Hitler saw in the New Year, 1943, sitting alone in his bunker with Martin Bormann, his Party secretary, until after 4:00 A.M. This itself presaged the coming times : in the year that followed a significant part of Hitlers domestic authority was delegated to a three-man cabalBormann, Keitel, and Lammersconvening significantly in what had been the Cabinet Room of the Berlin Chancellery, while Goebbels hovered like a predator calling impatiently for the mantle of F¸hrer of the home front to descend on him.
Hitler was rarely in Berlin. He dedicated himself to his war, sustained by the prospect of coming offensives, of the growing U-boat campaign, of increased panzer and aircraft production, and by evidence that Stalins manpower reserves were at last declining. Victory would surely go to the combatant with the strongest nerves, with the greatest resilience. His troubled conscience over Stalingrad he kept to himselfbetraying his true feelings only by chance remarks to his secretaries or doctors. At night he could not sleep, for before his eyes there danced the arrow-covered maps of the evenings war conference, crowding in on him like childhood nightmares until at last the sedatives he had taken dragged him down into unconsciousness. For the next six months he proved more accessible to the advice of the General Staff. His tactical decisions were sound, and the retreats that marked these months were considerable military achievements. But he had lost forever the venturesome spirit that was his forte. Only at Stalingrad and in the first disordered retreat to the Donets did the army lose equipment of any consequence. Thereafter the withdrawals were planned and fought so as to inflict the maximum hardship and casualties on the enemy. Still sure of their superiority, the German soldiers felt that they were being overwhelmed by circumstance, not the Russian army : by lack of oil, by inclement weather, by unreliable allies. Their trust in Hitler remained unshaken,(1) but the security service reports indicated that at home the first mutterings of popular discontent were becoming audible.
General Eberhard von Mackensens First Panzer Army began its withdrawal from the Caucasus on January 1, 1943, and completed it thirty days later, having covered over four hundred miles under appalling conditions for infantry and artillery alikeeighteen-horse teams struggled to haul the heavy guns through the mountains. Some 25,000 casualties were evacuated in time from the field hospitals ; all the equipment except for about a hundred guns was saved. Simultaneously General Ruoffs Seventeenth Army withdrew from the western Caucasus. Thus at a cost of 226 lives an entire army group, some 700,000 men, was saved from the fate currently befalling those in Stalingrad. Against Zeitzlers advice, however, Hitler directed only four of Mackensens divisions to Rostov ; the rest were added to Ruoffs army, which was ordered during January to hold a bridgehead on the Taman peninsula just over the narrow straits from the Crimea. This would have psychological value, argued Hitler ; it would show friend and foe alike that in 1943 he again intended to go over to the offensive. With Albert Speer he even adumbrated plans to build across the Strait of Kerch a giant bridge linking the Crimea to the Goths Head, as the Taman bridgehead was termed.
Meanwhile, in the dying days of the old year Hitler had conceived a grand operational design to relieve the starving Sixth Army and turn the Russian onslaught into a rout. He would speedily transfer the three most powerful SS divisionsSepp Dietrichs Adolf Hitler Life Guards, Das Reich, and Deaths Headfrom France and the crack Gross Deutschland infantry division from Army Group Center, assemble them southeast of Kharkov, and strike north of the Don toward Stalingrad as soon as the weather improved. That would be mid-February. Pauluss spirits were raised by Hitlers convincing assurances. When the one-armed panzer general Hube arrived at the Wolfs Lair from Stalingrad with word that the armys meat supplies would not last beyond January, Hitler ordered Quartermaster General Wagner to furnish concentrated foodstuffs such as were provided to Polar expeditions. When Paulus reported that bad weather sometimes prevented any airlift operations at all, Hitler promised that the Luftwaffe would carry 750 tons of supplies in on days when the weather was good. G–ring did his best : already 480 Junkers and Heinkels were committed solely to the airlift ; but the frontline squadrons, particularly of the Junkers, found their spirit cruelly assailed by the cold and by their inadequate leadership, and only a fraction of the available planes were actually flying each day. This was not realized at Hitlers headquarters, and still more planes were sent to the airlift100 more Junkers, 10 Focke-Wulf Condors, and several of the troublesome Heinkel 177 heavy bombers too. A visit by a responsible Luftwaffe commander would have been more fruitful, but Jeschonnek could not spare the time and G–ring averted his gaze from the seemingly inevitable disaster. The local air commander, Fiebig, wrote that somehow the supply rate had to be maintained for six more weeks until the new relief operation got through. If all goes well then, we have won the battle for Stalingrad and perhaps the war. We just dont know the potential strength of the other side.
Within Hitler the sense of public relations still stirred. Despite his Stalingrad worries, he telephoned Frau Troost in person from East Prussia to congratulate her on the solid gold cassette she had designed for G–rings warrant as Reichsmarschallcorrectly speculating that this female arbiter legendarium would noise his evident well-being abroad. But his misgivings in fact were multiplying. Below, his Luftwaffe adjutant, had shown him a private letter from a relative trapped in Stalingrad, and its references to the Sixth Armys commanders were not encouraging. A question mark was placed against Pauluss name ; General Arthur Schmidt and General Walter von Seydlitz were marked sack em, but Hube was praised : Hes the man ! On January 8 the General Staff reported that General Konstantin Rokossovski had publicly called on Paulus to surrender. Paulus asks what he should do now !
The year had opened with an exasperating series of errors over an Allied convoy to North Russia. According to naval Intelligence it was escorted only by destroyers when it was sighted by a U-boat south of Bear Island early on December 30. Raeders naval liaison officer, Admiral Theodor Krancke, asked Hitler for his blessing for a sortie by the Hipper, the L¸tzow, and six destroyers to attack the convoy ; the pocket battleship L¸tzow would afterward break out into the AtlanticOperation Aurora. Throughout New Years Eve the F¸hrer was left in virtual ignorance of the progress of the battle. Under his impatient pressure Krancke somewhat tactlessly showed him the only two radio messages bearing on the battles outcome. Admiral Kummetz had merely radioed : Break off attack, no enemy cruiser with convoy, not possible to detach L¸tzow for Aurora. But the shadowing U-boat had radioed as the Arctic dusk engulfed the scene : I see just red !
Hitler badly needed a morale booster and interpreted the above messages optimistically. Evidently the enemy warships were ablaze. When Ribbentrop telephoned at midnight with New Year felicitations, Hitler bragged that the navy had just won a magnificent victory. Not until next afternoon did he learn the woeful truth : British cruisers had been lurking nearby, his own task force had fumbled and run for cover, the cruiser Hipper was so badly damaged that at times she could make little more than fifteen knots. A German destroyer had mistakenly joined the enemy and paid dearly for her error. The convoy itself had escaped unscathed. Hitler raged at the incompetent navy radiomen and the inadequate naval spirit. The least his big ships could do was fight with as much determination as the U-boat crews or common soldiers in the east. He announced that he was going to lay up all the big ships, and he ordered Krancke to inform Raeder of this by telephone. The navy Commander in Chief was to come to the Wolfs Lair at once, but Raeder asked for time to conduct a postmortem on the fiasco first.
His stock with Hitler was already low. He had been a less frequent visitor to the F¸hrer than his critics, of whom Speer and G–ring were the most vociferous. Out of jealousy, G–ring had furnished Hitler with a string of complaints about the admiralty. Speer had done the same, to further his own causes ; he had picked holes in Raeders tradition-based claim to the flotsam left on the beaches of Dieppe after the British raidin error, as it turned out. As recently as January 4, Speer had reported the navy to Hitler for hoarding sixty oil-paper-wrapped 105-millimeter antiaircraft guns in a depot. (He had been unaware that they were there for ranging and calibration tests.) Speer also insidiously declared to Hitler that Raeder was hated throughout the U-boat arm for his attempts to suppress D–nitzs popularity. Raeders true shortcoming, in Speers eyes, was his refusal to abrogate control over naval armament to the Speer munitions ministry. Now Speers campaign paid dividends.
The admiral arrived late on January 6. Hitler berated him for ninety minutes on the big ships failure ever since 1864 to fight a single naval action right through. Neither its mutiny in 1918 nor its scuttling in 1919 were exactly glorious episodes. He wanted the ships laid up, their crews transferred to the smaller, more active vessels, and the armament built into the coastal defenses. At Raeders request, Keitel and the two stenographers withdrew ; the admiral then tendered his resignationoffering to postpone it until the Partys tenth anniversary in power at the end of January to stifle any further scandal. Hitler asked him to submit the names of two possible successors. Raeder suggested Admiral Rolf Carls or alternativelythough with marked distasteD–nitz. But Carls was himself a champion of the big ships and was turned down. On January 14, Raeder also submitted the written reply Hitler had requested, predicting shrieks of triumph from the enemy when they learned that the Germans had mothballed their own biggest ships. Hitler heaped sarcasm on the document, but Krancke could see that he was impressed nonetheless.
The next months in the east would be crucial, but the idea of seeking even a conditional armistice did not enter his head. As he told Marshal Antonescu on January 10, the day the Russians opened their all-out offensive at Stalingrad, neither in the Punic wars nor in the Thirty Years War nor in the Seven Years War had any of the statesmen been able to predict how it would all end ; yet their fanatical resolve and single-minded purpose had brought them victory.
Two days later the Russians weighed into the Hungarian Second Army, toward Svoboda, just as Hitler had also predicted. Army Intelligence was also reporting rumors of enemy plans to invade the Crimea. In the north a major Soviet relief attack designed to lift the siege of Leningrad began. The Hungarians south of Voronezh suffered a defeat no less complete than that of the Romanians and Italians : 30,000 dead and 50,000 captured within days ; as a result the German Second Army was threatened with encirclement and a similar catastrophe.
Hitlers tactical measuresrushing antitank guns to the Hungarians and calling in three more divisions from Francecame too late. But strategically he was already thinking of 1944 and attending to the interlocking problems of raising fresh divisions and providing them with weapons and ammunition to replace those lost in this new winter of disaster. On the entire eastern front, he learned later in January, he had less than five hundred tanks ; the Russians had five thousand.(2) With the help of Goebbels and Bormann he himself planned to wring a million troops out of the German population by mid-1943 : in December he ordered German industry to release two hundred thousand men for call-up by the end of March ; a month later the demand was stepped up to eight hundred thousand men. But who could replace the skilled aircraft workers or electronics engineers thus thrust into uniform, and even worse how would the German madam survive without her servants ? Germany, which Hitler had made a world power by cunning and lightning wars, had too much domestic inertia to combat the manpower potential of the United States or the massive forces of Stalins Soviet Union.
Providing the extra tanks and artillery was no less urgent, particularly now that he could no longer ignore American armament capacity. Twice in January Speer was called to the Wolfs Lair. Hitler wanted bigger, better, and more tanks. On the seventeenth he telephoned Walter Rohland, the tank production expert, secured his agreement to increase assault-gun, Panzer IV, Panther, and Tiger tank production from May, and decided to launch a new production program, the Adolf Hitler Tank Program. He buttonholed Admiral Krancke after the conference and unemotionally told him that all warship construction larger than destroyers was to cease forthwith so that Speer could have the manpower he would now need for tanks. Even if it is only five thousand men it will help, Hitler noted. The military crisis in the east was so grave that all else must bow to the tank programs needs. When Krancke protested, Hitler again harked back to the inconsequential naval action off Bear Islandthe navy should have finished the job and annihilated that convoy whatever the toll in sailors lives. The tanks it brought through have now probably cost many more soldiers their lives south of Lake Ladoga. (The next day the Russians announced the recapture of Petrokrepost on Lake Ladoga, thus restoring land contact with Leningrad.) Krancke reminded Hitler of his standing orders against risking the big ships against any superior enemy ; but Hitler referred to the Graf Spee and Bismarck episodes as proof that it was the spirit of their crews that was wanting. Speer arrived on the night train from Berlin, drafted a decree for the tank program, and issued it over Hitlers signature together with the F¸hrers dramatic appeal to the workers not to let the army down. Not long afterward, D–nitz stood before Hitler, eagerly conniving at the consignment of the big ships to the wreckers; but soon he too recognized the folly of such a decision and effortlessly persuaded Hitler to leave the ships in service. Before Raeder retired into obscurity, he begged Hitler to protect the navy from G–ring, and he warned his successor not to put his trust in Speer.
The high point in Hitlers affection for G–ring was reached on January 12, the Reichsmarschalls fiftieth birthday. Thereafter a series of Allied night air raids on the German and French population affected G–rings prestige. In mid-January Hitler sent for G–rings deputy, Milch, and put him in personal charge of the airlift to Stalingrada step which the jealous G–ring had urgently counseled against, and with good cause, for Milch embarrassed the Reichsmarschall by achieving the near impossible in the two weeks that remained.
Along the southern front as far north as Voronezh a Soviet avalanche of troops and tanks was pouring through the breach created by the Romanian, Italian, and Hungarian collapse. Hitlers object was to keep Pauluss army fighting for six more weeks at leastuntil it could be relieved by Paul Haussers SS panzer corpsor at least long enough to preoccupy the enemy. But what then ? General von Weichs cabled him that his army group was left with barely seven divisionsmostly exhausted, dispirited, and improvisedalong a two-hundred-mile front ; he saw no possible way of holding up the enemys relentless march westward. At any moment the Russians might encircle the Second Army. From within Stalingrad strong protests were now emanating from the Sixth Army, too. Mein F¸hrer ! Paulus radioed on the seventeenth. Your orders on the supply of my army are not being obeyed. The planes were no longer landing at Gumrak airfield ; they were just throwing out their loads in midair. The loads were thus largely wasted, and the thousands of injured waiting to be flown out were left to suffer. The Luftwaffe generals denied Pauluss allegations. G–ring later bitterly accused Paulusat the time no doubt to Hitler himselfof being too soft a commander ; he was feeding thousands of Russian civilians and useless injured German soldiers. One cant burden oneself with wounded men beyond hope of recovery ; they must be left to lapse into the hereafter. The army generals did not share this attitude. General Hube, again flown out of Stalingrad, feelingly reproached Hitler. The Luftwaffe airlift has failed. Somebody must be to blame for that. Why dont you kill off some of your Luftwaffe generalsits always the army generals who go to the wall ! Hitler replied in level terms, I know the grim position you are in at Stalingrad. But soon things will get better. I have got it all in hand. But Hubes reproach nettled the F¸hrer, and he quoted it to G–ring with equal feeling later. Hube was assigned to Milchs emergency staff. Hitler turned a deaf ear on Hubes advice to appoint a Commander in Chief East, suspecting as he did that the advice had come from Manstein. Richthofen has painted a vivid portrait of Manstein in this month of crisis. In my view Manstein is a write-off, trembling in every limb and looking years older.... He has been deprived of all possibility of command, as every single battalion is still being directed from On High.(3) Again and again the mistrust from above is blazoned forth against army- and army-group commanders alike. An excruciating war. Disaster seemed inevitable ; already Richthofen was blaming Manstein and G–ring, G–ring was blaming Manstein and Paulusfor allowing the airlifts airfields to be overrunand Paulus and his Chief of Staff were blaming the Luftwaffe. Within the Luftwaffe, Milch was not talking to Jeschonnek, and Jeschonnek was not on speaking terms with the quartermaster general ; all three were responsible for the airlift.
At Hitlers headquarters, Zeitzler pointedly introduced Stalingrad rations for his staff, and he visibly lost weight. Milch had now discovered that the ignorance and negligence of the local air transport commandersparticularly of the Junkers 52 squadronsaccounted for most of the disappointing serviceability of their planes. On January 22 the enemy again called on Paulus to surrender. Manstein and Zeitzler both now argued that he should comply, but Hitler replied that the Russians would abide by no conventionsno prisoners would survive long ; on the other hand, every day the Sixth Army fought on, no matter how hopelessly, would help stabilize the other fronts. Paulus radioed a dignified response to Hitlers instructions : Your orders are being executed. Long live Germany.
Hitler deemed that the word of his soldiers heroism at Stalingrad would itself be worth many divisions in the months to come. Whenever in the future Hitlers soldiers were encircled, they would fight with like tenacity. The legend of Stalingrad would enhance each later fortresss invincibility in enemy eyes. Thus, when Goebbels came to map out their propaganda on the coming total war campaign, Hitler instructed that absolute frankness be observed by the press in describing the situation of German soldiers in Stalingrad. In this way, Hitler hoped to mobilize in Germany the same latent strength that Churchill had called on in England after Dunkirk. Above all, the coming Bolshevik victory communiquÈs were to pass unchallengedthe better to bring a bracing shiver of apprehension to the peoples of the West. On January 24, German newspapers for the first time revealed the death throes of the Sixth Army. Speer, arriving in Berlin that day from the Wolfs Lair, telephoned Milch that Hitler sorely regretted not having called in Milch to run the airlift from the start. Twenty-nine thousand injured troops had been evacuated by the time Pauluss last airfield was overrun. His soldiers had been allowed to write one last letter home. When the last Heinkel took off, it brought out nineteen injured soldiers and seven bags of mail.
In Stalingrad, Pauluss ragged army had been severed into two pockets. In the smaller, southern pocket, Paulus despondently predicted defeat on the twenty-fifth, but his men fought on, the swastika banner still flying symbolically from the ruins of the highest building. Twenty thousand untended injured were lying in the streets. Paulus ordered the dwindling food supplies issued only to those still fit enough to fight. The Luftwaffe crews matched the courage being demanded of the soldiers, flying two and sometimes even three sorties a night to discharge food and ammunition over Stalingrad. On the anniversary of your assumption of power, Paulus radioed Hitler, the Sixth Army sends greetings to the F¸hrer. The swastika still flutters over Stalingrad. May our struggle stand as an example to generations as yet unborn, never to surrender no matter how desperate the odds. Then Germany will be victorious. Heil, mein F¸hrer ! Hitlers reply was a proclamation broadcast to the German nation as long-range Luftwaffe fighters arrived over Stalingrad for the first time. It ended : In this fight we will have the Almighty on our side. We will not shy from shedding our own blood, because one day a new land will blossom from the sacrifices of the fallen. And our teutonic state, our German nation, shall emerge victorious !
This was his rejoinder to the call for unconditional surrender just raised by Roosevelt at Casablanca.(4)
At Zeitlers instancethough not without misgivingsHitler telegraphically promoted Paulus to field marshal. Since no German field marshal yet surrendered he thus pressed the pistol into Pauluss hand. At 7:35 A.M. on the thirty-first Sixth Army headquarters radioed : In our bunker we listened to the F¸hrers Proclamation and saluted the national anthem for perhaps the last time. Almost at once they added, The Russians are outside the door, and then, We are destroying . . . The radio went dead.
Hitler probably spared little attention for Stalingrad that day, for alarm bells were ringing throughout his domain. In Italy, Keitels counterpart, Marshal Ugo Cavallero, had been replaced by General Vittorio Ambrosio without explanation ; English newspapers hinted that he had been at the center of an anti-Fascist clique. Ciano was retired as foreign minister. In North Africa Rommel was retreating toward Tunisia, outnumbered eight to one by the enemy ; Tripoliand thus Libya itselfhad been abandoned by the Axis. In northwest Germany, American heavy bombers had just attacked Wilhelmshaven in broad daylight ; and on January 30 fast British bombers had penetrated to Berlin at noon.
Long before the war Hitler had called for Luftwaffe bombers just like theseand now the enemy had them but not he. An impertinence ! Its called the Mosquito ! And its made of wood ! The Luftwaffes own heavy bomber, the Heinkel 177, which should have been available in time to bomb Moscow when Barbarossa began in June 1941, was still not perfected. Nineteen sorties had been flown to Stalingrad : no Heinkel 177 had been lost to enemy action, but six had been destroyed by engine fires in midair : the bombers engines were coupled in pairs onto one propeller shafta technical monstrosity conceived by General Udet, who had put a bullet in his brain in connection with Luftwaffe production failures. How Hitler would have liked to send thirty Heinkel 177seach with a ton of bombsto smash Stalins war plants at Sverdlovsk and even farther afield !
It was infuriating. Here was Germany, with her magnificent corps of commanders, her outstanding soldiers, and her vaunted weapons technologyyet compelled to retreat along the entire eastern front. Kharkov itself was in danger ; Haussers SS panzer corps must move in. In the Demyansk pocket south of Leningrad, so jealously defended by Hitler these many months, supplies were running low ; it would have to be given up at last. There seemed to be concrete evidence that the Allies would soon invade Portugal ; thus divisions were tied down in the west. Equally disturbing for Hitler was the persistent incompetence of his Intelligence agencies. Unconditional surrender perturbed him far less than the failure of both Canaris and the SS to advise him that Churchill and Roosevelt were meeting at Casablanca (the SS placed them both in Washington).
Hitler had turned in at 2:30 A.M., earlier than usual, that first day of February. He was shortly awakened with word from Moscow : Paulus had meekly surrendered, and was thus still aliveas were eleven German and five Romanian generals. Hitlers chagrin was huge. That his field marshal should have chosen the Tartarus of Soviet captivity to the Valhalla that Hitler had opened unto him, that he had lacked the routine courage of every captain who had gone down with his ship, that he had not mustered the same bravery as had a score of Soviet commissars and commanders in identically hopeless situationsthis he could never forgive Paulus. He instructed his naval adjutant, Puttkamer, to find out if it was too late to cancel Pauluss promotion, but it was already in the newspapers. The others stick together, form a phalanx, and keep the last bullet for themselves. Imagine, even a woman with an ounce of pride in her will lock herself in and put a bullet in her brain just because she has heard a few insulting words ! ... Here is a man who can look on while fifty or sixty thousand of his troops are dying and defending themselves with courage to the endhow can he give himself up to the Bolsheviks ? When Speers deputy, Karl Saur, telephoned the F¸hrer at 3 A.M. with the January production figures, for the first time Hitler did not want to hear them.
Throughout February appalling crises gripped the eastern front. Weichs was removedhis army group had virtually dissolved. Through the yawning gap thundered the Soviet avalanche. I wont be able to sleep again without sedatives until the breach is plugged, declared Hitler. Only his staff stenographers shared his awful, all-embracing knowledge of the true picture. The diary of one of them reveals that a stenographer who had arrived as recently as December had suffered a nervous breakdown by mid-February. He was apprehended just as he was about to burst into the F¸hrers bedroom, screaming, The F¸hrer wants to speak to me. I must see him ! Martin Bormann rushed him off to a Berlin hospital. Meanwhile, frightened of fresh bloody nightmares, Hitler postponed retiring to his camp bed longer every nightwearying his obedient secretaries and physicians with endless somber monologues in an atmosphere that reminded the youngest secretary, newcomer Traudl Humps, of a cemetery on a wet November day. Hitler explained to an army doctor two years later : I have to relax and speak about something else, otherwise I keep seeing the staff maps in the dark, and my brain goes grinding on and it takes me hours on end to drop off. If I then switch on the light, I can sketch exactly where every division was at Stalingrad. Hour after hour it goes on, until I finally drop off around five or six.
In two months the Red Army had demolished five armiesGerman, Romanian, Italian, and Hungarian. By the end of February the Russians had recaptured Kursk, Belgorod, Kraznodar, Demyansk, and even Rostov and Kharkov. Hitler might yet even have to abandon the Donets Basin, on whose coal and iron resources he and Speer had planned to hinge the expansion of the arms industry for the final overthrow of Russia. I will have to think it over, he declared on February 1referring to abandoning the Donets Basin. But one thing I can say now : if I do, there will be no further possibility of bringing the war in the east to an offensive conclusion. Lets make no mistake about that ! Four days later he was quoted in Greiners private diary to this effect : I cant abandon the Donets Basin. If I do, I cant continue the war any longer.
Nor would Hitler as yet contemplate a political solution with Stalin. Japans Ambassador Oshima had called on January 20 and left disappointed in this respect ; indeed, Hitler now reversed his earlier stand and urgently demanded a Japanese attack on Stalin in the Far East. As for the public clamor, Goebbels successfully steered it into more productive channelstoward the totalization of the national war effort. Ribbentrop favored an appeal to the rest of Europea Hitler proclamation which would promise the western Europeans a degree of independence, and the eastern Europeans the same, though rather less : Poland would become a Protectorate, the Baltic states would be kept in tow like Slovakia, and Italy would make parallel concessions to Croatia, Greece, Albania, and Serbia. But Hitler still wanted Germany to go it alone. When Hewel brought him Ribbentrops renewed proposal for peace feelers toward Moscow, Hitler refused even to read it. First we must win a major military victory, he told Ribbentrop afterward. Then we can see.
The cost of Stalingrad had been high. G–rings Luftwaffe had lost 488 aircraft and about a 1,000 airmen in the airlift, the equivalent of an entire air corps. Only 108,000 of Pauluss troops had survived to enter Soviet captivity, of which only 6,000 were ever to see Germany again. But on February 4, Gehlens Intelligence division estimated that 107 Soviet divisions and brigades had been tied down by the battle for the city, together with 13 tank regiments.(6) This and the blocking of the rail and road links through the city had hampered all enemy operations on the southern front. In consequence a noticeable indecision marked the enemys next moves ; Gehlen could do little more than guess at where Stalins next offensive would begin. Admittedly he had detected an increase in the enemy reserves early in January, but these were not new troopsmerely divisions taken out of the front line for rehabilitation. Hitler was still optimistic that shortages of food and raw materials would defeat Stalin. His agencies had captured a Russian document listing their casualties by now as 11,200,000 dead, missing, and injured. It seemed well worth fighting on.
Hitler spent February 1943 mending the fences torn by the winters storms. On Sunday February 7 he invited the Gauleiters to his headquarters and briefed them on the disaster. Herbert Backe dictated this summary to his wife the next day :
Sunday with the F¸hrer. The F¸hrer spoke. First words were : What you are witnessing is a catastrophe of unheard-of magnitude. The Russians broke through, the Romanians gave up, the Hungarians didnt even put up a fight, for five days German troops from the rear held the front in a thin line thrown across the breakthrough locations. Weve lost four armies in and around Stalingrad. Compares our situation with Kolin and Kunersdorf, says that if Frederick had had weapons like ours, theyd never have called him The Great because then his Seven Years War would have been over in two months. The F¸hrer again praised Speer. . . .
The F¸hrer also said : If the German people fails, then it does not deserve that we fight for its future ; then we can write it off with equanimity. Not the right attitude of mind.
The Gauleiters were satisfied by Hitlers speech. But the damage to the generals confidence in him was not so easily repaired. It took all his cunning and eloquence to play them off against each other during February, until Mansteins successful spring campaign quieted them again. General Schmundt, whom he had sent on a fact-finding tour of Army Group Don just before Stalingrad fell, must have faithfully reported the ugly mood brewing therethat Manstein, Milch, and Richthofen were unanimous that so long as Hitler directed each battalion in person the army would always lack the rapid, incisive direction from above that it needed for victory ; in short, that Hitler should at least appoint a Commander in Chief East. They clearly favored Manstein, but though Hitler accepted him as their greatest military commander when on the offensive, in their present dilemma he felt they needed a tough, tenacious bulldog of a manthough with a flair for improvisationsuch as Admiral von Schroeder, the legendary Lion of Flanders who had dominated the bloody battlefield in World War I ; and Hitler knew of no such general now. In this outlook he was strengthened by G–ringjealous of Mansteins warlord auraand by Keitel and Jodl too, who had sour memories of Mansteins hostility toward the OKW principle of a unified Wehrmacht command.
Milch, who flew straight in from the Stalingrad front with Hube on February 3, deserved a close hearing, for he had performed consistently well both in expanding aircraft production and in boosting the flagging airlift to Stalingrad. But Hitler fobbed him off until March : admittedly G–ring had just bragged that two thousand new aircraft had been manufactured in January, an all-time record. Hitler snubbed Milch : Lets see if you can keep it up ! Changing the theme of their talk, he stressed the need for the Luftwaffe to mass-produce a cheap, primitive transport plane capable of making the return flight of Africa without refueling. Milch was so severely rebuked for the calamitous record of the Heinkel 177 bomber project that a few days later the field marshal gasped, I stood in front of the F¸hrer like a very small boy who has not done his sums properly. Manstein and Kluge, summoned to the Wolfs Lair on the sixth, fared no better. No doubt through G–ring, Hitler had prior knowledge of Mansteins intention of demanding his resignation as Supreme Commander of the army. G–ring evidently advised Manstein against even broaching such heresy. Hitler himself charmed the field marshal with a frank admission that he alone was responsible for Stalingradnot G–ring. He is the man I have chosen as my successor, and that is why I cannot burden him with the blame for Stalingrad. And after a four-hour display of obstinacy, he flattered Manstein by agreeing to his demand that the eastern Donets region should be abandoned to release the Fourth Panzer Army for the coming German offensive on his army groups western flank. His batteries visibly recharged, the field marshal flew back to the eastern front. Kluge fared no better. Hitler would make no adjustments in his leadershiponly in the front line. At long last he bowed to Zeitzlers recommendation that the uneconomical three-hundred-mile-long salient around Rzhev and Vyazma should be abandoned in favor of the far shorter chord-line in the rear ; but Kluge had to promise to make the twenty-one divisions thus released available for a great spring offensive. The fighting retreat from Vyazma and Rzhevcode-named Buffalobegan in March, the first German tactical triumph of 1943.
The field marshals were putty in Hitlers hands. Once when an English newspaper mentioned one of them as the kingpin of the anti-Hitler movement, he guffawed to his staff. The British are living in the past if they imagine a field marshal really is something nowadays. The moment he lifts his arm in salute he is just another wretched sausage to me !
General von Richthofen, the choleric, restless Fourth Air Force commander, was an admirer of Hitlers, but educated and critical. He arrived at the Wolfs Lair with G–ring on February 11. A tougher nut to crack, Richthofen refused to allow Hitler to sidetrack him with tactical issues but said bluntly that now that this Schweinerei had occurred they must get a grip on the ground organization of the army. Of course they would be short of men as long as divisions twelve thousand-strong still put only six hundred actual combat troops into the line. The F¸hrer asked me point-blank what I think of Manstein, Richthofen wrote in his diary. I said he is the best tactician and combat commander we have ... but that Manstein, like all army commanders, is only really interested in operations and tactics. An iron hand was needed in the rear zones. I stressed to the F¸hrer that the army commanders were all right ... but must be given tactical freedom to act as their own local experience dictated. Leading them by the scruff of the neck as though they were children just did harm. The F¸hrer said if he hadnt led them like that they would have been fighting in Germany by now. I flatly contradicted him and said that if he didnt trust his top men, he should replace them.... Above all I suggested that it was absolutely essential for him to have personal contact with them. Ifand this particularly concerned him as F¸hrerhe couldnt visit the armies for some reason or other I was not aware of, then they must be summoned at least once a month to talk over plans and possibilities with him.... The F¸hrer cursed his immediate advisers ; he tells them everything but they brief him falsely and do nothing. He took it calmly when I retorted that this wasnt of the slightest importance either to us at the front or to future historians. He alone is answerable. There is no point in cursing anybody.(7) Hitler decided it was time Richthofen was made a field marshal too.
Much of the advice given Hitler did sink in, however. He accepted that 1943 would be a year of clenched teeth, of strategic defense everywhere until production of Speers tanks, Milchs aircraft, and Donitzs U-boats increased. When the Gauleiters mustered at the Wolfs Lair for lunch on February 7, Hitler congratulated Goebbels on the post-Stalingrad propaganda but warned that on no account was the failure of certain allies to be revealed as the cause of the three-hundred-mile-wide breach torn in the eastern front. He now unconditionally approved the propaganda ministers oft-stated demand for total war. It was what the people wanted. To Hitler the opposition was an infinitesimal, misguided minority that had to be dealt with ruthlessly. When a handful of Munich students scattered mimeographed leaflets calling for Hitlers overthrow, the ringleaders were arrested andyoung though they werecondemned to death by the Peoples Court. Perhaps there are those who say it is incomprehensible that the Peoples Court acts so ruthlessly, Hitler thundered in a secret speech to his generals later. A man who just distributed leafletsand a senior civil servant at thatis condemned to death ; or another, a university professor, and two students, who also distributed leaflets are also executed. But if the professor and students responsible had been at the front, they might be just as dead now, who knows ? Its a risk every soldier takes all the time. I took it myself, and if need be today I would do so again.... But at a time when I expect young girls at home to buckle on their steel helmets and do their duty under heavy air raids, I will have any person making even the slightest attempt to stab my soldiers in the back stood before the Peoples Court and liquidated. Let that be known. The generals applauded.
Mansteins newly created Army Group South had its headquarters at Zaporozhye on the Dnieper. The huge hydroelectric power station there had just been rebuilt by AEG, a major German electric corporation, and electricity was again flowing to the coal mines and munitions plants of the surrounding Ukraine. Speer had recently shown Hitler the completion dates of his Project Ivanthe rapid expansion of the heavy chemical, nitrogen, and explosives industries of the Donets region. Hitler had anxiously ordered extra antiaircraft batteries and ground defenses to protect the power station, but unless Mansteins sluggish counteroffensive in the Ukraine gathered momentum, it was clear that the whole region would soon be overrun. To the consternation of Hitlers staff, Zeitzler suggested Hitler should fly out to Zaporozhye in person. G–ring indignantly objected, as did Keitel, to the risk ; but Zeitzler sardonically pointed out : The Reichsmarschall will be able to darken the skies with fighter squadrons. Theres no risk ! Hitler did not agree with this estimate of the situation, but that night his staff stenographer wrote in his diary : At this evenings conference the F¸hrer announced his decision to go to the front and take over command of Army Group South ; this means breaking camp here.
The next day, February 16, Bormann explained in a letter : Our southern sector is by no means a front even now. Over vast areas we have just a void. To master this extremely tricky and dangerous situation the F¸hrer ... is going to fly out there with a small escort of intimates. Hitler in fact decided to take just Zeitzler and Jodlto whom he had once again extended his hand on January 30-with him, together with Schmundt, Hewel, and Dr. Morell. Keitel, Bormann, and the other adjutants stayed behind at the Wolfs Lair. Puttkamer was sent ahead to open up Werewolf, the old summer HQ in the Ukraine. The long flight south began as soon as it was light on February 17, 1943.
By afternoon the F¸hrers bunker was deserted, wrote a newly arrived private secretary. It was strange, the hush that suddenly descended on the whole compound. It was as if the main dynamo of the concern had stopped. This was the first time I sensed how much Hitlers personality acted as a mainspring for all these menthe puppet-master, who held all the marionettes strings in his hands, had suddenly let them fall.
No secret was made of Hitlers arrival at Mansteins Zaporozhye headquarters. Field Marshal von Richthofen arrived shortly, driving a Volkswagen. There were cordons everywhere, he wrote in his diary. Everybody that I asked in the streets where army group HQ was smiled scornfully, You wont get near itthe F¸hrers there ! . . . Found the F¸hrer in thick of big war conference. I reported to him. Much beating about the bush, no real opinions, mutual tension, an atmosphere you could cut with a knife. F¸hrer then withdrew to his quarters without reaching any decisions. . . . I saw Field Marshal von Manstein, who shares my view on situation and intentions.Manstein against all innovations : systems of government, personalities, Luftwaffe devices, and anything else he didnt learn in his youth.... F¸hrer very pleasant to me, placid, clear-thinking : question is, has he the necessary implements and ability to convert his clear thoughts into orders ? Hitler directed the Luftwaffe to concentrate on a few hot-spots in the coming offensives. Richthofen and General Otto Dessloch, a local Luftwaffe commander, arranged for two hundred antiaircraft guns to be arrayed as a last-ditch defense against the unceasing Russian tank onslaught, with orders to fight to the last shell.
The next evening, February 18, German radio broadcast throughout occupied Europe Goebbelss defiant Sportpalast speech, whipping his vast audience of Berlinerseverybody from the government to the munitions workersinto a frenzy with his proclamation of total war. Now every able-bodied person in the Reich would be harnessed to the war machine ; no pleas for exemption would be heeded. Hitler, too busy to listen in person, thoroughly endorsed the extracts he had read. Next morning he himself addressed an effective proclamation to Mansteins and Richthofens troops on the eve of their counteroffensive between the Dnieper and Donets rivers, on which so much depended :
Soldiers of Army Group South, airmen of the Fourth Air Force ! The outcome of a crucial battle depends on you ! A thousand kilometers away from the Reichs frontiers the fate of Germanys present and future is in the balance.... The entire German homeland has been mobilized. Everybody down to the last man and woman is being called to serve your battles needs. Our youth are manning the antiaircraft defenses around Germanys cities and workplaces. More and more divisions are on their way. Weapons unique and hitherto unknown are on the way to your front.... This is why I have flown to you, to exhaust every means of alleviating your defensive battle and to convert it into ultimate victory. If every one of you will help, we shall once again succeed, with the Almightys aid.
At noon Hitler called a further war conference. It was obvious that Manstein and Kleist could not stand each other. Richthofen wrote : Each is always trying to score over the other in the F¸hrers eyes. After a final summing up and after due deliberation, the F¸hrer announced in favor of Kleist. Everybody grinning except Manstein, who was furious. By this time Russian tanks were approaching Zaporozhye ; there was nothing between them and the Luftwaffe airfields. Hitler was loath to leave, but valued his person too highly to stay too long. Richthofen privately suggested that it would make a bad impression if the F¸hrer had to make a hasty exit under the Russian guns, and when Hitler mentioned that he had ordered General Guderian to meet him soon at Vinnitsahe had given in to Schmundts badgering and decided to make the truculent general his inspector of panzer troopsRichthofen recommended that Hitler immediately fly there for a couple of days and return to Zaporozhye if the Russian threat was thwarted. It was a diplomatic solution.
The gunfire of the Russian tanks was audible from the airfield. Hitler took off for Werewolf immediately. However, in Warlimonts opinion the F¸hrers presence at the front was certainly to contribute to the great success of the German offensive that now followed.(8) The First and Fourth panzer armies struck northward on February 22, destroying, encircling, and capturing the enemy units in their path. A bridgehead was soon thrown across the Donets at Balakleya, and by early March a fourth battle for Kharkov was about to begin. The F¸hrers confidence in Manstein was restoredhe was heard to comment privately in admiring language on both the field marshal and General Zeitzler. At last the huge breach wrought that winter in the Axis lines had been plugged ; the eastern front had been stabilizednow Hitler could turn his attention to his other affairs of state.
1 As the generals showed on March 13, 1943, based on an unpublished note by Greiner.
2 On January 23, 1943, Army Group A had 34 serviceable tanks, Army Groups Don and B had 291 between them, Center had 167, and Army Group North only 3. In early December the Germans had had about 1,300 and the Russians about 4,800.
3 Von allerh–chster Stelle.
4 On January 24, 1943. Not until later did Goebbels seize on it as a propaganda weapon. It certainly stiffened the German peoples resolve to fight on under Hitler. In an April 1944 memorandum Churchill wiselythough mendaciouslydisowned unconditional surrender. This matter is on the President. He announced it at Casablanca without any consultation and I backed him up in general terms. Subsequent correspondence with the President has shown him very much disinclined to remodel his statements now. (A doctored version of the memorandum is in his memoirs.)
5 On February 13, 1943, for humanitarian reasons Himmler ordered his police commanders in Russia to evacuate all able-bodied men and womentogether with their childrenfrom the regions being abandoned by the army ; if they did not afford to the public that had collaborated this protection from Soviet wrath and reprisal, they would forfeit the publics trust in the future. A similar Hitler Order was issued the next day. Thus in one February day 1,500 German troops and 780 Russian civilians were evacuated from the Caucasus to the Crimea.
6 Greiners war diary note for the OKW was, despite its obvious significance, not included in the text published in 1963.
7 Hitler believed that the failure of the armys organization branch to implement a number of his orders way partly to blame for Stalingrad.
Over lunch, Richthofen observed Hitlers method of dealing with G–ring : when the Reichsmarschall raised an unwelcome topic, he began reminiscing about the old Vienna Burg Theaterto which only Munichs Residenz Theater was now comparable. (G–ring was responsible for actor-director Gustav Gr¸ndgenss State Theater and sulked in silence.)
8 Warlimont confidentially made this observation in a 1945 study for the Americans. In his published work Im Hauptquartier der Wehrmacht, page 328, he adopted the more fashionable opposite view.
p. 471 From the diaries of Goebbels and Bormann, and Speers Chronik (FD-3037/49) it is possible to reconstruct the origins of the formidable three-man cabal established by Keitel, Bormann, and Lammers late in 1942, to extract every last ounce of effort out of the nationand in particular one million new soldiers (as Goebbels secretly announced at a ministerial conference on January 5). Goebbels was however given only a consultative role by Hitlers formal decree setting up the Council of Three on January 13, 1943 (IfZ, MA-470, pages 4910 et seq.) See also Speer, Erinnerungen, pages 265 et seq., and the diary of Colonel Gerhard K¸hne of the OKH.
p. 472 Despite the apparent entry in Engels diary for December 29, 1942, there is no proof that Hitler ordered the Taman bridgehead held until one month later (see Greiners note of January 23). According to the stenographers diary, the special conference at which Hitler presumably planned the Kharkov offensive lasted from 10 to 11:45 P.M. on New Years Eve.
p. 472 The number of transport aircraft on hand always vastly outnumbered those that actually flew, as Milchs records show. From January 1 to 14 the daily availability of Junkers 52s and Heinkel 111s was : 481, 473, 482, 485, 480, 467, 464, 437, 466, 470, 472, 466, 498, 539, to which were added 20 four-engined FW 200s and 28 big Heinkel 177s on January 9 ; but over the same period the sorties actually flown were only 78, 0, 97, 145, 53, 29, 63, 76, 102, 102, 95, 51, 69, 74.
p. 473 The cassette was handed to G–ring on his splendid fiftieth birthday, January 12, 1943, by Keitel.
Hitlers private sources of Intelligencelike the letter from Winrich Behr to Colonel von Below quotedmust not be underestimated. Hewel will certainly have shown him the letter he received, dated January 9, from an arms specialist attached to Army Group Center. The fighting is hard, perhaps harder than ever before, but even so the feeling is that the Russians are also at the end of their tether ; it is a war of annihilation in which the one who keeps his nerve in the last quarter-hour will emerge victoriousand that will be us (Hewels private correspondence, AA files).
p. 473 On the Arctic fiasco, I used the naval staff war diary (especially January 23 and March 10, 1943) and the report in Raeders personal file (PG/31762); and material from Puttkamer and Junge. For Speers campaign against Raeder and the admirals resignation, I used manuscripts in Raeders files, Speers note on his discussion with Hitler on January 3-5 (Point 78 : Speer reported in detail to the F¸hrer the worries of the U-boat people that, owing to Admiral D–nitzs partly bad standing with the naval staff, he could come to harm), and his frank postwar admission to Milch that he had caused Raeders downfall (Milch diary, July 13, 1947). In fact, as Raeder wrote reminding Hitler on January 14, 1943, he had thrice given Admiral D–nitz preferential promotion during the war. See also Kranckes memo of February 13, 1943 (PG/31747).
p. 474 A month after Hitlers remark to Antonescu, G–ring also privately admitted that while he was not worried about the situation its not quite clear to me how we are intending to end this war (Weizs”cker diary, February 17, 1943).
p. 476 D–nitzs visit to Hitler on January 25, 1943, is confirmed by Bormanns diary and Puttkamers memoirs ; there exists no transcript, but his connivance at the scrapping of the capital ships emerges from a telephone call recorded in the next days naval staff war diary.
The appointment of Milch to manage the Stalingrad airlift is described in his diaries, in an OCMH interrogation of G–ring, July 20, 1945, in Greiners note for January 16, 1943 and in Milchs unpublished manuscript memoirs. Speer announced to Central Planning on January 26 that Milch would be away in the east for probably six to eight weeks (MD 47/9236). A few days earlier, Hitler had ordered mass production of airdrop containers on the biggest scale.
pp. 476-77 G–ring is quoted in Kollers diary, February 15, 1943.
pp. 477-78 On Hitlers new propaganda directive to Goebbels after Stalingrad see Goebbelss ministerial conference on January 24, 1943 ; Gottlob Bergers letter to Himmler, January 29, (T175/124/9596); naval staff diary January 24, Weizs”ckers diary February 12, and Goebbelss diary March 9, 1943.
p. 479 Allied plans to invade Portugal were presumably misinformation fed deliberately to Hitler. They are mentioned in the naval staff diary, February 4, and Hitlers meeting with D–nitz on the ninth, and in Canariss diary February 9 (AL/1933), and a memo of the tenth in naval file PG/31747. Canaris admittedly saw no reason to believe them, but pointed toward Spanish Morocco (naval staff diary, February 13). Finally, on April 25, 1943, the naval staff diary sarcastically asked what had happened to the invasion so confidently predicted by the OKW in Portugal for the February 22.
p. 480 Traudl Humps, who had joined his staff in November and in April 1943 married SS Lieutenant Hans Junge, his manservant ; she kindly made her unpublished memoirs available to me. The army doctor mentioned was Dr. Erwin Giesing.
p. 481 The material on Hitlers foreign policy comes from Ritters AA file on Japan (Serial 1028), with its notes on Oshimas meetings with Hitler and Ribbentrop ; from Weizs”ckers diary, January 27-30, and February 6, 1943 ; and from Ribbentrops memoirs, page 263.
p. 481 Rosenbergs querulous conferences with Hitler are dealt with in Himmlers files, in Etzdorfs note of February 23, 1943, and in Goebbelss unpublished diary, February 16.
p. 482 The Russian documentoriginating from General Krupennikov, 1941-42 deputy chief of Soviet replacementsis in naval files, PG/32602-3 ; the statistics are quoted by Greiner in an unpublished note of January 8 and January 23 ; by Hitler to Antonescu on April 12, and by Gehlens department to the war academy in a lecture on April 16 (BA file H3/319).
The quotation on Hitlers speech, February 7, 1943, is from Frau Ursula Backes diary, February 8. There are similar words in a letter by an SS captain on Hitlers staff, writing on September 7, 1944, about the present trials of German fortitude. On this point even the F¸hrer yesterday said, Those who dont want to fight dont deserve to survive.
p. 483 Hitlers remarks are quoted in Milchs conferences soon after (MD35/4685 and /3226, and MD18/4735).
pp. 483-84 Richthofen was disappointed when Manstein told him the outcome of his talk with Hitler (diary, February 8, 1943). F¸hrer was calm and composed, Manstein visibly bucked up. Naturally no discussion whatsoever of another kind of command or command-organization, although this was just what Manstein was there for. (Manstein humanly gives the opposite impression in his postwar memoirs.) Richthofen advised the field marshal to keep a tighter grip on the panzer divisions, with short sharp forays, leaving behind their dead wood and carving up the enemy front piece by piececopying Russian tactics ; Manstein replied that his commanders would not oblige. Richthofen wrote : I told him quite cheerfully that in my far-off youth I had once heard a rumor that in military affairs it was possible to issue orders.
On Kluges similar trip to Hitler, I used Schlabendorffs August 1944 testimony under Gestapo interrogation (NS-6/41), Zeitzlers manuscripts (N63/80 and 101), and Engels notes.
p. 485 The quotation is from Hitlers secret speech on June 22, 1944 (NS-26/51).
p. 486 The late Fritz TodtSpeers predecessorhad described the power radiated by Hitler thus, in a private letter to a professor dated September 30, 1933, which I found amongst Todts personal effects : The most beautiful thing about my work is that it takes me close to the F¸hrer. I am convinced that any man who can spend ten minutes a week with the F¸hrer achieves many times his normal output of work.