David Irving


Hess and Bormann

“As a German and as a soldier I consider it beneath me ever to belittle a brave enemy,” exclaimed Hitler to his assembled Reichstag deputies on May 4, 1941.  “But it seems necessary to me to do something to protect the Truth from the boastful lies of a man who is as miserable a politician as soldier, and is as wretched a soldier as politician.”  Hitler was declaiming on the Wehrmacht’s fresh Balkan triumph.

Just as he did after Norway and Dunkirk, Mr. Churchill—he also began this campaign—is trying to say something that he might yet be able to twist and distort into a British victory.  I don’t think that very honest, but in the case of this man it is at least comprehensible.  If ever any other politician had met such defeats, or a soldier had encountered such catastrophes, he would not have kept his job six months—unless he was possessed of the same talent that alone distinguishes Mr. Churchill, the ability to lie with devout mien and distort the truth so that in the end the most frightful defeats turn into the most glorious victories.  Mr. Churchill may be able to put down a smokescreen before his fellow-countrymen, but he cannot eliminate the results of his disasters.

Hitler went on to say that the British prime minister’s appeal three days before to the German people to desert their F¸hrer was explicable only as the fevered outburst of a paralytic or the delirious shout of a chronic drunkard ;  the same brain had spawned the ill-conceived Balkan expedition as a vain attempt to set southeastern Europe ablaze.  Now the brave Greek people had paid for their pro-British monarch’s folly.  “I regretted it from the start.  For me as a German born and bred to revere and respect the art and culture of this country whence the first rays of mortal beauty and dignity emerged, it was a hard and bitter experience to see this happening and be able to do nothing to prevent it.”  From the French and British documents found in France he had realized how far the Greek government had drifted into Britain’s arms.  He heaped praise on Ribbentrop’s “unique patience and genius for perseverance” in finally bringing Yugoslavia into the Tripartite Pact ;  he lavished more praise on the General Staff for their brilliant campaign planning.  “One sentence will suffice to distinguish this campaign :  to the German soldier nothing is impossible !”

Rudolf Hess, constitutionally “Deputy F¸hrer” of the Party since April 1933 and second in line of succession after G–ring, had sat between Hitler and Ribbentrop during the lengthy speech.  Ribbentrop was to say a week later that Hess’s eyes had looked completely abnormal all evening and that he had seemed mentally disturbed.  Hitler did not notice.  Hess was an eccentric, a beloved member of the Party’s Old Guard, a believer in the supernatural and in herbal remedies ;  but he also had a brain of surprising shrewdness and a personal courage to match.  He had been born in Egypt and was unabashedly pro-British.  An enthusiastic pilot whose wings had been officially clipped by Hitler since 1933, he nevertheless found opportunities to fly the latest planes through his personal friendship with the director of air armament, Ernst Udet, and the aircraft designer Willy Messerschmitt.  Since the outbreak of war he had taken a keen interest in strategy.  Hitler’s Luftwaffe and naval adjutants have both stressed Hess’s active support for blockading the British Isles as a relatively antiseptic way of imposing Germany’s will on Britain, and it was Hess who had persuaded Hitler to force G–ring to take the aerial torpedo seriously.  Long before the war he had submitted lengthy studies to Hitler on the mass employment of mines in British waters ;  Hitler had ordered the admiralty to take the matter up, and heard no more until it reemerged as an admiralty proposal.

At the end of Hitler’s Reichstag speech, Hess spoke with Hitler privately for about half an hour ;  no record survives.  Hitler disclosed a few days later that on this occasion Hess persistently inquired whether he, the F¸hrer, still stood by the program he had set forth in Mein Kampf—of marching side by side with Britain ;  and that he had confirmed he did.  We also have Hess’s statement, ten days later, when he was already in enemy hands, that “as recently as May 4, after his Reichstag speech, Hitler declared to me that he had no oppressive demands to make on England.”

At eight-fifteen that evening Hitler left by special train with his private staff for the naval dockyard at Gotenhafen, on the Baltic, to inspect Raeder’s mighty new capital ships, the Bismarck and the Tirpitz.  The last time he had seen the latter was at her launching at Wilhelmshaven two years before ;  he still recalled the keen, honest features of the shipyard workers—“A real aristocracy of the working class.”  But now the battleship was fitting out here in the dismal port of Gotenhafen, beyond the reach of the British bombers, and the Bismarck was already straining to sail on her first Atlantic sortie.  Gotenhafen itself—the former Polish port of Gdynia—was an economic white elephant built by the Poles in an attempt to ruin Danzig’s trade between the wars.  It was one of the ugliest cities in western Europe, a sprawling collection of endless suburbs and soulless slums, a sorry contrast to the neat Hanseatic appearance of Danzig.  The two huge new battleships dominated the dockyard.

Hitler arrived on May 5 without Admiral Raeder, who wished his fleet commander to see the F¸hrer alone.  The navy’s plan was to transfer the Bismarck and the new heavy crusier Prinz Eugen from the Baltic to the Atlantic coast.  Hitler was ferried across to the battleship—a breathtaking spectacle of armor and machinery—in a naval tender.  The crew lined up for Hitler’s inspection, and he was shown around.  There was a moment of levity when Hitler’s physician, the portly Professor Morell, became briefly wedged in the slim entrance to one of the 380-millimeter main gun turrets.  The Bismarck, with her twenty-eight thousand miles of electrical circuits and her radar-controlled guns, was the most advanced warship afloat.  Indeed, she was considered unsinkable, and Admiral G¸nther L¸tjens, the gaunt-faced fleet commander, emphasized this to Hitler in his cabin.

He reported on the brilliant marauding operation he had commanded with the pocket battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau during the first three months of the year, raiding Atlantic convoys bringing war supplies to Britain from the United States ;  and he explained the purpose of the new operation he would command with the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen.  Hitler was inclined to leave the navy to operate as it saw fit ;  though it retained its imperial traditions and its antipathy toward all political doctrines, it was fired by a common purpose and fighting spirit of which the National Socialists could approve.  (Unlike the services garrisoned in the Reich, the navy was unaffected by prevailing trends of anti-Hitler rebellion, and only three of its officers were to be implicated in the 1944 plot.)

When Hitler did voice his qualms at L¸tjens’s proposal to risk the capital ships alone against the Atlantic convoys, the admiral put his mind at rest.  “Mein F¸hrer, there is virtually nothing that can go wrong for me, with a ship like this.  The only danger that I can see is torpedo-aircraft coming at us from aircraft carriers.”

Hitler returned to Berlin and then continued south to Berchtesgaden, where he was to meet Admiral Darlan on May 11.

The F¸hrer had belatedly decided to back the Arab “liberation movement” that had broken out in Iraq, and this could best be done with Vichy support from Syria.  It is characteristic of Hitler’s ad hoc strategy that he had hitherto paid no attention to Iraq, a desert country with oil fields in the north and occupied by only small British forces under a ten-year-old treaty.  But on April 2 a coup d’etat had brought the anti-British general Rashid Ali el Gailani to power, and when the British thereupon landed in strength at the port of Basra on the Persian Gulf, Rashid Ali’s small army encircled the big British air base at Habbaniya some twenty-five miles west of Baghdad and fighting broke out.  The Iraqis appealed to Germany for aid.  Hitler ordered Vichy arms cached in Syria to be released to them, and German military experts were flown out, followed by a diminutive force of Messerschmitt and Heinkel aircraft, which Darlan allowed to land on the airfields in Syria.  The prospects of a Franco-German entente thus seemed auspicious—were it not that a stunning blow now befell Adolf Hitler.

That evening a bulky packet from Rudolf Hess was delivered to the Berghof.  Assuming it to contain more of the minister’s interminable memoranda, Hitler pushed the packet aside.  Toward noon next day, Sunday May 11, he was standing with General Karl Bodenschatz—G–ring’s representative—in the Berghofs Great Hall when there was a commotion and one of Hess’s adjutants burst in, ignoring the protests of the guards.  He handed Hitler a slim envelope.  Hitler turned it over to Bodenschatz to slit open.  There were two pages inside, which the general handed back to him unread.  Hitler put on his eyeglasses and began to glance over it indifferently.  Suddenly he slumped into a chair and bellowed in a voice that could be heard all over the house :  “Oh my God, my God !  He has flown to Britain !”  A crowd of the curious appeared at the doors, but they were ushered out.  Hess’s adjutant stated unashamedly that his chief had taken off at Augsburg airfield at 5:40 P.M. the previous evening ;  when Hitler furiously asked why he had not told anybody until now, the adjutant gave his loyalty to Hess as the reason.  Hitler swung around on Bodenschatz.  “How is it, Herr General, that the Luftwaffe let Hess fly although I forbade it ?  Get G–ring here !”  But the Reichsmarschall was relaxing at his family castle north of Nuremberg.

It was found that the bulky packet from Hess contained about fourteen pages—a long-winded account of his motives for flying and his proposed peace plan.  Apparently written in October 1940, it dealt with technical aspects of a peace settlement—for example, reparations to be paid to Germany.  In the shorter letter—which Bodenschatz had just opened—Hess explained that he was flying to Glasgow to meet the Duke of Hamilton, a true friend of Germany whom he had met in 1936 ;  he wanted to try for peace between Germany and Britain before the Russian campaign began.  He promised not to betray “Barbarossa” to the British.  According to this letter, since November Hess had made three other attempts to reach Scotland ;  each time an aircraft malfunction had forced him back.

How Hitler’s head must have reeled to read all this !  Bodenschatz was now on the telephone to G–ring.  The Reichsmarschall was petulantly asking why he was required at the Berghof.  Hitler snatched the telephone, shouted, “G–ring—you are to come at once !” and slammed the instrument down.  Ambassador Hewel telephoned for Ribbentrop :  the foreign minister was in conference with Admiral Darlan.  That too was abruptly curtailed.  Hess’s adjutant, the unfortunate bearer of the ill-tidings, was arrested and led away.

A wave of hysterical speculation gripped the Berghof.  Could Hess have been a British agent ?  Might he in fact have gone to Russia ?  “Every possible construction,” wrote Schmundt’s wife in her diary.

Hitler refused to believe Hess would be disloyal, but pacing nervously up and down his study he confided to Julius Schaub what he feared.  “Never mind what he says.  If Hess really gets there just imagine :  Churchill has Hess in his grasp !  What lunacy on Hess’s part.... They will give Hess some drug or other to make him stand before a microphone and broadcast whatever Churchill wants.  I cannot challenge it, because it’s Hess’s voice and everybody knows it.”

Bodenschatz began immediate technical inquiries.  He found out that Willy Messerschmitt had himself supplied the advanced Messerschmitt fighter Hess had used, and that Hess had availed himself of the Y-beams navigation system used by the bomber squadrons.  Ernst Udet was ordered to come to the Berghof at once :  perhaps Hess might have crashed en route, or run into foul weather ?  But further investigation revealed that ever since August Hess had been supplied with regular weather reports on Britain ;  giving some innocent excuse, he had also arranged with two radio stations to make a certain broadcast at a specific time so that he could fix his position.

Admiral Darlan—PČtain’s deputy premier, foreign minister, navy minister, and minister of the interior—arrived after lunch with Ribbentrop.  German-French relations had remained in a limbo of indecision since Montoire ;  now that Hitler had decided on “Barbarossa,” his interest in the Mediterranean had waned, and his inborn mistrust of the French and his anxieties about de Gaulle were not easily overcome.  In the Yugoslav files captured in Belgrade, a document had been found strongly indicating that General Weygand was preparing to transfer his allegiance to de Gaulle and that the American ambassador to Vichy had stated that the United States would supply him with equipment and ammunition in that event.  The Italians certainly shared Hitler’s mistrust.  Count Ciano wisecracked to Ribbentrop’s interpreter :  “The people of Paris say that the British are winning the war.  The people of Vichy say that those pigs the British will win.  Voilý la diffČrence !

Canaris was to note after a meeting with Keitel at this time :

... When I turned to our Abwehr subversive operations in Syria and Iraq, the field marshal explained that the F¸hrer is inclined to be skeptical about the French attitude over this issue, as he is indeed about their whole attitude toward collaborating with Germany.  He, the chief of the OKW, would in fact term himself a super-skeptic, while Herr von Ribbentrop’s views on this were somewhere about the middle.  The chief of the OKW mentioned in passing a discussion between the F¸hrer and Herr Ribbentrop on the subject of de Gaulle in the course of which the F¸hrer interrupted Ribbentrop—who had uttered a derogatory remark about de Gaulle—with the words :  “Now, now, my dear Ribbentrop, if you found yourself in the same situation you would be the first to become a Gaullist !”

Ribbentrop had seriously flirted with the notion of collaboration with France since February, perhaps in the hope of presenting Hitler with a credible alternative to “Barbarossa” for the defeat of Britain.  Late that month he had shown Hitler his ambassador’s reply to a secret questionnaire in which he had asked whether a future French government might be cajoled into “declaring war on Britain, placing the French fleet at the disposal of the fight against Britain, and conceding bases to us in French Africa”;  Ambassador Otto Abetz had replied that an outright declaration of war would be unlikely, but that a state of war might practically be brought about under certain conditions in which Weygand might even unconditionally follow Petain.  Hitler, however, remained skeptical and cool toward Darlan.  A break for tea was taken at five-thirty, but Hewel noticed that the F¸hrer’s mind was elsewhere, and the conversation among the dozen people present was stilted and uncomfortable.  (Only Ribbentrop continued, in a talk with Darlan next day, to press France to declare war on Britain.)  Hitler’s mind was on Hess.

The Reichsmarschall arrived at 9 P.M. and threw a quizzical look at Bodenschatz, but the latter had been sworn to secrecy.  Now Hitler’s resentment was turned on his Luftwaffe commander.  (Hewel recorded that night :  “According to Bodenschatz’s version [G–ring] was just as agitated.  A long discussion with the F¸hrer downstairs in the Hall :  the F¸hrer, foreign minister, G–ring, Bormann.  Very irritable.  Much speculation.”)  The British had not yet announced anything ;  throughout this day and the next the argument raged back and forth at the Berghof as to whether Hess had arrived in Britain or was long dead.  “A very upset day,” wrote Hewel on the twelfth.  “Investigations into Hess’s flight. . . . G–ring and Udet believe Hess could not have managed the difficult flight to Glasgow, as this would call for the utmost flying ability using the most modern equipment.  But the F¸hrer thinks Hess could have done it.”

It was Ribbentrop who sagely pointed out that if they waited any longer, the British might announce the news at any moment to the world—indeed, they could claim that Hess had brought an official offer for a separate peace between Germany and Britain.  It might just split the whole Axis wide open.(1)  Hitler was aghast.  He ordered Ribbentrop to telephone Ciano, and he at once began to dictate the text of a communiquČ to the German people.  Investigations had meanwhile established that Hess had suffered from a bile complaint for some time and had fallen under the sway of nature healers and astrologers.  This facilitated the announcement that while Hess had evidently acted from idealistic motives he was in fact quite mad.  “The F¸hrer decides to go ahead with the announcement,” wrote Hewel.  “He insists on including the passage about it being the action of a madman.”  By late afternoon the tenth redraft of the communiquČ was complete and passed by Hitler.  In an agony of fear that the British might still launch their propaganda campaign first, assuming Hess had safely arrived, Hitler switched on the radio.  At 8 P.M. the German communiquČ was broadcast :  the Party officially announced that “in a hallucinated state” Hess had taken off from Augsburg in an aircraft and not been seen since.  “It is to be feared that Party-member Hess has crashed or met with an accident somewhere.”  Hitler, noted Hewel, was now “somewhat less tense and more lively.”  Hours passed and then the BBC finally stirred :  Rudolf Hess had landed by parachute in Scotland two nights before.  The tension at the Berghof relaxed ;  indeed a mood of laughter took its place.  “F¸hrer wants to wait until the morrow,” Hewel ended that day’s momentous entries.  “The chief is staying at the Berghof.”

The Party’s anguished investigation into the Deputy F¸hrer’s defection continued.  For advice on the English mentality, Hess had relied on Albrecht Haushofer, a Berlin professor of geopolitics and son of Munich’s eminent Professor Karl Haushofer.  The younger Haushofer had been befriended by Hess much earlier and shielded from outrages he might have been subjected to on account of his part-Jewish wife ;  he had attracted Party hostility by outspoken commentaries on Anglo-German relations in his father’s monthly Zeitschrift f¸r Geopolitik with prognoses diametrically opposed to those of the National Socialists.  (He had since mid-1938 warned of the growing Anglo-American military alliance and of the futility of Germany’s efforts to achieve economic self-sufficiency.)  Albrecht Haushofer was summoned to the Obersalzberg on May 12 and ordered to explain his behavior.  He admitted that he had made many attempts to correspond with the Duke of Hamilton through Lisbon and Switzerland but said he had received no reply.(2)  Haushofer was allowed to return home, but his telephone was tapped by the Forschungsamt and his house was watched.

On May 13 the Party recovered its composure and circulated a second communiquČ :  papers left behind by Hess—who was more familiar with the F¸hrer’s genuine peace proposals than any other person—suggested that he suffered from the hallucination that if he took a personal step with Englishmen known to him from earlier times, he might yet manage to bring about an entente between Germany and Britain.  Hitler debated with his advisers about what to do should the British send Hess back.  Ribbentrop gained the impression that Hess would be shot.  Hans Frank—whom Bormann summoned posthaste to the Berghof along with all the other Party leaders and Gauleiters—later quoted Hitler as telling him :  “This man is dead as far as I am concerned :  whenever and wherever we find him we will hang him.”  Frank, who had been through many crises with Hitler as his personal lawyer, found him more upset than he had ever seen him “since the death of his niece Geli Raubal.”  (Geli had infatuated him and then committed suicide under mysterious circumstances in 1931.)

In time, Hitler’s anger softened, though the feud was carried forward by Martin Bormann.  Schaub later wrote :  “In the years that followed, Hitler seldom mentioned Hess, but when he did it was always to emphasize how highly he had esteemed him—he had always been an upright and honest man until he was led astray.”  Bormann, of course, was like a dog with two tails to wag—especially since this affair had happened while the F¸hrer was at the Berghof and thus within Bormann’s domain.  There were many who believed Bormann was morally to blame for Hess’s flight, that he had undermined Hess’s position so much that the minister had felt compelled to undertake this drastic act to restore his faded status with Hitler.  Hitler was certainly not blind to Bormann’s pathological ambition, yet in this hour of crisis he wavered.  When G–ring now asked him whether he proposed to appoint Bormann as Hess’s successor, the F¸hrer shook his head and said that he had earmarked Bormann to succeed the Party treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz ;  the Reichsmarschall replied succinctly that Hitler was wrong “by a long shot” if he thought that would slake Bormann’s ambition.  “I care nothing about his ambition,” retorted Hitler.  Bormann would continue as head of the Party Chancellery ;  G–ring was to look for a suitably youthful candidate to be “Party minister.”  When Robert Ley also bluntly warned Hitler against appointing Bormann as Hess’s successor, he got a similar answer.  Small wonder that Bormann’s subsequent meteoric rise was to astound them all.

Propaganda Minister Goebbels had by this time also arrived from Berlin.  As Goebbels saw it, Hess’s act was a momentary aberration, the act of a man who had lost his nerve.  After consulting with Hitler, he instructed the propaganda media to pass over the affair as briefly as possible.  “We will ignore it for the time being.  In any case there is shortly to be a military event which will enable us to distract attention from the subject of Hess to other things.”  (This must have been a reference to the imminent parachute assault on Crete.)  At 3 P.M. Ribbentrop left for Rome to put Mussolini’s mind at rest.

By this time the Berghof was packed with the Party leaders and Gauleiters Bormann had summoned.  From four until six-thirty, Bormann and Hitler spoke to them about the Hess affair :  it was now known that Hess had been “manipulated” by various astrologers, mindreaders, and nature healers who had influenced him to fly to Britain ;  in doing so he had put the Reich in an impossible predicament with her allies, particularly Italy and Japan.  Hewel later described the scene in his diary.  As G–ring stands behind him with earnest mien “Bormann reads out the letters left by Hess.  A dramatic assembly, heavy with emotion.  The F¸hrer comes, speaks very humanly, analyzes Hess’s act for what it is, and proves he was deranged from his lack of logic :  the idea of landing near a castle he has never seen and whose owner, Hamilton, is not even there, etc.;  and Hoare is in Madrid.(3)  Then from foreign affairs standpoint, and finally the domestic repercussions.  A deeply moving demonstration.  Sympathy [from the Gauleiters]:  ‘Nothing is spared our Fiihrer.’  Afterward, lengthy discussions.”  Hewel concluded that Hitler was pleased he no longer had a formal deputy.

After he had finished speaking, Hitler leaned back on the big marble table in front of the Great Hall’s picture window, while the sixty or seventy Gauleiters and others pressed around him in a silent semicircle.  He caught sight of Gauleiter Ernst Bohle, the Bradford-born Gauleiter of all Germans abroad, and asked him pointedly, “Tell me what you knew of the affair.”  Bohle guiltily replied that in October Rudolf Hess had asked him to call one evening at his home in Wilhelmstrasse, sworn him to secrecy, and asked him to translate into English a letter he was writing to the Duke of Hamilton ;  on no account was he to tell Ribbentrop about it.  Over the next three months Bohle had several times been called to Hess’s office to continue work on the letter, and it was finished by January 7.  At this point Hitler took Bohle aside, showed him the letters Hess had left, and asked him to point out paragraph by paragraph which passages had been in the letter Hess carried to the Duke of Hamilton.  Hitler was furious that the Gauleiter had aided and abetted Hess, but Bohle cleverly cited the F¸hrerprinzip in his defense :  he had assumed that Hess was acting on the F¸hrer’s authority.  He escaped unscathed.

Not so the rest.  Haushofer joined Hess’s two adjutants in a concentration camp.  Hitler intervened on behalf of Frau Ilse Hess, but Bormann even had his children, Rudolf and Ilse, rechristened, and ordered his former superior’s name to be expunged from the history books.  Himmler, his new-found intimate, toadied to Bormann—sending him the letters Hess was writing from British captivity.  Even G–ring curried favor with Bormann now.  Himmler took to greeting Bormann with an exaggerated affection, while the other took both Himmler’s hands in his own.  They were frequently on the telephone to each other.  Woe betide those who fell afoul of Hess’s dynamic successor, or strayed from the Party line.  Precisely one year later, on May 13, 1942, Party headquarters in Munich telephoned Bormann that the obstreperous Gauleiter Carl R–ver of Oldenburg was going the way Hess had gone.  Following bouts of paralysis, visits by faith healers, and hallucinations, R–ver had that day announced his intention of flying to see Churchill—after first calling at the F¸hrer’s headquarters—“as the whole world is mad.”  By that afternoon Bormann’s agents were already on their way to him, armed with “top level” instructions.  Two days later R–ver had died a timely death, Hitler could order a state funeral, and Goebbels could sigh in his diary :  “There goes one more member of the Old Guard.”  Euthanasia had its uses.

On May 12, Hitler had formally replaced Hess’s old “Office of the Deputy F¸hrer” with a Party chancellery headed by Bormann ;  two weeks later he conferred on him the rights of a Reich minister.  Bormann now gathered powers the like of which Hess had never had, but Hitler grudged this hard-working, unobtrusive, ruthless manager none of them.  A secretary overheard him command Bormann :  “Just keep the Gauleiters off my back !”  And the forty-year-old Bormann—who in 1930 founded the Party’s financial fortunes by an insurance scheme under which millions of SA members paid thirty pfennigs monthly and stuck stamps onto a yellow card which in case of injury in the street fighting proved that they were paid up—did just that.  He took the load off Hitler’s mind.  In alliance with the crafty constitutional expert Lammers, Bormann established a civilian bottleneck through which all state affairs had to pass on their way to Hitler ;  Bormann had the knack of presenting them to Hitler in a rapid, deliberate way that required only a Yes or No as answer.  Hitler’s whim, no sooner spoken, became a F¸hrer Command, noted down by Bormann, elaborated by the expert lawyers he had drafted to his staff, duplicated and circulated by Party channels and teleprinters almost instantly.  From eight each morning until far into the night Bormann was at Hitler’s disposal ;  he ran the Reich while Hitler directed his war.  Bormann achieved that most dangerous of attributes—indispensability.  Hitler ignored the man’s sinister side and boorishness :  Bormann’s one and only public speech, at a Gauleiter conference, was a fiasco.  Behind a steering wheel he was reckless in the extreme.  Privately Hitler could never forgive Bormann for what he and the Party had done to his Obersalzberg ;  a future pilgrim’s mecca of the worst possible taste, the Berghof was ringed by more and more buildings.  The F¸hrer even mentioned to Schaub that he was thinking of moving his permanent residence to Linz or Mohn or Bayreuth because of this.  Hitler also disagreed with Bormann’s approach to problems dealing with the Church and Jews.  Yet Bormann survived until the end, dreaming of the day when he might step into the F¸hrer’s shoes.  “Bormann clung to him like ivy around the oak,” Robert Ley was to say, “using him to get to the light, and to the very summit.”

Late on May 114, Ribbentrop returned from his emergency visit to Mussolini.  Hewel fetched him from the airport and noted that night :  “He reported this evening to the F¸hrer up the mountain : positive.”  On the sixteenth and seventeenth Hitler was shown the Forschungsamt intercepts on the Italian ambassador’s comments on the Hess case.  Heydrich meanwhile personally interrogated Gauleiter Bohle.

For Hitler the case was already closed ;  his eyes again reverted east.  The Second Air Force had already begun uprooting its ground organization in the west ;  by the end of May only a large radio-spoofing organization would remain to deceive the enemy into thinking that Kesselring was still there.  On May 10 and 13 the Luftwaffe made its last mass attacks on London, causing immense damage.  After that only a skeleton force of aircraft would remain to harass the British defenses and simulate invasion preparations.  “Barbarossa” was to be disguised as a master deception plan :  “The closer the date of the attack approaches,” directed the OKW, “the cruder will be the means of deception we can employ (in the Intelligence channels as well).”  The very airborne invasion of Crete was to be referred to openly as “a dress rehearsal for the invasion of Britain,” and several ministries were instructed to start planning for the occupation of Britain immediately.

It was also time to start putting out cautious feelers to Russia’s other bruised western neighbors.  Hungary could not be approached until the last days of May, and Romania even later ;  but there were military reasons why Finland must be approached now.  A grotesque formula had to be adopted by the OKW :  despite the friendly contractual relations between Germany and Russia, there was a completely unmotivated Russian buildup on the frontier.  The OKW formula explained :  “This obliges Germany to concentrate forces there too.  In the immediate future a political settlement is intended.  If this proves impossible, it will almost certainly be necessary to apply a military settlement, if the choice of date is not to be left to Russia.”  The staff talks proposed with Finland would establish the basis of their cooperation should war thus break out this summer.  In view of Finland’s casualties in her recent war with the Soviet Union no heavy burden would be foisted onto her ;  it would be left to her to decide how to meet the German requests.  “The course of this putative war will definitely be as follows :  after Russia has lost a certain area on account of the participation of many small nations (a crusade against bolshevism) and in particular on account of the German Wehrmacht’s superiority, she will be unable to fight on.  The collapse in the north will come fastest and the Baltic will rapidly come into our hands.  After the onset of the Russian catastrophe Germany will be the leading and impregnable power in Europe ;  she can cut back her army to step up Luftwaffe and naval construction programs and defeat Britain, which still rests her hopes on Russia.”

Jodl proposed to the foreign ministry that Dr. Julius Schnurre, Ribbentrop’s trade expert, who was on friendly terms with the Finnish prime minister and foreign minister, should go to Finland and invite her to send staff officers to Germany at once.  Hewel’s diary(4) of May 15 notes :

After lunch the Chief [Ribbentrop] comes with Schnurre up the mountain.  Schnurre is given instructions on discussing Russian problem in Finland, and negotiating with [Rysto] Ryti [the Finnish president].  He wants to return via Stockholm, but the F¸hrer is very hostile toward Sweden.  Says their ruling class is basically pro-British.  If they did show any interest [in “Barbarossa”] then it would only be so they could immediately report what they heard to Britain.  He does not want Schnurre to drop any hints at all there except that he had had talks in Finland on the Russian problem.  (But even this the Reich foreign minister afterward prohibits.)  Schnurre is more optimistic.  The F¸hrer reads out a memo by Paul (press department) Schmidt, says it is much too optimistic :  it also notes that it would be extremely useful if the whole of Scandinavia joined the Tripartite Pact.  The F¸hrer considers this impossible, says even the Reichsmarschall [G–ring] has been cured of his infatuation for Sweden.  Sweden would willingly sacrifice Finland if Germany lost the war.  She is afraid of losing her dominant position in Scandinavia, of encirclement by Finland, Germany, and Norway.  Russian ambitions.

Hitler instructed Schnurre to tell Ryti that he had rejected the Soviet demands on Finland during Molotov’s November visit to Berlin.

On the eighteenth, French haggling for alleviation of the armistice terms in return for Vichy support in the Middle East again clouded the Berghof atmosphere.  “The F¸hrer is still nervous,” an entry in Hewel’s diary noted.  “The French problem is acute.  The F¸hrer bitterly reproaches the foreign ministry and especially Ambassador Abetz for tossing concessions to the French ;  this refers particularly to the release of prisoners.  A furious scene.  At 7 P.M. Ribbentrop and Abetz in conference with the F¸hrer.  F¸hrer somewhat more affable, but is still reluctant to go wholeheartedly into the French affair.  Does not want to commit himself too much to France.(5)  He always asks himself whether Darlan can hang on at all.”

The next day Hitler was more lively and relaxed, and even found words of approval for Italy.  “It is quite clear that the Duce is one of the greatest men in modern history.  He has extracted from the Italian people every ounce of what there was to be extracted—and what he has extracted from the Italian people is quite marvelous.  If he did not get any further, it was simply because he had reached the extreme limit of their capabilities.  After him there will not be another with his energy and talents for a long time, so events in Italy will definitely run downhill later.”  On the following morning, May 20, as G–ring’s paratroops began their costly assault on the isle of Crete, Hitler drove down to Munich for two days in the quiet seclusion of his apartment there.

Anxieties gnawed within him as he pored over the great charts of Europe, trying to divine what nasty surprises the British might yet spring on him.  Earlier in May he had feared the British might invade Portugal or Spain :  he briefly received the Spanish ambassador and warned him of the British activities in Morocco and told him of Abwehr reports on British plans to invade the Iberian peninsula.  He took the risk seriously enough—why else should enemy propaganda be harping on alleged German designs down there ?—to issue an OKW directive for a contingency plan to expel any British expeditionary force.  Spain would present no problem to the Wehrmacht.  But Hitler privately admitted to an adjutant, “We must remember that Franco is not a leader like Mussolini or myself—he has a much more omnipotent dictator over him than the Duce or I do, namely the Pope and the Church.”  Later in May, his anxieties concerned “Barbarossa”:  was the eastern front not suspiciously quiet now ?  The OKW circulated to the operations staffs a succinct warning :  “The F¸hrer again reminds you that over the coming weeks Russian preventive measures are possible and that steps must be taken in defense against these.”

Grand Admiral Raeder came to see him on May 22, and the feeling of coming disaster seems to have grown even more strong within Hitler ;  when Raeder almost casually mentioned in a discussion of the Battle of the Atlantic that the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen had just sailed from Gotenhafen for their first sweep in the North Atlantic, Hitler remembered all the premonitions only half-voiced in his private talk with Admiral L¸tjens aboard the battleship at Gotenhafen.  He complained uneasily that it seemed a great risk to run for so small a potential profit, and he mentioned L¸tjens’s own reservations about enemy torpedo-aircraft.  He now asked Raeder outright, “Herr Grossadmiral, can’t we fetch the ships back ?”  Raeder however advised him that the warships had already passed into the open North Sea, that enormous preparations had been made—five tankers and two auxiliary ships had been sent out in advance with submarines to rendezvous positions in the North Sea and the Atlantic.  To recall the warships now would have a catastrophic effect on naval morale.(6)  Hitler bowed to the admiral’s experience and raised no further objections.

According to Hitler’s naval adjutant, another factor in his anxiety was the wish to avoid provoking the United States by sending the most powerful battleship in the world to cruise on the threshold of its announced sphere of interest.  All German policy was geared to depriving Roosevelt of any justification for warat any rate, as yet.  “War with the United States will come sooner or later,” he had told his adjutants late in March.  “Roosevelt, and behind him the big Jewish financiers, want war—they have no choice, because a German victory in Europe would cause the American Jews enormous capital losses in Europe.  I only regret we still have no aircraft able to bomb American towns.  I would dearly like to teach the Jews of America what it’s like.”  Exasperating though Lend-Lease was, he said, it had one advantage :  the Americans had given him the justification he needed for war.  Hitler’s policy of nonaggravation meantime did bear fruit :  late in April his charge d’affaires in Washington reported that in contrast to 1917 the American people were not demanding war, as they did not feel the Germans were provoking them.  The German admiralty grudgingly conceded that the F¸hrer’s policy thus seemed justified, but the restrictions he continued to impose on the hard-pressed U-boat crews in the North and South Atlantic irked nonetheless.  They were not to attack American warships or merchant ships, not to board those suspected of carrying war goods to the enemy, not to use their armament even if the Americans were flagrantly violating their neutrality—reporting German movements to the enemy, for example—unless the Americans fired the first shot.  Roosevelt, whom Hitler seriously believed to be ill and perhaps even mentally unsound in consequence of his polio,(7) hinted that the American navy would start convoying its shipments of war supplies to Britain, which was certain to lead to open hostilities.  Hitler approved Raeder’s idea that the German press immediately publish an “interview” in which the admiral warned the American people of what Roosevelt’s convoy idea must entail.

Hewel’s diary of May 22 illustrates Hitler’s dilemma over the United States.

... Drove up the mountain.  Conference with the Chief [Ribbentrop], Raeder, and Keitel on naval strategy, convoy issue, the Raeder “interview,” and on Dakar, the Canaries and the Azores !(8)  Very interesting.  The F¸hrer still vacillates in his attitude toward America, as “you cannot peer into Roosevelt’s mind.”  If he wants a war, he will always find the means, even if legally we are in the right.  Japan holds the key.

This was because Japan was bound by the Tripartite Pact to declare war only if the United States was clearly the aggressor.(9)

Even though he has still not made his mind up it is better to keep the U.S.A. out of the war than perhaps to sink a few hundred thousand more tons of shipping.  Without the U.S.A. the war will be over this year ;  with the U.S.A. it will go on for long years to come.  A “warning” is agreed on.

Negative comments on Italy’s warfare at sea.  Mosley is on the Isle of Man !

Six P.M. the Italians come, under [Ambassador Dino] Alfieri.  Speech on the occasion of second anniversary of the Axis pact.  Tea.  Got a date for Cudahy.

John Cudahy, Roosevelt’s former ambassador in Brussels and now a Life magazine correspondent, was brought up to the Berghof next afternoon to interview Hitler for the American press.  Cudahy was a rather naÔve, open-faced outsider to the world of power politics, and Hitler’s responses were short-tempered and impatient.  Right at the start he rasped, “Convoys will mean war !” and tried to put out of his visitor’s mind the “ludicrous” notion that the Nazis might ever invade the Americas.  This was just a wicked lie invented to convert American public opinion, said Hitler ;  indeed, he laughed out loud, dismissed it as a childish suggestion, and exclaimed, “That is on a level with claiming that America plans to conquer the moon !”  Mindful of the propaganda meant to distract from “Barbarossa,” Hitler added that his OKW was not planning expeditions to the moon but was busy with projects of rather shorter range-like Crete, at a range of sixty miles, or Britain at a range of only twenty.  Hewel wrote afterward :  “Three P.M., Cudahy, the U.S. envoy in Belgium, a friend of Lindbergh’s.  Questions from another world, childish, as in the years of struggle twenty years ago.  But positive.  Cudahy deeply impressed.”

Hitler’s message seems to have been understood by Roosevelt, for overnight a change was observed in the president’s belligerent stand.  Whereas on May 27 in a speech broadcast to the world Roosevelt appeared to utter a solemn commitment to enter the war, at a press conference the very next day he airily dismissed any suggestion of using his navy to convoy shipments to Britain or of asking Congress for a change in the Neutrality Law.  Nevertheless, in his speech he had said outright, “From the point of view of strict naval and military necessity, we shall give every possible assistance to Britain and to all who, with Britain, are resisting Hitlerism or its equivalent with force of arms.  Our patrols are helping now to insure delivery of the needed supplies to Britain.  All additional measures necessary to deliver the goods will be taken.”  He had ended the speech with a proclamation of Unlimited National Emergency.

It was a provocative speech but, as Hewel’s diary shows, Ribbentrop begged Hitler not to rise to the bait.  “Roosevelt speech—weak but a propaganda danger.  The man must be stopped from continually getting away with it.  The Chief [Ribbentrop] comes to see F¸hrer :  a long discussion on this topic.  The F¸hrer would dearly like to make a speech, if only because he gets a kick out of it.  The Reich foreign minister fears it will degenerate into a mutual abuse match and that the F¸hrer’s speech won’t get a hearing in the U.S.A.  Backward and forward.—In the afternoon we strolled in brilliant weather to the teahouse.”

Since Raeder’s visit Hitler had been distracted by a domestic incident from closely following the Bismarck’s steady progress toward the Americas.  A drunken remark made by one of the Reich’s senior press officials, Professor Karl B–mer, at a Bulgarian legation reception in mid-May threatened to betray the “Barbarossa” operation.  “In four weeks the Russians’ll be finished.  Rosenberg’s going to be Governor General of Russia.  I’m going to be my old boss’s undersecretary.”  From the intercepts that resulted, Hitler found out about the incident, summoned Heydrich to the Berghof, and ordered an investigation.  B–mer was arrested, but Goebbels sprang to his defense and Heydrich found no evidence of deliberate or accidental treason.  Hitler was not satisfied :  he wanted B–mer’s blood and ordered him tried by the People’s Court.  “From now on I will take ruthless action against everybody who can’t hold his tongue !”  B–mer ended up in a punishment battalion on the eastern front.

In Crete the bloody struggle for the island, launched on May 22, was approaching its climax.  At Ir·klion (Candia) some Greek companies had even joined the German paratroops in fighting the British :  war was full of surprises.  Late on May 24, Raeder telephoned from Berlin.  On leaving the Denmark Straits south of Iceland, the Bismarck had stumbled on two British battleships sent to intercept her.  She had dispatched the Hood—Churchill’s most powerful battleship—in less than five minutes.  The other British battleship, the Prince of Wales, had suffered heavy damage and turned away.  But the elation at the Berghof was diminished as further signals came from the admiralty.  The Bismarck herself had been hit twice, though without casualties, and she was bleeding oil ;  her speed was reduced, and the British warships seemed to be operating some kind of radar, a possibility not previously admitted.  Admiral L¸tjens proposed to put into the French port of Saint-Nazaire, leaving the Prinz Eugen to continue by herself into the Atlantic, but he could not shake off the pursuing enemy warships.  He suggested that D–nitz marshal all available submarines in one area through which he would try to lure the enemy, but next day he announced that his oil was so low that he must steer directly for Saint-Nazaire.

By now the German admiralty knew that every enemy warship from Scapa Flow had sailed against the crippled Bismarck.  Late on the twenty-fourth L¸tjens had reported the first air strikes, so the British aircraft carrier Victorious was clearly within range.  At the Berghof, Hewel noted :  “Frightening hours on the Bismarck’s account.”  Further torpedo attacks were delivered by the aircraft during the midnight hours, but L¸tjens dismissed them as “unimportant.”  By noon of the twenty-fifth, he had at last managed to shake off his pursuers.  But for how long ?  From radio monitoring it was clear the British were throwing all they had into pinning the Bismarck down.  G–ring ordered his commanders to push out air cover as far as possible toward the limping battleship, but the range of his aircraft was insufficient.  Hitler grimly radioed L¸tjens greetings on his birthday.  The mood at the Berghof was further soured by the presence of Heydrich and Goebbels, who were wrangling over the B–mer affair.

When Hitler rose on the twenty-sixth the news awaiting him was that the Bismarck had been found by the enemy ;  shadowed by an enemy aircraft, she still had six hundred miles to go to Brest.  Soon after 9 P.M. L¸tjens radioed that the aircraft had scored torpedo hits amidships and astern, and at 9:50 came the dread news that the battleship’s steering was out of action :  the unsinkable Bismarck was afloat and her guns were primed, but at best she could only steer a slow and stately circle while the British battle fleet closed in.  From radio monitoring, the German admiralty identified at least four battleships and two aircraft carriers closing for the kill ;  the stormy seas prevented Raeder’s destroyers from putting to sea, and D–nitz’s submarines were too far off to engage the enemy in time.  Shortly before midnight, L¸tjens radioed :  “Ship unmaneuverable.  We are fighting to the last shell.  Long live the F¸hrer !”  And to Hitler himself, he signaled :  “We shall fight to the end trusting in you, mein F¸hrer, and with our faith in Germany’s victory undestroyed.”  Hitler instructed the admiralty to reply, “All Germany is with you.  What can be done will be done.  The way you do your duty will strengthen our nation in its fight for survival.  Adolf Hitler.”

During the early hours of May 27 the Luftwaffe scoured the area and ventured ineffectual attacks on British cruisers and destroyers.  Ocean-going tugs put to sea.  The Spanish government was asked to send out rescue ships.  L¸tjens’s last radio message had come at 6:25 A.M.:  “Position unchanged.  Windstrength 8 to 9.”  From then onward there was silence.  A funereal gloom descended over the Berghof.  An adjutant’s wife whispered that mourning clothes might seem in order.  At noon Hitler learned that the British government had announced the sinking of the Bismarck an hour before.

Disabled and her last ammunition spent, the Bismarck had proved unsinkable to the end.  She had scuttled herself under the guns of the British navy and sank with her colors honorably flying and the loss of some twenty-three hundred lives.  Hitler’s sorrow turned to anger.  The OKW received instructions that no battleship or cruiser was to put to sea without his previous consent.  The gallant Admiral L¸tjens had himself warned in one of his last signals that the enemy use of naval radar would force a revision of the German navy’s Atlantic cruiser warfare strategy.  Hewel wrote on May 27 :

Bismarck sunk.  Mood very dejected.  F¸hrer melancholy beyond words.  Uncontrollable fury at the naval staff :

I.  The ship should never have been sent out raiding ;

2.  After finishing off the Hood she should have dealt with the Prince of Wales too, and not run away ;

3.  She should have returned straight to Norway and not run straight into the lions’ den.

Red tape and wooden-headedness in the navy.  Won’t tolerate any man with a mind of his own.

Reich foreign minister comes in the afternoon.  F¸hrer speaks his mind to him, swears and curses and then calms down.  A walk to the teahouse.  The F¸hrer picks up again, talks about new types of ships and the airborne torpedo as a weapon.

Raeder answered Hitler’s criticisms soberly when he next came to the Berghof ;  he particularly emphasized that for the Bismarck to have returned through the northern passages to Norway would have been more risky than continuing into the Atlantic.  Hitler asked the admiralty to adopt a policy of conservation of strength until the effect of “Barbarossa” on Britain was known.  “Should Britain’s collapse threaten to become imminent, some very important duties might present themselves to our surface warships.”  Though Hitler did not admit it, the Bismarck’s loss had certainly not been in vain.  She had drawn off no fewer than eight battleships, two aircraft carriers, eleven cruisers, and twenty-one destroyers, creating a diversion which more than ensured the successful conclusion of the invasion of Crete ;  and the capture of Crete in turn reduced Britain’s naval influence in the Mediterranean and paved the way for Rommel’s future triumphs in North Africa.

Hitler meanwhile had issued a belated OKW directive ordering support for the Arab “liberation movement” against Britain.  Jodl’s chief assistant, General Warlimont, had been sent to Paris for a week to resume the military talks broken off in December, and a protocol had been signed granting the French concessions in return for assistance in Syria and Iraq, as well as the future use of the Tunisian port of Bizerte to supply Rommel’s troops in North Africa ;  more reluctantly, the French agreed on principle to let Hitler operate their port at Dakar as a submarine and Luftwaffe base on the west coast of Africa.  They also secretly agreed to remove General Weygand from his command, though this was not specifically mentioned in the protocol.  It was signed in Paris on the twenty-eighth, and the next day Warlimont flew to the Berghof to report.

Events in Iraq were overtaking Hitler, however.  The British were already advancing on Baghdad, and the end could not be far off.  In private Hitler cursed the “banqueting diplomats” who had misinformed him.  “Unfortunately the Arabs are unreliable and venal.  The British and French have grasped that fact.  But we cannot give a helping hand everywhere.  The Middle East by itself would have been no problem if our other plans”—meaning “Barbarossa”—“were not irrevocable.  When they succeed, we can open a door into the Middle East from there.”  Mussolini was opposed to abandoning the Iraqi rebels and sent word to Hitler thus :  “I, Mussolini, am in favor of active support, as this is an opportunity to raise the entire population of the Middle East against Britain.  But if Iraq collapses, they will all lose heart again.  If the German High Command also decides on active support, then it seems to me necessary to occupy Cyprus as well—after the reduction of Crete and Rhodes—since it lies off the Syrian coastline and holds the key to the entire Middle East.”  With Crete and Cyprus in Axis hands, the British fleet could scarcely stay safely in Alexandria ;  the Duce felt the capture of Cyprus would be easier than that of Crete as it was less mountainous and not so heavily fortified.  Hitler’s first reaction was an outburst :  “Mussolini thinks Cyprus should be taken now as well !”  And Hewel recorded :  “The F¸hrer proposes to agree, and to tell him to do it himself.”  Nonetheless, Hitler did ask G–ring and Jeschonnek whether Cyprus would be possible.  The Reichsmarschall winced, reported on the blood the Luftwaffe had lost over Crete—150 Junkers 52 transports alone—and advised against invading Cyprus.  “Since war broke out the Luftwaffe has known no rest.  From Crete we shall now be fighting a pitched battle against the British fleet and Tobruk.”

Hewel made a lengthy record of Hitler’s worried conference with Ribbentrop and the OKW generals on May 29 :

The point under debate is how far to bring in France or to get her involved in a war with Britain.  The F¸hrer’s view is that the French will only fight, and Weygand will only stay loyal, if they know that they can thereby retain the French empire and are persuaded that the soil on which they fight will by that fight remain French.  If Syria could be isolated from the rest, this could be done ;  but it cannot be isolated, it has to be regarded in its larger context :  Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Dakar.  The French are making Bizerte available to us in Tunisia.  But now the Italians also want a port there “on principle.”  Obviously they want to get their foot in the door there, and this is why the French will never give way....

The F¸hrer curses the Italians.  He hates the Spanish.  Of Italy he says that you can’t keep making concessions to somebody who is always running around with his bottom black and blue from beatings, nor will the German people stand for it.  And on top of that they are an arrogant bunch.... The F¸hrer’s view is that when “Barbarossa” is over, he won’t need to pay any more attention to Italy !  We will then automatically be able to come together with the French.  They are counting on kicking the Italians out of Tunisia after the war.  He wants to have a talk with Mussolini shortly.

Later that day the foreign ministry’s Dr. Julius Schnurre expounded at length but with precision on Finland and Sweden.  The Finns had sent generals to negotiate with the OKW and the General Staff in Germany ;  they had been asked to prepare two divisions to support the operations of Hitler’s army in Norway against northern Russia.  “ ‘Barbarossa’ is a gamble like everything else,” said Hitler after Schnurre left.  “If it fails, then it will all be over anyway.  If it succeeds, it will have created a situation that will probably force Britain to make peace.  What will the United States have to say when all at once Finland is on our side !  When the first shot is fired, the world will hold its breath.”

1 In September 1943 Hitler was to tell Goebbels :  “The British muffed their biggest political opportunity of the war on this occasion.”

2 There is a curious echo of this in British government files on Hess.  The Duke of Hamilton first learned of Haushofer’s letters from Hess and complained to the government that these peace feelers had never reached him.  The secret service requested him to take the matter no further in the national interest.

3 Sir Samuel Hoare was the British ambassador in Madrid.—Hitler could not have known that Hess had in fact succeeded in navigating in pitch darkness to within twelve miles of his target, had then parachuted safely (no mean feat for a man of forty-seven on his first attempt), and was actually in conversation with the Duke of Hamilton within a matter of hours.  Under interrogation, Hess, speaking good English, explained that this was his fourth attempt to fly to Britain.  He had got the idea when he was with the F¸hrer during “Yellow,” in June 1940.  He had deliberately refrained from attempting the flight while Britain was scoring successes in Libya in case his proposals were interpreted as a sign of German weakness.  With the Nazi victories in North Africa and the Balkans the situation had, however, changed.  His knowledge of the Luftwaffe’s expansion plans and the submarine construction program made him confident in Germany’s ultimate victory.  But Hitler had no desire to inflict slaughter and defeat on Britain :  From a long and intimate knowledge of the F¸hrer which had begun eighteen years before in the fortress of Landsberg he could give his word of honor that (unlike the Americans) the F¸hrer had never entertained any designs against the British Empire.  Nor had he ever aspired to world domination.  Mr. Churchill would not, however, be an acceptable negotiating partner.  Hess stated that he had come unarmed and of his own free will, and he asked for his release on parole.  Churchill ordered his incarceration for the rest of the war.

4 These extracts are quoted at length, as the diary of the diplomat Walther Hewel has not previously been available to historians.

5 The fly in the ointment was always Italy, as an entry by Hewel on April 25, 1941, indicates.  “Great exasperation at the Italians.  Rommel in serious difficulties in Libya”—because of the Italians’ failure to transport supplies to him.  “F¸hrer uses violent language.  In the evening I sat in on a long discussion with the F¸hrer.  The invitation to Darlan.  F¸hrer :  ‘France on the one hand, Italy and Spain on the other.’ ”

6 Raeder, who knew Hitler could not sleep when his capital ships were at sea, evidently refrained from telling him that at 6:20 A.M. the previous day a British aircraft control station was monitored reporting that RAF aircraft had just been dispatched with orders to search for “two battleships and three destroyers.”

7 According to Julius Schaub, Hitler often discussed this possibility with his physician, Dr. Theo Morell.

8 Hitler had more than once raised the possibility of occupying the Azores as a staging point for long-range bombers to operate against the United States, perhaps this very autumn of 1941.  The navy admitted that the Azores could probably be captured, but they could not be held in the face of British and possibly even American attack.

9 In a cable of May 23 the German military attachČ in Tokyo reported that the Japanese confirmed they would declare war if the United States attacked Germany, but that they could not commence hostilities immediately as they must conclude the conflict with China first.


p. 242   Rudolf Hess was interrogated in Britain in May 1941 (ND, M-117).  I also relied on the diaries of Bormann, Hewel, Halder, and Weizs”cker, and Goebbels’s ministerial conferences ;  unpublished memoirs of Below, Schellenberg, Schaub, Ley, and Linge—the latter in Russian archives ;  and postwar testimonies of Speer, Bohle, DarrČ, Puttkamer, Dr. Erich Isselhorst, and Hess’s secretary Laura Schr–dl.  General Bodenschatz amplified my account in an interview in 1970.

p. 247   The official Party statement late on May 12, 1941, ran :  “Despite a strict order from the F¸hrer forbidding any further flying activity, on account of a progressive illness from which Party-member Hess has suffered for some years, he recently managed to get possession of an aircraft again.  Toward 6 P.M. on Sunday, May 10, Hess took off from Augsburg on a flight from which he has not returned.  A letter he left behind is so incoherent as to give evidence of a mental derangement, which gives rise to fears that he is the victim of hallucinations.  The F¸hrer has ordered the immediate arrest of the adjutants of Hess, who alone knew of his flight and despite the F¸hrer’s orders did nothing to hinder or report it.  Under the circumstances it is to be feared that Party-member Hess has crashed or met with an accident somewhere.”

The BBC repeated this without comment at 10 P.M., and at 11 P.M. added the comment that Hess had “been bumped off by the Gestapo” just as Mussolini had murdered Marshal Italo Balbo (who had in fact been shot down in error by his own antiaircraft guns).  Not until 6 A.M. on May 13 did the BBC announce that Hess was on British soil, speciously adding :  “Great Britain is the only country in which Hess felt safe from the Gestapo.”

p. 249   Dr. Robert Ley wrote privately in August 1945 :  “I found a number of reasons to suspect that Bormann at least knew of the strange flight to Britain.  For example, his complete indifference to the F¸hrer’s deep emotion during that remarkable assembly at the Berghof [on May 13, 1941] where the F¸hrer told us—as shattered as he was—of Hess’s act and passed judgment on it.  Bormann was ice-cold, as though it did not affect him in the least ;  indeed some seemed to detect signs of pleasure in him” (from Ley’s private papers).

p. 250   The timely death of Gauleiter R–ver :  see Heydrich’s letter to Himmler, May 13, 1942 (T175/139/7452 et seq.).

p. 251   Professor Andreas Hillgruber has published several studies on the structure of Hitler’s coalition war—e.g., in WR, 1960, pages 659 et seq.;  see too Hitler’s order of May 1, 1941 (T77/792/1209, and in file PG/31025), and the files of General Staff and OKW conferences with the Finns on T78/458, and Ritter’s AA files, Serial 833.  As Ernst Klink points out in his study of the German-Finnish coalition, in WR, 1958, page 391, Field Marshal Mannerheim’s memoirs are unduly reticent on the extent of Finland’s collaboration with Hitler in the preparation of “Barbarossa.”

p. 254   Puttkamer told me, in interviews in 1967 and 1968, of Hitler’s uneasiness upon learning that the Bismarck had sailed.  Captain Wolf Junge, Jodl’s naval aide, also wrote of it in his unpublished memoirs, and it is indirectly confirmed by the naval staff’s war diary on June 7—two weeks later.  “He [the F¸hrer] requests to be informed in advance of future naval staff decisions on the operations of surface warships !”  From the same diary, June 13, 1941, we learn that naval security was so poor that the Bismarck sailed from Gotenhafen with bands playing.

p. 255   The naval staff war diary of May 13, 1941, bears eloquent testimony to Hitler’s determination to avoid war with the United States :  the German navy was to use extreme caution both inside and outside the declared blockade area when American ships were concerned, even if this put the German sailors at a great disadvantage, “as the F¸hrer has no intention whatever of provoking an American entry into the war by some incident or other at the present moment.”  This determination was repeated on May 22 (ibid.).

p. 258   That the Bismarck scuttled herself—and was not “sunk”—was later confirmed by Captain Junak, her turbine officer, who himself opened the sea cocks.

p. 260   Halder exuded confidence when army chiefs of staff met for an OKH conference on June 4, 1941.  The Russian deployment on the frontier was purely defensive.  “The whole fight may take several days, or perhaps even a considerable number of days ;  but then there will follow a vacuum, if the enemy retains his present formation, and he will scarcely have time to change it now” (Appendix to Seventeenth Army war diary, BA file 14,499/5).