent more time searching houses and barns than combing the huge areas of forest. One detachment found a group of eight German women sitting in a hay stack. "An attentive sergeant" found that they were not women, but "German soldiers wearing women's dresses". There were many reports of this nature.

It appears that East Prussian peasant families were often as naive as their Russian counterparts. Patrols on house searches found that the inhabitants could not stop glancing at a particular object or leave it alone. In one house, the woman went to sit on a trunk. The NKVD soldiers pushed her aside and found a man hidden in the trunk. One patrol noted the worried glances of the owner of the house towards the bed. The NKVD soldiers pulled off the mattress and saw that the boards of the bed were very high. They removed the boards and found a man dressed in women's clothes. In another house they found a man hiding under the coats on a coat-stand. The man's feet were off the ground because he had strung himself up with a strap under his armpits. Usually, the most obvious hiding places were used, such as sheds, barns and hay ricks. Sniffer dogs soon found them. Only a few constructed underground refuges. Sometimes the NKVD patrols did not bother to search a house. They set it on fire, and those who were not burned to death were shot as they jumped from the windows.

While many Volkssturm men wanted to stay near their farms, stragglers from the Wehrmacht were trying to slip back through the lines to Germany. In many cases they dressed themselves in Red Army uniforms taken from soldiers they had killed. If caught, they were mostly shot on the spot. Any prisoners taken, whether German, Russian or Polish, were put in a "preliminary prison". These buildings were usually just a commandeered house with barbed wire nailed over the windows and the sign "Jail: NKVD of the USSR" chalked up on a wall outside. They were then interrogated by SMERSH, and, depending on the confession obtained, were sent off to a camp or to forced labour battalions.

NKVD chiefs also kept a sharp eye on their business affairs. Major General  Vladimir Rogatin, the commander of NKVD troops with the 2nd Belorussian Front and formerly the NKVD commander at Stalingrad, discovered "that in some [NKVD] units a majority of officers and soldiers are not engaged in their duty, but are active in the collection of looted property ... It was established that looted property was shared out within the regiments without the knowledge of division staff. In the regiments there are cases of selling and bartering looted products, sugar, tobacco, wine and gasoline taken from drivers with the advancing units of the Red Army, and motorcycles. Such a situation in the [NKVD] regiments and absence of discipline has led to a sharp increase in extraordinary events. There are soldiers who do their duty, and then there are the others who are doing nothing but loot. The looters should now be put to work along with those who do their duty". It appears that there was no question of punishing them, and the phrase "without the knowledge of division staff" is most revealing. Divisional headquarters was outraged presumably because it had discovered that it was not receiving its share of the proceeds.

There can be little doubt that the Red Army resented the "rear rats" in the NKVD, but the feeling ran both ways. The NKVD did not appreciate having to deal with ammunition and weapons abandoned by Germans and advancing units of Red Army. "All this leads to massive stealing by bandits and the local population. It has been noticed that adolescents get hold of these weapons and organize armed groups and terrorize the population. This creates favourable conditions for the growth of banditry". An order was also issued forbidding the use of grenades for fishing, a popular sport among Red Army men in the many lakes of East Prussia and Poland.

NKVD rifle regiments had to deal not only with German stragglers and Volkssturm living like outlaws in the forests, but also with groups of Red Army deserters. On 7 March, a group of "fifteen armed deserters" ambushed an NKVD patrol of the 2nd Belorussian Front near the village of Dertz. Another group of eight was also living in the forest nearby. All had deserted at the end of December 1944. Two days later, the NKVD reported "finding more deserters travelling away from the front in the rear areas". Another "bandit group" of deserters from the 3rd Army, led by a Ukrainian captain and Party member with the order of the Red Banner, who had deserted from hospital on 6 March, lived off the land round Ortelsburg. Their group, armed with sub-machine guns and pistols, was extremely mixed. It included men from Tula, Sverdlovsk, Voronezh and the Ukraine, as well as a Pole, three German women and another German man from the Ortelsburg district.

Most deserters, however, especially Belorussians and Ukrainians, many of whom were co-opted Poles, tried to sneak home in ones and twos. Some dressed up as women. Others bandaged themselves up, then went to railheads and stole the documents of wounded men. A new special pass for wounded men had to be brought in to stop this. Sometimes men simply disappeared, and nobody knew whether they had deserted or been killed in battle. On 27 January, two T-34 tanks from the 6th Guards Tank Corps in East Prussia left on an operation and neither the tanks nor the sixteen tankers and infantrymen with them were ever seen again, dead or alive.

In spite of the large numbers of NKVD troops in the rear areas, there was astonishingly little control over Red Army personnel. "The Soviet military leadership," stated a German Intelligence report of 9 February, "is concerned about the growing lack of discipline as a result of their advance into what for Russians is a prosperous region". Property was being looted and destroyed and civilians needed for forced labour were killed for little reason. Chaos was also caused by the number of civilian "'citizens of the USSR who come to East Prussia to collect captured property". The senseless death of a Hero of the Soviet Union, Colonel Gorelov, commander of a guards tank brigade, horrified many officers in the 1st Belorussian Front. At the beginning of February he was sorting out a traffic jam on the road a few kilometres from the German border and was shot by drunken soldiers. A single NKVD regiment lost five dead and thirty-four men injured from being run down by drivers during the first ten weeks of the year.

The young women traffic controllers did not blow whistles when attempting to restore order in traffic jams, they fired their sub-machine guns in the air. On one occasion behind the 2nd Belorussian Front, a young woman traffic controller called Lydia ran up to the driver's window of a vehicle which had blocked the road. She began to yell obscenities at him. This had little effect. Obscenities were yelled back at her. But then she received unexpected reinforcements in the tall and impressive form of Marshal Rokossovsky, who had leaped from his staff car, drawing his pistol in anger. When the driver saw the marshal he was literally paralyzed with fear. His officer lost his head completely. He jumped out of the cab and ran into the bushes to hide.

The entry of Soviet forces into German territory meant that Stalin's plans to force Germans to work for the Soviet Union could be put into action. On 6 February an order was issued to "mobilize all Germans fit for work from seventeen to fifty years of age and to form labour battalions of 1,000 to 1,200 men each and send them to Belorussia and the Ukraine to repair war damage". The Germans mobilized were told to report to assembly points wearing warm clothes and good boots. They were also to bring bedding, reserves of underwear and two weeks' food supply.

With Volkssturm members sent to prisoner-of-war camps, the NKVD managed to conscript only 68,680 German forced labourers by 9 March, the vast majority in the rear of Zhukov and Konev's armies. A large proportion were women. At first, many of the so-called labour battalions were used locally for rubble clearance and assisting the Red Army. The attitude of Soviet soldiers towards the conscripted civilians was one of intense Schadenfreude. Agranenko watched a Red Army corporal form up a working party of German men and women in four lines. He barked out the word of command in pidgin-German, "To Siberia, fuck you!"

By 10 April, the proportion sent back to the Soviet Union for forced labour increased rapidly, with 59,536 sent to western parts, mostly the Ukraine. Although still fewer than Stalin had planned, they suffered at least as much as their Soviet counterparts rounded up earlier by the Wehrmacht. It was naturally worst for the women. Many were forced to leave children behind with relatives or friends. In some cases they had even been forced to abandon them altogether. Their life ahead was not simply one of subjection to hard labour, but also to casual rape by guards, with venereal infections as a by-product. Another 20,000 men were put to "demontage work", stripping the factories of Silesia.

Stalin may have described the NKVD rifle regiments to General Bull as "a gendarmerie", but it is still striking how little they intervened to stop looting, rape and the random murder of civilians. There appears to be only one example of intervention in their reports. In April, a group from the NKVD 2i7th Frontier Guards Regiment arrested five soldiers who broke into a "hostel of repatriated Polish women".

Quite how little the NKVD troops were doing to protect civilians from violence of every sort is indirectly revealed in their own chiefs' reports to Beria. On 8 March, Serov, the NKVD representative with the 1st Belorussian Front, reported on the continuing wave of suicides. On 12 March, two months after Chernyakhovsky's offensive began, the NKVD chief in northern East Prussia reported to Beria that "suicides of Germans, particularly women, are becoming more and more wide spread". For those who did not have a pistol or poison, most of the suicides consisted of people hanging themselves in attics with the rope tied to the rafters. A number of women, unable to bring themselves to hang a child, cut their children's wrists first and then their own.

NKVD rifle regiments did not punish their own soldiers for rape, they punished them only if they caught venereal disease from victims, who had usually caught it from a previous rapist. Rape itself, in a typically Stalinist euphemism, was referred to as an "immoral event". It is interesting that Russian historians today still produce evasive circumlocutions. "Negative phenomena in the army of liberation," writes one on the subject of mass rape, "caused significant damage to the prestige of the Soviet Union and the armed forces and could have a negative influence in the future relations with the countries through which our troops were passing".

This sentence also indirectly acknowledges that there were many cases of rape in Poland. But far more shocking from a Russian point of view is the fact that Red Army officers and soldiers also raped Ukrainian, Russian and Belorussian women and girls released from slave labour in Germany. Many of the girls were as young as sixteen when taken to the Reich; some were just fourteen. The widespread raping of women taken forcibly from the Soviet Union completely undermines any attempts at justifying Red Army behaviour on the grounds of revenge for German brutality in the Soviet Union.

The notion that Soviet women and girls taken for slave labour in Germany "had sold themselves to the Germans" was very widespread in the Red Army, which provides part of the explanation of why they were so badly treated. Young women who had somehow managed to stay alive under Wehrmacht occupation were known as "German dolls".

It is hard to pin down the origin of this assumption about women collaborating with the enemy. It cannot be traced to remarks made by political officers in late 1944 or early 1945, yet it appears that a general idea had earlier been fomented by the regime that any Soviet citizen taken to Germany, either as a prisoner of war or as a slave labourer, had tacitly consented because they had failed to kill themselves or "join the partisans". Any notion of "the honour and dignity of the Soviet girl" was accorded only to young women serving in the Red Army or the war industries. But it is perhaps significant that, according to one woman officer, female soldiers in the Red Army started to be treated badly by their male counterparts from the time that Soviet troops moved on to foreign territory. Official complaints of rape to a senior officer were worse than useless.

By 15 February, the 1st Ukrainian Front alone had liberated 49,500 Soviet citizens and 8,868 foreigners from German forced labour, mainly in Silesia. But this represented only a small percentage of the total. Just over a week later, the Soviet authorities in Moscow estimated that they should prepare to receive and process a total of 4 million former Red Army soldiers and civilian deportees.

The first priority was not medical care for those who had suffered so appallingly in German camps, it was a screening process to weed out traitors. The second priority was political re-education for those who had been subject to foreign contamination. Both the 1st Belorussian Front and the 1st Ukrainian Front were ordered to set up three assembly and transit camps well to their rear in Poland. The re-education teams each had a mobile film unit, a radio with a loudspeaker, two accordions, a library of 20,000 Communist Party booklets, forty metres of red fabric for decorating premises and a set of portraits of Comrade Stalin.

Solzhenitsyn wrote of liberated prisoners of war, with their heads down as they were marched along. They feared retribution simply for having surrendered. But the need for reinforcements was so great that the vast majority were sent to reserve regiments for re-education and retraining, in order to have them ready for the final offensive on Berlin. This, however, was just a temporary reprieve. Another screening would come later when the fighting was over, and even those who fought heroically in the battle for Berlin were not immune from being sent to the camps later.

The Red Army's urgent need of more "meat for the cannon" meant that former slave labourers without any military training were also conscripted on the spot. And most of the "western Belorussians" and "western Ukrainians" from the regions seized by Stalin in 1939 still regarded themselves as Poles. But they were given little choice in the matter.

Once they reached the screening camp, the liberated Soviet prisoners had many questions. "What will be their status? Will they have full citizens' rights on returning to Russia? Will they be deprived in some way? Will they be sent to the camps?" Once again the Soviet authorities did not acknowledge that these were pertinent questions. They were immediately attributed to "fascist propaganda, because the Germans terrified our people in Germany and this false propaganda was intensified towards the end of the war".

The political workers in the camps gave talks, mainly of Red Army successes and the achievements of the Soviet rear, and about the Party leaders, especially Comrade Stalin. "They also show them Soviet movies," reported the chief of the political department of the 1st Ukrainian Front. "The people like them very much, they cry 'Hooray!' very often, especially when Stalin appears, and 'Long live the Red Army', and after the cinema show they go away crying in happiness. Among those who were liberated are only a few who betrayed the Motherland". In the screening camp in Krakow, only four were arrested as traitors out of a total of forty suspects. Yet these figures were to rise greatly later. There are stories, and it is very hard to know how true they are, that even forced labourers from the Soviet Union were executed shortly after liberation without any investigation. For example, the Swedish military attaché heard that after the occupation of Oppeln in Silesia, around 250 of them were summoned to a political meeting. Immediately afterwards, they were cornered by Red Army or NKVD troops. Somebody yelled a question at them demanding why they had not become partisans, then the soldiers opened fire.

The term "Traitor of the Motherland" did not just cover soldiers recruited from prison camps by the Germans. It was to cover Red Army soldiers who had been captured in 1941, some of whom had been so badly wounded that they could not fight to the end. Solzhenitsyn argued in their case that the phrase "Traitor of the Motherland", rather than "Traitor to the Motherland" was a significant Freudian slip. "They were not traitors to her. They were her traitors. It was not they, the unfortunates, who had betrayed the Motherland, but their calculating Motherland who had betrayed them". The Soviet state had betrayed them through incompetence and lack of preparation in 1941. It had then refused to acknowledge their dreadful fate in German prison camps. And the final betrayal came when they were encouraged to believe that they had redeemed themselves by their bravery in the last weeks of the war, only to be arrested after the fighting was over. Solzhenitsyn felt that "to betray one's own soldiers and proclaim them traitors was the foulest deed in Russian history".

Few Red Army soldiers, whether prisoners of war or those fortunate enough never to have been captured, would ever forgive those who had put on German uniform whatever the circumstances. Members of Vlasov's ROA, known as Vlasovtsy, SS volunteers, Ukrainian and Caucasian camp guards, General Helmuth von Pannwitz's Cossack cavalry corps, police teams, anti-partisan "security detachments" and even the unfortunate "Hiwis" [short for Hilfsfreiwillige, or volunteer helpers] were all tarred with the same brush.

Estimates for all categories range between 1 million and 1.5 millon men. Red Army authorities insisted that there had been over a million Hiwis serving in the Wehrmacht. Those taken, or who surrendered voluntarily, were frequently shot on the spot or soon afterwards. "Vlasovtsy and other accomplices of the Nazis were usually executed on the spot," the latest Russian official history states. "This is not surprising. The battle code of the Red Army infantry demanded that each soldier must 'be ruthless to all turncoats and traitors of the Motherland'. It also appears to have been a matter of regional honour. Men from their area would be found to take revenge: "A man from Orel kills a man from Orel and an Uzbek kills an Uzbek".

The NKVD troops were understandably merciless in their search for Ukrainians and Caucasians who had worked as camp guards, where they had frequently proved themselves even more brutal than their German overseers. Yet the fact that Red Army prisoners of war could be treated in virtually the same way as those who had put on enemy uniform was part of a systematic attitude within the NKVD. "There must be a single view of all the categories of prisoners," the NKVD rifle regiments in the 2nd Belorussian Front were told. Deserters, robbers and former prisoners of war were to be treated in the same way as "those who betrayed our state".

While it is extremely hard to have any sympathy for camp guards, the vast majority of the Hiwis had been brutally press-ganged or starved into submission. Of the categories in between, many who served in SS or German army units were nationalists, whether Ukrainians, Baits, Cossacks or Caucasians, all of whom hated Soviet rule from Moscow. Some Vlasovtsy had had no compunction about joining their former enemy because they had not forgiven the arbitrary executions of friends by Red Army officers and blocking detachments during 1941 and 1942. Others were peasants who loathed forced collectivization. Yet many of the ordinary Vlasov soldiers and Hiwis were often extraordinarily naive and ill-informed. A Russian interpreter in a German prisoner-of-war camp recounted how, at one propaganda meeting to recruit volunteers for Vlasov's army, a Russian prisoner put up his hand and said, "Comrade President, we would like to know how many cigarettes one is given per day in the Vlasov army?" Evidently for many, an army was just an army. What difference did it make whose uniform you wore, especially if you were fed, instead of being starved and maltreated in a camp? All of those who followed that route were to suffer far more than they had ever imagined. Even those who survived fifteen or twenty years in the Gulag after the war remained marked men. Those thought to have co-operated with the enemy did not have their civic rights restored until the fiftieth anniversary of the victory in 1995.

Letters were found on Russian prisoners of war who had served in the German Army, almost certainly as Hiwis. One, barely literate, was written on a blank fly-leaf torn from a German book. "Comrade soldiers," it said, "we give ourselves up to you begging a big favour. Tell us please why are you killing those Russian people from German prisons? We happened to be captured and then they took us to work for their regiments and we worked purely in order not to starve to death. Now these people happen to get to the Russian side, back to their own army, and you shoot them. What for, we ask. Is it because the Soviet command betrayed these people in 1941 and 1942?"

In February and March, while bitter righting continued for the Oder bridgeheads opposite Berlin, Zhukov and Rokossovsky crushed the "Baltic balcony" of Pomerania and West Prussia. In the second and third weeks of February, Rokossovsky's four armies across the Vistula pushed into the southern part of West Prussia. Then, on 24 February, Zhukov's right-flank armies and Rokossovsky's left flank forced northwards towards the Baltic to split Pomerania in two.

The most vulnerable German formation was the Second Army. It still just managed to keep open the last land route from East Prussia along the Frische Nehrung sandbar to the Vistula estuary. The Second Army, with its left flank just across the Nogat in Elbing and maintaining a foothold in the Teutonic Knights' castle of Marienburg, was the most overstretched of all Army Group Vistula.

Rokossovsky's attack began on 24 February. The 19th Army advanced north-westwards towards the area between Neustettin and Baldenburg, but its troops were shaken by the ferocity of the fighting and it faltered. Rokossovsky sacked the army commander, pushed a tank corps into the attack as well, and forced them on. The combination of the tank corps and the 2nd and 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps led to the rapid fall of Neustettin, the "cornerstone" of the Pomeranian defence line.

Soviet cavalry played a successful part in the reduction of Pomerania. They captured several towns on their own, such as the seaside town of Leba, mainly by surprise. The 2nd Guards Cavalry Corps, which formed the extreme right of Zhukov's 1st Belorussian Front, was commanded by Lieutenant General Vladimir Viktorovich Kryukov, a resourceful leader married to Russia's favourite folk-singer, Lydia Ruslanova.

Zhukov's attack northwards some fifty kilometres east of Stettin began in earnest on 1 March. Combining the 3rd Shock Army and the 1st and 2nd Guards Tank Army, it was a far stronger force. The weak German divisions did not stand a chance. The leading tank brigades dashed ahead, charging through towns where unprepared civilians stared at them in horror. The 3rd Shock Army and the 1st Polish Army coming behind consolidated their gains.

On 4 March, the 1st Guards Tank Army reached the Baltic near Kolberg. Colonel Klavdiy Morgunov, the commander of the 45th Guards Tank Brigade, the first to reach the sea, sent bottles of saltwater to Zhukov and to Katukov, his army commander. It proved Mikhail Katukov's dictum: "The success of the advance is determined by our huge mechanized power, which is now greater than it has ever been. A colossal rapidity of advance means small losses and the enemy is scattered".

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.


Gustav Krukenberg with General Alfred Emil Friedrich von Vollard-Bockelberg,
a German artillery general who served as the military commander in Paris from
June until 1 August 1940, following the Nazi capture of France in May 1940.

Gustav Krukenberg was born in Bonn, gaining a doctorate in law and joining the army in 1907. During World War I, he served as an ordnance officer and adjutant and was promoted to Hauptmann in 1918. After the war he served as the private secretary to the Foreign minister and was briefly a director in industry. He joined the Nazi Party in 1932 and he worked at the propaganda ministry after Adolf Hitler came to power and was a member of the Allgemeine SS.

With the outbreak of World War II Krukenberg re-joined the army as a major and served on the General Staff in Paris. In December 1943 he transferred from the Wehrmacht Heer, in which he had reached the rank of Oberstleutnant, to the Waffen-SS which he joined with the equivalent rank of Obersturmbannführer. He was promoted three more times, obtaining the rank of Brigadeführernin 1944. A fluent French speaker, he commanded the French volunteers of the SS Charlemagne Division.

On the night of 23/24 April 1945, Krukenberg received a call from Army Group Vistula headquarters. He was summoned to bring the remains of his division to help with the defence of Berlin. Krukenberg roused his men and informed them of the situation. He asked for volunteers to go to Berlin. Although the majority wanted to go, Krukenberg and Hauptsturmführer Henri Joseph Fenet only chose as many volunteers as they could provide transportation for.  He breached several obstacles to lead the remnants of the division into the city at 22:00 hrs on 24 April 1945.

On 25 April, Krukenberg was appointed by General Helmuth Weidling as the commander of [Berlin] Defence Sector C, which included the Nordland Division, whose previous commander Joachim Ziegler was relieved of his command the same day. The arrival of the French SS men bolstered the Nordland Division whose "Norge" and "Danmark" regiments had been decimated in the fighting against the Soviet Red Army forces.

By 26 April, with Neukölln heavily penetrated by Soviet combat groups, Krukenberg prepared fallback positions for Sector C defenders around Hermannplatz. He moved his headquarters into the opera house. As the Nordland Division withdrew towards Hermannplatz, the Frenchmen under Fenet and some attached Hitler Youth destroyed fourteen Soviet tanks; one machine gun position by the Halensee bridge managed to hold up Soviet forces for 48 hours.

After an appeal by Krukenberg, General Weidling agreed to allow the re-deployment of the Norland Division as one unit and not scattered in its employment. Weidling created two sub-sections of Sector "Z" - the Western Sub-sector would be commanded by Oberleutant Seifert. His command post was in the Air Ministry Building. The Eastern Sub-sector would be commanded by Krukenberg where most of the remains of the Nordland were already fighting. The demarcation line was the Wilhelmstrasse. Forced to fall back on 27 April, Krukenberg's Nordland headquarters was a carriage in the Stadtmitte U-Bahn station in Defence sector Z [Central District.]

The Frenchmen under Krukenberg proved particularly good at destroying tanks; of the 108 Soviet tanks destroyed in the centre district, they had accounted for "about half" of them. On 29 April 1945 Krukenberg awarded one of the last Knight's Crosses of the war to Unterscharführer Eugène Vaulot.

It is widely believed that on 1 May, Krukenberg attempted to stem the Soviet advance by ordering sappers to blow up the S-Bahn tunnel under the Landwehr canal, causing 25 kilometres of S-Bahn and U-Bahn tunnels to flood, which led to many casualties. But according to author A. Stephan Hamilton, it is far more probable that the massive bombardment of the city by hundreds of tons of shells and rockets by the Soviets caused the flooding of the tunnels. As the Germans made extensive use of the underground [U-Bahn] for redeployment of troops, makeshift hospitals and just a place to take refuge from the constant shelling, it seems highly doubtful that Krukenberg ordered the destruction of the U-Bahn tunnels.

After Hitler's death, Krukenberg assembled most of his escort made up of French SS for the breakout. They joined up with Ziegler and a larger group of Nordland troops. They crossed the Spree just before dawn. Near the Gesundbrunnen U-Bahn station they came under heavy fire. Brigadeführer Joachim Ziegler was gravely wounded and died on 2 May. Later, Krukenberg made it to Dahlem where he hid out in an apartment for a week before surrendering to the Red Army.

He died on 23 October 1980, at the age of 92.

The whole of the German Second Army and part of the Third Panzer Army were now completely cut off from the Reich. And as if to emphasize the Baltic catastrophe, news arrived that Finland, albeit under heavy pressure from the Soviet Union, had declared war the day before on her former ally, Nazi Germany. Among those cut oft to the east of Zhukov's thrust was the SS Charlemagne Division, already greatly reduced from its strength of 12,000 men. Along with three German divisions, they had been positioned near Belgard. General Hans von Tettau ordered them to try to break out north-westwards towards the Baltic coast at the mouth of the Oder. The Charlemagne commander, SS Brigadeführer Gustav Krukenberg, accompanied 1,000 of his Frenchmen on silent compass marches through snow-laden pine forests. As things turned out, part of this ill-assorted group of right-wing intellectuals, workers and reactionary aristocrats, united only by their ferocious anti-Communism, was to form the last defence of Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin.

Hitler, however, demonstrated scant sympathy for the defenders of his Reich. When the commander of the Second Army, Colonel General Walter Weiss, warned Führerheadquarters that the Elbing pocket, which had cost so much blood already, could not be held much longer, Hitler simply retorted, "'Weiss is a liar, like all generals".

The Luftwaffe’s impotence against the air raids began to corrode Hitler's 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".

On 8 March, just two days after the start of the westward sweep on Danzig, Soviet forces occupied the town of Stolp unopposed, and two days later, the 1st Guards Tank Army and the 19th Army reached Lauenburg. A refugee column fleeing for the ports was overtaken by a tank brigade. Women and children fled, stumbling through the snow, to shelter in the forest while Soviet tanks crushed their carts under their tracks. They were more fortunate than other trek columns.

Not far from Lauenburg, Red Army troops discovered another concentration camp. This was a women's camp, and their doctors immediately set to work caring for the survivors.

The fate of Pomeranian families was similar to those in East Prussia. Himmler had forbidden the evacuation of civilians from eastern Pomerania, so around 1.2 million were cut off by the thrust north to the Baltic on 4 March. They had also been deprived of news, just as in East Prussia. But most families had heard rumours and, refusing to trust the Nazi authorities, they prepared themselves.

The first sign that Soviet troops had arrived was a signal flare which shot out of a plantation of firs. It was rapidly followed by the roar of tank engines. Small trees were crushed flat as the tanks emerged like monsters from the forest. A couple of them fired their main armament to intimidate the villagers, then sub-machine gunners fanned out to search the houses. They fired short bursts on entering rooms to cow those inside. This brought down a shower of plaster. They were not the conquerors the Germans had expected. Their shabby brown uniforms, stained and ripped, their boots falling to pieces and lengths of string used instead of gun slings were so unlike images of the victorious Wehrmacht projected in newsreels earlier in the war.

Looting was carried out briskly with cries of "Uri Uri!"' as the Soviet soldiers went round grabbing watches. The soldiers stuffed their booty down the fronts of their padded jackets and ran out to rejoin their armoured vehicles.

The civilians, shaking with a mixture of fear and relief that they had survived this first encounter with the dreaded enemy, suddenly faced the second wave, in this case a cavalry detachment. They had more time, which meant time to rape. The door was thrown open and a small group of Red Army soldiers came in to pick their victims.

"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.

Hitler had sacked General Weiss, the commander of the Second Army, for having warned Führerheadquarters that Elbing could not be held. In his place, he had appointed General Dietrich von Saucken, the former commander of the Großdeutschland Corps.

A cavalry officer who regularly wore both a sword and a monocle, Saucken personified the archetypal aristocratic Prussian conservative who despised the "braune Bande" [brown mob] of Nazis. When he was ordered to take command of the Second Army on 12 March 1945, he came to Hitler's headquarters with his left hand resting casually on his cavalry sabre, his monocle in his eye, the Knight's Cross with Swords and Oak Leaves at his neck, then saluted and gave a slight bow.

This was three "outrages" at once. He had not given the Nazi salute with raised arm and the words "Heil Hitler", as had been regulation since 20 July 1944, he had not surrendered his weapon on entering and had kept his monocle in his eye when saluting Hitler.

Hitler asked Guderian to brief him on the situation in Danzig. Once that was completed, Hitler told Saucken that he must take his orders from the Gauleiter, Albert Forster. Saucken returned Hitler's gaze, and striking the marble slab of the map table with the flat of his hand, he said:

"I have no intention, Herr Hitler, of placing myself under the orders of a Gauleiter".

In doing this he had bluntly contradicted Hitler and not addressed him as Mein Führer. Even Guderian, who had been through more rows with Hitler than most people, was shaken. Yet onlookers were even more surprised by Hitler's acquiescence. "All right, Saucken," he replied weakly. "Keep the command to yourself".  Hitler dismissed the General without shaking his hand and Saucken left the room with only the merest hint of a bow. Saucken flew to Danzig the next day. He was determined to hold the two ports to allow the escape of as many civilians as possible.

It was estimated that Danzig's population was swollen to 1.5 million and that there were at least 100,000 wounded. Amid the chaos, the SS began seizing stragglers at random and hanging them from trees as deserters. Food was desperately short. A 21,000-ton supply ship hit a mine and sank with six days' supplies for Danzig and Gdynia.

The Kriegsmarine not only demonstrated extraordinary tenacity and bravery in the evacuation, it also continued to give offshore fire support despite constant air attacks and the threat of torpedoes from Soviet submarines of the Baltic Fleet.

The cruisers 'Prinz Eugen' and 'Leipzig' and the old battleship 'Schlesien' thundered away with their main armament at the encircling Red Army. But on 22 March, the Red Army smashed the Danzig-Gdynia defence perimeter in the middle, between the two ports. Soon both came under accurate artillery fire in addition to the never-ending raids by Soviet aviation.

Fighter bombers strafed the towns and the port areas. Soviet Shturmoviks treated civilian and military targets alike. A church was as good as a Bunker, especially when it seemed as if the objective was to flatten every building which still protruded conspicuously above the ground.

Wounded waiting on the quays to be embarked were riddled on their stretchers. Tens of thousands of women and children, terrified of losing their places in the queues to escape, provided unmissable targets. There was no time to help or pity the dead and injured. Only children, orphaned from one instant to the next, would be gathered up. And with the unremitting racket of the 88mm and light flak anti-aircraft batteries, nobody could hear their sobbing.

The scratch crews of the Kriegsmarine, using any craft available -tenders, barges, pinnaces, tugs and E-boats- returned in a constant shuttle to snatch the civilians and wounded to ferry them across to the small port of Hela at the tip of the nearby peninsula. Destroyers offshore gave the small boats as much anti-aircraft covering fire as possible. The sailors hardly ever faltered, even though a near miss was enough to overturn some of the smaller craft. On 25 March, a young woman from the Polish resistance brought General Katukov a plan of the Gdynia defence system. At first he thought it might be a trick, but it proved to be authentic.

As the Soviet troops fought into the outskirts of Gdynia, the Kriegsmarine carried on, even accelerating its rhythm to grab as many refugees as possible before the end. Their boats now had to contend with another weapon. Katukov's tank crews had learned to adapt their gunnery to targets at sea, making it an even more dangerous task.

A fragment of a platoon from the Großdeutschland, which had escaped amid nightmare scenes from the final evacuation of Memel at the most north-eastern point of East Prussia, deciding to shelter in a vaulted cellar as Soviet troops fought towards the port, found a doctor delivering a baby by the light of a couple of lanterns. The soldiers hoped for the child's sake, as they made their way down to the port, that it would die.

By that evening of 26 March the Red Army was in possession of the town and port.

Dietrich von Saucken took part in Battle of France, Balkan Campaign, and Operation Barbarossa as commander of a motorised brigade of the 4th Panzer Division. He was promoted to Generalmajor on 1 January 1942 and appointed divisional commander during the Battle of Moscow. He was wounded and thereafter spent several months in the hospital. He was awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 6 January, and was appointed commandant of the School for Mobile Troops [Schule für Schnelle Truppen]. On 1 April 1943 he was promoted to Generalleutnant; in June he returned to the 4th Panzer Division, which he commanded during the Battle of Kursk.

Von Saucken became acting commander of the III Panzer Corps in late June 1944. He received both the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords in 1944.

In June and July, von Saucken formed Kampfgruppe von Saucken [Battlegroup von Saucken] an ad hoc unit composed of the remnants of several units that had been destroyed in the Soviet Operation Bagration against the Army Group Centre. Composed mainly of elements of the 5th Panzer Division, 170th Infantry Division and the 505th Heavy Panzer Battalion, the battlegroup was later designated the XXXIX Panzer Corps. During the Soviet Minsk Offensive, it temporarily maintained an escape route across the Berezina River for retreating German soldiers.

Von Saucken left the XXXIX Panzer Corps in late September 1944, when he took command of the forming Panzerkorps Großdeutschland. The still incomplete corps was divided when half of it, including von Saucken, was ordered eastward to stop the Vistula-Oder Offensive. He led the corps until February 1945, when he was removed from his position and placed in the Führerreserve by Heinz Guderian, the Chief of Staff of the Army at the OKH.

A month later von Saucken commanded the 2nd Army in Prussia and provided logistical support to the Evacuation of East Prussia. In April, his army was renamed to Army East Prussia. On 8 May, von Saucken received notice that he had been awarded the Knight's Cross with Oak leaves, Swords, and Diamonds, 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 of 9 May 1945.

After surrendering on the Hel Peninsula, Saucken went into Soviet captivity. Initially he was imprisoned in the Lubyanka Building and the Oryol Prison before being transferred to the Siberian Tayshet camp in 1949. Kept in solitary confinement, ordered to hard labor and maltreated by Soviet interrogators after refusing to sign false confessions, Saucken was confined to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Released from Soviet captivity in 1955, he settled in Pullach near Munich. He died there in 1980, aged 88.

The sack of Gdynia and the treatment of the survivors appear to have shaken even the Soviet military authorities. "The number of extraordinary events is growing," the political department reported in its usual vocabulary of euphemisms, "as well as immoral phenomena and military crimes. Among our troops there are disgraceful and politically harmful phenomena when, under the slogan of revenge, some officers and soldiers commit outrages and looting instead of honestly and selflessly fulfilling their duty to their Motherland".

Just to the south, meanwhile, Danzig too was under heavy assault from the west. The defenders were forced back bit by bit, and by 28 March Danzig also fell, with appalling consequences for the remaining civilians. The remainder of Saucken's troops withdrew eastwards into the Vistula estuary, where they remained besieged until the end of the war.

For German officers, especially Pomeranians and Prussians, the loss of the Hanseatic city of Danzig, with its fine old buildings marked by distinctive stepped gables, was a disaster. It signified the end of German Baltic life for ever. Yet while mourning the loss of a long-established culture, they closed their eyes to the horrors of the regime which they had so effectively supported in its war aims. They certainly knew about Stutthof concentration camp in the Vistula estuary, because Wehrmacht troops, not just SS, had been involved in the massacre of its prisoners as the Red Army approached.

West Prussia and Pomerania may not have suffered quite as much as East Prussia, but the fate of civilians was still terrible. Their culture was also exterminated as churches and old buildings went up in flames. The Soviet commandant of Lauenburg complained to Captain Agranenko that it was "absolutely impossible to stop the violence". Agranenko found that Red Army soldiers did not bother with official euphemisms for rape, such as "violence against the civil population" or "immorality". They simply used the phrase "to fuck". A Cossack officer told him that German women were "too proud". You had to "get astride" them. Others complained that German women looked "like draught-horses". In Glowitz, he noted that women were "using children like a screen". Soviet soldiers once again demonstrated an utterly bewildering mixture of irrational violence, drunken lust and spontaneous kindness to children.

Young women, desperate to escape the notice of soldiers, rubbed wood-ash and soot into their faces. They tied peasant headkerchiefs low over the brow, bundled themselves up to hide their figures and hobbled along the roadside like ancient crones. Yet this concealment of youth was no automatic safeguard. Many elderly women were raped as well.

A few women had the idea of dotting their faces with red to indicate spotted typhus. Others discovered the Russian word for typhus and its Cyrillic form in order to put up warning notices on their doors implying that the household was infected. In more remote areas, whole communities hid in farmsteads away from major routes. A lookout always remained close to the road, with a flashlight at night or a shirt to wave by day to warn of Soviet troops turning off towards their hiding place. Women then rushed to hide, and poultry and pigs were driven into pens concealed in the forest. Such precautions for survival must have been used in the Thirty Years War. They were probably as old as warfare itself.

Of all the signs of fighting which refugees found when forced to return home after the fall of Danzig, the worst were the "gallows alleys" where SS and Feldgendarmerie had hanged deserters. Signs had been tied around their necks, such as, "Here I hang because I did not believe in the  Führer".

Many Pomeranians were murdered in the first week of occupation. Even those landowners who had been part of the anti-Nazi resistance fared little better. Villagers and French prisoners of war sometimes bravely came to the defence of a well-liked landowner, but many others were left to their fate.

Just after the capture of Pomerania, Captain Agranenko, always the playwright collecting new material, travelled round taking notes. He observed that when he was scribbling away in his little notebook, people looked at him fearfully, thinking that he must be a member of the NKVD. On 23 March, when in Kolberg, he exulted in the sudden arrival of spring weather. "Birds are singing. Buds are opening. Nature does not care about war". He watched Red Army soldiers trying to learn to ride their plundered bicycles. They were wobbling dangerously all over the place. In fact, Front commands issued an order forbidding them to ride bicycles on the road as so many of them were being knocked down and killed. The rapid invasion of Pomerania had liberated thousands of foreign workers and prisoners. At night, the roads were lined with their campfires. By day, they embarked on their long trudge home. Most of them had fashioned national flags to identify them as non-German. Agranenko and some other officers encountered some Lithuanians displaying their flag. "We explained to them," he wrote, "that now their national flag is red". Clearly Agranenko, like most Russians, regarded the Soviet Union's seizure of the Baltic states as quite natural, even if they did not realize that it was part of the secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet pact.

While the liberated foreign labourers and prisoners carried their flags, Germans wore white armbands and hung white flags from their houses to emphasize their surrender. They knew that any sign of resistance or even resentment would do them no good. The Soviet-appointed Bürgermeistern Küstrin, a fifty-five-year-old Jewish jeweller named Usef Ludinsky, wore a bowler hat and a red armband when he read out proclamations from the military authorities from the town-hall steps. The German inhabitants listened in silence. In Leba, the cavalry which captured it had looted all the clocks and watches, so each morning the Bürgermeister had to walk up and down the streets ringing a large handbell and shouting "Nach Arbeit!"' to wake the townsfolk mobilized for labour by the Soviet authorities.

In Stargard, Agranenko observed a tankist in padded leather helmet approach the fresh graves in the square opposite the magistrate's court. The young soldier read the name on each grave, evidently searching. He stopped at one, took off his tank helmet and bowed his head. Then, he suddenly jerked his sub-machine gun up and fired a long burst. He was saluting his commander buried there at his feet.

Agranenko also chatted with young women traffic controllers. "Our weddings won't happen soon," they told him. "We've already forgotten that we're girls. We're just soldiers". They seemed to sense that they would be part of that generation condemned to post-war spinsterhood by the Red Army's 9 million casualties.

While Zhukov's armies had been destroying the "Baltic balcony", Marshal Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front was still engaged in Silesia. His main obstacle was the fortress city of Breslau, astride the Oder, defended under the fanatical leadership of the Gauleiter, Karl Hanke. But Konev did not want to miss the Berlin operation, so he besieged the city, as Zhukov had done with Poznan, and pushed on across the Oder from the Steinau and Ohlau bridgeheads. His objective was the Neisse, the southern tributary of the Oder, from which he would launch his assault to the south of Berlin.

On 8 February, Konev's armies attacked from the two bridgeheads either side of Breslau. The main thrust came from the Steinau bridgehead against the so-called Fourth Panzer Army, whose defence line quickly crumbled. To speed the advance from the Ohlau bridgehead, Konev then switched Rybalko's 3rd Guards Tank Army. By 12 February, Breslau was surrounded. Over 80,000 civilians were trapped in the city. Dmitri Lelyushenko's 4th Guards Tank Army pushed forward to the Neisse, which it reached in six days.

During the advance, the tank troops found that only a few inhabitants had remained behind.

Lelyushenko then had a nasty surprise. He found that the remnants of the Großdeutschland Corps and Nehring's XXIV Panzer Corps were attacking his lines of communication and rear echelon. After two days of fighting, however, the Germans had to pull back. The result was that Konev remained in firm control of over 100 kilometres of the Neisse. His start-line for the Berlin operation was secured and Breslau was surrounded. But fighting still continued south of the Ohlau bridgehead throughout the rest of February and March against the German Seventeenth Army.

The Nazis had thought that the fact of fighting on German soil would automatically fanaticize resistance, but this does not always appear to have been the case. "Morale is being completely destroyed by warfare on German territory," a prisoner from the 359th Infantry Division told his Soviet interrogator. "We are told to fight to the death, but it is a complete blind alley".

Großddutschland is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be part of the Waffen-SS, whereas it was actually a unit of the regular German Army Heer. It  originally started out as a ceremonial guard unit in the 1920s and by the late 1930s had grown into a regiment of the Wehrmacht. The regiment would later be expanded and renamed Infantry Division Großdeutschland in 1942 [the best-equipped division in the Wehrmacht, which received equipment before all other units, including some Waffen-SS units] and after significant reorganization was renamed Panzergrenadier Division Großdeutschland in May 1943.

In early August 1944, the division was transferred to East Prussia from Army Group South Ukraine. Over the next months, Großdeutschland was involved in heavy fighting in both East Prussia, including a counter-attack on Wilkowischken and the Baltic States, suffering large casualties in both men and materiel. The division was nearly destroyed during the battles in the Memel bridgehead.

In November 1944 the division and several attached units were redesignated as Panzerkorps Großdeutschland, but by March 1945, the Panzer Grenadier Division Großdeutschland had been reduced to around 4,000 men after the Battle of Memel. By 25 April 1945, the division was destroyed in the battles around Pillau A few hundred of the surviving personnel made their way to Schleswig-Holstein and surrendered to British forces. The remainder surrendered to the Soviet army.

General Schörner had the idea of a counter-attack against the town of Lauban, starting on 1 March. The 3rd Guards Tank Army was taken by surprise and the town was reoccupied. Göbbels was ecstatic. On 8 March, he drove down to  Görlitz, newsreel cameras followed him, ready to capture moments of steely defiance and resolve for the benefit of those audiences watching "Die Deutsche Wochenschau" and met Schörner. Together, they drove to Lauban, where they made speeches of mutual congratulation in the market square to a parade of regular troops, Volkssturm and Hitler Youth, in the last sizeable Nazi rally of the war. Göbbels presented Iron Crosses to some Hitler Youth for the cameras, and then went to visit the Soviet tanks destroyed in the operation.

 

"Wochenschau" presented   Göbbels' rally on film a few days later. Predictably, with nothing of material consequence to offer his audience, he concentrated on the atrocities committed by Soviet troops upon German civilians, and linked these to a growing resolve among "new divisions", that would move to a mass offensive with icy determination, neither expecting nor granting quarter, and with their Panzerfausts at the ready, proceed to exact a terrible retribution on the eastern invaders.

And what of the Führer? Ordinary Germans had not seen Hitler for a long time; and they had last heard him on 30 January, when the radio carried his speech on the twelfth anniversary of the Nazis coming to power. Göbbels, to compensate, resorted to a rhetorical device. He referred to what was essentially an entirely fictitious meeting with Germany's leader, wherein, for the benefit of his mouthpiece, and therefore the Greater Reich, the Leader supposedly reaffirmed his belief that the present crises would be overcome, and that victory remained a certainty - if only the people kept faith and fuelled that faith with absolute fanaticism.

These were, of course, Göbbels' words, not Hitler's; though ironically, Hitler would be seen at the Oder front only a few days later, visiting troops belonging to Busse's 9th Army, and seeking to instill senior officers with the appropriate resolve when he visited the army headquarters at Prenzlau. This is close to being the last film we have of Hitler - the film of his decorating Hitler Youth in the grounds of the Berlin Chancellery, although often attributed to his birthday on 20 April, was actually shot in March - photos from the same event appeared in a March edition of one of the last Nazi journals. 

As for the Oder "Wochenschau" report, the film presented Hitler not just as Germany's leader, but the eventual leader of Europe.

 
  Judging by their expressions, Hitler and his men still exuded confidence when he visited the Oder front, 25 miles from Berlin,  in March 1945.

Undoubtedly, Hitler was also sustained in his hope by the more credible of the statistics placed before him. The Soviet advance to the Oder, and the subsequent fighting in Silesia and Pomerania, had proved very costly. German figures suggested that Stalin was now losing thousands more tanks than he was capable of replacing. Furthermore, in both Silesia and the northern regions of the former Czechoslovakia, Schörner's Army Group Centre had successfully withstood, and in some places actually pushed back, the Soviet formations sent against it. Schörner himself certainly embodied the sort of spirit Hitler was looking for - he held ground, he did not retreat, abandon designated fortresses, or allow his rear areas to become a clutter of stragglers and out and out deserters. Although often presented, not without justification, as an avid Nazi automaton, it is hard to argue against his record in holding ground, and doing a more than reasonable job against the Soviet automatons sent against him. At the very end, Hitler would describe Schörner as the only true warlord Germany possessed.

The continued strength displayed by the German Army also played a role. Despite suffering about 660,000 casualties in January and February, the German strength on the Eastern Front -about 2 million- was in fact slightly higher than at the start of the offensive, though 556,000 of these were bottled up in Courland and East Prussia. The quality of the troops is an entirely different matter. Despite losses estimated at 680,000 in January -less than other recent major offensives- the Soviet forces were in good shape for continuing their offensive.

Mentally it is unwise to see the Führer as being in a continual state of raging fury. The -chew the carpet- Hitler, who, in varying degrees of parody, was presented in film after film [Guinness, Finlay, Carlyle] can be safely discarded by audiences. if one sifts through the transcripts of the military situation conferences that survived the war [and they run into many hundreds of pages] there is precious little sign in any of them of stand up, uncontrollable rows between Hitler and those commanders present, whatever the news.  Bruno Ganz in "Downfall probably came closest to realizing the Hitler of the final days - albeit a man broken by despair and perceived and actual "treachery" rather than delusions bred in a world no one else was privy to.

The idiomatic German expression "Teppichfresser" means someone who wears out the carpet.

The mental image is of someone who paces up and down anticipating or in anxious thought until his feet wear holes in the carpet, i.e. it is his feet that are "devouring" the carpet. This was the sense in which Germans characterized Hitler's behavior in situations during 1938-39 as that of a Teppichfresser.

German speakers did not understand this to mean Hitler applied his teeth to a carpet, either really or metaphorically. They knew what the metaphor had already meant for 50 years, perhaps much longer.

William L. Shirer told the tale of Hitler would getting into such a rage that he would fall down on the floor and chew on the edge of the first carpet available, as early as 1938. This was quoted by Walter Langer in "The Mind of Adolf Hitler" which was an "analysis" of Hitler done by Langer, a psychoanalyst, for the Office of Strategic Services in 1941.

Langer's staff collected anecdotes and observations of Hitler's health and behavior from all available sources. Langer did go on to say, however, that no one close to Hitler had ever seen him behave in that manner.

Hitler's closest associates, [Speer, Günsche, etc.] said that while Hitler had quite the temper, he never descended to that depth. John Toland also debunks Shirer's account, indicating that "chewing the carpet" meant long animated discussion or ranting, similar to the way amateur radio operators describe long on-air discussions as "chewing the rag".

One wonders how Shirer could so misinterpret the meaning of the expression.

 


 

 

 

The following day, Schörner's next operation to recapture a town was launched. This time it was the turn of Striegau, forty kilometres west of Breslau. The German forces who retook the town claimed that they found the few surviving civilians wandering around, psychologically broken by the atrocities committed by Konev's troops. They swore that they would kill every Red Army soldier who fell into their hands. But the behaviour of German troops at this time was certainly not above reproach. The Nazi authorities were not disconcerted by reports of them killing Soviet prisoners with spades, but they were shocked by more and more reports of what Bormann termed "looting by German soldiers in evacuated areas". He issued orders through Field Marshal Keitel that officers were to address their soldiers at least once a week on their duty towards German civilians.

The fighting in Silesia was merciless, with both sides imposing a brutal battle discipline on their own men. General Schörner had declared war on malingerers and stragglers, who were hanged by the roadside without even the pretence of a summary court martial. According to soldiers from the 85th Pioneer Battalion taken prisoner, twenty-two death sentences were carried out in the town of Neisse alone during the second half of March. "The number of death sentences for running away from the field of battle, desertion, self-inflicted wounds and so forth is increasing every week," the 1st Ukrainian Front reported on prisoner interrogations. "The death sentences are read out to all soldiers".

Soviet propaganda specialists in the 7th Department of Front headquarters soon discovered through the interrogation of prisoners that resentment in the ranks against commanders could be exploited. With bad communications and sudden withdrawals, it was quite easy to make German soldiers believe that their commander had run away and left them behind. For example, the 20th Panzer Division, when surrounded near Oppeln, began receiving leaflets which said, "Colonel General Schörner leaves his troops in Oppeln in the lurch! He takes his armoured command vehicle and drives like hell for the Neisse". German soldiers were also suffering badly from lice. They had not changed their underclothes or visited a field bath unit since December. All they received was "a completely useless louse powder". They had also received no pay for the months of January, February and March and most soldiers had not received any letters from home since before Christmas.

For officers and soldiers alike, the angel of fear in the form of the SMERSH detachment hovered just behind their backs. After all their suffering, their wounds and their lost comrades, they felt great resentment against SMERSH operatives, who longed to accuse them of treason or cowardice without ever facing the dangers of the front themselves.

The soldiers of the 1st Ukrainian Front were not only exhausted after all the battles and advances, they were also dirty, louse-infested and increasingly ill from dysentery. A large part of the problem was due to the fact that health and safety at work was not a high priority in the Red Army. Underclothes were never washed. Drinking water was seldom boiled and chlorine was not added, despite instructions. Above all, food was prepared in appallingly unsanitary conditions. "Livestock was slaughtered incorrectly on dirty straw by the side of the road", a report pointed out, "then taken to the canteen. Sausages were made on a dirty table and the man making the sausages was wearing a filthy coat".

By the second week in March, the authorities had woken to the danger of typhus, although three types of typhus had been identified in Poland during the winter. Even the NKVD troops were in a bad state. Between a third and two thirds were lice-ridden. The figure for frontline troops must have been much higher. Things started to improve only when the front line in Silesia became stabilized and each regiment set up its banya, or bathhouse, behind the lines. Three baths a month were regarded as perfectly adequate. Underwear had to be treated with a special liquid known as "SK", which no doubt contained terrifying chemicals. An order was issued that all troops were to be vaccinated against typhus and polio, but there was probably not enough time. On 15 March, Konev, under pressure from Stalin, began his assault on southern Silesia. The left flank of the 1st Ukrainian Front cut off the 30,000 German troops round Oppeln with a thrust southwards towards Neustadt out of the Ohlau bridgehead. This was combined with an attack across the Oder between Oppeln and Ratibor to complete the encirclement. In very little time, the 59th and 21st Armies encircled the Estonian 20th SS Division and the 168th Infantry Division. The Soviet armies' 7th Department propaganda specialists sent in "anti-fascist" German prisoners of war in an attempt to convince the surrounded troops that Soviet prisons were not as bad as they had heard, but many of these envoys were shot on officers' orders.

The only thing which German soldiers found amusing at this time was the way that Estonians and Ukrainians in the SS picked up Soviet leaflets printed in German and showed them to Landsers, asking them what they said. The Landsers thought it funny because the mere possession of one of these leaflets, even to roll a cigarette or wipe your bottom, risked a death sentence. On 20 March, near the village of Rinkwitz, Red Army soldiers caught and shot down staff officers of the Estonian 20th SS Division who were hurriedly burning documents. Some half-burned papers, carried on the wind, were retrieved from peasants' back yards. These reports included orders and sentences carried out by SS military tribunals.

German attempts from outside to break the Soviet ring round the Oppeln Kessel were repulsed and half of the 30,000 Germans trapped there were killed. Konev was assisted by an attack further to the south-east by the neighbouring 4th Ukrainian Front. On 30 March, the 60th Army and the 4th Guards Tank Army seized Ratibor. The 1st Ukrainian Front now controlled virtually all of Upper Silesia.

Despite the constant loss of German territory, the Nazi leadership still did not change its ways. The grandiose title of Army Group Vistula became not merely unconvincing, but ridiculous. Even this, however, was not quite as preposterous as its commander-in-chief's new field command post west of the Oder.

Himmler's headquarters were established ninety kilometres north of Berlin in a forest near Hassleben, a village to the south-east of Prenzlau. This distance from the capital reassured the Reichsführer that there was little risk from bombing raids.

The camp consisted mainly of standard wooden barrack blocks surrounded by a high barbed-wire fence. The only exception was the "Reichsführerbaracke", a specially built and much larger building, expensively furnished. "The bedroom," noted one of his staff officers, "was very elegant in reddish wood, with a suite of furniture and carpet in pale green. It was more the boudoir of a great lady than of a man commanding troops in war". The entrance hall even had a huge imitation Gobelins wall tapestry with a "Nordic" theme. Everything came from SS factories, even the expensive porcelain. So much, thought army officers, for the Nazi leadership's practice of "total warfare", as vaunted by Göbbels. Himmler's routine was equally unimpressive for a field commander. After a bath, a massage from his personal masseur and breakfast, he was finally ready for work at 10.30 a.m. Whatever the crisis, Himmler's sleep was not to be disturbed, even if an urgent decision had to be made. All he really wanted to do was to present medals. He greatly enjoyed such ceremonies, which offered an effortless assertion of his own preeminence. According to Guderian, his one dream was to receive the Knight's Cross himself.

Himmler's performance at situation conferences in the Reich Chancellery, in contrast, remained pathetically inadequate. According to his operations officer, Colonel Eismann, Himmler increasingly repeated at the Reich Chancellery the words Kriegsgericht and Standgericht, court martial and drumhead court martial, as a sort of deadly mantra. Retreat meant lack of will and that could only be cured by the harshest measures. He also spoke constantly of "incompetent and cowardly generals".

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Standgericht, or summary version, was naturally the method which Führerheadquarters advocated. It had already been sketched out in principle. Just after the Red Army reached the Oder at the beginning of February, Hitler had copied Stalin's "Not one step back" order of 1942, with the creation of blocking detachments. It included, as paragraph 5, the instruction, "Military tribunals should take the strictest possible measures based on the principle that those who are afraid of an honest death in battle deserve the mean death of cowards". But whatever the faults of generals, they were sent home or transferred to another post. It was the retreating soldiers who were shot.

This was then elaborated in the Führerorder of 9 March setting-up the Fliegende Standgericht, the mobile drumhead court martial. Its establishment consisted of three senior officers, with two clerks and typewriters and office material, and, most essential of all, "1 Unteroffizier und 8 Mann als Exekutionskommando". The guiding principle of its actions was simple: "The justice of mercy is not applicable". The organization was to start work the next day, ready to judge all members of the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS. Hitler's Blitzkrieg against his own soldiers was extended to the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine in an instruction signed by General Burgdorf. He instructed them to make sure that the president in each case was "firmly anchored in the ideology of our Reich". Martin Bormann, not wanting the Nazi Party to be outdone, also issued an order to Gauleiters to suppress "cowardice and defeatism" with death sentences by summary courts martial.

Four days after the Führerorder on the Fliegende Standgericht, Hitler issued yet another order, probably drafted by Bormann, on National Socialist ideology in the army. "The overriding priority in the duties of a leader of troops is to activate and fanaticize them politically and he is fully responsible to me for their National Socialist conduct". For Himmler, the man who preached pitilessncss to waverers, the stress of command proved too much. Without warning Guderian, he retired with influenza to the sanatorium of Hohenlychen, some forty kilometres to the west of Hassleben, to be cared for by his personal physician. Guderian, on hearing of the chaotic situation at his head- quarters, drove up to Hassleben. Even Lammerding, Himmler's SS chief of staff, begged him to do something. Learning that the Reichsführer SS was at Hohenlychen, Guderian went on to visit him there, having guessed the tactic to adopt. He said that Himmler was clearly overworked with all his responsibilities - Reichsführer SS, chief of the German Police, minister of the interior, commander-in-chief of the Replacement Army and commander-in-chief of Army Group Vistula. Guderian suggested that he should resign from Army Group Vistula. Since it was clear that Himmler wanted to, but did not dare tell Hitler himself, Guderian saw his chance. "Then will you authorize me to say it for you?" he said. Himmler could not refuse. That night Guderian told Hitler and recommended Colonel General Gotthardt Heinrici as his replacement. Heinrici was the commander of the First Panzer Army, then involved in the fighting against Konev opposite Ratibor. Hitler, loath to admit that Himmler had been a disastrous choice, agreed with great reluctance.

Heinrici went to Hassleben to take up command. Himmler, hearing of his arrival, returned to hand over with a briefing on the situation which was full of pomposity and self-justification. Heinrici had to listen to this interminable speech until the telephone rang. Himmler answered. It was General Busse, the commander of the Ninth Army. A terrible blunder had taken place at Küstrin. The corridor to the fortress had been lost. Himmler promptly handed the telephone to Heinrici. "You're the new commander-in-chief of the army group," he said. "You give the relevant orders". And the Reichsführer SS took his leave with indecent haste. The fighting in the Oder bridgeheads either side of Küstrin had been ferocious. If Soviet troops captured a village and found any Nazi SA uniforms or Swastikas in a house, they often killed everyone inside. And yet the inhabitants of one village which had been occupied by the Red Army and then liberated by a German counter-attack "had nothing negative to say about the Russian military".

The 32nd SS Volunteer Grenadier Division, 30 Januar, named after the date when the NSDAP and Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933, was assembled from a number of training units, SS soldiers who had been split from their units, and pupils from SS schools and various other troops. The unit was formed in January 1945 at the SS troop training grounds "Kurmark" originally as a Kampfgruppe, but this was then enlarged to SS Rgt 32 and then 32 SS Division. The Division was formed under the supervision of SS Standartenführer Johannes-Rudolf Mühlenkamp. From February to March 1945 it suffered great losses fighting the Russians at Frankfurt an der Oder and in the Halbe pocket and elements fought their way back into Berlin. Allegedly, 148 men of the Division that managed to get away from the Russians, fought their way back to the American lines and surrendered at Tangermünde.

The unit insignia was a "Tyr-Rune", i.e. a runic "T". In northern mythology, the god Tyr was the god of war and combat; this runic symbol was also used as a grave marker for fallen Waffen-SS men [as was the "Life" rune) and as a graduation badge for the Reichsführerschule der NSDAP as well as on the sleeve diamond for certain personnel of the SS-Hauptamt attached to the offices for replacement and training.

More and more German soldiers and young conscripts also showed that they did not want to die for a lost cause. A Swede coming by car from Küstrin to Berlin reported to the Swedish military attache, Major Juhlin-Dannfel, that he had passed "twenty Feldgendarmerie control points whose task was to capture deserters from the front". Another Swede passing through the area reported that German troops appeared thin on the ground and the "soldiers looked apathetic due to exhaustion". Conditions had been miserable. The Oderbruch was a semi-cultivated wetland, with a number of dykes. To dig in against artillery and air attack was a dispiriting experience, since in most places you reached water less than a metre down. February was not as cold as usual, but that did little to lessen the cases of trench foot. Apart from the lack of experienced troops, the German Army's main problems were shortages of ammunition and shortages of fuel for their vehicles.

For example, in the SS 30. Januar Division, the headquarters  Kübelwagen could be used only in an emergency. And no artillery battery could fire without permission. The daily ration was two shells per gun.

The Red Army dug their fire trenches in a slightly rounded sausage shape, as well as individual foxholes. Their snipers took up position in patches of scrub woodland or in the rafters of a ruined house. Using well-developed camouflage techniques, they would stay in place for six to eight hours without moving. Their priority targets were first officers and then ration carriers. German soldiers could not move in daylight. And by restricting all movement to darkness, Soviet reconnaissance groups were able to penetrate the thinly held German line and snatch an unfortunate soldier on his own as a "tongue" for their Intelligence officers to interrogate. Artillery forward observation officers also concealed themselves like snipers; in fact they liked to think of themselves as snipers at one remove, but with bigger guns.

One of the most impressive Red Army specialities, which came in very useful for the Oder bridgeheads, was to build underwater bridges between twenty-five and thirty centimetres below the surface of the water. The Luftwaffe pilots, flying Focke-Wulfs and Stukas, found it very hard to spot these artificial fords on stilts.

While Göbbels the minister of propaganda still preached final victory, Göbbels the Gauleiter and Reich Defence Commissar for Berlin ordered obstacles to be constructed in and around the city. Tens of thousands of under-nourished civilians, mostly women, were marched out to expend what little energy they had on digging tank ditches. Rumours of resentment at Nazi bureaucracy, incompetence and the time wasted on useless defence preparations began to circulate, in spite of the penalties for defeatism. "In the whole war," one staff officer wrote scathingly, "I have never seen a tank ditch, either one of ours or one of the enemy's, which managed to impede a tank attack". The army opposed such senseless barriers constructed on Nazi Party orders, because they hindered military traffic going out towards the Seelow Heights and caused chaos with the stream of refugees now coming into the city from villages west of the Oder.

Brandenburger farmers who had to stay behind because they had been called up into the Volkssturm meanwhile found it increasingly difficult to farm. The local Nazi Party farm leader, the Ortsbauernführer was ordered to requisition their carts and horses for the transport of wounded and ammunition. Even bicycles were being commandeered to equip the so-called tank-hunting division. But the most telling degree of the Wehrmacht's loss of equipment during the disastrous retreat from the Vistula was its need to take weapons from the Volkssturm. Volkssturm battalion 16/69 was centred on Wriezen, at the edge of the Oderbruch, close to the front line. It mustered no more than 113 men, of whom thirty-two were on defence works in the rear and fourteen were ill or wounded. The rest guarded tank barricades and bridges. They had three sorts of machine gun, including several Russian ones, a flame-thrower lacking essential parts, three Spanish pistols and 228 rifles from six different nations. One must assume that this report on their weapon states is accurate since the district administration in Potsdam had issued a warning that to make a false report on this subject was "tantamount to a war crime". But in many cases even such useless arsenals were not handed over because Nazi Gauleiters told the Volkssturm to give up only weapons which had been lent by the Wehrmacht in the first place.

Nazi Party leaders had heard from Gestapo reports that the civilian population was expressing more and more contempt for the way they ordered others to die but did nothing themselves. The refugees in particular were apparently "very harsh about the conduct of prominent personalities". To counter this, a great deal of military posturing took place. The Gau leadership of Brandenburg issued calls to Party members for more volunteers to fight with the slogan, "The fresh air of the front instead of overheated rooms!" Dr Robert Ley, the chief of Nazi Party organization, appeared at Führerheadquarters with a plan to raise a Freikorps Adolf Hitler with "40,000 fanatical volunteers". He asked Guderian to make the army hand over 80,000 sub-machine guns at once. Guderian promised him the weapons once they were enrolled, knowing full well that this was pure bluster. Even Hitler did not look impressed.

 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".

"Berlin Fever"
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]

Total numbers

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 [2] divisions, Waffen-SS forces under Wilhelm Mohnke as half [1/2] a division, and the remaining miscellany of units as equating to some two [2] to three [3] divisions, a total of four [4] to five [5] divisions in all, with about 60,000 men and some fifty [50] to sixty [60] 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 [7] light and seven [7] heavy batteries of foreign guns manned by Volkssturm and soldiers of all arms; and six [6] 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 [12] tanks and thirty [30] 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 [12] 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.

 

Hitler's Birthday
Chaotic Conditions
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.

Mein Führer!

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.

German Radio Says Hitler Is Leading Fighting In Berlin
By W. R. Higginbotham
Dunkirk Evening Observer, New York 

London, April 23--[UP] -- The German' radio said today that Adolf Hitler was in the "main fighting line" in embattled Berlin. If Berlin and Prague are lost, the German broadcast said, "all Europe is lost".

"Therefore, Hitler has remained in Berlin," it said. "He will stay there despite all rumors. The main front line runs straight through Berlin and the newly established "Freikorps Adolf Hitler" is fighting with women in its ranks". The broadcast was carried by a Hamburg station, one of the few in Germany still broadcasting under Nazi control. It said Hitler was determined that neither Berlin nor Prague should fall to "Bolshevism".

Allies Doubt Story

Allied circles .doubted that Hitler still was in Berlin despite the propaganda broadcast, but recalled that "neutral sources had reported the Führer was contemplating death in battle at the head of a suicide battalion. Another information indicated that Hitler was in Bavaria organizing a final stand in the Alpine redoubt around Berchtesgaden. One report was that he had set headquarters at Salzburg, just off Bologna and just south of the Panaro river". 

The German radio said Hitler was in the "main fighting line" of embattled Berlin and had thrown into the capital's defense "all the military power available to Germany". Even women and children were fighting in the front line, the broadcast said,  manning hastily-erected street barricades against the onrushing Soviets. Anti-aircraft guns in the capital's great defense system were deflected and used as antitank guns.. Should Berlin, and Prague be lost, it added, all Europe was doomed.

The Soviet breakthrough "to the heart of Berlin" was reported by the neutral Swiss radio and Swedish correspondents filing their first uncensored dispatches of the war from the Nazi capital. They said Russian tanks had smashed ten miles into Berlin from the eastern and northeastern limits and were rolling with blazing guns along Unter den Linden, the tree-lined boulevard where Hitler once held victory parades. White flags were flying in the center of Berlin, the Swiss said. Fierce battles were under way, but the conquest of the capital was "practically over," the broadcast asserted. Radio Luxembourg said the Russians also had captured the big Tempelhof airdrome in. southern Berlin. Moscow dispatches said the Red army was pounding along all the main throughfares leading from the northeast, east and southeast toward the Alexanderplatz, less than a mile from Unter den Linden. One quarter of the capital had been cleared yesterday, the Soviet high command said.
 

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, and 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.

Kuhlmann continued:

"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.

Kuhlmann continued:

"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.

Kuhlmann recalled:

"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. Werner 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".

On 25 April 1945, Italian partisans liberated Milan and Turin. On 27 April 1945, as Allied forces closed in on Milan, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was captured by Italian partisans. It is disputed whether he was trying to flee from Italy to Switzerland [through the Splügen Pass], and was traveling with a German anti-aircraft battalion. On 28 April, Mussolini was executed in Giulino [a civil parish of Mezzegra]; the other Fascists captured with him were taken to Dongo and executed there. The bodies were then taken to Milan and hung up on the Piazzale Loreto of the city. On 29 April, Rodolfo Graziani surrendered all Fascist Italian armed forces at Caserta. This included Army Group Liguria. Graziani was the Minister of Defence for Mussolini's Italian Social Republic.  

Also on 29 April, Oberstleutnant Viktor von Schweinitz and Sturmbannführer Eugen Wenner, plenipotentiaries for Generaloberst Heinrich 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 2pm on 2 May. Accordingly, after some bitter wrangling between Wolff and Albert Kesselring in the early hours of 2 May, nearly 1,000,000 men in Italy and Austria surrendered unconditionally to British Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander at 2pm on 2 May.

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. 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.
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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 an