Until mid-March 1943 Hitler remained in the Ukraine, seven hundred miles from Berlin. Werewolf in winter was a bleak and dreary site. Battle-scarred aircraft stood around the local airfield ; the countryside was neglected ; impoverished Ukrainian peasants with starving horses trudged the fields and forests collecting wood to warm their wretched hovels. The thaw was comingblessed by the soldiers for the respite it afforded, but turning field and road alike into the now familiar bottomless muddy swamps.
In the bare wooden hutments Hitler contracted first influenza and then a more serious complaint which Morell diagnosed as a brain inflammation ; according to medical authorities, this could have resulted from the severe mental strain of Stalingrad, and normally several weeks of rest would have been imperative. Hitler could not afford the time. Soon he was experiencing splitting headaches on one side, and one arm developed a tremor to which he drew Morells attention ; Morell suspected it was of hysterical origin, and he noticed Hitler was dragging one leg slightly too. Hitler sat in his badly ventilated quarters, brooding and worrying ; his staff were anxious about his lack of exercise. He was seized by moods of black depression, which Morell tried to combat with injections of Prostakrinum hormones (an extract of young bulls seminal vesicles and prostate) every other day. As the daily appointment book maintained by his SS orderlies clearly establishes, from now on Morell was nearly always the first visitor to Hitler after his private staff had awakened him each morning. He could not sleep without sedatives ; for a time he tried to induce sleep by secretly drinking a glass or two of beer, but fearing fatness even more than insomnia, he soon stopped.
Stalingrad had left deep scars within him. Outwardly he was callous, ordering a new Sixth Army created forthwith and obliterating all trace of the old. But he also ordered Schmundt to arrange for the most generous provision for the next-of-kin. The most delicate problem was raised by the letters the survivors were now writing from Soviet captivityand indeed by the last letters that the Luftwaffe had flown out of the fortress itself. The latter were duly delivered, but not those from the Soviet prison camps. Of 1,900 letters that had arrived by mid-February only 45 slipped through to contaminate the German publics already frail belief in ultimate victory. Hitlers rationalization for ordering the letters to be intercepted was that few of the letter-writers were still alive. Why rouse false hopes among their families ? and why afford Stalin gratuitous support for his propaganda tactics ? Thus the letters were destroyed, adding to the guilty pressure on Hitlers mind. Guderian, who had not seen him since December 1941, found a changed man at Vinnitsa on February 21, 1943. His left hand trembled, his back was bent, his gaze was fixed, his eyes protruded but lacked their former luster, his cheeks were flecked with red. He was more excitable, easily lost his composure, and was prone to angry outbursts and ill-considered decisions in consequence. For this, however, his self-medication bore much blame.
Even deeper were the scars that had been left in the Axis alliances and within the Axis itselfsymbolized at their ugliest by the hand grenade tossed with fatal consequences at a German panzer general as he drove past a surly column of Italian troops marching back from the southern sector of the eastern front. These rifts tested Hitlers diplomacy to the utmost. His immediate reaction had been to hand back the Eighth Army to Italy and write off the Romanians altogether. But he learned to stifle his anger at these fitful allies. I never want to see another soldier of our allies on the eastern front, he growled in private to Goebbels. We can only finish off the Bolsheviks with our own soldiersand particularly the SS. When Mussolini offered another seven hundred thousand men, Hitler disdainfully commented that there was no point in equipping them with scarce German arms which they would surrender at the first opportunity. They cant even be assigned defensive combat duties. The Italian Eighth Army, which had gone to battle with a truly splendid artillery, had proved to be incapable from the head down.
Yet when he learned in February that the bedraggled remnants of the Hungarian, Romanian, and Italian armies were being insulted and reviled, and that the Italian ambassador had complained that German units had refused any succour to the unarmed, dispirited, and hungry retreating troops, Hitler piously reminded his generals of the need for common decency and cameraderiebesides which the Reich had a powerful interest in preventing their total disintegration. In an internal policy conference with Keitel and court historian Scherff on May 31, Hitler ruled against any overall communiquÈ on the winter campaign. He particularly stressed, wrote Scherff, that the Stalingrad operation cannot be depicted without passing judgment on our allies. However, for political reasons this historical fact would have to be stood on its head, and then our allies would be able to use this in their favor later on.
Hitlers respect for the Romanian contingent was less affected by their defeat ; some of their generals had fought with great distinction, and he was pleased that Antonescu permitted eight divisions to remain in the Crimea and the bridgehead across the Kerch strait. But Hungarys attitude was more ambivalent. On January 22 Germany had invited both her and Italy to withdraw their armies from the eastern front. Hungary had, it must be said, suffered the bloodiest casualties, for her army was less than four years old ; 80,000 Hungarian soldiers were dead or missing since the January 12 offensive, and another 63,000 had been injured. Hitler had at once ordered the Reich air ministry to increase its industrial and antiaircraft support for Hungary. Though the murmurs of Magyar discontent grew menacing and insistent, Horthys military remained largely loyal to the Axis cause. The Second Armys commander, General von J·ny, rebuked his men with a famous document (of which Himmlers agents later obtained a photocopy for Hitler), beginning : The Hungarian Second Army has lost its honor, for only a few men did the duty that was expected of them under their oath. . . . And General Szombathelyi, the Chief of Staff, accepted Hitlers suggestion that the Hungarian armys new purpose should be to defend the Balkans from Anglo-American invasion.
But though Horthys generals seemed loyal, his diplomats were more devious. The Forschungsamt and Ribbentrops cryptographers decoded foreign radio messages that established beyond doubt that the Hungarian prime minister, MiklÛs von K·llay, was attempting through intermediaries in Turkey, Switzerland, and the Vatican to open secret negotiations with Britain and the United States, and that K·llay had eagerly grasped at Churchills bumbling proposal to the Turkish government for a new Balkan League (consisting of Turkey, Hungary, and Romania) aligned against both the Soviet Union and the Axis powers. Himmlers agents had obtained word of K·llays recent secret speech to the foreign policy committee of his Parliament, a speech which proved that he was not to be trusted. Impregnable though Crete now was, Hitler feared that the enemy might land somewhere in the Balkans that spring. He decided personal pressure must be brought to bear on Horthy to rid himself of K·llay and his dangerous doctrines.
So effective was the smokescreen of spurious Intelligence being laid down before both Canariss Abwehr and Himmlers agencies that Hitler had only his vaunted strategic intuition to rely on in guessing where the war in the Mediterranean would turn next. Spain and Portugal were particularly vulnerable targets ; their occupation would prevent Hitler from seizing Gibraltar, impede his U-boat offensive in the Atlantic, and deprive him of their iron, tungsten, lithium, and tin. Canaris was twice sent to Madrid but reported unenthusiastically. Spain neither could nor would voluntarily enter the war unless her neutrality were directly threatened. Hitler decided to furnish Franco with the weapons he would need. He may also have been the source of Francos information that in August 1942 Churchill had promised Russia predominant influence in Europe east of the Rhine.(1) On January 16 Himmlers report on an agents long confidential talk with Franco was in Hitlers hands, and it showed how worried Franco was about both the bolshevik peril looming over Europe and the hardly less disconcerting shadow of American imperialism over North Africa. Conversely, there was also evidence that Churchill had secretly promised Franco a slice of French Morocco.
By February it seemed clear that the British and Americans were in fact massing strength near the border of Spanish Morocco, even at the expense of their front in Tunisia. Through Stockholm came fresh agents warnings of an early invasion of the Iberian peninsula. Canaris went to Hitlers headquarters on the ninth and tried to kill these rumors, but Hitler ordered divisions moved up to the Spanish frontier ready for an immediate occupation of northern Spain should an enemy invasion occur. At a war conference on the tenth he predicted that it would be coupled with simultaneous invasions of the Channel and Atlantic coastlines, where his Atlantic Wall was still some months short of completion. He warned the defenses to stand by for possible mass parachute landings in the rear. A naval participant wrote after the conference : As to Spains attitude, the F¸hrers mind was suddenly completely at ease. He had certain information, I dont know where from. At any rate he said everything had been cleared up to our satisfaction. Hitler and G–ring positively exuded optimism that Spain would now fight to defend herself, but Richthofen, meeting them the next day, was less sure. I said we shouldnt expect any gratitude for the help we rendered from 1936 to 1939. The Spanish always only think of Spain ; they are utterly selfishwhich is natural enoughand they regard us as God-damned heretics. What Hitler and G–ring knew was that one of the wars most secret treaties had just been signed in Madrid : in return for modern German weapons in sufficient quantities, Franco now committed his country in writing to fighting the British and Americans the moment they set foot in Spain, Portugal, or any Spanish possessions in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Africa.
The enemy might equally well exploit the partisan chaos in the Balkans ; an Allied invasion there would bring the Romanian oil fields within bomber reach. Despite the mounting bomber offensive against Germany, Hitler therefore ordered fresh antiaircraft defenses supplied to Romania. He arranged for Bulgarians in German uniforms to police the more restless areas of Greece. He eloquently directed his military commander in the southeast, General L–hr, to restore peace therethe peace of the graveyard, if need be.
In Croatia as elsewhere Italy was at the root of Hitlers troubles. General Roattas Second Army had persistently pursued policies dramatically athwart both Hitlers and Mussolinis. When Titos partisan forces had become too powerful, the Italians had merely ignored Germanys protests and abandoned territory wholesale. Roatta had continued to arm the Cetnik (Serbian) irregulars against the partisans even though many a Cetnik bullet now winged toward a German or Croatian soldier. Though in December Ciano had unenthusiastically agreed to Hitlers demand that the Cetniks be disarmed, the army ignored Mussolinis directive to that effect. Soon the vital bauxite mines of Mostar were abandoned to the partisans. Every joint Italian-German sweep against them failed, the Germans felt, because of Italian sloth and ineptitude. Tito escaped time after time, until gradually Hitler came to extend to him an admiration he had previously reserved for Stalin. Late in February, he sent Ribbentrop to Rome with a strongly worded letter demanding more active Italian support, particularly against the Cetniks ; he furnished dozens of radio messages intercepted and decoded by his agencies, proving beyond doubt that the Cetnik irregulars were fighting for General Draza Mihajlovic and thus for London. But while the Duce was willing to accept German demands, his soldiers were not. The new Chief of Staff, General Ambrosio, furnished various excuses for not proceeding against Mihajlovic : for example, the Italian troops were needed for the defense of Italy. L–hr came to Vinnitsa and asked for a saturation air raid on Mihajlovics headquarters at Collasin in Montenegro, and he proposed pacifying Croatia by installing at every level a German civil administration backed by local gendarmes to be supplied by Himmler. Hitlers patience with the Italians was exhausted ; he ordered Mostar and the bauxite mines recaptured, and he began planning a short, sharp war of annihilation against Mihajlovic and the Cetniks. On account of the intimate relations between the Mihajlovic commanders and the Italian authorities, the F¸hrer attaches particular importance to camouflaging our object and all the preparations. But not until mid-May would this operation, code-named Black, begin.
If it were not for the political effect the loss of Tunisia would have had on Italy, Hitler would have long since withdrawn his divisions there and made more profitable use of them just as Mussolini had urgently requested the repatriation of 290,000 Italian workers in Germany. His own interest in this distant desert war was negligible. He considered that Rommel had missed his chance, a view shared by Kesselring and G–ring. Without optimism, military command is impossible, Hitler meditated afterward. I see Rommelthough he has limitationsas an extraordinarily bold and clever commander, but he lacks staying power ; everybody thinks so. Given the Italian inability to protect supply shipsduring January alone 22 out of 51 had been sunkit was obvious the holding action in Tunisia would not last much longer.
In Tunisia Rommel was a sick man, and his future was uncertain. But General von Arnims Fifth Panzer Army, facing westward, was in better shape. Warlimont returned from Tunis in mid-February quoting Rommels description of the bridgehead as a house of cards which would collapse the moment Montgomery attackedpresumably one month hence, when the moon was full. Ominously, the Allies had a new 57-millimeter shell capable of piercing the Tiger tank, the pride of Hitlers armor.(2) But Arnim detected a weak spot facing him, the American Second Corps ; on February 14 General Heinz Ziegler struck at these inexperienced soldiers and drove a big salient toward the vital Kasserine Pass, taking hundreds of American prisoners. German interrogators claimed that a surprising number of Americans were ex-convicts, adventurers, and mercenaries. Politically speaking they are naive, remarked Hewel to Hitler. They are rowdies who take to their heels rather than stand fast at a crisis.... You really ought to see their war posters, quite incredible.I dont doubt, replied Hitler, that of the Anglo-Saxons the British are the best. But the German offensive failed, and Canaris quoted Arnim as saying, With the supply position as it istwenty-five thousand tons instead of the requisite eighty thousand tons had arrived in Februaryyou can work out with pencil and paper when the end will come. Canaris reported that nobody knew whether Kesselring or Rommel was in overall command of the newly created Army Group Africa.
Exactly why Rommel was given the army group, and not Arnim as had been planned, is not evident from the records. A specialist had checked Rommels health and reported to Hitler that he would have to go on leave by February 20 at the latest ; but the moment he was given the army group, with one German and one Italian army to defend Tunis, his illness mysteriously cleared up. Rommel was also cheered by word from Schmundt that the F¸hrer was deeply concerned about him ; Hitler evidently hoped that if properly pepped up, this petulant commander would put his heart into the final decisive strike at Montgomerys Eighth Army before departing for his convalescent leave. But Rommel did not gain heart. He took counsel of his two army commanders, Arnim and Messe, and on March 4 Hitler was handed his discouraging opinion : the present Tunis battlefront was over 400 miles long, the enemy had 1,600 tanks, 1,100 antitank guns, and about 210,000 combat troops ; unless Hitler would authorize Rommel to withdraw to a far shorter front, of about 100 miles, the two armies under his command would be overwhelmed. Not without justification Hitler noted : That is a complete contradiction of his earlier contentionnamely that a retreat to Tunisia would solve their strategic shortcomings. Jodl pointed out that Rommels plan would make a gift of vital airfields to the enemy and allow Montgomery and Alexander to join forces against the bridgehead. With 140,000 German troops alone, Rommel was not numerically all that inferior to the enemy. Hitler refused to allow the withdrawal. This is the end, he predicted nonetheless. They might just as well be brought back.
Hitler particularly wanted the final enemy offensive fought off long enough for the rest of the German divisions to arrive and the mass production of small transport ships to take effect. On superior orders, as Rommel querulously wrote, he launched his last attack on March 6, on Montgomery. But that same day he returned to the line fortified at Mareth, outfought and outgunned by the British army. As Hitler had predicted, it was the end. From all appearancesarranged by the British secret service, which had read Rommels cipher telegramscaptured Italian officers had betrayed Rommels plans to Montgomery, so Hitler did not reproach him. He decided on the eighth to recall the Desert Fox before he could be tarnished by the eventual defeat in Tunis ; for the time being, however, Rommels recall remained a closely guarded secretthe reputation of Rommel would soldier on, in absentia.
He flew into Vinnitsa late on March 9 and spent the evening alone with Hitler. Again Hitler turned a deaf ear on the idea of shortening the bridgeheads battlefront ; he betrayed his obvious conviction that Rommel had become a defeatist. Hitler intended to retain Tunis at all costs : he would increase the supply rate to 150,000 tons a month, he said, and when Rommels health was better he was to return to Africa and direct the offensive westward to Casablanca. The next day Reichsmarschall G–ring, summoned by Hitler, arrived in his special train from Rome and eagerly lent his not inconsiderable weight to Hitlers optimismas did Kesselring on the fourteenth. Kesselring and D–nitz were flown immediately to Rome to put pressure on the Italians to increase the rate of supply across the Strait of Sicily. D–nitz was instructed not to mince words with the Duce ; and Kesselring was to hand Mussolini a stinging written reproach by Hitler on the supply problem. It read in part :
... for whatever posterity may think of Field Marshal Rommel, he has been well loved by his troops and of course by all the German troops in every one of his commands. To his enemies he was a feared opponent, and still is. It is a tragedy that this man, one of my most courageous officers and distinguished by exceptional capability, should have come to grief on the problem of logisticsa problem which can only be solved by stepping up the sea transports to a maximum.
Rommel, the has-been, Hitler secretly awarded the diamonds for his Knights Cross ; the Italians refused to emulate this distinction.
G–rings prestige was plummeting with every fresh ruinous air attack on Germanys proud and ancient cities. That was why Hitler had rudely ordered his return from Rome. On March 1 hundreds of night bombers had rained high explosives and incendiaries on Berlin, leaving thirty-five thousand people homeless and over seven hundred dead. Hitlers doctors and staff reported that far into the nights that followed, he was troubled by anguished images of humble Berlin families who had lost not only their homes but two or three children before their eyes as well. The finest fighter aircraft or antiaircraft defenses were of no avail against bomber hordes like these ! Only counterterror would deter the British ! But Field Marshal Sperrles emasculated Third Air Force could stage only the weakest retaliatory raids, and London barely noticed them. The British write that our latest raid was a mere phantom, fumed G–ring to his staff, and that the lot fell in open countryside. It drives you mad ! Bombing through dense cloud, they can hit an egg in a railroad stationyet our fellows cant even find London. A low-level Luftwaffe fighter-bomber attack on London on March 5 had been scrubbed, as Hitler was apologetically told, because of fog and the dead calm seaevoking Hitlers natural astonished query : Do our planes swim over, then ? (In fact without visible waves to guide them the low-flying pilots were in danger of crashing.) Hitler blamed the indolent and sybaritic Sperrle and called for a younger man to direct the attack on Britain. When does the Reichsmarschall get back ? he had demanded. Things cant go on like this ; we will never wear down the British like this.
That night, March 5, a crippling attack was made on Essen, heart of the Ruhrs steel industry, destroying three thousand houses and buildings and killing hundreds of workers. When Goebbels arrived on March 8 with Speer, Hitler was still furiously inveighing against the complete failure of the Luftwaffe in comparison to the army now that Zeitzler was in charge. G–ring was less to blame than the mendacious and incompetent generals around him, said Hitler, but the next six months might see many of their cities in ruins and thousands of civilians dead. Toward midnight, sitting in his bunker with Speer and Goebbels, Hitler was just saying sourly that he only had to picture his generals in mufti to lose every shred of respect for them when he heard that a colossal air raid had just been launched against Nurembergthe medieval gem of Bavaria and seat of the Partys affairs. Hitler had General Bodenschatz, G–rings cynical lieutenant, roused from his sleep, and rasped that the Reichsmarschall must return from Rome forthwith.
Hoping to preserve him as the vehicle of their political ambitions, Speer and Goebbels both defended G–ring that night ; this alone had warded off Hitlers wrath, for he had hinted to Bodenschatz that he might even assume overall command of the Luftwaffe himself. How many orders he had given the Luftwaffe both before 1939 and afterand how few had been carried out ! The generals always knew better than I ; now the German public is paying the price. G–ringwhen he arrived on the eleventhgratefully adopted the same line. I told the F¸hrer I am not an aircraft designer or technician, so I cant build the planes myself, nor can I develop new engines or equipment, he said a week later. His generals and experts had always bluffed him ; his radar specialists had even excused their inability to test blind-bombing devices by pleading bad weather. Over the next nights Munich and Stuttgart were the bombers targets. Now Hitler overrode G–ring ; he ordered the air war against Britain stepped up, and he appointed the youthful Colonel Dietrich Peltz Attack Commander, Englandresponsible not to the sluggish Sperrle but to Jeschonnek (and hence to Hitler) alone.
A naive plan by Goebbels, Speer, and a handful of their disgruntled contemporaries to use G–ring and his Reich Defense Committee as a front whereby they could divert absolute power from Lammers, Keitel, and Bormann to themselves was temporarily placed in limbo.
Hitler flew for the morning of March 10 to Mansteins headquarters at Zaporozhye, for he was well satisfied with events on the southern front. His high hopes in the SS panzer divisions had proven justified. Here he awarded Manstein the Oak Leaf Cluster for his Knights Cross in recognition of his achievements. Mansteins two panzer armies had left 23,000 Russian dead on the first battlefield between the Donets and Dnieper rivers ; 615 tanks, 354 guns, and enormous quantities of other equipment had fallen into his hands. Thereupon, an offensive against Stalins Voronezh army group had resulted in the destruction of the enemys Third Tank Army southwest of Kharkov. In this operation, some 12,000 of the enemy were killed. Now Mansteins Fourth Panzer Army, with its powerful SS panzer corps, was embarking upon the fifth battle fought over Kharkov since Barbarossa began. Meanwhile Hitler had issued detailed orders for defensive lines to be excavated and built everywhere to the rear of the eastern front. To do this, he made ruthless use of forced labor, just as the Russians had in similar circumstances.
Thus the mood at Zaporozhye was one of, elation, for the generals morale was again high. Richthofen noted :
The F¸hrer lands at 10:40 A.M. Manstein and I drive in F¸hrers car to army group HQ, with F¸hrer in pretty good mettle. Fiebig at last gets the Oak Leaves.Every army commander from both army groups and my own [Luftwaffe] corps commanders present. Army commanders deliver briefings on their situation, which tell me nothing new. Then the F¸hrer on the coming operations and Manstein on his own intentions ; nothing new either.... Manstein keeps up a hate campaign against Kleist [commander of Army Group A] the whole time, and F¸hrer prompts Manstein to make hostile comments about Kleist and Kluge, his two neighbors. F¸hrer enjoying every minute. Ribs me mercilessly but kindly ; for some reason addresses everybody as Herr Feldmarschall today as a joke.... Says he never wants to hear of the Romanians or our other gallant allies again : if he relies on them he only gets worked up because they dont stand firm ; and if he arms them but doesnt use them, he gets just as worked up to see them standing around doing nothing.
The snows were melting, turning the eastern front into its seasonal morass. The three-hundred-mile nightmare breach had almost been stitched together, proof in Hitlers eyes that the Red Army had no reserves up its sleeve after all. Already the Russians were drafting their seventeen-year-olds ; perhaps the great collapse was in sight at last. Admittedly the eight-hundred-thousand-man call-up he had himself projected was proceeding less smoothly than he had hoped, and a new Russian thrust between the Second Panzer and Second Armies at Kursk and Orel was still causing concern. But in the south the recapture of Kharkov was now certain. And west of Moscow Operation Buffalothe careful withdrawal of two armies to a well-fortified new line between Spass Demensk and Byelyiwas drawing to its brilliant conclusion. The Red Army, puzzled at this uncharacteristic retreat, had followed only hesitantly, stumbled upon well-laid minefields and booby-traps, and suffered heavy casualties at no cost to the Germans. The retiring Germans had destroyed or dismantled everything of value to the enemy. A battle won, concluded Kluges army group.
On March 13, Hitler flew back from Vinnitsa to the Wolfs Lair, calling first that afternoon at Smolensk, headquarters for Kluges Army Group Center. Three days before, on March 10, Himmler had telephoned to Hitlers police bodyguard a warning to be on the lookout for parcel bombs.(3) Hitler showed no concern. He was inspired by the buoyant mood of Kluges officers at Smolensk. They were delighted at the tactical victory of the Fourth and Ninth armies, which had succeeded beyond all their expectations in disengaging from the enemy and withdrawing without any loss of men or equipment, while at the same time carrying out extensive demolitions in their wake. Initially the Russians had whipped their armies into hot pursuitwith consequent heavy casualties in the intricate and well-planned minefields the Germans had laid. The Russians captured only their own wrecked equipment. The new Buffalo line was already builta formidable line of barbed wire entanglements, bunkers, and antitank ditches. When Kluge asked if the objective of their coming summer campaign could be disclosed to them, Hitler astonished both Kluge and his staff with its modesty : To hold the eastern front just as it is. That evening he was back in East Prussia.
Yet the prospect of a year on the defensive galled him. I cant just let a whole year go to waste, he said. All the indications were that the Soviet Union might yet be about to collapse. Zeitzler agreed ; the new East Wall was all very well, but they will flatten us first, before we can finish it. Hitler responded, They are in such a state now that we would be lunatic not to exploit it. The fragmentary records of his war conferences reveal him already plotting with Zeitzler a partial resumption of the offensive in order to regain the initiative in the central front. Zeitzler hinted at April 15 as a suitable date, though Manstein thought that too early. One thing we must not say, insisted the F¸hrer, isthis year just a few prods at the enemy, next year the Big Push. Perhaps this year we can win the war ! Before March 13 was over Hitler had signed Zeitzlers order laying the foundations of Citadel, a combined attack by Kluges and Mansteins army groups on a tempting enemy salient at Kursk.
The next day Sepp Dietrichs SS troops retook Kharkov. Hitler exuberantly telephoned Goebbels, but the canny propaganda minister was against any special radio fanfareit would undermine the very Dunkirk spirit he had labored to contrive in Germany. Hitler, however, wanted the gallantry of his SS Life Guards properly recognized, and insisted ; half an hour later he heard the announcement on the radio, though preceded by the less pompous Horst Wessel fanfare this time rather than the one from Liszts PrÈludes.
That evening Goebbels appealed to be allowed to revive the anti-Jewish propaganda motif and pestered him to complete displacing Jews from the entire Reich as soon as possible. Hitler indulgently agreed that Goebbels could go ahead, but when Himmler himself arrived at the Wolfs Lair on the seventeenth, with the creation of fresh SS corps and divisions on his agenda, the F¸hrer apparently felt it necessary to speak a word of restraint, for the next day Himmler telephoned Gestapo Chief M¸ller in Berlin that there was to be no deportation of the privileged Jews(4) from France. Again it does not behoove the historian to speculate or embroider on the precise significance of the words employed.
For the first time in six years, Hitlers stomach spasms had begun to recur. The doctors advised him to retire for a week or two to the Obersalzberg. With the eastern front now paralyzed by the thaw, Hitler bowed to their advice. Besides, he wanted to speak in Berlin on March 21, Memorial Sunday, to kill the persistent rumors that he was gravely ill ; and at the Berghof he would be closer to the Mediterranean theater. While the invasion of Spain and Portugal predicted by Jodl for February 22 had failed to materialize, Admiral Canaris had twice warned that the enemy would occupy Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica during March, and Zeitzlers Intelligence officers agreed. (Thus convincingly had they been hoaxed by the Allies.) In Tunis, General Montgomery had just begun the offensive against the Mareth line. It seemed high time for Hitler to meet the Duceand his other coalition partners too.
He had himself lighted on a cure for his stomach pangs. In 1936 his SS doctor, SS General Dr. Ernst-Robert Grawitz, had prescribed Dr. Koesters Antigas Tablets, a German patent medicine, for his tender gastrointestinal tract, and at his request Dr. Morell supplied several gross of these. Hitler was relieved to experience the same well-being these apparently harmless black pills had given him six years earlier and began to consume them regularlyfrom eight to sixteen every dayuntil an appalled visiting doctor examined them in October 1944 and read the legend on the small flat aluminum tin : Extr.nux.vomic. 0.04 ; Extr.bellad. 0.04. The doctor then announced that they were principally based on the poisons strychnine and atropine, and that Hitler had from time to time been imbibing nearly lethal doses. Only then were relevant entries in the poisons manual read out to a chastened F¸hrer. Atropine acts on the central nervous system first as a stimulant, then as a paralyzer. In humans it primarily affects the forebrain, manifesting itself in a state of psychic exaltation. A state of cheerfulness develops, coupled with vivid flights of ideas, talkativeness, and restlessness, visual and aural hallucinations, and fits of delirium which may be peaceful and serene but may equally degenerate into acts of violence and frenzy. Strychnine, on the other hand, accumulated in the body, acting on the nervous system to increase all the senses acuteness. After heavy doses the accentuated sensitiveness to light may turn into downright aversion to light ; and the other senses show similar changes. The senses of hearing and touch are accentuated, and for a time the senses of smell and taste may become more acute. So dramatically could strychnine amplify the reactions of the nervous system that lockjaw could result from a normally harmless stimulus. The significance of Hitlers self-medication beginning in the spring of 1943 should not be scanted.
Thus Hitler left the Wolfs Lair, though for many weeks longer than he originally planned. His car brought him to the local railroad station, where his special train was waiting, and as soon as he, his servants, and his Alsatian bitch Blondi were aboard it began to move. His compartments were of a luxury strange to him after the strenuous bunker life of Rastenburgthere were silken sheets for all his staff, highly polished woodwork and brass lamps, and a soft carpet on the floor. Surrounded by his private staff, he took dinner in the dining car with its redleather-covered chairs. At his command the three secretaries joined himJohanna Wolf, the most senior and self-effacing ; the forthright Christa Schroeder, who had served her apprenticeship with Bormann ; and Traudl Humps, the newcomer. Schaub, Hewel, Bormann, and Morell sat in as wellthe portly doctor wading into the meal with an appetite that was as audible as it was evident. Hitler contented himself with mashed potato, an egg, and a dry biscuit.
Traudl Humps later wrote : I was taken aback by the informal nature of the conversation. Bormann above all was gentle and friendly.... The F¸hrer spoke softly and with restraint. After the meal he asked for the ceiling lights to be switched off. He preferred subdued light as his eyes were rather sensitive. A pot of caraway tea was served. Delicious, exclaimed Hitler, but nobody accepted his offer of a cup. At intervals the train halted, and telephone messages were received. Hitler summoned a manservant : Take Blondi for a walk outside. Then the train began again, the dining car gently swaying, Morell snoring lightly, and the one small table lamp casting a dim glow.
At R¸genwalde in Pomerania the next morning he stayed for a few hours to inspect Krupps new giant gun, Long Gustav, and various new tank prototypes undergoing trials on the ranges. Here at last was the new Ferdinand tank, a seventy-ton monster powered by two diesel-electric sets, all but impregnable with its eight-inch-thick armorplate and formidable 88-millimeter gun. These and the Tigers would surely overwhelm the Russians when Citadel began. Speer and his dynamic Nazi deputy Karl-Otto Saur boarded the train for an informal conference on the new weapons programs, as it continued toward Berlin. Hitler was undaunted by the prevailing fear of Russian armies that were a mere shadow of their name. I am convinced the rogues are so weak. . . the stenographers heard him say ; and All they have against us are formations, but . . . (The fragments alone exist, but they seem clear enough.) He invited Speer and Goebbels to dinner in the Chancellery, showed them the damage survey of Munich after the last British air raid, and mentioned the high hopes he vested in Donitzs U-boat war. Goebbels recommended that the Luftwaffe bomb Londons plutocratic districts rather than the slums. When he channeled the conversation around to the Jews, Hitler congratulated him on having evacuated most of them from Berlin. The war is enabling us to deal with a whole series of problems we could never have dealt with in normal times, Goebbels quoted him as saying. Yet Hitler obviously found the propaganda ministers company distasteful, for he refused to make time available for a further private meeting with him until May. Thus far had Martin Bormanns influence over Hitler progressed.
Half an hour after midnight on March 22 his train left Berlin for Munich. He spent the day with Frau Troost, lunched in the Osteria, and looked at the latest paintings. That evening Eva Braun joined the train for the short journey to Berchtesgaden ; a long column of Mercedes cars brought them up the mountain to where the Berghof lay, its Great Hall window palely reflecting the moonlight and the snow ; Frau Mittelstrasser, the housekeeper, welcomed the couple ; Hitlers coat and cap were hung up in the vestibule, and he withdrew to his quarters.
Few records survive of his conferences and decisions of the following weeks. A minute-by-minute logbook of his movements, kept by his manservants, shows him rising regularly around noon, lunching at two or three, and going to bed far into the night ; supper was a very movable feast indeed. Apart from Citadel, we know that Hitler was looking ahead to a further offensive against Leningrad in the summer. But he was also casting around for some way of regaining the initiative in the west too : Gisela, a Nazi occupation of northern Spain, was one ; but he had begun to reconsider a lightning invasion of Iceland tooOperation Ikarus, which Raeder had barely talked him out of in 1940. Mussolini was not due to come until April 7 ; before then Hitler had only a little-publicized meeting with King Boris, one of his trustier allies ; the monarch confirmed that Bulgaria would fight on Hitlers side if Britain and Turkey should invade the Balkans. No record was made of the meeting ; it was so informal that at one stage one of Hitlers secretaries made an unheralded appearance munching an apple and clutching a pair of tennis rackets. Dont worry yourself, Hitler consoled her afterward ; even kings are only human.
In these weeks at the Berghof, Hitler looked briefly into some Third Reich problems he had too long ignored. Others he studiously avoided, but many more were kept deliberately from him. Thus when Reichsf¸hrer Himmler came on March 30 the discussion revolved solely around the military affairs of the SS, according to Himmlers noteand no mention was made of the Black Chapel scandal which was about to disclose the dubious loyalties of Admiral Canariss Abwehr.(5) An Intelligence chief who had produced as little hard information as Canaris had, should long since have been dispensed with. His predictions had invariably proven wrong. For example, initially he had prophesied that Britain and France would march at the time of Munich and that France was about to attack Germany in mid-September 1939. In addition, he had known nothing of Stalins huge tank production in 1941, of the North African invasion plan in 1942, or of the Roosevelt-Churchill Casablanca meeting more recently. But so long as Keitel shielded Canaris, his subordinate, Himmler was loath to burn his fingers by impeaching him for treason. Canaris knew of thisperhaps he had some hold over Himmler. We can imagine with what concealed contempt Canaris recorded, after a heart-to-heart talk with the visibly dejected field marshal in 1941, that Keitel had (verbatim) confided to him : If I did not have such loyal friends in my department as you, my dear Canaris, I would have chucked it all up long ago. Only the knowledge that I have such reliable colleagues consoles me and keeps me going.
Nor did Himmler evidently raise with Hitler the progress made on the Jewish problem during their two-hour mountain stroll on March 30Hitler wearing a soft peaked cap to shade his eyes against the Alpine glare. Earlier in 1943 Himmler had submitted to him a statistical report on a similar topicthe population migrations he had sponsored since Hitlers written order of October 1939 ; the report(6) was typed on the special large-face typewriter and clearly went to the F¸hrer. But did Hitler ever see the statistical report the Reichsf¸hrer had commissioned at the same time on the Final Solution of the Jewish Problem in Europe? In dry tones, Himmlers chief statistician, Dr. Richard Korherr, had analyzed the fate of the worlds estimated 17,000,000 Jews : Europes 10,000,000 had dwindled by 45 percent since 1937, owing to emigration, the high natural mortality rate, and the enforced evacuation that had begun with the prohibition of emigration late in 1941. To Himmlers annoyance, on reading the sixteen-page document on March 23 he found that it stated expressis verbis on page 9 that of the 1,449,692 Jews deported from the eastern provinces 1,274,166 had been subjected to special treatment at camps in the Generalgouvernement and a further 145,301 similarly dealt with in the Warthegau. Himmler knew too well that the F¸hrer had in November 1941 ordered that the Jews were not to be liquidated. On April 1 he had the report edited for submission to the F¸hrer; and a few days laterlest he had not made himself plaininstructed that in the version for the F¸hrer he did not want there to be any mention of special treatment of Jews whatever. According to the new text, the Jews would have been channeled through the camps to Russianot subjected to special treatment at the camps. As he wrote on April 9, the report would serve magnificently for camouflage purposes in later years.
Mussolini arrived at Salzburg station on April 7. The sun glinted on the snow-clad mountains, the sky was postcard blue, but the Duce himself was a sick manhis eyes lusterless, his cheeks hollow, he had to be helped out of his carriage by two companions. There were rumors that he had cancer, but Hitler privately believed it was just a psychological depression. While it was understood that the fall of Tunis was probably inevitable, at least he could inspire Mussolini with the coming campaigns in the east. Mussolini and his de facto foreign minister, Giuseppe Bastianini, were housed at Klessheiman enchanting baroque chateau near Salzburg which had been lavishly restored by Hitlerand here a short series of what Zeitzler contemptuously dubbed gala war conferences were held for Mussolinis benefit. Here G–ring, Zeitzler, and Jodl rehearsed the daily situation in optimistic tones (though Zeitzler refused Hitlers suggestion that a fake map of the eastern front should be employed, as had been customary in Halders day on such occasions). They banqueted together, Hitler consuming his vegetarian concoctions, Mussolinis meals first sampled by an unenthusiastic taster as in Roman times.
The conferences were short, out of regard for the Duces health, but even so he had difficulty following them. The two dictators were moved by different purposes. Mussolini still wanted an armistice with Stalin, to enable the Axis to throw all its might against Britain and the United States ; and he handed Hitler a memorandum on the possible negotiations. Given the Allies poor showing over the Russian convoys and a Second Front, Stalin had good cause to be upset. The Duce believed Spain would voluntarily join the Axis. To Hitler all this was disappointingly naive : from the Forschungsamt intercepts he knew just how closely the Jewish Bolsheviks of London, Washington, and Moscow were collaborating in Germanys defeat ; and there were alarming signs that even Spain had come under their sway. If fascism in Italy was not to be overthrown, so he advised Mussolini, Tunis must be held if at all possible. This meant that the Italian navy must abandon its pride and throw every fast cruiser and destroyer it had into the supply operations for Tunisia. It would be impossible to salvage Arnims army group in defeat. The Duce asked for more oil for the ships, and Hitler agreed to supply it. An hour-long Hitler monologue on Frederick the Great and Prussian steadfastness did the rest ; Mussolini returned to Rome visibly improved in body and mind.
The distinction between Hitlers private and his public views was as marked as the contrast between Klessheim and the Berghof. In private he was cynical about the New Order. How would the Duce have reacted to hearing the F¸hrer mutter to his staff. Our neighbors are all our potential enemies. We must squeeze what we can out of them. But we neither can nor should make them any promises.
Each evening Hitler was driven back up to the Berghof, where he was greeted by the barking of Eva Brauns two untidy black scotties and by Eva herself, elegantly clad in the latest fashions. Her favorite dress was of close-fitting Nilegreen wool, with long sleeves and a broad strip of leopard skin around its hem. Hitler kissed her hand and chatted with the others of her house partyher pretty sister Gred, Frau Herta Schneider, and Frau Marion Sch–nmann were frequent guests, as were the wives of Below and Dr. Karl Brandt. Eva organized regular film shows in the basement bowling-alley, but Hitler piously stayed away. In wartime, with the people called upon to make such sacrifices, I cannot watch movies.Besides, I must save my eyesight for reading maps and dispatches. The same priggish considerations militated against his wearing more comfortable clothes. A Churchill, he noted, might gambol about the world dressed in silk blouses and cowboy hatsbut not the F¸hrer of the Reich. As long as we are at war I will not take off this uniform. My knees are white as chalk anyway, and that looks awful in short trousers.But the moment the war is over, I am going to hang my uniform on a nail, retire here, and let somebody else take over the government. As an old man I will write my memoirs, surrounded by clever, intellectual peopleI never want to see another officer. My two elder secretaries will stay with me and do the typing . . .
They were long evenings that spring, for Hitler refused to go to bed until the last enemy bomber had left Germanys airspace. British and American bombers had already carved black swaths far into central Europe. In March alone eight thousand tons of bombs had rained down on Germany, sometimes a thousand tons a night on single cities like Duisburg, Essen, and Berlin. On April 4, 228 civilians were killed in Paris and 221 in Naples in American air raids ; on the fifth an American raid on the Belgian port of Antwerp accounted for 2,130 civilians. G–rings Luftwaffe was powerless to defend or deliver adequate reprisals. Hitlers interest in the armys long-range missile project increased, and on March 29 he approved Speers blueprints for a huge concrete missile site on the Channel coast, from which Britain would be bombarded once missiles were available. It was the first of several secret weapon projects that werehowever improbablyto sustain his own hope of final victory.
As G–rings prestige declined, the rivalry of the other satraps increased. Speer was an almost permanent visitor to the Berghof throughout April, but Bormann was lord of the manor here. He had secured Hitlers signature to a document appointing him his official Secretarygiving him express control over Hitlers security and affairs : he had the right to attend all conferences and communicate the F¸hrers decisions and opinions to the Reich ministers and other departments and agencies-a formidable prerogative. He alone would decide which nonmilitary supplicants might see Hitler and which documents would be shown to him. Bormanns powers became vast. His eyes were everywhere ; his energy was prodigious ; his loyalty was beyond question. When Baldur von Schirach, the thirty-five-year-old Gauleiter of Vienna whom Hitler had regarded as his possible successor, challenged Bormanns domestic policies, the Reichsleiter outmaneuvered himsummoning him to Hitler on March 26 for a tirade about his decadent cultural speeches and art exhibitions. Speer and Goebbels followed through. Schirach gamely accused Ribbentrop of failing to build bridges to the enemy. Hitler rejoined that since Casablanca and unconditional surrender there was no alternative. Afterward he angrily remarked to Bormann that the Gauleiter had become infected by Vienna : he too had contracted defeatism.
1 On January 19, 1943, Franco warned Churchill in a secret message that the longer the war goes on, the more Britain will be obliterated by her AlliesRussia and the United States. He advised Britain to negotiate with non-Nazi elements in Germany while there was still time. Churchill did not welcome Francos message, though the Caudillos claim to have seen detailed accounts of his talks in Moscow may have roused his curiosity.
2 The Tiger was still having teething troubles. Hitler jealously called for details of the training of every Tiger tank crew whose tank was knocked out in Africa. The results were embarrassing for the army. Himmler hastily ordered that only the best crews were to man the Tigers allocated to the SS panzer corps.
3 In fact Kluges Intelligence officer, Colonel Rudolf von Gersdorff, and others claimed after the war that they planted a parcel bomb in Hitlers aircraft before it left Smolensk on March 13, 1943. (If they did, it failed to go off.) Admiral Canaris, one of the plotters, wrote in his own notes of the flight he made to Smolensk on March 8 : I conveyed time fuses and explosives in my plane to the Army Groups Abwehr II sabotage unit. Since Canaris dined for two hours with Himmler on March 10, shortly before Himmler put through his telephone warning to Hitlers police bodyguard, it is tempting to assume that Canaris made an incautious remark to him about the bomb plot ; but Himmlers files show that since March 3 parcel bombs posted by the Polish underground were causing some concern, and his phone call to SS Brigadef¸hrer Hans Rattenhuber, chief of Hitlers bodyguard, was probably just a reprimand for not having issued warnings to the Reich ministries yet. A remarkable coincidence nonetheless.
4 Those with influence in the United States.
5 Following the routine arrest of a Munich Abwehr agent involved in a sordid currency racket, the Gestapo had uncovered evidence linking Canariss principal officials with treasonable communications to the Vatican. On March 24, 1943, Himmler had a telephone conversation with the Gestapo chief, M¸ller, in Berlin on the Black Chapel complex. On April 5 the Abwehr headquarters was raided, and key Canaris aides including Dr. Hans von Dohnanyi and General Hans Oster were arrested.
6 In three years Himmler had resettled 629,000 ethnic Germans from outside the Reich ; 400,000 more were still to come. In the same period 365,000 Poles were dumped in the Generalgouvernement of Poland, and 295,000 French citizens were evicted from Alsace, Lorraine, and Luxemburg.
p. 489 The medical details are from interrogations of Morell, Giesing, and Gebhardt ; Professor Ernst-G¸nther Schenck identified Prostakrinum for me from the 1939 Gehe Codex as a product of Morells own firm, Hamma A.G., used to combat a hypertrophied prostate and general sex-hormone insufficiency in the male.
p. 489 The appointment book kept by Hitlers servants Hans Junge and Heinz Linge from March 22 to June 20, 1943, lay in a waterlogged condition in 1945, and ended up in the Hoover Library, California ; it was restored at my request in 1965. I have deposited a transcript with the IfZ.
p. 490 The panzer Lieutenant General Karl Eibl (Twenty-fourth Panzer Corps), holder of Germanys second highest medal, lost his leg in the blast and died under the subsequent emergency operation (performed without anesthetic). Hitler did not tell Mussolini of the incident until April 23, 1944.
p. 490 Hitlers anxiety to spare his allies feelings is plain from his order to Eighth Army, February 14, 1943 (in its war diary appendices, file 36199/9); from Ritters memo to Ribbentrop, March 20 (Serial 1006); and from Scherffs letter to Jodl, June 25 (T77/1035/7945).
p. 492 Professor Charles Burdick wrote a convincing account of the German planning for an invasion of Spain, 1942-43, in WR, 1964, pages 164 et seq.; I also used the unpublished diaries of Greiner and Canaris (especially February 9, 1943 : AL/1933) and of Richthofen, and Junges memo on Hitlers conference of February 10 (PG/31747). Burdick does not mention the German-Spanish secret protocol of February 11, 1943 ; it will be found on AA microfilms of Ribbentrops office files, Serial F3, page 0355.
p. 494 Hitler made his remark about Rommel at the conference on August 31, 1944 (Heiber, page 614); Goebbels quoted G–ring similarly on March 2, 1943. Canaris also reported at length on Tunis after a visit there on February 27, 1943, is in file AL/1933.
p. 494 On the fighting in Tunis : Goebbelss unpublished diary, February 1943 ; war conference stenogram, March 4 ; Rommels private letters (T84/R274); Kesselrings memoirs ; the war diaries of the naval staff and OKW, and Greiners handwritten draft for the latter ; correspondence between Hitler and Mussolini (T586/405), and Ritters AA files, Serial 5757. On March 15 Richthofen entered Jeschonneks observations in his diary : Rommel very low, nerves finished too. For the first time Kesselrings fixed grin was wiped off his face. Only the F¸hrer is still optimistic. Whats certain is that in the long run Africa cant be held for supply reasons.
p. 498 The undeniable restoration of the generals faith in Hitler that spring emerges from Greiners unpublished note of March 14, and from an entry in the anti-Hitler conspirator Hassells diary two weeks later. The generals are enough to drive you around the bend, Etzdorf had told him in despair. Now that everythings going better again, everythings apparently okay : The F¸hrer has turned out right again.Hopeless !
My footnote is based on security documents in the BA Schumacher Collection, file 487, and Canariss journey report (AL/1933). On the fabled assassination attempt at Smolensk, see Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Offiziere gegen Hitler (Z¸rich 1946), and Peter Hoffmann, Widerstand, Staatsstreich, Attentat (Munich, 1969), Chap. IX. In the conspirators earlier accountse.g., the British Consolidated Interrogation Report The Political and Social Background of the 20 July Incident (Secret, September 10, 1945) and the USFET interrogation of Baron Rudolf von Gersdorff himself (OI-IIR/34, dated February 18, 1946)there are irritating discrepancies. Was their alleged bomb disguised as brandy (round) or Cointreau (square) bottles ? Was the Abwehr explosive that Canaris mentioned used ? or British-made Clam explosives with magnetic fastenings ? Was the packet handed to Colonel Heinz Brandt to carryhe and Tresckow, the other main conspirator, died in 1944or did Schlabrendorff himself place it under Hitlers seat? We can only speculateparticularly since Brandt in fact never flew in Hitlers plane, according to Schaubs manuscripts.
p. 500 The effect of strychnine and atropine is described in E. Poulssons Lehrbuch f¸r Pharmakologie (10th ed.,1934); it is only proper to point out that from the composition of Dr. Koesters Antigas Pills as described in the 1937 Gehe Codex, Professor Schenckwhom I consulteddoubted whether Hitler could have imbibed enough to have a serious effect. Hitlers doctors, going by the figures printed on the pillbox, thought differently.
p. 503 For the Abwehr Intelligence failures see Eberhards diary, September 28, 1938 ; Colonel Ulrich Lisss remarks in Groscurths diary, October 5 and 10, 1939 ; Tippelskirchs diary, September 19, 1939, etc.; but also Canariss spirited self-defense in Goebbelss diary, April 9 and 11, 1943he claimed that he had predicted everything in good time, but the truth had been withheld from Hitler. Not so.
p. 503 Canaris sardonically quoted Keitels remark in a memo of October 23, 1941 (AL/1933). Lahousen heard Keitel say much the same that spring, as he recalled under interrogation. There is evidence that the Armys chief judge advocate, Karl Sackone of the conspiratorsgulled Keitel into believing that the SS was out to undermine the OKWs Abwehr, thus persuading him to stifle the Gestapo investigations.
p. 503 (footnote 6) Himmlers report on population movements dated January 20, 1943 is in BA file R 43 II/1411a. A major statistical study by his analyst, Dr. Richard Korherr, on the Soviet manpower reservoir definitely went to Hitler as well ; it was retyped on the F¸hrer typewriter and shown him in May 1943 (Himmler files, 7175/54/6437 et seq.).
p. 503 Himmler had ordered Korherr to make a statistical analysis of the Final Solution, by letter of January 18, 1943 (T175/18/1557) explaining that Kaltenbrunners office lacked the necessary expert precision. The draft and shortened final reports, and Himmlers related correspondence, are on microfilm T175/103/5017 et seq. As the ribbon copy of the shorter version is still in Himmlers files, it may not even have gone to Hitler. Nor did several letters which at about this time reached Dr. Hans Lammers alleging that Jews were being methodically exterminated in Poland (ND, NG-1903). At the Nuremberg war crimes trials, Lammers stated that he followed up these reports by asking Himmler. Himmler denied that there was any authorized killing going on and told memaking reference to the F¸hrers ordersI have to evacuate the Jews and in such evacuations there are ... obviously fatalities. Apart from those, the people are being housed in camps in the East. And he fetched a mass of pictures and albums and showed me how the Jews were being put to work in the camps on war production, in shoe factories, tailors shops, and the like. Then he told me : This job comes from the F¸hrer. If you think you must put a stop to it, then go and tell the F¸hrer (IMT, Vol. XI, page 62).