David Irving


The “ Barbarossa ” Directive

After Molotov’s trainload of advisers and secret police officials had crossed the demarcation line back into Russia’s share of Europe, an air of uncertainty and gloom shrouded Hitler’s Chancellery.  One of his adjutants recorded his conviction that the F¸hrer himself was at a loss which way to turn next :  his confidence in his own military commanders—and particularly in G–ring’s Luftwaffe—was waning.  Perturbed at Britain’s unexpected tenacity, uncertain about Russia’s true military strength, again and again he repeated that he alone would decide the next move.  The talks with Molotov had betrayed Russia’s designs on Europe.  He could not afford to surrender the Balkans ;  it would be awkward enough to have Finland in Russia’s sway.  As for Ribbentrop’s deal with Stalin in August 1939, Hitler now admitted :  “ That pact never was an honest one, because the gulf between the ideologies was just too wide.”

Opinion among Hitler’s principal advisers was divided about the Russian campaign.  Ribbentrop had been convinced there was no alternative.  Brauchitsch certainly did not oppose it.  Halder gave no clear lead one way or the other :  his papers show him to have regarded now Britain, now Russia, as Germany’s most important opponent ;  his mind was in confusion.  Keitel’s opposition had been stilled.  Jodl unquestionably regarded the Russian campaign as inevitable and was optimistic about the outcome.  The Party leaders gloated in anticipation of the new empire awaiting them.  Only G–ring and Raeder voiced pertinent objections.

The Reichsmarschall confronted Hitler with them on November 13 :  it would be foolish to court a war with Russia.  His Luftwaffe had only just got its teeth into Britain’s industrial flesh ;  in addition, Germany could never police such a huge area in the east.  Far better to let Russia attack Finland and advance toward the Dardanelles, since this must surely bring Britain into open conflict with Russia (such was also Papen’s advice).  Hitler replied that the danger from Russia was so singular that it must be met squarely before the Soviet industrial buildup was complete.  He evidently also explained to G–ring that in a long war Germany could beat Britain’s food blockade only by expanding to the east ;  similarly, the oil requirements of large-scale air war against Britain—and no doubt the United States—could only be covered by capturing the Caucasian oil fields.  G–ring was told to assume that the attack on Russia would start on May 1, 1941, and last only a few months ;  he thereupon ceased objecting, and instructed Keitel’s chief economic officer to supply him with a dossier on Russia’s arms economy.  On the fourteenth, it was Raeder’s turn to voice the admiralty’s emphatic opposition to attacking Russia before Britain had been defeated, and the admiral maintained this vigorous criticism of the plan until the end of the year.

Heinrich Himmler probably echoed Hitler’s views most closely in a November speech to Party officials in which he pinpointed the frontier between Europe and Asia.  People suggested it was the Ural Mountains, but the Mongol strains permeated the people both sides of that barrier too strongly to escape Himmler’s racialistic scrutiny :

That is why this Russian people will never make a purely European or even a pure Asiatic race.  It must be treated as a potpourri of races and kept within its frontiers.  By brute force if by no other means.  At present there is no need for that ;  we have our friendship pact with Russia.  But this friendship pact is not a love affair ;  it’s a pact designed to meet the most elementary requirements of our two nations.  Up to now, by means of this pact Russia has subjugated entire countries and nations, apart from Finland, without drawing her sword from its scabbard ;  she has annexed large territories on her western and southern frontiers.  Her appetite threatened to grow gigantically, so it became necessary for us to map out our mutual interests to each other afresh.  In his long overdue visit to Berlin, Molotov has been given the necessary instructions.  If what I have heard is true, then Stalin is not permitted to start any wars for the moment, or any fighting, as otherwise he will be dealt a sharp rebuke by our own guns.  This order holds good both for her [Russia’s] evil designs on Finland and for any she may have in the south or southeast.  She is permitted to launch military operations only with the F¸hrer’s express permission.  To put muscle into our orders, we have based enough troops along our eastern frontier for the Red czar in Moscow to take them seriously.  Anyway, as I said in my last speech, Russia is militarily quite harmless.  Her officer corps is so poor that they do not even bear comparison with our NCOs ;  her army is as badly equipped as trained.  They cannot possibly be any danger to us.

Before ten days had passed, it was clear the Russians’ aims were irreconcilable with Hitler’s.  Ribbentrop had submitted to Moscow a draft treaty embodying in secret protocols the substance of Hitler’s oral offer to Molotov :  Germany’s territorial expansion would take place in Central Africa ;  Italy’s in north and northeast Africa ;  Japan’s in the Far East ;  and the Soviet Union’s toward the Indian Ocean.  On November 25, Molotov submitted the four conditions on which Russia would sign.  The first two—a demand that Hitler evacuate from Finland the troops sent in August 1940, and that Bulgaria conclude a pact with Russia granting her military bases within range of the Bosphorus—were wholly unacceptable to Hitler.  He instructed Ribbentrop to make no reply at all.

The F¸hrer had retreated from these traumatic events in Berlin on November 16 and spent the next few days at the Berghof.  He had, of course, privately notified King Boris of Bulgaria of the proposals Molotov had outlined for Soviet “protection” of his country, and on the seventeenth Hitler conferred with the king at the Berghof.  He had a certain mistrust of all kings, but the short, swarthy Bulgarian monarch spoke fluent German and had an easygoing manner which tended to win over the F¸hrer.  (During this private visit to Germany he stayed at the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in Munich, where he caused consternation to his personal detectives by slipping out of the hotel’s back door and strolling through Munich’s bohemian quarter and the English Gardens.)  Boris was a shrewd businessman, and provided that Hitler did not compromise him too early—after all, Bulgaria was exposed to attack from Turkey and the Soviet Union—he was willing to let German divisions cross Bulgarian territory when the time came to attack northern Greece.  Hitler offered him western Thrace as an outlet to the Aegean if Bulgarian troops would participate, but in the king’s view this was going too far.  Boris also warned Hitler that road conditions were so poor in winter that it would be advisable to postpone the assault on Greece until early March.  Bulgaria was also reluctant to join the Tripartite Pact at present.(1)

By the end of the following week, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia had all joined the Tripartite Pact.  The Greeks had now started a counteroffensive into Albania.  Italy begged Hitler to supply German trucks to replace the inferior Italian transport, but Hitler refused.  He saw no realistic way of helping Italy until the spring.  In Vienna, the Hungarian prime minister agreed to allow German troops to cross into Romania.  Yugoslavia would have to be cajoled into refraining from molesting the German movements toward the Greek frontier :  to the chagrin of the Italians—who had designs of their own on Yugoslavia—Hitler insisted on luring Yugoslavia toward the Axis by offering her part of northern Greece (Salonika) and guaranteeing her possessions.  The greatest impression on Hitler was made by the new Romanian leader, General Antonescu, who paid a first visit to Berlin on the twentieth.  His contempt for the Slavs, his admiration for the National Socialist movement, and his soldierly bearing won the F¸hrer immediately ;  Antonescu announced that in signing the Tripartite Pact, Romania was not just acting out a formality but was ready “to fight sword in hand beside the Axis powers for the victory of civilization.” Hitler adroitly hinted that the anti-Romanian Vienna Award might yet be rescinded in Romania’s favor when peace came.

Italy’s disgrace made it easier to reshuffle Spanish and Italian claims on African territory—all the more necessary now that the Gibraltar operation’s importance had been enhanced by the British foothold in Greece.  When General Franco’s foreign minister, Serrano Sunet, had visited the Berghof on the eighteenth, Hitler had given him “the friendly advice” to declare war on Britain as soon as possible :  “Any hesitation by politicians can easily cost thousands of brave soldiers their lives !”  He bluffed the Spaniard with fictitious figures of Germany’s armed might and glibly promised to supply all the wheat and oil Spain would need ;  but he had no real answer to the minister’s argument that the Spanish people were not psychologically ready for a new war, and he could make no concrete moves to replace the vague assurances he had offered both at Hendaye and in a secret agreement Spain had since signed with Italy and Germany concerning the African territories it was to receive.  Hitler knew that if he made public the inroads that were to be made in Morocco, the French there would immediately declare for de Gaulle.

There were already signs that PÈtain was treating with the enemy.  The Spanish foreign minister advised Hitler that Pierre Laval was one of the most hated men in France for collaborating with Germany, and that this fact indicated the true sentiments of the French people.  Hitler instinctively agreed—he feared that every weapon he provided to Vichy would one day be turned against him.  When Washington announced the appointment of an admiral as ambassador to Vichy in place of its present lowly charge d’affaires, Hitler’s suspicions of the “old fogy”—PÈtain—intensified.  The Forschungsamt had reported on November 11 that secret talks were going on in New York between emissaries of PÈtain and Churchill.

Hitler for his part did nothing to strengthen the French people’s affection for Laval.  He authorized Gauleiter Josef B¸rckel, the civil administrator of Lorraine, to expel a hundred thousand hostile French citizens from the province, and later in November nearly seven thousand German Jews from Baden and the Palatinate were on Hitler’s orders transported into Vichy France.  Both actions aroused PÈtain’s indignation.  Meanwhile the Franco-German talks on military collaboration were conducted desultorily at the German embassy in Paris.  The fact that Hitler appointed only Major General Walter Warlimont, Jodl’s deputy, as Germany’s representative showed how little importance he attached to them.

Hitler’s timetable began to take shape, dominated by the need to program the commitment of his scarcest resources most efficiently—in this case the Junkers 88 dive-bomber squadrons, which were only gradually coming off the production lines.  Their commitment in Spain must be over by February if they were to be available for the attack on Greece (an operation now code-named “Marita,” after the daughter of one of Jodl’s junior staff).  On May 1 the attack on Russia would begin.  (This had not prevented Hitler from “confidentially” informing the talkative Ciano that he would be invading Britain in May).

A number of untidy residual problems remained.  King Leopold of Belgium, now a prisoner, had been brought to the Berghof on November 19, where he had hinted that if Hitler would broadcast an explicit guarantee of Belgium’s future independence—as the British were doing—the Belgians might be open to military and political agreements.  Hitler did not rise to the bait :  he saw no need.  Nor would he release the Belgian prisoners, as they supplied him with a useful labor force, whereas Belgium already had widespread unemployment.

The second area that briefly attracted Hitler’s attention was southern Ireland, which had remained neutral though with pronounced pro-German sympathies.  In mid-November, the OKW had examined the possibility of an appeal from Dublin for German aid ;  but it was not until the twenty-second that Hitler directly considered the matter.

Early that morning German army Intelligence picked up a British radio message reading :  “Fifty wireless operators (no Jews) are to be provided for transferring GHQ.  Depart Carlisle November 22 1940 13:00 hrs for operation Ireland.  Starting point for operation Ireland is Rosslea in Ulster.”  Taking the political situation into account, the German High Command deduced that a British invasion of southern Ireland was imminent.  This would provide Britain with airfields and submarine and escort bases which would gravely set back the German U-boat operations west of Ireland.  To deprive London of her apparent motive, the German foreign ministry denied any German intention of occupying Ireland, and this was welcomed by Eire’s President Eamon De Valera ;  Berlin believed that Dublin’s determination to beat back any British invasion had given London second thoughts.  Hitler’s attention, once attracted to the Emerald Isle, characteristically lingered on, however.  On the twenty-seventh he asked his High Command to analyze the pros and cons of invading Ireland, whose fall into German hands would spell the end of Britain.  Perhaps no episode illustrates so vividly the whims which inspired Hitler’s ad hoc military strategy as the winter of 1940 approached.  It was not difficult for Admiral Raeder to demonstrate that a prolonged German occupation of Ireland in the face of Britain’s huge naval superiority was quite out of the question.

Despite the remarkable resilience of the British people under heavy air attacks, all Hitler’s advisers—and particularly Admiral Raeder—saw the continued bombing of British industry and dockyards—coupled with the submarine campaign—as the most likely way to bring Britain to her knees.  Nothing was to be allowed to distract effort from this remorseless campaign.  Coventry, and now Birmingham, had been devastated by night attacks before once again worsening weather forced a halt to German raids.  (Indeed, bombers were one reason why Hitler wanted the Azores, which provided his only chance of striking at the United States with long-range Messerschmitts—still on the drawing board, but he had seen a mock-up at Augusburg in 1937—and forcing the Americans to set up their own system of air defense at the expense of helping the British.)  But Hitler still lacked the determination needed to use the strategic bomber force to maximum effect.  On the morning after Birmingham’s first raid he told a Hungarian visitor that he was sorry about the fine cities and the people being destroyed in Britain ;  it was all the fault of incompetent British politicians.  Perhaps he admired the ability of the “Germanic” British to stand up to the bombers.  Himmler explained to Party officials :  “The F¸hrer had no desire to destroy the British people or their empire.  The British are a race related to our own and in their bones they are as uncowed as ever.  This is displayed by the unheard-of toughness with which the British people has taken its beating from the Luftwaffe, month after month.  The bombardment of London and the wiping out of entire cities has not sufficed . . .”

Bored by the failure of his squadrons in the Battle of Britain, Reichsmarschall G–ring had gone on an extended hunting leave on his estate at Rominten.  On November 25, Hitler explored with Field Marshal Milch and Chief of Air Staff Jeschonnek ways of attacking the British position in the eastern Mediterranean from Italian-controlled airfields.  The most important target would be the British fleet at Alexandria, but this could not be tackled until the Italians had taken Marsa Matruh ;  the Luftwaffe was to prepare to mine the Suez Canal, though the Italians were still unwilling to agree.  Meanwhile, until the German attack on Greece started in the spring, the Luftwaffe was to help the Italians out of their predicament by attacking military targets in Greece.  The Italian squadrons which had briefly assisted in the attack on Britain were to be transferred to Albania.  Hitler complained to the air force generals that the Italians failed to realize how grave the situation was :  they were “frittering” their forces away, and had brought the British bomber squadrons so close that Germany must now supply sorely needed antiaircraft batteries to Romania (to protect her oil interests) and to southern Germany.

On December 4, Milch brought Hitler details of G–ring’s proposals :  by basing the Tenth Air Corps, with two squadrons of Junkers 87 dive-bombers, on Sicily, and two more squadrons of Junkers 88 dive-bombers (the heavier, longer-range aircraft) in southern Italy, Germany could effectively block the narrows between Sicily and North Africa.  Jeschonnek’s deputy wrote after this conference :  “Discussion between F¸hrer and Milch on possibilities of battering British position in Mediterranean.  This is necessary as the Italian disaster in Greece is having psychological effects quite apart from any military disadvantages :  Africa and Spain are beginning to waver in their attitude toward us.”  Hitler handed Milch a letter to carry immediately to Mussolini.  In it he warned the Duce that he must have these squadrons back by early February for use elsewhere.  By the seventh, Milch and the Deputy Chief of Air Staff were back from Rome, reporting to Hitler on Mussolini’s optimism about the situation in Albania.  “Midday, back in Berlin,” wrote Jeschonnek’s deputy.  “Conference with F¸hrer, who is considerably upset by the unpleasant consequences of the situation in the Mediterranean.  He fears this may have an effect on Spain’s attitude.”

That this was no idle fear was shown a few days later.  On November 28, Ribbentrop’s ambassador in Madrid had reported that General Franco was willing for the proposed preparations for Spain’s entry into the war to proceed ;  Hitler assumed that this meant “proceed immediately,” and on December 4 he sent Admiral Canaris to Franco with a personal letter proposing that German troops formally cross the Spanish frontier on January 10, which would mean starting the assault on Gibraltar, six hundred miles from the frontier, in the first week of February.

Field Marshal von Reichenau would command the assault ;  it would start on February 4 or 5 and last four weeks.  By mid-May 1941, Hitler could have the troops back for other purposes.  The F¸hrer demanded that the assault open with a saturation bombing attack on Gibraltar—particularly on the fleet units and dockyard there.  Then the gun batteries were to be silenced, and the Rock itself battered with thousands of rounds of artillery fire ;  the level ground between the Rock and the Spanish frontier was to be plowed through and through to neutralize enemy minefields.  The heaviest available tanks would tackle the British troops sheltering in the galleries, and the remnants would be driven out by colossal demolition charges.  “The principle must be to use as much equipment as possible to avoid [German] bloodshed.”

Like so many other projects, the capture of Gibraltar was an operation Hitler had vividly pictured in his imagination night after night. The directive for the Gibraltar operation, code-named “Felix,” had already been prepared, and General Jodl was already packing his bags for Madrid, where he was to explain the plan to Franco, when a telegram arrived from the Spanish capital bringing everything to an abrupt halt.  In a long audience on the evening of the seventh, Franco had stated that for economic reasons Spain could not be ready by January 10 :  what good would Germany’s deliveries do Spain if her transport network could not distribute the foodstuffs to the starving populace ?  Besides, Britain would seize the Canary Islands and Spain’s other overseas possessions.  It was in both their countries’ interests, Franco suggested, that he decline Hitler’s proposal ;  he did not want Spain to become a burden on the Axis.

Hitler ordered Keitel to ask by what date Spain could be ready ;  Canaris replied from Madrid that Spain could only join in the war if Britain was on the brink of collapse.  The alacrity with which Hitler now abandoned “Felix”—though in later years he again toyed more than once with this idea—suggests that his instinct was screaming warnings against accepting obligations toward a second Latin nation.  In the immediate aftermath of Franco’s rebuff he lamented this further proof that Mussolini’s misadventures in the Balkans had undermined the awe in which the world held the Axis.  He also greatly regretted forfeiting the psychological bonus the capture of Gibraltar would have bestowed.

Molotov’s negative reply to Hitler’s proposals at the end of November 1940 dispelled whatever hesitations Hitler still had about attacking Russia.  Visiting the sick General von Bock again briefly on December 3, the field marshal’s sixtieth birthday, Hitler warned that the “eastern problem” was now coming to a head ;  there seemed to be links running between Russia and the United States, and this in turn made a joint Anglo-Russian enterprise more likely.  “It would be dangerous to sit back and wait for the end of a development like that.  But if the Russians are eliminated, Britain will have no hope whatever of defeating us on the Continent, particularly now that America is prevented from interceding effectively by Japan, whose rear is free of danger now.”  To Brauchitsch, two days later, Hitler announced, “The hegemony of Europe will be decided in the fight with Russia.”

Hitler’s strategic timetable took shape.  He would execute “Marita” early in March.  Of course, if the Greeks saw the light and showed their British “guests” the door, he would call off “Marita” altogether—he had no interest whatever in occupying Greece.  Then he would attack Russia during May.  “In three weeks we will be in Leningrad !”  Schmundt heard him say.

This confident prediction was symptomatic of the German army’s crass underestimate of their Russian opponent’s strength.  Virtually nothing was known about the Red Army :  a complete search of archives in France—Russia’s own ally !—had yielded nothing.  Hitler was confident that the German Mark III tank with its 50-millimeter gun provided clear superiority over the obsolete Red Army equipment ;  they would have one thousand five hundred by spring.  “The Russian himself is inferior.  His army has no leaders,” he assured his generals.  “Once the Russian army has been beaten, the disaster will take its inevitable course.”

At 3 P.M. on December 5, Hitler’s military advisers—Brauchitsch and Halder of the army, and Keitel and Jodl of the OKW—came to the Chancellery to argue out each phase of the coming operations and their tactical details.  Now for the first time the two varying concepts of the Russian campaign—the meticulous studies drawn up and exercised by Halder’s staff and the draft operational plan submitted by Jodl’s Colonel Lossberg—were brought into informal synthesis.  Halder’s proposal was distinguished by a particularly powerful main drive toward Moscow, the hub of the Soviet political and transport system ;  Lossberg’s “Fritz” attached more weight to the northernmost army group and the occupation of the Baltic coast.  Lossberg’s plan was evidently not actually discussed at this conference, but its influence on Hitler is clear, for in his reply to Halder the F¸hrer now drew heavily on Lossberg’s arguments.  Both Halder’s plan (which had been originated by General Erich Marcks and completed by General Friedrich Paulus) and Lossberg’s assumed that the Russians must of necessity defend the western areas of the Soviet Union and the Ukraine ;  and both stated that the Russians must be prevented from staging an ordered retreat as in 1812—the Russian front must be pierced by armored spearheads, encircled from the rear, and liquidated.  The army and OKW were also agreed that they must occupy as much Soviet territory as necessary.  This would prevent the Russian air force from reaching Reich territory ;  it would also enable G–ring’s bomber squadrons to attack Russian industries and thus prevent a resurgence of armed Soviet might.  Halder proposed that the offensive end along a line from the Volga River to Archangel.

Where Hitler took exception, though at first with noticeable mildness, was to Halder’s insistence that nothing detract from the main assault on Moscow.  Hitler wanted the Russian forces in the Baltic countries to be encircled first ;  a similar huge encirclement action by Army Group South, south of the Pripyet Marshes, would liquidate the Russian armies in the Ukraine.  Only after that should it be decided whether to advance on Moscow or to bypass the Soviet capital in the rear.  “Moscow is not all that important,” he explained.  This was the first hint of a strategic controversy that was eventually to rage between Hitler and the General Staff in the summer of 1941, though neither Halder nor Brauchitsch took it seriously as yet.  Indeed, when the first draft directive for the Russian campaign was brought to Hitler by Jodl, it still conformed with Halder’s recommendation of a main thrust toward Moscow (“in conformity with the plans submitted to me”).  But Hitler ordered the document redrafted in the form he had emphasized :  the principal task of the two army groups operating north of the Pripyet Marshes was to drive the Russians out of the Baltic countries.  “Only after this, the most urgent task, has been accomplished, followed by the capture of Leningrad and Kronstadt, are the offensive operations to be continued with the object of seizing the vital transport and armaments center, Moscow.”

Hitler’s motives for seizing the Baltic coast first were clear.  The admiralty attached particular importance to restoring peace in the Baltic as soon as possible.  The Baltic was the navy’s training ground and the route Germany’s ore supplies from Scandinavia must take ;  besides, when the Russians had been destroyed in the Baltic countries, great forces would be released for other operations.  The Russian campaign would be a short one ;  indeed, it must be settled together with all other continental problems before 1941 was over—for from 1942 onward the United States would be capable of intervening.

Toward the United States, where Roosevelt had just been elected for a third term, Hitler was to display unwonted patience despite what he regarded as extreme provocations for one long year.  Technically neutral, the United States under the Roosevelt administration had violated neutrality time and again ;  both Roosevelt and Churchill yearned for the incident that would swing American public opinion around toward open intervention.  Until then American aid was limited to the trade of over-age destroyers for British bases in the Western hemisphere, the exporting of aircraft and munitions, and a fringe of illegal military activities :  American citizens fought in the Royal Air Force ;  a blind eye was turned on British violations of the Pan-American security zone ;  and United States warships chased, harried, and shadowed Axis merchant ships plying their trade in transatlantic waters.  These warships were ostensibly escorting the German steamships for their own safety, but the admiralty in Berlin knew from its radio reconnaissance and decoding sections that in reality the Americans were passing on to the British all the information they could about these blockade-runners.

In vain Admiral Raeder protested to Hitler about this “glaring proof of the United States’ nonneutrality.”  He asked whether this active hostility was to be allowed to go unchallenged, and whether this was “compatible with the honor of the German Reich.”  But to Hitler the United States was still a quantitÈ negligible and he wanted it to stay that way in 1941.  Nothing must happen to increase the tension between Germany and the United States.  Throughout the year that followed, the dossier of American violations thickened ;  and now that the foreign ministry and Forschungsamt were also reading the American diplomatic ciphers, the evidence against Roosevelt hardened.  But nothing would alter Hitler’s determined refusal to take up the gauntlet flung down to Germany.

His eyes were now fixed on Russia.  On December 18, Jodl brought him the final version of the campaign directive, retyped on the large “F¸hrer typewriter.”  “Fritz,” Lossberg’s code name for the coming campaign, was replaced by the more majestic-sounding “Barbarossa,” the name by which the first Emperor Friedrich had gone into history eight hundred years before as the founder of a mighty empire.  Partly the handiwork of Jodl, a master stylist whose spoken German was very clear and simple, and partly the product of Hitler’s pen, the eleven-page document instructed the Wehrmacht to be prepared to “overthrow Soviet Russia in a rapid campaign even before the war with Britain is over.”  The Luftwaffe would have a purely support role, rather than one of strategic bombardment.  All preparations were to be complete by mid-May 1941 ;  he, Hitler, would give the word for the necessary troop concentrations to begin eight weeks before the chosen date “if Russia should fail to change in her attitude toward us.”  Nine copies of the directive were signed for the commanders in chief and the OKW ;  those let into the dreadful secret were to be kept to an absolute minimum, and every single phase was to be camouflaged against Russian scrutiny.

From now on his intention of disposing of the Soviet menace was the one constant in Hitler’s grand strategy.  His goals in Africa and his policies toward Spain and France had been reduced to a shambles by Italy’s military ignominy.  He expected General Maxime Weygand, the French Resident in North Africa, to declare for de Gaulle at any moment.  Franco’s rebuff robbed Hitler of direct access to Morocco.  At short notice the army and OKW drafted a campaign plan, “Attila,” in case Germany had to occupy Vichy France as well and stop the French home fleet from crossing to North Africa.

Mussolini blamed his political and military advisers for the Greek calamity :  they had promised him it would take little more than a “military two-step” to invade Greece, but now the Greek army was deep inside Albania, outnumbering the Italian divisions more than 2 to 1.  Badoglio, chief of the Italian armed forces, resigned ;  Mussolini replaced him with General Ugo Cavallero and sent the Italian ambassador with a pathetic appeal to Hitler to speed Yugoslavia’s entry into the Tripartite Pact as a warning to Greece.  Hitler responded that the only methods that would halt the Italian army’s headlong flight were barbaric ones “like putting the guilty generals and colonels before the firing squad and decimating the other ranks.”  Yugoslavia had little love for Italy and refused even to allow German trucks to pass through to the Italian forces in Albania.  Hitler supplied a squadron of transport planes to help Mussolini fly divisions from Italy, and he suggested that the Duce come and see him personally on December 10.  But on the ninth a further disaster began for Italy as the British army in Egypt opened a counteroffensive which was to throw back the Italian forces into Libya and result within a matter of days in the capture of thirty-eight thousand Italian troops and four of Mussolini’s generals.  British casualties were a little over a hundred men.

Not that Italy’s disgrace was wholly a disadvantage, for now, as Hitler explained on the ninth to General Halder, “There is no need to pay any significant attention to the Italians.”  In addition, Franco’s rebuff had absolved Hitler from keeping the pledges he had given since Hendaye.  In short, he could promise France everything—and in particular that it would keep its territories intact if it would collaborate with the Axis.  This honeymoon was to last less than a week, however.

In the early hours of December 14 the text of a personal letter from Marshal PÈtain reached Hitler.  He thanked the F¸hrer for his honorable intentions in transferring to Les Invalides in Paris the mortal remains of Napoleon’s beloved son, the Duke of Reichstadt, which had since 1832 reposed in Vienna ;  but he also advised Hitler that he had dismissed Pierre Laval, the deputy premier with whom the German leaders had so recently conferred at Montoire, and replaced him by Admiral Jean FranÁois Darlan who would continue the policy of cooperation and in whom Vichy had greater confidence.  In vain Ribbentrop tried to secure Laval’s restoration ;  the luckless minister was held incommunicado on PÈtain’s orders.  Even greater was the further affront to Hitler of PÈtain’s refusal to attend the ceremony at Les Invalides.  The marshal initiated the rumor that this was just a German trick to lure him to Paris and kidnap him—a canard which enraged Hitler.  He again withdrew the hand he had extended toward France.  Who needed France anyway ?  A vision still haunted him—the possibility of signing a peace with Britain, but this time at France’s expense.

Something distantly resembling the spirit of Christmas overcame Hitler.  He instructed the Luftwaffe to suspend bombing missions against Britain until Christmas was over.(2)  A fortnight of aimless meandering ensued.  He spoke at noon on December 18 to the new batch of officer cadets—2,375 from the Luftwaffe alone—and submitted to various medical tests in a checkup by Dr. Morell.  With the “Barbarossa” decision made, a forced levity entered his conversation.  On the nineteenth, when Ribbentrop’s lanky SS adjutant Richard Schulze came to announce the birth of the foreign minister’s son, Hitler was sitting on a bench in the Chancellery entrance hall, his hands characteristically clasped around one knee.  He asked Schulze to stand beside his brother, Hansgeorg, who was one of the F¸hrer’s own SS aides, and quizzically inquired, “How big do you have to be to get into the Leibstandarte regiment ?”  “Six feet tall, mein F¸hrer.”  Hitler sighed.  “Then that rules me out.  It will be back to the infantry for me !”

Keitel, Halder, and much of Jodl’s staff had gone on leave.  Protected by extra antiaircraft trains, Hitler set out with his personal staff on a Christmas tour of the western front.  He wanted to inspect the big gun batteries which Todt’s organization had installed to command the Channel coast—the sites had names like “Great Elector,” “Siegfried,” and “Gneisenau”—and he wanted to celebrate the holiday with the aircrews of G–ring’s fighter and bomber squadrons.  (G–ring himself was spending a comfortable Christmas and New Year at his Rominten estate, some twenty miles from the Russian frontier in East Prussia.)  Only one frosty interview with Admiral Darlan, PÈtain’s “crown prince,” chilled the atmosphere of Hitler’s special train ;  Darlan recounted how his family had always hated the British and had been fighting them now for three hundred years—a perhaps inappropriate confidence, given Hitler’s present mood.  One of Hitler’s secretaries wrote to a friend :  “We have not stopped moving since December 21.  Christmas on the French coast—Calais and Dunkirk.  As we were eating dinner in the dining car of our special train on the twenty-third at Boulogne, the British came and started bombing, and our antiaircraft roared back at them.  Even though we were shunted into a safe tunnel”—guarded by antiaircraft trains at each end—“I couldn’t help feeling ‘a bit queer’. . . . On New Year’s Eve the mood was more than painful....”

Hitler had returned to the Berghof to spend New Year with Eva Braun and his “family” of adjutants and staff.  Goebbels would be making the traditional speech to the Reich.  Hitler had already seen and approved the script, and marked it with spidery ink amendments of a trivial, grammatical nature, except for one :  where Goebbels had wanted to proclaim “Never will we capitulate, never will we tire, and never will we be despondent,” Hitler had expunged the first four words.(3)

1 She joined on March 1, 1941, simultaneously with the entry of the first German divisions.

2 Much to the annoyance of the British foreign office, who had prepared to reap propaganda capital.  See Sir Alexander Cadogan’s Diary.

3 In June 1943 he again censored a Goebbels speech in the same sense.


p. 185   German records on the British operational plans in Ireland will be found in Etzdorfs file (“Misc.”) and the diaries of the OKW, the naval staff Tippelskirch, and Halder.

p. 188   Hitler still smarted under Franco’s rebuff three years later.  He described Franco’s excuses as “threadbare” to Hewel, who wrote in a letter of February 1, 1944 :  “At the time the F¸hrer commented, ‘The man has missed the historic chance offered him by fate.  This he’ll never be able to make up for.’ ”  In January 1944, Hewel supplied Hitler with a comparison of Spain’s 1940 “minimum existence” demands, and the actual supplies the Allies had since made to her, “which had enabled her not only to survive but to rebuild her economy.”  Thus in 1940 Franco had demanded 103,000 tons of petroleum a month ;  but in the whole of 1942 the Allies had supplied only 15,000 tons.

p. 190   On January 21, 1941, Etzdorf recorded this note on German policy toward the U.S.:  “Roosevelt made two speeches, one ‘fireside’ and one to Congress.  [F¸hrer] is not to reply, so as not to help Roosevelt fan the flames.  Roosevelt’s line is to provide maximum assistance to Britain short of war, with soonest possible provocations so we’ll declare war.”

p. 190   The final “Barbarossa” directive of December 18, 1940, will be recognized as an awkward compromise between the OKW and General Staff proposals, which were in part incompatible.

p. 193   Goebbels’s speech draft—amended in Hitler’s handwriting—is in BA file NS10/37.