Trauma and Tragedy
Few events in World War II were to rouse greater controversy than Stalingrad ; around even fewer was to be woven a more intricate, yet durable, fabric of lies and legends in the postwar years. This is, however, understandable, for Stalingrad marked the end of German military initiative in the east ; it cost perhaps two hundred thousand German lives, and it exploded the dream of empire which had fired Hitler when he came to power ten years before.
German army Intelligence had consistently reported that the Red Army was on its last legs, yet Stalin continued producing unsuspected masses of tanks and infantry out of thin air. Jodl was seen, white-faced, exclaiming, The Russians are stronger than in 1941 ! Hitherto the Russian command had been wooden, hesitant, and bureaucratic. Now suddenly it was flexible, deliberate, and farsighted, operating its tank forces as the Germans had in 1939, but with the entire might of the Soviet war potential behind them.
The blame for the disaster was diverted onto Hitler. In later years memoirs were fudged by field marshals, fake diaries were concocted, guilty sentences were expunged from the OKWs war diary, and contemporary judgments on Hitlers leadership were slotted in.(1)
Nobody had expected the Soviet offensive to begin so soon.
The Russians achieved tactical surprise as well through an uncharacteristic display of cunning. The very first word to reach Hitler was of two infantry assaults on the Romanian Third Armys sectorseemingly the usual enemy spattering without either tanks or artillery preparation ; the Romanians were confident, even when a gradual artillery barrage did begin. No use was made of the panzer corps stationed in reserve behind them and commanded by General Ferdinand Heim. At 5 A.M. on November 19, however, a colossal Russian artillery barrage suddenly began, and at 7 A.M. wave upon wave of tanks laden with infantry assailed the Romanians. They fought heroicallythree of the four Romanian generals were killed in enemy bayonet charges, and every Romanian company commander fell in the ensuing battlebut their military equipment was not good enough. A rout began. At 10:10 A.M. General von Weichss Army Group B ordered Heim (Forty-eighth Panzer Corps) to counterattack to seal the worst breach, but by midnight it was clear that he could not. He had begun the day with the 22nd Panzer Division, the 1st Romanian Panzer Division, and a battlegroup of the 14th Panzer Division under his command : but the 22nd was still exhausted from the battle for Stalingrad itself ; the battlegroup of the 14th was removed from his control during the day ; and the Romanian 1st Panzer Division had evidently abandoned the field of battleHeim had no idea where it was, because all attempts to raise it by radio remained unanswered.
Barely trained, and totally inexperienced of battle, the Romanians in the front line itself had no hope. Half their tanks were immobilized because field mice had made a meal of their wiring. The enlisted ranks lacked discipline, tending to stop work most afternoons at four. Weichs had hoped that they would hold the front long enough for Heims corps to arrive, but they did not, and their headlong flight barred the advance of Heims tanks. Still searching for his own missing 1st Romanian Panzer Division, Heim was further beset by appalling weatherby freezing fog and rain, by sleet and snow. Weichs ordered him to go over to the defensive that evening.
Zeitzler, calling from East Prussia, had scarcely been off the telephone to Hitler at the Berghof since the crisis began. Hitler clearly realized it as such, although the General Staff situation reports painted it in a misleadingly pastel hue. By 9:30 P.M. he had authorized Weichs to abandon all further assault operations in the city of Stalingrad so as to release forces to patch up the main front line. He also ordered Field Marshal von Manstein to abandon the planned attack at Velikiye Luki and to establish a new army group on the Don, between Army Groups A and B, thus relieving Weichs of direct responsibility for the two Romanian armies, and for the Fourth Panzer Army and the Sixth Army at Stalingrad. He was furious at Heims delay in launching the counterattack, and during the night he ordered him to attack again regardless of any risk to his flanks and rear. On Hitlers charts the panzer corps was a thick blue circle boasting of over a hundred tanks. Again Heim failed. This time his corps was engulfed in the Russian flood and extricated its few remnants only with difficulty.
The Romanian Third Army evaporated. From Bucharest came the most indignant sounds. Hitler needed an immediate scapegoat ; he ordered Keitel : Send for General Heim at once. Strip him of his insignia and arrest him. He is to blame ! To appease Antonescu, Heim was sentenced to death some months later, but when Schmundt, Hitlers chief Wehrmacht adjutant, reasoned with him, the F¸hrer relented and commuted the sentence to a term of imprisonment.(2)
Such were the shocking events northwest of Stalingrad. To the south of the city, a Russian bridgehead of equal menace had spewed forth hundreds of tanks on November 20. The enemys preparations here had totally escaped detection until two days before. The eastern flank of the Fourth Panzer Army had withstood the blow, but three adjacent Romanian divisions crumpled with scarcely a sigh. By the twenty-first it was clear that the two great pincer arms of the Red Army offensive would join around Stalingrad the next day unless the weather cleared long enough for the Luftwaffe to strike.
It was natural that the endangered Sixth Army should see its survival as depending on an airlift. When he arrived at Berchtesgaden on November 20 from, his headquarters in East Prussia, the Luftwaffes Chief of Staff, Jeschonnek, certainly did not reject the ideaif he had, Hitler would subsequently have acted very differently in the view of his Luftwaffe adjutant Major von Below. A hundred thousand men had been successfully sustained in the Demyansk pocket for many months the previous winter by such an airlift ; in addition, Richthofens squadrons had regularly airlifted fuel to the southern front during the summeras well as engineer battalions and antiaircraft batteries to the Sixth Armyto compensate for the inadequate railroad supplies. On the afternoon of the twenty-first, Hitler therefore decided the Sixth Army must stand fast despite the danger of its temporary encirclement; the railroad line was to be held open as long as possible. As to airlift, orders will follow. With Jodl he meanwhile discussed ways and means of rushing reinforcements to Weichss army group.
Loud and weighty objections were raised against the airlift idea. Richthofen telephoned G–ring, Zeitzler, and Weichs that there were not nearly enough transport aircraft for an airlift. (Transport squadrons were heavily committed in the Mediterranean.) His subordinates seconded his objections. The Sixth Army would need many hundreds of tons of food, oil, and ammunition airlifted to it every day. Ever since July it had been living from hand to mouth ; it needed nine or ten supply trains daily, but in the twenty-four hours before the only railroad line was cut not one train had got through. Hitler, however, neither saw nor sought any alternative : in his speeches of September 30 and November 8 he had committed himself before the entire German nationhe could not relax his grip on Stalingrad and the Volga now. Late on the twenty-first he again ordered Paulus to hold on.
At what stage Hitler consulted G–ring on an airlift is uncertain. Jeschonnek, prompted by Richthofens remonstrances and the gloomy calculations of his own staff, very shortly reversed his opinion. But Hitler telephoned G–ring, and the Reichsmarschall assured him the Luftwaffe would do all in its power to meet the armys needs. (G–ring later explained to Richthofen : The F¸hrer was optimistic. What right had I to be the pessimist ?) It is improbable that G–ring gave his assurance unconditionally ; but then Hitler himself expected the encirclement to last only temporarilyuntil the damaged army group front had been repaired and the infiltrating enemy annihilated. Late on the twenty-second, Paulus radioed that the Sixth Army was encircled : his ammunition and food stocks would soon be exhausted, and his fuel would last only six more days. (Since his trapped army was to survive for two more months, Paulus seems to have painted a deliberately dark picture ; Hitler may have taken this into account.)
At midday on November 22 Hitler had realized he could postpone his return to East Prussian headquarters no longer. At five to ten that evening his train left Berchtesgaden station. Keitel, Jodl, Jeschonnek, and the adjutants accompanied him. Foul weather evidently prevented him from taking his plane at Leipzig, and for a whole day he was confined to the train as it headed for the Wolfs Lair. Every four hours or so the train was halted for brief telephone contact to be established with General Staff headquarters. While Hitler strolled about or looked gloomily out of the windows, Keitel and Jodl inked the latest grim details onto the Stalingrad chart ; as soon as the train jolted into motion again, Hitler came to see and hear the worst for himself. Hitler and Jodl began elaborating a daring plan for General Hoths Fourth Panzer Army to attack the encircling ring and thus relieve Stalingrad. It would take about ten days to prepare, but might inflict on the Russians just the defeat Hitler now gravely needed. When Zeitzler telephoned him during their next halt, imploring him to instruct the Sixth Army to abandon the Volga and break out westward before it was too late, Hitler rebuffed him. We have thought of a new way out. Jodl will tell you. We will discuss it in person tomorrow.
Hitler arrived at his East Prussia headquarters late on November 23. Zeitzler was waiting outside his concrete bunker. The F¸hrer stepped forward, his hand outstretched in welcome and a forced smile on his lips. You have done all you could. I could not have done more myself had I been here. With calculated pathos he added, One finds ones own true greatness in the hour of deepest misfortunelike Frederick the Great. Zeitzler was unimpressed and reported that the army group commander, Weichs, now shared his view that the Sixth Army was doomed if it held fast.(3) Hitler thumped his desk. We are not budging from the Volga ! During the night Paulus radioed to Hitler a frantic appeal in the same sense : unless every division was withdrawn from Stalingrad, the army was doomed to abrupt destruction. They would certainly lose most of their equipment, but at least they would save their troops. Hitlers reply was transmitted to Paulus in the early hours of the twenty-fourth : the Sixth Army was to stay where it was because an airlift by a hundred more Junkers is getting under way.
The week that followed was ruled by Hitlers unshakable conviction that he was right ; it would not be the first time that he alone had kept his head in a crisis. But optimism also prevailed around himan optimism that has been effectively masked by postwar alteration of the few headquarters records that survive. Firstly, the military situation was not all but hopeless : reserves were moving up, ready for the relief offensive Manstein was to direct. Secondly, according to army Intelligence, Russian prisoners said that their officers were disconcerted by their own success so far and were wavering about how to proceed. Thirdly, the Sixth Armys supply position, on which the crisis hinged, was not as bad as feared (though the statistics on its needs, and even on its fighting strength, varied). On November 24 the armys quartermaster asked for 200 tons of fuel and 200 tons of ammunition a day, with an unspecified quantity of flour after the twenty-seventh. But on the twenty-fifth the OKW historian wrote that Pauluss demand for 700 tons was evidently exaggerated ;(4) gradually the figure of 300 tons a day was accepted. Richthofens objections that there were not enough Junkers available were disbelieved. His telephoned advice that the Sixth Army must break out to the southwest was discounted. F¸hrer gives me a good hearing, he wrote in his diary, but decides against, as he believes army can hold on and does not think we would reach Stalingrad again. Richthofens attempts to reach G–ring failed : the Reichsmarschall was in Paris.(5) The air staff was evidently optimistic, for twice the OKW historian noted that 298 Junkers transport aircraft were available, with a daily capacity of 600 tons.(6) Admittedly few were reaching Stalingrad yetonly some 20 or 30 a daybut once the weather improved and the airlift got under way things would be different ; so Hitler was assured. On November 27 the OKWs note on Hitlers afternoon conference read : Enemys dispositions around Stalingrad could hardly be more favorable for Sixth Armys intentions. The Stalingrad food situation is better than we thought. Pauluss planned withdrawal of his northwestern front was going well. On the twenty-ninth, the conference record referred to Field Marshal von Mansteins appreciation of the situation : Arrives at same conclusion as F¸hrer.(7)
Mansteins opinion was highly valued by Hitler and unquestionably strengthened his determination here. On November 24, arriving at Weichss operations room, Manstein had emphatically rejected the generals judgment that Paulus had no alternative but to abandon Stalingrad and break out ; obviously a breakout was still possible and the surest wayMansteins report saidand staying put was highly risky in view of the ammunition and fuel situations, but
Nonetheless I am unable to share Army Group Bs enthusiasm for a breakout as long as there are still adequate suppliesat least of armor-piercing ammunition, infantry ammunition, and fuel. This is vital.(8)
Manstein added that a relief operation would be possible with the reinforcements being moved up by the beginning of December ; only if these latter movements were blocked by the enemy might a breakout by the Sixth Army become necessary ; but he would ask for this only if worse comes to worst. At the same time he radioed Paulus : We shall do everything to hew you out of there. In a further report four days later Manstein added that the Sixth Army would need at least four hundred tons of supplies a day. But by this time Hitlers mind had long been made up.
Manstein himself was engrossed in planning a relief offensive by General Hoth from Kotelnikovo toward Stalingrad, but the forces placed at his disposal were steadily whittled away to buttress the vulnerable Italian and Hungarian sectors of the Don front north of Stalingrad. From November 28 onward the storm signs there multipliedit was here that ever since mid-August Hitler had expected Stalins strategic push toward Rostov to develop. Richthofen uncomfortably observed : It seems the Russians are going to attack the Italian sector tooa bad thing, as they will probably run faster than the Romanians. He blamed Weichss army groupand its Chief of Staff Sodenstern in particularfor treating these allies like the Cinderellas of the eastern front. Hitler, anxiously investigating the fighting fitness of the Italians and Hungarians, now observed that their provision with antitank guns had been badly neglected ; he ordered this omission repaired immediately from captured French stocks. Manstein, meanwhile, was optimistic. On December 9 he announced that the relief offensive would begin two or three days later ; by the seventeenth it should have restored contact with Pauluss Sixth Army. Jodls deputy dictated into the OKW war diary that day : The F¸hrer is very confident and plans to regain our former position on the Don. The first phase of the Russian winter offensive can be regarded as finished, without having shown any decisive successes. Jodl himself depicted Hitlers grand strategy in the east as to stabilize the front line for the winter so that he could resume the offensive in at least one sector in the spring of 1943.
Hitler contemplated minor losses of ground in the east philosophically. It would matter little in the end if his armies there were pressed back forty or eighty miles ; but for the Axis to lose comparable ground in Europe would be catastrophic. This was why North Africaas Europes outfieldwas significant. This was why he was pouring troops and armor, including the very latest Tiger tanks, into Tunis. No longer did he envisage an offensive by Rommel across the Suez Canal ; Rommel was a write-off, a nervous wreck in need of rest and recuperation. To General Hans-Kirgen von Arnim, commanding the new Fifth Panzer Army in Tunisia, Hitler confided that eventually he planned to throw the enemy right out of Algeria and French Morocco. Early in December the Germans inflicted a convincing defeat on the British armor attempting to seize Tunisia. Here at least Hitler had the initiative. Seven months later he was to brag : By occupying Tunisia we succeeded in postponing the invasion of Europe by half a year ; and even more important, Italy has stayed in the Axis.
These were political considerations of which his generals had little understanding. On November 28, Rommel had arrived unannounced at the Wolfs Lairwith neither the knowledge nor consent of his Italian supreme commandersand hinted bluntly that Hitler had best brace himself for the loss of Africa altogether. Hitlers reaction to this fresh insubordination was to humiliate the field marshal : when Rommel described the desperate retreat his men had fought across eight hundred miles of North Africa since El Alamein, and how his fifteen thousand combat troops had only five thousand rifles among them, Hitler shouted at him that the troops had thrown the other rifles away. When Rommel bitterly criticized the Italian supply shortcomings, particularly of gasoline, Hitler ordered G–ring to escort him personally to Rome to speed up the shipments. He flatly refused Rommels suggestion that his present stronghold at El Agheila be abandoned. He disbelieved Rommels claim that he lacked the gasoline to fight on. A giant army drove back on gasoline from El Alamein to here [El Agheila], commented Hitler sarcastically later. They didnt drive on water !
G–rings visit to Rome was not an unqualified success. Mussolini accepted Rommels opinion that in view of the two hundred miles of waterless desert behind it El Agheila could not be held for long. Kesselring, the German Commander in Chief South, was as optimistic as Rommel was pessimisticindeed the latter openly wept on the shoulder of Milch, whom G–ring had brought to Rome as well. The Reichsmarschall evidently spared no detail in his report to Hitler, but Hitler understood the strain that a long series of retreatshowever brilliantly executedhad placed on Rommels nerves. Perhaps we should have recalled him right away and put a proper bulldog in his place with the strict order, You are to hold this position ! As it happened, it was fortunate that Rommel did not stand and fight when the British assault on El Agheila began, for the enemy plan was to ambush him from the rear ; but Rommels army escaped in time and lived to fight another day.
G–ring reported back to Hitler on December 11, but he had evidently telephoned the F¸hrer the burden of his Rome impressions several days before. Mussolini was wallowing in despairhe had advised the Germans to wind up their pointless Russian campaign as best they could, to husband their depleted armies for what really mattered : the war in the Mediterranean. Hitler knew how precarious his allys personal position now was. A series of enemy air raids had inflicted heavy casualties in Naples and Turin ; but the population in West Germany had put up with far worse for far longer. But he was clearly worried that Italy might make a deal with the enemy even now is indicated by the fact that he ordered Kesselring to start stockpiling maps of Italy in case Germany had to take over her defense. And on December 6, SS channels had warned him of the latest secret peace deal offered by Myron Taylor, the American ambassador to the Vatican. Hitler decided to bluff. Kesselring was instructed to draw the Italian comando supremos attention to the grave disparity between the enemys shipping effort to North Africa, and the Italians effort, on which both Arnim and Rommel depended. On the binding answer the Italians gave would depend far-reaching decisions the F¸hrer proposed to takea clear hint that he might abandon North Africa entirely.
Hitler began planning on the ninth a lengthy sojourn at the Berghof to clear his head for fresh decisions; as soon as Mansteins relief-offensive had begun, he would leave for Berlin, where he would see Laval on the fifteenth, and then go to the Obersalzberg, where he would see Mussolini and Antonescu. Events in Russia were to disrupt this plan.
Consideration for Mussolinis feelingsthe staple of all German diplomacywas to cost Hitler dearly. A hundred sorely needed heavy antiaircraft batteries had been sent to northern Italy. The six hundred thousand tons of French shipping captured at Marseilles was transferred to the Italian merchant marine. Tunisia was declared an Italian sphere of interestalthough in private Hitler scoffed, If we ever go over to the offensive there, you can bet your boots the Italians wont join in with us. On December 5 five hundred expert saboteurs of Admiral Canariss Brandenburg commando regiment had disembarked in Tunis, for operations behind enemy lines ; these too were placed under the Italian supreme command. But when the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem offered to stir up a pro-Axis insurrection of his Mohammedan subjects throughout Tunisia, Algeria, and French Morocco, Hitler turned him down. The Muftis condition was that North Africa must be promised its eventual freedom, and even a secret letter to the Bey of Tunis couched in these terms would have been totally incompatible with Hitlers loyalty toward Mussolini.
Before returning to the doleful events of December 1942 on the eastern front, we can review the possible sources of fresh danger to the Axis in the Mediterranean now that the enemy had secured a firm base at its western end. Hitler himself undertook such tours dhorizon more than once that December.
Initially he deduced that if the Axis did lose North Africa, the enemys next thrust would be into the Balkans. They would probably bypass Crete, as it was such a bulwark of German military strength as to make its capture a most formidable proposition. But the islands of Rhodes or the Peloponnesus might seem more attractive, particularly if Churchill planned to rehash the old Salonika campaign. Since Germanys eastern campaign was again halted, Turkeys friendship had cooled perceptibly ; Hitler therefore deemed it expedient to furnish fresh arms to the neutral Bulgarians to dissuade Turkey from any hostile adventures. He set out a list of priorities among the recipients of Germanys scarce arms exports : first and foremost Italys forces in the Dodecanese, Crete, and Greece ; then Bulgaria ; then Romanias shattered armies and Italys other forces ; and finally Spain and Hungary.
His anxiety about Spain had grown in December. At first he had turned a deaf ear on Francos plea for modern weapons in case the enemy swept from North Africa into Spain or her African possessions. Hitler believed that the Spanish were too tenacious an opponent, and their country possessed too few advantages, for that ; but the admiralty pointed out that if the enemy occupied northern Spain, this would spell the end of Germanys submarine campaign in the Atlantic. In addition, evidence that the Americans had trained Spanish Communists in Mexico and shipped them to North Africa roused Hitlers fears anew. Instructing the Abwehr to step up its Intelligence activity throughout Spain and Portugal, Keitel explained to Canaris, The F¸hrer is particularly alert as to Spain, because Britain has already begun a Stop Thief ! propaganda campaign such as usually precedes her own military operations. Hitler was in a quandary ; he could ill-afford the antitank, antiaircraft, and other guns and armament Franco was appealing for. Despite the advice of Raeder and some of his own staff, his instinct told him that Spain would be better neutral. But arms deliveries would be useless if they came too late for the Spanish to install and train with them. If Spains only aim is to remain neutral, let her procure the arms from America, he told General Munoz Grandes. Nonetheless he agreed to entertain the Spanish needs, provided that Franco solemnly undertook to use the weapons to ward off any British or American aggression.
Neither Hitler nor his advisers could understand why the British had so willingly allowed Roosevelt to lay hands on the eastern hemisphere. Any sensible Englishman must say to himself that Britain is going to have to pay the bill, he told the Dutch Fascist leader Anton Mussert in mid-December. We have not the slightest reason to fight Britain. Even if we win we gain nothing from Britain. ... Britain ought to be glad to have in Germany a bulwark against Russia. The day when Germany and Britain would join to rise up against American imperialism seemed farther away than ever.
The uncertainty about Frances loyalties was, however, banished now forever. New Forschungsamt intercepts revealed the full extent of Darlans long-planned treachery and even hinted that PÈtain had been a willing party to it. Henceforth Hitler would exploit France ruthlessly for the Axis cause. De Gaulles supporters would be transported to the eastern front, compelled to perform the most menial tasks. British, American, and Spanish Communists in France would be arrested and brought to Germany. General Weygandhero of the Battle for Francewas already in German custody, bitterly protesting at being treated like a criminal.(9) General Maurice Gamelin, Leon Blum, and Edouard Daladier would have to follow. When Heinrich Himmler came to headquarters on December 10, Hitler authorized him to remove the six or seven hundred thousand Jews from France as well ; at Himmlers suggestion those with influential relatives in America were to be held in a special camp under conditions that will keep them alive and well. (Himmlers notes do not indicate that he mentioned to Hitler the alternative fate of the others.) Hitler ordered the occupation costs paid by the French increased to the maximum that the French economy would bear. The spirit that had restrained his demands at CompiËgne was dead. Apart from a possible later phalange africaine to recapture Frances lost colonies, her armed forces would be limited to an enlarged police force and garde mobile. The French police are good, cackled Hitler. Well harness them, well work only with the police. Himmler knows his policemen ! He employs the most reprehensible methods himself, so this will make them all partners in crime. It will be a police alliance !
Hitler relished his private conferences with Himmler. The SS chief was always bringing something new. It was Himmler who was most assiduously propagating the new European spirit : in the SS panzer division Viking, now fighting in the Caucasus, the young men of Scandinavia and the Netherlands were united with the finest German troops. He was purging occupied Europe of its undesirables. He was keeping potential dissidents like Halder and Brauchitsch under discreet surveillance. But at the same time he offered an ear to malcontents within such rival departments as the army or the foreign office. It was Himmler who first secured access to Hitler for the rocket scientists of Peenem¸nde. Through high officials in the Wilhelmstrasse, Himmler was also working toward the overthrow of Ribbentrop. For your information, Himmler cabled his Intelligence chief on December 5, the F¸hrer is very satisfied with our reports. Ribbentrop could not make the same claim after the fiascos in the Mediterranean.
Among Himmlers reports to Hitler three deserve mention here. On December 4, 1942, the Gestapo secretly announced the taking out of a major arsenal of the Polish underground in Warsaw : the four-room house harbored not only the usual quantities of explosives and detonators, but also three flasks of typhus bacilli, seventeen sealed rubber tubes presumably containing bacteria, and one fountain pen with instructions for use for spreading bacteria; captured documents revealed that twenty pounds of arsenic had also passed through the house. A few days later Himmler produced a year-old NKVD order covering instructions to the indigenous Russian population on the poisoningagain with arsenicof German occupation troops. A more enigmatic Himmler document is a letter to the Gestapo chief Heinrich M¸ller, in which he stated that the F¸hrer has authorized the transmission of such Intelligence data as the OKW and foreign minister agree to, in order to keep up the radio game with Moscow, even though this would be prima facie tantamount to treason normally.(10)
It was the night of December 11-12, 1942 ; for the first time in many months Hitlers insomnia had returned. He lay in his sparsely furnished bunker bedroom, sleepless with worry about the coming week. He knew that rumors were sweeping Germany that an entire army, the Sixth, had been encircled by the enemy at Stalingrad. Mansteins relief offensive was slated to begin in a few hours time. But the Sixth Armys supplies were running outthe eighteenth was the last possible day for the offensive to succeed. G–ring had kept his promise by marshaling a huge armada of transport aircraft for the airlift ; and yet the airlift was clearly failing. On December 1, Richthofen had controlled 221 Junkers transports and 95 Heinkel IIIs ; but only 15 Junkers and 25 Heinkels had actually reached the besieged city, while two days later none flew in at all because of the icing and fog.(11) Were it not for the Italians Hitler might still have snatched some sleep, but during the eleventh a Russian infantry attack had developed on the Italian Eighth Army sector northwest of Stalingrad ; though it was still moderate in strength, and although the terrain and their superiority in artillery favored the Italians, Hitler had steeled himself against the inevitable catastrophe the moment the Russians began the main assault. He guessed they were only waiting for the Luftwaffe to be grounded by foul weather. There were virtually no reserves behind the Italian front. Fearing the worst, he had ordered the 17th Panzer Division unloaded there, although it might make the difference between success and failure for Mansteins relief operation that it must now begin with only the 6th and 23rd panzer divisions in its spearhead.
Was it the right decision ? Manstein felt it was nothe feared that his two divisions would not get through the iron Russian ring ; nevertheless, between them they had 233 good tanks, more than the Russian divisions opposing them. Weve got enough tanks, Hitler told Zeitzler the next day. But what might of course happen is this : the rogues might rapidly dismantle in frontthe general completed the F¸hrers thoughtand pinch us off with one group here, this side, and one group there, on that side. The armored divisions ought to manage it, Hitler reemphasized. Jodl reassured them both. Hell manage everything, meaning Manstein. It is just that the area is so vast and our divisions so few. The enemy just flows around behind them again. Zeitzler said, The attack mustnt get bogged down. Time is of the essence.
It was the sense of uncertainty that kept Hitler awake. Should they have abandoned Stalingrad three weeks ago ? But they would never have recaptured it if they had. They would have had to leave huge quantities of army artillery in the city. In addition, the whole point of the Russian campaign would have been lost. We have shed too much blood for that. Barbarossa had now cost the German army 371,000 deadand Hitler did not expect many of the 86,000 missing to survive Russian captivity. But might not a wrong decision now cost the 300,000 men in Stalingrad their lives ? Two days earlier Bormann had recorded Hitler as saying he would never capitulate ; he would keep fighting even if he had to draft fourteen- and sixteen-year-olds into the battle. It would still be better for them to die fighting the East than for us to lose the war and see them tortured and sold into slavery. In his minds eye Hitler could already see the glorious moment six days hence when the siege of Stalingrad would be lifted. First a narrow corridorand the taut-faced columns of Mansteins troops, disheveled from battle, would come pouring through with food- and gasoline-laden trucks bringing up the rear. In the city itself the word would pass from starving mouth to mouth that salvation was there. This was the vision that sustained him. The uglier possibility was banished from his mind. He could not believe that Manstein would failunless, of course, the Italian front caved in first. He bitterly reproached himself for not having swept straight through Stalingrad that summer. Things would have gone faster if we hadnt got bogged down in Voronezh. Lastly, he tormented himself with the question of whether or not he could now risk going to the Berghof to see Mussolini ; during the train journey they would be in touch with the outside world only every two or three hours, and there was no way he could receive pictures of a sudden crisis developing. We will just have to see how things go today and tomorrow, he told Zeitzler.
The attack began well the next morning. An atmosphere of euphoria pervaded the OKW. Little worry about carrying attack through as the enemys tank strength is strongly reduced, noted their official historian. Nonetheless, Hitler decided to let Manstein have the 17th Panzer Division after all. The field marshal even suggested the Russians were only feinting toward the Italian front to tie down Hitlers reserves. Hitler, however, refused to be led astray by the OKWs impatient optimism.(12) Stalin was after a far bigger prize : he also wanted to cut off the retreat of the entire army group in the Caucasus, half a million men. Russian resistance stiffened as Mansteins relief attack pushed closer to Stalingrad. On the fourteenth, the 6th Panzer Division destroyed forty-one tanks, but Richthofen warned that the main Russian force still lay ahead ; soon the 17th Panzer Division would be joined to the attack. Already it was halfway to Stalingrad. Then, on the sixteenth, came the event Hitler had feared, as the Russians hurled three armies at the narrow sector of the Don front he had entrusted to his Italian allies northwest of Stalingrad. Two bomber wings were diverted from Richthofens support operations for the relief attack, to help the Italiansa diversion Richthofen angrily labeled abandoning the Sixth Armyits murder. Manstein agreed, but both Jeschonnek and Zeitzler bowed to Hitlers decision that the Italians must be saved.
How well would even German troops have fought against such odds ? The Italian Eighth Army had been ill-trained, it deployed its heavy weapons wrongly, and it lacked tough officers. After two days of plucky fighting it took to its heels, tearing an immense breach between Mansteins and Weichss army groups and leaving nothing between the Russians and Rostov but open countryside.
Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano encountered a forbidding atmosphere at the Wolfs Lair when he arrived with Marshal Cavallero at noon on December 18. Hitler had abandoned all thought of going to the Berghof. He determined to speak bluntly with the Italians. No reference was made to the Italian Eighth Armys inglorious dissolution, but he used plain language in demanding that Italy make sacrifices to keep supplies flowing into North Africa. Germany was preparing to send her four finest divisions over to Tunis. He asked that Italys civil transport and indeed her navy make a comparable effort. Neither Ciano nor Cavallero commented on this. Cianos main purpose in coming was to deliver Mussolinis hypothetical question : given that 1943 would probably see major enemy operations in North Africa, southeastern Europe, and the west, would it not even now be possible to reach a political settlement with Russia ý la Brest-Litovsk ? Hitler patiently replied that this would be irreconcilable with his objective of Lebensraum. Besides, after six months of truce Germany would have to fight Russia all over againa Russia immensely refreshed and reinforced. It was a false illusion for Mussolini to believe that Germany could ever abstract divisions from the east to ward off possible defeat in the Mediterranean.
Hitler sugared the pill with caustic references to the French. He revealed that he was maintaining the fiction of a French government under PÈtain only because the unbelligerent French colonials in North Africa willingly accepted PÈtains order not to fight for the Allies.(13) He no longer had any trust in the French. Not that he trusted the Italians now either. As the Italians left, Keitel instructed Admiral Canaris to keep an eye on Italy (even though it is not to be anticipated that she will defect). A member of Cianos entourage inquired of the OKW whether the Italian Eighth Army had suffered heavy casualties ; he was told : None at all. They never stopped running.
With the collapse of the Italian army, a terrible new situation confronted Germanys Sixth Army in Stalingrad. Only two alternatives were left to it : to push a battle group southwest to meet the relieving panzer divisions, while still retaining the strategic stranglehold on Stalingrad and the Volga ; or to implement Thunderclap, a breakout by the entire Sixth Armyabandoning its heavy equipment and tens of thousands of wounded troops to the mercies of the enemy. Zeitzler put Mansteins case for Thunderclap to Hitler during the war conference late on December 18. As their expert scrutiny switched from one sector of the front to the next, an adjutant spread maps across the table, while Hitler, clutching a bunch of colored pencils in one hand, watched the ominous red arrows of the Red Armys offensive plunge ever closer to the airfields from which the Luftwaffe was mounting its airlift into Stalingrad. The logistic difficulties of launching Thunderclap seemed insuperable : Paulus demanded no less than 1,800 tons of food and 4,000 tons of fuel first ; although the Luftflotte managed to fly in all of 270 tons that day, this was twice the average so far. Richthofen telephoned Zeitzler that evening saying he would need enormous reinforcement of his improvised air transport fleet.
By December 19 the three divisions of Mansteins relief force had reached the Myshovka River, some forty miles from Pauluss perimeter. The next day, one last push was made, only to be firmly blocked by the Russians. Hitler had ordered three more divisions rushed east from France, but it would take three weeks even to get them moving. (On December 19 he ordered Himmler to raise two new crack SS panzer-grenadier divisionsthe 9th and 10thin France by mid-February to replace them.)(14)
At 6 P.M. on December 19, Manstein radioed to the Sixth Army an order to begin Operation Winter Storman attempt to extend the southwestern perimeter by a limited tank attack under General Hube, thus linking up with the relief force outside. Paulus was also directed to stand by for Thunderclap in case Hitler gave permission. During the afternoon Manstein asked Zeitzler to secure Hitlers permission. But time was already running out. Paulus could not disengage enough forces for Winter Storm without losing his grip on Stalingrad altogether ; and he would need five days at least to prepare for Thunderclap, as he had eight thousand casualties to fly out and the fuel would first have to be flown in. At present his tanks had fuel for less than fifteen miles. Paulus himself referred to Thunderclap as a catastrophic solution.
It was a heartrending situation and one that the lesser commanders were glad to pass to Hitler for decision. He knew that Pauluss army was already tying down over seventy Russian divisions and brigades. On December 21 Manstein made it clear that the relief offensive could bring help no nearer to Stalingrad. If the Sixth Army pulled out now, the enemy might move to cut off the entire southern front. On the twenty-third Manstein had to take the 23rd Panzer Division out of the relief force to plug gaps west of the Don. Two days later Russian tanks overran one of the two vital airfields, and a powerful counterattack pushed the rest of the German relief force back to the Akssai River. All prospects of relieving Stalingrad that winter faded.
Hitler steeled himself against the noisy counsels of his commanders. G–ring and Jeschonnek supported him ; Manstein impertinently remarked to Zeitzler that if the Reichsmarschall was so sure the Stalingrad situation was not grave, then he should himself take command of the army group and its associated Luftflotte ! Hitler refused to speak on the telephone with Manstein or to see him personally. Zeitzler and Manstein nonetheless argued loudly that only the immediate withdrawal of Kleists Army Group A from the Caucasus would release enough reserves to prevent a catastrophe. When Zeitzler returned to his demand that the whole Sixth Army be ordered to break out, Hitler irritably replied, The Sixth Army must stand fast. Even if I cannot lift the siege until spring. G–ring assured him the airlift was working well. Keitel and Jodl supported Hitler with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Zeitzler accused the Reichsmarschall of lying about the Luftwaffes capabilities and afterward reported the true airlift tonnage daily to Hitler each morning. On December 21 over 360 tons had been flown in, but now that the two closest airfields had been overrun, and the figure was soon barely a tenth of that amount. General Martin Fiebig, whose Eighth Air Corps was now wholly engaged in the airlift, wrote : One wonders whether the F¸hrer has got the picturewhether he really knows the state of our men and their capacity for effort, and whether the Russian strength isnt being underestimated once more.
In this atmosphere of despondency Hitler kept his nerve ; but this time nerve alone was not enough. A year later he explained his grim philosophy thus in a secret speech to his downhearted generals : Let this much be understoodnothing shocks me, whatever may happen. Some may think me heartless to insist on fighting to the last man just because the enemy will also let more blood that way, rather than to undertake this maneuver or that. It has nothing to do with heartlessness, only with my realization and conviction that this is the action to be taken.... It is a matter of supreme indifference to me what posterity may think of me.
At the time of Stalingrad, Hitler radiated outward confidence that the Sixth Army would shortly be liberated, though his private feelings may have been somewhat different. His generals trusted himhad he not proved them all wrong as recently as the Battle of Kharkov in May ? Richthofen consoled the mutinous Luftwaffe generals with this argument : the F¸hrer had been right before, even though his experts had advised otherwise, and nobody had understood him then either. Perhaps we will all be chuckling over this crisis when May comes ! But Fiebig for one was unconvinced. Richthofen mentioned yesterday that entire armies are often lost without any effect on the outcome of the war. But what can the F¸hrer himself be thinking ? It is a matter of two hundred fifty thousand human beingswe cant just sacrifice them, as there are no replacements. What will the Russians do with this quarter-million ? They can but kill them, they havent the food for them. Death will take a huge toll. Each man one last bullet for himself ?What does the F¸hrer want to document with the fate of this army ? There must be some purpose, otherwise one might lose faith.
Throughout December General Zeitzler pressed for the evacuation of Kleists army group from the Caucasus in good time. Hitler at first refused. First wait and see the outcome of our relief operation against Stalingrad. That will change the whole picture at one stroke. The prophecy had been fulfilled, but the outcome was not what Hitler had expected. On December 27 when issuing instructions to the army for the coming months, Hitler decreed that Kleist was to defend his existing line. The eventual liberation of the Sixth Army must guide all other considerations ; thus the town of Kotelnikovo must be held too, as a starting point for that offensive. Meanwhile the SS panzer division Viking would be moved up from the Caucasus and the 7th Panzer Division brought from France early in January. A new battalion of Tiger tanks would also be provided. But these instructions were overtaken by events : the Romanian divisions guarding the flanks of the relieving force which had attacked on December 12 collapsed, and its depleted armored spearhead barely managed to extricate itself.
That evening, December 27, Zeitzler ambushed Hitler by arriving unannounced at the Wolf s Lair and bearding the F¸hrer in his private bunker despite his adjutants protests. He was moodily listening to records of Beethoven. The general spoke earnestly, and ended with the words : If you do not order the withdrawal of the Caucasus front now, you will have a second Stalingrad on your hands. Hitler brooded, then curtly told him : Very well, do as you wish ! But he regretted this almost immediately and telephoned the General Staffs nearby headquarters several times to try to intercept Zeitzler on his return. Eventually Zeitzler himself came to the phone. Hitler said, About the withdrawal from the Caucasuswait a bit. Well have another talk about it. Zeitzlers voice came back : Too latethe order has already gone out. Hitler paused, said, Very well, then, and irritably replaced the receiver.
Given the collapse of the Romanian and Italian armies it was undoubtedly the right decision, but he may have sensed that now a retreat from Russia was beginning that would not be halted at the frontiers of Germany.
1 Thus in the published war diary of the OKW an account of a crucial argument between Hitler, Jeschonnek, and Zeitzler on December 21, 1942, at the height of the Stalingrad crisis, includes the following sentences : As usual, however, again no bold decisions are taken. It is as though the F¸hrer is no longer capable of doing so. These sentences are a 1945 fabrication not included in the 1942 text.
2 In 1944 Hitler authorized Heims rehabilitation as commandant of a beleaguered Channel port ; to his chagrin the general surrendered the port to the Allies without much ado, and Hitler decided not to allow other army delinquents a second chance in the future.
3 According to Weichss Chief of Staff, General von Sodenstern, in 1950, Zeitzler telephoned him at about 2 A.M. that he had at last managed to persuade Hitler to let the Sixth Army break out. But the promised order never came ; Zeitzler had probably misinterpreted a remark by Hitler.
4 Greiner, author of the OKW war diary, removed this sentence in 1945, and it does not appear in the text subsequently published.
5 In his diary entry of November 25, 1942, Major Engel nonetheless transplanted G–ring to the Wolfs Lair for a dramatic conference with Hitler !
6 Greiner improved his recordwith hindsightin 1945 to read : Only 298 transport planes are with the Fourth Air Force ; about 500 are needed.
7 This compromising sentence was omitted altogether by Greiner from his improved 1945 text.
8 The original document has survived. In his published memoirs Manstein improves the damning wording I have quoted : Sixth Army should wait to be relieved, since its best chance of breaking out had passed, but only if it could be adequately supplied by air.
9 Weygand informed his SS captors that he had been adorÈ by the Arabs as French high commissioner in Syria ; the British never got on with them, while the Americans in Africa were committing one bÍtise after another. He particularly condemned the Americans for repealing the French governments anti-Jewish laws there. I myself am an anti-Semite. I had a lot to do with the Jews in Syria too. But I must stress I never had problems with the local Jews. The other kind of Jews, the political ones, the Zionists, were even fought by the local Jews : they often came to me for help and protection against the monied Jews spreading across the country buying everything up and ruining the Arabs in the process. Himmler sent Weygands remarks to Hitler in January 1943.
10 This may have been the origin of the suspicious radio messages to Moscow which led Gehlen and Canaris to suspect there was a traitor operating from Hitlers headquarters. See Gehlens memoirs, U.S. edition, pages 70-71.
11 Engine freeze-ups caused the greatest problems, until Milchs technical experts reminded the local air commanders late in January 1943 of the simple basic cold-start proceduresthinning lubricating oil with gasoline. By then it was too late.
12 In the OKW war diary, Greiners original note for December 15, 1942, read : The major attack anticipated against the Italian Eighth Army has not yet begun. It seems the enemy just intends to tie down our reserves by repeated feeler-operations. The F¸hrer, however, has not yet drawn any conclusion from this. (In the published text the word however has been excised.)
13 According to an (unpublished) note by Greiner on January 7, 1943, Hitler ordered all French prisoners taken in Tunis to be released in France and paid a French government pension.
14 Hitler kept a close eye on the raising of these divisions, telephoning his liaison officer SS General Karl Wolff twice on January 13, 1943, to stress that they must work night and day on completing them as fast as humanly possible. The divisions fought historic battles in 1944 on the eastern front and in Normandy.
p. 453 My chapters on Stalingrad are largely based on the records of the Sixth Army, of Gehlens Intelligence branch, and the diary of the chief of army personnel ; on the personal diaries of Richthofen, Milch, Manstein, and Generals Fiebig and Pickert (COs of the Eighth Air Corps and the Stalingrad antiaircraft division, respectively); on the notes, letters, and manuscripts of staff at Hitlers HQ (Captain Junge, Below, Greiner, Engel, Scheidt); on Zeitzlers manuscripts written in about 1951 (N63/79, 80, and 101) and interrogations of Heusinger, G–ring, Christian, and others ; and on fragmentary documents like Hitlers war conference stenograms and Jodls staff talks with the Japanese (naval staff war diary, annexes, Part C, Vol. XV). I was also fortunate to find among Milchs private papers the only copy of Major Werner Beumelburgs official manuscript on Stalingrad, dated June 8, 1943, and based on official files and individual testimony.
p. 454 On the Heim affair, see Kehrig, op. cit., pages 133 et seq., citing the war diary of The Forty-Eighth Panzer Corps. Weichs dealt with it in his manuscript (N19/12). Heims own versionin Der Feldzug gegen Sowjetrussland (Stuttgart, 1962)is justifiably bitter. See also the war diary of the chief of army personnel, November 26, 1942, July 28, August 16, and September 23, 1944. By September 25, 1944, Heim was talking freely to his British captors about secret events at Hitlers HQ (CSDIC report SRGG 1063C, top secret).
p. 455 For the recriminations between the German and Romanian commanders over the collapse, see Greiners unpublished notes of December 8 and 11 ; and Hitlers war conference on December 12, and talk with Antonescu on January 10.
p. 455 Hitlers signal was repeated by Weichs Army Group B to the Sixth Army at 3:25 P.M., November 21 (BA file 75167/6). Richthofen noted in his diary that day : Sixth Army thinks it can be kept supplied in its pocket by my Luftflotte. Trying all I can to prove to them it wont work out. See in general Colonel Johannes Fischers semiofficial study of the Stalingrad airlift decision in Milit”rgeschichtliche Mitteilungen, 1969, pages 7 et seq.which however relies heavily on the since-discredited Engel diary for its dates.
p. 456 According to Milchs diary, Colonel Artur EschenauerJeschonneks supply adviserdescribed to him how he had warned Jeschonnek that the so-called 1000-kilo supply container could only carry 500-680 kilograms of supplies, and the 250-kilo container only 170 kilograms ; their names derived from their shapes only. G–ring refused to pass this fact on to Hitler (diary, May 21, 1946). See also Hitlers conference with Speer, January 18, 1943. The first reference to a transport Schwerpunkt with the Fourth Air Force is in the air ministry files on November 24, 1942 (MD17/3390).
On February 10, 1943, G–ring admitted to Richthofen (diary) that at the beginning of the Stalingrad episode he had played the optimist and supported the F¸hrer in his decision to stand fast there. But when Richthofen asked Hitler the next day, Hitler replied that he had promised [Sixth Army] the five hundred tons [daily], apparently without the Reichsmarschalls knowledge. In a speech to Luftwaffe generals on February 15, (Koller diary) G–ring defended the Stalingrad decision. Initially there was no reason to evacuate [Sixth Army], as there was justification for the view that the strong forces could hold out until they were relieved. But then fuel ran out in Stalingrad. Well, they could still have evacuated on foot ! But there was still the hope that Stalingrad could be relieved. Then the Italian front caved in, and with the breakthrough at Kolnikovo the front was torn wide open for hundreds of miles and was beyond repair. If we had fought much harderin Stalingrad itself toowe would still be in Stalingrad today and it would not have surrendered. Paulus was too soft, didnt make a fortress out of this Stalingrad.
p. 456 From his comments to his doctors in 1944, and even as early as the war conference on December 12, 1942, it is clear that the twenty-four hour incommunicado train journey became a standbyalibi to Hitler for his defeat at Stalingrad. Linges diary shows that an identical train journey, in November 1943, did indeed last from 4:30 P.M. on the ninth to 6:50 P.M. on the tenth ; added to which, while Hitler arrived at the Wolfs Lair in the small hours of November 24, 1942, the OKW operations staff train did not arrive until a day later (according to the diaries of Greiner and one of the stenographers).
p. 457 An air force table of airlift sorties to the Sixth Army, November 24, 1942, to February 3, 1943 (microfilm T321/18/8846 et seq.), suggests that Greiners figures are on the low side. Greiners note on the food situation at Stalingrad echoes an entry in General Martin Fiebigs diary, November 26. The Sixth Army does not take an unfavorable view of its tactical position, if it can get 300 cubic meters [about 210 tons] of gasoline and 30 tons of tank ammunition a day ; food is said to be adequate for one month.
p. 458 Initially Hitlers optimism about Stalingrad was widely shared. The OKW diarist Greiner wrote in a private letter on November 27, 1942 : The Russian offensive still gives us fewest headaches, as we are entitled to the confident expectation that the situation can be cleared up in a short time.... Far worse is our situation in North Africa : everything depends on hanging on to Tunis and western Libya and Tripoli at least, and thats not going to be easy against the onrush of superior British and American forces from east and west. Jodl echoed this attitude to the Japanese on December 4. Russian attackers will soon be deadlocked. Manstein is on the way. Perhaps next Russian attack on Italian army. German forces standing by. Situation in Russia indubitably more difficult. We now assume Soviet Union has some thirteen thousand aircraft and three thousand tanks ; quality declining. (The naval staff queried whether thirteen thousand should not read ___ hundred!) And the unusually well-informed Weizs”cker wrote in his diary, December 9 : From the eastern front too our military HQ is emitting favorable noises. Even Stalingrad, where some two hundred thousand men are cut off, no longer impresses our command : the view is that the eastern front wont suffer any grave strategic collapse this winter. On December 11, Ribbentrop cabled to all his missions instructions to refute enemy propaganda claims that Germany was badgering Japan to attack Russia in the Far East ; until January 20, 1943, this was in fact true.
p. 458 Mansteins situation appreciation of November 24, 1942, is in BA file 39694/3b and in the war diary of Mansteins Army Group Don (N507/1). Under OCMH interrogation on September 10, 1945, General Heusinger confirmed that Manstein was initially of this view, that the Sixth Armys withdrawal from Stalingrad was not necessary. Major Engels diary entry of November 26 (Long discussion on Mansteins appreciation of situation, proposal to withdraw Sixth Army . . .) is further reason to treat this source with extreme cautionas Colonel Manfred Kehrig, the official West German historian (Stalingrad, Stuttgart, 1974), has also recently warned. Kehrigs history also uses the diaries of Count Johann von Kielmansegg, who headed Group East of the General Staff operations branch, and Major Thilo, who dealt with Army Group B affairs in that branch ; but Kehrig did not procure either the original Richthofen diary or Greiners papers, both of which I have used.
p. 459 A typed narrative of Rommels meeting with Hitler and G–ring is in the war diary of Panzer Army Africa (T313/472/1016ff); the shorthand record by his adjutant is in his papers (T84/259).
p. 461 On Abwehr subversive operations in North Africa, I used Greiners record of Warlimonts conference on December 6, 1942 ; a memo by Canaris of December 14 (Ritters AA files, Serial 1105); Lahousens diary, December 21 ; and Canariss memos for Keitel, dated December 9, and talk with him on December 11 (AL/1933). According to newspaper reports, U.S. courts-martial sentenced 174 Arabs to death for sabotaging railroads.
p. 462 Bormanns memo on Hitlers conversation with Anton Mussert on December 10, 1942, is in BA file NS-19/neu 1556. Keitel made similar remarks to Canaris on December 20 (AL/1933).
p. 462 Himmlers own handwritten agenda for discussion with Hitler on December 10 survives (T175/94/5330); against Item 3, Jews in France, Himmler put a tick and the word abschaffendispose of. In his subsequent memo to the Gestapo chief, M¸ller, however, he used the milder words verhaftet und abtransportiertarrested and transported away (T175/103/5558).
There are other illuminating references to the Jewish problem in Himmlers files at this time. On October 2, 1942, he wrote to Pohl, Kruger, Globocnik, and Wolff about his determination to extract the Jews from their protected status within important arms factories in Poland too. It will then be our aim to replace these Jewish workers by Poles and to merge most of these Jewish concentration-camp workshops into a very few big Jewish concentration-camp factories, as far as practicable in the east of the Generalgouvernement. But there too the Jews must one day, in accordance with the F¸hrers wish, disappear [verschwinden] (T175/22/7359). On November 30, Himmler sent to Gestapo Chief M¸ller a very interesting [press] announcement about a memorandum written by Dr. [Stephen F.] Wise [President of the American Jewish Congress] in September 1942, and commented : Given the scale of the Jewish migration, Im not surprised that such rumors crop up somewhere in the world. We both know theres a high death rate among the Jews who are put to work. But you are to guarantee to me that at each location the cadavers of these deceased Jews are either burned or buried, and that nothing else can happen with the cadavers wherever they are. You are to investigate at once in all quarters to find out whether there have been any such abuses as theno doubt mendaciousrumors disseminated around the world claim. All such abuses are to be reported to me on the SS oath of honor (T175/68/4325). This letter was the purest humbug, and Himmlers suave reaction to two specific Allied press reports on the extermination of the European Jews proves it. On November 24, 1942, The Times (London) published a dispatch from the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem on the holocaust, partly fanciful but with an unmistakable hard core of truth. Himmlers office obtained it from Sweden and forwarded it with a noncommittal letter to the SS Reich Main Security Office in Berlin for your attention (T175/68/4406). On February 14, 1943, the same newspaper published a report received by the British Section of the World Jewish Congress from Central Europe, claiming that the extermination of Jews was being accelerated : Bohemia-Moravia was to be judenrein by March 31, deportations from Germany were continuing, and the mass exterminations in Poland were proceeding, in one place at the rate of six thousand daily. Before being massacred, the Jews are ordered to strip and their clothes are sent to Germany. Rudolf Brandt, Himmlers adjutant, sent the news report to Kaltenbrunners office. On the instructions of the Reichsf¸hrer SS I am transmitting herewith to you a press dispatch on the accelerated extermination [Ausrottung] of the Jews in Occupied Europe (T175/68/4398).
p. 464 Hitlers thought processes can be reconstructed from the stenogram of his war conference on December 12, 1942, and from Greiners unpublished note of the same date. By this time, according to the diary of the Eighth Air Corps commander, Fiebig (December 11), Pauluss casualties were increasing at the rate of 1,000 a day ; he still had 270,000 men, of whom 40,000 were infantry combat troops.
p. 466 I used both German and Italian accounts of the conference : the latter are in comando supremo files (T821/21/951 et seq., and T821/457/409 et seq.). On December 19, 1942, Greiner noted : Italians had urged some kind of arrangement with Stalin, but this is rejected by F¸hrer out of hand, as even without weakening eastern front there is enough strength for the southern. As Weizs”cker commented (diary, December 25), it was hardly surprising that Ciano got this reply : Talk like this can only be direct and without witnesses, and between the Duce and the F¸hrernot by Duce to General von Rintelen, Duce to G–ring, Ciano to the F¸hrer.
p. 467 Zeitzler nervously retorted to Richthofen : But you were one of the first to advise us to hang on to the Volga.! Richthofen denied this in his diary (Impertinence.!). For Hitlers order to raise two SS divisions, see his adjutant Pfeiffers teletype to Himmler, December 19, (T175/145/2277); Greiners note, January 23 ; Wolffs memo, January 13 (IfZ, MA-333, page 8079); Himmlers letter to Bormann, March 13 (T175/70/6813), and speech, October 6, 1943.