The Big Decision
While Schmundt packed up the headquarters, and a never-ending stream of telegrams and congratulations reached the Chancellery in Berlinfrom the exiled kaiser in Holland, from the crown prince, from Hindenburgs daughter, and even one from Hitlers old schoolmaster in Austriathe F¸hrer contentedly toured the Flanders battlefield of World War I with his old comrades Amann and Schmidt. He even found the house where he had been billeted as an infantryman and delightedly showed it to Schaub and the select handful who accompanied him on this nostalgic pilgrimage around those corners of his memory. At one point he darted off and clambered up an overgrown slope, looking for a concrete slab behind which he had once taken cover. His memory had not deceived him, for the same nondescript slab was still there and for all we know lies there to this day.
Schmundt had prepared for him an interim headquarters, Tannenberg, high up in the Black Forest near Freudenstadt. Hitler did not want to return to Berlin until he had some unofficial response to the peace feelers he had extended to the British through Sweden. He would then stage a triumphal return to the capital on July 6 and make his formal offer in a Reichstag speech two days later. After that he would be free to attend to Russia in 1941.
The anti-Bolshevik urge, like some Wagnerian motif, continued to inspire his private deliberations, occasionally breaking to the surface in moments of triumph or reposemuch to the consternation of his unready associates. Every time the Russians made some move, he reminded himself that this motif was his real raison dÍtre : he had analyzed the inexplicable Russian armistice with Finland with this in mind, and he had concluded that Stalin must have been bluffing about his military weakness ; but to what end ? Unlike the alcoholic dilettante into whose hands British power had now been thrust, Stalin was a national leader of whose strategic capability Hitler was in no doubt ; he knew how to think in terms of centurieshe set himself distant goals which he then pursued with a single-mindedness and ruthlessness that the F¸hrer could only admire.
As early as June 2, Hitler had mentioned to Rundstedt when discussing Red at Charleville, Now that Britain will presumably be willing to make peace, I will begin the final settlement of scores with bolshevism. He obviously regarded the August 1939 pact with Stalin with increasing cynicism. It was a life insurance policy to which he had steadfastly contributed but which he now felt had served its purpose ; his victory in France had given him a feeling of immortality.
The Russian and British problems were inseparably entangled with the British : if Russia were neutralized as a military power, Britain would be obliged to accept just the kind of bloodless defeat Hitler was reserving for this troublesome brother-country. Her last Continental dagger would be smitten from her grasp.
There is an abundance of contemporary evidence that in June 194o Hitler was still well disposed toward the British Empire. The archives of the High Command and the navy provide examples. This was why Keitel rejected a proposal that Britains food supplies be sabotaged, and on June 3 Hitler explicitly forbade Canaris to introduce bacterial warfare against Britain. On June 17, Jodls principal assistant confirmed to the naval staff that
... the F¸hrer has anything but the intention of completely destroying the British Empire, as Englands downfall would be to the detriment of the white race. Hence the possibility of making peace with Britain after Frances defeat and at the latters expense, on condition that our colonies are returned and Britain renounces her influence in Europe. With regard to an invasion ... the F¸hrer has not so far uttered any such intention, as he is fully aware of the extreme difficulties inherent in such an operation. That is also why the High Command has as yet undertaken no studies or preparations. (The Commander in Chief, Luftwaffe, has put certain things in hand, e.g., the activation of a parachute division.)
Hitler also lengthily discussed his friendly attitude toward Britain with Rudolf Hess, and together with G–ring he hatched a plan to offer Britain twelve divisions for overseas purposesthe defense of her Empire against aggression. G–ring criticized the plan as meaningless, since Britain could now in increasing measure rely on the United States for military support.
Hitler persisted in believing that with the fall of France the British government would see reason. Admiral Raeder urged him to launch immediate air raids on the main British naval bases and to prepare a seaborne invasion ; for the latter, of course, aerial supremacy was essential. Hitler, however, believed an invasion quite superfluous. One way or another the British will give in. On June 25 one of his private secretaries wrote : The Chief plans to speak to the Reichstag shortly. It will probably be his last appeal to Britain. If they dont come around even then, he will proceed without pity. I believe it still hurts him even now to have to tackle the British. It would obviously be far easier for him if they would see reason themselves. If only they knew that the Chief wants nothing more from them than the return of our own former colonies, perhaps they might be more approachable. . . . On the same day General Jeschonnek, the Chief of Air Staff, refused to assist the OKWs invasion planning since in his [Jeschonneks] view the F¸hrer has no intention of mounting an invasion. When the air member of Jodls staff nonetheless pressed Jeschonnek to help, the general bitingly replied, Thats the OKWs affair. There wont be any invasion, and I have no time to waste on planning one.
Hitler felt that the British public was being deliberately misled as to his war aims. In a democracy, public opinionand that meant published opinionmade it difficult to reverse ones course of action ; perhaps, he reasoned, there was nobody in Britain with the courage to admit the error in declaring war on Germany. Naturally, it matters a lot what the Britons expect the F¸hrers purpose to be in fighting their country, wrote Hewel to a contact in Switzerland on June 30, (the letter is important, since it appears to have been submitted to Hitler for approval.) They were cajoled into this catastrophe by emigrÈs and liberal-thinking people ... now it is up to them to find some way out of this mess. The point is, Can the British grasp the genius and greatness of the F¸hrer, not only as a benefit to Germany but to the whole of Europe too ? Can they swallow their envy and pride enough to see in him not the conqueror but the creator of the new Europe ? If they can they will automatically come to the conclusion that the F¸hrer does not want to destroy the Empire, as the emigrÈs duping them claim. Hitler was minded to give the British one last chance shortly, added Hewel. If they continue to wallow in their present pigheadedness, then God help them. A few days later Weizs”cker summed up the situation in his diary : Wed like to call it a day, put out a Germanic hand to Britain and thus win added pressure for our threat against the Russians, who are currently reaping all the advantageswhich are, indirectly, against us. In addition, perhaps we automatically shy from taking over the immense task of inheriting both Europe and the British Empire. Conquer Britainbut what then, and what for ?This question of the F¸hrers is countered by others, like Herr von Ribbentrop, with a comparison to two great trees that cannot prosper if they grow up close together. In Weizs”ckers view Britain would not give in unless clubbed to the groundand only after Churchill had been disposed of.
Deep in the Black Forest, the F¸hrer waited for word from Britain and planned the Reichs new frontiers. Now that victory was his, he saw no reason not to gather the spoils of war. He would throw France back to the frontiers of 1540. He personally instructed the two western Gauleiters, Josef B¸rckel and Robert Wagner, to reannex Alsace and Lorraine by stealth ; any formal German announcement would have prompted Mussolini to enforce Italys territorial claims against France, or even provoked Marshal PÈtain to transfer his fleet and African colonies to the enemy. Meanwhile German troops stopped the thousands of French refugees from returning to these provinces ; German civilian governments were set up, and all French official protests were ignored. Many of Hitlers own staff, like Otto Meissner and Rudolf Schmundt, had been born in Alsace.
Small wonder that Hitler warned his legal experts to put as little down on paper as possible, for the new Germany would have a western frontier not enjoyed since the late Middle Ages ; it would embrace all of Holland, Belgium, and Luxemburg, and much of modern France besides. The line he envisaged ran from the Somme estuary southward ; it gave Germany the Channel ports of Boulogne, Calais, and Dunkirk, much of Flanders, all of Lorraine, the Franche ComtÈ and part of Burgundy, as far as Lake Geneva. (Hitler also asked Jodls operations staff to draft a contingency plan for the invasion of Switzerland.) France herself was to be reduced to an impotent collection of self-governing provinces.
Under the peace settlement Hitler also intended to oblige his former enemies, as well as the pro-Axis countries, to agree on a uniform solution of the Jewish problem. France would be required to make available an overseas territory to accommodate Europes Jewshe considered Madagascar best suited. Hitler revealed this decision to Admiral Raeder on June 20 and evidently to Ribbentrop and Himmler soon after, for experts in the foreign ministry worked eagerly on the Madagascar plan throughout the summer, and the Reichsf¸hrer SS definitely issued corresponding instructions to the police generals in the east. He told a relieved Governor General Hans Frank that the F¸hrer had ordered an end to the dumping of Jews in the Generalgouvernement of Poland after all, as they were to be deported overseas, including those now in Poland. Gauleiter Greiser, governor of the newly annexed Warthegau, was not pleased, however, for he had herded 250,000 Jews into the Litzmannstadt (Lodz) ghetto to await their transfer to the Generalgouvernement ; further delay would place a huge medical and foodstuffs burden on his administration that winter. But of course he would bow to these instructions, he promised. At a Cracow conference, SS General Streckenbach quoted Himmler : When and how the deportation begins, depends on the peace settlement.
It is difficult to relate the political and military developments of the summer of 1940 to the industrialand hence longer-rangedecisions Hitler took. His political posture from early June onward was one of conviction that Britain could be persuaded by diplomatic means to yield to his will. Nevertheless, in the second week of June he ordered Keitel, G–ring, and the arms industry to convert to the special needs of the war against Britain : all effort must be applied to the mass production of Junkers 88 bombers and of submarines. But though the ammunition dumps were to be replenished, the peacetime consumer-goods industry was restarted. The field army was to be reduced in strength immediately by thirty-five divisions, which would provide industry with the manpower it now lacked.
The key to the uncertainty this reflected was Russia. Jodl felt that Hitlers huntsmans instinct told him that Stalin meant him no good, and twice during June Russian actions fed these suspicions. On the twelfth, Moscow issued an ultimatum to the Baltic state of Lithuania, followed four days later by similar ultimata to Estonia and Latvia. Soviet troops invaded these countries, and from the concentrations of troops on Romanias frontier it was clear that further moves were intended.
Now Germanys oil supplies were in real danger. Army Intelligence recorded a flood of reports that the Russians were going to invade Germany, that heavy tanks had been heard massing across the frontier, and that Germany was to receive an ultimatum to hand over Memel. The rapidity with which Hitler finally defeated France must have taken Stalin by surprise, for on the twenty-third Molotov informed Germany that despite an earlier promise to avoid war with Romania over the Bessarabian region, the Soviet Union would brook no further delay and was resolved to use force if the Romanian government refuses a peaceful settlement. To Hitlers evident consternation, the Russians also laid claim to Bukovina, a region formerly owned by the Austrian crown and never by Imperial Russia ; Bukovina was densely populated by ethnic Germans. Hitler asked Ribbentrop to refresh his memory as to the content of the 1939 pact with Stalin, but the secret protocol was alarmingly vague : With respect to the southeast, the Soviet party stresses its interest in Bessarabia. The German party declares its total political dÈsintÈressement in these regions. The plurality of regions was an embarrassment, but the protocol bore Ribbentrops signature, and war in the Balkans had to be avoided at all costs. Molotov agreed to limit the Russian claim to northern Bukovina, and under German pressure the Romanian government bowed to force majeure on the twenty-eighth.
To his adjutants Hitler expressed all the private anger about these two Russian movesinto the Baltic states and eastern Romaniathat he was unable to vent in public. He termed them the first Russian attacks on western Europe and as such to be taken very seriously indeed. This is Russia trying to safeguard her flanks. Since the autumn of 1939 Stalin had now annexed over 286,000 square miles, with a population of over twenty million people.
During the last days of June, Hitler had a number of private talks with Brauchitsch, the armys Commander in Chief, some of which General Halder also attended. Halder was concerned about Russias growing militancy, her steadily increasing strength along the September 1939 demarcation line in Poland, and her colossal armaments program ; he pointed out that the few divisions left in the east were not even sufficient for customs purposes and asked for an increase in German strength there. On June 23, Hitler discussed this at length with Brauchitscha long note of their decisions was taken by Colonel von Lossberg. Basically Hitler ruled that the army was to be reduced from 155 to 120 divisions (although 20 of the 35 divisions to be disbanded could be reactivated on short notice if necessary); he directed that the armored and mechanized divisions were to be doubleditself an interesting provision ; and that no fewer than 17 divisions were to be stationed in the east, together with the headquarters of General Georg von K¸chlers Eighteenth Army. The Russians were to be reassured that this redeployment was merely a transfer home.
Hitlers political appreciation of the situation was that if Britain continued to fight, it could only be because she hoped to enlist the United States and Russia on her side. Two days later, Halder is to be found briefing his staff on the new element in all this : Germanys striking power in the east. In an order to the three army group commanders on June 25, General von Brauchitsch mentioned innocuously that the various organizational changes would be effected partly in occupied areas, partly in Germany, and partly in the east. Discussing the reasons underlying the transfer of the Eighteenth Army to the east, in a letter to Brauchitsch on the twenty-eighth,(1) Halder wrote : The purpose here for the time being is to demonstrate the physical presence of the German army ; but it is important not to show an attitude of open hostility. Two days later he apparently told Weizs”cker that Germany must keep a weather eye on the east. Britain will probably need a display of military force before she gives in and allows us a free hand for the east.(2) And on July 3 Halder was even more explicit in his discussion of the eastern problem. It has to be examined from the angle of how best to deliver a military blow to Russia, to extort from her a recognition of Germanys dominant role in Europe.
Tannenberg was not one of Hitlers most attractively sited headquarters. It consisted of a number of wooden barracks and concrete block houses partly below ground level, deep in the Black Forest. The tall pine-trees sighed in the wind, and it rained heavily. There were only a few days of sunshine in the week he stayed there, beginning June 28. While Jodls staff applied itself to the theoretical problems of defeating Britain, Hitler began to draft the speech he would deliver to the Reichstag upon his return to Berlin.
The Italian ambassador called on him here ; Hitler hinted that Germany was on the threshold of big new tasks, without being more specific. In truth, he had not yet made up his own mind which way to turn. He mentioned to Schmundt that he was turning over in his mind whether or not to fight Russia. The Wehrmacht adjutant afterward told Below about it as they walked gloomily through the dripping forest. (The scene of this exchange remained indelibly in the Luftwaffe adjutants memory and helped to fix the time of Hitlers portentous remark in the rush of history that summer.) Hitler also seems to have discussed this possibility with his foreign minister, and one of Jodls staff whether on Hitlers direct command cannot now be discernedprivately began drafting an OKW plan for an attack on Russia.(3)
By late June 1940, Hitler suspected that the British had no intention of submitting ; by the end of the first week in July, this suspicion had hardened to a certainty.
Not only had Germanys own unofficial soundings through Sweden met with a rebuff, but Hitlers agencies had intercepted the formal British reply to an offer of mediation by the Pope. The extent of Britains determination was displayed vividly on July 3, when Churchills navy opened fire on the remnants of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir, killing 1,150 French sailors ; this was Hitlers own language and the message reached him loud and clear. Moreover, Allied documents captured in France demonstrated unmistakably the kind of war that Britain was preparing : among the records of the Supreme War Council was one of a November 1939 meeting at which Chamberlain had disclosed that the British air staff had developed a plan to use its new long-range bombers for the destruction of the Ruhr, site of an estimated 6o per-cent of German industry. Aerial photographs had been taken ; plaster models had been built of the entire region. The RAF bombing offensive as planned would continue for several months and would inevitably, Chamberlain admitted, take a heavy toll of civilian life in Germany, which was a drawback from a world-opinion point of view. French War Minister Daladier had begged the British to think again, fearing that the German reprisals would fall most heavily on France.
Hitlers agents had also discovered notes written by Daladier during a visit to Paris by Churchill and British air marshals on May 16, while the archives of the Quai dOrsay were being burned outside the windows. . . . Churchill thinks the [German] salient can be cordoned off just as in 1918. I explain to him there can be no comparison between the two wars. A long technical argument with his generals, who declare to me that the German advance into France can be slowed down by bombing the Ruhr. I retort it is absurd to believe that. The Germans are interested only in pressing on into France and finishing off Britain afterward. The damage to the Ruhr wont matter two hoots to them ; they wont let their spoils slip through their fingers now.... London must be defended here. Air Marshal Joubert de la FertÈ and Churchill contradict, they point out the importance of defending the British arms factories.... A last desperate telegram from Reynaud to Churchill appealed for the RAF to stop its futile attacks on the Ruhr and send aircraft instead in direct support of the French infantry, now standing alone in battle with the Germans. This document was also in Hitlers hands by the end of June.
So the British planned to fight onrelying on their air force for the defense of their isles and a strategic attack on Germanys rear. It was an unwelcome revelation for Hitler and the OKW operations staff. As one of Jodls officers was later to write : We had in truth not the slightest desire for such a passage of arms. Our worries centered solely on the gathering Bolshevik menace far in the east, against which no natural frontier protected us. This was why we had built up our costly arms industry. On June 30, Jodl drafted a first appreciation of the continued war with Britain. It was dominated by the specter of a Britain resurgent and able to strike at Germanys arms industryin essence it was concerned with defensive and preventive strategy, with ways of breaking Britains will, and of defeating her bomber force either in the air or in the factories themselves. Jodl regarded the invasion of Britain as an extreme to be adopted only if all else failed to bring Britain to her senses ; meanwhile, the country could be blockaded or bombed into abandoning her war against Germany. Hitler ordered his service commanders to start invasion preparations since under certain circumstances the need might arise, but the mere thought of committing upward of thirty good divisions to an opposed operation overseas must have smitten the F¸hrer with grave apprehension. He willingly allowed the invasion preparations to go on, but apparently only for the diversionary(4) and political effect they had on Britain and Russia.
On July 6, 1940, Hitler returned to Berlin, two months after he had sallied forth to fight the French. A public holiday had been declared in the capital, the shops had shut at noon, a million swastika flags had been distributed free to the packed mass of humanity lining the streets to the Chancellery, and roses were scattered in the roads for Hitlers cars to crush. As a military band struck up the Badenweiler march and Dr. Goebbels himself broadcast the running commentary over the radio network, at 3 P.M. Hitlers special train pulled into Anhalt station.
The strategic alternatives facing Hitler were of nightmarish magnitude. Every other decision he had taken on impulse, with an instinctive lunge after a night of deep contemplation. But the choice between attacking Britain or Russia was one that occupied him continuously until the end of July and to a lesser degree until autumn. Unexpectedly he was now confronted by two enemies, but he had only one bullet left in the breech, as he himself later graphically put it. Britain was the less urgent of the dangers ; Churchill might conceal from his own people the magnitude of the defeat suffered at Dunkirk, but the debris of an army in flight, left on the beaches of northern France, was concrete evidence of Britains inability to intervene directly on land for several years to come. That the RAF might bomb German industry concerned Hitler less than the mischief Britain might create in the Balkansthe source of Hitlers oilwhere Churchill could set one jealous country at its neighbors throat with little risk to British life and limb.
The Allied planning documents recently captured in France had been an eye-opener, betraying, as they did, the sympathetic attitude shown by Turkey, Greece, and particularly Yugoslavia toward the various moves contemplated by the Allies : the Greek war minister had secretly announced his countrys readiness to allow the Allies to land troops in Salonika, and Turkey had agreed to allow French aircraft overflights from Syria to bomb the Russian oil fields in the Caucasus. In short, the Balkans could prove Hitlers undoing, and he told Italys foreign minister as much on the day after his return to Berlin. The Italians wished to invade Yugoslavia now, but Hitler urged them not to since then Hungary could invade Romania, the Balkans would go up in flames, and Russia might cross the Danube into Bulgaria, where Communist and Pan-Slav influence was rife and the royal house dangerously insecure. The Russians would therefore certainly advance toward their ancient Byzantine goal, the Dardanelles and Constantinople, said Hitler. He added explicitly, So long as the conflict with Britain has not been brought to a victorious conclusion, a Balkan conflict would present great difficulties for us. Things might go so far that Britain and Russia, under the pressure of events, could discover a community of interest.
By July 1, 1940, both General von Brauchitsch and Colonel von Lossberg, a member of Jodls staff, had realized that Hitler proposed a Russian campaign. Brauchitsch asked the OKH to do some operational thinking about this, and Halder accordingly asked General Hans von Greiffenberg to start planning in the operations branch of the General Staff. In addition, Foreign Armies East was directed to investigate the distribution of Soviet forces confronting them. Lossbergs OKW study of a Russian campaigns was some thirty pages long, with a number of appendices and maps ; early in July, during the subsequent sojourn of the OKW command train Atlas on a siding at Grunewald station in Berlin, Lossberg directed Captain von Trothahis assistantto obtain maps of Russia. The Lossberg study in its final formthe plan was code-named Fritz, after his sonbore a striking resemblance to the campaign that was actually begun in the summer of 1941.
Lossberg was undoubtedly right when he later suggested that there was a psychological factor in Hitlers decision to deal with Russia first. It was not just that the F¸hrer realized that risking a seaborne invasion of Britain despite her crushing naval supremacy might on the first day cost him a hundred thousand menmen he would one day need to achieve his distant goal, the black nugget of National Socialist ambition, the subjugation of the Soviet Union. It was the realization that victory in France had produced both in his command staffs and in the German people a smugness and a self-satisfaction and a savoring of the peace to come that threatened to undermine all hope of launching a superhuman crusade against the Bolsheviks. It was now or never : never again would Germany have a leader of such authority and following. In April 1941 he was to say :
Of course the people will never see the point of this new campaign. But the people never does grasp what must be done for its own advantage. The people must always be led by the nose to paradise. Today we are more powerfully armed than ever before. We cannot keep up this level of armament much longer. I would never be able to tackle my real peacetime ambitions otherwise. That is why we have to use the arms we have now for the real battlethe one that counts, because one day the Russians, the countless millions of Slavs, are going to come. Perhaps not even in ten years time, perhaps only after a hundred ; but they will come.
In spite of all this, throughout the summer of 1940 Hitler allowed the invasion preparations against Britain to continue in the hope that this threat coupled with propaganda, blockade, and if need be air bombardment would bring the British people to their senses. Admiral Raeder felt that the British would not make peace without, figuratively speaking, a taste of the whip first : he urged Hitler first to order heavy air raids on some big city like Liverpool, and then to deliver his peace offer in the Reichstag ; an invasion must be regarded only as a last resort. Hitler agreed in principle, but refused to unleash the Luftwaffe against Britain as this might stir up irreparable hatred.
The signs were in fact conflicting. It was rumored that the new British ambassador in Moscow, Sir Stafford Cripps, had predicted that an invasion was bound to succeed, forcing the government to emigrate to Canada ; and the expatriate Duke of Windsorwho had served with the French military mission near Paris but had now escaped through Spain to Portugalbitterly attacked Churchills unnecessary prolongation of the war and categorically foresaw that protracted heavy bombardment would make Britain ready for peace. He considered that his return to Britain would result in a powerful boost for the peace party there, and that was why Churchill was sending him away to govern the Bahamas.(6) But by July 11 it was clear that Churchills hard line was prevailing.
Hitler was perplexed by this continued intransigence. He assumed that Churchill had deliberately misinformed his colleagues, for Cripps was heard to explain in Moscow that Britain could not make peace because Germany would without doubt demand the entire British fleet to be handed over to hera charge devoid of even the smallest shred of support in the German documents. Yet, could not the British people realize, Hitler reasoned, that Churchills opportunist war would mean the end of their empire ? Halder wrote on the thirteenth : The F¸hrer ... accepts that he may have to force Britain to make peace ; but he is reluctant to do so, because if we do defeat the British in the field, the British Empire will fall apart. Germany will not profit therefrom. We should be paying with German blood for something from which only Japan, America, and others would draw benefit. Hitler now shared the armys suspicion that the only explanation for Churchills stand was that through Cripps he was working out a deal with Moscow. Could Stalin be making common cause with Britain, despite all he had just learned from copies supplied to him of captured French documents about the Franco-British plans of April 1940 to bomb the Caucasus oil fields ?
Hitler had postponed the Reichstag session and left Berlin on July 8. For the next ten days he drifted purposelessly about Bavaria and Austriaattending a reception for Munich artists at Bormanns house, persuading the Hungarian leaders to moderate their territorial demands on Romania, and then retiring to the Obersalzberg for a week of quiet reflection on the future. The Hungarian premier, Count Paul Teleki, had brought him a letter from his regent, Admiral Nicholas Horthy, on July 10 ; only Horthys handwritten draft survives in the Budapest archives, but it shows that he strongly hintedas in an earlier letter in Novemberthat Germany was the only power that could prevent Stalin and the Red Army from devouring the whole world like an artichoke, leaf by leaf. Between the lines was Horthys undertaking to lend his forces to an anti-Soviet campaign.
With Hitlers acquiescence, Joachim von Ribbentrop had begun an extended maneuver to win the support of the Duke of Windsor, who was now staying with the duchess at the Lisbon mansion of one of Portugals leading bankers, Ricardo de Espirito Santo Silva, prior to taking up his new post at Bermuda. Hitlers respect for the duke (whom he had met in 1937) was increased by the reports that now reached him of the latters unconcealed loathing of Churchill and the war, as well as his conditional willingness to accept high office in a Britain humbled by armistice. The duke had assured the Spanish foreign minister he would return to Britain if the duchess were recognized as a member of the Royal Family. For the moment, German policy was limited to arranging the dukes safe arrival in an area within Germanys sphere of influence, for example southern Spain. Ribbentrop genuinely feared the British secret service had evil designs on the duke, for he sent Walter Schellenberg, chief of Heydrichs security service, to Lisbon with instructions to ensure that no harm came to him. Schellenberg was also to enable the duke and duchess, whose passports had been impounded by the British embassy in Lisbon, to cross back into Spain if they wished.
There was an air of high intrigue about the German diplomatic cables that now arrived from Lisbon and Madrid. On July 9 the news was that the duke had asked the Spanish foreign minister to send somebody he could trust to Lisbon to pick up a message. Two days later Ribbentrop confidentially cabled his ambassador in Madrid that only the Churchill clique stood in the way of peace and that if the duke so desired Germany was willing to smooth the path for the duke and duchess to occupy the British throne. The duke told the Spanish emissary that he had been offended by the tone of Churchills letter appointing him governor of the Bahamas and that its delivery had been accompanied by an oral threat of court martial if he disobeyed. By the last week of July it seemed Ribbentrop might succeed : the Spanish emissary quoted the duke as saying that he was not afraid of his brother the king, who was of copious stupidity, so much as of the queen, who was shrewd and forever intriguing against the dukeand particularly the duchess. For two pins, he would break with his brother and Britains present policies and retire to a life of peace in southern Spainbut the Lisbon embassy had impounded his passports. To Ribbentrop this cannot have seemed a serious obstacle. On the twenty-fourth, the Spanish emissary communicated to Ribbentrop that the duke and duchess had said they were willing to return to Spain. When the duke had been told the time might come when he would again play an important part in English public life, and perhaps even return to the throne, he had replied in astonishment that the British Constitution made this impossible for a king who had once abdicated. Ribbentrops ambassador reported, When the emissary then suggested that the course of the war might bring about changes even in the British Constitution, the duchess in particular became very thoughtful.
Hitlers suspicion of collusion between Russia and Britain was powerfully reinforced by reports of conversations of Russian diplomats in Moscow ; these reports were partly intercepted by the German Intelligence service and partly furnished by the Italian government in the innocent belief that proof of the antagonism of Yugoslavia and Greece toward Germany would soften Hitlers stern opposition to any Italian adventure against Yugoslavia. Hitler was far more concerned with them as concrete proof of Soviet duplicity, however. Thus on July 5 the Turkish ambassador reported to Ankara on a conversation with Sir Stafford Cripps : Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin, the President of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, had assured the Briton that Britain and Russia had many interests in common ; but while it was necessary for them to arrive at an understanding he recommended that nothing be done hastily.
In Hitlers eyes, this cautious utterance exposed Stalins hypocrisy. According to Molotovs version of Stalins meeting with Cripps, the Soviet dictator had refused to convert his policies into anti-German ones.
Yet in mid-July the Italians supplied Ribbentrop with a decoded Greek telegram sent to Athens by the Greek legation in Moscow. It reported on a two-hour interview with Cripps on July 6, the contents of which demonstrably alarmed Hitler when he read them on his return to Berlin. Cripps had emphasized that the Russians were feverishly making war preparations (which is quite correct, noted the Greek telegram) and that if the war lasted, then within one year the Soviet Union would join in on Britains side. Significantly the Greek envoy had retorted that it appears questionable to me that if Germany believes the Kremlin definitely intends to attack she will give the Russians a year to get ready and not take action immediately. Cripps had claimed in reply that because Germany could not be ready to attack Russia before autumn, and even then could not endure a winter campaign, she will be forced to postpone the war against Russia until next springby which time the Russians will be ready too. Until then both parties would avoid any disruption of their mutual relations. Speaking to the Turkish ambassador on July 16it was the Hungarian foreign ministry that supplied Ribbentrop with an account of this conversationCripps had indicated Stalins evident inclination to accept the collaboration proposed to him by Churchill in a personal letter ; as Cripps had admitted to the Turkish ambassador, I fully understand how delicate this matter is, but faced by imminent German attack ... we are forced to come to some arrangement with the Russians whatever the cost.
Russia for its part seemed to be trying to set the Balkans at Germanys throat. In an unusually cordial interview with the new Yugoslav minister in Moscow, Kalinin had insidiously cast aspersions on sharp business practices adopted by Germany in exporting to Yugoslavia. This is no way for the Germans to safeguard the peace, the Russian had hinted. Indeed, they always demand more and more. No, you must struggle against it ; you must be vigilantyou must stand together. The Yugoslav diplomats dispatch on this pregnant interview was also in Hitlers hands on his return to Berlin.
On July 16, Hitler had without noticeable enthusiasm accepted Jodls draft order to the Wehrmacht to prepare an invasion of Britain and if need be carry it out, since Britain still failed to draw the proper consequences from her hopeless position. The army generals, exhilarated by their recent victories, were eager to go and jostling for the most favored positions on the Channel coast. But the navy was more circumspect. The withdrawal of a thousand heavy barges from the German waterways would paralyze large sections of industry ; in addition, adequate local air superiority was a sine qua non for any invasion operation. On the fifteenth the OKW had orally asked the commanders in chief whether everything could theoretically be ready by August 15 ; on his arrival now in Berlin Hitler learned from Raeder that this would be quite impossible. Nonetheless the F¸hrer ordered the stage to be setthe transport ships and crews were to be be marshaled along the Channel coast in full view of the British. His aim was transparent, for the Luftwaffe meanwhile operated with a decorum and restraint hardly compatible with the strategic objective of fighting for air supremacy.
Hitler now delivered his long-delayed speech to the Reichstag. The flower-bedecked Kroll opera house was packed to overflowingthe generals and admirals in the dress circle and the deputies in the orchestra. There is no need here to analyze his speecheffective as ever, now narrating, now mocking, now ranting, now appealing. Its burden was an appeal to Britains common sense, an appeal Hitler had long known would fall on deaf ears, but nonetheless a necessary tactic if he was to justify himself to history and the German people. What was unorthodox was that he unexpectedly announced an avalanche of promotions for all his principal commanders on the western front. He had kept them secret even from his staff, but Hermann G–ring must have learned that he was to be created a Reichsmarschallone rung higher even than field marshalfor he had already ordered a gaudy new uniform which he paraded before Hitler immediately after his return to the Chancellery ; the Luftwaffe generals were disappointed that G–ring no longer saw fit to wear Luftwaffe uniform. Among the dozen field marshals Hitler had just created, he reluctantly included Brauchitsch, although against his better judgment, as he told his adjutants. Before the day was over he privately assured the sixty-five-year-old Field Marshal von Rundstedt, who was about to return to France, that he had not the slightest real intention of launching a cross-Channel invasion ; that would be quite superfluous.
Hitler evidently repeated to Brauchitsch his demand that a Russian campaign now be explored. He had establishedperhaps from the Lossberg studythat the Wehrmacht could regroup for an attack on Russia within four to six weeks. Lossbergs Fritz draft certainly indicated that the regrouping could be very rapid, and the strategic objective Hitler outlined to Brauchitsch echoed Lossberg : To defeat the Russian army or at least to take over as much Russian territory as is necessary to protect Berlin and the Silesian industrial region from enemy air raids. It would be desirable to advance so far into Russia that we could devastate the most important areas there with our own Luftwaffe.
The F¸hrer was now convinced that Britain was playing for time and reposing her hopes in American and Russian intervention. By all accounts she had already lost the war, if things did not improve ; the British ambassador in Washington was openly conceding that Britain had been defeated and must expect to pay. Before leaving Berlin on July 21, Hitler collected Raeder, Brauchitsch, and G–rings Chief of Staff Jeschonnek, in the Chancellery and explained to them the need to take the necessary political and military steps to safeguard the crucial oil imports shouldas was highly unlikelythe Romanian and Russian supplies threaten to dry up. The ideal strategy now would be to invade Britain and end the war, but this would not be just an enlarged river-crossing operation ; he asked Raeder to report to him within a week on the prospects for an invasion that must be completed by September 15 at the latest. Brauchitsch was optimistic, but Raeder was not. If the preparations cannot definitely be completed by the beginning of September, it will prove necessary to ponder other plans, Hitler concluded. By this he meant that he would postpone the decision on England until next May and attack Russia this very autumn.
While awaiting Raeders report on the prospects for an invasion of Britain, Hitler toured Weimar and Bayreuth. What thoughts must have inspired him now, listening to G–tterd”mmerung ? But now there were air raid wardens in the theater, air raid shelters everywhere, and the program in his hands included a full-page announcement on what to do if the sirens sounded. Since May the British air offensive, now conducted almost entirely under cover of darkness, had begun causing perceptible discomfiture in Germany.
On the twenty-fifth Hitler was back in the capital and Raeder again tried to dissuade him from an invasion of Britain ; the admiral used economic arguments and the unreadiness of the Luftwaffe to mask his basic opposition from a naval point of view. Hitler asked him to report again on the position in a few days time. But his final decision may have been spurred by an intercepted telegram that was shown him before he left Berlin for the Berghof late that evening. In it, the Yugoslav ambassador in Moscow, Gavrilovic, a pro-Russian member of the Serbian Agrarian party, reported to his government and quoted Sir Stafford Crippss view that Frances collapse had put the Soviet government in great fear of Germany. The Soviet government is afraid that the Germans will launch a sudden and unexpected attack. They are trying to gain time. The Soviet government thinks Germany will not be ready for a war against them this winter.
Gavrilovic had also discussed the growing Russian military strength with his Turkish colleague. The armys mechanization is much more advanced than people believe. The Red Army has 180 divisions according to his information, and is more powerfully organized than any other at this moment. Apparently this is all aimed at Germany, while Japan is only of subsidiary interest. The Turkish ambassador also considered war between Germany and Russia a foregone conclusion.
Hitler arrived at the Berghof in time for lunch on July 26. Over the next few days a series of meetings followed with Balkan potentates. Hitler urged the Romanians to concede the territorial claims now raised by Hungary and Bulgaria, painful though they were, coming so shortly after Russias invasion of Bessarabia and Bukovina. The Russians were now known by the German army to have stationed in the former Romanian provinces powerful forcesincluding the bulk of their cavalry and mechanized units. Small wonder that the king of Romania had begged Hitler to guarantee the rest of his country, if only because of Germanys concern over the oil wells there. But it was the proximity of the Russian air force that also nagged at Hitler. In one of these Berghof conferences, on the twenty-eighth, he explained, The long-term political lineup in Europe must be straightened out. Only if one no longer has to fear being exposed to enemy bombing attack can one embark on far-reaching economic plans.
One morning after the regular war conference in the Berghofs Great Hall, Hitler asked General Jodl to stay behind and questioned him on the possibility of launching a lightning attack on Russia before winter set in.(7) He explained that he was perfectly aware that Stalin had only signed his 1939 pact with Germany to open the floodgates of war in Europe ; what Stalin had not bargained for was that Hitler would finish off France so soonthis explained Russias headlong occupation of the Baltic states and the Romanian provinces in the latter part of June. It was now clear from the increasing Soviet military strength along a frontier on which Germany still had only five divisions stationed that Russia had further acquisitions in mind. Hitler feared Stalin planned to bomb or invade the Romanian oil fields that autumn ; in such an event, Germany would be open to all manner of Soviet blackmail. Hitler would then be unable to launch a winter counteroffensive, and by springfrom all that he had heardRussias entire military potential would be marshaled against him. Russias aims had not changed since Peter the Great : she wanted the whole of Poland and the political absorption of Bulgaria, then Finland, and finally the Dardanelles. War with Russia was inevitable, argued Hitler ; such being the case, it was better to attack nowthis autumn ; postponement was only to Russias advantage. Jodl doubted whether they could be ready by autumn, but he undertook to find out at once. Hitlers decision was to start preparations nonetheless ; meanwhile he would make one last political attempt to explore Stalins intentions before making up his mind to attack.
A few days later Jodl returned to the Berghof with his operations staffs analysis of the prospects for an attack against the USSR. Spreading out railway maps on the large red marble table at the Berghof, he had to advise Hitler that for transport reasons alone it would be impossible to attack Russia that autumn. Hitler ordered the OKW to attach top priority to expanding the handling capacity of the railways in the east.
When the F¸hrer called his OKW, army, and navy chiefs to the Berghof on July 31, 1940, his reluctance to reach a firm decision on an invasion of Britain contrasted strongly with his powerful arguments in favor of attacking Russia.
Admiral Raeder had flown down from Berlin. He sedulously gave the impression that the navy would be ready for the invasion by mid-September 1940 ; but he advanced formidable technical reasons why they should wait until May 1941. May and June were the ideal months, while from a moon and tide point of view in the coming autumn only two periods were attractivefrom August 20 to 26, and from September 19 to 26 ; the first was too early for the navy, the second fell in what records showed to be a traditional foul-weather period. Hitler took the weather risk very seriously. Meanwhile, warned Raeder, the commandeering of barges and fishing ships required for the invasion was having catastrophic effects on the German economy. In passing he raised basic tactical objections to the armys plan to invade southern England on such a broad front. If Hitler waited until May, on the other hand, the navys fleet of battleships would be brought up to four by the new Tirpitz and Bismarck, and there would also be many more smaller warships. Hitler thanked the navy for its splendid achievement so far, and the admiral returned to Berlin.
After he had gone, Hitler commented to Brauchitsch and Halderwho had flown up from General Staff headquarters at Fontainebleauthat he doubted the technical practicability of an invasion. He was impressed by Britains naval supremacy and saw no real reason to take such a risk for so little. The war was already all but won. With more marked enthusiasmHalder underlined in his diary several of Hitlers following statementsthe F¸hrer turned to the other, less risky, means of dashing Britains hopes. Submarine and air war would take up to two years to defeat Britain. Britain still had high hopes of the United States, and she was clutching at Russia like a drowning man : if Russia were to drop out of the picture, then the United States must, too, because with the USSR eliminated Japan would be released as a threatening force in the Far East. That was the beauty of attacking Russia. If Russia is laid low, then Britains last hope is wiped out, and Germany will be master of Europe and the Balkans.
This then was Hitlers strategy. The Wehrmacht must prepare to finish off Russia as a military power by capturing Moscow, launching a huge encirclement operation from the north and south and following this up with a subsidiary offensive against the Caucasian oil fields.
The main campaign had to be completed in one stage. There was, alas, no time to commence it that autumn, as winter would have set in before the operation could be concluded ; but if it were started in the springMay 1941the army would have five clear months in which to defeat the Soviet Union. The army he had so recently ordered cut back to 120 divisions would now be expanded to a record 180 divisions ; whereas on June 23 he and Brauchitsch had agreed to allocate 17 infantry divisions to the east, he now proposed that by spring his strength there be built up to 120 divisions, including most of his armored units. He would explain this imbalance to the Russians by stressing the need to have an area well away from the danger of British air attack in which to set up new divisions for campaigns in Spain, North Africa, and Britain.
Neither Brauchitsch nor Halder offered any objections.
1 The letter is quoted in a restricted British monograph but is not among the files restituted to Germany ; it is presumably still in British hands.
2 In the published version of his diaries, Halder annotates the quotation to suggest that Weizs”cker was quoting Hitler to him, but taken in conjunction with the entry of July 3, 1940, it is difficult to defend that interpretation.
3 This was Colonel Bernhard von Lossberg ; for his plan (Operation Fritz) see page 162 below.
4 An unpublished OKW directive signed on June 28 by Lossbergwho certainly knew that a Russian campaign was now in the cardsordered the Intelligence services to use all available channels to dupe the British into believing Germany is preparing war against the British mainland and overseas possessions with all dispatch in the event that Britain desires to continue the fight. The British were to be led to believe that their blockade and bombing offensive were ineffective, that a German air offensive would start once the Luftwaffe had recovered its breath, and that there would be new secret weapons (super-artillery, tanks) by September ; moreover Germany, Italy, and Russia would soon open a campaign against the British position in the Middle Eastthis was the real explanation for the five panzer divisions and the infantry divisions being withdrawn from France to the Reich. (These were the divisions being moved up against Russia.).
5 I.e., before July 5. Sources differ as to Lossbergs inspiration. After the war, he himself privately claimed to have drafted the plan on a contingency basis on his own initiative and not, for example, on Jodls instructions. But his cousin was to state under interrogation that in about August Lossberg had told him the F¸hrer had commissioned the rough study from him.
6 The American ambassador in Madrid reported to Washington that on July 1 the Duke of Windsor had told him : The most important thing now to be done [is] to end the war before thousands more [are] killed or maimed just to save the faces of a few politicians. The duke is quoted as saying that French and other societies were so diseased that they ought never to have declared war on a healthy organism like Germany. These views, stated the ambassador, reflected a possibly growing element in Britain of people who find in Windsor and his circle a group who are realists in world politics and who hope to come into their own in event of peace. His dispatch is in U.S. government files.
7 Hitlers sudden insistence on an autumn campaign against Russia was unquestionably an echo of the mocking tone adopted by Soviet leaders in their (intercepted) conversations with Balkan diplomats. Hitler himself referred to intercepted conversations in this connection on July 31.
p. 133 Telegrams of congratulation are in the files of Adjutantur des F¸hrers, NS-10/18 and /19.
p. 134 Canaris reported his talk with Hitler in a report on June 11, 1940 (T77/1450/0899).
pp. 135-36 On July 1, 1940, one of Ribbentrops officials learned that the F¸hrer has directed that as little as possible is to be committed to paper about the whole businessmeaning his secret plans for annexing French territory. The official promptly wrote this down (Weizs”ckers files, Serial 1892H). A well-informed study is Professor Eberhard Jackel, Frankreich in Hitlers Europa, (Stuttgart, 1966), especially Chap. IV. I also used Pierre Crenesse, Le Proces de Wagner (Paris, 1946), and interrogations of Dr. Wilhelm Stuckarts aides Dr. Hans Globke and Klas. See the naval staff diary, June 2, 1940, and Goebbels unpublished diary, May 30, 1942Hitler told him that Brabant, Belgium, and Flanders were to become German Gaul and that the Netherlands and France were to be thrown back to the frontiers of 1500.
p. 136 Greiser and Streckenbach are quoted verbatim in Hans Franks diary, July 31, 1940. On the Madagascar plan and the developing Jewish problem, see Hitlers conference with Raeder on June 20, 1940. On the 24th Heydrich wrote reminding Ribbentrop that he had been promoting Jewish emigration on G–rings instructions since January 1939 ; two hundred thousand had already emigrated, and he asked the AA to inform him should there be any conferences on the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem. In fact an AA file with this title had existed since 1938, Serial 1513. Ribbentrops staff had pressed him since June 3 at least to lay down Germanys policy on thisfor example they might all be excluded from Europe ; or the eastern Jews might be sorted out from the western Jews ; or they might be given a national home in Palestine (which brought the danger of a second Rome!) On the Madagascar idea see inter alia Rademachers AA memo of July 3 ; Hitlers talk with Ambassador Abetz on August 3 (NG-1838); Luthers AA memo of August 15, 1940, and again of August 21, 1942 (The R.S.H.A. enthusiastically adopted the Madagascar plan); and Hitlers talk with Count Teleki on November 20, 1940.
p. 138 According to General Curt Siewert, Brauchitschs staff officer, it was Brauchitsch who first egged Hitler on to tackle the problem of Russia (IfZ, ZS-345). We note also that late on June 21, 1940, the AA cabled the German military attachÈ in Moscow to be on guard for the first signs of Russian aggression against Romania, as Halder was urgently interested. See in general J.W. Br¸gels informative study on the Soviet ultimatum to Romania, in VfZ, 1963, pages 404 et seq.
p. 139 Many of the captured French documents were published in an AA White Book on air war in 1943. Churchills postwar account of his meeting with Daladier on May 16, 1940 (memoirs, Vol. II), mentions neither his own bombing proposals nor Daladiers compelling arguments ; nor does he publish his harshly worded telegram to Reynaud of May 23, 1940, now in Weizs”ckers AA files, Serial 121, page 119942. See the files of Unterstaatssekret”r Woermann, War West II, for 104 more of the Allied documents.
p. 142 Invited by British officers to comment on his diary, Halder volunteered, re July 2, 1940 (The Commander in Chief has flown to Berlin) the remark : About this time Commander in Chief. Army asked me to begin operational thinking about Russia. Re the entry of July 3 (Greiffenberg must take over as my deputy [OQu.I]). Halder commented for the British : For the planned operation in Russia. The political situation was already acute, as the naval staff diary, July 5, demonstrates. Early further advances by Russians feared, objective : bolshevization of the Balkans. . . Halders frank commentary proves that the General Staff showed a more positive interest in attacking Russiaand earlierthan has hitherto been supposed.
p. 142 Lossberg described the origins of his historic study for a Russian campaign (Fritz) in a private letter of September 7, 1956. For certain reasons he had omitted reference to this from his memoirs (which were heavily altered by the publishers anyway); in particular Helmuth Greiner, the OKW war diarist, had urged Lossberg to make Hitler appear solely responsible for the campaign. Note that in a speech to Gauleiters on November 7, 1943 (ND, 172-L) Jodl apparently admitted : The F¸hrer himself . . . apprised me as early as during the western campaign of his fundamental decision to tackle this [Soviet] danger as soon as our military situation made it at all possible.
p. 142 Lossberg, Jodl, and Puttkamer all stressed the psychological aspectthe need to tackle Russia while the German people were still in the mood. On February 17, 1941, Halder quoted Hitler as saying, If Britain were finished, he would never manage to summon up the German nation against Russia again ; so Russia must be dealt with first. As Hitler said in his famous speech of December 12, 1944, You cant extract enthusiasm and self-sacrifice like something tangible, and bottle and preserve them. They are generated just once in course of a revolution, and will gradually die away. The grayness of day and the conveniences of life will then take hold on men again and turn them into solid citizens in gray flannel suits.
p. 143 His refusal to unleash the Luftwaffe against England appears in many documents. Major von Etzdorf noted on July 10, 1940 : Britain, three options : Air war. F¸hrer opposed, as desires to draw up fresh requests ; foreign minister in favor. Blockade : F¸hrer in favor, hopes for effect within two and a half months. [Peace] offer : Reichstag has been postponed sine die. . . And Tippelskirch noted similarly that Hitler was weighing several possibilities : Fresh rubble heaps [i.e., bombing war]; intensification of blockade ?Two months [suffice]. Ri[bbentrop] tougher line. Late autumn Russia ? On July 16, Major Etzdorf noted : Britain : common sense may have to be bludgeoned into them. On July 23, Weizs”cker commented : The fact is that Churchills resistance is not logical but psychological in origin. Churchill has gone out on a limb and cant get back. (Private diary.)
p. 144 Apart from the many unpublished cables in AA files, I used Walter Schellenbergs unpublished manuscript memoirsthe handwriting is daunting but not illegibleand the Tippelskirch diary, July 11, 1940, in following the Duke of Windsor episode.
p. 145 The most important FA and other Intelligence intercepts were communicated to the German ambassador in Moscow and are in his embassys files ; remarkably, most have not been published. Echoes of them can be traced in the Etzdorf, Halder, and Tippelskirch diaries. A highly important summary of them will be found in Pol. V files in AA archives, Serial 104, pages 113176 et seq.
p. 146 OKW files reflect the economic chaos caused by the withdrawal of barges for invasion preparations. By July 22 a thousand German barges had been requisitioned, and nine hundred more in Holland and Belgium (T77/201/7513).
p. 148 On July 15, 1940, Papen also warned that Stalin had 180 divisions available. General Halders experts were more optimistic : Colonel Eberhard Kinzel (Foreign Armies East) allowed the Russians 20 infantry, 4 cavalry, and 4 mechanized divisions or brigades in Poland ; 20 infantry, 4 cavalry divisions, and 6 mechanized brigades in the Baltic states ; 15 infantry divisions in Finland ; and 15 infantry, 9 cavalary divisions, and 10 mechanized brigades in the annexed part of Romania (AL/1367).
p. 149 Hitlers private meeting with Jodl is often stated to have been on July 29, 1940. It was certainly between July 27 and 30. I relied on Jodls various postwar accounts and on what he told his staff Warlimont, Lossberg, Falkenstein, and Junge.