Feelers to Stalin
While in the north Hitlers troops stood their ground, the Russian offensive during September and October 1943 swept over Novorossisk, Bryansk, Poltava, Smolensk, Dnepropetrovsk ; and on November 6, Kiev itself fell. Army Groups South and Center had fallen back on the new Panther lineprimarily along the Dnieper Riverbut Stalin rapidly built up fresh bridgeheads here as well. Hitler stormed at General Zeitzler, his Chief of Staff : You see ! I gave you permission to build the Dnieper line you were always asking for, and where is it ? The troops found nothing ready for them !
That much was true. But it is difficult to pinpoint the blame for the failure of the East Wall project. The causes are buried too deep in papers and memories to emerge with any clarity. The earliest blame attaches to Hitler and his stubborn determination to keep the fighting as far from the Reich as possible. After the winter crisis of 1941-1942 he had argued that a strongly fortified rear position would actively tempt his frontline generals to fall back on it. During 1942 he reversed this view, and he encouraged the army to fortify the stabler sectors of the front using impressed labor drawn from the local Russian population. Kluge had done little, causing Hitler to exclaimafter Mussolinis overthrow and the failure of CitadelIf only he had done some construction here, instead of talking so much hot air and making explanations ! On the southern front the position was different. With his armies advancing on Stalingrad and the Transcaucasus there was no cause to construct walls far in the rear ; but now that they were falling back, it was too late. While the West and Atlantic walls were built under virtually peacetime conditions, now every train in the east was needed for men, munitions, and the paraphernalia of war.
Speers papers show Hitler repeatedly discussing with him in February and April 1943, the erection of improvised fortifications in the east. But neither Speer nor Zeitzler had set wheels in motion. Speer recorded on July 8 : Changing his earlier position, the F¸hrer now fully agrees that the construction of the East Wall must be speeded up, but this is clearly an attempt to establish an alibi for himself before the judgment of history. The files of both Speer and the army are strongly flavored with the kind of jealous squabbling over rights and privileges that seems to have inflicted more damage on the German war effort than all the enemys armies and bomber squadrons combined. In early September the rivalry was still raging. Zeitzler was loath to allow Speers Todt Organization engineers to direct the East Wall project. Hitler ruled that only these engineers had the know-how to provide big, permanent fortifications, but Zeitzler favored earthworks and more primitive sites. Speer thereupon secured Hitlers signature to a decree consolidating his own absolute control of the Todt Organization throughout the Reich and occupied territories. A long feud, however, smoldered between Speer and the organizations director, Xaver Dorsch. Besides, the architect Speer had displayed in the Atlantic Wall project little of the inspiration and energy that distinguished the engineer Fritz Todts work on the 1938 West Wall. Speer was primarily a munitions minister, and he had his eyes on higher targets still : his redesignation by Hitler early in September as minister of armaments and war production led to authoritative rumors that Speer was a future minister of war. He was collecting his own court around himGoebbels, Milch, and Himmler, to whose SS General Hans Kammler he had just relinquished control of the armys A-4 missile production program.
Parallel to the high-level bickering over construction of the East Wall ran a debilitating argument over the precise route it should follow. Zeitzler had always favored following the Dnieper, as its western bank was a steep cliff towering often 150 feet above the eastern plains. In summer the river was a raging flood sometimes two miles wide and virtually unbridgeable. But it was over a hundred miles behind the lines, and initially Hitler would not agree to such a fatalistic view of the future. Now the stalling of Citadel and Mussolinis overthrow left him no choice. On August 12, Zeitzler ordered the army groups to start building the East Wall immediately, provisionally following the Dnieper in the central front ; it was to go from the Kerch peninsula in the south to Lake Peipus and Narva in the north. The OKW, the Luftwaffe, and the navy raised immediate protests about this route. One of Barbarossas original objects had been to push the closest Russian bomber airfields out of striking range of the Reich, while at the same time providing airfields from which Heinkel 177 bombers could devastate the Urals industries ; the proposed East Wall route would defeat both objectives. In addition, abandoning the Black Sea naval base of Novorossisk to the enemy would not only sour Germanys political relations with Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria but jeopardize the German sea transport to Sevastopol and the Crimea. In the south the Germans would be forfeiting the coal and grain of the Donets Basin and the Central Ukraine. If at least a bridgehead around Zaporozhye could not be defended, then the loss of the hydroelectric power station there would make it impossible to mine the manganese of Nikopol and the iron ore of Krivoi Rog, or operate the blast furnaces at Dniepropetrovsk. Thus Speers plan to establish a munitions industry in the Ukraine would collapse.
Equally, both Army Group North and the naval staff objected to the proposed route of the northern section. An East Wall built from Velikiye Luki to Lake Peipus and Narvaas Zeitzler proposedmeant the final loss of Leningrad ; and the Russian fleet could again maraud in the Gulf of Finland and jeopardize both the German navys training programs in the Baltic and the iron-ore shipments from Sweden ; the important oil-shales in Estonia would also have to be written off. But Zeitzler wanted a defensible East Wall built by the end of October, and on September 4 he issued orders to the army groups to that effect : east of the line, the population and property along a twenty-five-mile-wide belt was to be ruthlessly exploited for the project ; a swath of total destruction in this zone must make it impossible for any enemy to survive the elements there. The outlying area must become a desert.
Field Marshal Georg von K¸chler, commander of Army Group North, came a week later to protest in person to Hitler. He agreed with Zeitzler that only his army groups withdrawal to the East Wall could release any significant reserves to the High Commandnine divisions in all. But it would be like losing a battle. His men had gained and valiantly defended their present lines at Leningrad in two years of bloody fighting ; they would not like seeing the graves of thousands of their comrades abandoned to the enemy without good cause. Zeitzler would not accept his arguments, but Hitler was clearly loath to act prematurely. He could not ignore the political consequences on Finland of a withdrawal from Leningrad, but equally, he feared that Stalin was hatching a winter offensive from Velikiye Luki toward the coast at Pleskau or Riga, cutting off the whole army groups retreat. He postponed a decision.
For several days after Badoglios capitulation there was utter confusion in Italy ; not so at the Wolfs Lair. When Goebbels and his state secretary, Werner Naumann, arrived there early the next morning, September 9, 1943, the headquarters compound was bathed in an almost deathly hush. Hitler himself was calm and collected. As Martin Bormann wrote that day : Marvelous to see the F¸hrers poise in face of fantastic complications in the east, the south, and elsewhere ! The coming months are going to be very difficult. But now is the time to stand fast with iron determination.
Yet Hitler had not closed his mind to the possibility of an armistice with either Stalin or Churchill. A split between West and East seemed inevitable sooner or later. Ribbentropwhose stock had fallen so sharply that Hitler could now contemptuously address him in front of his generals as Herr Foreign Managerhad extended feelers to the Russians again during August. First he had sent Rudolf Likus to Stockholm to seek clues as to Stalins peace terms. Then, in mid-August, he had ordered his subaltern, Dr. Peter Kleist, to pick up his earlier threads with a certain non-Aryan Baltic businessman in Stockholm, Edgar Klauss, known to have contacts with the Soviet embassy there. Klauss claimed that the former Russian ambassador in Berlin, Vladimir Dekanozov, was coming on September 12 and hoped to meet a German negotiator then ; Kleist reported this to Ribbentrop at the Wolfs Lair on the tenth. According to Ribbentrop, Hitler proved more receptive this time ; they went over to a map, and he sketched in a possible demarcation line to be agreed on with Stalin. But during the night he changed his mind and told Ribbentrop he would have to think it over more carefully. In conversation with Goebbels on the ninth he had shown a greater affinity for the British than for Stalin ; but again Churchill was the obstacle. Hitler decided to wait until D–nitz could resume his submarine offensive, until the armys missile attack on London beganagain provisionally postponed until the end of January 1944and until the Allies had been dealt the kind of military reverse that, in Hitlers calculus, must always precede a secret offer of armistice.
Operation Axis had been smoothly completed as planned. Rome had been seized and a tough commandant, General Stahel, appointed for the city. The disarming of Italys armed forces was proceeding rapidly. In Milan and Turin Communist rebellions had begun ; in Florence the Germans were up against Italian tanks. In the Aegean, Rhodes and Corfu were still battlefields between the Germans and Italians ; when the Corfu garrison was finally overwhelmed, Hitler ordered the Italian commandants execution. Late on the tenth an ultimatum was issued to all Italian troops still resisting instructing them to lay down their arms ; otherwise their commanders would be shot as francs-tireurs. Often the Italians gave their arms to the partisansparticularly to Titos guerrillas in Dalmatia ; wherever this was found to have occurred, Hitler ordered their officers to be stood before firing squads and the men to be deported to the eastern front to swell his armys labor force. The Italian fleet sailed on the ninth on a pretext : Luftwaffe bombers equipped with guided missiles sank the battleship Roma and injured her sister ship Italia, the rest defected to the enemy. In Nice, when a German officer was killed by an Italian hand-grenade, the railroad garrison was put before a firing squad in revenge. Such was the German troops hatred of their former Italian allies. Badoglio and his turncoat comrades had done their utmost to wound Germany. When the American Fifth Armys seaborne invasion at Salerno, south of Naples, began on September 9, the Germans realized from decoded American radio messages that their minefields had been betrayed to the enemy. There was evidence that Rome had radioed the British a warning that the ports of Trieste, Monfalcone, Bari, Metkovic, and Ragusa (Dubrovnik) were now in German hands. An Italian naval lieutenant put the fuel dumps in Naples to the torchthus possibly sealing the fate of every German soldier in southern Italy, observed Richthofen. Meanwhile Badoglio, Ambrosio, and Roatta had fled to the enemy, accompanied by the king and Crown Prince Umberto. With grim satisfaction Hitler read the latest intercept of an Anthony Eden telephone call to Winston Churchill in Washington, where he was reported by The Times to be waiting for a military triumph to illuminate his return to London. Eden was discussing the problems Umberto was causing by refusing to accept an English officer as aide-de-camp. Only now did the Germans learn that Badoglio had secretly concluded the armistice as early as September 3 ; yet the American bombing of Naples, Viterbo, and other targets had continuedno doubt as a blind. Badoglio had invited American paratroops to land on the airfields around Rome, but Hitlers troops had seized them first. Courier planes had shuttled between Badoglio and Eisenhower, while the Italian antiaircraft guns were ordered not to fire. On occasion, American officers had been driven in full uniform through Rome. As for the Duce, Badoglio had promised to relinquish him to the enemy. He would be tried forthwith. According to the F¸hrers secretaries, Hitlers heart went out to him, wherever he now was.
UnderstandablyHitler was broadcasting to his people late on September 10, surrounded by Himmler, G–ring, and his staff I am grieved by the sight of the unique injustice inflicted on this man [Mussolini] and the degrading treatment meted out to him, whose only care these last twenty years and more has been for his people, as though he were a common criminal. I was and am glad to call this great and loyal man my friend. Nor am I one to tailor my convictions to the demands of expediency, let alone disown them ; some may think differently, but my belief is that in the affairs of nations as in those of men loyalty is a virtue beyond price. Without it, society must totter, and its organizations will sooner or later wither away. It sounded very much like an obituary for Mussolini.
The vultures crowded in. Hitler had appointed a National Government under Alessandro Pavolini to save what was left of fascism in Italy ; SS General Karl Wolff was attached as police adviser to Pavolini. North of the Apennines, Italy was now officially German occupied territory, with a military governor ; to the south was the operations zone. Kesselring was ordered on the twelfth to defeat the American divisions at Salerno if he could ; if he could not, he was to fall back on Rome, blocking the enemys advance by destroying roads, bridges, tunnels, and railway installations as he retreated. The southern Italians and Sicilians had openly abetted the enemy ; now their countryside would pay the price. On the eleventh the OKW ordered that everything of value in the southgoods and raw materialswas to be stripped and shipped north on behalf of the new Fascist government. On the twelfth, Speer persuaded Hitler to vest this power in him alone. While Hitlers order of the eleventh provided for industry in northern Italy to continue operating, Speers superseding order of the twelfth empowered him to dismantle precious machine-tools from anywhere in Italy in danger of air attack and ship them back to the Reich. For Speers purposes everywhere south of the line from La Spezia to Ancona was deemed in danger of air attackthe whole of the Italian boot.
To Hitlers ministers, Mussolinis exit was something of a relief. As Goebbels wrote : Politically speaking I do not regret it much. We must judge it all from the standpoint of expediency. On the twelfth, two of Hitlers frontier Gauleiters came for lunchFranz Hofer from the Tyrol and Friedrich Rainer from Carinthia. Hitler signed decrees subjecting large provinces of northern Italy to their Gau administration ; this was the very overture to annexation he had adopted in Alsace and Lorraine. The future Germany was intended to reach the frontiers of Venetia. By 4:40 P.M., when the conference ended, Hitler had signed all three decreesthose for the two Gauleiters and the one enabling Albert Speer to dismantle Italian industry.
At what stage Hitler learned the startling news of Mussolinis rescue is uncertain. Himmler had certainly known since 10:30 A.M. that the operation was under way, and at 2 P.M. the fallen Duce was already free. Speer suggested that under the circumstances the three decrees should be canceled, but Hitler would not hear of it and changed their date from September 12 to 13, so that there could be no doubt that the Duces liberation had not in the least affected his decisions on Italys future. At 9:45 P.M., as he was having supper with Himmler, an SS general telephoned from Vienna that Mussolini had just arrived there with Otto Skorzeny. Hitler spoke himself with Skorzeny, congratulated him, and awarded him the Knights Cross for this spectacular success. According to a manservant, he exclaimed afterward, When news of the rescue gets out, it will hit the world like a bombshellparticularly the British. Thatll show them I never turn my back on a friendthat Im a man of my word. The British will say, Hes a friend indeed !
Two days later, at 2 P.M., Hitler drove from the Wolfs Lair to the local airfield to meet the plane bringing the tired Italian dictator up from Munich. Mussolini was dressed in a simple dark blue suit ; gone was the bombast and the bonhomie. He was a broken man. Before they all lunched together, Hitler summoned SS General Ernst Kaltenbrunnerwhose SS agents had contributed to the rescueand Skorzeny to relate Mussolinis hair-raising escape to him. Kaltenbrunner explained that until July 28 the Duce had been imprisoned in the Carabinieri barracks in Rome ; during August he had been transferred to Ponza, and then to the island of St. Maddalena. Two weeks ago he had been whisked up to the Campo Imperatore hotel high up in the Apennines. A glider-borne force of paratroops and SS agents had crash-landed around the hotel and robbed the Carabinieri of their precious charge without loss of life to either side.
It was a very different Mussolini who conferred with Hitler over the next few days. Shorn of his authoritarian powers, Mussolini was an ordinary man whose future was at best that of a glove puppet, to act as his envied friend the F¸hrer now directed. He protested that he was still ill, and for a while Hitler believed that Mussolini had been poisoned too ; but Morell took him under his scrutiny, sent for the Italian medical records, X-rayed the dictator, and found nothing wrong with him. Mussolinis moral decay and softness toward his enemies repelled Hitler, who had expected him to exact a terrible revenge on Count Ciano, Dino Grandi, and all who had betrayed the cause of fascism. A few days later Edda, Cianos wife, who had been brought to Germany, appealed to Hitler for enough Spanish currency to enable her to emigrate with the count through Spain to South America ; but Hitler gathered that Ciano planned to write his memoirs (which would certainly not flatter Germany), and ruled that he was to remain in German hands. Besides, his agents had intercepted a threatening letter from Edda to her father : if the Duce did not take her out of Germany, she would cause the name of her father to be cursed and hated throughout the world. For hours on enduntil three in the morningHitler paced up and down the map room with Goebbels, speculating what Eddas stranglehold over her father could possibly be. He himself suspected that Mussolini had for months been searching for ways and means of ditching Germany : could it be that ? Despite his disillusionment, Hitler advised the former dictator to put his familys affairs in order before applying himself to the new order of Italy and the Fascist party.
To Ribbentrops astonishment, Hitler remarked to Mussolini that he planned a compromise with Stalin. But the very next day he changed his mind again and admitted to the minister in private : You know, Ribbentrop, if I come to terms with Russia today, I would be at her throat again tomorrowits in my nature. Ribbentrop replied that that was hardly the way to earn respect for ones foreign policy. Hitler was torn between Stalin and the West. When Goebbels asked whether he refused to deal with Churchill on principle, he retorted : In politics you cant let personalities and principles stand in your way. Its just that Churchill is inspired by hatred, not common sense. In one way, he would far prefer to deal with Stalinbut then Stalin could hardly grant the Reich what it was demanding in the east. On September 18 he accompanied Mussolini back to Rastenburg airfield and watched him take off for Munich, where he was to begin piecing together his new regime.
Hitler had now regretfully abandoned hope of throwing the American Fifth Army back into the sea at Salerno. Hubes four divisions had all but succeeded during the previous nine days : initially the Americans had encountered only the 16th Panzer Division, but Richthofens rocket-firing fighters and the 88-millimeter guns of an antiaircraft regiment had wrought havoc on the invasion ships ; on the thirteenth a German counterattack by two panzer and one panzer-grenadier division began, and routed two American divisions defending Salerno. But the counterattack came under heavy bombardment from Allied warships offshorea new dimension in beachhead operations. Thus the beachhead remained ; the Americans were joined by Montgomerys troops, who had landed at Taranto, and Kesselring prepared to fall back toward Rome.
Hitlers staff rejoiced at the thrashing meted out to the Americans. Jodl set their value far below that of Montgomerys seasoned troops. Though British and Americans had been committed in equal numbers, over nine-tenths of the prisoners who had surrendered were Americans : American paratroops were usable, but the rest surrender the moment the position is hopeless and never attack so long as a single gun is left firing from the German lines. Hitler wrote off the threat of an enemy invasion elsewhere for many months to come. No more invasions for them ! They are much too cowardly for that. They only managed the one at Salerno because the Italians gave their blessing. The bungling Allied planning comforted him greatly over the next weeks. Why did they not immediately invade the Balkans, where the natives were waiting for the Allies with open arms ? Why had they not ventured a bold invasion north of Rome when Badoglio defected ? Why had they not at once occupied the islands of Rhodes, Cephalonia, and Corfu ? Why were they making such slow progress up Italy ?
Italys defection had profited the Reich in terms of material. Hitler rudely stripped southern Italy of every antiaircraft batterywhether German or Italianin favor of the north and Germany. No longer did Germany have to feed Italy with coal, oil, and foodstuffs. Nearly 50,000 Allied prisoners had been removed from Italian into German custody ; here they were joined by their former jailers, for by the end of September the first 268,000 Italian prisoners had already been transported to the Reich. Operation Axis had also yielded a big haul of Italian weaponry : 449 tanks, 2,000 guns, and 500,000 rifles. Eight hundred thousand Italians had been disarmed. But the strategic cost of Axis had been high, becauseapart from the SS Life Guards temporarily withdrawn from Russiathe divisions pumped into Italy had drained the central reserve, which thus also indirectly weakened the eastern front. Moreover, Hitler had been duped for many weeks into expecting an early invasion of France, where the enemy had bombed ports, alerted the underground, and ostentatiously swept offshore minefields. Late in September Hitler still believed that only bad weather had stopped the invasion. The Abwehrs remarkable agent Josephine now claimed that at Quebec the Allies had agreed to postpone the invasion of northern France until 1944, as they lacked shipping space and the bombing offensive would not reach its climax until April. This agent seemed most reliable.(1) On August 21 he had predicted that the night-bombing offensive would resume two nights later (as it did, against Berlin). He had also reported controversy in the RAF about the value of such sporadic raids ; but the British air minister, Sir Archibald Sinclair, and the war Cabinet had overruled them and demanded that the attack on Berlin begin. The British were manufacturing seven hundred four-engined bombers a month, according to Josephine. These reports evidently reached Hitler and influenced him.
Three heavy night raids had been launched against Berlin but failed to repeat the catastrophe of Hamburg. The new freelance night-fighting tactics were proving effective. Goebbelss evacuation order had spared the lives of many thousands ; in the raid on September 1 only 13 Berliners died, and in the final raid two nights later, of 346 dead only one was a child. But worse was expected : in the big cities painted arrows were to be seen everywheretelling the people which way to flee if firestorms broke out again.
To the German people the war in the air was the Second Front. By September 1943, as Milch stated in a secret speech on October 6, Germany was defended by 8,876 antiaircraft guns of 88-millimeter caliber, and a further 24,500 of lighter calibers ; her fighters had destroyed 48,268 enemy aircraft, and the guns a further 12,774, for the expenditure of over 26 million shells. Hitlers bombers had scattered over 35 million bombs in Europe, Africa, and Asia. But now the boot was on the other foot. By day and night the bombers ranged over Germany, sometimes as far as Danzig or East Prussia. From the newly captured airfields around Foggia in southern Italy they could reach any target in Austria and the Balkans. The American bombers now also had radar and were escorted as far as the German frontiers ; soon long-range fighter escorts would appear. The bombers were heavily armored : eighteen of them, in tight formation, could concentrate 200 heavy machine-guns on any attacking fighter planes. Hitler learned that the German fighters had still not been equipped with 30-millimeter cannon, although he had seen the prototype MK 101 demonstrated in a twin-engined fighter at Rechlin in July 1939. He now ordered the fighters fitted experimentally with the 50-millimeter KWK antitank gun, to enable them to open fire from well outside the bombers defensive radius. General Adolf Galland, commander of the day fighters, opposed this, but the weapon became one of the most feared items of the day fighters hardware.
The inadequacy of the current fighter armament sorely affected pilot morale, and this in turn was felt by the people. On October 4 the Americans bombed Frankfurt on a brilliant autumn daytheir glittering squadrons droning high over the city as ours used to, in peacetime, Hitler complained that day that the Germans had known Frankfurt would be the target, from an agent, but no fighter had challenged these bombers over the city. Hitler bitterly reproached G–ring, saying that his Luftwaffe had lost the confidence of both the people and the troops. I must insist, as spokesman of the German people, that whatever the cost, these mass daylight attacks have got to be stopped. The Reichsmarschall passed this rebuke on to General Galland : The German public doesnt care two hoots about your fighter casualties. Try going to Frankfurt and asking what impression your fighter losses that day made on them. Theyll tell you, You must be joking ! Look at our thousands of dead !
Between them, G–ring and Galland brought discipline to the fighter squadrons and inflicted savage wounds on the American bombers in October. In three days raids up to the tenth the enemy lost 88 bombers and nearly 900 men. When they attacked the ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt on October 14, the day fighterseach flying several sortiesbrought down 60 and severely damaged 17 more.(2) Meanwhile, at night the battle ebbed and flowed : on the lakes around Berlin bobbed myriads of metal radar-reflectors intended to deceive the bombers ; new radar jammers had been designed ; airborne receivers enabled the night fighters to home in on the bombers own powerful radar emissions, and their tactics were adapted to the Schwerpunkt tactics of the enemy. Germanys enemies fought back cunninglywith decoy raids, split raiding forces, and German-speaking broadcasters countermanding the orders transmitted by the German ground controllers. It was a growing nightmare. But the Nazi defenders resorted to trickery as well : unloading fake target flares over the open countryside or patrolling the enemy airfields, waiting for the exhausted bombers to return. Hitler was impatient at this unspectacular activity and demanded fresh raids on Britains cities. Their scale was immaterial. Aerial terrorism is only effective as a threat, he now pontificated, not in its actual fulfillment.... How often these last three hundred years have entire cities or great buildings been consumed by flames ? The devastation actually works in our favor, because it is creating a body of people with nothing more to losepeople who will therefore fight on with utter fanaticism. He ordered Speer to begin planning the reconstruction of the ruined citiesmore elegant and modern than before. On October 22, a second firestorm occurred ; it ravaged Kassel, and six thousand citizens died between dusk and dawn. It made no impression on Hitler ; those Germans who learned of it, accepted it with a numb sense of inevitability.
Yet the brutalization of the warthe cloying smell of death clinging to the ruins of these citieswas in a way to result in new suffering for Hitlers enemies too. He intensified his pressure for the secret weapons to terrorize Londonthe A-4 rocket, the flying bomb, and the multiple-gun battery near Calais sinisterly known as the High Pressure Pump. The same ruthlessness permeated his feelings toward the Badoglio Italians. When their garrison on Cephalonia was finally subdued late in Septemberit had held out in hope of a British invasionHitler ordered the four thousand Italians taken prisoner to be executed as francs-tireurs ; only the deserters were to be spared their lives. A few days later he dropped a broad hint to G–ring that one of the big Allied-occupied cities in southern Italy, like Brindisi or Taranto, should be stricken by a heavy Luftwaffe night attack before the enemy had time to establish a fighter defense ; this would remind the Italians and Germanys other reluctant allies that allowing the enemy in was no passport to paradise.
Early in October the remaining Jews were deported from Denmark. Himmler also considered the eight thousand Jews in Rome a potential threat to public order ; Ribbentrop brought to Hitler an urgent telegram from his consul in Rome reporting that the SS had ordered from Berlin that the eight thousand Jews resident in Rome are to be rounded up and brought to Upper Italy, where they are to be liquidated. Again Hitler took a marginally more moderate line. On the ninth Ribbentrop informed Rome that the F¸hrer had directed that the eight thousand Jews were to be transported to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria instead, where they were to be held as hostages. It was, Ribbentrop defined, purely a matter for the SS. (The SS liquidated them anyway, regardless of Hitlers order.)
Coincidentally, it was at this time that Himmler first revealed to two audiencesof SS Gruppenf¸hrer (generals) on October 4, and Gauleiters on October 6an awful secret which he forbade them to discuss in public : by the end of 1943 the last Jews in occupied Europe would have been physically exterminated. That Himmlers intention was to make all his SS generals and the Gauleiters, regardless of their guilt, accessories after the fact to the massacre is strongly suggested by one curious document in his files : a name-by-name list of those who had not attended his speech ! Against the fifty-one names were checks marking whether or not they had since read his speech or otherwise taken cognizance of it. The shorthand record and magnetic recordings show that he did not yet claim to be acting on Hitlers orders.(3) Himmler clearly considered his standing with the F¸hrer impregnable, to admit so openly that he had disregarded Hitlers veto on liquidating the Jews all along. The same Gauleiters were Hitlers guests at the Wolfs Lair on October 7 ; from this point on, he could no longer logically plead ignorance of what his faithful Heinrich had done.(4)
The SS stood high in Hitlers esteem that autumn. Between them, Himmler and his Gestapo chief, M¸ller, had strangled the incipient murmurings of unrest in Germany that echoed the events in Italy. Kaltenbrunner, as Heydrichs successor, had rapidly organized an Intelligence network that clearly surpassed the Abwehrs uninspiring achievements ; without Kaltenbrunners agents, Mussolinis rescue would have been impossible. Princess Mafalda had also been found and lured into German custody ; even now she was languishing in a concentration campa useful hostage to assure the king of Italys good behavior.(5) Himmler had inspired his Waffen SS troops, moreover, with a fanatics loyalty to Nazi Germany. Late in October he showed Hitler a passage in a recent letter from a young SS brigadier on the eastern front : If the others had not been there, I would so much have liked to tell the F¸hrer how much his soldiers revere him and are devoted to him. Even if his orders sometimes seem merciless or cruelwhen the order is, Hold on to the last manone feeling is supreme among the men fighting for their fatherland with rifles in their hand, that they have as their leader a man second to the Lord God alone. This was Hermann Fegelein : a few days later Hitler selected him as his liaison officer to Himmler ; in June he married Eva Brauns sister ; a year later he was facing Hitlers firing squad as a deserter in the ruins of Berlin.
The F¸hrer is confident, said Bormann in a secret speech at this time, but he is not just an optimist ; in fact, he is on principle pessimistic as far as all reports to him are concerned. He no longer believes what is not proven to him. He is skeptical about every cable and dispatch he receives. Even so, he was confident of the future. The very lack of communiquÈs from the Moscow foreign ministers conference suggested a widening split between Russia and the West. Stalin was most probably demanding a Second Front and sidestepping all his allies suggestions that the worlds postwar frontiers should be agreed on first. Stalin was in a position of consummate strength ; and thusas Hitler had himself argued in 1933he was in a position to dictate to the world. To this Hitler knew only one reply : The most important thing is to keep up the fight and never falter, but spy out the enemys weaknesses and exploit them without the least thought of capitulation or understanding. . . Who can guarantee that one day a bombshell wont burst among the Allies, who will suddenly discover differences they cant plaster over anymore ? ... Just one internal collapse among our enemies and their whole enemy front might just cave in ! When fresh feelers reached Hitler now from Britain, he thrust them aside.
On October 15, Himmlers chief of foreign Intelligence, Walter Schellenberg, learned that the British trade chief in Stockholm, David MacEvan, who was known to report directly to Churchill, had offered to come secretly to Germany for a conference ostensibly on economic affairs. Schellenberg deduced there was more to it than thatthat the British, fearing Russias encroachment on western Europe and the Middle East, now wanted to start armistice negotiations. Himmler provisionally forbade MacEvans journey and asked Ribbentrop to secure a decision from Hitler. Simultaneously, Hitler learned that the Swiss legation in London had reported to Berne in a note whichaccording to Edens private secretarythe Americans had termed an intolerable interference in Allied strategy that Stalin had vetoed any Allied invasion of the Balkans.(6)
One reason for Hitlers rebuff to these vague Allied feelers was that under Kesselrings command the campaign in Italy was proceeding far better than he had dared to hope. Rommel, commanding Army Group B in northern Italy, had prophesied the total loss of southern and central Italy within days of Badoglios defection ; overawed by Rommels warning, Hitler had refused Kesselrings appeal for two more divisions to be sent from Rommels forces to the south. With these Kesselring might have routed the Allies, but even so his strategic defensive was a setback for Churchill and Roosevelt. At the end of September, Hitler had even asked Kesselring to study a German counterattack in Apuliaaround the Foggia air baseto deprive the enemy of any springboard into the Balkans ; but Kesselring found it would be impossible to raise enough divisions. Hitler therefore ordered the line from Gaeta on one coast to Ortona on the other to be fortified and held, south of Rome. On October 9 he received at the Wolfs Lair the venerable Italian Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, who was to be Mussolinis new Commander in Chief, and he approved the activation of a small new Italian army on training grounds outside Italy.
Once again Rommel had misjudged. A year later Hitler recalled : In Italy too he predicted our collapse as being just around the corner. It still has not occurred. Events have proved him completely wrong and thoroughly justified my decision to leave Field Marshal Kesselring therewhom I saw as incredibly naive politically but an optimist militarily ; and my view is that without optimism you cannot be a military commander. To both Hitler and General Rudolf Schmundt, chief of army personnel, it was plain that Rommel and Kesselring would always be at each others throats ; and that since Rommel was still tormented by his defeat in Africa, it would be better to give him another command far from Italy.
On October 15, Hitler sent for Rommel. At their meeting two days later, Rommel again cut a gloomy figure. A few days later Hitler gave Kesselring a fresh hearing, and on the twenty-eighth he decided in his favor. Rommel would be withdrawn from Italy and given a different assignmentas yet undecided.
On October 23, 1943, the main attack on the Sixth Armys sector of the East Wall, the southernmost portion, began : the next day Melitopol was overrun. Kleist and his commanders lost their nerve. A headlong retreat began. Farther north a gap was torn in the German lines between Dniepropetrovsk and Kremenchug that was to yawn a hundred miles wide within two weeks. Hitler appealed to Marshal Antonescu to rush Romanian divisions to help stem the Soviet flood swirling toward Bessarabia and Transnistriathe Black Sea province annexed in 1941 by Antonescu. But Antonescu feared for the seven divisions he had already committed to the Crimea, where along with two German divisions over 210,000 troops might any day be cut off from their overland supplies. In a reply received on October 27, the marshal advised Hitler to get out of the Crimea while the going was good.
Hitler demurred. Abandoning the Crimea without a fight would not impress Turkey or Bulgaria, and it would bring Stalin 250 miles closer to the Romanian oil wells and refineries on which Hitler and the Wehrmacht relied. He hoped to parry the Soviet thrust before it reached the coast at Nikolaev ; but even if he could not, the Red Navy was not powerful enough to prevent him from evacuating the Crimean troops by sea after a protracted holding action. With this in mind, on the day he received Antonescus reply Hitler summoned G–ring, D–nitz, Zeitzler, and Jodl to a special war conference at 4:30 P.M. Zeitzler was optimistic that the eight divisions being supplied from other theaters would suffice to overcome the crisis. The Crimea had enough munitions to survive any immediate isolation. Admiral D–nitz agreed that a seaborne evacuation of the Seventeenth Army from the Crimea would be possible, although the job would be a long one and risky because of the powerful Russian air force. Hitler, D–nitz, and the Reichsmarschall were unanimous in believing that the Crimea must be held, and in the meantime provisioned by sea. Zeitzler indicated his agreement. The records are plain on this score.
Only Field Marshal Kleist, commanding Army Group A, thought differently. The day before, he hadwithout consulting Hitlerordered the evacuation of the Crimea to begin on the twenty-eighth. Zeitzler canceled the order that same evening. On November 1 the Russians reached the Dniepers broad estuary into the Black Sea, thus cutting off the Crimean peninsula in the rear. How long could the 210,000 men there hold out ?
The war conferences of October 27, 1943, vividly illustrated the complexities of fighting wars on many frontsand in many mediumswith dwindling resources. Rundstedt had just submitted a horrendous account of Germanys military weakness in France. Pitched battles were being fought with Communist insurgents and guerrillas in the Balkans. At night the skies of Europe were loud with bomber engines and alight with the burning cities left behind. Speer needed workers to clear the rubble, build the new factories, and operate the machinery ; Milch needed manpower for his new aircraft industry ; D–nitz needed crews to man the hundreds of new submarines launched against the Allies. Above all Hitler needed fresh divisions to repair the breaches in the eastern front. With heavy heart he signed an order late in October for industry to release 210,000 German malescoincidentally the same number trapped in the Crimeato the army over the next three months ; he had already had to waive the draft deferment allowed to the sole surviving sons of families. Speer warned that declines in coal, iron, petroleum, and arms production would immediately result ; but Hitler saw no alternative. On October 27, while strolling in the woods around the Wolfs Lair, G–ring put in a special plea for his aircraft factories to be spared the ax, but failed to win his point.
Hitler evidently blamed bureaucracy for swallowing up industrial manpower. He told the Reichsmarschall of a British cartoon he had seena man told to save paper, but shown sitting at a desk throwing away sheet after sheet of it. What on earth are you doing ? I used too much paper, so now Ive got to write a thousand times I must save paper ! G–ring gave Hitler a concrete example of the shortage of manpower : Willy Messerschmitt, the aircraft designer, had bluntly told him a few days earlier that for want of four thousand workers his jet aircraft, the Me-262, would be held up by three or even six months. According to G–ring, Hitler almost had a heart attack on hearing this news. Professor Messerschmitt had spoken to him of the Me-262 as a possible high-speed bomber for attacking Britain, and in his own lively imagination Hitler had already assigned this jet bomber a key role in stopping any Allied invasion attempt in France. In his minds eyeforewarned by the newsreel film of similar events in ItalyHitler could see the hours of utter chaos as Allied landing craft disgorged tanks, guns, and troops onto the beaches in the spring of 1944. His own troops would be pinned down in their bunkers by heavy naval and air bombardment ; the air would be full of enemy fighters. At this moment his new jet bombers should appearthundering along the beaches with cannon blazing, hurling bombs at random into the jammed invasion troops, spreading panic and confusion for vital hours until Hitler could bring up his mobile reserves. G–ring promised the F¸hrer he would get his jet bombers by May.
Hitlers strategic thinking had undergone a startling change since Italys defection. G–ring portrayed it thus to his generals on October 28 : In Russia we have won an immense outlying area in which we can resort to flexible tactics ; but in doing so we must remain firmly resolved to amass sufficient troops by a certain timethis spring at the latestto throw the Russians back out of the areas they have now regained. Seen like that, this breach [of the East Wall] is of no import : it does not affect our vital interests. Whether the Russians are at Krivoi Rog or get a hundred miles closer to us or not is not vital ; what is, is that by spring at the latest we can muster enough maneuverability to stand fast in the west and stop the Second Front before it starts. Only air power can do that. The F¸hrer made this abundantly clear yesterday in D–nitzs presence. The F¸hrer says the [Me-262] jet fighter with bombs will be vitalbecause it will hurtle at top speed along the beach at just the right moment and hurl its bombs into the throngs forming there. (G–ring added, I thought to myself, Who knows if well really have the Me-262 by then ? ) If an enemy army ever set foot on French soil, concluded G–ring, it would spell the end for Germany ; whereas even if every German city was in ruins, the German people would still survive to fight on.
In a bulky report to Hitler, Field Marshal Rundstedt reached broadly the same conclusion : the defense of France would stand or fall at the Atlantic Wall ; and, the Wall itself, he warned, was largely bluff and propaganda. But any German retreat here would provide the enemy with the harbors that he needed, and deprive Germany of her U-boat bases and coastal convoys. Besides, Rundstedts divisions were too weak in both men and equipment to fight a war of movement against a superior enemy. At Hitlers conference on October 30, Jodl supported Rundstedts main contention thatwhatever else the Allies might undertake in Scandinavia or the Balkansa spring 1944 invasion of France was a certainty, because only the loss of the Ruhr would finally defeat Germany ; besides, Churchill would want to neutralize the A-4 missile sites in northern France. Given the likelihood that the Atlantic Wall would be breached eventually, Jodl demanded an immediate stop to the drain on Rundstedts divisions for the benefit of the eastern front and a massive effort to reinforce the Channel defenses using impressed French labor for the purpose. Hitler agreed ; indeed, he went further, for he now secretly ordered Rundstedt to send a team to reconnoiter a possible line to be defended along the Somme and Marne rivers down to the Swiss frontierwhich implicitly assumed that all of France would be overrun by the enemy.(7)
He also found a neat solution to the Rommel-Kesselring dilemma. On November 5 he told Rommel that Kesselring alone would now command all of Italy, as Commander in Chief Southwest ; Rommels army-group staff was to inspect the western coastal defenses and suggest how they could be improved, and at the same time study ways and means of mounting counteroffensives against an enemy lodged in western Europe. He was to begin with Denmark and work his way south. Rommel was piqued by what seemed such an uninspiring missionfar from the limelight in which he had fought his famous battles. He wrote a few days later : Nobody knows if the new job is a way of shelving me or not. Various people have taken it as that. I am loath to believe it, and the F¸hrer spoke quite differently. The envious are legionbut these times are so grave that there is really no room for envy and strife. Only his love for Hitler spurred Rommel on. On November 8 the F¸hrer delivered his annual address to the Old Guard in Munichs L–wenbr”u beer cellar. What power he radiates ! wrote Rommel in intoxication. What faith and confidence he inspires in his people !
1 Hitler and the Wehrmacht attached great importance to this Abwehr source. Not until late 1944 did Luftwaffe Intelligence deduce that Josephine, like Hektor and Ostrotwo other star agentswere the fruity product of various Abwehr attaches imaginations, coupled with their zealous reading of the popular press. Trick questions about nonexistent British aircraft factories finally tripped them up.
2 Galland in fact flew 882 fighters against the bombing force that day and lost 14 : each sides newspapers claimed their aircraft shot down 121 of the other.
3 To the SS generals on October 4, 1943, Himmler praised the toughness of those who had had to carry out the massacre : This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written. To the Gauleiters two days later he referred to the Jewish problem as the most difficult he had handled. The Jews must be exterminated, was easier said than done. Even where women and children were concerned he, Himmler, had opted for a clear solution. I did not consider myself justified in exterminating the menfolkthat is to kill them or have them killedwhile leaving their children to grow up and take vengeance on our sons and grandsons. The hard decision had to be taken to make this race disappear from earth. He could not have been more explicit as to his own responsibility.
He first hinted at having had superior orders on May 6, 1944.
4 Milch, D–nitz, and several of their aides had addressed the Gauleiters on the morning of October 6 ; whether they stayed to hear Himmlers speech that afternoon is not clear from their diaries. Speer certainly did. Kaltenbrunnerwho at Nuremberg pleaded that he had known nothing until 1944was certainly in Berlin, and SS General Wolff was in Italy until the seventh, when he visited Hitler.
5 Princess Mafalda died in the American bombing raid on Buchenwald concentration camp.
6 There is no record of such a note in published volumes.
7 This order again dispels the legend that Hitler was loath to allow his army commanders to make timely provision for retreats. The proposed line, incidentally, still left Germany with the French provinces Hitler had decided in 1940 to annex.
pp. 565-66 On the East Wall controversy I relied on Speers records of conferences with Hitler, and his Chronik ; on F¸hrer decrees in file FD-3049/49 ; on the naval staff war diary, July 19, 1943 ; on OKW staff papers on the walls positioning, on microfilm T77/778 ; and on Field Marshal von K¸chlers memo on his conference with Hitler on September 11, 1943 (Army Group North, war diary).
p. 567 Vice Admiral Wilhelm Meisel first recorded Hitlers hopes for an East-West split at the F¸hrers evening war conference on August 28, 1943.
p. 568 A report by Likus on Soviet feelers, addressed to Ribbentrop on August 9, 1943, is in AA files (Serial 146, pages 130779 et seq.). Kleist describes his contact with Edgar Klauss in Zwischen Hitler und Stalin, (Bonn, 1950). From Klausss original documents now in possession of my friend and colleague Dr. Bernd Martin of Freiburg there can be no doubt that Klausss Soviet contacts were genuine. Significantly, it was not until late September that these indirect German approaches were reported by the Soviet legation in Stockholm to their U.S. colleagues (see Mr. Herschel Johnsons telegram from there to Washington, September 29, 1943, in FRUS, 1943, Vol. III, pages 698 et seq.).
p. 569 Hitlers decrees carving up northern Italy will be found in file FD-3049/49.
p. 571 A number of entries in Himmlers telephone notes relate to problems with the Ciano family. After Himmler and Kaltenbrunner visited Hitler on September 15, 1943, the two SS potentates talked about Situation in Rome. Commun[ists]. Italian guests ; villa for Musso family. Jewish Question [in Italy]. And at 6 P.M. Himmler telephoned Hewel at Hitlers HQ : Edda Ciano telephone [conversation] with Mussolini. On September 20, after talking with Kaltenbrunner about Ciano familys behavior, Himmler jotted on his agenda for discussion with Hitler that evening, Journeys of Countess [Edda] Ciano : smashing up furniture.
p. 573 (footnote) The air staff report exposing these phony star agents is dated December 14, 1944 (BA file RL2/547).
pp. 573-74 The narrative of the air offensive is based on unpublished documents in Milchs files, volumes 31, 39, 51, 53, 62, and 63 ; on Milchs secret speech to the Gauleiters on October 6 (T175/119/5054 et seq.); on Speers notes on F¸hrer conferences ; on Hitlers war conference of October 4 and his remarks to the Bulgarian regents on October 18, 1943.
p. 575 The telegram from Consul Eitel Friedrich Moellhausen, October 6, 1943, is ND, NG-5027 ; Hitlers negation of the SS order is in Franz von Sonnleitners teletype dated October 9, 1943. For the SS report on the roundup of Romes Jews, October 17, see T175/53/7133.
pp. 575-76 At one stage in his speech of October 6, 1943according to the wire-recording archived in Washington (NA, 242-299)Himmler directly addressed himself to You, Herr Reichsminister, which indicates that Speer was a listener. Few generals later admitted that they had known ; perhaps they did not realize the enormity of what they were being told in such dry sentences. Field Marshal Weichs frankly told interrogators of the U.S. Seventh Army on May 30, 1945, that Himmler had once visited him in the Balkans and confirmed that the rumors were truethat the (unspecified) victims were loaded into railroad trucks without knowing that a sudden, painless death awaited them. They are just criminals of whom we must rid ourselves, was Himmlers explanation.
p. 577 The fragmentary record of Hitlers remarksin the war conference of October 27, 1943was found by my Soviet colleague Lev Bezymenski in Moscow archives. Hitler had just had a long talk with Himmler, who had seen Schellenberg during the afternoon. Schellenbergs report on MacEvan is in AA file Serial 1755, pages 404620 et seq.
p. 578 Rommel himself wrote to his wife on October 26, 1943 : Anyway, he hasnt signed the order for the new job.... Perhaps I didnt inspire much hope that the position could be held. Perhaps my hesitation whether to take over the command was cause enough. Perhaps there are quite different groundss. So K[esselring] stays for the time being (T84/R275/0379). And Richthofen added his own comment (diary, October 21): Apparently Rommels not getting overall command in Italy after all. Evidently made a bad impression during his report to F¸hrer, from which he came back yesterdayan impression which doesnt surprise me.
p. 579 The case history of the Melitopol-Zaporozhye Line needs examining in detail, as it shows how justified Hitlers suspicions of his field commanders were. Kleists Sixth Army had withdrawn to this line, which Manstein described as a well-built position, but in Verlorene Siege, pages 537 et seq., Manstein himself admits that Kleist was thrown out of the line surprisingly rapidly by the Red Army in October 1943. At the end of the year Hitler fulminated, That was the spirit thenRetreat !... Everybody lost their nerve, even Kleist. Everybody, retreat ! In the same war conference (December 28) he scoffed Nobodys going to maintain that this line here [forward of Melitopol] would have been tougher than that [the new line] or the entire front we have now [December]. But now from here down we have to hold this whole line now ; while there we only had this little bit to defend. Then we wouldnt be having our Crimea difficulties either. Over the months that followed, Hitler learned the truth. Luftwaffe General Karl Kitzinger, an expert on lines of fortification, had offered to take over the job in 1943. The army had indignantly refused, saying that only Mansteins army group could do it. The upshot was, snarled Hitler on July 31, 1944, to Jodl, that nothingnothing whatsoeverwas done. Not one shovelful. The positions they claimed to have built from Melitipol to Zaporozhye were a lie from start to finish. They told me downright lies. They cheated me. There was nothing. (See Heiber, page 605.)
Hitlers letter to Antonescu, October 25, 1943, is in the marshals papers (ND, USSR240).
p. 581 Hitlers order to Rundstedt to reconnoiter a rear line in France was cabled by Jodl to the Commander in Chief West on October 31 (T78/317/1448); see too the OKW war diary. The teletype is entered under November 2 in the war diary of Commander in Chief West, but was not forwarded by Blumentritt to the army and corps commanders concerned until the eleventh. See too Hitlers conference with Jodl, July 31, 1944 (Heiber, page 594).