David Irving


“ We Must Destroy Them, Too ! ”

An icy winter descended on Germany.  The canals froze, the railways were clogged with military movements, population and industry alike were starved for coal and the most elementary daily requisites.  These domestic worries Hitler transferred to the willing shoulders of Field Marshal G–ring.  He himself was concerned only with the coming offensive against France and the Low Countries.  Day and night he talked and dreamed of “Yellow”—of how the armored divisions could best be employed, of how the bridges could be seized intact, of how the Dutch government could be persuaded not to fight back, and of how each operation should be devised to shed as little German blood as possible—a consideration that weighed less on him with each successive year.  By Christmas 1939 he had already decided where the big hole was to be punched through the French defenses :  at Sedan ;  and it was indeed at Sedan that the foundations of the Nazi triumph over France were laid.

It was now January 1940, and the F¸hrer was back at his Chancellery in Berlin.  He had heeded neither the entreaties of his generals, the admonitions of his diplomats, nor the anxious counsels of his vacillating Italian ally.  The frightened letter Mussolini had written early in January proved how little Hitler could rely on Italy.  Why else should the Italians offer to mediate with the West unless they intended to use Hitler’s inevitable refusal as an alibi ?  A few days later Mussolini repeated the familiar complaint that Ribbentrop had in August 1939 promised Ciano that the West would stay out of the war ;  what was the point of such carping observations if Italy were not planning to welsh on her obligations when the time came ?

It was indeed a curious alliance, for the Forschungsamt, G–ring’s remarkable telephone-tapping and codebreaking agency, now intercepted a coded telegram in which the Belgian ambassador in Rome reported to his foreign ministry in Brussels that Count Ciano had betrayed to him Germany’s firm intention of attacking Belgium and had revealed the date currently set for that adventure.  Since the records show that the Forschungsamt was reading the coded dispatches from the Italian embassy in Berlin to Ciano, Hitler must have known that the military attachÈ General Marras had supplied this information to Rome ;  at any rate, when Hitler later in the month proposed spreading false rumors about his new plans, Marras figured significantly among those with whom the rumors were to be planted !

Hitler assured Ambassador Bernardo Attolico, “1940 will bring us victory,” but at the beginning of March, though Mussolini now made loyal noises, the Italians were still sitting uncomfortably on the fence.  “The Italians are strange people,” wrote Weizs”cker at that time.  “Loyal glances toward us, so as to share in any success we may achieve.  And gifts and minor acts of treachery for the West, so as to keep in their good books too.”

Hitler was satisfied in his own mind that neither Belgium nor Holland would long maintain its strict neutrality.  He was (wrongly) convinced that Brussels had long since reached secret agreement with London and Paris.  Not surprisingly, Belgium had shifted her main defensive effort to her frontier with Germany, and the anti-German trend of all Belgian military preparations was highlighted by a secret report submitted by German army Intelligence in January 1940 :  Belgium had been fortified solely against Germany ;  fraternization was actively encouraged between Belgians and the French and British forces in the west ;  since mid-October, over two-thirds of all Belgium’s forces were massed in the east, apparently oblivious of the growing Anglo-French concentration in the west ;  the Belgian gendarmerie had received instructions to speed any French invasion of the country, and while signposts in western Belgium had been replenished and improved to that end, those in the east had been wholly removed to hamper a German invasion.  In the west, throughout November the Belgians had allegedly accumulated railway stock and convoys of trucks to aid the French.  Mayors of Ardennes villages were ordered to prepare billets for French troops.  Mufti-dressed French soldiers “on leave” were observed on the Belgian transport systems with uniforms in their suitcases.  The fortifications at Liege and on the Albert Canal were far beyond the Belgian military capacity to defend—they had clearly been designed to accommodate French and British troops as well.  One glance at an Intelligence map was enough to show that the Allies were preparing the left wing of their offensive through Belgian territory.  “With the exception of one division, every single mechanized infantry, armored, and cavalry division is standing on the Belgian frontier.”  In short, Hitler saw no reason to have compunctions about attacking this “little neutral.”

Hitler still frowned on the notion that he had unleashed a second World War.  Later in January he was to authorize the navy to refer to the campaign from time to time as the “English war.”  For more general consumption, he decided that the best overall title was the “Great German War of Liberation.”  Neither term caught the public imagination—perhaps the public still hoped peace was just around the corner.

On the afternoon of January 10, the F¸hrer discussed “Operation Yellow” with his commanders in chief.  The weather report was excellent—for the next ten to fourteen days they could count on clear wintry weather in the west.  He decided “Yellow” would begin fifteen minutes before dawn on the seventeenth, preceded perhaps by four or five days of saturation bombing attacks on French airfields and flying schools.  As January to ended, Germany was closer to launching “Yellow” than ever before.  Two million men waited with their tanks and guns confronting the armies of France, Belgium, and Holland.

Shortly before noon the next day, however, infuriating news reached the Chancellery.  A Luftwaffe major carrying a suitcase of the most secret documents had strayed in a light aircraft across the Belgian frontier and crash-landed near Mechelen-sur-Meuse.  Hitler stormed into Jodl’s room and demanded a complete list of all the documents the major had been carrying.  “It is things like this that can lose us the war !” he exclaimed—an outburst of startling frankness when spoken by the F¸hrer.  The major had contravened a direct embargo on flying with secret papers.  Even now Hitler did not waver on his decision to launch “Yellow” on the seventeenth, and at 3:15 P.M. he confirmed this.

He also issued a drastic “Basic Order No. 1” on security—a regulation that was from now on to be displayed in every military headquarters as a wallposter—stipulating that nobody was to hear of any secret matter unless absolutely necessary and that then he was to be told no more, and no earlier, than necessary.  “I forbid the thoughtless dissemination, just on the basis of some distribution list or other, of orders whose secrecy is of prime importance !”  As a concrete restatement of general security principles the order was sound and admirable, but in later years Hitler came to wield it as a capital weapon in his tactic of divide et impera :  soldiers should not interfere with diplomacy, nor diplomacy with the affairs of government ;  one army group commander was not to learn the orders and intentions of his neighboring army group.  Only Adolf Hitler, as F¸hrer and absolute commander, had the right to know it all.

Most of the Belgian newspapers reassuringly reported that the Luftwaffe major had managed to destroy all the papers he was carrying, but one journal (correctly as we now know) stated that same evening that this was not so :  the German major had hurled the documents into a stove in the room where he was being interrogated ;  but a Belgian officer had thrust his hand into the stove and retrieved the smoldering fragments.  On January 12, Jodl set out to Hitler the maximum the Belgians could deduce from the secret documents.  If they had all fallen intact into enemy hands, than the situation was indeed serious.  Later that day the attachÈ in Brussels cabled that the major and his pilot had assured him they had burned all the papers apart from an unimportant residue, and he repeated this in person to Hitler at the Chancellery at 11 A.M. on the thirteenth.

The Mechelen incident was not enough to deter Hitler from launching “Yellow.”  But shortly afterward a bad weather report—of warmer air coming from the northeast and resulting in periods of fog in the west—unsettled him, and at about one o’clock that afternoon he ordered all movements stopped.  “Yellow” was provisionally postponed by three days to the twentieth.  But the weather picture worsened.  Hitler told his staff ;  “If we cannot count on at least eight days of fine and clear weather, then we will call it off until the spring.”  And on the afternoon of the sixteenth he directed that the whole offensive was to be dismantled until then, and that its reassembling was to be made on a new basis :  that of security and surprise.  He left G–ring in no uncertainty about his anger at the Luftwaffe’s loose security regulations, for two more incidents had occurred :  in one, an officer had dropped a dispatch case out of a train, in the other a Luftflotte adjutant had lost a file of secret documents.  G–ring reacted characteristically :  he dismissed both General Helmuth Felmy, the major’s superior, and Felmy’s Chief of Staff, and he then calmly informed Hitler that he had consulted a clairvoyant, who had also reassured him that the most important papers had been destroyed.

The Intelligence reports from Belgium gave this Delphic utterance the lie.  Extensive mobilization was carried out in both Holland and Belgium late on the thirteenth.  The Belgian General Staff ordered military units stationed in southern Belgium to offer no resistance whatever to French and British troops that might march in—indeed, the frontier barriers were to be taken down to speed their entry.  Since the Forschungsamt was reading the Belgian codes, it is reasonable to assume that Hitler had by now also read the telegram sent by the Belgian military attachÈ in Berlin, Colonel Goethals, on the evening of January 13, warning that the German invasion was due next day, according to what an “informateur sincËre, de valeur discutable” had told him.(1)  By the morning of the seventeenth, it was clear from the official dÈmarches of the Belgian government that the Mechelen documents had betrayed most of “Yellow” in its original form.  Belgium and Holland now knew that Germany planned to disregard their neutrality and mount an airborne landing operation at Namur ;  fortunately for Hitler, the documents could not have compromised the delicate plan to seize the bridges across the Meuse and the Albert Canal.

In a sense Hitler must have been relieved that this Luftwaffe bÍtise had forced a major decision on him.  Besides, the enemy would now surely concentrate his best forces in the north to meet the new German “Schlieffen-style” attack ;  so the prospects of an encirclement operation beginning at Sedan and ending at the Channel coast were much enhanced.  Everything depended on keeping this, his real intent, concealed from the enemy, and in a series of conferences at the end of January 1940 Hitler impressed this on his army commanders.  As he said on the twentieth, he was convinced Germany would win the war, “but we are bound to lose it if we cannot learn how to keep our mouths shut.”  He ordered the preinvasion timetable to be overhauled in such a way that he need no longer decide on the date of the attack seven days in advance.  He directed that paratroop units also be employed in the north, for he now wanted the whole of Holland occupied.  When “Yellow” began, a foreign ministry official would be sent secretly to The Hague to invite the Dutch monarchy to accept the Wehrmacht’s “armed defense of Dutch neutrality.”(2)  A constant state of alert was to be maintained in the west on the assumption that “Yellow” might start at any moment.  This placed an almost intolerable burden on the goodwill of the towns and villages on which the armies had been billeted since October.  The army commanders reminded Hitler of the undesirable consequences for the local female residents, but he reflected that at present there was far more at stake.

At the end of January 1940, the F¸hrer had sent his chief military adjutant on a flying tour of the western front.  On his return to Berlin on February I, Colonel Rudolf Schmundt was bursting to report what he had found at General von Rundstedt’s army group headquarters at Koblenz.  Rundstedt’s former Chief of Staff, General Erich von Manstein, was as adamantly opposed to the current war department (OKH) offensive plan in the west as was Hitler ;  moreover, he was advocating a radical alternative almost identical to what Hitler had been debating with his closest staff ever since October—breaching the French lines at Sedan after crossing the awkward Ardennes region of southern Belgium and then pushing a strong armored force straight up to the Channel to cut off the British and French elite forces as they advanced into Belgium.  When Hitler had toured the western front over Christmas, he had talked of little else to his adjutants.  But while he had contemptuously referred to the war ministry plan as “the same old Schlieffen medicine as before,” Hitler had not convinced himself to the extent of issuing a concrete order redisposing the armored divisions for the attack through the Ardennes.

Hitler’s respect for General von Manstein’s ability bordered on fear.  That Manstein had independently had the same idea as he, convinced him of its soundness ;  and that the OKH bureaucrats had removed Manstein from his post with Rundstedt and given him command of a corps in the rear, impressed him even more.  On February 13, Hitler told Jodl of his decision to commit the mass of his armor to the breakthrough at Sedan, where the enemy would now least expect it.  Jodl urged caution.  It was an “underhand approach”;  the Gods of War might yet catch them napping there, for the French might launch a powerful flank attack.  But now Hitler was deaf to criticism.  On the seventeenth he buttonholed Manstein in person when the general attended a Chancellery dinner party for the new corps commanders.  Manstein assured him that the new plan was the only means by which to obtain a total victory on land ;  everything else was just a half-measure.  The next day Hitler sent for General von Brauchitsch and his Chief of Staff and after explaining the underlying strategy dictated the new operational plan to them.  On February 24, the war department issued the new directive for “Yellow.”

The eventual outstanding success of the new strategy—which has gone down in history not wholly unjustly as the Manstein Plan, for it was he who elaborated it in all the staff detail of which Hitler was incapable—convinced Hitler of his own military genius.  Henceforth he readily mistook his astounding intuitive grasp for the sound, logical planning ability of a real warlord.  His reluctance to heed his professional advisers was ever after magnified.  He told one of his elder civil servants, experts should be on tap—not on top.

To undermine the French soldier’s morale Hitler ordered German propaganda to hint that the real quarrel was with the British.  Millions of rust-brown “autumn leaves” were released over the French lines, imprinted with Goebbels’s famous message :  “Automne.  Les feuilles tombent.  Nous tomberons comme elles.  Les feuilles meurent parce que Dieu le veut.  Mais nous, nous tombons parce que les Anglais le veulent.  Au printemps prochain personne ne se souviendra plus ni des feuilles mortes ni des poilus tuÈs.  La vie passera sur nos tombes.”(3)

But Hitler’s true attitude toward Britain and France was the reverse of what this melancholy warning would seem to suggest.  It was for the British that he had a maudlin, unrequited affection that caused him to pull his punches throughout 1940 to the exasperation of his strategic advisers.  As Halder explained Hitler’s program to the chief of army Intelligence late in January :  “The F¸hrer wants to win the war militarily :  defeating France, then a grand gesture to Britain.  He recognizes the need for the empire.”  During lunch at the Chancellery in these weeks of early 1940, Rudolf Hess once inquired, “Mein F¸hrer, are your views about the British still the same ?”  Hitler gloomily sighed, “If only the British knew how little I ask of them !”  How he liked to leaf through the glossy pages of The Tatler, studying the British aristocracy in their natural habitat !  Once he was overheard to say, “Those are valuable specimens—those are the ones I am going to make peace with.”  And how he envied the ease with which the British got away with their “trickery and double-dealing !”  The Chancellery dinner attended by Manstein and the other corps commanders fell on the day after the Altmark incident, in which the Royal Navy had coolly violated Norwegian neutral waters under circumstances to be explained below.  Hitler could talk of little else and expounded loudly on the inherent properness of such actions—whatever the international lawyers might subsequently proclaim.  History, he explained, judged only between success and failure ;  that was all that really counted—nobody asked the victor whether he was in the right or wrong.

Characteristically, nobody interrupted or contradicted Hitler.  A general who was present later wrote :  “Among his listeners sat Manstein, his face absolutely motionless.  Some time before I had heard him make comments on the Nazi creed that were of an acerbity rare in army circles.  Another general sat nodding sagely at each and every remark that Hitler made, like a mandarin toy with its head on a spring.  The very astute General Schmidt listened with his head cocked attentively to one side.”  Rommel—who had been given an armored division a few days before—left the Chancellery clutching the copy of Mein Kampf Hitler had just given him.  It was inscribed :  “To General Rommel with fond memories, Adolf Hitler, February 3, 1940.”  Rommel wrote that afternoon :  “I am enormously pleased with it.”

The Altmark incident had revealed the frailty of the neutrality of a small country which falls foul of the interests of two great powers.  The Altmark was the 15,000-ton German supply ship which had ministered to the needs of Graf Spee in the South Atlantic ;  since the action off the Uruguayan coast, she had lain low, her holds packed with three hundred British seamen captured from Graf Spee’s victims.  Until mid-February 1940, the worried German admiralty had heard no sound from her, but on the fourteenth she signaled that she was about to enter northern Norwegian waters.  In those waters she should be immune to enemy attack ;  under The Hague Rules she was entitled to passage through them, for she was not a man-of-war but a naval auxiliary flying the flag of the German merchant marine.  Such defensive armament as she had boasted in the Atlantic was properly stowed away below.  The Norwegian picket boats interrogated her ;  her captain denied the presence of any prisoners—the position in law would not have altered if he had admitted them—and the Altmark was allowed to proceed.

The Norwegians undertook to escort her, but in Berlin late on the sixteenth the admiralty began intercepting British naval signals which left no doubt but that an attempt was afoot to capture the Altmark even if it meant violating Norwegian neutral waters.  By 6 A.M. next morning these fears were confirmed.  A radio signal of the British commander to the admiralty in London had been decoded in Berlin :  the British destroyer Cossack had been alongside the Altmark and he and his group were returning to Rosyth.  By midday a full report of this incident was in Hitler’s hands, telephoned through by the legation in Oslo.  Seeing the British force—a cruiser and six destroyers—closing in, the Altmark’s captain had sought refuge in Jossing Fjord.  Two Norwegian vessels had held the British ships at bay until dusk, when the Cossack, her searchlights blazing, had forced her way past them into the fjord and ordered the German ship to heave to.  The Altmark’s report described how a boarding party had seized the ship’s bridge “and began firing like blind maniacs into the German crew, who of course did not have a gun among them.”  Six men died, many more were injured.  A handful of the crew fled across the ice which hemmed the vessel in, or they sprang into the water ;  the British boarders opened fire on these as well—an outrage to which the Norwegians also later testified.  The three hundred prisoners were liberated, the ship and its crew were looted, and the Cossack withdrew.  The Germans had not fired one shot.

Hitler did not have to await the official decoration of the Cossack’s captain with the Victoria Cross to know that this violation of Norwegian neutrality had the highest sanction in London.  London had even signaled the captain the previous afternoon that the destroyers were to open fire on the Norwegian patrol boats if the latter resisted the British approach.  These and other British signals were decoded by Berlin.  The German naval staff war diary concluded :  “From the orders of the admiralty and the steps taken by the British naval forces it is clear beyond a doubt that the operation against the supply vessel Altmark was premeditated and planned with the deliberate object of capturing the Altmark by whatever means available, or of releasing the prisoners, if necessary by violating Norway’s territorial waters.”  Now if never before Hitler realized how real was the possibility that the Allies would use the Russo-Finnish war as a pretext for a full-scale invasion of Norway.  He ordered that in the ensuing operation to recover the damaged Altmark Norway’s neutrality was to be respected to the utmost ;  but his own resolve to violate it once and for all dated from this naval episode.

More than the wish to repair his prestige, injured by the Altmark affair—more even than the strategic need to occupy the Norwegian coast before the Allies could do so—there began to weigh with Hitler the belated consideration that since the Scandinavian peoples were also of Germanic stock they naturally belonged within the Nazi fold.  There is no other explanation for his later persisting in his plan to occupy Norway, even after the initial pretext had gone.

It is important to recall that in none of his Wehrmacht directives or secret speeches to his generals had Hitler adumbrated the occupation of Scandinavia.  Only after Quisling’s visits in December 1939 had the F¸hrer ordered Jodl’s staff to study such a possibility, but he had sat on the resulting document for some weeks before forwarding it to the service commands on January 10.  The OKW study recommended that a special working staff under a Luftwaffe general, with navy and army assistants, should devise a suitable operational plan.  Assuming the code name “Oyster,” this staff began work under General Erhard Milch a week later, but almost immediately Hitler ordered the unit dissolved and the OKW study withdrawn ;  he was not convinced that the Luftwaffe knew how to safeguard the secrecy of such planning.  Instead, a top-secret unit was established within the OKW itself under Hitler’s personal supervision ;  its senior officer was a navy captain, Theodor Krancke, and it was from the very scanty Intelligence material available that Krancke and his handful of army and Luftwaffe aides drafted the first blueprint for the campaign.  He proposed simultaneous amphibious landings at seven Norwegian ports—Oslo, Kristiansand, Arendal, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim, and Narvik—the troops being carried northward by a fleet of fast warships ;  paratroops of the Seventh Air Division and waves of bombers and fighters would support the invasion.  Diplomatic pressure on the Oslo government would do the rest.

Characteristically, Hitler consulted neither Brauchitsch nor G–ring at this stage.  The Luftwaffe’s reluctance to coordinate its operations with the other services was notorious—indeed, its truculent and disastrous spirit of independence was borne out by the bombing and sinking of two German destroyers late in February with heavy loss of life.  G–ring refused to attach a Luftwaffe officer to Krancke’s staff and remained in haughty ignorance of the Norwegian plan until early March.  Hitler meanwhile accepted General Jodl’s recommendation that the campaign preparations be put in the hands of an infantry general, Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, a fifty-five-year-old veteran of the 1918 German campaign in Finland ;  summoned to the Chancellery on February 21, Falkenhorst accepted the mission with alacrity and returned to the Chancellery on the twenty-ninth with a complete operational plan which now embraced not only Norway but Denmark as well, for the lines of communication between Germany and Norway had to be secured.  Hitler had still not firmly decided whether the invasion was to be launched before, after, or even simultaneously with the attack on France and the Low Countries ;  but since Jodl had recommended making the two theaters entirely independent of each other, that decision could be postponed.

On March 1, Hitler signed the directive for the occupation of Norway and Denmark.  Daring and surprise were the essence of the campaign.  The army at once protested the introduction of a new theater.  G–ring stormed into the Chancellery and refused to subordinate his squadrons to Falkenhorst’s command (eventually General Milch commanded Luftwaffe operations “in consultation with” Falkenhorst).  Only the navy committed itself body and soul to the campaign, which was just as well, since Raeder’s fleet was to suffer dearly.

Hitler wanted the campaign launched soon, before the British and French could beat him to it.  Hewel brought him telegram after telegram from Helsinki, Trondheim, and Oslo hinting at the Allied preparations to land in Scandinavia on the pretext of helping Finland.  On March 4, Hitler orally ordered the service commands to speed up their planning ;  it was to be completed within six days so that the simultaneous landing operations, including northern Norway, could begin on the seventeenth.  “Yellow” could then follow about three days later.  G–ring was still discontented, and when Falkenhorst reported progress on March 5, he expressed loud contempt for all the army’s joint planning work so far ;  but to Hitler this was a strategic crisis transcending interservice rivalries.

The risk of an Allied intervention in Scandinavia was too great.  Through Rosenberg, Hitler received from Quisling’s men in Oslo urgent proof that the British and French invasion plans were far advanced :  communications within Scotland, just twenty-four hours from the Norwegian coast, had been blacked out.  Something was clearly afoot.  At lunch on the sixth, Hitler leaned over to Rosenberg and said, “I read your note.  Things are looking bad.”

The crisis reached its blackest point on March 12, as a torrent of dispatches from Moscow and Helsinki revealed that armistice talks had begun.  If the western powers wished to act, it had to be now ;  if there was no war in Finland, Britain and France would have no legitimate reason to land in Scandinavia.  London began desperate attempts to keep the war alive a few more days.  Winston Churchill had evidently flown to Paris on the eleventh to inform the French government that on March 15 his expeditionary force was to sail for Narvik, for at 3:30 P.M. on March 12 the Forschungsamt intercepted an urgent telephone call from the Finnish envoy in Paris to his foreign ministry in Helsinki.  The envoy reported that Churchill and Daladier had promised him that if the Finns appealed for help immediately, British and French troops would be landed in Norway ;  the Norwegian government would merely be “notified” of this ;  Britain and France would then break off diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union at once.  (Whether the Forschungsamt intercepted the actual date of the invasion is uncertain.)  Thus the fat really was in the fire.  Hitler ordered all German invasion plans accelerated, and the forces to stand by for the so-called Immediate Op. emergency.  By next morning, however, the Russians had signed the armistice with Finland, and the immediate crisis was over.

The German admiralty’s intercepts of coded British radio messages clearly indicated that the British and French had been on the very brink of a major landing in Norway.  Destroyers had been attached to the British Commander in Chief Home Fleet, submarines stationed as a flank defense across the Skaggerak, and troop embarkation for an unspecified “Plan Three” completed.  The fact that the troop transports had now been placed on extended sailing alert indicated that the Allies had only postponed their invasion and not canceled it altogether.  German invasion preparations returned to a more leisurely pace ;  for the time being, Hitler withheld the executive order for the operation.  “He is still searching for a sufficient reason,” Jodl wrote in his diary.  The true root of the Norwegian campaign was laid bare by Hitler in a remark to Rosenberg three weeks later, the day the amphibious operation began :  “Just as Bismarck’s Reich dates from the year 1866, so today has seen the birth of the Greater Germanic Reich.”

We have seen how as F¸hrer Hitler concerned himself not only with grand strategy—with all the chains of Intelligence combining only in his hands—but with the minutest interlocking elements of each operation :  the position of the demolition charges on canal bridges, the thickness of the concrete in his fortifications, the strength of the guns commanding the Norwegian fjords.  In this he was aided by a phenomenal memory and technical insight into weapons design, although his knowledge was limited to ships, tanks, and guns rather than to the weapons of air war.  It was he who first demanded that 75-millimeter long-barrel guns be installed in German tanks.  And it was he who pinpointed the common error in German warship design—building the forecastle so low that in heavy seas it tended to cut beneath the waves :  on his birthday in 1937, the proud navy had presented him with a model of the Scharnhorst, and late that evening he had sent for his adjutant Puttkamer and invited him to crouch and squint along the model’s decks with him ;  he was right, of course, and even at that late stage the forecastle had to be redesigned.  On his bedside table his manservants always laid out the latest edition of Weyer’s naval handbook—the German Janes’—for the F¸hrer to commit to memory as though he were preparing for some astounding music-hall act.  His own staff had already witnessed the scene at headquarters during the Polish campaign when Admiral Raeder telephoned news of the sinking of some British warships ;  Hitler had beamed with pleasure, put down the telephone, and told Puttkamer the news, adding without the slightest hesitation the displacement, armament and armor thickness of each vessel.  “Am I right, Puttkamer ?” he had inquired, and the naval adjutant had reassured him, “Without doubt, mein F¸hrer !”  (Nonetheless he had privately checked in Weyer’s immediately afterward and exclaimed to the other adjutants that Hitler’s figures had been right “down to the last Pfennig !”)

Did Hitler have some secret method, or was it that rarity—a photographic memory ?  We cannot tell.  When the Red Book of arms production reached him each month, he would take a scrap of paper and, using a colored pencil selected from the tray on his desk, scribble down a few random figures as he ran his eyes over the columns.  Then he would throw away the paper—but the figures remained indelibly in his memory—column by column, year after year—to confound his bureaucratic but more fallible aides with the proof of their own shortcomings.  One month he pounced on a printing error in the current Red Book :  an “8” instead of a “3.”  He had remembered the right figure from the previous month’s edition.  Late in 1940 Keitel took his new adjutant for an arms production conference with Hitler at the Berghof.  Keitel started with figures on the total ammunition expended in the recent French campaign, and added more to allow for an extended war now ;  but Hitler responded that in 1916 the German armies had consumed far more 210-millimeter and 150-millimeter ammunition each month, and he stated the precise quantities from memory.  Afterward Keitel instructed his adjutant to forward those new figures to General Georg Thomas of the OKW’s munitions procurement office.  “That is the new program.”  When the adjutant suggested they should at least check Hitler’s figures Keitel wearily replied, “This is something you still have to learn.  If the F¸hrer says it, you can take it that it’s right.”

Hitler’s seeming omniscience, and the eloquence of the arguments by which he gradually wore everybody down while apparently refreshing himself, had one disadvantage.  While the less frequent visitors on technical affairs like the minister of posts, the elderly Wilhelm Ohnesorge, or the chief of naval construction, Admiral Karl Witzell, were flattered by the genuine interest the F¸hrer displayed in their reports, Hitler’s regular staff were discouraged by the feeling that since the F¸hrer had already thought of everything himself there was little they could contribute by way of suggestion or initiative.

Although the OKW maintained its own munitions procurement office under General Thomas, Keitel readily echoed Hitler’s mounting criticism of the arms production effort during the winter.  He made no discernible effort to point out to Hitler that it was his own insistence on German armament in breadth for Blitzkrieg warfare—or war by bluff rather than in depth for an extended war on many fronts, that was to blame for the present low ammunition production capacity.  Again and again Hitler dinned into Keitel’s head the disparity between current production programs and the achievements of the German munitions industry in World War I.  In vain Keitel warned that such huge production figures could not be attained if the high quality of modern ammunition was not to be jeopardized.  Hitler himself drew up a new production program in which priority was given to mine production for the naval and Luftwaffe blockade of Britain and to huge monthly outputs of artillery ammunition.  He virtually doubled previous figures in a new program he issued on December 12, 1939.

Keitel issued the program to the army ordnance office—at that time headed by a sixty-year-old professor, General Karl Becker.  By mid-January 1940, the latter had objected that Hitler’s program could not be met “to the remotest extent”:  there was no point squandering scarce steel and nonferrous metal stocks manufacturing millions of shells if the chemical and explosives industry was not big enough to fill them.  Keitel refused to tell this to the F¸hrer.  The F¸hrer’s munitions program must be fulfilled.  If the ordnance office could not do it, the F¸hrer would give the job to somebody else.  Hitler was already toying with the idea—first put to him by G–ring, who lost no opportunity to criticize the army’s feeble ordnance office—of appointing a civilian munitions minister to take arms and munitions production out of the hands of the bureaucratic army staff officers.  When Keitel himself asked for the power to control the arms industry, Hitler turned him down.  In view of the increasing Allied strength in the West he was planning to establish ten more army divisions as well as new Luftwaffe squadrons which would concentrate on minelaying operations ;  he must at all costs have the increased mine and munitions production now.

When in February the army ordnance office reported the previous month’s production figures, Hitler found this the last straw.  Production of the most important weapons had actually declined.  In the two main calibers of shell the F¸hrer’s program figures would not be reached even by April.  Throughout January and February Hitler cursed General Becker’s lethargic and inadequate ordnance office.  Nor did he have any confidence in the ability of Keitel’s staff to prod the arms industry into activity.

At the end of February, G–ring appointed Dr. Fritz Todt as a special troubleshooter to locate the bottlenecks in the munitions industry and recommend ways of stepping up production.  Hitler trusted Todt implicitly, and Todt had also won the respect of the Party.  He shortly convinced Hitler that if the industry was given a voice in how it was to fulfill its orders—the system of self-responsibility that had functioned so well in the construction of the autobahns and of the West Wall—Hitler’s “impossible” production figures could be achieved.  In March, Hitler appointed Todt his munitions minister.  It was as much a rebuff to Keitel as to General Becker.  But when the pained General Thomas, whose gloomy analyses of Germany’s economic position had continually irritated Hitler, voiced objections, he was silenced by Keitel with the blunt comment that the less he reminded the F¸hrer of his existence the better.  Fritz Todt effectively wielded the powers Hitler had earlier denied to Keitel and Becker, for by the summer of 1940 the munitions crisis had virtually been surmounted.  General Becker sensed his failure keenly, despite Hitler’s endeavors to preserve his self-esteem, and he committed suicide not long after—the first of a sad band of Germans whose only common denominator was a failure to come up to Hitler’s expectations.

At the end of February 1940, Hitler had secretly convened the Party leaders in the Chancellery and assured them the war would be over in six months—his new weapons would force the enemy to their knees ;  without doubt he was alluding to the mass minelaying operations the Luftwaffe was shortly to begin, using the deadly magnetic mine against which he believed the Allies had no defense.

Italy’s uncertain stance continued to trouble him.  Roosevelt had sent his undersecretary of state, Sumner Welles, to tour the engaged European capitals and sound their leaders on the prospects of peace.  Hitler observed this uninvited diplomat’s first port of call, at Rome, with as much disquiet as the British, though for different reasons.  He was concerned that Welles’s vague peace proposals might strengthen the neutralist elements in Rome, or even drive Italy into the arms of the Allies.  Hitler studied the official Italian communiquÈs on the Rome talks and compared them closely with the Forschungsamt intercepts of the secret Italian dispatches relating to them.  The Duce, however, appeared to have loyally defended Germany’s claims.  In his own talks with Sumner Welles, Hitler adhered rigidly to his argument that since this was Britain’s war, it was up to Britain to end it.  No amount of flattery by the American diplomat could cajole the F¸hrer from this attitude.  On March 4, Hitler repeated it to a General Motors vice president, James D. Mooney, to whom he granted an audience.  “The current war can only be brought to an end by the other countries giving up their war aims,” meaning the annihilation of Germany ;  Germany, he said, had no war aims.(4)

Britain’s heavy-handed dealings with Mussolini reinforced his Axis position.  To force him to take his trade negotiations with Britain seriously, the British imposed a naval blockade on Italy’s coal supplies at the beginning of March.  Hitler stepped in with an immediate offer of a million tons of coal a month, to be supplied over land to his harassed Axis partner.  On March 8 he sent Ribbentrop to Rome with an overlong and profuse letter replying at long last to the Duce’s missive of two months before.  When Ribbentrop reported back that Mussolini had at last agreed on principle to take up arms against Britain and France, Hitler asked for an immediate meeting to be arranged with the Fascist leader.  He instructed Jodl’s staff to provide him with a folder of charts, including one grossly faking Germany’s actual military strength (crediting her with 207 divisions instead of her actual 157), and met Mussolini at the Brenner Pass on March 18.

It was their first meeting since Munich.  How much of his far-reaching program Hitler had achieved since then !  Mussolini, on the other hand, arrived with the air of a schoolboy who had not done his homework, as Hitler later put it.  The F¸hrer impressed upon Mussolini that the Duce could decide the best moment to declare war, but that he, Hitler, would recommend doing so only after the first big German offensive.  The Duce promised to lose no time, but he would prefer “Yellow” to be delayed for three or four months until Italy was properly prepared.  Hitler hugely exaggerated Germany’s prospects :  her armies were more powerful than in 1914, she had more ammunition than she could use, production of Junkers 88 aircraft and submarines was surging forward.  As for the British, once France had been subdued, Britain would come to terms with Hitler.  “The British are extraordinarily determined in defense but quite hopeless at attacking, and their leadership is poor.”  More than once he assured Mussolini that for Germany there could now be only one partner ;  however, despite all these protestations he evidently still mistrusted the Italians, for he imparted to Mussolini neither the impressive operational plan he and Manstein had evolved for victory in the west, nor the slightest mention of his intentions in Scandinavia.  And in the directive he soon after issued to Keitel, a directive in which the Wehrmacht was instructed to resume staff talks with Italy, he stated explicitly that any Italian forces must be assigned a task as independent from the main German operations as possible, to minimize “the problems inevitable in a coalition war.”

Italy was still angry with Germany about the pact with Russia, which had been supplemented in February by an important economic agreement.  Hitler attempted in both his letter and his private talk with Mussolini to convince him that Russia was changed—though how far these words were intended for Soviet consumption is a matter of speculation.  “Without doubt,” Hitler had written the Duce, “since Stalin’s final triumph Russia has been undergoing a change from the Bolshevik principle to a more nationalist Russian way of life.”  At the Brenner meeting he reminded Mussolini that he had always wanted to march side by side with the British, provided that the British respected Germany’s claims to expand eastward and returned to her the colonies lost after the Great War.  “But Britain preferred war.  This was why I was forced into partnership with Russia.”

Yet there were surely less abstract reasons for his insistence that German industry deliver the goods to Stalin in abundance and on time—an insistence he voiced urgently throughout the spring of 1940.  The British were known to be wooing the Russians even now.  So long as the pact with Stalin was in force, it effectively released sixty high-grade divisions for Hitler to employ in the attack on France.  Hitler’s innermost intentions lay just below the surface.  Perhaps the Russians should have guessed at them, for in 1940 millions of copies of the latest reprint of Mein Kampf went on sale, in which Chapter Fourteen, with its clear statement of his plan to invade the east, remain unexpunged.  And when Hitler touched in conversation with Mussolini on the enforced evacuation of the German-speaking population from the South Tyrol—a mountainous province claimed by both Italy and Austria—he cryptically explained that he planned to resettle these people in a beautiful region “that I do not yet have but will certainly be procuring”;  he must have already been looking ahead to the day when his armies would have turned eastward and be standing astride the Crimea, the region he formally assigned to the South Tyroleans in mid-1941.

On March 22, 1940, four days after his pregnant aside to Mussolini, Adolf Hitler again headed south, flying this time from Berlin to the Berghof for the Easter weekend.  Captain Engel took the opportunity of this long flight to hand the F¸hrer a lengthy report General Guderian had compiled on the wretched equipment and training standards of the Soviet troops in Finland.  According to Engel, Hitler returned it with the laconic commentary :  “Auch die m¸ssen wir vernichten !”—“We must destroy them, too !”

1 Goethals sent further telegrams to Brussels on January 14, 15, and 17, 1940, indicating that his source was passing on to him Hitler’s decisions with a time lag of about twenty-four hours ;  the source may have confused the beginning of “Yellow” with the preceding Luftwaffe strike, which was to take place on January 14 (later canceled).  Goethals’s source was his Dutch colleague, Major G.J. Sas, who saw him at about 5 P.M. on the thirteenth and told him that when Hitler had learned of the Mechelen incident he was furious.  “He stormed about and ordered the immediate beginning of the offensive in the west, before the Allies could take countermeasures.”  Sas’s source was a Colonel Hans Oster.

2 Major Werner Kiewitz, who had carried Hitler’s first surrender ultimatum to Warsaw on September 16, was selected for this mission.  He was to persuade Queen Wilhelmina of the futility of opposing the German invasion.  In the event, the Dutch were forewarned, and they refused to issue an entry visa to him ;  a desperate plan to parachute him into The Hague was abandoned, as by then the queen had escaped to England.

3 “Autumn.  The leaves are dropping.  We too will drop like them.  The leaves die because God wills it.  But we die because the British want it.  Next spring nobody will remember either the dead leaves or the fallen French soldiers.  Life will go on above our graves.”

4 The only American who made a good impression on Hitler at this stage was the traveling journalist Colin Ross, sent to him by Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach.  Ross described to him the “fantastic slyness” and organizing talent of the American Jews, who had achieved so much that nobody in the United States now dared to support fascism openly, although there was much that was Fascist about the American government and way of life.  Roosevelt’s pathological envy of Hitler, said Ross, was caused by seeing how Hitler had put all his ambitious plans into practice, while he, who had come to power in the same year, had not.


p. 76   The 922-page ledger kept by Walther Hewel of the diplomatic papers submitted to Hitler from January 1940 to August 1942 is in AA files ;  it lists many of the Forschungsamt’s achievements, including for example a decoded Belgian telegram of February 11, 1940, reporting Ciano’s comments to the Belgian envoy in Rome.  For evidence that Ciano betrayed “Yellow” to the Belgians see Groscurth’s diary of January 2, and Halder’s diary.  On the seventh the general noted :  “Other side knows date ... F¸hrer aware of this”;  and next day Major Hasso von Etzdorf, his liaison officer to the foreign ministry, told him of a “telegram (Kerchove).”  The latter was Belgian envoy in Rome.  On January 18, Weizs”cker wrote to Ambassador von Mackensen in Rome :  “I believe Herr von Ribbentrop has briefed you about certain goings—on between Rome and Brussels ... but I found it most important that you should be shown or sent the actual texts concerned” (AA, Serial 100, pages 64885 et seq.).  On Janury 22, Halder’s Intelligence chief wrote in his diary :  “It [alian] betrayal to Belg[ians] of German intentions and preparations.”

p.77   The report by Halder’s Intelligence chief (Tippelskirch) on Belgium is in the files of Foreign Armies West (AL/1329).  For an opposing view on Belgium’s neutrality, see Professor H.A. Jacobsen’s study in WR, 1957, pages 275 et seq.

p. 78   My account of the Mechelen affair is based on Jacobsen’s study in WR, 1954, pages 497 et seq., Jean Vanwelkenhuyzen, ibid., 1955, pages 66 et seq., and the diaries of Jodl, Halder, Groscurth, Milch, Hassell, and Deyhle ;  on the Weizs”cker file on Belgium ;  and on interrogations of G–ring and Below.  About a dozen damning fragments of typed pages and directives did in fact survive the flames ;  the general geography of “Yellow” could be deduced from them.  “On day 1 of the attack” the Eigth Air Corps job would be to destroy the Belgian army west of the Meuse “in close cooperation with the Sixth Army Schwerpunkt at and west of Maastricht.”  The 7th Air Division (paratroops) had targets at Namur and Dinant.  Another fragment stated :  “Additionally it is intended to occupy Holland with the exception of the Fortress Holland itself, using part of the forces (Tenth Corps, incorporating 1st Cavalry Division).”

p. 81   Quite apart from the construction of the Ardennes relief map, a postcard written by the Luftwaffe adjutant to an uncle on May 14, 1940, confirms that Hitler struck on the victorious strategy in 1939.  “I hinted at it to you at Christmas,” Colonel von Below reminded his uncle.  The date of Schmundt’s visit to Manstein is fixed beyond doubt by the private diary of Frau Schmundt.  Engel noted afterward :  “Schmundt was very excited and told me that he had found M[anstein] expressing precisely the same opinions ... as the F¸hrer is constantly expressing.”  Hitler had thereupon instructed Schmundt to send secretly for Manstein, without informing either Brauchitsch or Halder in advance.  After meeting Hitler, Manstein scribbled in his diary :  “What an extraordinary conformity with my own views !”  According to Warlimont (MS P-215) Hitler saw the general off with the words :  “Manstein is the only person to see what I’m getting at.”

p. 82   Several versions exist of Hitler’s dinner on February 17, 1940—Manstein’s, Rommel’s private letter (T84/R273a/0866), and General Geyr von Schweppenburg’s (IfZ, ZS-680).

pp. 82-83   Winston Churchill’s version of the Altmark affair must be faulted on essential details—if not on its wealth of color.  I relied on the naval staff’s war diary and its special case file (PG/33730)—with its full-length report by the captain—the Jodl diary, and diplomatic papers in Weizs”cker’s and Ernst Woermann’s AA files.  On the legal aspects, see Heinz Knackstedt, in WR, 1959, pages 391 and 466 et seq., and the study by the U.S. Naval War College in International Law Situation and Documents, 1956, pages 3 et seq.

p. 84   I based my account of the developing plan to invade Norway on the war diaries of Milch, Jodl, Halder, Tippelskirch, and the naval staff.  Raeder’s powerful support is clear in the latter diary entry on March 2, 1940, for example.  I also employed the war diary of the army’s XXI Gruppe (BA file E. 180/5), and Raeder’s two important postwar manuscripts, “My Relations with Adolf Hitler” and “The Occupation of Norway on April 9, 1940” 0546-PS).

p. 85   For the Allies’ rather undignified attempts to prolong the Russo-Finnish war, see the naval staff war diary, March 8-14, 1940.  Weizs”cker also hinted at the Forschungsamt’s remarkable coup in his diary entry of March 13, noting that the western powers had tried to prevent the armistice by offering empty promises to Finland :  “We have hard evidence of this.”  After Ribbentrop disclosed German knowledge of the Finnish envoy’s message, in his White Book published on April 27, an official inquiry resulted in Helsinki ;  eventually Dr. Pakaslahti, chief of the Finnish’s FO’s political department, cabled the guilty envoy in Paris—Harri Holma—on May 14, identifying the telephone call which the Germans must have intercepted as that at 3:30 P.M. on March 12 (Finnish FO archives, 109/C2e, Tel. R.145).  The telephone call is also mentioned in the diary of Finnish Foreign Minister V”in– Tanner (see his memoirs, Olin ulkoministerin” talvisodan aikana, Helsinki, 1950, page 387).  Holma was an intimate of both Daladier and Reynaud, and pursued his own interventionist foreign policy in Paris—100 percent pro-western.  It appears that he feared that his telegram to Helsinki might be delayed in transmission, so he dictated it over the phone as well.  Interestingly, Ulrich Kittel—one of the Forschungsamt’s section heads—confirmed the whole episode in ZS-1734.

p. 89   According to the Hewel Ledger (see my note to page 76) two Forschungsamt reports on the Italian talks with Sumner Welles were submitted to Hitler.  The Italians evidently told Hitler little, for Hewel endorsed the entry as follows :  “The F¸hrer has instructed that the Italians are to be handed a protocol on the Sumner Welles talks with the F¸hrer and the foreign minister [on March 2] conforming in length and content to that supplied by the Italians.”  This mistrust was also plain in Hitler’s directive on April 4 on strategic cooperation with Italy (PG/33316) :  “Neither ‘Yellow’ nor [the invasion of Scandinavia] are to be discussed in any form before the operations begin.”

p. 91   It is worth observing that in his speech to commanders on April 1, 1940, prior to the invasion of Norway, Hitler described their relations with Russia at present as just about as favorable as they could wish ;  but how long this would remain so could in practical foreign policy never be predicted (Appendix to war diary of XXI Gruppe).