David Irving


“ Axis ”

In the week immediately following Mussolini’s overthrow, Hitler vacillated between two extremes :  his initial instinct was to send paratroops to Rome, flush out the monarchy, the traitors, and the Vatican, and restore the “wronged” dictator to power.  He refused to believe that the Duce had willingly abdicated ;  he assumed that his restoration alone would bring back the Fascist organization that had seemingly melted into nothingness overnight.  As July 26, 1943, dawned, he even sent out orders for his troops to abandon Sicily forthwith, leaving their tanks and equipment where they were ;  for between Sicily and the Brenner Pass there were virtually no German troops at all, apart from Field Marshal Kesselring’s headquarters staffs outside Rome and the naval detachments based in certain Italian ports.  It was indeed a chilling situation :  a thousand miles of Italian coastline along which the enemy might at any moment land and be positively welcomed by the new regime in Rome.  Were he, Hitler, in Churchill’s shoes he would have struck at once to reap such a rich reward.  Yet as the days passed and more moderate advisers came to the Wolf’s Lair, reason prevailed ;  the enemy was as perplexed by the new situation as he was, and now time worked in Hitler’s favor.  Throughout August the Wehrmacht foothold in Italy was steadily strengthened, in spite of Badoglio’s protests.  A brilliant rearguard action was fought in Sicily after all.  And when in September Badoglio and his generals finally fulfilled the F¸hrer’s gloomiest predictions and hoisted the long-prepared white flag of surrender, Hitler was ready to step in.

These weeks of drama were not devoid of comedy or bereft of bitterness.  The stenographic records of Hitler’s first conferences after word came from Rome show how effectively he could grapple with major crises.  Sepp Dietrich’s SS Life Guard Division must be rushed from the eastern front to Italy at once ;  the seventy thousand German troops in Sicily must be brought back to the mainland—abandoning their heavy equipment if need be.  “Their pistols are all they’ll need. ... they can make short work of the Italians with pistols too”;  there must be an evacuation of Sicily “like Dunkirk” in 1940.  The 3rd Panzer-Grenadier Division must seize Rome, arrest the government, and kidnap the king and above all the crown prince, who would be retained as hostages to guarantee that Italy abide by her pact with Germany ;  Badoglio must be captured dead or alive ;  Mussolini must be found and rescued, if he had not already been put to death, in which case his body must be recovered to prevent the enemy from putting it on public display.  And Rommel !  “Find out where Rommel is !”  The field marshal was run to earth in Salonika :  at 11:15 P.M. on July 25 the OKW telephoned him to return to the F¸hrer’s headquarters at once.

From all over Germany they flew in to the Wolf’s Lair—Himmler, Guderian, Goebbels, G–ring ;  Speer was already there ;  Ribbentrop, convalescing from a lung ailment, arrived looking pale and drawn ;  D–nitz decided to come with several of his staff ;  Schmundt was ordered back from leave ;  Roberto Farinacci was flown up from Munich, whither he had escaped from Rome.  (Hitler contemplated using him—pending Mussolini’s rescue—to set up a puppet Italian government to rival Badoglio’s, but he abandoned the notion the moment he talked with the weedy Italian—indeed, he began to suspect that Farinacci had been bribed by Badoglio to convene the consiglio which had brought about the Duce’s downfall.)  What disturbed all the Party leaders most was this vivid proof that dictatorships could be toppled with such ease.  As Jodl bluntly put it, ruminating out loud to Hitler :  “The fact is, the whole Fascist movement went pop, like a soap bubble !”  Hitler directed Himmler to ensure that nothing went pop in Germany.

Yet while Hitler mastered the initial details of the crisis, his statesmanship abandoned him, swamped by the signals transmitted by his enraged emotions.  For several days he was tempted to adopt rash expedients that would have put him wholly in the wrong and brought the entire Italian people solidly behind Badoglio and the king.  The very existence of General Hube’s soldiers in Sicily depended on the Italian railwaymen and dockers ;  and the longer these continued to work, the better were Hitler’s chances of infiltrating additional German divisions into northern Italy.

But Hitler felt outraged ;  that Mussolini, a leader bound to him by destiny, should have been so ignobly deposed by traitors and vassals of the monarchy, made his blood boil.  He did not doubt that Badoglio was already working hand-in-glove with the enemy.  “We can be clear on one score :  traitors that they are, they will of course proclaim their intention of continuing the fight.  Of course !  But it will be a betrayal.”  He smiled contemptuously.  “We shall be playing the same game, leading them on until we suddenly drop like lightning on the whole bag of them and round up the entire gang.”  On July 26 he sent Captain Wolf Junge, Jodl’s staff officer, to Kesselring with oral orders to stand by to seize Rome and prevent the Italian fleet’s escape.  Hitler instructed the Second Paratroop Division to fly to an airport outside Rome the next day without advance warning to either Kesselring or the Italians.  The 3rd Panzer-Grenadier Division was also to move to the outskirts of the capital.  Hitler would give the code word the moment Badoglio moved a muscle against Germany’s interests ;  if that fateful twitch occurred too soon for full-scale intervention, then Kesselring and General Student would have to occupy Rome with what forces they could muster from the headquarters staffs there—the proverbial German cooks and clerk-typists who had on occasion also wrought havoc on Americans troops in Tunisia.

In the teahouse of the Wolfs Lair Himmler had lined up half a dozen Luftwaffe and army special agents as candidates for the job of rescuing the mislaid Fascist dictator, now known to have been arrested on the king’s orders on leaving the palace.  Otto G¸nsche, Hitler’s bodyguard, took them into the F¸hrer’s study.  Hitler asked each in turn :  “What do you think of the Italians ?”  The last of them, a burly scar-faced Waffen SS captain, growled :  “What a question, mein F¸hrer !  And me an Austrian !”  Hitler picked this man, Otto Skorzeny, and assigned him a secretary to note down everything he would need.  Skorzeny would leave with Student for Rome next morning.  The latter parted from Hitler with the words :  “A tough but particularly rewarding mission, mein F¸hrer !”

Worn out, that evening Hitler ate alone.  No less than thirty-five people packed the following war conference.  Two factions were clearly crystalizing :  the one, led by D–nitz and Jodl, decried precipitate action against Italy ;  the other, led by Hitler, wanted Student to strike as soon as he was ready.  Rommel wanted the whole operation adequately thought out and prepared, but Goebbels felt that the British would hardly wait a week while Rommel was doing his thinking and preparing.  G–ring had already stated his opinion at midday :  “Our opponents will obviously scream to the Allies for help and beg for protection.”  Hitler pointed out :  “But it will still take them some time to get ready to invade.”  At first the British would be nonplussed—they always were.  Everybody, particularly Goebbels and Ribbentrop, opposed Hitler’s plan to sweep through the Vatican as well ;  “apologies afterward” would never repair the harm this would do to Germany’s image abroad.  Meanwhile Kesselring and Richthofen insisted from their Italian headquarters that Badoglio would stay loyal to the Axis cause ;  Badoglio—cunningly adjudging Kesselring’s marked sense of military chivalry—had received him that evening with a copy of Napoleon’s Italian Campaigns open on his desk.  “You see, Field Marshal,” he explained disarmingly, “this is the problem that gives me sleepless nights.  How to lead a defeated army on to victory ?”  Kesselring reported innocently that Badoglio had only replaced Mussolini to provide the strong war leadership needed to restore honor to Italian arms.  Hitler could only chuckle at Kesselring’s gullibility.

Militarily, Hitler knew he could not defend the entire Italian mainland when Badoglio defected.  “In the course of events we shall obviously have to fall back along here somewhere,” he had said on July 25, tapping the map of Italy.  “That is quite plain.”  In addition to the divisions he was already moving into northern Italy from southern France, he wanted three SS armored divisions taken out of Manstein’s Army Group South :  the SS divisions were most politically akin to fascism.  Their transfer would in turn necessitate withdrawing the German salient at Orel to release divisions for Manstein.  Kluge, brought before Hitler on the twenty-sixth, was aghast.  “Mein F¸hrer !  I am bound to point out that there is nothing we can release at this moment.  That is quite out of the question at present !”  Only when his army group had fallen back on the new “Hagen” line, along the Dnieper, could he offer any help ;  but this sector of the East Wall had only just been begun and would not be ready for occupation before September.  Hitler feared that Badoglio would have defected long before then.  “September is quite impossible, Field Marshal !” he retorted.  And he angrily commented, “The swine on the other side shovel out a line in two days, and we can’t throw them out !”  For the time being, however, he had to make do with Sepp Dietrich’s Life Guards alone.

The next evening Field Marshal von Richthofen arrived from Rome.  The crowded war conference with Hitler lasted until nearly midnight.  “Everybody very rude about Kesselring,” wrote Richthofen in his diary.  “I counterattack.  Some of his dispatches are admittedly psychologically tactless, but by and large objective and accurate.  I identify myself with them.... Rommel knows nothing, thank God says nothing, and is just reveling in feelings of revenge against the Italians, whom he hates.  D–nitz is moderate and sensible.  Everybody else, especially Ribbentrop, just repeating whatever the F¸hrer says.”

Richthofen stubbornly stuck to his guns :  premature action by Student would be a catastrophe.  Jodl backed him up, and so did D–nitz.  Richthofen did predict that Marshal Badoglio might raise impossible military demands and use their nonfulfillment as a pretext to deal with the enemy ;  almost on cue Ambassador Mackensen’s telegram arrived from Rome, announcing just such Italian demands.  Richthofen urged Hitler to appear to accept everything in order to win time to infiltrate Rommel’s divisions into Italy.  But Hitler’s big worry was that he was missing the bus—that in silent agreement with Badoglio the British would suddenly arrive by air and sea in Italy.  On this score Richthofen had to agree.  Hitler ordered :  “Student is to fulfill his mission as soon as possible.”  When Rommel left for Munich to join his new Army Group B headquarters the next morning, he had Hitler’s secret instructions for the invasion of Italy in his pocket ;  but on no account were he or any of his more famous officers to show themselves south of the Reich frontier for the time being.  Canaris’s Abwehr was ordered to give Rommel every support, using its agents in Italy to find out what Badoglio and his frontier troops were up to.

It was at this moment that a blustering speech by Churchill rescued Hitler from his dilemma.(1)  Speaking in the House of Commons, he said that nothing short of “wholesale unconditional surrender” would prevent Italy from being “seared and scarred and blackened from one end to the other”;  he expected the new Italian government to take some time reaching a decision.  “We should let the Italians, to use a homely phrase, stew in their own juice for a bit.”  Secretary of State Cordell Hull issued an equally intransigent statement in Washington.  Badoglio and the king were evidently between the devil and the deep blue sea.  They can scarcely have expected an armistice to prove so unattainable after the Allied wooing and blandishments of the past month.  Now Hitler knew he would have time after all.  A message was sent to Kesselring reminding him not to let General Student unleash “Operation Black,” his plan to occupy Rome, “through any misunderstanding.”

An immensely self-satisfied F¸hrer joined his field marshals for lunch that day, July 28.  By evening his mind was made up against precipitate action.  Richthofen wrote :  “From 9 P.M., F¸hrer’s war conference.  Militarily speaking, all quiet.  The sensible solution has at last won through for Italy.  Obviously southern Italy will (now!) be pumped full of forces to meet the real enemy and all other eventualities.  Our only purpose now is to play for time.  With this in view all Italy’s demands will be accepted.”  To the chagrin of the Italians, Hitler’s divisions now began rolling singly over the Brenner into Italy.

Despite the curiously reassuring appreciations of Admiral Canaris’s Abwehr and its associated Foreign Armies West branch of the General Staff, Hitler had more than enough direct evidence of Badoglio’s stealthy and treacherous maneuvers.  The reliability of Himmler’s SS Intelligence channels cannot have failed to impress him in these weeks.  It was through the SS-fostered “Post Office Research Institute” that Hitler obtained on July 29 the transcript of a radio-telephone conversation held soon after midnight between Churchill and Roosevelt.  Ignoring the possibility that the enemy could unscramble this link, they had gossiped about the “imminent armistice with Italy” in language that told Hitler that Roosevelt at least was in secret contact with King Victor Emmanuel but that many days would pass before Italy would defect, because first the terms of the armistice would have to be thrashed out.  Churchill wanted to prevent the sixty thousand Britich prisoners in Italy from being shipped to “Hunland.”  But by his very garrulousness he was ensuring that Hitler would propel enough divisions into Italy to do just that.

On July 30, Rommel’s army group reported that the Italian defenses along the Brenner were being stealthily reinforced, and demolition charges laid.  Hitler learned reliably from the Croatian Poglavnik that General Roatta, the Italian army Chief of Staff, had recently told a fellow general that Badoglio’s protestations of loyalty were just a ploy to win time ;  indeed, on the thirty-first the Italian minister at Zagreb told the Poglavnik that Italy was not merely going to desert the Axis—she was going to join the enemy.

Nevertheless, Canaris’s Intelligence agencies played all this down.  When it was learned that the comando supremo had burnt its secret files two days before the Duce’s overthrow, Colonel Alexis von Roenne (chief of Zeitzler’s Foreign Armies West) swore that this did not indicate that treason was in the air.  At the beginning of August, Canaris came to Hitler’s headquarters and reported on a meeting he had just had with General AmÈ, his Italian opposite number :  the Abwehr chief blandly assured Keitel that Badoglio was resolved to fight on.  “There is no question of any peace negotiations.”(2)  During August, the discrepancy between these assessments by Canaris and Roenne and those by the SS, the foreign ministry, the Forschungsamt, and the frontier Gauleiters in Austria grew so wide that the German admiralty raised a scandalized comment in its war diary.  By this time Italian obstructionism was at its height.  The railways were purposefully jammed with civilian traffic to impede the entry of fresh German divisions ;  Hitler accordingly ordered them to enter on foot, despite the scorching Mediterranean sun.  There were gunfights between Italian and German officers.  At staff talks with Keitel and Ribbentrop in Tarvisio on August 6, General Ambrosio again assured the German that Italy “wanted to fight on at Germany’s side,” but his lack of interest in securing more German arms and material told Ribbentrop all he needed to know.  He telephoned Hitler immediately—this was “treason, one hundred percent.”

When Ribbentrop’s belief was subsequently confirmed by events, this should have led to Canaris’s final downfall.  But he was too slippery for that.  In September he trumped his SS challengers with a file of miraculously accurate Abwehr dispatches and accused Keitel of having withheld them from the F¸hrer.  Thus Canaris survived.

Under the new code word “Axis,” Hitler’s planning for the occupation and disarming of Italy and the seizure of her idle fleet at La Spezia continued throughout August 1943.  Mussolini had still not been found by the F¸hrer’s agents.  All that was known was that he was still alive, because Hitler’s sixtieth birthday gift to him—a twenty-four-volume set of Nietzsche—was duly acknowledged by the deposed dictator.  Meanwhile the hunt went on.

The Anglo-American air offensive had not lessened, but Hitler paid scant attention to it.  After the first big Hamburg raid he had greedily signed Albert Speer’s draft decree for the mass production of the army’s A-4 rocket missile—the later V-2—to bombard London that autumn ;  heedless of the effect on the Luftwaffe’s aircraft industry, Hitler had on July 25 ordered all available skilled labor, raw materials, machine tools, and electric power devoted on high priority to the rocket missile.  “You can only smash terror with counterterror,” he had reiterated that day.  “Otherwise the time will come when the people here just lose faith completely in the Luftwaffe.”  Speer was as yet doing nothing to support the Luftwaffe’s plea for proper emphasis on the fighter defenses.  Milch had already stepped up fighter output to one thousand a month and was planning to treble this over the next year ;  and highly effective new night-fighter tactics had been improvised in the wake of the Hamburg catastrophe, abandoning the rigid but thin line of radar-guided fighters in favor of packs of two to three hundred at a time, fighting the enemy freelance over the actual burning target area.  On August 1, Albert Speer dismally predicted to Hitler that if six more cities were given the Hamburg treatment, the war would be over.  But in commending the A-4 rocket to Hitler he was mistaken, for what Germany needed were fighters for the defense of the home base.

G–ring’s influence over Hitler was now weak ;  and General Jeschonnek, the Luftwaffe Chief of Staff, had reached the end of his tether—torn between Hitler’s demands and G–ring’s reproaches.  Hitler ordered the women and children moved out of the Reich capital at once.  Berlin was evacuated of one million civilians in grim anticipation of the raids to come.  On August 13 the American bombing of Wiener Neustadt resulted in a four-hour row between Hitler and Jeschonnek.  Four days later the Americans bombed the ball-bearing works at Schweinfurt and Messerschmitt’s plant at Regensburg, killing four hundred workers.  That night the British saturated Peenem¸nde with bombs, killing seven hundred scientists and slave laborers.  Jeschonnek committed suicide, and Milch at last persuaded his successor, General G¸nther Korten—whom the Reichsmarschall presented to Hitler on the twentieth—to transfer fighter squadrons back to the defense of the Reich.  From the British bomber-loss figures supplied to Berlin by the imaginary agent in the British air ministry, Hitler decided that the night air-war at least was tilting slowly back in Germany’s favor.

On August 20 Hitler discussed with Dr. Ley and leading architects how to take care of the survivors and the bombed-out families.  When Ley offered to build 350,000 homes a year, Speer interrupted :  “I will not provide the materials, because I cannot.”  His counterproposal was for the nationalization of all homes, but Hitler would not hear of that.  “I need a million new homes, and fast.  Each about ten feet by twelve ;  it is immaterial whether they are of wood, concrete, or prefabricated slabs.  I am even thinking in terms of mud huts or at worst just holes in the ground simply covered over with planks.  The houses should be built singly in individual plots, around towns and villages, where possible scattered about among the trees.”  He did not expect each house to have a lavatory, or gas, water, or electricity just the barest essentials in a form that even old women or children could easily erect, for their menfolk were at the front :  two benches, a table, a cupboard, and nails to hang their clothes on.  “We are forced to build as spartanly as possible, so there must be no distinction between them.  The main thing is for these people to have a roof over their heads when winter comes ;  otherwise they will perish.”

Speer’s inability to provide materials for Ley’s program to house the homeless was not unconnected with his own massive support for Hitler’s secret weapons projects.  On this same visit he persuaded Hitler to authorize the manufacture of an immense gunsite on the Channel coast ;  the guns were to have four-hundred-foot barrels and be theoretically capable of maintaining a permanent attack on London :  several propelling charges were to be detonated in sequence to give each shell the necessary velocity—a principle which worked on a small scale but not when it eventually came to the test.  The huge underground gun battery swallowed up hundreds of thousands of tons of urgently needed concrete, and it never fired a single shell at England.  Himmler was afflicted with the same strategic blindness, having himself been intoxicated by visits to Peenem¸nde.  He offered Speer concentration camp labor to build missile factories and man the assembly lines ;  he also offered him the use of the SS proving ground at Blizna, Poland, for the rocket-launching trials.  Hitler ordered Speer and the SS chief to make the maximum use of caves, tunnels, and bunkers for what all three evidently considered a significant element of Germany’s coming strategy.

In Berlin, Dr. Goebbels marshaled the ministers and Party officials for a pep talk to restore their battered morale ;  the F¸hrer remained in East Prussia, directing the war in Russia and the Mediterranean.  The German people must at all costs stand fast during the trying months to come :  until the fighter and antiaircraft defenses mastered the bombing terror, until the missile attack on London could begin—and until the monolithic Anglo-American and Soviet facade began to crack.

Hitler believed that the evidence justified his hopes that one day the western Allies would turn against Moscow and decide they had committed a blunder in continuing to assail Germany.  The first straw in the wind had been Stalin’s rejection of General Wladyslaw Sikorski’s London-based Polish exile government in April, and the creation of a puppet Polish committee in Moscow.  In July, Stalin had followed this with a “Free Germany” committee consisting of exiled Communists and renegade generals captured at Stalingrad.  Now British newspapers at last scented where Moscow proposed to lay the postwar boundaries of the bolshevik empire.  Conversely Stalin’s recall of his ambassadors from London and Washington, and his absence from Churchill’s conference with Roosevelt at Quebec, indicated Soviet dissatisfaction with the Allies.  There were rumors that Stalin wanted peace talks with Germany.  “I fully recognize that at present a ruthless desire to destroy us has the upper hand in Britain and America,” reflected Hitler.  “But the British have got it all quite wrong !  They declared war to preserve the ‘balance of power’ in Europe.  But now Russia has awakened and turned into a state of the highest technical and material caliber.... This means that the onslaught from the east can in the future only be met by a united Europe under German leadership.  That is in Britain’s interest too.”  The time must come, in Hitler’s view, when the Allies would realize their political mistake and reason would replace their present campaign of hatred and destruction against the most potent power in Europe.

Until Italy’s future was more certain, however, Hitler could not speak his mind to the German people.  For the same reason, he hesitated to order General Hube to evacuate his sixty thousand troops from Sicily to the mainland :  on the one hand Admiral D–nitz protested that giving Sicily to the enemy would provide them with easy access to southern Italy and the Balkans ;  but on the other, General Jodl warned that the moment military operations were launched for the rescue of Mussolini or the capture of Rome and the Italian fleet at La Spezia, the Italians would cut off all the supply routes to Sicily and the sixty thousand men would be lost.  Everything thus hinged on the loyalty of Badoglio to the Axis.  Kesselring, Mackensen, and Rintelen all reported that he could be trusted.  But the contrary evidence was overwhelming.  From his Gauleiter in the Tyrol Hitler learned that the Italians had stealthily moved three divisions—two of them known for their anti-German inclinations—into Bolzano and Merano.  “These steps were obviously taken to satisfy the Anglo-American requirement that Italy must take positive action against Germany if she is to get better peace terms.”

Kesselring wanted southern Italy packed with German troops, but Hitler felt this was risky and unnecessary, as the British would be unlikely to invade a malarial zone.  He told General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, whose new Tenth Army would take over the two corps stationed there, that he proposed eventually to evacuate Lower Italy and “would not be happy until all those divisions from southern Italy and Sicily were standing south of Rome.”  For the time being, Hitler instinctively rejected Rommel’s insistent demands for Kesselring to be recalled so that he, Rommel, could exercise the supreme command in Italy—south as well as north ;  he anticipated that the time might well come when Kesselring’s infuriating optimism would stand Germany in good stead, and he adhered to the split command.  Rommel’s political plus was his blind faith in Hitler.  “M[ussolini] probably won’t be coming back,” he wrote from his Munich headquarters.  “The Fascist party was evidently very corrupt and was swept away in a matter of hours.... On the other hand it suits us well, as now there is only one great man to lead in Europe.”  Admiral D–nitz shared Rommel’s sentiments about Hitler, writing with trembling hand after forty-eight hours at the Wolf’s Lair :  “The enormous energy the F¸hrer radiates, his unerring conviction, his prophetic analysis of the situation in Italy—all these have very much brought home to us these last few days what poor worms we all are in comparison to the F¸hrer !”

Rommel came up from Munich on August 11, arriving in time for the noon war conference :

G–ring, D–nitz, Student, and Himmler are at the conference.  Eastern front :  heavy fighting at Kharkov, big Russian breach west of the city.  At Leningrad a battle of attrition, with day-long artillery barrages ;  offensive expected on August 12.

Discussing Italy, the F¸hrer agrees with my own views.  F¸hrer appears to intend sending me in quite soon.  Like me he doesn’t believe in the honesty of the Italians.... The F¸hrer says the Italians are playing for time ;  then they will defect.  The probable object of the Churchill-Roosevelt meeting is just to lure the Italians into treason, particularly since the Italians are obviously taking part in the talks.... The F¸hrer evidently wants to adhere to his old plan of restoring fascism to power, as this is the only way to guarantee that Italy will unconditionally stand by us.  He has sharp words of condemnation for the work of Mackensen, Rintelen, and Kesselring, as they—and particularly Kesselring—still totally misinterpret the Italian situation and blindly trust the new regime....

Zeitzler is very aloof toward me, and reserved.  Worried about the eastern front ?

Lunch with the F¸hrer.  I sit on his left.  A very spirited discussion, with the F¸hrer evidently delighted I am there.  Again and again I find that he has complete confidence in me....

Before supper I confer with Jodl.  His plan, based on our proposal, was for me to take command in Upper Italy.  My new draft has me in command of all Italy, with two armies (north and south), while being myself under the Italians ;  the army group HQ near Rome so as to exert influence over the comando supremo and the regime.  After I refute his objections, Jodl agrees.

Then supper with the F¸hrer, and evening conference.... He approves my proposal to fight a delaying action in Sicily and to fall back on Italy only when forced to do so, and meanwhile to establish four lines of resistance [across the peninsula]—the first from Cosenza to Taranto, the second at Salerno, the third at Cassino, and the fourth and ultimate line along the Apennines....

One last attempt was made to force the Italians to show their true intentions.  Hitler ordered Rommel and Jodl to confront the Italians with a putative plan for a joint defense of Italy and to study their reactions.  The meeting took place at Bologna on August is.  General Roatta took the news that Rommel would command all German forces north of the Apennines very badly.  He icily submitted a map which would in effect deploy the Italian divisions in a barrier across the peninsula, where they could trap the Germans in the south ;  the motive was clear.(3)  (On the same day the Italians declared Rome an “open city”—evidently for no other reason than to prevent the Germans from using its railway lines to the south.)  Rommel wrote a twenty-page memorandum on the Bologna meeting.  Jodl more succinctly cabled the OKW that evening :  “Grounds for suspicion remain undiminished.”  Hitler ordered the evacuation of Sicily to begin.

While even the overt relations between Germany and Italy were thus deteriorating, Hitler had continued patching up his defenses in the Balkans.  King Boris of Bulgaria was invited for a two-day informal visit to the Wolf’s Lair.  According to records kept by Hitler’s manservant, they lunched together for three hours on August 14 and again the next day before Hitler himself accompanied Boris to Rastenburg airfield.  He had asked the king to provide two more Bulgarian divisions for security purposes in Greece, but Boris was reluctant in view of the potential risk to his country from Turkey ;  besides, he wisely pointed out, the Greeks hated the Bulgars, so such a move might only increase the disturbances.  Bulgaria’s military position was precarious :  in return for rich territorial concessions from Hitler, she had declared war on the Allies but not on Russia ;  but the Soviet Union was known to be grooming divisions in the Caucasus for an invasion of Bulgaria, and a powerful Communist movement was emerging in the land.

Two weeks later King Boris was struck down by a disease of mysterious suddenness.  The German air attachÈ in Sofia provided immediate air transport for the king’s German physician, Dr. Seitz, on August 24 ;  Seitz reported that the king was dying.  Ribbentrop’s staff warned of the grave consequences to Bulgaria’s policies.  “Without the king, the Bulgarian people would be leaderless and uncertain of themselves, and they might come under the influence of the Communist and pro-British opposition.”  Seitz provisionally diagnosed a bladder disease, and Professor Hans Eppinger was summoned for consultation from Vienna.  Complications set in, and the famous neurologist Professor Maximilian de Crinis was flown in from Berlin on the twenty-eighth ;  but at 4:zo P.M., the king died.  The government communiquÈ spoke of angina pectoris.  Upon the doctors’ return, Hitler instructed his minister of justice to discharge them from their oath of secrecy and to question them ;  they were unanimous that the cause of death was not angina pectoris but an exotic snake-poison.  It was the characteristic “Balkan death,” as Eppinger put it.

Hitler was disconsolate at the loss of this stabilizing influence in Bulgaria.  Enemy radio broadcasts rejoiced at Boris’s death.  He ordered a powerful delegation to attend the state funeral, including Admiral Raeder, Keitel, and an impressive assembly of army generals.  His instinct told him that the House of Savoy lay behind the murder :  rumor had it that Boris’s queen—Giovanna, third daughter of the king of Italy—was a leading figure in the Bulgarian underground ;  and was it not suspicious that Princess Mafalda, her sister, the wife of Prince Philipp of Hesse and “blackest carrion in the Italian royal house” (as Hitler luridly described her), had spent some weeks in Sofia quite recently ?  Curiously, while the Bulgarian government had agreed to allow the German doctors to perform a postmortem, the king’s own family had refused.  Gradually the pieces of Hitler’s crossword puzzle were clicking into place.  From the Forschungsamt he learned that Prince Philipp had recently dictated groups of ciphers over the telephone to Mafalda, evidently employing some private code.  But to arrest him would be to alarm the Italian monarchy too soon.  So Hitler invited the prince to be his guest at headquarters, treated him with continued hospitality—and told his guards not to let him out again.

Hitler’s Intelligence agencies stubbornly contrived to distract his attention to his western front and Scandinavia—rumoring enemy invasion plans throughout August.  Hitler took these threats very seriously and attributed their nonmaterialization only to the worsening weather.  His edginess increased, and where a shrewder statesman would have wooed the subjected peoples with diplomacy, he resorted to brute force.  This only increased the unrest and guerrilla activity.

Denmark—straddling his lines of communication to Norway—was a classic example.  On the evening of August 21, Hitler had invited his staff movie cameraman, Lieutenant Walter Frentz, whose birthday it was, to take supper with him.  Frentz had just returned from another tour of the Atlantic Wall project, and he mentioned that several guerrilla bomb incidents, including one at his own hotel, had marred his visit to Denmark.  Hitler ordered Jodl to obtain daily reports on this “guerrilla war” in the future, and he berated Ribbentrop for being taken in by the bland dispatches of his diplomats.  A few days later—alarmed by the reports the OKW commander, General von Hanneken, was now submitting—Hitler ordered Ribbentrop to issue an ultimatum to the Danish government ;  it was to declare a state of emergency, ban public meetings, outlaw strikes like those currently paralyzing half the country’s ports, and introduce draconian measures against guerrilla activities.  As Hitler evidently anticipated, the ultimatum was rejected, and the Danish forces were disarmed early on August 29 almost without a shot being fired ;  the generals were rounded up, the king and crown prince were placed under house arrest, and the Danish navy was surrendered to Admiral D–nitz.

Over the weeks that followed, Heinrich Himmler assumed police control of the luckless peninsula.  Hitler ordered him to deport all Jews, discounting warnings that this might increase the political unrest in Denmark ;  several thousand Jews escaped to Sweden, but 477 were rounded up by the Germans and taken to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in October.  Quixotically he ordered the release of the fifteen thousand Danish officers and men who had been interned in August, and thus the bitter pill was sugared.

Hitler’s trust in Himmler and the SS was now absolute.  While at the beginning of 1943 the SS chief had complained of his maltreatment by the F¸hrer—who seemingly remembered him only when he needed fresh divisions raised—now Himmler’s star was firmly in the ascendant.  Hitler was sure that Germany would never forget the heroism of the Waffen SS divisions that had recaptured Kharkov in March and dispelled the gloom of Stalingrad.  In his eyes the regular army was corrupt and slothful, incapable even of retreating without cramming its trucks and baggage with tons of looted property, while the SS troops could be relied on to fight well and strike terror into the enemy’s heart.  Himmler’s pocket diary shows him attending Hitler’s conferences with increasing regularity ;  sometimes Hitler phoned him in person ;  they lunched together two or three times a week or dined far into the night.

Now more than ever Hitler needed Himmler.  He did not doubt the growing precariousness of his position.  Events in Italy had sparked off a mood of defeatism in Germany.  Himmler—in a secret January 1944 speech—epitomized the mood thus :  “The Duce arrested, the Fascist party dissolved !  How smoothly it went !  Oh how glorious !—And then the murmurs begin :  So, a Duce can be arrested.  Very interesting.  And many a rash mind poses the question, Why not here in Germany too !  Then we’ll be rid of the Nazis, we can make peace with the British, the British will guarantee Germany against Russia—and everything will be all right !”

Throughout August 1943 the Reichsf¸hrer and Gestapo rounded up German dissidents.  The aged and infirm were let off with a warning.  The more able-bodied, “not more than 150 in all” Himmler boasted, were put to the guillotine.  The most dangerous group was, however, left at large :  in March, Himmler had warned Hitler that certain nuclei of ex-ministers and dismissed army generals were beginning to plot a coup d’etat.  There was General Franz Halder, whom he codenamed “Reservist” (“As he’s holding himself in reserve to take over the German army,” Himmler sneered in August 1944);  and he was also keeping watch on the former finance minister, Johannes Popitz, and his circle under the code name “Baroque” (“Because that’s just what they were :  baroque !”).  For months Popitz had been trying to establish contact with Himmler through an intermediary, a lawyer called Carl Langbehn.  The lawyer explained to the crafty Reichsf¸hrer that the war must be stopped, peace made with Britain, and the F¸hrer pensioned off.  Himmler at once told Hitler :  “I’ll bump him off right now—what cheek !”—meaning Popitz.  But Hitler laughed.  “No, not that.  Hear him out first.  Send for him, and if in that conversation he puts his cards straight on the table, then you can arrest him !”  Himmler—appointed minister of the interior on August 20 in place of Dr. Wilhelm Frick, whom Hitler found infuriatingly timid and legalistic—sent for Popitz three days later and secretly recorded the entire conversation on magnetic wire.  Gestapo officials stood by to arrest the man, but—Himmler ruefully admitted later—Popitz would not be lured out of his reserve and he left the building a free man.(4)

Thus Himmler was in the ascendant, and the “moderates” were on their way out.  Once Frick had proposed to Hitler setting up a Reich Senate of academics and clergy as a supreme constitutional body—the very image, Hitler now remarked, of the Fascist grand council that had just proven Mussolini’s undoing.  Hitler appointed Frick Protector of Bohemia and Moravia in Neurath’s place.  At the same time he up-rated Karl-Hermann Frank’s powers as deputy protector in Prague, so as to vest absolute authority in him.  As G–ring later disarmingly put it :  “It became increasingly clear that the F¸hrer was turning more and more to the representatives of brute force.”

Jodl’s account of the Bologna meeting of August 15 convinced Hitler that Italy was about to defect.

Rommel was instructed that if necessary he was to “make ruthless use of his weaponry to get his way.”  On August 17 an Italian general forced a German unit at gunpoint to hand over American parachutists they had taken prisoner in northern Italy.  Late the next day Hitler issued a further directive to the southern front, beginning thus :  “In some form or other it is expected that Italy will surrender to enemy pressure, sooner or later.”  He ordered Vietinghoffs Tenth Army to move three mechanized divisions to the coastal area most in danger of invasion, the stretch between Naples and Salemo.  The Italians had now assembled nearly seven divisions around Rome, leaving only one division to defend all Apulia.

Two formidable Allied convoys were sighted by agents, passing eastward through the Strait of Gibraltar.  One was reported laden with seventy thousand troops and their equipment.  Kesselring now assessed the enemy’s total strength in the Mediterranean at twenty-five divisions, apart from those in Sicily.  Hitler deduced that this was too significant a concentration for just an operation against Sardinia or Corsica :  responding to Soviet pressure, the enemy must be about to invade the continental mainland.  The admiralty agreed.  Southern Italy was most likely, though even southern France could not be ruled out.  “There is no precise evidence as to the enemy’s intentions.”  The sentence exposed the bankruptcy of Canaris’s Intelligence networks.  Himmler’s were working well.  Early on August 26 he alerted Hitler to an agent’s urgent message from Rome :  “Badoglio has asked Britain for an armistice regardless of conditions.  The British have promised to reply by Saturday, August 28, 1943, and want to send in a strong convoy meantime with the most up-to-date weapons to enable temporary resistance to be offered to German troops.”  Jodl asked the Luftwaffe to mount a rigorous air surveillance off the coasts of Italy.  The tension still mounted.  There were fresh clashes between the Italians and Rommel’s troops in the north, now entering Slovenia with Tiger tank regiments.  The Italians were detected making plans for resistance in Toulon ;  Hitler ordered the port’s immediate occupation by his Wehrmacht.

Late on August 30, the OKW issued a revised directive for “Axis,” under which Italy was to be occupied by German forces.  When that code word was issued, the Germans were to disarm the Italians, seize their weapons—particularly the tanks of the “Centauro” armored division—and prepare a gradual fighting retreat northward to Rome.  Northern Italy was to be pacified and a Fascist government restored.  Kesselring’s forces were to link up with Rommel’s.  The retreating troops were to burn and destroy “as though on enemy soil.”  Corsica was to be held (eventually General Frido von Senger and Etterlin was given command).  Field Marshal Weichs would assume command of the entire southeastern front, the Balkans.  Meantime, Canaris was instructed to raise a secret army of South Tyroleans to watch over the German supply routes ;  and he was given responsibility for ensuring that no harm came to the generating stations supplying the vital Brenner railroad.  All this while, the Italian generals and government were expressing pained surprise that Hitler showed so little faith in their loyalty to the Axis cause.  Hitler had replaced his two credulous diplomats in Rome—Mackensen and Rintelen—with two from a more skeptical school :  Ambassador Rudolf Rahn and Colonel Rudolf Toussaint.  Their dispatches spoke a more realistic language about the future.

From late September 2 on, it was plain that an invasion of southern Italy was imminent.  At 6 A.M. the next day one hundred landing craft disgorged two divisions of the British Eighth Army on the southernmost point of the peninsula, at Reggio di Calabria.  Hitler could do little to interfere.  The Italians imposed a virtual news blackout and offered little resistance themselves.  In the afternoon a British message was decoded :  “Six hundred prisoners taken, including two colonels ;  no minefields, no Germans, civilians are friendly.”  The Germans had only the 29th Panzer-Grenadier Division down there ;  it began a fighting retreat, inflicting heavy casualties on the British all the way.  Ironically, in view of what is now known,(5) the German naval commander in Italy, Admiral Wilhelm Meendsen-Bohlken, reported that day that Badoglio’s government could be trusted.  The report blandly assured Hitler :  “They are stifling anything redolent of peace demonstrations.”  The Italian navy in particular had promised him that there could be no question of “a repetition of Scapa Flow or Toulon” with their fleet.  Hitler marveled at the admiral’s gullibility.

When Romania’s Marshal Antonescu visited that day, Hitler told him to expect no gratitude from the Italian monarchy.  He was convinced the king of Italy was dealing with the enemy.  The F¸hrer begged Antonescu to be on guard against poisoning attempts, and he repeated this warning to Rommel on September 4.  Rommel—like Hitler—knew that the latest British operation was only the thin end of the wedge.  “The thick end in the western Mediterranean has still to come.  I am to have an audience of the king shortly.  The F¸hrer has forbidden me to eat anything there, out of concern for my health.”  In his diary that day he entered :

Immediately after arriving at the Wolf’s Lair I joined the [1 P.M.] war conference.  General Glaise-Horstenau was also at the F¸hrer’s conference.

Afterward lunched with F¸hrer until 5 P.M.  The F¸hrer makes a tranquil, confident impression.  He wants to send me to see the king of Italy soon.  He agrees to my Italian campaign plan, which envisages a defense along the coastline, despite Jodl’s objections (which don’t hold water in a modern war).
—The F¸hrer considers it still too early for the countries of Europe to unite.
—Himmler wants to send us Hausser in exchange for Sepp Dietrich.  At my request this plan is dropped.

On eastern front the situation has reached the crisis point ;  the Russians have managed to break through.—In Calabria the British are not going to be attacked ;  Calabria is to be abandoned.

8.30 P.M.  Dinner with the F¸hrer.  Previously with Jodl.  F¸hrer advises me to take care when I see the king.

It was at about this time that after one war conference, Hitler was observed sketching with his colored pencils a new flag for a Republican Italy.

He had given Antonescu a reasonably forthright account of Germany’s military position—although he had tended to minimize the resurgence of the Soviet threat.  Instead, he referred to the disastrous Russian harvest and to Stalin’s fifteen million casualties.  “The first one to lose his nerves will lose the war as well,” said Hitler.

During August, while Hitler was reinforcing his strength in the Mediterranean, Stalin had cleverly exploited the strategic impasse to mount a series of attacks all along the eastern front.  Manstein repeatedly warned that Stalin’s objective was to cut off his own Army Group South and Kleist’s Army Group A in the Crimea and Kuban bridgehead, and he demanded that either at least twelve new divisions be provided him to reinforce his northern flank, or that Hitler permit him to withdraw from the coal-bearing Donets region.  This would shorten his front by one-third and thus provide him with the reserves he needed.  At 7 A.M. on August 27, Hitler flew down to his old headquarters in the Ukraine ;  Manstein told him that without reinforcements he could not prevent the Russians from sooner or later breaking through to the Dnieper River.  Hitler stayed five hours, listened calmly, promised to transfer divisions to Manstein from Kluge’s Army Group Center and from Army Group North ;  then he flew back to East Prussia.  His promise to Manstein was broken within one day, for Kluge had his own enemy breakthrough to contend with ;  he arrived at Hitler’s headquarters the next day and talked the F¸hrer out of further weakening Army Group Center.

For several days Hitler was in the grip of indecision as he waited to see which way the cat jumped in the Mediterranean.  But while Hitler hesitated, Stalin did not.  On the Sea of Azov, General Hollidt’s new Sixth Army was breached and a corps briefly encircled.  On his own responsibility, Manstein told Hollidt to fall back—the first irrevocable step toward abandoning the rich Donets Basin.  Hitler had repeatedly warned Zeitzler :  “If we lose the Donets Basin, we lose the coal we need for our arms factories.  And then the war will be over in eleven months.”  But Speer and his coal experts had assured Zeitzler that this was not so, and Hitler had no choice but to allow Manstein to withdraw.  However, he ordered him to destroy anything of value to the enemy first.  This decision was announced to Manstein at the Wolf’s Lair on September 3.

The next day Hitler also authorized the withdrawal of General Ruoffl’s Seventeenth Army from the Kuban bridgehead across the Strait of Kerch.  As recently as June, Speer’s engineers had put into service an overhead cable railway across the four-mile-wide strait ;  it was capable of transporting a thousand tons of supplies a day from the Crimea to the bridgehead.  For many months Stalin had confronted the bridgehead with over fifty divisions, but now he was no longer impressed by Hitler’s ability to mount a new offensive and was deploying them elsewhere ;  Marshal Antonescu agreed with Hitler that the bridgehead had become a liability.  Liquidating it would release nearly four divisions for the rest of the front.  Kleist was ordered to speed up the fortification of the Crimea.  How Hitler longed for the autumn rains to return !

Thus the eighth of September 1943 arrived—a hot and airless day.  Hitler had slept only four hours but was awakened at 5:45 A.M. because he had to fly down to Zaporozh’ye to see Manstein again.  The field marshal had cabled a frantic picture of his army group’s plight the day before :  over fifty-five Russian divisions were now confronting his forces, and still Hitler could offer no solution.  The Russians had again pierced the Sixth Army, and at the frail weld between Manstein’s and Kluge’s army groups the dam had finally burst and the enemy was pouring westward toward Kiev and the middle reaches of the Dnieper.

An inexplicable restlessness gnawed at Hitler here in the Ukraine.  Was it Italy ?  Two days before, Jodl had shown him a breakdown of the Wehrmacht’s commitments and hinted that only from southern Italy could divisions possibly be spared for the eastern front.  But suppose Badoglio’s eighty divisions then defected to the enemy ?  It was a tangled web.  On the seventh Hitler had suggested “unraveling it by brute force.”  Here at least he could take the initiative by putting a blunt political and military ultimatum to Badoglio :  either provide a satisfactory explanation for his machinations, manipulations, and troop movements—or take the immediate consequences.  The ultimatum was being drafted at this moment.  Now, after barely ninety minutes at Manstein’s headquarters, Hitler could stand the uncertainty no longer.  He bolted back to his Condor aircraft, was airborne at 12:45 P.M.—leaving Russian soil for what was to prove the last time—and was back at the Wolf’s Lair in conference by five.

Again his sixth sense had served him well.  He found that two hours earlier an ominous SS teletype indeed had arrived—a four-day-old report by an agent on the Italian air staff.  He had just overheard Ambrosio’s comando supremo secretly telephoning this message to the air force :  “Italian peace proposals by and large accepted by the British.  We are trying to iron out difficulties raised by Americans.”  Other reports were conflicting.  The Allies’ morning newspapers were noisy with rumors of armistice.  But the king of Italy had just assured Rahn that his country would fight on, and Badoglio had told the envoy the same :  “Germany has still to learn what an Italian general’s word of honor means !”  Worn out by events, Hitler dozed in his room for half an hour.

Almost at once he was awakened by an adjutant.  The BBC had just announced Italy’s “unconditional surrender.”  No details were given, but shortly afterward General Eisenhower broadcast a proclamation from Algiers radio :  “The armistice was signed by my representative and representatives of Marshal Badoglio and takes force immediately.”  At 6:30 P.M. Hitler summoned a full war conference, with Ribbentrop as well.  He telephoned Goebbels to come at once on the night train.  Jodl put in a direct telephone call to his generals in Rome.  Both were at that very moment seeing General Roatta—and the army’s Chief of Staff was hotly refuting the Allied broadcasts as wicked libels on the honor of Italy.  Consternation gripped Hitler’s staff, as Roatta’s denial still robbed him of the freedom to issue the code word “Axis.”  Jodl drafted a monition alerting all commands, but before it could be teletyped, Ribbentrop learned from Rome that at 7:15 P.M. Badoglio had confessed that Italy had indeed surrendered.

The OKW acted like lightning.  At 7:50 P.M. Jodl’s adjutant telephoned the code word to the south.  Within half an hour it was confirmed in writing.  There was precious little advance warning, but as Jodl later pointed out, even the two hours’ advance notice given by the BBC had given Germany some opportunity to issue orders before the Italians could react.  It was unlikely that the Italian fleet could be kept from escaping ;  at 8:45 P.M. Admiral Cunningham was heard radioing the Italian ships to run for the nearest Allied haven.

The German admiralty commented :  “The consequences of this vile act of treachery—unique in military history—will be very different from what Italy had hoped.  The countryside will become a battlefield between the betrayed allies of yesterday and the ruthless conquerors of today.”  Alas, no record of Hitler’s conversations that evening remains.  Long after dawn the group disbanded.  As Prince Philipp of Hesse—nephew of the Kaiser, son-in-law of the king of Italy—went out, the chief of Hitler’s police bodyguard stepped forward and arrested him ;  he was consigned that same night by car to the Gestapo at K–nigsberg, and he remained in a concentration camp until the war was over.

Relieved that the clouds of uncertainty had been dispelled, Hitler fell into bed at 5 A.M. to snatch five hours’ rest after a working day of twenty-three.  He alone had steadfastly predicted this treachery.

1 Since he made no reference to the speech in his memoirs, Winston Churchill evidently belatedly realized this.  As the German naval staff crowed in its war diary the next day :  “Churchill’s speech has thrown a cold douche on patriotic circles in Italy and been a boon to us.”

2 General AmÈ has stated that Canaris met him in Venice on July 30 with the whispered congratulation :  “We hope our July 25 will also soon come !”  Canaris begged AmÈ to do everything to prevent the entry of more German troops.  The SS learned of this, but Himmler declined to unmask Canaris to Hitler at this stage.  Both Canaris and Roenne were later hanged for treason.

3 At that very moment an Italian general, emissary of Marshal Badoglio, was in Madrid informing the British ambassador there that if the Allies were now to land in Italy the regime was willing to make common cause with them against Germany.  Not surprisingly, the main records of the Italian ministries involved in this affair remain classified in Rome to this very day.

4 Popitz was executed after the failure of the attempted assassination of Hitler on July 20, 1944 ;  Langbehn was also executed.  Halder was arrested.  There is no proof for the postwar legend that Himmler ever plotted against Hitler with them—quite the reverse.

5 That same day, September 3, 1943, the Italians signed their armistice with the Allies at a conference in Sicily.  It was kept secret for five days, to give the enemy the maximum tactical benefit.


p. 546   I drew on signals in the naval staff war diary’s annexes, Part C, Vol. XIV (PG/32216), the diaries of Rommel, Richthofen, the OKW, and other sources complementing Josef Schr–der’s authoritative history Italiens Kriegsaustritt 1943 (G–ttingen, 1969).

p. 547   Himmler’s telephone log shows that he telephoned R.S.H.A. chief General Kaltenbrunner at noon on July 28 :  “Reports from Italy.—Grab all dissidents.—Morale [after raids on] Hamburg.”

p. 548   Rommel’s diary expands on Richthofen’s dramatic record of July 26, 1943.  “12 noon land at Rastenburg [on return from Greece].  Drive to Wolf’s Lair immediately. ... Situation in Italy still confused.  No news yet on how Mussolini’s overthrow happened.  On king’s orders Marshal Badoglio has taken office as head of government.  It’s to be expected that despite pronouncements by king and Badoglio Italy will drop out of the war, or at least that the British will undertake fresh major landings in Upper Italy.... I’m hoping to be sent into Italy soon.”  See also the record of Hitler’s conferences with Admiral D–nitz over these days.

Skorzeny himself described (in a 1970 interview) how he was picked by Hitler.  Richthofen did not think much of General Student.  “He’s personally an absolute fool and hasn’t the faintest idea of how to get on with his (‘somewhat fantastic’) mission, or what it’s consequences may be” (diary, July 27).  Captain Wolf Junge—Jodl’s naval staff officer—also wrote fully about this episode in his unpublished manuscript memoirs.

p. 550   Junge described the huge relief created at Hitler’s HQ by Churchill’s gloating speech.  The naval staff war diary commented, on July 27, that it was ideal for German purposes, and added the next day :  “In comments on Churchill’s speech the Italians point out that it has unmasked as pure hypocrisy the British claim to be fighting only fascism.”

p. 550   On the German-monitored Churchill telephone conversation, see OKW war diary July 29 and August 3, 1943 ;  and Himmler’s telephone call to SS General Gottlob Berger at 11 P.M. on July 29 (“Churchill-Roosevelt conversation”).  According to Sir Alexander Cadogan’s diary, there had been a meeting of the Defence Committee at 10:30 P.M. that July 28 :  “Discussed armistice terms and Ike’s mad idea of broadcasting a bowdlerized version.  PM got Pres[ident] on the telephone and squashed latter idea.  But Ike authorized to put out a proclamation.  PM mainly preoccupied about our prisoners.”  Knowledge of this intercept was undoubtedly behind Admiral Hans-Erich Voss’s warning from the Wolf’s Lair to the naval staff on July 30 that the situation toward Italy was more acute “as there is further evidence that the Italian government is playing a double game.”  See also Rommel’s diary, August 4, 1943.

The Americans were alarmed at Churchill’s foolish noncompliance with telephone security rules.  General Marshal advised Harry Hopkins that U.S. Army censors had listened in to one such recent conversation ;  while Hopkins had tactfully kept urging Churchill to guard his tongue, “the prime minister cited names and places in such a way as to create possible danger for himself and others.”  The U.S. Army warned that the Germans were known to be able to unscramble the radiotelephone (NA, letter from J. McCarthy to Hopkins, October 12, 1943, in Hopkins Papers, Box 136, Winston Churchill file.)  Unfortunately no British or U.S. recordings of the actual conversations seem to exist, so we can only speculate on precisely what secrets were compromised.

p. 551   Rommel wrote with relish on July 30, 1943 :  “I’m going to enjoy this new job far more than the Southeast command.... We can guess what the Italians have up their sleeve now that Mussolini’s resigned :  they’ll change sides, lock, stock, and barrel.  Question is—will they find the actual courage to take the plunge.”

For the faulty Intelligence on Italy, see the war diaries of the OKW, July 30-31, and August 3 and 5, 1943, and of the naval staff, July 29.  On Canaris’s role :  Lahousen diary, July 29-August 3, 1943, and Walther Huppenkothen’s 1945 manuscript “Canaris and Abwehr” in BDC files.

p. 551   Ribbentrop described his telephone call to Hitler in a later (December 30, 1944) talk with Ambassador Filippo Anfuso (in AA files).  The Italian records of the talks with Keitel and Ribbentrop on August 6 are in comando supremo files (T821/251/777 et seq.).

pp. 552-53   Professor Hermann Giesler’s record of the F¸hrer’s conference with Ley and himself on August 20, 1943, is in the present files of the Munich city planning bureau.

p. 554   Rommel commented on the Stalin rumors in his diary, August 9, 1943.  “If they are founded on truth, they open up undreamed of new possibilities to us.”  Hitler’s reflection is quoted from his conference with D–nitz a few days later.

p. 555   Rommel’s letter commenting on Mussolini’s departure from the European stage was written on August 6 to his wife (T84/R27/0352).

p. 556   Rommel’s diary contains a complete account of the August 15, 1943, meeting at Bologna.  (The Italian map was later published in Das Reich, October 10 ;  and see the V–lkischer Beobachter, October 23-24.)  On August 16, Rommel noted :  “General Jodl reports by phone from Sicily that by tomorrow provisionally 90 to 95 percent of the German troops will have been withdrawn.”  The evacuation was completed by 6:30 A.M. the next day, including all trucks and guns, despite the huge Allied superiority (see naval staff diary, August 20).

p. 556   Helmut Heiber wrote a fine study of King Boris’s mysterious decease in VfZ, 1961, pages 384 et seq.  The three German doctors are all dead—Eppinger and de Crinis as 1945 suicides and Seitz (as my researches in Madrid established) of natural causes there some years ago.  The HQ stenographer Krieger recalled—in a postwar letter—that Hitler issued strict instructions to Raeder, Keitel, and the other prominent guests at the funeral in Sophia “on no account to accept food or drink offered to them there, but to feign stomach upsets and only eat the food they had brought with them from the F¸hrer’s HQ.”

p. 557   Nonetheless Prince Philipp of Hesse retained his admiration for Hitler, despite his subsequent incarceration.  He described under American interrogation (July 21, 1945) how Hitler had treated him almost like a son, spending hours every night talking with him of his plans for the reconstruction of Germany.  Philip—who was Oberpr”sident of Hesse-Nassau province—“had realized that he was probably in some sense a prisoner [at Hitler’s HQ], and his urgent requests to return to his post when Kassel came in for heavy air attacks [on July 28 and 30, 1943] had been refused.”

p. 558   The quotation is from Himmler’s speech to Reich propaganda officials, January 28, 1944 (T175/94/4784 et seq.).

p. 559   The code name “Baroque” figures in Himmler’s agenda for discussion with Hitler about March 17, 1943 (“Overall ‘Operation Baroque’ ”) and in several telephone conversations, e.g., with Kaltenbrunner on November 2, 1943 (784/25).  Himmler laughingly revealed the whole story in his speech to the Gauleiters on August 3, 1944 (see VfZ, 1953, pages 375 et seq.).  Under CIC interrogation the Gestapo officials Walther Huppenkothen and Willi Litzenberg testified to Hitler’s knowledge of the Himmler-Popitz rendezvous (which is also noted in Himmler’s pocket diary, August 23, 1943).  As Dr. Franz Reuter related in his monograph, “Der 20. Juli and seine Vorgeschichte” (in British secret files), Popitz spoke less than Himmler, who “seemed not satisfied at all with the outcome of the conversation.”  See also Goebbels’s diary, September 23, 1943, and the Hassell diaries.

p. 560   The agent’s message was cabled by Himmler’s staff to Fritz Darges, Bormann’s adjutant at Hitler’s HQ, late on August 25, 1943 (T175/117/2393).

p. 561   In addition to the AA record of Hitler’s talk with Antonescu, a Romanian version exists in Antonescu’s files, “Conversatia dintre Domnul Maresal Antonescu si Fuhrerul Adolf Hitler” (ND, USSR-235).

p. 563   For the events of September 8, 1943, I used the diaries of Linge, Goebbels, the naval staff (and the latter’s annexes, Part C, Vol. XIV), and the OKW.  Hitler and Ribbentrop described the events—with Badoglio’s and Roatta’s manifold protestations of loyalty—frequently afterward, e.g., to the Bulgarian envoy Sagoroff on October 6 (AA Serial 68, pages 49298 et seq.;  to Saffet Arikan, the Turkish ambassador, on October 7 (AA Serial 5452, pages E366598 et seq.);  and in Hitler’s secret speech on January 27, 1944 (BA Schumacher collection, file 365).  The actual timing of the Italian announcement clearly took Hitler by surprise.  Himmler—as his diary shows—had flown away on leave to Bavaria that morning, only to be recalled by a telephone call from Hitler’s HQ at 8:20 P.M., the very moment that Jodl’s order was being cabled to the various HQ’s :  “Marshal Badoglio has confirmed accuracy of Allied radio broadcasts about Italian capitulation.  Code word ‘Axis’ takes effect immediately” (T77/792/1641).  For Field Marshal Kesselring the first sign that the betrayal was imminent was that morning’s air raid on his HQ at Frascati, outside Rome :  in a crashed Allied bomber were found target maps showing his and Richthofen’s HQ’s in such detail that official Italian collaboration was obvious.  Besides, Rome’s fire brigade was waiting outside Frascati just before the attack began—which did not prevent the villagers from losing many dead (the Germans alone lost ninety killed).  See also Jodl’s version of events, in his notes for a speech to Gauleiters on November 7 and in staff talks with the Japanese on September 29, 1943.

p. 564   The prince’s arrest is described by Goebbels ;  and by Baron von Steengracht in an overheard conversation with Papen on June 27, 1945 (X-P 18);  and by the prince himself under interrogation by the U.S. State Department.