A Bitter Victory
To the rest of the world Hitlers lightning campaign against Greece and Yugoslavia proved once more the invincibility of the German Wehrmacht. Within the inner sanctum of his own headquarters, however, it demonstrated the grating lack of harmony within the Axis : the Axis always had been more myth than reality, but never more so than now. Hitler had fully taken into account the susceptibilities of his new allies ; in a directive issued at the beginning of April 1941, he stated that while he would himself assign the necessary campaign objectives for the Italian and Hungarian forces he would endeavor to do so in such a way that Mussolini and Horthy might yet appear to their people and armed forces as sovereign military commanders. Horthy was no problem, but the Ducehis amour-propre injured by a succession of defeatsobliged Hitler to adopt public postures and contortions on Italys behalf that for once united the OKW, the foreign ministry, the army, and the navy in a seething, uncomprehending anger at their F¸hrers indulgence of his inept ally. But Hitler had a higher aim ; he wanted to strengthen the slackened Axis bonds in time for the supreme ordeal yet to come : Barbarossa, the assault on Russia.
Within twelve days Yugoslavia, her thirty-four divisions rent by the national rift between Serb and Croat, was defeated. The Greek armies capitulated following a heroic struggle shortly after, leaving the British Expeditionary Force fighting a hopeless rearguard action against the German armored and mountain corps which had comfortably sidestepped the formidable Metaxas line to pour into Yugoslavia and Greece. The British had committed their first blunder in purchasing the coup detat in Belgrade ; the second error was in overestimating the resisting power of the Yugoslav army. When Hitlers Second Army, operating out of Austria, offered the Yugoslav general negotiating the armistice the use of a German plane to consult his government, the worthy officer had to struggle visibly with his qualms about entering such a newfangled device. I am an old man and have never flown beforebut I will do it for my Fatherland ! Besides, Yugoslavias forces were equipped with German weapons firing German ammunition ; how could she possibly have fought a long war ?
Hitler had ordered the attack to begin with the saturation bombing of Belgradewith an eye to the deterrent effect on other powers, notably Turkey and the Soviet Union. Nearly five hundred bomber and dive-bomber sorties had devastated the Yugoslav capital within hours after the campaign opened. Water, gas, and power supplies failed, as many as 17,000 civilians were killed, and the government was forced to flee to the suburbs without having made any provision for this eventuality ; robbed of their nerve center, the Yugoslav armies caved in. Over 340,000 Yugoslav soldiers were taken prisoner ; the Germans lost only 151 dead. Throughout the campaign, the Italians and the Hungarianswho since Hungary had signed a treaty of friendship with Yugoslavia tactfully waited until Croatia had declared her independence before marching indisplayed a marked reluctance to attack until the enemy had first been soundly beaten and demoralized by the German troops. Hitler fully sympathized with Admiral Horthys predicament : the latters prime minister had shown his disapproval of the attack on Yugoslavia by committing suicide on April 3. Horthy expressed to the German liaison officer in Budapest the pious hope that in the coming fighting the Hungarian armies would not lose too much blood or be led too far astray from Hungary; at that time he had no knowledge of Hitlers plans for a coalition war against Russia within three months.
On the afternoon of April 9, German radio broadcast the first string of six special bulletins on the victories in the southeast. The Greek army defending Salonika had capitulated. Hewel noted the magnificent mood at Hitlers Chancellery. The mood was dimmed briefly that night when fifty British bombers arrived over Berlin, cascading high-explosive and fire bombs over the acres between the Victory Monument and Alexanderplatz. Hitler took refuge in his air raid shelter and, after the raid was over, sent Hewel to tour the blitzed area with a police general. Bellevue Castle, the crown princes palace, the State library, and the university had been badly damaged ; in the State Opera House Unter den Linden the fires were out of control, and when dawn came, this fine building in which the F¸hrer had delivered some of his most significant speeches was a smoldering shell. The raid had killed eleven people. In revenge, a week later Hitler sent the Luftwaffe to raid London continuously for ten hours with a thousand tons of bombs.
Late on April 10 his train left Berlin for Munich ; and late on the eleventh he continued through Vienna toward Graz. Here a tunnel took the single-track railway through the Alps. The OKW command train, Atlas, halted on the far side of the ice-cold, three thousand-yard-long tunnel ; Hitlers Amerika stopped before entering it, near the little station of M–nichkirchen. Each train could be shunted into the tunnel in case of air attack. This heavily guarded area was to be his headquarters for the next two weeks. His only contacts with the outside world were the OKWs communications system, the twice weekly showing of rough-cut newsreels at the nearby M–nichkirchener Hof Hotelprojected without soundtrack, while an adjutant read aloud the accompanying scriptand the visits of his generals and ministers. It was here that a young Luftwaffe lieutenant, Franz von Werra, reported to him. Shot down over Britain, he had escaped from a prison train in Canada. He was a mine of information gleaned in captivityfor example, from German submarine crews, who told him their boats had been detected by some British device called Asdic.
On April 12, the Nazi banner was already flying over the ruins of Belgrade. On the fourteenth the Greeks began evacuating Albania. On the fifteenth the OKW learned that the British Expeditionary Force was in full flight toward its ports of embarkation. Broadcasting to the Yugoslav nation, Churchill offered deceptive comfort : the British knew what it was like and were still standing right behind them, an awkwardly ambiguous statement which Goebbels instructed his press media to exploit to the full.
Hitler ordered his army and Luftwaffe to use all available means to prevent the escape of the British troops in Greece. Late on the seventeenth, Radio Athens was monitored announcing the inevitability of defeat and appealing to the people to remain calm. Hitlers instructions to the OKW were that if Greece surrendered, all Greek prisoners were to be releasedas a mark of his admiration for the valor with which they had defended their frontiers. Prime Minister Alexander Koryzis committed suicide, and on April 20, as Hitlers birthday was being ceremonially observed in his command train at M–nichkirchen, he learned that what was left of the Greek army had surrendered to the SS Leibstandarte, or Life Guards.
In an OKW order of April 19, Hitler had laid down the principle that surrender offers were always to be accepted by German commanders, however small the enemy unit involved. Field Marshal List had therefore formally accepted the armys surrender on April 21 even though the Greek commander, General Tsolakoglu, made it plain that he was not surrendering to the Italians, whom his forces had soundly defeated (and indeed not seen for some days). Hitler endorsed Lists action, hoping no doubt to present the Duce with a fait accompli. Victory over Greece was a bittersweet accomplishment, and in a gush of sentiment, on April 19 he told a Hungarian diplomat that he had not had his heart in fighting the Greeks. I am fighting a war against Britain, not against these little countries. He claimed that had Greece not allowed the British forces in, he would never have attacked her ; now he was bound to disarm her, but he did so without relish and he would take no Greek prisoners.
After this high point Hitlers moral stance toward Greece rapidly deteriorated. Mussolini was speechless with rage that the Greeks had not offered their surrender to the Italians, and bluntly refused to stop the fighting unless the Greeks appealed to him for an armistice. Italy, blustered the Duce, had been fighting with 500,000 men and lost 63,000 dead in her six months of war with Greece. Then suddenly the SS Life Guards had advanced so far that they held a bridge which actively blocked the Italian pursuit of the Greeks ! Hitler reluctantly backtracked and told Jodl that List was wrong to have accepted the surrender and that the fight must go on until the Greeks surrendered to the Italians too.
The army was furious at this public rebuff. So was Ribbentrop, who visited Hitler that very afternoon, April 21. Hewel noted : The Chief with the F¸hrer. Reports that the Italians are making the most brazen demands. Surrender talks are in progress with the Greek army. Obstacle : the Italians. Everybody is furious, even the F¸hrer. He is always torn between soldier and politician. Keitel against Ribbentrop. Mussolinis haughty demands brought a comic problem to the Greek tragedy : not only had the Greek army surrendered to the Germans and laid down its arms, but the greater part of it was already in captivity ; how were the Greeks now to continue fighting for Italys benefit ? Hitler sent word to the Duces headquarters that perhaps the Italians would like to send a representative to assist Jodl in settling the surrender terms with the Greeks the next morning, April 22. But Mussolinis forces had opened a bedraggled offensive on the Epirus front as soon as word of the Greek surrender to List reached him ; the Greeks were not only still fighting there, they were inflicting heavy casualties on the Italians.
The OKW rushed a draft of the surrender terms to Rome, but Mussolini still churlishly refused to play any part unless the Greeks first offered to capitulate to the Italian commander. He sulkingly announced that he could have finished off the Greeks without Hitlers helpif the five hundred thousand Italian troops had not sufficed, then he would have sent a million. When he read in the draft that the F¸hrer wanted to allow the Greek officers to retain their swords and daggers, he protested in exasperation that these were an enemy who had inflicted nameless indignities on the Italians ; but here the Germans were adamantthe whole world had marveled at the Greek armys prolonged resistance, and Hitler considered it proper to recognize their bravery. Apart from this Hitler blindly accepted the Italian demands. To the fury of Admiral Raeder he announced that the Yugoslav and Greek navies were to be handed over to the Italians when they arrived to replace the German troops ; to the fury of both the OKW and army, Hitler also bowed to Mussolinis demand that the Axis troops stage a ceremonial entry into Athens, with Italians and Germans side by side. (He himself considered this an unnecessary and objectionable humiliation of a brave enemy.) The nearest Italians were still a weeks march away from Athens, which did not make things easier. When the surrender conference began at Salonika late on April 22, the Italian general present announced that he was not empowered to sign. Inquiries in Rome revealed that Mussolini had personally ordered this ; the general would be authorized to sign only if the Greeks offered to surrender on the Epirus front first. For a time Hitler toyed with the idea of leaving the Greeks and Italians to fight it out, west of a certain line to be blocked by German troops. But during the night the Greeks bowed to the inevitable and offered surrender to Mussolinis generals too. At Salonika the surrender document was signed by all three parties on the afternoon of April 23, after Mussolini had played his final trick on Hitler. The F¸hrer had forbidden premature release of the surrender news, but at 10 A.M. the Italians had already suddenly broadcast it to the world. The enemy armies of Epirus and Macedonia have laid down their arms. The surrender was tendered by a Greek military delegation yesterday at 9:o4 P.M. to the commander of the Italian Eleventh Army on the Epirus front. The details of the surrender will now be worked out in complete agreement with our German allies. Discreet inquiries in Rome revealed that Mussolini had personally ordered the early announcement. Hewel summed it up in his diary : The Italians are acting like crazy idiots.
In Croatiathe northern region of Yugoslavia bordering on Italy and Austriaa breakaway movement had been fomented by Canariss underground forces. General Sladko Kvaternik, an officer of the old Austro-Hungarian army, had seized power in Zagreb, aided by the Abwehrs Jupiter organization, and with Hitlers blessing he had set up an independent state with Dr. Ante Pavelic, the leader of the Ustashi movement who had spent long years exiled in Italy, as its Poglavnik or chief. Major General Edmund von Glaise-Horstenau was appointed German liaison officer responsible directly to Keitel and the OKW. His task would eventually be to build up a Croatian police army of about six divisions. A diplomat of SA generals rankan increasingly familiar animal in Ribbentrops ministrywould be Germanys envoy to Croatia.
Hitlers decision to transfer the Dalmatian coastal region of Croatia to Italy caused intense resentment in Zagreb, and Glaise-Horstenau protested vehemently to Hitler at this amputation. However, the F¸hrer closed his eyes to the hatred Germany would reap from the Croats by this action. Meanwhile the Serbs, despised as conspirators and traitors who had sold Yugoslavia to the British and the Bolsheviks, need expect short shrift from Germany. The Luftwaffes General Helmut Forster was appointed military governor in Serbia, with orders to rule with an iron hand.(1)
In Dalmatia, the Italians needed no prompting to act likewise. On April 24, Canariss lieutenant, Colonel Lahousen, interviewed General Kvaternik, the new Croat war minister in Zagreb (referred to as Marshal Kvaternik by his overenthusiastic followers). Lahousen found that this ancient, upright nationalists admiration for Germany and her F¸hrer was boundless, but so was his hatred of the Italians, who were now wreaking their revenge on Dalmatia. (The Italians had already posted warnings that they were introducing corporal punishment there.) The Croats are a people of honor, with a long military tradition, complained Kvaternik, and it is bitter beyond words to be trodden down and humiliated now by an army that has not been able to pin one victory to its colors. He told Lahousen that when Pavelic had initially returned from his Italian exile, his first private question to him was, Ante, have you made any kind of deal with the Italians on Croatia ? Only when his old comrade had categorically denied this did the general offer him his hand. Nonetheless, Lahousen reported to the OKW that the new Croatian leaders would swallow Italys annexation of Dalmatiaif only because they were sure Mussolini could not hang on to this, the eastern coast of the Adriatic, for long. A few days later Canaris himself met Kvaternik in Zagreb. The general had fresh reports of Italian outragessoldiers urinating on the Croatian national flag, tearing down the Reich insignia, actively inciting Serbian elements against the Croats, and looting foodstuffs and goods ; Kvaternik fearedprophetically, as events turned outthat this completely irrational political attitude of the Italians would sow the seeds of serious future danger.
On April 24, 1941, the Hungarian regent, Admiral Horthy, visited Hitlers traintheir first meeting since 1938. In the interval, Hitler had received from the admiral many letters, written in a quaint, archaic German style. The most recent had come in mid-April ; only Horthys handwritten draft survives, in Budapest archives. In it, Horthy once more suggested a German attack on Russia and hinted that Hungary would participate if the whole of Transylvaniaat present partly under Romanian rulewere promised to him. Nobody else knows I have written this letter, and I will never mention it, even in any memoirs I may write. Horthy warned that an invasion of Britain was fraught with a thousand dangers. But if Russias inexhaustible riches are once in German hands, you can hold out for all eternity. On April 19, Hitler acknowledged to the Hungarian envoy SztÛjay that Horthy obviously felt deeplyas this letter showedabout the Russian menace ; he nevertheless inwardly rejected making any commitment to Hungary at Romanias expense. So now, on the twenty-fourth, he charmed and flattered Horthy, and the regent fawned on himaccording to Hewels diary the Hungarian talked and talked during the luncheon, and even argued, using one of Hitlers favorite phrases, that Greece had been defeated because she was a democracy, where the votes of two idiots count for more than that of one wise man.
Keitel lunched silently with them, listening to Horthys endless tales from his civilian life as horse breeder, farmer, and racehorse owner. Then Keitel lured him into hunting anecdotes, knowing that Hitler abominated huntsmen as a green freemasonry bent only on the cowardly murder of natures most beautiful creaturesusually, as the Duke of Windsor had once pointed out at the Berghoffrom a safe distance and with telescopic sights. Those who knew Hitler well were familiar with his loathing of horses too. (When three years later, SS General Hermann Fegelein, Himmlers new liaison officer, clanked in wearing riding spurs, Hitler sardonically invited him to gallop next door to fetch a certain document ; purpling with rage, Fegelein vowed never to wear spurs again.)
But nothing could now darken Hitlers mood. The British were in full flight to their ships, albeit destroying every bridge to impede the Wehrmachts pursuit. When the British evacuation ended five days later, Hitler had killed or captured another twenty-two thousand elite troops. Of the fifty thousand others who escaped, some sailed to Egypt. The rest were on the isle of Crete, and on Jeschonneks suggestion Hitler ordered an airborne assault on Crete prepared as well. Inexplicably for Hitler, Churchill also survived this second Dunkirk-type fiasco. Through Lisbon, Hitler received word that Churchill was very popular in Britain, and Anthony Eden was being publicly identified with the humiliation in the Balkans.
Hitlers own mind was made up on the Russian campaign, but he still wanted to convince Ribbentrop. He knew he would not win over the foreign ministry as such. He considered its ways conservative, its procedures ponderous, and its attitude to the Party reactionary. Since its failure to give him advance warning of the Belgrade putsch, the ministrys stock had sunk even lower in his estimation. Hitlers tendency to direct foreign policy himself, using Ribbentrop only as a secretary, was strongly exposed again in Barbarossa. He had decided to appoint not the foreign ministry, but the Partys chief thinker, the Baltic-born Alfred Rosenberg, to manage the new eastern domainimpressed, apparently, by Rosenbergs early writings on the Bolshevik menace. Small wonder that Hewels diary shows Ribbentrop off sick for most of April 1941malingering, furious at this fresh erosion of his powers.
On about April 25, Hitler telephoned Ribbentrop in Vienna, summoned him to his special-train headquarters, and told him he had decided finally to attack Russia. Ribbentrop later recalled :
He said that all the military Intelligence reaching him confirmed that the Soviet Union was preparing in a big way along the entire front from the Baltic to the Black Sea. He was not willing to be taken by surprise once he had recognized a danger. Moscows pact with the Serbian putschist government was a downright provocation to Germany and a clear departure from the German-Russian treaty of friendship. In this conversation I recommended that he listen first to our [Moscow] ambassador, Count [Werner von der] Schulenburg,. . . I wanted to try a diplomatic settlement with Moscow first. But Hitler refused any such attempt and forbade me to discuss the matter with anybody ; no amount of diplomacy could change the Russian attitude, as he now recognized it, but it might cheat him of the important tactical element of surprise when he attacked. He requested me to put on a show of complete support for his view, and explained that one day the West would understand why he had rejected the Soviet demands and attacked the East.
Thus, Hitler regarded Barbarossa as that most controversial of campaignsa preventive war.
What can a war historian tell us about the problems of fighting preventive wars ? he asked Wilhelm Scheidt at this time. Scheidt, a young, well-groomed cavalry captain, had just been introduced as adjutant to Colonel Walter Scherff, Hitlers personal historian. Scheidt knew about Barbarossa, and replied, Only somebody with the deepest sense of responsibility can take such a decision, and then only after looking at it from every possible angle. Because he will be risking immense dangers in starting such a war. He would have to accept the odium of being the aggressor, in return for the tactical advantages of surprise. But Hitler mused out loud, Britain will just have to climb down, once we have defeated her last ally on the continent. If she does not, we shall destroy her, with all the means that we shall have when all Europe as far as the Urals is at our feet.
On April 26, Hitlers train left M–nichkirchen for the former Yugoslav frontier. He motored to Maribornewly renamed Marburgand toured the German-speaking provinces his Second Army had regained for the Reich. Everywhere there was a huge and fervent welcome, especially at Marburgs town hall. Then by train back to Graz, recorded Hewel. An enormous reception there. . . . The F¸hrer is very happya fanatical welcome. Wonderful singing. The museum. Lunch at Hotel Wiesler, then left for Klagenfurt in the evening. On the way Rintelen and Ambassador Benzler joined the train. A conference on setting up a Greek opposition government.(2) Coffee at the castle, with infintely ugly maidens provided from the Gaus leadership school. But they could sing very nicely. Here in Klagenfurt, Hitler the next day met his old history teacher, Professor Leopold Poetsch. Of this man he had written in Mein Kampf that it had perhaps altered the whole course of his life that fate gave him such a history teacherable to bring the subject alive.
By April 28, with the swastika over the Acropolis, German paratroops astride the Isthmus of Corinth, and the SS Life Guards Brigade in the Peloponnesus, Adolf Hitler was back in his Chancellery in Berlin.
At five-fifteen that evening, Ribbentrops ambassador in Moscow was ushered in to him. Count Schulenburg had not been officially informed of Barbarossa; (Hans Krebs, his military attachÈ, had been forbidden to tell him.) But Schulenburg was no simpleton. The rumors sweeping Central Europe, the evasive responses from Berlin, Hitlers failure to reply to the Soviet proposals of November 25, 194othese told him all he needed. At Ribbentrops behest the ambassador had prepared a memorandum begging Hitler to accept the Russian proposals ; but in Berlin this document had been toned down by Ribbentrops own advisers, who pointed out that otherwise Hitler would toss it aside unread. Hitler granted Schulenburg just thirty minutes of his time. To the ambassador it seemed that the F¸hrer had drawn all his preconceived ideas from Vidkun Quisling, who had for many years been Norways military attachÈ in Moscow and had first whispered to Hitler that Stalins empire was already falling apartthat after the very first military defeats the unpopular Bolshevik regime would collapse, and that the Ukraine and other states were struggling to secede from the USSR.
The F¸hrer receives Schulenburg, noted Hewel. A superficial conversation about Russia. Hitler asked him, according to Schulenburgs own record, what devil had possessed the Russians that they had signed that pact with the anti-German putschist regime in Belgradewas it an attempt to frighten Germany ? The ambassadors opinion was that the Russians were just openly staking their claim on the Balkans ; they were very uneasy about the rumors of a coming German attack as well. Hitler retorted that it was the Russians who had begun the mobilization race, but the ambassador suggested it was characteristic Russian over-reaction to German moves. If Stalin had not allied himself with France and Britain when both were still strong and intact, he would hardly opt for them now. (To Hitler this was a facile argument : in 1939 Stalin had wanted to encourage war between Germany and the West ; how could he have foreseen that Hitler would emerge victorious so soon ?) When Schulenburg referred to all the indications that Stalin was desperate to reinforce the friendly ties between Germany and Russia, and was even hinting that he could supply five million tons of grain in 1942, Hitler turned away and ended the interview. His secretary, writing a private letter in the secretaries room beneath the Chancellery stairs, ended it abruptly with the words : Oh dear, I must stop now as the table is just being laid. The Chief comes every afternoon to have coffee with us in our stair cupboard.
The next day Hitler spoke to nine thousand officer candidates in the Berlin Sportpalast. If you ask me, F¸hrer, how long will the war last ? I can only say as long as it takes to emerge victorious ! Whatever may come ! As a National Socialist during the struggle for power I never knew the word capitulation. And there is one word I will never know as leader of the German people and your Supreme Commander, and again it is capitulationthat is, to submit to the will of another. Never, never ! And you too have to think like that. He also hinted that he might yet have to make decisions that some of them might not comprehend, but he justified himself thus : Where would we be now if we had waited just one week more in the south ?meaning the Balkans.
His divisions were already pulling out of the Balkans and regrouping for Barbarossa. He decided now that Barbarossa would begin on June 22, a Sunday, with the onset of the final top-capacity transport program one month earlier. On the Russian front the Wehrmacht would have the upper hand only in the central section, while in consequence of the Balkan campaignwhich had left the Twelfth Army in southeastern Europeand the considerable Russian reinforcements pouring into Bessarabia and Bukovina, the German armies in the south would be numerically inferior to the enemy. This was the real strategic cost of Marita: Army Group South could not mount the pincer movement originally planned to destroy the Russian forces south of the Pripyet Marshes but had to attempt an almost impossible encirclement action with its northern wing while the southern wing was restricted to a tactical defense role. Nonetheless, Brauchitsch was still confident that after four weeks of stiff fighting on the frontier the initial Russian resistance would melt away.
During May the OKW was to begin staff talks with Finland andless hopefullywith Hungary. The final month in which the real assembly for Barbarossa could no longer be concealed was to be camouflaged as a colossal diversion from Hitlers supposedly real intentionto invade Britain.
By this time the most persistent rumors of Barbarossa were sweeping Moscow once again. The first wave of reports that Germany was planning to attack Russia had reached Moscow in August 1940perhaps significantlybut it had ebbed during the autumn only to come thundering back in March. Most of these reports could be traced back to the British embassy, but travelers in Germany were bringing back enough hair-raising and evidently significant tidbits of Intelligence to alarm even the most complacent Kremlin dweller. The most substantial evidence had reached Moscow from Romania and indirectly from Belgrade. Hitler had been most frank in his overtures to General Antonescuindeed, the Romanian leader had positively canvassed Barbarossa; and when G–ring had seen him in Vienna on March 5 about increasing Romanias oil output he had explained unambiguously that one day the other oil supplier might drop out. G–ring had asked how many Romanians now lived on Russian territory, and he had made a scooping gesture with his hand by way of explanation. Almost at once Moscow came into possession of photocopies of a document establishing that Hitler had promised that Romania should recover Bessarabia after Russia had been defeated ; Hitler learned of this leak by mid-April. At the same time he learned of another, more intriguing leak from Belgrade.
Evidently Hitler had told Yugoslavias prince regent privately about Barbarossa at the Berghof on March 4. In any case, British Foreign Secretary Eden had just told Sir Stafford Cripps as much ; Eden had identified his source as King George of Greece, the prince regents brother. The excellent Hungarian Intelligence service learned of this in Moscow and passed the information back to Admiral Canaris on April 11. In short the rumor was all over Europe. A few days later the unsuspecting German naval attachÈ in Moscow was cabling that Cripps was now predicting that Hitler would attack Russia on June 22, a canard so obviously absurd that he would do all he could to kill it.(3) The OKW evenly dismissed all these rumors as a British attempt to poison the wells and instructed its attachÈs abroad to spread counter-rumors that in the first half of May there would be major shifts of Wehrmacht strength to the west.
Stalins reaction to the warnings was illuminating. At Crippss suggestion the Yugoslav envoy in Moscow had at the beginning of April warned Stalin about Barbarossa. Stalin had hedged a guess at the probable date and cockily replied, Let them come. We will be ready for them ! Hitlers rapid victory in the Balkans literally wiped the smile off Stalins face. An extraordinary period ensued in which the Soviet government tried desperately to appease Hitler : whereas the Soviet-German trade pact of January 1941 had been followed by a noticeable slowing down of Russian deliveries to Germany, now grain, petroleum, manganese, and other materials began flooding westward, and the Soviet government even laid on special goods train to rush rubber to Germany along the Trans-Siberian railway. But no words spoke more eloquently than the sensational scene at Moscows railroad station on the day the Japanese foreign minister departed for Tokyo. Stalin did what he had not even done for Ribbentrophe made a stunning personal appearance on the platform, embraced the Japanese officials, and then searched out Ambassador Schulenburg and loudly pronounced in front of the assembled diplomatic corps, We must remain friends, you must do all you can for that ! He put his arms around the German envoys shouldersperhaps he was drunk, for his left eye was half closed, he groped for the right words, and he looked much older.
As if that were not enough, Stalin swung around toward Colonel Krebs, the acting military attachÈ, satisfied himself that Krebs was German, and promised loudly, We will always remain friends with youwhatever may happen ! Hitler had studied all the reports, including one submitted by the Forschungsamt, on this puzzling Moscow scene, and he wondered what to make of it. Equally remarkable was the studied politeness of the Soviet remonstrance over eighty German violations of Soviet air space in the first half of April (one aircraft had landed and been found to contain cameras, exposed films, and a topographical map of Soviet territory); the Soviet protest was mild compared with Jodls cynical list of deliberate provocations by Russian aircrafteight on April 17 aloneand his warning about the momentous frontier incidents that might soon occur if the Russians did not mend their ways. In fact the OKW was worried about this very Soviet reasonableness. After a secret conference with Keitel on Abwehr subversive and sabotage operations planned inside Russia, Admiral Canaris noted : After my discussion with the chief of the OKW, General Jodl disclosed to me in a conference that they are greatly worried about the Russians soft and indulgent attitude toward us, and he added half in jest, in a reference to our No. 800 Special Duties Training Regiment Brandenburg,(4) If these chapsmeaning the Soviet Russianskeep on being so accommodating and take offense at nothing, then you will have to stage an incident to start the war.
Finding a suitable incident was traditionally the difficulty of launching a premeditated preventive war, which is what Hitlers eastern crusade had now become. Neither Hitler nor his military advisers were any longer in doubt as to Stalins long-term intentions. Halder was to state that if the Russian deployments were shown to an impartial military expert he would have to concede that they were offensive in design. Throughout March, Russian troop movements close to the frontier had been so intense, with a heavy flow of reinforcements from Moscow toward Smolensk and Minsk, that eventually Halder felt anxiety about the threat of a Russian preventive action. The danger would be acute at least until April 20, for until then the Russians would have great superiority in strength. The disposition of Russian forces gives food for thought, Halder wrote on April 7. If we discount the catchword that the Russians want peace and wont attack anybody themselves, then it has to be admitted that the Russian dispositions could allow them to convert very rapidly from defense into attackand this could prove highly embarrassing for us. He had Jodl ask Hitler whether the top-capacity Barbarossa transport plan should be thrown into action now, six weeks early, but Hitler was against it.
The F¸hrer himself was in no doubt. Stalins pact with Belgrade, coupled with a communiquÈ of March 24,(5) provided further justification for Barbarossa. At the end of it all he was to say, I didnt take the decision to attack Moscow lightly, but because I knew from certain information that an alliance was being prepared between Britain and Russia. The big question was, Should we strike out first or wait until we were overwhelmed some time in the future ? According to his army adjutant, Hitlers decision was reinforced by Intelligence reports on feverish airfield and arms dump construction by the Russians throughout the spring ; there were also reports from Polish agents of Russian troop movements from as far away as the Far East, and of the creation and deployment of new armies for what could only be offensive purposes. The Russians were also instructing their commissars, for example in Leningrad, to get ready for a long and grueling war with Germany.
German Intelligence collected concrete evidence of long-range Soviet planning. The naval attachÈ reported from Moscow that the Soviet naval construction program was in the process of building three battleships, eleven cruisers, sixty-one destroyers, and nearly three hundred submarines ; most of this fleet would be concentrated in the Baltic. On April 4 the German naval code-breakers noticed that the Russians had suddenly adopted completely new radio- and code-systems for two daysevidently a test of war procedures. After April 7, the German embassy in Moscow observed a steady call-up of reservists and raw recruits. On the eighth, the families of the Russian trade mission began leaving Berlin. Trainloads of the paraphernalia of war were observed moving westward from Kiev to the Polish border. On the ninth, the military attachÈ in Bucharest reported that Marshal SemÎn Timoshenko, believed to be the only capable Soviet commander, had just held a council of war at Kiev and ordered an alert for all units on the western front. Rumors swept the Generalgouvernment that Russia would exploit her present brief superiority of arms to strike into Germany, destroying the Barbarossa assembly and capturing the huge arms dumps Hitler was moving into the front line. On April 13, Hitler was shown a Forschungsamt summary on the multiplying rumors of war with Russia. On the twenty-third there were fresh reports from Bucharest of immense Soviet reinforcements in Bukovina and Bessarabia, some of the reinforcements arriving from as far away as the Caucasus and Finland ; the next day the German military attachÈ in Bucharest reported that the Russians were evacuating the civilian population along their side of the Prut River front and that shiploads of Red Army troops were arriving at Odessa and being transported by rail to the Bug and Dniestr. On the twenty-fifth the naval decoders intercepted the British military attachÈs report to London from Moscow. A thousand people a day were now being called up in Moscow alone, he said, many of them being sent to the Baltic states. Our military attachÈ in Budapest, who was traveling to Moscow a few days ago, saw at Lemberg [Lvov] at least one tank brigade ... on the railway line between Lemberg and Kiev heading westward ; he passed seven troop trains of which four were conveying tanks and mechanized equipment and three troops. The German attachÈs undertaking similar journeys also saw many military transports heading west between Minsk and Baranovichi. By May 5, Antonescu was able to tip off the Germans that Soviet troops were massing between Kiev and Odessa and that reinforcements were still pouring westward from Siberia. The thing worth noting is that factories around Moscow have been ordered to transfer their equipment into the countrys interior.
According to Hitlers Luftwaffe adjutant, the Intelligence brought back by a team of G–rings engineers from a tour of Soviet aircraft factories late in April convinced the F¸hrer there was no time to be lost. These air ministry experts had been allowed to tour eight or nine of the biggest Russian factories producing ball bearings, alloys, aircraft, and aeroengines, and to see the advances made by Soviet research. It was clear that the Soviet air force was a far greater menace than Hitler had bargained forboth in size and aircraft performance. The aircraft factories themselves were the biggest and most modern in Europeand more were under construction. When the German experts attended a dinner party, the leading Soviet aircraft designer, Mikoyan (who later designed the MIG fighters), stated explicitly, Now you have seen the mighty technology of the Soviet fatherland. We shall valiantly ward off any attack, whatever quarter it comes from ! Years later Hitler was to describe this commissions report on the Soviet air force as having finally convinced him of the need to attack Russia now.
The voice of Ambassador Schulenburg was a lone voice in the wilderness. In vain he interpreted Stalins sudden appointment to a government postChairman of the Council of Peoples Commissarson May 6 as a public rebuke to Molotov for having allowed German-Soviet relations to cool. Undoubtedly it was a historic event in Soviet history, but it could also be interpreted in a more sinister light, as could Stalins urgent recall of his Berlin ambassador, who a few days earlier had returned to Moscow for consultations. In his May Day speech Stalin had proclaimed : The Red Army is ready, in the interests of the socialist state, to ward off every blow struck by the imperialists. The international situation is full of unexpected events. In such a situation the Red Army must step up its defensive readiness. Since early May the German military attachÈ had noted the call-up of the youngest age-group some six months early ; and now on Red Army orders foreign diplomats were prevented from traveling freely. On May 13 a German consul in the heart of China, with access to Soviet secret diplomatic circulars, reported that six days before, Moscow had instructed all missions to ascertain the probable attitude of other countries in the event of a German-Soviet conflict. On the sixteenth the Russian envoy in Stockholm was reported to have stated that at no time in Russian history had more powerful troop contingents been massed in the west (which confirmed the estimate of the Swedish air attachÈ in Moscow that by mid-March alone 60 percent of the Red Army had been massed in western Russia, particularly confronting Romania). And Antonescus Intelligence service learned that Stalin was saying that the Soviet government must accept grave sacrifices in order to win time, because the coming war could be postponed, but not prevented ; to postpone it, the supply of raw materials to Germany must continue.
The trainloads of rubber, ores, oil, and grain kept rolling westward to Hitlers Germany even as June 22, the date for Barbarossa, approached ; but the date on which Stalin proposed to resume the Soviet program of expansion, now temporarily halted by Hitlers obduracy, also came closer. A year later, the proof of this was in German hands ; it will be dealt with in its proper sequence, except for one episode which can for the purpose of this narrative best be related here. On May 5, two secret speeches were delivered at a Kremlin banquet by Stalin to a thousand officers graduating from Moscows staff colleges. Among the officials who passed through the Kremlins Trinity Gate that evening were Molotov, Mikoyan, Voroshilov, Kalinin, and Lavrenti Beria ; there were also two generals and one major who later fell into German hands and independently described the speeches to German interrogators with a high degree of unanimity.(6) Had Schulenburgwho heard merely that Stalin had delivered a forty-minute speechbeen there, perhaps even his optimism about the Soviet Unions designs would have been dispelled.
Marshal Timoshenko had opened the proceedings with a speech and a toast to our great and wise Stalin. After a formal report by the director of staff studies, Stalin launched into a sober account of the need to modernize the Red Armys weaponry and prepare for the coming war with Germany. He set out these preparations in detail and pointed to certain shortcomings in infantry equipment and tactics. He promised that in two months Russia would have some of the best and fastest aircraft in the world.
New tank models, the Mark 1 and 3, are on their way ; these are excellent tanks, whose armor can withstand 76-millimeter shells. In the near future there will also be a new tank graced with my own name. This tank will be a veritable fortress. Today we have up to a hundred armored and mechanized divisions which still need to be organized into an entity. Our war plan is ready, we have built the airfields and landing grounds, and the frontline aircraft are already there. Everything has been done by way of clearing out the rear areas : all the foreign elements have been removed. It follows that over the next two months we can begin the fight with Germany. Perhaps it surprises you that I tell you of our war plans. But we have to take our revenge for Bulgaria and Finland.
As for the pact with Germany, that was just camouflage, said Stalin. He explained to his perhaps uneasy listeners that France had only collapsed because her army was without the solid grass-roots support of the French peopleit was an army without authority. Girls even hesitated to marry a French soldier. Hitler on the other hand had enjoyed the unalloyed support of his people so long as he was fighting the obvious injustice of Versailles. But the moment Hitler crossed into Russia he would forfeit the German peoples support. The partisan movement painstakingly built up throughout Europe by the Comintern since the war began would assume a vast scale and paralyze the German armys supplies. By the end of the first year Germany would have exhausted her limited stockpiles of scarce raw materials, but Russia was a land of plenty. Above all Germany did not have Russias limitless reserves of manpower. Germany may be able to build aircraft and tanks, but she will lack the warriors themselves. Stalin emphasized : There is no such thing as an invincible army, whatever the country of its allegiance.
A lavish banquet followed in the George Hall of the Kremlin, with drinking far into the night. Perhaps Stalin was drunk by the time he made his second speechthe sources are in conflict on this point. One of the generals, the director of the famous Frunze military academy, was toasting Stalins genius for preserving the peace of Europe when Stalin irritably waved for him to stop, tottered to his feet, and delivered a speech of his own.
The slogan of peaceful policies is now obsoleteit has been overtaken by events. During the years of the capitalist encirclement of the Soviet Union we were able to make good use of the slogan while we expanded the Soviet Unions frontiers to the north and west. But now we must discard this slogan for the reactionary and narrow-minded slogan that it is, as it will not serve to win us one more square inch of territory. It is time to stop chewing that particular cud, Comrade Chosin : stop being a simpleton ! The era of forcible expansion has begun for the Soviet Union. The people must be schooled to accept that a war of aggression is inevitable ; they must be in permanent mobilization.
In this connection Germany was not explicitly mentioned as the target, but all three of the men interrogated by the Germans said they had no doubt that that was what Stalin meant. (One of them also noted that at the Soviet General Staff college problems of strategic attack alone were analyzed throughout the winter of 1940-1941.) When the director of the chemical warfare academy proposed a toast to their continued friendship with Germany, Stalin angrily interrupted that the German armys victories had only been obtained against small nations up to now. Many of our officers wrongly overestimate the German armys success. Lets see how good the German army is when it meets an enemy of equal stature ! Raising his glass, Stalin announced a new toast : Drink to the new era of development and territorial expansion that has begun ! Long live the active policy of aggression of the Soviet nation !
As the storm of applause subsided, Stalins friend and companion Nikita Khrushchev sprang up and emotionally declaimed : Never did I dream that in my old age I would live to be given a command in the army of the proletarian world revolution. And now the day is not far off when we who sit here will take the helm and steer our ship of history, not on the slow and stately course we followed hitherto, but . . . Khrushchev was interrupted by an even more inebriated Marshal Timoshenko. Greatif not always sober or coherentwas the rejoicing within the Kremlin walls that night.
1 Ribbentrops specialists had searched the Yugoslav foreign ministry and war department buildings in Belgrade for, inter alia, files relating to Serbian secret organizations. Among the documents found was a proposal for the Yugoslav General Staff to poison awkward personalities.
2 On April 22, 1941, General Tsolakoglu, now a captive, had offered to establish a new government in Athens. Keitel instructed the army to release him so that the new government could be set up as soon as Mussolini formally assented.
Benzler was the former German envoy in Belgrade, who now became Ribbentrops plenipotentiary to the German military governor of Serbia.
3 At this time, April 24, Hitler himself had not fixed the date of June 22 for certain. But in the first week in April he seems to have discussed June 22 or 23 with Brauchitsch as possible dates. Lossberg meanwhile advised Jodl that since the troop movements would not be completed until the twenty-third, the operation should begin two days after that. Crippss rumor seems therefore to have been based on a lucky guess.
4 The German commando regiment.
5 Russia had reaffirmed her nonagression pact with Turkey to ancourage her to adopt a more aggressive role against Germany in the Balkans. The Soviet Union had steadily overcome her traditional distrust of Turkey. On February 18, the Forschungsamt had intercepted a description by the Turkish ambassador in Berlin of his conversation with the Russian ambassador, Vladimir Dekanozov, who had hinted that Turkey and the Soviet Union should exchange ideas on the Balkans. The Germans had then also intercepted the Turkish secret cables from Moscow, in which the ambassador there reported that on March 9 Molotovs deputy Andrei Vyshinsky had first proposed such a communiquÈ, and explicitly stated that the Soviet Union would understand any operation Turkey was forced to launch against the threat of an attack; Turkeys acceptance and reciprocation of this assurance on March 14 was also intercepted.
6 Ribbentrop claimed in 1943 that agents supplied details of the speeches to Hitler almost at once. There is no trace of this in surviving German files. G–ring made a similar claim after the war.
p. 224 Colonel von Lossberg delivered a useful lecture on the Balkan campaign as early as May 5, 1941 (T77/792).
p. 227 The difficulties with the Italians are eloquently recapitulated in a memo by the German military attachÈ, Rintelen, dated April 23, 1941, in Ritters AA files, and by Keitel (memoirs, page 264). On April 28, Keitel explained to Canaris : The F¸hrer has disowned any interest in the Balkan affairs insofar as no regions occupied by German troops are concerned, and is leaving these questions entirely up to the Italians.... We want to see the Italianswho are just like children, wanting to gobble up everythingspoil their appetite with things they just cant digest. For the time being we must control our temper to the utmost, and above all do nothing in those territories that might be interpreted in any way as being anti-Italian. Otherwise, the F¸hrer regards himselfas far as the Croats are concernedas an Austrian (Lahousen diary).
p. 231 Scherffs appointment aroused strong antagonism from the two OKW war diarists Schramm and Greiner. Before committing suicide in May 1945, Scherff ordered the stenograms of Hitlers war conferences destroyed lest the enemy abuse them for their own ends. Fortunately Scherffs adjutant, Wilhelm Scheidt, took notes on which he based a useful series of articles in Echo der Woche, September-November 1949. His widow also turned his papers over to me.
p. 232 Weizs”cker, who was even more hostile to Barbarossa than Ribbentrop, recorded in his diary : Schulenburg was alone with the F¸hrer, instructedby Ribbentropto outline to him the view as seen from Moscow. . . . The F¸hrer saw him barely thirty minutes and described his military preparations as defensive, rather as he did to Matsuoka. Months later Goebbels would mockingly note in his diary that Schulenburg steadfastly refused to believe the enormous military preparations being made by Stalin against Germany. Weizs”ckers famous comment on Schulenburgs memo was this : If every Russian town burned down was worth as much to us as one British warship sunk, then I would speak up for a German-Russian war this summer. On April 29 he explained in his diary : Ribbentrop is basically averse to the war because of his so recent speeches in favor of friendship with Russia. The next day, however, Hitler flattered Ribbentrop by appearing at his birthday party in Berlin-Dahlem ; and on May 1, 1941, Weizs”cker noted with resignation : Ribbentrop has now come out in writing in favor of the war against Russia in a letter to the F¸hrer. He reproaches me for being negative about yet one more Great Decision.
p. 233 Hitlers speech of April 29, 1941, is recorded on discs in BA files (discs Le 5 EW 66,319 et seq.)
p. 234 Eden visited Athens from March 30. In The Reckoning, page 200, he suggests that he had learned from the Americans there of what Hitler told Prince Paul. On March 31 this was reported to London, and Eden repeated it on April 6 both to London and to the British ambassador in Athens, who stated that Eden had learned it via King George II of Greece from Prince Paul (see AAs cable to Ritter, April 18, 1941, AA Serial 4467, page E221o85). Meanwhile on April 2 the Abwehr had learned from agents in the Soviet embassy in Berlin that Moscow was convinced that war with Germany was a certainty : The war is inevitable, as sure as two times two is four (T77/792/1141).
pp. 234-35 Stalins extraordinary embrace is described in many telegrams from Moscow (PG/33738), the Weizs”cker diary, and Table Talk, July 27, 1942 ; Hewel also showed Hitler a Forschungsamt report on Incidents on Matsuokas departure from Moscow.
p. 235 The charred, undated memo by Canaris on Jodls cynical disclosure is transcribed in CO file AL/1933.
p. 236 The naval staff war diary, March 27, 1941, punctuates the Soviet warship statistics with double exclamation marks. Heinrich Himmler referred very pertinently to the dramatic Soviet arms production effort in a secret speech to Gauleiters on August 3, 1944. People say, We had no need to make war on Russia, Stalin wouldnt have touched us ever. But the very fact that this Mr. Stalin had stocked up with twenty thousand tanks speaks for itself. So does everything we then found by way of troop concentrations and preparations. Only a few days ago I told someone, You knowits obvious youre quite right : Stalin laid on this army just to play a bit of soldiers. For that youve got to stockpile twenty thousand tanks and a gigantic air force. In factas John Ericksons standard work, The Soviet High Command (London, 1962), pages 584 et seq., states, in June 1941 Stalin had organized twenty-four thousand tanks in sixty tank-brigades or divisions.
p. 238 Zhukov glosses over Stalins secret speeches of May 5, 1941, in the Russian edition of his memoirs ; in western editions he omits them entirely. But several generals who had been present were captured and interrogated by the Nazis in 1942 and 1943 ; they believed Stalin was preparing an offensive for August or September 1941. The reports are in AA files, Serials 1083 and 1699 ; see also Ribbentrops remarks to the Bulgarians on October 19, 1943 ; interrogations of G–ring and Ribbentrop ; and Weichss memoirs, N19/9.