David Irving


The Warlord at the Western Front

On May 10, 1940, the V–lkischer Beobachter—chief organ of the Nazi party—rolled off the presses in Berlin, Munich, and Vienna with red banner headlines :  GERMANY’S DECISIVE STRUGGLE HAS BEGUN ! and THE FÐHRER AT THE WESTERN FRONT.  After half an hour’s tough arguing, Keitel had persuaded Hitler to allow the OKW communiquÈ to end with the announcement that he himself had gone to the western front to take command.  Hitler was loath to steal his generals’ thunder, but the OKW generals, fresh from their command triumph in Norway, wanted to keep the army’s General Staff firmly in its secondary place.  Hitler’s prestige was high.  General Erwin Rommel—now commanding a panzer division in the west—had in a letter on April 21 written a private eulogy of the F¸hrer’s victory over Denmark and Norway.  “Ja, if we didn’t have the F¸hrer !  Who knows whether any other German exists with such a genius for military leadership and such a matching mastery of political leadership too !”

Hitler had patiently gone over every aspect of “Yellow” with the leading generals—with Walther Reichenau, G¸nther von Kluge, and the panzer general Ewald von Kleist, whose tanks would spearhead the thrust to the English Channel, and with General Ernst Busch, whose Sixteenth Army would string out a powerful flank defense south of the armored thrust.  Hitler found high praise for the meticulous logistics work of Kleist’s Chief of Staff, General Kurt Zeitzler.

Just as he was godfather to the strategy underlying “Yellow,” so Hitler was the progenitor of the special raids which opened the campaign—the “Trojan horse” trick used to seize the Dutch bridges, the paratroop raids against Rotterdam and the Moordijk bridge in “Fortress Holland,” and above all the glider landings on the key bridges in Belgium and on the daunting fortress-site at Eben Emael.  “Suffice to say this,” was the appraisal of one of Jodl’s staff in September, “this operation against the bridges was the factor that would determine whether the Sixth Army could advance or not.  That it came off was thanks to the F¸hrer alone, as regards both the decision itself and the preparation.”

As a military commander, Adolf Hitler remained an enigma even to his closest associates.  They admired him for his past achievements for Germany but still feared for the future.  In victory his generals worshipped him ;  but those whom he rejected turned sour, abominated him, and eventually conspired against him.  The depth of hatred he stirred in the souls of these intelligent outcasts can be read in the countless essays they composed in vain endeavors to synthesize and express their memories.  Alfred Jodl, perhaps his most able strategic adviser, was to write from a prison cell that he still kept asking himself whether he had really known the man at whose side he had led such a thorny and self-denying existence.  “I keep making the same mistake :  I blame his humble origins.  But then I remember how many peasants’ sons were blessed by History with the name The Great.”  And General Zeitzler—one of Hitler’s last chiefs of the General Staff also grappled in vain with this phenomenon, though more analytically.  “I witnessed Hitler in every conceivable circumstance—in times of fortune and misfortune, of victory and defeat, in good cheer and in angry outburst, during speeches and conferences, surrounded by thousands, by a mere handful, or quite alone, speaking on the telephone, sitting in his bunker, in his car, in his plane ;  in brief on every conceivable occasion.  Even so, I can’t claim to have seen into his soul or perceived what he was after.”

Zeitzler saw him as an actor, with every word, gesture, and grimace under control, his penetrating stare practiced for hours before some private mirror.  He won over newcomers from the first handshake and piercing look, and paradoxically appeared the very embodiment of the strong and fearless leader, of honesty and open heart.  He cultivated the impression that he cared deeply for his subordinates’ well-being.  He would telephone a departing general at midnight :  “Please don’t fly.  It’s such foul weather and I’m worried about your safety.”  Or he would look a minor official in the eye and explain, “Now I’m telling you this privately, and you must keep it strictly under your hat.”

The surviving records are full of examples of the congenial impression Hitler made on others.  Rommel proudly wrote on June 3 :  “The F¸hrer’s visit was fabulous.  He greeted me with the words, ‘Rommel !  We were all so worried about you during the attack !’  He was beaming from one ear to the other, and asked me to walk with him afterward—I was the only division commander there.”  Milch wrote down Hitler’s words to him on April 21, 1941, after a particularly hazardous return flight from North Africa :  “Thank goodness you got back !”  In June 1941 Albert Speer’s office chronicle noted :  “The F¸hrer sent a telephone message from the Obersalzberg begging Herr Speer to drop the proposed visit to Norway, as things are too uncertain up there and Herr Speer is indispensable to him.”  In February 1943 Field Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen wrote in his diary :  “Finally the F¸hrer inquired very anxiously about my health.”  In midwar Hitler would halt urgent conferences with hungry generals for half an hour to allow his stenographers to eat.  One wrote in his diary on February 20, 1943 :  “The midday conference was short—57 minutes—but cold.  The F¸hrer must have noticed that we were freezing, because he mentioned it to us.  I said that if you sit still a long time you do get cold.  The F¸hrer ... then promised a heater for us.  I replied, ‘That would be very nice, mein F¸hrer !’ ”  And next day :  “At the noon conference the heater promised by the F¸hrer is indeed there—a small china stove.... In the afternoon, before a brief reception of seven officers handpicked for special missions for which the F¸hrer briefs them in a short speech, he inquired in General Schmundt’s presence whether the stove was warm enough for us.  When we said it was, he was hugely pleased and laughed out loud.”

His assessment of character was instant and deadly.  A member of Jodl’s staff, Captain Ivo-Thilo von Trotha, who was often present at Hitler’s supper table during the French campaign, wrote in 1946 :  “My impression was that the F¸hrer clearly recognized the human weaknesses of his colleagues and stood aloof from them.”  Hitler knew precisely how far he could go with each general.  Once he snatched a document from Keitel’s hands and threw it on the floor.  Keitel meekly gathered it up.  Hitler judged newcomers after only a glance.  Of one army commander he sourly commented, “He looks like a schoolteacher !”—and since for him every teacher was a “Steisstrommler,” or buttock-thrasher, that general’s career was clearly at an end.  But his staff abounded with misfits—like his personal adjutant, the crippled nonentity Julius Schaub—whose value was in their undivided loyalty to him.

Of his gifts as a leader, even a military leader, there is no doubt.  Halder was to refer to his unusual intellect and grasp, his imaginativeness, his tenacity and willpower.  Jodl wrote that in the French campaign Hitler’s leadership was clear, consistent, and capable ;  here Hitler was to prove himself a “classical commander.”  Jodl considered that in drafting the terms of the armistice with fallen France, Hitler ostensibly showed a generosity that gave cause to hope that of the two warring impulses within him it was the better that was gaining ground.

By decades of planned reading, Hitler had soaked up a huge amount of technical and military learning.  His memory was proverbial.  He had not only read the works of Frederick the Great, Moltke, Schlieffen, and Clausewitz, he could confound his generals with quotations from memory.  What he lacked was the ability to assess and analyze a military situation logically, unhurriedly, and calmly—as a staff officer would have ;  in that respect he was still the World War I corporal who had no mastery of the time and space problems involved in the deployment of great armies.  In the French campaign he was to prove as timid and cautious in the conduct of operations as he had been bold, almost brash, in designing them ;  in later campaigns he asserted himself to the other extreme.  The classical F¸hrer Directive, in which his commanders were given a broad mission and left to their own discretion in carrying it out, was increasingly supplemented and supplanted by F¸hrer Orders, in which Hitler intervened in the tactical operations at every level.  His victory in France confirmed him in his belief that he was a predestined military commander.

Hitler’s headquarters for “Yellow” were at M¸nstereifel.  The underground command post was very cramped.  Alone in his room, with its folding bed, table, and chair, he could hear every sound made by Keitel and Jodl next door.  Jodl’s operations staff was billeted down in the village and worked in a wooden encampment hidden three miles away in the woods.  Hitler toured it briefly one day—the only time he ever set foot inside Security Zone II.  He preferred to hold his war conferences in the open air, for the spring landscape enchanted him.  He privately suggested to his staff that when the war was over they should all return each year just this little select group around him now—to M¸nstereifel, “my bird paradise.”  The site remained unchanged until 1944, with even the names of the occupants left painted on the doors ;  it had been intended as a permanent memorial to Hitler’s “war of liberation.”

As the Luftwaffe predicted, May 10, 1940, dawned fine.  He rewarded the meteorologist responsible for the brilliant forecasting with a gold watch.  During the night, his Luftwaffe had already begun mining the Belgian and Dutch ports.  Now G–ring struck simultaneously at seventy airfields, destroying between three and four hundred planes, and thus seizing for Hitler an air superiority that was to remain unchallenged for the next two weeks.  Soon messengers brought him the exhilarating news that the British and French armies had begun pouring into Belgium.  In October 1941, his armies now before Moscow, Hitler still remembered the thrill of that moment.  “When the news came that the enemy was advancing along the whole front I could have wept for joy !  They’d fallen right into my trap !  It was a crafty move on our part to strike toward Liege—we had to make them believe we were remaining faithful to the old Schlieffen Plan.... How exciting it will be later to go over all those operations once again.  Several times during the night I used to go to the operations room to pore over those relief maps.”

The Belgians and Dutch were not unprepared.  The Forschungsamt had intercepted a last frantic telephone warning from the Dutch military attachÈ to his government the previous evening, but the delicate “Trojan horse” operations went ahead—a calculated risk, in view of the enemy’s foreknowledge.  As one of Jodl’s staff noted :  “Our troops were storming an enemy who was ready and waiting for our attack to begin early on May 10.”  The Dutch government had cannily refused an entry visa to Major Kiewitz, Hitler’s special emissary to Queen Wilhelmina.  Ironically it was Canaris’s Abwehr that was appointed to find out how the Dutch suspicions had been aroused ;  the Abwehr adroitly diverted suspicion to a senior foreign ministry official.

Extreme anxiety reigned at Hitler’s headquarters as word of the vital commando-operations was awaited.  One of Jodl’s officers was accompanying the first wave of tanks invading Holland and Belgium with a radio truck, to report direct to Hitler on the state of the bridges over the Meuse and the Albert Canal.  Between 9 and 10 A.M. the first three coded signals arrived from this officer, Captain von Trotha :  the Dutch had evidently managed to blow up both bridges across the Meuse north and south of Maastricht ;  the railway bridge farther north had also been blown up, but was now in German hands ;  the Abwehr’s Special Battalion 100, the “Trojan horse,” had suffered fearful casualties.

But in the afternoon Trotha had better news :  the Belgian bridges across the Albert Canal—where a hundred troops had silently landed in gliders as dawn broke—were intact, except for one at Canne.  A Belgian infantry division close by had as yet done nothing to mop up this diminutive German holding force.  By 4:30 P.M., Hitler learned that the 4th Panzer Division had actually forded the Meuse, leaving its armor temporarily behind, and was pouring into the two bridgeheads seized across the Albert Canal.  At Eben Emael a band of intrepid German engineer troops armed with hollow-charge explosives had landed by glider and immobilized the entire fortress :  the underground gun-crews were sealed in, their artillery was knocked out.  By early next morning, May 11, a temporary bridge had been thrown across the Meuse at Maastricht, and an armored brigade had crossed.  The 4th Panzer Division now spearheaded the advance of Reichenau’s Sixth Army.  Eben Emael capitulated at midday, and with this, Belgium’s fate was effectively sealed.

In the evening, Captain von Trotha brought to Hitler the first impressions of the front line.  On the approaches to Maastricht the German armor had encountered little resistance ;  the frontier forces had thrown their weapons away and fled by bicycle.  The Dutch population had stood curiously watching the tanks and infantry pass.  The people were friendly, Trotha reported ;  some of them gave the Hitler salute, others willingly helped the invaders on their way with directions stuttered in Dutch or broken German.  As Trotha had entered Maastricht in his armored radio vehicle, two colossal detonations, shattering millions of windows, had heralded the demolition of the bridges.  A stolid Dutch citizen had espied his red-striped General Staff trousers and besought advice :  he had left home and crossed the bridge, hatless, just to fetch milk—how was he to get back ?  Trotha had replied the Germans also regretted that the bridge was down, but that all complaints were to be addressed to the Dutch military authorities.  “I was opposed to it from the start,” said the Dutchman.  Trotha replied, “Well you must just wait until our troops have finished crossing.”  The Dutchman asked how long that would be.  “We will try and get everybody across by the time the war ends,” joked the army officer.  “But what will my wife think ?”  “I expect the people over there will also learn in time that the war has come,” responded Trotha.  In fact, by afternoon the Germans were already ferrying Dutch citizens from one side of the river to the other.

In southern Holland the German troops had found the Dutch garrisons of towns and villages standing idly around without their guns or gear and passively awaiting the invaders.  But in the north a four-day battle raged as the Dutch tried to wipe out the paratroops and glider-borne infantry landed at Rotterdam and The Hague ;  bomber squadrons had already taken off to relieve the pressure on General Kurt Student’s paratroops at Rotterdam when word arrived that the Dutch were capitulating.  Only half the bombers could be recalled—the rest dropped nearly a hundred tons of bombs on the town ;  nine hundred people died in the subsequent fires.  The next day Holland formally surrendered.

It was now time for Hitler’s masterstroke.

Every indication until now had persuaded the enemy that the offensive through Belgium and Holland was the somewhat unoriginal linchpin of Hitler’s strategy.  For month’s Canaris’s organization had been feeding clues to that effect to the enemy, using every conceivable method from elegant women agents to “indiscreet” telephone conversations on lines known to be tapped by the enemy.

But Hitler’s main offensive was to start far to the south, at Sedan, on the other side of the Ardennes, where General von Kleist’s armor had just crossed the Meuse and established a bridgehead.  On May 14, Hitler directed that all available panzer and mechanized divisions were to assemble for a rapid push from this bridgehead westward and then northwestward to the English Channel ;  that he should have issued a F¸hrer Directive which merely repeated what had long been ordered was an augury of the extent to which he proposed to take command himself.

The course of the operations so far shows that the enemy has not perceived the basic idea of our own operation, the eventual breakthrough by Army Group A [Rundstedt].  They are still moving up powerful forces to a line extending from Antwerp to Namur and apparently neglecting the sector confronting Army Group A.

Bock’s Army Group B was given the task of luring as much of the enemy into Belgium as possible before Rundstedt’s armor cut them off in the rear by driving to the Channel.  Leeb’s Army Group C had meanwhile so successfully simulated preparations for a frontal assault on the Maginot line that the French had hesitated to withdraw troops from the south until it was too late, for the Luftwaffe had destroyed the railway lines.  Their path now flattened before them by the bombers of Richthofen’s Eighth Air Corps, Kleist’s armored units rolled out of the Sedan bridgehead toward the Channel coast.

From this moment on, only a resolute commander supported by outstanding military Intelligence could have saved France.  General von Rundstedt, Germany’s oldest active soldier, is said to have remarked that he would have found it much more interesting to fight the rest of the campaign in the shoes of France’s Army Chief of Staff, General Maurice Gamelin.  It was now clear that the cream of the Allied forces had mustered north of Kleist’s advance and was penetrating Belgium.  German army Intelligence had located a new French Seventh Army referred to explicitly as an “armÈe d’intervention dans la Belgique.”  Since the end of March, Halder’s Intelligence branch, “Foreign Armies West,” had consistently estimated that half the Anglo-French forces were in the north, waiting to be cut off.(1)

Again, as in the Norwegian campaign, Hitler’s nerve briefly left him.  He was wary of his own good fortune.  When Brauchitsch made his regular twice-daily telephone call, Hitler nervously bombarded him with minutiae of which the army’s thorough preparations had long taken care.  As Kleist’s armor swept onward toward the Channel coast, on May 17 Hitler intervened to order that they halt to allow the slower infantry divisions time to catch up and consolidate the flank before the French could penetrate it.  Army Intelligence argued in vain that the French were presently concerned only with stabilizing their own defensive line along the Aisne and the Somme :  radio Intelligence had found a new French army headquarters west of Verdun, and aerial reconnaissance showed that the French transport movements were purely defensive.  Hitler would not be convinced.  He drove to Rundstedt’s headquarters, nervously studied the maps, and on his return to his own headquarters spread a wholly unnecessary gloom about the danger from the south.  When Halder and Brauchitsch saw him the next day, he was raging that the army was about to ruin the whole campaign and that it was needlessly running the risk of defeat.  On the nineteenth Hitler had fresh occasion for alarm when army Intelligence lost all sight of the three-quarters of a million Allied soldiers believed trapped in the north ;  for hours on end it seemed that the bulk of the British and French forces had succeeded in escaping southward after all.  Not until May 20 was this first personal crisis over.  The army reported that there were at least twenty enemy divisions trapped north of the Somme ;  in the evening, when Brauchitsch telephoned Hitler with the news that the tanks had reached Abbeville—and hence the Channel coast—Hitler was ecstatic with praise for the army and its commanders.

He spoke with such emotion that General Keitel made a written record of his words, which is, however, lost.  According to Jodl, the F¸hrer spoke of the peace treaty he would now make with France—he would demand the return of all the territories and properties robbed from the German people these last four hundred years, and he would repay the French for the ignominious terms inflicted on Germany in 1918 by now conducting the first peace negotiations at the same spot in the forest of CompiËgne.  As for the British :  “The British can have their peace as soon as they return our colonies to us.”

According to an officer who read Keitel’s missing account, Hitler jubilantly predicted that this victory would at last right the wrongs done by the Peace of Westphalia which had concluded the Thirty Years’ War and established France as the dominant power in Europe.  To Keitel he exclaimed, “I must not forget how much I owe to Field Marshal von Blomberg at this moment !  Without his help the Wehrmacht would never have become the magnificent instrument that has reaped us this unique victory !”

But it was this victory psychosis, prematurely sprung upon his military staff, this belief that total victory had been achieved by May 20, 1940, that was to prove his undoing at Dunkirk.

Hitler now turned his attention to long-range planning.

On May 20 he had already conferred with Brauchitsch and Halder on the outline of the second phase of the campaign, code-named “Red,” in which German forces would sweep southward from the Somme and Aisne toward the lower Seine and the Swiss frontier.  His earlier eagerness for Italian divisions to join in a mid-June offensive (“Brown”) on the Upper Rhine front had evaporated.  He wrote frequently to Mussolini with word of his latest victories, but Mussolini’s replies were an uninspiring amalgam of polite applause and qualified promises of later belligerency.  Indeed, an awkward disparity of aims was now emerging :  for Italy the main enemy was now Britain, while Hitler believed that with France laid low he could oblige Britain to come to terms with him.  There were disquieting rumors that Italy was preparing to invade Yugoslavia, which might set the whole of the Balkans on fire.  An urgent question of priorities would have to be faced.

When Admiral Raeder privately disclosed to Hitler on the twenty-first that the admiralty had been studying the problems of a seaborne invasion of the British Isles since November, Hitler did not noticeably welcome this diligence ;  and when Jodl a few days later suggested that an immediate invasion be prepared, the F¸hrer roundly rejected the idea without explaining why.  We must conclude that he believed that submarine and bomber attacks would force Britain to submit, for he indicated that after France’s defeat he would concentrate on the production of submarines and Junkers 88 bombers.  He left Raeder at least in no doubt that he thought the war still far from over.

In one respect Russia’s posture gave immediate cause for alarm, for it could instantly shut off Germany’s Romanian oil supplies.  Russia’s main threat to Germany was still a distant one :  from the slow rate at which airfield construction was progressing in the Russian-occupied border regions, it seemed clear that Germany still had a breathing space during which the Kremlin would continue to appease Hitler.  Molotov had expressed Russia’s genuine relief that Germany had managed to invade Norway before the Allies had, and he had received word of “Yellow” with equal sympathy ;  but this honeymoon would not last any longer than served the Russian purpose.  Hitler probably believed that if he could attack the Soviet Union in the spring of 1941 he would thwart Stalin’s intentions.  How else is one to interpret the F¸hrer’s cryptic remark to Halder on April 24, 1940 :  “We have an interest in seeing to it that the [Romanian] oil fields keep supplying us until next spring at the least ;  after that we will be freer.”  Romania was now exporting over 130,000 tons of oil a month to Germany—nothing must endanger these oil fields or the countries through which the Danube and the railroad links brought that oil to Germany.

At the end of May 1940 the risk did become acute as rumors multiplied of Italian plans to attack Yugoslavia ;  this would free Hungary to attack Romania—from Forschungsamt intercepts of the Hungarian legation’s cables from Berlin, the Germans knew how hollow were Hungary’s declarations of solidarity with the Axis—and Russia would use this as a pretext to invade Romania as well.  On May 20 the German military attachÈ in Moscow quoted to Berlin reliable details of Soviet troop concentrations on the Romanian frontier.  Molotov denied them, but the facts spoke for themselves.  Brauchitsch (unaware that Bessarabia, or Moldavia, had already been assigned to Stalin by the secret August 1939 pact) urged Hitler on the twenty-second to do something to curb these Russian ambitions ;  Hitler responded that he “hoped” to limit the Russian expansion to Bessarabia.  Weizs”cker wrote a curious passage in his private diary on May 23 :  “Assuming there is a crushing victory in the west, the obvious next move would be to create order in the east as well, that will give breathing space and river frontiers—an order that will endure.  Whether Britain submits at once or has to be bombed into her senses, the fact is there will probably have to be one more squaring of accounts in the east. . . .”  In the event, Italy undertook not to attack Yugoslavia, and after a few days this eastern crisis subsided.  But all this was symptomatic of the raw nerves constantly exposed in the Balkans, where Hitler’s sole interest was the economic necessity of keeping the peace at all costs.  Even at the height of battle, the absolute political leader must keep more than immediate military problems on his mind.

Many intricate and interrelated factors explain how the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) escaped from Dunkirk in the last days of May 1940, while German armor was pulled back on orders first from Rundstedt and then from Hitler himself.

The first factor, often overlooked in retrospective works of history, was that the realization that the British were deserting the field of battle en masse did not dawn on the German High Command until about May 26—a full week after the decision had been taken in London.  The jealousy with which the war department (OKH) guarded its own affairs from OKW interference contributed to this.  Halder’s Foreign Armies West branch had certainly reported as early as May 21 that the unusual number of troop transports in Dunkirk and Boulogne might indicate that British troops were about to be evacuated ;  and the permanent radio link between the war office in London and the BEF in France, first monitored the next day, also suggested events were being removed from French control.  But to Hitler all this was unthinkable.  Had he not always warned that once the British got a toehold anywhere it was almost impossible to dislodge them ?  He was convinced that the British would fight to the last man in France and that he must deploy his forces accordingly.  Not until May 26 was this fundamental error realized.  German army Intelligence intercepted a radio message from the war office in London to the British commandant in Calais just after noon.  “Every hour you continue to exist is of the greatest help to the BEF.”  Aerial reconnaissance had sighted thirteen warships and nine troop transports in Dunkirk harbor that morning.  Foreign Armies West concluded :  “It is probable that the embarkation of the British Expeditionary Force has begun.”  Only now did Hitler permit the armored advance on—though not into—Dunkirk to begin again.  His artillery would finish the job.

The sequence of events which had resulted in the halting of the armor two days before had begun with a brief local crisis on May 21, when British and French tanks launched an unexpected attack on the inner flank of the German Fourth Army at Arras.  Hitler and Rundstedt both regarded this as proof that the armored spearhead of Army Group A had advanced too fast for an effective flank defense to be established, and Rundstedt ordered the Fourth Army and Kleist’s armored group to delay its advance on the Channel ports until the Arras crisis had been resolved.  Brauchitsch and Halder regretted Rundstedt’s overcautious conduct of Army Group A operations—bearing up on the Channel ports from the southwest—and without informing Hitler they ordered control of the Fourth Army transferred to General von Bock’s Army Group B, which was advancing on the ports from the east.  Bock was to command the last act of the encirclement.  Hitler learned of this when he visited Rundstedt’s headquarters at Charleville with Jodl and Schmundt the next morning, May 24.  Thus an element of contrariness, a subconscious desire to spite Brauchitsch and the General Staff, must have contributed to Hitler’s peremptory cancellation of their order :  the Fourth Army was not to be transferred to Bock’s command—for the time being it was to stay where it was.  It was tactically foolhardy, claimed Hitler, to commit their tanks, which were vital to the success of “Red,” in the swampy Flanders lowlands to which the war department would have sent them.

At Charleville, Hitler found every support for his views.  Indeed, the previous day the Fourth Army’s General von Kluge had himself persuaded Rundstedt it would be better not to attack on the twenty-fourth but to allow Kleist’s armor time to regroup for a more methodical assault on the twenty-fifth.  (With gross exaggeration, Kleist was claiming that half his tanks were out of action, and this figure must have worried Hitler.) Rundstedt’s proposal to Hitler on May 24 went one stage further :  his armor should remain where it was, commanding the high ridge along a line of canals west of Dunkirk, and give an appropriate welcome to the enemy forces swept westward by Bock’s Army Group B ;  this would give the tanks a valuable respite.  The possibility that the British might escape to England was not discussed.  Hitler was obsessed by two visions :  his precious armor floundering in the swampy Flanders fields that he, Keitel, and Jodl had all seen with their own eyes in World War I ;  or alternatively, his tanks being pointlessly shot to pieces in the streets of Dunkirk, as they had in fact been in the suburbs of Warsaw eight months before.

There was a political factor too.  Hitler desired to spare Belgium’s relatively friendly Flemish population the destruction of property this closing act of “Yellow” would entail.

At all events, Hitler did not hesitate to lend his authority to Rundstedt’s decision to halt the tanks.  How far he was also motivated by G–ring’s boast that the Luftwaffe alone would annihilate the encircled enemy is open to dispute.  G–ring certainly telephoned Hitler to this effect.  Afterward, Hitler told his army adjutant that G–ring would do the job, and he contrasted the Luftwaffe’s ideological reliability with that of the army leaders.  At twelve-thirty the F¸hrer’s headquarters telephoned the “halt order” to the army group and army commanders :  they were to stand fast west of the canal line ;  that same day, in a directive giving guidelines for “Red” and the campaign against Britain, Hitler merely indicated in passing that the Luftwaffe’s present job in the north was to break all resistance of the “encircled enemy” and prevent any British forces from escaping across the Channel.  To a protesting staff member, Jodl soothingly said, “The war is won ;  it just has to be ended.  There is no point in sacrificing a single tank if we can do it much more cheaply with the Luftwaffe.”

Thus the tanks remained “rooted to the spot,” as Halder bitterly commented in his diary on May 26.  Hitler had still not set the tanks in motion.  One more factor had arisen.  On the evening of the twenty-fifth he explained to his adjutants that he particularly wanted the SS elite brigade under Sepp Dietrich to join in this crucial action at Dunkirk.  His intention was to show the world that he had troops equal to the best even such a racially advanced nation as Britain could field against him.  Heinrich Himmler—who conferred with Hitler that day on his radical plans for the eastern territories—may well have asked this favor of Hitler, although his own agenda makes no explicit reference to the military operations.  By May 26, Sepp Dietrich’s Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler—Life Guards Brigade—was in position.  On that morning, too, Rundstedt’s staff changed their attitude, since radio monitoring suggested that their appreciation of the enemy’s intentions was wrong.  Colonel Henning von Tresckow, one of Rundstedt’s staff, telephoned his friend Schmundt at Hitler’s headquarters about this, with the result that at 1:30 P.M. Hitler informed Brauchitsch that the tanks might resume their eastward drive at once.  They were to come within artillery range of Dunkirk, and the army’s heavy artillery and the Luftwaffe would do the rest.  But Kleist’s tank drivers were now resting, or their tanks were being overhauled, and many hours would pass before the attack began.

Meanwhile the Luftwaffe could see that the British were apparently embarking only their troops, abandoning all their weapons and equipment as they fled.  The beaches were thick with waiting Englishmen, the roads were choked with truck columns fifteen miles long.  G–ring landed at Hitler’s headquarters in a light aircraft and boasted of the carnage his bombers were wreaking in Dunkirk harbor.  “Only fishing boats are getting through.  Let’s hope the Tommies can swim !”  The reality, however, was soon different :  the Luftwaffe bombers were based largely on airfields back in Germany, and either their bombs were ineffective against small ships or they exploded harmlessly in the sand dunes ;  more ominously, the German bombers proved no match for the short-range British fighters based just across the Channel.  The Germans found that for the first time the enemy had local air superiority, and their troubles were added to by the fact that at the end of May the Luftwaffe’s Eighth Air Corps was grounded by fog for three days.  In Dunkirk the British rearguard fought on with undiminished tenacity as the last British and French troops were embarked.

G–ring failed to see the warning signs for his Luftwaffe, which Hitler had now ordered to open direct air attacks on the British Isles as soon as possible, beginning “with an annihilating attack in reprisal for the British raids on the Ruhr.”  The Luftwaffe commander confidently leaned his vast bulk across the map table in Hitler’s headquarters, stabbed a finger at the map, and promised that when his planes began their attacks on London no stone would be left atop another.

While these momentous events were transpiring in the west, in Germany’s new eastern domains a ruthless program of subjugation and pacification had begun.  “Yellow” distracted the world’s press from what was going on.

On Sunday May 25, the Reichsf¸hrer SS outlined to Hitler and the head of his Chancellery, Lammers, proposals for dealing with the various racial strains in Poland, whether Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, White Russians, Gorals, Lemkes, or Kashubs.  Himmler showed the F¸hrer his six-page plan for screening the 23 million people in these new dominions for adults and children of sufficiently pure blood to allow their assimilation into Germany.  He proposed that all other children should be taught only what he saw as the necessary rudiments :  “Simple counting up to five hundred, how to write their names, and lessons on the divine commandant to obey the Germans and be honest, industrious, and well-behaved.”  It was unnecessary for them to learn to read.  Racially acceptable children could be evacuated to the Reich to receive a proper education after separation from their parents.  As Himmler pointed out, in what now seems a significant explanation when the plan’s recipient is considered :  “Each individual case may seem cruel and tragic, but this method is the mildest and best if we are to reject as ungermanic, impossible, and incompatible with our convictions the Bolshevik method of physically exterminating a race.”

After a few years of this racial sifting, a low-grade potpourri of races would remain in the east.  “This population will be available to Germany as a leaderless labor force, providing us with seasonal migratory labor for special projects like roadbuilding, quarrying, and construction work.  They themselves will eat and live better than under Polish rule.  And, given their own lack of culture, they will be well appointed to work under the strict, forthright, and just leadership of the German nation on its eternal cultural mission.”  As for the Jews, Himmler’s six-page plan disclosed, “I hope to effect the complete disappearance of the Jew [from Europe] by means of a mass emigration of all Jews to Africa or some other such colony.”(2)

Afterward, Himmler scribbled in his notebook :  “Memorandum on Poland.  F¸hrer warmly approves.”  Hitler commanded Lammers to provide an oral briefing for Hans Frank, the Gauleiters, top SS officials, and police officials of the eastern provinces.  Himmler stipulated that the document’s contents must never be quoted in any orders that these men issued (an interesting embargo).

A month later, Himmler took the opportunity of a train journey with Hitler to show him an eight-page plan for settling these eastern provinces with strong German stock.  It provided for one-eighth of the indigenous population to be transplanted as racially acceptable stock to Germany ;  the other seven-eighths would be displaced eastward, into Hans Frank’s Generalgouvernement.  To provide healthy German stock, Himmler proposed that after two years of military service or four years in the SS young unmarried German soldiers be induced to settle and work the land in the eastern provinces for up to eight years before marrying and taking over a farmstead or estate.  The Generalgouvernement was to serve them as a reservoir of cheap labor.  The foreign laborers were to be kept in serfdom ;  attempts at sexual relations with their German overlords would be punishable by death or heavy prison sentences.  It was the lack of racial purity, Himmler argued, that had led to the downfall of the Greek and Roman empires.  He afterward noted on the document :  “Shown to the F¸hrer in the train from Freiburg i.Br. to Ottersweiser on June 30, 1940.  The F¸hrer said that every point I made was right.”

By that time, as we shall see, Hitler was already considering provinces far to the east of Poland.

There is much less to be learned from an examination of the military events of the rest of the French campaign.  On May 28, the king of Belgium capitulated, and by June 2 the British evacuation of Dunkirk was over.  German army Intelligence estimated that half the enemy forces had been swept from the battlefield ;  Brauchitsch telephoned this information to Hitler that evening.  The German army, with 136 divisions, was virtually intact.  It would embark on “Red,” the final defeat of France, with a 2 to 1 superiority.

Events were fast pushing Europe’s frontiers back to those of the sixteenth century.  German bomber squadrons based in the Artois region and Flanders could keep the British Isles in check.  But nothing was further from Hitler’s mind than an invasion of Britain now.  The great strategic option, between striking north or south after Dunkirk, was not recognized at the time.  His blueprint for “Red” was largely determined by short-term psychological or political factors :  Verdun must be captured as rapidly as possible.  Overland contact must be made with Spain—a decoded cable had just revealed that Franco had assured Britain of his neutrality and lack of aggressive intentions against Gibraltar.  Paris itself would be bypassed to the east and west, for Hitler feared nothing more than that an 1871-style Communist uprising in the capital might bring his forces into armed conflict with Soviet-backed Communists.  The Maginot line would be taken from the rear.  “Red” would begin at 5 A.M. on June 5.

Meanwhile, surrounded by Party officials and personal bodyguards, Hitler toured the battlefields in Belgium and Flanders.  At the end of May the new Italian ambassador, Dino Alfieri,(3) had brought him Mussolini’s offer to attack France’s Alpine frontier on June 5.  Since this might well lead world opinion to believe that it was this Italian “second front” and not “Red” that brought France down, Hitler asked the Duce to wait a few days.  Even so, Italy’s belated belligerency and her transparent self-interest aroused the anger of the generals to whom Hitler now revealed Mussolini’s intentions in conferences at Brussels and Charleville on the first two days of June.  At Brussels, where Bock had assembled his senior generals, Hitler explained his Dunkirk decisions :  “Gentlemen, you will have wondered why I stopped the armored divisions outside Dunkirk.  The fact was I could not afford to waste military effort.  I was anxious lest the enemy launch an offensive from the Somme and wipe out the Fourth Army’s weak armored force, perhaps even going so far as Dunkirk.  Such a military rebuff,” as he put it, “might have had intolerable effects in foreign policy....”  Afterward he drove with Army Group Commander von Bock in an open car through Brussels—which he had last seen as a Bavarian infantryman.

At Charleville the next day, June 2, he addressed Rundstedt and his generals, by chance in the villa which had once housed Kaiser Wilhelm II during World War I.  He outlined “Operation Red” to them and informed them that Italy would shortly join in.  He spoke of the reparations he proposed to exact from France ;  then his voice softened, and he once again extolled Britain and her mission for the white race.  It was not, he said, a matter of inconsequence to him which power ruled India.  One general wrote in his diary :  “He points out that without a navy the equal of Britain’s we could not hold on to her colonies for long.  Thus we can easily find a basis for peace agreement with Britain.  France on the other hand must be stamped into the ground ;  she must pay the bill.”  Another general wrote :  “Hitler never drew the proper consequences from his admiration of the British ;  his threats against France revealed his boundless greed for conquest.”

As he left the villa, crowds of cheering soldiers thronged his car.  Hitler, every inch the victorious warlord, acknowledged their acclaim.

To Hitler the war seemed already won.  He said as much to Admiral Canaris on June 3 when the Intelligence chief came to report on the Abwehr agents who had been killed in the campaign so far.  And he repeated it to Admiral Raeder the next day.  Within a few weeks France would be knocked out, and German industry could resume work on equipping the navy and Luftwaffe ;  he would demobilize large sections of the army to provide the industrial manpower.  In the far north, the Allies suddenly abandoned their last foothold in Narvik, losing an aircraft carrier, two destroyers, and a troop transport in skirmishes with the diminished German battle fleet that chanced upon the scene ;  Hitler generously credited General Jodl alone with the decision to retain Narvik in mid-April, despite his own dark hours of despair for Dietl’s survival.  Jodl’s position on Hitler’s staff was henceforth unassailable.

Hitler’s occupation policy in Holland and Belgium was to establish these Germanic states as border dependencies around a mighty German core.  As early as November he had drafted a decree on the administration of the countries to be occupied in “Yellow.”  In the version he had signed on May 9 he had deleted the words “There is to be no exploitation of the occupied regions in a selfish German interest.”  In Holland as in Norway he established a Reich Commissar to fill the vacuum left by the fleeing monarchy ;  he chose an Austrian, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, evidently on Himmler’s recommendation.  Seyss-Inquart had felt ill at ease with his job in the Generalgouvernement and had pleaded for an army commission so he could serve Germany as he had in the previous war ;  but Hitler knew the lawyer had a crippled leg and gave him Holland to administer instead, ignoring the angry outcry this civilian appointment provoked in the army.  On May 22 he explained that by appointing Reich commissars in Norway and Holland he hoped to remold these countries along National Socialist lines.

In Holland, as in Belgium, there had been embryonic Nazi organizations, but Hitler had little time for them.  He regarded his own rise to power as unique and inimitable.  He scorned Holland’s Anton Mussert and Britain’s Sir Oswald Mosley as plagiarists of his own ideas, and he discarded Quisling in all but form.  Only for Belgium’s Leon Degrelle did he have some respect, and he betrayed real anger when at one stage of the French campaign he was told—quite falsely—that Degrelle was among a large number of foreign Nazis shot by the French in May.

Since Belgium had fought honorably and capitulated unconditionally, Hitler was inclined to leniency.  He agreed to G–ring’s heartfelt request—the Luftwaffe chief had telephoned Hitler the moment the Belgian capitulation was announced—that King Leopold be chivalrously treated.  A senior statesman, Otto Meissner, was sent to tell the king that if Belgium now acted sensibly his kingdom might yet survive—otherwise Hitler would create a new Gau :  “Flanders.”  A telegram in German army files indicates that King Leopold was furious at the looting and wilful destruction of his country by the withdrawing French and British troops, so Hitler’s political wisdom in ordering his armies to spare the cities of Flanders from unnecessary visitations undoubtedly paid dividends.  But here Hitler too appointed a German military governor :  General Alexander von Falkenhausen was a liberal commander and maintained liaison with the king.  There was in consequence little resistance to the Nazi presence in Belgium until Falkenhausen incurred Hitler’s displeasure in 1944 and was replaced by a civilian, the Gauleiter of Cologne.  Hitler retrieved for Germany the former German areas of Eupen, Malmedy, and Moresnet which had been annexed by Belgium in 1918 ;  he ordered Brauchitsch to separate the Belgian prisoners of war into Flemings and Walloons—the former, 200,000 men of trusty Germanic stock, were to be released forthwith, while the latter, 150,000 less friendly prisoners, were to be held in continued pawn.

For “Red,” the second half of the French campaign, Hitler’s staff had found a new headquarters site in southern Belgium—in the deserted village of Bršly-de-PÍche in a forest clearing.  Fritz Todt had rapidly erected three barrack buildings to house Hitler, a dining hall, and Jodl’s staff ;  he had converted a church to house the rest.  The whole headquarters, code-named “Forest Meadow,” was ready with its antiaircraft batteries and barbed-wire entanglements by the time Hitler arrived on June 6.

He never felt as secure here as at M¸nstereifel.  Perhaps it was the swarms of mosquitoes that rose from the dense undergrowth all around to plague him.  Perhaps it was a general impatience to end the war.  There was less for him to do during “Red”;  Brauchitsch, who had phoned him regularly during “Yellow,” now came in person.  Hitler had mellowed toward him, and seems to have taken him more into his confidence about his future military plans.  For a while Hitler abandoned his idea of discarding Brauchitsch—he could hardly do this to the Commander in Chief of a victorious army, as he mentioned to one adjutant.  Ribbentrop was also a frequent visitor.  After Dunkirk he asked Hitler whether he might draft some sort of peace plan for the British, but Hitler replied, “No, I shall do that myself.  It will be only a very few points.  The first point is that nothing must be done which would in any way injure Great Britain’s prestige ;  secondly Britain must give us back one or two of our old colonies ;  and thirdly, we must reach a stable modus vivendi with Britain.”

A member of the headquarters staff wrote of these weeks of waiting for the French collapse :  “I have the happiest memories of those weeks, partly because of the fine military victories, partly because of the magnificent landscape in the Eifel and in Belgium.  Of course we had a lot to do, usually far into the night, but the work was a pleasure in contrast to the often barely tolerable weeks of tension that had gone before.  Every evening the F¸hrer ate privately with ten or twelve others, regularly joined by one or two officers of the Wehrmacht operations staff ;  my turn came every eight or ten days.  He was on top of the world and in splendid humor, and we talked about anything but shop.  I remember we all debated the reason why the cuckoo makes a point of laying its eggs in other birds’ nests.”  And one of Hitler’s secretaries wrote on June 13 :  “For a week now we have been out front again, in a deserted village.  For the first few nights I had to sleep with the other girl in a former pigsty, which had been boarded up and was frightfully damp.  Yesterday the barracks were ready for us, Gottseidank, so we are on dry land again.... Every night we get the same performance :  at precisely twenty past twelve, enemy aircraft come and circle over the village.  We don’t know if they are looking for us or the approach road to the front.  We can’t get them down because they fly too high.  If they don’t come then, the Chief”—meaning Hitler—“inquires, ‘Where’s our office airman today then !’  At any rate every night finds us standing until half past three or four in the morning with the Chief and other members of his staff in the open air watching the nocturnal aerial maneuvers until the reconnaissance planes vanish with the onset of dawn.  The landscape at that hour of the morning reminds me of a painting by Caspar David Friedrich....”

On June 1o, 1940, Italy formally declared war on Britain and France.  Hitler had known of the date for a week in advance and had again tried to persuade Italy to wait, as he could not spare the Luftwaffe to help Mussolini’s divisions penetrate France’s Alpine fortifications.  He made no attempt to disguise his contempt and forbade Keitel to permit staff talks with the Italian forces.  A member of Keitel’s staff noted :  “The F¸hrer’s view is that since Italy left us in the lurch last autumn we are under no obligation to her now.”  In the foreign ministry sardonic comparisons were drawn between Mussolini and the traditional circus clown who rolled up the mats after the acrobats completed their performance and demanded that the audience applaud him ;  or again, the Italians were dubbed the “harvest hands.”  Over dinner on the eleventh, hearing that the Italians had only now bombed Malta, Hitler commented sourly, “I would have done everything the other way around.”  That Mussolini had formally declared war on France instead of first launching a lightning invasion of Malta left him almost speechless with vexation.  “That must be the last Declaration of War in history,” he exclaimed.  “I never thought the Duce was so primitive.”  And, waving at his adjutants Mussolini’s letter announcing his intention, he added, “I always knew he was naive, but this whole letter is a warning to me to be much more careful with my dealings with the Italians in the future.”

There survives among the papers of Walther Hewel the government communiquÈ announcing Italy’s inauspicious action, with eloquent amendments written in Hitler’s own hand.  Where the original text proclaimed :  “German and Italian soldiers will now march shoulder to shoulder and not rest until Britain and France have been beaten,” Hitler irritably crossed out “Britain” and then redrafted the latter part to read “. . . and will fight on until those in power in Britain and France are prepared to respect the rights of our two peoples to exist.”  He commented scornfully that Mussolini evidently expected this “looting expedition” to be some kind of excursion on which he could proceed at a passo romano goose-step.  “He is in for the surprise of his life.  The French respect the Italians far less than us.”  He cursed, “First they were too cowardly to join in with us, and now they fall over themselves to be in on the spoils.”  After a while he reflected :  “Declarations of war always were the mark of a hypocritical political attitude—an attempt to keep up an appearance of chivalry.  They only became fashionable with the rise of civilization.  In olden times they didn’t Declare War—there were just sudden raids and invasions, and by and large that is the proper, healthy way.  Never in my life will I sign a declaration of war.  I will always strike first.”

Paris was abandoned by the French government and declared an open city to prevent its destruction.  At the last meeting of the Supreme War Council held in France that day, Winston Churchill, the new British prime minister, begged the French to tie the German forces down by defending Paris, or to resist until the Americans came in.(4)  His appeal for yet more French blood to be spilled in Britain’s cause may have rung cynically in his allies’ ears ;  the French commanders left him in no doubt the war was lost.  Hitler’s Intelligence services must have worked brilliantly now, for the next day, June 13, one of Hitler’s secretaries wrote :  “I personally cannot believe the war will go on after June.  Yesterday there was a War Council in Paris :  Weygand declared the battle for Paris lost and suggested a separate peace, in which PÈtain supported him ;  but Reynaud and some other members thundered their protests against him.... To know precisely what the situation is and still order your men to fight on until they die, shows complete lack of principle.”

The French Cabinet resigned in the face of this defeat, and the aged Marshal Henri Philippe PÈtain, veteran and hero of World War I, took over.  On June 17 word reached Hitler through Spain that PÈtain desired an armistice and wanted to know the German terms.  One of Jodl’s staff later wrote :  “When he heard this news Hitler was so delighted that he made a little hop.  I had never seen him unbend like that before.”  He decided to meet Mussolini to discuss the terms at once.  Meanwhile, the Wehrmacht was ordered to keep up its pressure on the defeated enemy—to take Cherbourg and Brest as a matter of honor, and to occupy the Alsace and particularly Strasbourg as a matter of geography.

For many days Hitler had deliberated on the armistice itself :  he would invite the French to undergo the same indignities as they had visited on the defeated German generals in 1918 at CompiËgne ;  he ordered his staff to find out precisely how the French had behaved then.  It had been raining in 1918, and the Germans had been kept waiting in the downpour to humiliate them still further.  Hitler at first prayed that this time as well it would rain at CompiËgne.  Eventually, his mood changed somewhat :  it must be the purpose of this armistice to give France no cause to fight on from North Africa ;  above all, Hitler wanted to show the British how magnanimous he could be in victory.

The terms of the armistice betrayed a master hand.  Weizs”cker noted approvingly :  “They are so elastic that PÈtain can hardly reject them.... On the other hand the terms leave room for an annihilating peace.”  At Munich, Hitler privately persuaded Mussolini to shelve the Italian territorial claims on France until a final peace treaty.  Only northwestern France would be occupied by the Germans as far as the Spanish frontier.  The rest would remain under PÈtain’s control.  The delicate problem of the French fleet called for brilliant handling, for Hitler did not want it to escape to the British.  When Admiral Raeder asked him on the twentieth if Germany could claim the fleet, Hitler replied that the German navy had no title to the ships as the French fleet was unbeaten.  Besides, the French ships were beyond their reach.  The armistice therefore formally renounced all claim to the French fleet :  the French might retain part to preserve their colonial interests ;  the rest was to be taken out of commission.  Otherwise the ships would be left unmolested—in fact Hitler wished for nothing better than that they might be scuttled by their crews.  In short, for reasons of strategy the German armistice terms bore no comparison with the humiliating terms inflicted on Germany in 1918 or indeed with the terms of armistice recently drafted by France in anticipation of defeating Hitler.(5)

At noon on June 21, Hitler drove through the fog-shrouded roads of northern France to the forest of CompiËgne.  Ever since PÈtain’s armistice request had reached him four days before, Hitler’s headquarters staff had toiled to set the scene for the world’s press and cameramen.  The old wooden dining car in which Marshal Foch had dictated his terms to the Germans on November 11, 1918, had been retrieved from its permanent display in Paris and set up on a short length of railway track in the same spot in the forest, near the French armistice memorial.  A guard of honor awaited Hitler’s arrival.  Forty minutes later the French officers arrived.  Hitler sat on one side of the long table set up in the dining car, while General Keitel began reading out the preamble to the three stony-faced Frenchmen.

Hitler himself had composed these words :  “After a heroic resistance, France has been vanquished.  Therefore Germany does not intend to give the armistice terms or negotiations the character of an abuse of such a gallant enemy.  The sole object of the German demands is to prevent any resumption of the fighting, to provide Germany with the necessary safeguards for her continued struggle against Britain, and to make possible the dawn of a new peace whose primary element will be the rectification of all the brutal injustices inflicted on the German Reich....”  After this twelve-minute introduction Hitler rose and left with his party, while Keitel continued to dictate the terms to the Frenchmen.  Schmundt had dictated the order in which the German officers were to leave at this stage, and it spoke volumes for Hitler’s mentality :  Hitler was to be followed by G–ring, and then by Ribbentrop, Hess, and Raeder ;  Brauchitsch was to leave last of all.  The railway coach was now shipped to Berlin as an exhibit ;  the French memorial at CompiËgne was demolished with explosives—only the statue of Marshal Foch himself remained untouched, on Hitler’s personal instructions.

The French signed the armistice document with Keitel the next afternoon and then left for Italy to bargain with the Italians.  Hitler could now fulfill a lifelong dream to visit Paris and see its architecture.  He sent for his three favorite intellectuals—the architects Albert Speer and Hermann Giesler and the sculptor Arno Breker—and they arrived at Bršly-de-PÍche that evening, June 22.  Over dinner Hitler could talk of nothing but the next day’s visit.  At 4 A.M. the next morning he flew secretly to Le Bourget airport with Keitel, a handful of his staff, and the court architects clad in incongruous field-gray.  Here at last, towering above him in stone and iron and stained glass, were the monuments so familiar to him from the pages of his architectural encyclopedias.  He was actually inside the modern baroque Opera, asking the gray-haired usher to show him long-forgotten chambers of whose existence he was aware from the architectural plans.  For these three brief hours shortly after dawn he wandered around the Tour Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe, and Les Invalides, where he stood in bareheaded awe of Napoleon’s sarcophagus.  When it was light enough he gazed out across the undamaged city from the forecourt of SacrÈ-Coeur and Montmartre.  At ten that morning he flew back to Belgium.  That evening he commanded Speer to draft a decree for the complete reconstruction of Berlin—it must outshine everything he had seen in Paris.  He signed the document three days later, ordering the Reich capital’s facelift to be completed by 1950.

The Italians and French came to terms as well.  Hitler told Brauchitsch he believed the British would soon give way.  An hour after midnight on June 25, 1940, a bugler of the 1st Guards Company took up station at each corner of the F¸hrer’s village headquarters.  Seated at the bare wooden table in his requisitioned cottage, Hitler waited with Speer, his adjutants, secretaries, and personal staff, he had also invited two of his fellow infantrymen from World War I to join him—one Ernst Schmidt, a master painter, and his old sergeant Max Amann, now chief of the Party’s printing presses.  Throughout Europe millions of radios were tuned in to this quiet forest acre.  Hitler ordered the lights in the dining room switched off, and the window opened.  A radio turned low whispered a commentary.  At 1:35 A.M., the moment prescribed for the armistice to take effect, the buglers sounded the cease-fire.

It was the most moving moment of his life.  Nobody would ever understand what this victory meant for him ;  for four years he had once fought as an anonymous infantryman, and now as Supreme Commander it had been granted to him to lead his people to a unique victory.  After a while he broke the silence.  “The burden of responsibility . . .”  But he did not go on.

The F¸hrer asked for the lights to be turned on again.

1 The Allied superiority in tanks was vast.  The French and British had 3,432 tanks, not including either the obsolete Renault F.T. or the light British tanks.  The Germans had started the campaign with 2,574 tanks, of which, however, 523 were the light Mark I, and 955, the hardly better Mark II.  (Among the rest were 345 Mark IIIs, 278 Mark IVs, 106 Czech Mark 35, and 228 Czech Mark 38s.)

2 After France’s defeat, Hitler decided in July 1940 that Madagascar would make a suitable destination for Europe’s Jews.

3 The Forschungsamt had detected the anti-German utterances of his sixty-year-old predecessor, Bernardo Attolico, and Hitler had requested his recall.

4 Hitler devoted some thought to keeping the United States at bay.  He granted an exclusive interview to the Hearst Press correspondent Karl von Wiegand on June 13 to stress his total lack of predatory interest in either North or South America, or for that matter in the British Empire ;  of Britain he demanded only the return of of the former German colonies.  “But as Britain lost battle after battle, her men in power besought America with tear—swollen eyes to help them.  They declared that Germany was threatening the British Empire and intended to destroy it.  One thing will, admittedly, be destroyed in this war—a capitalist clique which is and always has been willing to destroy millions of people for its own despicable ends.”

5 The captured French document, dated November 9, 1939, analyzed in particular means of ensuring that the reparations could be extracted from Germany without the errors made in 1919.


p. 115   General von Trotha provided me with original documents relating to his mission.  I also used the annexes to the war diary of the F¸hrer’s HQ, diaries of Jodl and Tippelskirch, Hitler’s recollections in Table Talk, October 17-18, 1941 (Heim’s note), and Gerhard Schacht’s study on Eben Emael in WR, 1954, pages 217 et seq.

p. 116   The definitive account of the Luftwaffe attack on Rotterdam is still Professor H.A. Jacobsen’s, in WR, 1958, pages 257 et seq.;  and I used Kesselring’s interrogation by the USSBS.

p. 118   Raeder’s verbal account of his meeting with Hitler is in the naval staff diary ;  it is more explicit than his own written summary.

p. 120   The simple explanation that it never occurred to Hitler that the British army was decamping from Dunkirk and leaving the French in the lurch escaped most historians ;  it is hinted at by Ulrich Liss—chief of Foreign Armies West at the time—in his article in WR, 1958, pages 325 et seq., but neither Jacobsen (in Allgemeine Schweizerische Milit”rzeitschrift, 1953, page 845 and elsewhere) nor H. Meier-Welcker, in VfZ, 1954, pages 274 et seq., nor the British official historians L.F. Ellis and J.R.M. Butler grasped this point.  Liss’s daily situation reports are none too emphatic ;  and the entry in the diary of his superior, Tippelskirch, on May 31—“What picture emerged over the last few days to suggest that the British and French were embarking by sea ?”—suggests that the search for a scapegoat was beginning.

p. 121   That the initial decision to halt the German tanks outside Dunkirk was Rundstedt’s—and only subsequently given Hitler’s blessing—is proven beyond doubt by the war diary of Rundstedt’s Army Group A ;  Rundstedt indignantly denied paternity of the decision when interrogated after the war.  But the facts are plain.  Late on May 24 an impatient Halder radioed permission to Army Groups A and B to attack Dunkirk.  Rundstedt (Army Group A) refused, as “the mechanized groups must first be allowed to pull themselves together.”  His operations officer, G¸nther Blumentritt, marked the file copy of Halder’s signal, “Submitted to OC [Rundstedt] and Chief of Staff, but has not been forwarded to Fourth Army as F¸hrer wants OC Army Group A to decide.”  This did not prevent Bock (diary) and Fourth Army (war diary, May 27) from attributing the order to Hitler ;  the F¸hrer never blamed Rundstedt in later years, however.  I also used the diaries of Jodl, Richthofen, Waldau, and Halder ;  the interrogations of Halder, Kesselring, Scheidt, Jodl, Warlimont, Rundstedt, and Heusinger ;  and the memoirs of Keitel, Lossberg, and Junge.  Engel also noted (allegedly on May 27):  “Contrary to expectations the F¸hrer left the decision largely to Rundstedt.”

p. 123   Himmler’s written proposals for dealing with the eastern populations are in his files (T175/119/5133 et seq.);  a genesis of these ideas will be found in his speech notes of March 13, 1940.  For Hitler’s broadly similar views, note his remark in Table Talk, February 4, 1942 (Heim’s note) :  “Wherever in the world there is some Germanic blood, we’ll be taking the best of it for ourselves.”  Himmler’s eight-page plan of June 1940 (pages 123-24) is on IfZ microfilm MA-360.

Himmler’s notes written before his meeting give a good impression of his varied interests, e.g., May 22, 1940, F¸hrer, at Felsennest [HQ].  (1) Chief of SS and Police for Holland :  “Bach or Rauter ?  (‘Warmly approves of Rauter, as Austrian’).  (2) Pistol with spotlights.  (3) Identity photos (Waffen SS).  (4) Book by Divinger, Atrocities in Poland.  (5) Memorandum on Poland.  (‘Not yet read’).  (6) Legal proceedings against [British agents] Best and Stevens.  (‘F¸hrer will fix the date’)” (T175/94/5221).

p. 125   My account of Hitler’s secret speech of June 2, 1940, is based principally on Leeb’s diary, but also on accounts by Rommel, Weichs, Bock, and Salmuth.

p. 126   For Leopold’s fury, see Army Group B’s telex to the OKH on May 31, 1940 (Weizs”cker’s AA files, Serial 141).

p. 128   Hitler’s caustic comments about Italy were reported, respectively, by General Thomas (1456-PS), Weizs”cker in a private letter of June 5 and diary July 10, Junge, Puttkamer, and Engel in a note on June to, 1940.

p. 129 (footnote) In Etzdorfs files is a further dispatch by Karl von Wiegand from Paris, transmitted with Hitler’s consent on June 15, 1940, in typical newspaper jargon.  Paris was quiet and undamaged, the population was curious, the police were saluting German officers, and German soldiers were voluntarily saluting the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.  “Tonight hotel dining rooms filled German officers who obviously happy but maintain astonishingly quiet dignified demeanor considering they’ve taken one greatest cities world.”

p. 130   The only record of Hitler’s private talk with Mussolini is in Italian, in the Duce’s handwriting (Mussolini papers, T586/406/769 et seq.);  he had talked with Hitler for a long time about the French fleet, but Hitler had persuaded him that modern bombers rendered big warships obsolete.  “Since France wanted this war and declared it on us, despite my repeated offers of agreement,” continued Hitler, “my terms will be such as to solve once and for all the outstanding problems”—and he pointed to the Colmar-M¸hlhausen area on the map, indicating that the present (German) inhabitants of Alto Adige, in the Tyrol, would be resettled there.  For Russia Hitler expressed only “enormous contempt.”  He concluded :  “Now Germany can be compared with a lucky and audacious gambler, who has kept winning but kept on doubling his stake.  Now he is a little bit nervous—and wants to take home his winnings quickly.”  Mussolini’s protocol makes much of Hitler’s admiration of Italy ;  but Waldau’s diary, June 20, reports that the F¸hrer returned to HQ “bitterly upset about the complete inactivity of the Italians.”

p. 130   It was Admiral Puttkamer who overheard—and told me of—Hitler’s refusal to Raeder to assign the French fleet to Germany.

p. 131   In Weizs”cker’s files is a detailed list of all the “insulting and degrading conditions of the Versailles Treaty” drawn up for comparative purposes (Serial 1892H).

p. 131   Hitler had learnt the measurements of the world’s most famous theaters by heart, having steeped himself years earlier in the British architect Sachs’s Modern Opera Houses and Theatres.

p. 131   The origins of Hitler’s belief that the British would give way are clear enough.  On June 17, 1940, Lord Halifax’s undersecretary R.A. Butler saw the Swedish envoy in London, Bj–rn Prytz, who promptly telegraphed Stockholm :  “Mr. Butler’s official attitude will for the present be that the war should continue, but he must be certain that no opportunity should be missed of compromise if reasonable conditions could be agreed, and no diehards would be allowed to stay in the way.  He [Butler] was called in to Lord Halifax and came out with a message to me that common sense and not bravado would dictate the British government’s policy.  Halifax had said that he felt such a message would be welcome to [Prytz] but it must not be taken to mean ‘peace at any price.’ ”  Two days later Weizs”cker was told of this telegram in broad outline by Prytz’s Berlin counterpart, Richert, who added on June 22—the day before Hitler’s talk with Brauchitsch, on which the OKW note exists in CO files—that Halifax took the peace line in opposition to Churchill, Duff Cooper, Chamberlain, and Simon.  (See Weizs”cker’s AA file, “Anglo-German Relations,” Vol. III.)  Swedish government publication of Prytz’s remarkable telegram was twice (in 1946 and 1964) successfully blocked by the British FO.

Churchill had not always opposed a compromise with Hitler, nor had the British Cabinet.  On May 28, 1940, according to its minutes now available for inspection, Chamberlain “said that it was our duty to look at the situation realistically.  He felt bound to say that he was in agreement with the foreign secretary [Halifax] in taking the view that if we thought it was possible that we could now get terms which, although grievous, would not threaten our independence, we should be right to consider such terms.”  According to Halifax’s private diary, on June 6 Churchill also confirmed that “any peace terms now as hereafter offered must not be destructive of our independence.”