David Irving


Trouble from Providence

The Hitler of early 1944 was unlike the confident F¸hrer who had set out for the Polish front in his train in September 1939.  His animal energy and abnormal willpower remained unsapped, but his appearance had undergone a shocking change.  Werner Best found him a tired, broken, and elderly man, dragging his feet and stooping so low that he seemed to bow.  His features were sunken and lined with worry and anger.  His eyes stared with an almost reproachful gaze.  Hitler’s secretaries noticed that sometimes his knees would begin to shake, or he had to grasp his trembling left hand with his right ;  the tremor when he had to lift a cup to his lips was too marked to be concealed.  Yet he refused to take these symptoms seriously, and Dr. Morell loudly proclaimed his patient to be in the best of health.  We know from his papers that for five months after September 1943 he continually urged Hitler to submit to a further electrocardiogram, without success.  Not until September 1944 did Hitler agree :  again the diagnosis of the electrocardiogram was “coronary sclerosis.”  It was the same with X-rays ;  several times Morell noted in his papers that his patient should be X-rayed, but there is no trace of any X-ray after 1940, with the exception of those of Hitler’s head in September 1944.  When Hitler’s adjutants reproved Morell for his lackadaisical treatment of the F¸hrer, his exasperated reply was invariably the same :  “You try treating a patient like the F¸hrer !”

For all his obesity—his weight hovered around 230 pounds—and hirsute repulsiveness, Morell retained Hitler’s affections.  Each evening at Hitler’s midnight tea party, Morell would be snoring loudly within minutes of slumping into an armchair.  Hitler’s eyes were alive with sympathy and indulgence at this spectacle.  “Without Morell I would probably have died long ago, or at least be incapable of working on.  He was and is the only one who can help me.”  A secretary described the doctor thus :  “With his podgy, hairy hands clasped across his potbelly, he fought back his sleepiness.  In some strange way, his eyes closed from the bottom upward—it looked hideous behind his thick-lensed spectacles.  Nor was he a good conversationalist.  Sometimes Colonel von Below [Hitler’s spry, elegant Luftwaffe adjutant] gently nudged him.  Then he would wake up and chuckle, assuming that the F¸hrer had told a joke.”

Hitler’s private milieu had also changed.  He rarely came in contact with people from the world outside his headquarters.  His horizon was the perimeter fence, with its guards and minefields.  Schmundt and Schaub introduced what new faces they could to the evening conversation parties—the architect Hermann Giesler, the wives of the adjutants and headquarters commandant, and former members of Hitler’s staff like Hans Pfeiffer and Hans Junge, both of whom would die shortly in France.  Morell lamented in one letter that Julius Schaub had been injured in a Munich air raid, and the old familiar faces were gone.  “Reichsleiter Bormann is mostly away on business in Berlin and Munich.  Heini Hoffmann [Hitler’s bibulous personal photographer and court jester] only puts in a guest appearance every four weeks or so.  Scarcely anybody of the old clique is still here.  The headquarters has outgrown itself, and most people are preoccupied with themselves.  I for my own part have become a recluse, doing scientific research and working on my business undertakings in what time I can.”  Albert Speer had also vanished from Hitler’s sight—at first recovering from a grave illness, then afflicted by a pathological fear that his colleagues were trying to usurp his powers ;  not until spring did Hitler see the armaments minister again.

Bormann’s influence over Hitler was now immense.  Rosenberg, Lammers, and the other Cabinet ministers rarely penetrated the Party secretary’s protective shield around the F¸hrer.  In vain the finance minister, Count Schwerin von Krosigk, demanded to report to Hitler on the threatening inflation and the loss of public confidence in the Reichsmark.  Hitler was told only what Bormann (and Himmler) wanted him to know about internal Reich affairs.

The long-delayed visit by Dr. Hans Frank, Governor General of occupied Poland—on February 6, 1944—provides a further significant example.  The Russian army was now fighting on Polish soil, but Hitler—“exceptionally forthright and looking the picture of a healthy, dynamic, and active man” as Frank wrote that day—assured the Governor General that he would not allow the Generalgouvernement to become a battlefield.  “Yes, my dear Frank, it is odd :  previously we regarded the Generalgouvernement as something of a backwater ;  today it is our bulwark against the east.”  He applauded Frank’s new policy, aimed at securing Polish assistance in the fight.  Frank told him of the fortifications built along the frontier and showed him maps of Polish petroleum production, population distribution, forestation, and agricultural output.  But even Hans Frank seems to have been pulling the wool over his F¸hrer’s eyes ;  in his eighteen-page diary record of the discussion—which Bormann also attended—Frank touched on the Jewish problem only once :  “I said that getting rid of the Jews by getting them out of the Generalgouvernement(1) had taken a great load off the country’s general situation.”

Afterward Frank ran into Morell.  “I asked him,” wrote Frank, “about the F¸hrer’s health.  He claimed it is better than ever before.  His stomach pains are gone and his appetite has returned—a particularly good sign.  He said he was proud of this achievement.”  Shortly after, Hitler’s appetite failed again, however, though for a different reason.  When Frau von Exner, the Viennese dietician recommended by Antonescu, became engaged to an SS adjutant at headquarters, it was learned that she had a Jewish great grandmother.  Hitler had to dismiss her, after refusing to eat for many days.  “You will understand that I must pay you off,” he told her.  “I cannot make one rule for myself and another for the rest.”  But he did order Martin Bormann to put her family papers in order—giving them full Aryan “clearance”—and his annoyance was intense when he learned many months later that Bormann, who had himself been rebuffed by the girl, had in fact resorted to petty persecution.  Her relatives were ejected from the Party, a step which had severe financial effects on them.

In Italy, the Allies were being held at bay.  Hitler’s real fear was of the invasion threat looming in the west.  “If only they would land half a million men,” he reflected on December 30, “and then foul weather and storms cut them off in the rear—then everything would be all right !”  Rommel’s tour of inspection in Denmark was complete, and that day Hitler had instructed his representatives in Copenhagen to resort to criminal terrorist tactics to stamp out acts of sabotage and assassination by underground agents in Denmark.  Since it was considered counterproductive to try and then execute these agents—and thus make martyrs of them—Hitler ordered Himmler’s agents to strike back under cover against leading Danish opponents and their property.  The next day an SS marksman gunned down a journalist, and a few days later the spiritual leader of the Danish resistance, Pastor Kaj Munk, was assassinated.  “You can’t smash terrorism by philosophizing,” Hitler told his generals secretly on January 27, 1944 ;  “you have to smash it by using even greater terror.”

By early 1944, Rommel was confidently asserting his authority in preparing the defense of France.  Hitler was cautiously optimistic ;  the Allies, he felt, had secured footholds in Africa and Italy only because of the Italian traitors.  “But they won’t find any here—they’ll get the thrashing of their lives !”  He also said, “I am convinced that when the time comes it will be a huge relief—just like Dieppe.”  Meanwhile Hitler applied his own mind to the Atlantic defenses.  He insisted on digging in the scores of useless Panther tanks as gun batteries in France, since they had proved a liability on the battlefields of Russia.  He ordered extra concrete pumped into the forward defenses.  He commanded that pillboxes for three thousand new antitank and other guns were to be built by the end of April at the very latest.  Most important of all, he gave Rommel’s army group tactical command of the armies along the Channel coast.  Rommel toured these areas from January until May and struck the fear of God into officers and men alike, rudely awakening them.  Hitler knew that Rommel had many critics among the generals but he counted on the Desert Fox to light a bonfire under them—before the Allies could in the spring.  On January 15, General Jodl reported to Hitler on his own tour of the Atlantic defenses.  He was unimpressed by the pace of fortification activity ;  large sections of the defensive works were incomplete, and the Germans were fraternizing with the French coastal population.  The Luftwaffe had not planned ahead at all.(2)  He supported Rommel’s contentions wholeheartedly.

For six weeks from January 12, Rommel stood in for Rundstedt as Commander in Chief West and began implementing tactical concepts strongly opposed to those of Rundstedt, who remembering the lessons of the Russian front had planned a flexible defense on French soil, with a powerful mobile reserve of panzer divisions in the rear.  Rommel convincingly argued that the Allied invasion attempt must be defeated on the very landing beaches ;  the enemy, once ashore, could marshal such colossal and overwhelming material strength that he could never again be dislodged.  Thus the panzer divisions must be brought right up to the coast ;  otherwise they would arrive on the battlefield too late—or not at all, if the enemy destroyed the road and railway links before them.  This tallied well with Hitler’s vision.  “With every month the invasion is delayed the probability grows that we will get at least one squadron of jet aircraft. ... The main thing is that the moment the invasion begins the enemy must be smothered in bombs—that’ll force them to take cover, and even if there’s only one jet airborne, they’ll still be forced to take cover and this will waste them hour upon hour.  But in half a day our reserves will be well on their way !”  This delay would also enable Hitler to take stock :  “Which is the decoy—and which is the real invasion !”

Rommel’s activity changed the whole face of the Atlantic defenses.  With his Party backing and influence on Hitler, he was able to start fresh divisions moving to the west.  He demanded millions of mines per month, to lay along the coast.  He prepared to flood or swamp low-lying areas.  He conferred with the Todt Organization’s chief, Xaver Dorsch, on an ingenious arsenal of deadly gadgets to meet the invaders :  submerged barriers of massive spikes designed to gash open the hulls of landing boats, and nutcracker mines supported on iron girders, staggered and echeloned along the beaches, some visible, some below the water’s surface.  Tempted by the cash rewards, the male French population willingly assisted, while their womenfolk made rush-matting for sand traps or helped to erect antiparatroop defenses.  According to Rommel, they worked with a will and finished each day “singing lustily.”  All France knew, he said, what would happen to their towns and villages if Germany’s enemies landed and made a battlefield of them.

From the Cicero documents Hitler knew that the Allies had scheduled the capture of Rome for the end of January 1944.  All the indications were that this was the objective of the powerful offensive begun by a British corps in Italy on January 17.  But wholly unexpectedly—and without even a hint from the German Intelligence services—on January 22 an American corps staged a sudden seaborne landing south of Rome at Anzio—to the rear of the German lines.

Misled by Canaris’s assurances, Kesselring had denuded the Anzio coastline shortly before, and only two German battalions met the American troops debouched by three hundred ships along a twenty-mile stretch of shore.  But both sides fumbled.  Kesselring delayed his counterattack for a week, to allow further panzer divisions and heavy units to arrive in Italy.  The Luftwaffe’s Richthofen scornfully noted in his diary :  “Thus we violate the cardinal rule of war accepted for many millennia—to lay into enemy beachheads with everything you’ve got immediately, so as to exploit the disorder always reigning in the first few days.  In theory this decision has already cost us the battle for Rome.”  But the Americans were even more hesitant in consolidating their beachhead.  “Politics play a big part,” Hewel reminded Hitler.  “No general over there can afford big defeats.  Questions get asked, and if an over-risky gamble he’s begun doesn’t pay off, he gets hauled over the coals.”  Hitler realized that an American bloody nose at Anzio would be a big prestige boost after the dark months of 1943.  He even said, “If we can wipe them out down there, then there won’t be an invasion anywhere else”—Roosevelt could not take such a risk in a presidential election year.  But Hitler’s sixth sense urged caution on him too, telling him that Anzio was less a Battle for Rome—whatever the dramatic, purple prose he used in his messages to Kesselring(3)—than a sly enemy attempt to lure the high-grade German reserves like the brand-new 9th SS Panzer Division away from France into a peripheral war of attrition in Italy ;  and after the long-delayed counterattack by Mackensen’s Fourteenth Army failed to throw the Americans back into the sea, he was content to see the beachhead merely contained.

“We were completely surprised by those few invasion operations they have launched so far,” Hitler was to say in April.  He asked Jodl to determine precisely why Intelligence had failed to predict Anzio.  Kesselring claimed that the few clues that reached him in mid-January were dismissed by Admiral Canaris as erroneous.  Early in February, the defection to the British of an important Abwehr agent in Turkey put the last nail in the admiral’s long-prepared coffin.  Erich Vermehren, a young junior-grade official in the Abwehr’s main Middle East headquarters at Istanbul, had vanished with his countess wife, who was eight years his senior and a fervent Catholic.  This blew the Abwehr in the eastern Mediterranean wide open and brought even Cicero’s operations to an abrupt end.  The Abwehr frantically tried to divert the blame to the SS or even to Ribbentrop’s ministry, but Hitler had had enough of Admiral Canaris and told Himmler so at two meetings on February 9 and 11.  Hitherto he had respected the OKW’s sovereignty, but now he accepted the SS accusations.  Canaris was disgraced and suspended from office.  On February 12, Hitler signed the order for Himmler to set up a “unified German secret Intelligence service.”  But even now Canaris escaped arrest—shielded from criticism by his gullible superior, Keitel, and even put in charge of the OKW’s economic-warfare unit outside Berlin.

On the Russian front, Hitler clung fanatically to his belief that Stalin’s military strength was waning.  Later in February, Zeitzler’s staff produced estimates that over 18,000,000 of the 46,000,000 able-bodied men available to Stalin in 1941 had now been eliminated by battle casualties or loss of territory.  Russian casualties were outnumbering German by seven to one.  Stalin’s manpower reserves had now shrunk to barely 2,100,000 men, according to Zeitzler.  This was why Hitler still fought on, defending every centimeter of ground even though the Russians were still moving men and equipment into their battlefront faster than he himself could.  And as that front moved ever closer to German soil, Hitler’s willingness to permit operational retreats like the “Buffalo” movement of 1943 disappeared.  From now on the German soldier would fight where he stood, holding out until the inevitable breach between East and West came to his salvation :  such was Hitler’s strategy.

In the north, Model’s army group was preparing its final withdrawal to the East Wall (Panther) line.  In the center, Busch had fought a series of successful defensive actions, and his line was still intact.  But a gap of over 150 miles yawned north of Manstein’s Army Group South, exposing it and Kleist’s Army Group A to extreme danger.  Since January 28, 54,000 German troops had been encircled at Cherkassy on the Dnieper River, and the same fate threatened the garrison of the Nikopol bridgehead.  Hitler ordered a counterattack to cut off the Russians encircling Cherkassy ;  but snow and rain thwarted the operation, and after weeks of harrowing fighting Hitler reluctantly authorized the garrison there to break out as best they could, leaving most of their injured to the mercies of the enemy.  The dramatic breakout began on the night of February 15—led by a silent phalanx of troops with fixed bayonets, followed by the artillery and heavier equipment ;  but instead of the Second Panzer Corps waiting to receive them in a designated position, they were greeted by heavily armed Russian units instead.  The heavy gear was abandoned, but the men fought on to the westward.  They were confronted by a river, sprang into the icy waters and forded it or were drowned.  Only 30,000 of the 54,000 who set out reached the German lines.  Transport aircraft had flown out 2,400 of the luckier injured men.

The Cherkassy pocket had irritated the Russians out of all proportion to its size.  It was here that Stalin again employed his deadly psychological weapon, the League of German Officers—the organization of turncoat German prisoners in Russian hands.  Seydlitz and his fellow generals broadcast appeals over Moscow radio to their encircled former comrades to lay down their arms.  Officers in German uniform infiltrated into the pocket to commit acts of sabotage, issue conflicting orders, and deliver secret letters from Seydlitz to the generals still faithful to their F¸hrer :  each of the corps commanders in Cherkassy, Stemmermann, and Lieb received such letters ;  so did General Kruse.  Their authenticity was beyond doubt.  Elsewhere Seydlitz-letters were slipped into the hands of Field Marshals Rundstedt and K¸chler, Generals Model and Lindemann.  Some of Seydlitz’s emissaries were captured, and revealed—before their execution—that they had been brainwashed and trained by the Russians at a special camp near Krasnogorsk.  On hearing this Hitler cited Scripture :  “Lord, forgive them—they know not what they do !”  His revulsion toward the German officer corps as a whole was further increased by the revelations of corruption and debauchery at the highest level in the military government of Belgium, brought to light when members of military governor General von Falkenhausen’s staff were put on trial in Berlin.

The Seydlitz and Falkenhausen affairs had a strange sequel.  To restore Hitler’s faith in his officers, General Schmundt took it on himself to secure every field marshal’s signature to a declaration of personal loyalty to the F¸hrer.  Flying first to Rundstedt in France—most senior of Germany’s serving soldiers—and satisfying him of the authenticity of Seydlitz’s treachery, Schmundt then went on to Model, Rommel, Kleist, Busch, Manstein, and Weichs in turn (Kluge appears not to have signed the document).  Weichs wrote in his diary :  “Such a reaffirmation of our oath of allegiance seems unmilitary to me.  An officer’s loyalty ought to be taken for granted.”  But Weichs admitted that in the Party’s history similar declarations of loyalty by the Gauleiters after various disgraceful affairs—like the alleged plot by Ernst R–hm in 1934—had succeeded in restoring Hitler’s confidence in them.  Perhaps it would work for the army too.

For a variety of reasons, Hitler decided it was time to leave the Wolf’s Lair for a while.  He planned to meet Antonescu (to ask him to his face about Romania’s loyalty).  He also wanted to be closer to the Italian front.  “We have built headquarters in just about every other corner of the Reich,” he wanly joked, “but never dreamed that we should one day need one near Italy !”  Another reason for leaving was so that he could address the Nazi faithfuls at the Party Foundation Ceremony in Munich.  But above all, the truth was that he could no longer take the risk of an enemy air raid on the Wolf’s Lair, whose bunkers had been built only to withstand the pre-blockbuster type of bombs.  The British bomber force had a month earlier dropped twenty-four hundred tons of bombs on Berlin in one night ;  both British and American daylight formations—currently blasting G–ring’s fighter-aircraft factories—had East Prussia well within their range.  Sooner or later Churchill or Roosevelt might consider the F¸hrer a worthwhile target.  Thus he entrained for Munich on February 23, 1944, while the Todt Organization moved in to erect even stronger bunkers at the Wolf’s Lair.

It is unlikely that he glimpsed the bomb-torn ruins of Posen, Cottbus, Leipzig, and Nuremberg as he passed through.  He consistently and consciously avoided seeing the misery his enemies had wrought—a harsh but in retrospect a proper attitude, for an enraged mind cannot make sober and logical decisions.  Besides, the blinds were drawn to shield his painful retinas.  For two weeks now he had been troubled by a stabbing pain and increasingly opaque veil in his right eye, of such turbidity as to rend him virtually blind when he closed his left eye.  As he was driven along the snow-swept autobahn toward Berchtesgaden that evening, the sirens were already sounding, searchlights were fingering the sky, and pathfinder flares were bathing the countryside in a hostile glare :  a heavy British attack was beginning on Schweinfurt, and six hundred bombers were over Bavaria.  The crack of the antiaircraft batteries was still echoing around the sleepy Berchtesgaden valleys when Hitler arrived at the Berghof at 10:15 P.M., his driver having missed a turning in the deep snow and headed some distance in the general direction of Vienna by mistake.  A staff stenographer wrote :  “The war conference was slated to begin at 11:30 P.M.  As we stood by in the anteroom the F¸hrer came in with Reichsleiter [Martin] Bormann, Gruppenf¸hrer [Albert] Bormann, and the rest of his staff, having toured the air raid shelter tunnels built here in recent months.  He welcomed us with a friendly grin.  The conference began at 11:45 P.M. and ended at five past midnight.”

Camouflage netting covered the Berghof, and at midday only a melancholy twilight filtered through the famous window of the Great Hall.  On March 2 a leading Berlin eye specialist examined Hitler’s blue-gray eyes, gently palpated the eyeballs, and peered into their recesses with an opthalmoscope and magnifying mirror.  He diagnosed “minute hemorrhages in the vitreous humor,” and Hitler heard him recommend to Morell that the F¸hrer submit to two quarter-hour periods of complete relaxation every day with heat treatment by sunlamp if possible.  He was to avoid all “unnecessary excitement, particularly during the period immediately before the night’s rest.”  Hitler’s nine-year-old spectacles were quite inadequate, and a new pair of bifocals were prescribed.

Everybody who saw Hitler was shocked by his physical transformation.  Defeat—Manstein’s army group was now in near flight from the Ukraine—was carving deep hollows in his features.  Hungary was secretly negotiating with the Allies.  The two German counterattacks at Anzio had failed to eradicate the American beachhead.  The new German divisions would not be ready until May.  The aircraft industry was in smoking ruins.  Small wonder that when Eva Braun gently reproached him for walking with a stoop, he would reply, “That’s because of the burden of worries I’m carrying all the time,” or again, “It’s the heavy keys I’m carrying in my trouser pockets,” or, “It’s so I suit you better :  you wear high heels, and I stoop a bit—then we are just right for each other.”

On March 5 the two armaments “dictators” Milch and Saur came to the Berghof—their respective bosses being indisposed :  G–ring on leave and Speer convalescing.  Their report on future aircraft, tank, and gun production was optimistic despite the crushing blows dealt by the enemy bombers.  A Fighter Staff had been created to mobilize industry for the defense of the Reich’s airspace.  Hitler agreed to make fighter aircraft production a top priority and demanded that the two planned bunker-factories—with seventeen-foot-thick concrete roofs—should each have at least seven million square feet of floor space, capable of housing everything needed for aircraft manufacture from the forging of the crankshafts and smelting of the steel down to the finished product.  He released sixty-four miners to Saur from the gangs tunneling air raid shelters under the Berghof and advised him to train at least ten thousand more ;  he must not rest until Germany’s entire war industry was underground.

At the Central Works underground factory near Nordhausen, Himmler’s slave laborers were already tooling up the production lines for jet aircraft, A-4 rockets, and the Luftwaffe’s V-1 flying bombs.  At the Volkswagen’s works, mass production of the flying bomb had at last begun in January, and the missile was now functioning flawlessly—covering 175 miles or more with barely any deviation in its Peenem¸nde trials.  On March 5, Milch gleefully urged Hitler to begin the flying-bomb attack on England on April 20—Hitler’s birthday—sending off fifteen hundred in the next ten days and the rest in May.  “It will be the most evil torture you can imagine, just picture for yourselves a large high-explosive bomb falling on Berlin every half-hour and nobody knowing where the next will fall !  Twenty days of that will have them all folding at the knees !”

Hitler, however, delayed the flying-bomb attack.  Not until mid-May did he make up his mind on a date.  Perhaps he had wanted all the “revenge” weapons to open fire simultaneously—A-4 rocket, flying bomb, “high-pressure pump,” and Krupp’s “Gustav” long-range guns, coupled with a saturation attack on London by the Third Air Force.  He also wanted the attack to coincide with the Allied invasion.  But the A-4 rocket was still far from ready.  In January only 50, in February only 86 A-4s had left the underground Central Works—far short of the target figures.  (In May, General Domberger, chief of the rocket project, wryly reported :  “Our main problem is getting the missiles to the target in one piece”;  most of them were blowing up in midair.  Of the 57 test-launched from the SS proving ground in Poland by mid-March, only 26 lifted off, and only 4 reached the target area intact.)  In Speer’s absence, loud criticism was voiced against this costly if spectacular weapon.  The OKW pointed out that liquid-oxygen output alone would limit the rate of fire to about 25 A-4s a day.  Even Saur, Speer’s closest adviser, recommended on March 5 that Hitler consider converting the Central Works factory from A-4 assembly to fighter-aircraft manufacture :  the tunnels were big enough to house a plant turning out a thousand planes a month.  Hitler appeared to agree, but someone changed his mind again—perhaps it was Speer himself, whom Hitler visited two weeks later bearing a bouquet of flowers on the minister’s thirty-ninth birthday.  Or perhaps Himmler—by now a daily visitor to Hitler—may have tendered this advice.

G–ring and Ribbentrop now counted for little in Hitler’s esteem.  He took to summoning low-ranking officers to the Berghof, knowing he could trust them to speak out openly.  For several days he interviewed soldiers from platoon right up to divisional rank about the fighting at Anzio.  They told him of the crushing enemy artillery superiority, of the slime and filth, of the inferior German radio gear and faulty hand-grenades.  (As a consequence, Hitler ordered Kesselring to apply the lessons of 1918 trench warfare to Anzio ;  remorseless pressure must be put on the enemy by the long-forgotten techniques of storm-regiments and artillery bombardment.)  A panzer general, Gerd von Schwerin, later described one such reception at the Berghof that March.  Schmundt—who first privately expressed doubts as to whether Hitler’s constant interference on the battlefield was really salutary—ushered him in.  “I couldn’t help feeling that while Hitler was trying to be sincere, his mind was elsewhere.”  Outside, Schwerin met G–ring and Himmler, and he related how the Russians had kept their notorious wet-weather offensives rolling by rounding up thousands of women and making each one wade ten miles through the slime to the front lines with a shell on her back.

Schmundt, the general reported, told him laughingly that “nobody takes G–ring seriously any more.”  Beside Bormann, the new force in Hitler’s life was undeniably Grand Admiral Karl D–nitz.  It was the admiral who had cajoled Hitler into preventing the earlier withdrawal of Army Group North to the Panther line (with grim consequences for K¸chler’s troops).  It was D–nitz too who had demanded the retention of the Crimea.  And now that Hitler’s health was poor, it was D–nitz whom he sent to preside over the Memorial Day parade in Berlin and to address the ten thousand new officer-candidates in Breslau.

Ribbentrop was deeply wounded by Hitler’s loss of faith in him and privately made an offer to Hitler which showed that he certainly made up in personal courage whatever he might lack in diplomacy.  As Walter Schellenberg, chief of Himmler’s foreign Intelligence service, later wrote :

Ribbentrop told me he was very familiar with my special reports on Russia, and he had given the whole situation much thought.  He had then gone to the F¸hrer and told him frankly that their biggest and most dangerous enemy was the Soviet Union and that Stalin had as much military ability and statesmanship as Churchill and Roosevelt put together, if not more.  The F¸hrer shared this view and even mused out loud that Stalin was the only one he could find the necessary respect for, if one day he was going to reach a compromise peace with somebody after all.  But he—Ribbentrop—had then put to the F¸hrer the idea that everything possible should be done to liquidate Stalin, as the Soviet regime would then no longer be able to withstand the burdens of the war.  Therefore he [Ribbentrop] had announced to the F¸hrer his willingness to sacrifice his own life, if he could save Germany thereby.  His plan was to do all he could to lure Stalin once more to the conference table ;  then he would gun him down.  For a long time the F¸hrer had turned this over in his mind, and then finally replied, “No.  I don’t like anything like that.  It would be asking for trouble from Providence.”(4)

At the end of February the Turkish foreign minister had confidentially warned Germany that unless the eastern front could be stabilized before the Russians crossed the Dniester River, the Balkans would disintegrate and Germany would eventually lose the war ;  Turkey would have to declare war too, if only to save her own skin.

The upshot was Hitler’s dramatic meeting with Admiral Horthy, the Hungarian regent, on March 18.  Hitler had reacted to Italy’s defection in September by ordering contingency plans for the armed occupation of Romania and Hungary (code-named “Margarethe I” and “II”) should either Antonescu or Horthy follow Badoglio’s example.  Antonescu had sworn continued loyalty, and Hitler believed him.  Horthy, however, was something else.  Hungary had not only refused formal recognition to the new Mussolini government, but had accepted legations from both the Badoglio and the Fascist regimes ;  and she had noisily demanded the return of her nine light divisions policing the rear areas on the Russian front—most recently in a letter from Horthy dated February 12—maintaining that she needed them for the defense of her own mountain frontier, the Carpathians, against the Red Army.  In February, Ribbentrop received a long secret service report proving that Hungary was clandestinely dealing with the enemy.  In mid-March Himmler learned from agents in Budapest that Prime Minister K·llay was advocating the sabotage of German military trains running through Hungary to Manstein’s and Kleist’s army groups.  In short, the circumstances were almost identical to the situation in Italy the previous summer.

Originally, “Margarethe I” projected using Slovak, Croat, and Romanian troops as well as Germans for the invasion of Hungary.  On March 8 Hitler selected Sunday the nineteenth as the invasion date but decided—probably on Kaltenbrunner’s advice—to use only German troops ;  use of the hated satellites would provoke Hungarian resistance and destroy economic stability.  Moreover, an attempt to secure Horthy’s agreement to German demands would be made first ;  in particular K·llay’s government must be replaced by an unambiguously pro-German one, under BÈla von ImrÈdy for example.  G–ring believed Horthy would comply, but Hitler evidently did not.  The OKW order for “Margarethe I” was issued on the eleventh ;  if the Hungarians did resist the German invasion, their army was to be disarmed and the ringleaders shot.

On March 15, after a fresh meeting with Himmler and Ribbentrop, Horthy was sent a loaded invitation to present himself at Klessheim castle near Salzburg in two or three days’ time.  Since Hitler offered in the invitation to deal with the military points raised in Horthy’s letter of February 12—which he explained he had been unable to answer earlier because of illness—Horthy would probably bring his military chiefs with him ;  thus Hungary would be leaderless if “Margarethe” did result in a pitched battle.  Horthy agreed to come with his generals on the eighteenth.  On the day before, Hitler plotted with Ribbentrop, Jodl, and Himmler the precise scenario for the confrontation :  the regent’s train would arrive at ten-thirty, and the talks would begin half an hour later.  Every word spoken would be monitored by hidden microphones and recorded on disks in the castle’s control room.(5)  At twelve-thirty there would probably be a break for lunch ;  this would enable Hitler to decide whether or not the Hungarians would have to be disarmed.  “If Horthy permits the invasion and there is no resistance, then we defer decision on disarming and demobilizing them,” Jodl wrote in his diary.  This time Hitler would accept no “lame excuses” from the slippery regent of Hungary.

Sure enough, Horthy objected next morning to the presence of Hitler’s regular interpreter and insisted on talking with him in German and in complete privacy—or so he thought.  Even so, the actual sequence of events is clouded by uncertainty ;  the disks must be presumed destroyed.  Eyewitnesses saw Horthy suddenly burst out of Hitler’s room, red-faced and protesting loudly, before vanishing into his own quarters, with Hitler hard on his heels in an attempt to preserve at least a semblance of protocol.  Hitler had told him bluntly that he “was taking steps” to ensure he was not caught unawares by Hungarian treachery :  he had insisted that K·llay be replaced by ImrÈdy as prime minister, and he had decided to send twelve divisions into Hungary to “assist” the new government ;  he demanded that Hungary’s entire economy be geared to the war effort and that her numerous divisions mobilized against the Romanian frontier be sent to the Russian front instead.  When Horthy lamely replied that then Hungary would be bombed just as Germany was being bombed, Hitler retorted, “This harsh certainty is better than any amount of uncertainty.”  Hitler hinted that the Romanians, Slovaks, and Croats would join the invasion—a particularly hateful prospect for the proud Hungarians.  Believing perhaps that Hitler was still bluffing, Horthy had then charged out of the meeting room, exclaiming, “If it’s all been decided already, there’s no point in my staying !”  At a given signal from Hitler, the air raid sirens sounded and a smoke screen was laid across the castle ;  Horthy was told that his train could not leave in the middle of an air raid.  After lunch with Himmler and the generals, Hitler inquired loudly of Keitel whether the invasion could be postponed ;  Keitel replied that the troops were already on the move and could not be recalled.

Thus Horthy was left with an ultimatum calling for his consent to the invasion.  The alternative was not spelled out, but it was clear to him that he had been ambushed.  Toward 8 P.M. he accepted—a climb-down for which Hitler was totally unprepared.  Evidently Ribbentrop’s plain speaking to the Hungarian envoy D–me SztÛjay in another room resulted in this volte-face.  Horthy cabled coded instructions to his Cabinet in Budapest to permit the invasion.  Hitler’s only concession had been to agree not to occupy Budapest itself, apart from a “guard of honor” for Horthy.  Now wreathed in smiles, the F¸hrer conducted the aged regent to his train at nine o’clock ;  it was the last time he was to see him.  The all clear had sounded.  On Austrian soil, the train was unaccountably halted for several hours—since Hitler maintained telephone contact with SS General Kaltenbrunner, who was on the train, it appears that Horthy’s safe return was dependent on his Cabinet’s honoring the agreement.  Four battle groups invaded Hungary concentrically at 4 A.M.  No blood was shed, and now all Hungary—with its oil and vital raw materials—was in Hitler’s hands.  At the Citadel, Horthy’s official residence, a German guard of honor, immaculate and ominous, was awaiting him when he arrived at eleven.

This, Hitler’s last conquest, was truly an outstanding coup.  Strategically, the cost of “Margarethe” had been high :  the divisions had been subtracted from the Anzio battlefield and virtually every other front.  But Hungary’s industrial potential was well worth the cost.  That very night of March 18, Hitler sent for Saur and instructed him to harness Hungarian industry to the war effort at once.  The lower echelons of the Hungarian forces actually welcomed the invasion.  Eventually the Hungarian contingent on the Russian front was doubled.  Marshal Antonescu could also increase the Romanian contingent, now that he need no longer fear war with Hungary.  Even so, it took a long time to dispel Hitler’s doubts about Hungary.  Field Marshal von Weichs, Commander in Chief Southeast, whose headquarters now transferred to Budapest, wrote after seeing Hitler on March 28 :  “The F¸hrer mistrusts the Hungarians and particularly hates the regent, who no doubt equally loathes Germany.  The links with the enemy powers still exist.  Her defection is still to be reckoned with, a colossal danger for the eastern front.  Thus as few Hungarians as possible are to be under arms, though it will be impossible to disarm the army completely.”

Two other totally unrelated but interesting scenes took place that same Sunday, March 19, 1944, as German troops rolled into Hungary.  The F¸hrer sent his favorite secretary, Gerda Christian, to take flowers and champagne to his other secretary, Christa Schroeder, lying gravely ill in the hospital on her birthday ;  and he wrote her a rare handwritten letter of encouragement.  The invalid was the most querulous member of his staff, but she was so touched that she wrote him an emotional reply and even promised to give up smoking—a minor triumph for the F¸hrer, but a pleasing one.  Hitler read her letter aloud to his fireside circle.  That same day Hitler had conferred at the Berghof with his leading field marshals—Rundstedt, Rommel, Kleist, Busch, and Manstein.  Rundstedt stepped forward and read to an impassive F¸hrer the declaration of personal loyalty all the field marshals had now signed ;  the field marshal then handed the document to him.  Thus Seydlitz and his ilk were cast from the ranks (they were tried in absentia some weeks later, and condemned to death).  The next day Hitler delivered to all the leading generals of the western front an unusually uninspiring and pallid speech.  Salmuth, commanding the Fifteenth Army, was shocked at Hitler’s personal appearance.  “To my horror, it was an old, stooping man with an unhealthy, puffy face who came into the room.  He looked downright worn-out, weary—I would even say ill.”  He spoke distantly of the new jet aircraft and submarines, without stating precisely when they would arrive.  He warned the generals to be on guard against enemy parachute drops in the rear.  The rest was a combination of rambling remarks and solecisms.  “At tea afterward I sat at the F¸hrer’s round table,” wrote Salmuth, “next to Rundstedt who was in a foul temper.”  Hitler conferred alone with Rommel—although the latter was technically Rundstedt’s subordinate—and announced afterward that he was also giving Rommel control of the First and Nineteenth armies, as well as greater influence over the motorized divisions which were Rundstedt’s only tactical reserve.  Rundstedt saw little point in being Commander in Chief West, but stayed nonetheless.  Now it was Rommel who was the optimist.  “We have the utmost confidence that we’ll get by, in the west,” he wrote privately.  Hitler had warned the generals, as the shorthand record of his speech shows, that he believed the enemy would establish their main beachhead in either Normandy or Brittany.

The Allied bombing of German cities continued, and now Budapest as well was the target of American bomber raids.  When the Russians tried and executed as war criminals certain German officers—primarily from the SS—Hitler decided it was time to follow suit.  On March 23 he told Hewel :  “British and American war criminals must also be condemned to death and their confessions must also be publicized after their execution.”  Allied airmen accused of machine-gunning civilians, for example, were to be put on trial ;  he also wanted to punish captured American airmen who labeled their bombers “Murder Incorporated.”  Jodl suggested that since the enemy automatically executed all German agents, they should do the same with the plainclothes British and American agents and saboteurs who had fallen into their net in Hungary—some five hundred already, according to Kaltenbrunner.  “The F¸hrer mentioned that some had special assignments to murder and spread bacilli epidemics,” Hewel noted.

On the night of March 24 the British again poured nearly twenty-five hundred tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs onto Berlin—though this time they lost over seventy bombers.  No Geneva Convention protected the war’s civilians ;  the urge to punish the bomber crews was powerful, yet there was no legal way around the convention protecting prisoners of war.  When the next morning Himmler announced at the Berghof that eighty Allied airmen had just escaped from a Wehrmacht prison camp at Sagan, and spoke of the millions of manhours the manhunt would cost, Hitler impulsively ordered all the escapees recaptured to be turned over to the secret police.  “Himmler, you are not to let the escaped airmen out of your control !”  (Jodl later claimed there was no word of “executions,” just of “turning them over” to the SS ;  but Bodenschatz remembered Hitler asking those concerned to stay behind to see him after the war conference.)  Fifty of the escapees were shot on Himmler’s orders.

Many of Hitler’s ministers wanted all captured bomber crews executed for attacking civilian centers—especially Ribbentrop.  During May 1944, the enemy began machine-gunning civilian targets ;  Bormann initiated a campaign for Party officials and school teachers to advise the public, and school children in particular, on how to take cover when Allied fighters approached.  Hitler asked G–ring to select isolated cases of such machine-gunning and—where an accused airman fell into German hands—execute him.  Jodl’s staff suggested oral instructions be given to the commandant of the prisoner-collecting camp at Oberursel to turn such airmen over to the SD for “special treatment,” but the technical problems—particularly of identification—proved insuperable.  Kaltenbrunner had no such airmen in his cells.  Keitel was opposed both to a regularized “lynch law” and to normal court-martial procedure.  G–ring, mindful of the hundreds of Luftwaffe airmen in enemy hands, suggested that clear cases of murder could be dealt with by the proper courts.  The foreign ministry pointed out that the Geneva Convention required a three-month stay of execution of death sentences on prisoners of war.  By this time it was late June 1944, and Hitler had more pressing problems on his mind.

By late March 1944 a seemingly irreconcilable difference emerged between Hitler and Manstein.  At his noon conference on March 25, the field marshal was fighting for permission to withdraw General Hube’s encircled First Panzer Army to the northwest before a second Stalingrad resulted.

Hitler insisted that Hube retain his existing battlefront between the Dniester and Tarnopol—a town he now declared a “fortified area.”  (He had just introduced this new fortress-like concept for key coastal towns in the west.  They were to be commanded by tough, handpicked army generals who would not lose their nerve or honor when the enemy tide swept past their strongholds.)  But Manstein said this would be impossible and demanded reinforcements for General Erich Raus’s Fourth Panzer Army, whose task would be to mount a relief attack toward Hube’s force ;  these reinforcements, suggested Manstein, could easily be spared from the armies which had occupied Hungary and from the western front.  Hitler was adamant.  “I can’t release any strength to you so long as I have to reckon with an invasion in the west.”  He blamed Manstein for the present dilemma of the First Panzer Army :  Manstein had tolerated one withdrawal after another, although G–ring had reported that his troops were being put to flight by only a handful of Soviet tanks.  Insulted by these remarks, Manstein told Schmundt afterward that he was quite ready to lay down his command.  At that evening’s conference, Hitler agreed to give him the reinforcements he wanted from Hungary, and the Second SS Panzer Korps from the west.  With these units Raus’s Fourth Panzer Army began its relief offensive on April 5, and the First Panzer Army fought its way out of the ring.  It was the high point on the eastern front that spring ;  but Manstein was no longer in command.

Field Marshal von Kleist had followed him to the Berghof on March 27 to plead for the withdrawal of his Army Group A.  Shortly after he had left, Hitler told General Zeitzler :  “I have decided to release Manstein and Kleist.”  Zeitzler recognized from his tone of voice that arguing was no use ;  he asked to be relieved of office too, and when Hitler refused, he sent around an adjutant with a formal letter of resignation.  Hitler sent for the Chief of Staff and rebuked him :  “A general cannot resign.”

The F¸hrer sent his plane to fetch the two field marshals back to the Berghof on March 30.  Probably G–ring and Himmler lay behind Manstein’s dismissal.  Some weeks earlier General Scherff, Hitler’s court historian, had warned a war correspondent not to mention Manstein by name in future dispatches ;  and a recent study of the field marshal in the Nazi weekly Das Reich had probably upset Hitler too.  The famous Manstein interruption during Hitler’s January speech to the generals was a further provocation.  But when he told Manstein that evening, before the main conference, that what the southern front needed was a new name, a new slogan, and a commander expert in defensive strategy—he meant Model, who had just halted the rout in the north—he was probably speaking the truth.  There was no bitterness between them.  Hitler told an adjutant long afterward that should he ever come to mount great offensives again, Manstein would be their first commander ;  and in the autumn he donated a great estate to him.  Manstein had after all been the only general to speak out for the Sedan breakthrough strategy in 1940—and that, Hitler reminisced now that he had steeled himself to sever their partnership, was something he would not easily forget.

Model and Kleist’s successor, General Ferdinand Schorner—a Party faithful and personal nominee of Heinrich Himmler—were already waiting outside.  Hitler offered Manstein his hand.  The field marshal took it and said, “I hope for your sake your decision today turns out right for you.”

1 Literally, “Die Beseitigung der Juden aus dem Generalgouvernement.“  In fact they had been got rid of in that domain ;  but the wording was in deference to Hitler’s insistence on their deportation for forced labor in the east.

2 “ Yesterday,” wrote Rommel on December 29, 1943, “I was in P[aris] again and spoke with Field Marshal Sp[errle, Commander in Chief Third Air Force].  The prospects here are not all that good.  From what I had heard I expected a lot more from this Service.”  And Jodl wrote in his diary several days later :  “How on earth is the air war against the invasion going to be conducted ?”  Not until August 1944 was Sperrle dismissed by Hitler.

3 On January 28, 1944, Hitler radioed :  “In the next few days the ’Battle for Rome’ will break out. ... It must be fought in holy wrath against an enemy who is waging a pitiless war of extermination against the German people, who shuns no means to that end, who is devoid of all higher ethical purpose, and who is intent only on the destruction of Germany and thereby of our European culture.”  The enemy must realize that his main 1944 invasion would be an undertaking that would choke on the blood of the British and American soldiers, the document concluded.

4 I have relied on Schellenberg’s own handwritten text, rather than on the heavily “edited” published Memoirs.

5 “He’s a cunning rogue,” Hitler had told Zeitzler after the April 1943 meeting with Horthy.  “Yesterday, I got him to agree to everything I wanted, in private.  And today he comes back and says, ‘You know, I’m very hard of hearing.  It seems I only understood half of what you were saying yesterday’.”


p. 600   Walter Schellenberg, who saw Hitler that spring, wrote in his manuscript memoirs :  “His eyes—once the dominating feature of his face—were now tired and lusterless ;  his left arm shook so strongly that he almost constantly had to clutch it with his right hand ;  he made a conscious effort to conceal his clumsy movements, which began not with the limbs but with the body itself.”

p. 602   Dr. Werner Best quoted Hitler’s remark of December 30, 1943, in his manuscript (ZS-207/1)

p. 603   A file of Rommel’s daily diarylike reports is held by the OCMH in Washington (X-501).  Salmuth was to write (on March 18,1946):  “Whether Rommel was really a great commander in the European theater—as opposed to the African—I will not comment.”  Salmuth was irritated by Rommel’s “unpleasant manner” of shouting at officers and men alike on these inspection tours, and by his “highly superficial and abrupt tone.”  Nonetheless Salmuth was the first to recommend to Rundstedt that Rommel’s Army Group B should assume tactical command of both the Seventh and the Fifteenth armies (Salmuth, private papers).

p. 604   Rommel reported in detail on his anti-invasion measures on April 22, 1944 (AL/510/1/4).

p. 605   Telegrams from Istanbul, Ankara, and Sofia relating to the damaging defection of Erich Vermehren are in Steengracht’s AA files, Serial 61, pages 41960 et seq.  The rest of the story, resulting in Canaris’s dismissal, is built up from the naval staff war diary, February 19 and 22, and March 2, 4, and 7 ;  Himmler’s diary, February 9 and 11 ;  a memo by Wagner, July 1, 1944 (Bobrick’s papers, Serial 738, pages 267624 et seq.);  Hitler’s order of February 12 (file H3/1539);  and Walther Huppenkothen’s 1945 manuscript (BDC files).  Canaris was appointed “Chief of the Special Staff for Economic Warfare and Measures” as of July 1, according to the naval staff war diary, July 10 ;  twelve days later he was arrested for high treason.

p. 606   On the operations of the turncoat German officers in the Cherkassy pocket :  CSDIC interrogation of Lieutenant General Kruse ;  and the diaries of the chief of army personnel and of Weichs, March 3, 1944, and of Ulrich von Hassell, February 23.

p. 608   Professor W. L–hlein’s record of his examination of Hitler’s eyes on March 2, 1944, is in American files (01-CIR/4);  I also used Dr. Erwin Giesing’s manuscript.

p. 610   Count Gerd von Schwerin wrote a note on his personal impressions of Hitler at Nuremberg on November 12, 1945.

p. 610   Schellenberg recorded his conversation with Ribbentrop in his handwritten manuscript (IfZ files).

p. 611   The preparations for the occupation of Hungary are described from the diaries of Jodl, Weichs, and the OKW ;  and OKW files (T77/791) and Steengracht’s file on Hungary, Serial 99.

p. 612   Of descending value on Hitler’s confrontation with Horthy are these sources :  Captain Assmann’s report to the naval staff (war diary, March 19, 1944);  Jodl’s diary, March 18 ;  Horthy’s account to his Crown Council in Budapest, March 19 (in the Horthy papers).  The version in the OKW war diary, Vol. IV, pages 200 et seq. and 230, is marred by inaccuracies.  See particularly the OKH attachÈ section’s lengthy “Report on the Journey with [Hungarian] General Homlok to Salzburg from March 17 to 20, 1944” (T78/451/6889 et seq.):  Hitler reproached Horthy for the attitude of the Hungarian press.  He would be forced “to clear things up” and asked Horthy to agree in writing that the German troops which would invade on March 19 were doing so “at his request”;  Horthy refused, as this would be unconstitutional.  I also used postwar interrogations of Horthy, Ribbentrop, Carl Rekowski, Edmund Veesenmayer, and General Greiffenberg ;  and Zeitzler’s manuscript (N63/117).

p. 613   Jodl also took a lengthy note of Hitler’s March 28, 1944, conference.

p. 614   General Alexander von Falkenhausen, military governor of Belgium, also observed Rommel’s extreme optimism when the field marshal visited him early in March 1944 in Brussels.  “Our views on the political and military situation could not have been more divergent.  But when I repaid the visit on June 1, 1944, at La Roche-Guyon [Rommel’s HQ] he had changed and wholeheartedly adopted my view” (U.S. Army, MS B-289).

p. 614   On the proposed execution of Allied airmen, see the OKW file on film T77/778 ;  Hewel’s memo of March 24, 1944 (NG-4059);  Milch’s diary, February 23-24, 1946 ;  Bormann’s circular of May 15, 1944 (BDC file 182);  and a memo by Ribbentrop’s bureau, July 17, 1944 (Ritter’s files, Serial 6530).

p. 616   Below and G¸nsche both told me of Hitler’s affection for Manstein.  I also referred to Backe’s letter to Manstein of October 17, 1944, and Hitler’s remarks in the noon war conference on March 2, 1945 :  “Manstein has in my eyes the greatest talent for operational strategy.  No doubt about it.  I’m the last person to deny that.”