David Irving


Correcting the Front Line

No month brought such concentrated high drama as July 1943.  “Citadel” began, the enemy invaded Italian soil, the Russians sprang their own great summer offensive, and Mussolini was ousted by his monarch just as Hitler had always predicted.  (Had he not written in October 1939 of the Italian monarchy :  “For a pittance they would be willing to sell Italy’s own birthright in the Mediterranean, in their own stupid shortsightedness, and then to join Germany’s enemies as well”?)  Finally, the war in the air reached a climax in prenuclear barbarism as over forty thousand civilians were burned, blasted, or poisoned to death in Hamburg.

Until the end of June Hitler had waited at the Berghof, watching events in Italy, fearing to trigger off “Citadel”—the battle for Kursk—in case Mussolini’s generals staged a mass defection while his back was turned, or the enemy launched their invasion of Sardinia (which he believed must be their next target).  Thrice he had ordered fresh postponements of “Citadel.”  On the sixteenth General Guderian had come, and explained why his earlier tank-output estimates had proved overoptimistic.  With the Panther tank it was the old story :  mass production had begun before its trials were completed.  Guderian suggested this promising battle tank should not be put into action until at least five hundred were available.  Jodl’s staff also argued against executing “Citadel” in its original form, and Zeitzler probably took the same line now :  he proposed staying their own hand until the Russians had pushed out westward themselves, and then launching a counterattack ;  tactically it was an attractive idea, but Hitler’s objection was that Stalin had no reason to oblige him by attacking before events on the Mediterranean front compelled Germany to send divisions there, and this objection could not be faulted.  On June 18, after a fresh conference with Zeitzler and Guderian, Hitler had committed himself to the offensive solution and three days later set July 3 as the date—finally postponed by two more days upon reasoned objections stated by General Model on June 25.  Kluge and Manstein approved the decision.  Yet Hitler clearly anticipated failure, for he forbade the OKW to proclaim “Citadel” publicly, so that he could deny its existence if success was denied to him.

When Goebbels had come to the Obersalzberg on June 24, Hitler had lengthily justified his strategic thinking to him.  He had abandoned forever his old dream of capturing the Caucasus and waging a campaign in the Middle East ;  the winter had swallowed up too many divisions for that.  Nor could his armies contemplate advancing on the Urals.  Despite the superior quality of the new Tiger and Panther battle tanks, he had decided to sit tight and conserve strength until 1944, to render the eastern front impregnable to winter crises like those of the past two years.  He regarded the imminent operation only as a “minor correction” of the line, which might well rob Stalin of a few armies or even an army group but which would hardly swing neutral world opinion to a view of Germany as victor again.  In the Mediterranean he expected the Allies to assail Sardinia first and then lunge toward the Peloponnesus.  “The F¸hrer believes he can hold this line,” wrote Goebbels the next day.  “Under no circumstances will he fall back from the Italian mainland.  He has no intention of falling back on the Po River, even if the Italians do defect ;  in that case the war in Italy will just have to be fought by us alone.”  The Duce himself was old and worn out, said Hitler, and his people were limp and listless ;  this was why he was determined not to become too powerfully engaged in Russia—it would tie him hand and foot if Italy collapsed.

In the Generalgouvernement of Poland, in Russia, and in other regions where there was heavy partisan activity, Himmler’s SS brigades fought to restore order, if not law, for the vital links between German industry and the front line were themselves under constant attack.  In vain Hans Frank and his provincial governors complained that it was Himmler’s own doctrinaire and muddled policies that contributed most to the unrest and fed the partisan cause.  Several times since August 1942 Frank had even tendered his resignation, only to have it rejected by the F¸hrer.  Meanwhile the SS rampaged regardless of Frank’s political authority, ruthlessly arresting “suspects,” rounding up able-bodied Poles for labor service, or simply terrorizing and intimidating.  Himmler’s forced resettlement programs in the Lublin district—with whole villages being expelled overnight and repopulated with bemused German peasants as a “Germanic bulwark” against the East—caused uproar and resulted in the indignant resignation of Frank’s governor at Lublin.  Outwardly a strongman, Frank was weak and vacillating.  He took his complaints personally to Hitler early in May 1943, but Hitler told him his problems were nothing to those of the occupied eastern territories and sent him back to Cracow.  Hitler’s chagrin at the lengthy April ghetto uprising in Warsaw was so great that he would dearly have liked to replace Frank by a tougher viceroy, but by whom ?  Only his Gauleiters were tough enough.  For two hours he debated with Bormann, Ley, and Goebbels the Party’s debilitating lack of first-class leadership material.  He might even have to appoint a Gauleiter as the new SA Chief of Staff.

Eventually he decided that Hans Frank must stay.  Frank could not help his failure, Hitler admitted ;  the job was beyond anybody’s ability.  “He has to extract food supplies, prevent the unification of his people, ship out the Jews and yet at the same time accommodate the Jews from the Reich, he has to step up arms production, refrain from rebuilding the ruined cities, and so on.”  Frank bitterly opposed Himmler’s methods, but after a four-hour walk with the Reichsf¸hrer on the Obersalzberg on June 19, Hitler endorsed the SS position :  in the future, fighting partisans and guerrillas was to be Himmler’s responsibility alone ;  no blame was to be attached to the SS for the current increase in partisan activity in Poland or elsewhere.  Himmler noted that day :  “When we discussed the Jewish problem the F¸hrer spoke in favor of the radical completion of the evacuation of the Jews, despite the unrest this will still cause over the next three or four months—that will just have to be put up with.”  The vicious SS General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski took overall command of antiguerrilla warfare.

The “Jewish problem” was taboo at the Berghof.  Only once was it mentioned, during an uncomfortable scene in June a few days after Himmler’s visit.  Baldur von Schirach and his pretty wife—court photographer Heinrich Hoffmann’s daughter Henriette—were in Hitler’s house party.  They joined the fireside circle, slumped in the deep armchairs in the semi-darkness ;  the drawing room was lit only by the single floor lamp in one corner and the candles on the mantelpiece.  While Hitler drank his special tea and the others their wine or cognac, Henriette exclaimed that she had just witnessed at Amsterdam the loading of Jews into trucks for deportation.  “It is horrifying to see these poor people being packed into open trucks.  Do you know about it ?  Do you permit it ?”  Her outburst was greeted by an icy silence.  Hitler retorted, “They are being driven off to work, so you needn’t pity them.  Meantime our soldiers are fighting and dying on the battlefields !”  Later he added, “Let me tell you something.  This is a set of scales”—and he put up a hand on each side like the pans—“Germany has lost half a million of her finest manhood on the battlefield.  Am I to preserve and minister to these others ?  I want something of our race to survive a thousand years from now.”  He reproached her :  “You must learn how to hate !”  Henriette countered with a line from Goethe’s Iphigenie :  “Man is made to love, not hate.”  This was probably the occasion on which Hitler irritably asked Schirach to tell his wife not to come with her “warpaint” on again :  her eyelids were silvered, and her lashes heavy with mascara.  It irked Hitler that Schirach had used his wife to plead his case for him.

The next evening, June 24, Goebbels wickedly brought the fireside conversation around to Vienna.  Until after 4 A.M. Hitler drew savage comparisons between Schirach’s Viennese and Goebbels’s Berliners until tears welled up in Henriette’s eyes :  the Berliners were hard-working, intelligent, and politically shrewd ;  Vienna’s musicians were either not themselves Viennese or had to die first before they were recognized.  Hitler’s abruptness with Henriette unsettled even Goebbels.  “The behavior of Schirach and his wife charged the evening with a certain tension,” Goebbels wrote.  “Frau von Schirach in particular acted like a silly cow ... and later summed up her unhappiness by saying that she wanted to go back to Munich with her husband and would the F¸hrer send [Gauleiter] Giesler to Vienna instead.”  “Tell me,” Hitler challenged her, “is your husband our Reich representative in Vienna—or is he Vienna’s man in the Reich ?”  By the time the last air raid reports came in, it was long after dawn.  Hitler kissed Eva Braun’s hand and withdrew to his quarters—his shoulders hunched, his head sunk, his gait firm.  The Schirachs departed for Vienna in a huff the same night, without seeing him again.

In the Ruhr town of Wuppertal, three thousand civilians had been killed by British bombers in half an hour that night.  Over two thousand had died in the same town in a raid one month before.  Hitler decided to deliver a fresh homily to G–ring the next day.  As Goebbels—who had just toured the blitzed Ruhr towns himself—said, the Reichsmarschall’s stock had hit rock-bottom.  The ravaging of these ugly Ruhr conurbations did not perturb Hitler overmuch ;  one day, he predicted, Germany would have ten million Volkswagens and five million other cars to contend with, and these towns would have had to be rebuilt with broad boulevards and streets anyway.  But Speer was having to divert a hundred thousand men to repair the Ruhr, and the people’s morale was brittle.  Hitler promised to make an early surprise visit to the Ruhr.  But at present grand strategy required that he turn the other cheek :  the bombers were needed for “Citadel” and Italy.  He had ordered the antiaircraft and night fighter defenses increased, he told Goebbels ;  and now at last they were getting the heavier armament that Udet and Molders in their wisdom had thought unnecessary.  One fighter armed with the new 30-millimeter cannon had recently shot down five bombers in a single night.  By autumn the army’s rocket missiles should be raining down on London from launching sites on the Channel coast, he assured the propaganda minister.  “For the time being we’ve just got to be patient.”

His forebearance with G–ring was truly monumental.  The Reichsmarschall gently let things slide and lost his grip.  Hitler had arrogated direct control of the air war against Britain to himself.  But the technical stagnation of the Luftwaffe was a mystery to him.  Without G–ring’s knowledge he invited the leading aircraft manufacturers to see him.  He wanted to find out the truth, but the absence of both G–ring and Milch had the reverse effect.  Professor Ernst Heinkel excused his failure to produce a satisfactory heavy bomber by citing G–ring’s persistent demand that the Heinkel 177 be a dive-bomber—although G–ring had forbidden precisely that use ten months earlier.  And when Hitler questioned Professor Willy Messerschmitt about the new Me-262 jet aircraft, the brilliant designer—whose vanity had been injured by Milch’s closing down an obsolete piston-engined fighter project, the Me-209, in favor of the Me-262 one month earlier—pointed out that the jet aircraft’s fuel consumption would be far higher than the Me-209 and thus secured a F¸hrer Order reversing Milch’s decision.  (Hitler was not told that the jet used low-grade fuels which were more plentifully available than high-octane aviation fuel.)  This half-truth by Messerschmitt set back jet-aircraft production in Germany by many months.

The immediate prospect for Speer’s arms factories seemed grim.  The Abwehr had just received a long report on a top-secret conference held by the British ministry of aircraft production at the beginning of the week.  The Abwehr’s agent, “Hektor,” claimed to have been one of the few people present, and quoted Sir Stafford Cripps as insisting on an increase of heavy-bomber production to five hundred a month.  “Cripps said almost verbatim that after talks with Portal and Harris he has the impression that Germany might be softened—up to such an extent by the present around-the-clock bombing that a costly invasion in the west could be dispensed with altogether.  The main thing now, he said, is to flatten one town after another in Germany and especially the Rhine-Ruhr area.  Deliberate attacks on the civilian population are also intended, as there are reports that morale in Germany is beginning to crumble.”(1)  All the mysterious “Hektor’s” messages so far, and those of his controller in the legation in Stockholm, were unanimous in stating that the air offensive against Germany was only just beginning.  Hitler at once signed orders for Speer to begin the immediate evacuation of arms production to the occupied areas of eastern Europe.

At midday on June 29, 1943, Hitler decided to transfer his headquarters back to the Wolf’s Lair.  He believed “Citadel” could safely begin in six days, on schedule.  The Italians had handed Kesselring the text of an urgent telegram from the British naval liaison office in Washington to the admiralty in London.  It was dated June 23, and taken in conjunction with remarks of a British naval officer overheard in Alexandria it appeared to show that the Allied invasion operations in the Mediterranean had been postponed and even changed :  there was now explicit reference to three islands, and a distinction was drawn between commando assaults and the main invasion operations, which Hitler’s Intelligence experts found significant.  Moreover, there seemed clear proof that Stalin was as apprehensive about “Citadel” as the German General Staff was confident :  on June 21, Hans Thomsen, the German envoy in Stockholm, cabled that the Soviet diplomatist A.M. Alexandrov had arrived there and “wants to meet with a gentleman from the German foreign service with whom he is acquainted.”  The next day Moscow again expressed dissatisfaction with the absence of an Allied Second Front—without one, “victory over Germany is impossible.”  On July 1 an authoritative Soviet magazine article derided the “collective guilt” theory propagated by the West against Germany and hinted that the Reich might even keep Poland and the Sudeten territories.

Hitler arrived back at the Wolf’s Lair on July 1.  Fresh wooden barracks had sprouted everywhere, invisible under the camouflage netting.  It was unseasonably cold here.  That evening he addressed a major policy speech to his “Citadel” commanders, assembled at Zeitzler’s nearby HQ.  He explained why he had kept postponing “Citadel”—he now had two thousand tanks ready for the battle, although admittedly half were only the older Mark III.  “In a grave, clear, and confident voice he made the following points,” recorded an infantry corps commander, General Friessner :

Our situation.  The blame for our misfortunes must be laid squarely on our allies.  The Italians let us down completely.  If, as the F¸hrer repeatedly demanded, they had made timely use of their fleet to escort and transport their troops to Africa, Africa would not have been lost.  Now their ships are being smashed in their harbors.  Comparison with World War I, where we too conserved our fleet too long until it was too late.—Italians failed on the eastern front, in Greece, etc.  Hungary likewise : ... Romania unreliable :  the marshal’s brother, Prime Minister [Mihai] Antonescu, is a devious character.  Finland at the end of her tether ;  internal troubles with Social-Democrats, fostered and fed by Sweden.
What’s at stake ?  Germany needs the conquered territory, or she will not exist for long.  She must win hegemony over Europe.  Where we are—we stay.  Soldiers must see this, otherwise they’ll regard their sacrifices as in vain.  Balkans must not be lost whatever happens ;  our most vital raw materials for war are there.  The Italians have pulled out of Greece and been replaced by Germans.  Feel safer since then.  Crete is firmly in our hands ;  thus we prevent enemy from getting air bases.  Greater Germany and Europe must be defended far beyond our frontiers ;  so far we have managed this perfectly.  German troops are now occupying the isles of Rhodes, Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica—the Italians would have long surrendered them, just as they did without fighting in Pantelleria.
Eastern front.  We will yield nothing without a scrap.... The Russians are biding their time.  They are using their time replenishing for the winter.  We must not allow that, or there’ll be fresh crises this winter.  So we’ve got to disrupt them.

(The last sentence indicates how limited “Citadel’s” objective was.)  Hitler concluded :  “The die has been cast.  The attack is on.  Everything must now be done to ensure its success.”

The operation itself was barely discussed.  General Model repeated his misgivings, and the Ninth Army’s situation was examined on the map.  The only moment of anger occurred when Manstein tactlessly asked for Richthofen to be recalled from Italy to restore the vigor of the Luftwaffe on the eastern front.  This upset Richthofen’s stand-in, General Otto Dessloch, and brought a bellow of rage from G–ring, who was jealous enough of Richthofen’s prestige.  G–ring and Manstein otherwise shared the general optimism about “Citadel.”  Only Jodl did not, fearing that a long-drawn-out battle lay before them.  But Hitler reassured his generals that Stalin had lost up to fourteen million troops so far and was facing a crippling famine.  Of course the attack was a risk, he admitted, but he felt it had to be taken.

In Hitler’s words, “Citadel” had to procure a victory “to dispel the gloom of our allies and crush any silent hopes still stirring within our subjugated peoples’ breasts.”  His field commanders had high hopes that it would.  They saw Luftwaffe squadrons amassed in a strength never before witnessed on the Russian front.  The armored and infantry divisions were eager and well equipped, the troops were confident and refreshed by the months of resting.  Elaborate steps had been taken to deceive the Russians.

“Citadel” began early on July 5—the Russians had evidently been forewarned, for their artillery heavily bombarded the German lines shortly before.  An immense and bloody battle ensued.  Longing for word of great victories once more, Hitler telephoned Zeitzler and Jeschonnek repeatedly for the latest news.  Zeitzler could tell him little at first, but by evening it was clear that the battle was going well.  General Dessloch’s and General Robert Ritter von Greim’s combined Air Forces (the Fourth and Sixth) had flown 4,570 sorties, destroying 432 Russian planes.  Manstein had plunged eleven miles northward into the enemy fortifications ;  Kluge had come seven miles south toward him.  Between their spearheads lay the city of Kursk—and 3,000 tanks which Stalin—willing to stake everything on the outcome of the battle even where Hitler was not—had thrown into the defense.  The familiar euphoria gripped the Wolfs Lair, though all knew it would be a hard fight :  line after line of fortifications extended before the Germans, reaching up to two hundred miles eastward into enemy territory.  The Soviet tanks were well dug-in and flanked by treacherous minefields.  Mass rocket-launcher regiments were waiting for the invaders too.  In the first three days there were 30,000 German casualties, but Zeitzler could report that tank losses were at an acceptable level.  By the eighth, 460 enemy tanks had been destroyed ;  Hoth’s Fourth Panzer Army knocked out 195 that day alone.

But in the south the technical inadequacy of the much vaunted Panther battle tank drained Manstein’s offensive badly.  It was to await the arrival of 200 Panthers that “Citadel” had after all been delayed until July 5 ;  but on that first day alone, all but 4o broke down, and a week later barely more than 16 were still in action.  Nonetheless, while in the north Model’s Ninth Army found it could penetrate no farther, little now lay ahead of Manstein in the south.  Rommel noted in his diary at the Wolf’s Lair on July 9 :  “Noon, at war conference with F¸hrer :  attack in the east is going well.”

That afternoon, however, Hitler received the first reports that a large enemy invasion operation was again under way in the Mediterranean.  Luftwaffe aircraft sighted the ships after they sailed from Malta and Pantelleria.  By late evening it was clear they were heading for Sicily and not Sardinia.  Hitler ordered a paratroop division thrown into action as soon as it could be ferried down to Sicily.  There were reports of enemy paratroop landings and a heavy naval bombardment of the island’s main harbors at Syracuse, Catania, and Augusta.  The next morning the invasion began.  Hitler was told at his noon conference that three hundred ships were involved.

The invasion’s timing was totally unexpected.  As recently as July 6, Kesselring, Commander in Chief South, had considered that the reinforcement of the Italian islands with German troops would give the enemy second thoughts about attempting an early invasion.  Schmundt, Hitler’s chief adjutant, had gone on leave.  The invasion could hardly have come at a less propitious moment for Hitler’s strategy, unless the German and Italian divisions in Sicily could throw the enemy into the sea without fresh reinforcement.  The enemy paratroops were mopped up during the first day, and the “Hermann G–ring” Division fought well against the Americans.  On July 10 the naval staff considered that “the fight now beginning offers us every chance.”  Much would hinge on the Italian navy’s willingness to do battle with the enemy’s seaborne lines of supply :  it was like the Tunis position, but reversed in favor of the Axis.  Admiral D–nitz ordered every German torpedo boat into the fray, and he asked his Italian counterpart, Admiral Arturo Riccardi, to do likewise ;  he obliquely hinted that the Italian battleships should also be “brought up in closer proximity to the battle zone.”  It was clear from aerial reconnaissance that the enemy had committed his entire invasion fleet to Sicily, but even now the Italians opted for a policy of conservation of their warships.

Moreover, the most disturbing accounts reached Hitler about the actions of Italian officers in Sicily.  Admiral Priam Leonardi, the commandant of Augusta, had falsely reported that on July 11 enemy assault craft had landed there.  According to the local German brigade commander, Colonel Wilhelm Schmalz, the Italian defenders at once blew up their guns and ammunition and set fire to their fuel dumps ;  the fires were still raging.  The antiaircraft batteries at Augusta and Priolo had fired their entire ammunition into the sea and blown up their guns as well.  “On the afternoon of July 11 there was not one Italian soldier left in Schmalz’s brigade area under any kind of command.  Every single officer had abandoned his troops during the morning and was heading for Catania on bicycles and motor transport.  Italian troops are drifting around the countryside and roads singly or in clusters of up to five men.  Many have thrown away their weapons ;  some have discarded their uniforms too and donned blue denims.”

By July 12 the enemy had landed 160,000 men and 600 tanks on Sicily.  With a few exceptions, the Italian fleet lay idle under the hands of its older-generation officers.  A strategic decision, which he could no longer ignore, now confronted Hitler.

On July 12, Stalin launched his own counteroffensives.

Before, however, we proceed to analyze Hitler’s strategic decisions, it will be appropriate to examine the origins of his continued buoyancy.  With hindsight, we can recognize July 1943 as the month the tide finally turned against him.  Why did he not see this too ?  Hitler felt that even if “Citadel” were called off, it would still have drawn the Soviet dragon’s teeth :  Manstein alone counted 24,000 Prisoners by July 13 ;  and he had also captured or destroyed 1,800 enemy tanks, 267 artillery pieces, and 1,080 antitank guns.  In consequence, no Soviet counterattack of strategic significance need be feared before the autumn.  The Berlin view was that if nonetheless Stalin had had to counterattack now, it was because famine and unrest were sweeping his country.  This was well supported by Zeitzler’s Intelligence experts, who had sorted through hundreds of bags of captured Russian mail.  There were comparisons between 1943 and the disastrous Soviet killer-famine of 1921.  One letter described a girl’s forty-mile trek through wolf-infested country just to get fifteen eggs.  “The letters often afford heartrending glimpses into human destinies,” the army digest read by Hitler said.  “A mother describes to her husband at the front how their children are growing up and sketches the outline of their tiny hands.  A twelve-year-old girl writes to tell her father that her mother has died, and imparts to her lines all the sympathy that her suddenly grown-up heart can bestow.  A young wife dispels all her husband’s fears that her love won’t outlast their separation, which has already gone on three years, in words of deep and powerful sensitiveness.  These are no subhumans who wrote these letters.”  Hitler was probably more impressed by the recurring theme in them :  the Soviet Union was at its last gasp.

Above all, Hitler now had the prospect of German “secret weapons” to sustain him until 1944.  On July 8, D–nitz came with blueprints of the new Type XXI submarine, all-electric, with an underwater speed so high that it would frustrate all the enemy’s defensive tactics.  His experts hoped the first boats would be ready by November 1944, but he had discussed with Speer ways and means of producing them much faster.  As for the enemy’s deadly radar detection equipment, D–nitz hoped to fit out all his U-boats soon with a simple device that would give them ample warning that a radar set was homing onto them.  A new antishipping mine had been developed—so potent and so difficult to combat that for the present Hitler would not even allow his navy to employ it for fear the enemy would capture one and use the device in far greater numbers against Germany.  As Speer came in, Hitler turned to him.  “The most vital thing is to build this new U-boat.”  Speer replied, “We all agree on that.  We have already ordered that it is to take priority over everything else.”

That same day Speer brought to him the top scientists of the army’s rocket research laboratory at Peenem¸nde on the Baltic.  Hitler knew that G–ring and Milch had a team at Peenem¸nde developing a pilotless flying bomb, but he had been cool toward the army’s A-4 rocket project.  Todt had expressed dismay at the lavishness of the Peenem¸nde site’s installations and doubted that anything practical would emerge from the complex of engine-test rigs, launching pads, and wind tunnels.  But Brauchitsch had backed the A-4 project, and General Friedrich Fromm, commander of the Replacement Army, had been a dedicated benefactor ;  he had shown Speer over Peenem¸nde in June 1942 and the new minister had been captivated by the grandeur of the project and lent it his authority.  Hitler frankly and realistically told Speer some months later that the A-4 would be pointless unless five thousand were available for the first salvo and production ran at the rate of three thousand a month—a cool appraisal from which he was, however, to depart in the intoxication of the hour of revenge.  After all, the rocket had only a one-ton warhead, yet cost as much as one hundred of Milch’s flying bombs.  In June 1943 Himmler saw an A-4 being launched and learned of its impacting accurately over one hundred miles away.  He also commended it to Hitler—oblivious to its disadvantages :  it was fueled by such exotic substances as liquid oxygen and pure alcohol, and its fourteen-ton weight was largely aluminum and electronics equipment, both of which were needed far more urgently for the Luftwaffe’s industry.  But Speer turned a blind eye on this, for he was not, after all, accountable for the aircraft industry as yet.  On July 8, Speer introduced to Hitler the men behind the A-4 project :  Gerhard Degenkolb, the man who had revolutionized the locomotive industry in 1942 and was now to mass-produce the rockets ;  General Walter Dornberger, commandant of Peenem¸nde ;  and a young, flaxen-haired chief scientist, Wernher von Braun.  Hitler gripped his hand.  “Professor von Braun !” he greeted him.  Both the army and the Luftwaffe assured Hitler that their missiles would be operational against England before the year was out.

Two days later, July 10, Heinrich Himmler came to the Wolfs Lair.  The A-4 rocket was at the top of his agenda :  the wide diversification of Himmler’s interests is testified to by the fact that within a year the SS was to have complete control of rocket plants and launching batteries. Himmler never disappointed Hitler, let alone bored him.  One minute he was discussing the use of “Russian poisons in Africa,” or the case of the exiled Russian Archduke Vladimir ;  the next it was the procurement of foreign currency, the bombing war, or the SS panzer corps.  Today Himmler wanted to advocate turning the Polish underground army against Stalin.  Hans Frank was also demanding a new line over Poland, and the SS was clandestinely fostering a Polish underground group, “The Sword and Plow,” to ferret out the rival pro-Allied underground army.  The latter was bitterly disillusioned now that Churchill had openly torn up Chamberlain’s costly guarantee to Poland, and when the Gestapo captured the Polish underground’s chief, General Stefan Rowecki, Himmler felt the whole army could be swung around to fight Stalin instead of the German occupation forces.  Hitler read Rowecki’s vita and admitted that he had had the same idea.  But he decided against it :  Rowecki was obviously a leader, and such men were dangerous.  Himmler noted :  “The F¸hrer then reiterated the basis of our Polish policies.  These I was aware of and fully understand.”

Hitler willingly used non-Slav soldiers in the fight against Stalin.  Himmler regularly reported on his SS volunteer divisions raised in the occupied countries.  Hitler particularly wanted to attract British captives into joining the fight.  Hewel had noted after a conversation with Hitler on November 29, 1942 :  “He believes that countless patriotic Englishmen must be suffering under their present regime, as they see the future danger of the Jews, and particularly the Bolsheviks, taking over the Empire.  He considers it quite possible that given suitable treatment a British legion could be raised to fight in British uniforms against bolshevism.  Such a legion would be more welcome to him than one of any other nationality.”  The problem was that while the Russian captives would, the British would not fight for Hitler ;  and the one legion Hitler would not even contemplate was a Russian “liberation army.”

As he had told his generals on July 1, his soldiers must have the animal satisfaction of knowing that the ground they were fighting for would become theirs for all time.  “When our fine peasant lads march into action now they are not thinking, ‘Thank God we can liberate this soil for the wonderful Ukrainians.’  They are saying, ‘What land this is !  Here I come—and here I stay !’ ”  As for the “partisan-infested” regions of the northern Ukraine and the central front, Hitler accepted Himmler’s radical proposal that the entire population should be evacuated forthwith ;  the adults would labor for the Reich, their children would be taken away from them and housed in camps on the periphery, to work in the Kok-sagys rubber plantations Himmler planned to cultivate in those regions.  Kok-sagys—a species suited to temperate climates—was another child of the Reichsf¸hrer’s fertile brain.(2)

After the Russian counteroffensive began north of operation “Citadel,” with Orel as its target, Hitler placed General Model in tactical command of both the Ninth and the Second panzer armies there.  The northern pincer of “Citadel” could advance no farther, and on July 13, the F¸hrer summoned both army group commanders, Manstein and Kluge, to discuss the operation’s future.  Kluge wanted “Citadel” called off.  Manstein, still brimming with optimism, took the opposite view.  His armies were on the brink of victory—if he could add the Twenty-Fourth Panzer Corps to them, it would tilt the balance finally against the defenders of Kursk ;  the Russians had thrown their last reserves into the battle—now Hitler must commit his.  He could still encircle and destroy half the troops defending Kursk.  If the battle was tamely abandoned, the enemy would be free to cause trouble later elsewhere along the front.  When Kluge declared that the Ninth Army could not resume the attack either now or later, Hitler irritably exclaimed, “The Russians manage everything, and we manage nothing at all !”  Thus the battle was stopped—neither defeat nor victory.  Hitler had not excised the Kursk pocket and herded off its inhabitants to slave labor as he wanted ;  he had lost some 20,720 men, including 3,330 dead.  “That’s the last time I will heed the advice of my General Staff !” he proclaimed to his adjutants ;  but he generously shielded Zeitzler himself from the criticism that now sprang up against him.  Hitler had himself agreed to the operation and issued the orders for the attack ;  the responsibility was, he admitted, his and his alone.

But the Russians had suffered the heavier losses in “Citadel”—17,000 dead and 34,000 prisoners.  Their tactical reserves had been decimated.  Accordingly, the next weeks were to see the Russian summer offensive faltering :  when they launched an attack on Manstein’s southern front on July 17, Mackensen’s First Panzer Army and General Karl Hollidt’s new Sixth Army were able to beat them back, taking 18,000 prisoners and destroying 700 tanks in two weeks.  When Stalin issued his order of the day on the twenty-fourth announcing his victory at Kursk—he claimed that 70,000 Germans had died, and 2,900 German tanks been destroyed—Hitler remarked, “My feeling is :  this proves he has called off his own show ... Stalin has abandoned all hope of pushing on here in one big furioso.”  It seemed that stability had returned to the Russian front.

In Sicily, meanwhile, there was crisis.  Unless Hitler could move reliable divisions into Italy and the western Balkans, the Allies would soon land there too.  The Italians were barely putting up the pretense of a fight.  All the indications were that Mussolini’s renegade generals and the king were plotting his overthrow.  Why otherwise had Ambrosio played the familiar Italian card of raising impossible demands for modern tanks and aircraft to be supplied forthwith by Germany ?  He demanded two thousand planes late in June :  it was like August 1939 all over again, only this time both countries were fighting a determined invader, immensely superior in arms and men, with his command unified, resolute, and nearby ;  as for the Axis, Mussolini was in Rome, where he was surrounded by men the F¸hrer saw as knaves, weaklings, and intriguers, while Hitler was in East Prussia over a thousand miles away.

The American army mopped up the Italians in western Sicily, but the British Eighth Army was soon held up by a tough, predominantly German-manned line of defense forward of Mount Etna.  However, unless the Italians showed more fight, Hitler was loath to risk committing more German divisions to the island.  He had ordered Colonel Schmalz’s report on Admiral Leonardi’s behavior at Augusta to be shown to Mussolini, and Mussolini had promised an immediate investigation ;  but the Duce also made a perceptible effort to push the blame for what now seemed the inevitable loss of Sicily onto the Germans for having failed to meet Ambrosio’s supply demands.  On July 13 thirty Italian torpedo boats did sally forth to attack enemy ships off Syracuse, but they returned unscathed, lamely pleading that they had not found any Allied shipping.  Richthofen, commanding the Second Air Force, sneered in his diary :  “As expected, the Italian fleet has not even put to sea ‘to save its honor.’ ”  D–nitz telephoned Hitler’s headquarters that if Hitler so commanded he was willing to take over the Italian navy at once, so as to bring at least the loyal destroyers and submarines into action.

While Hitler would not go as far as that yet, he did ride roughshod over Italian sovereignty elsewhere.  He decided that the defense of Sicily could only be entrusted to the Germans, and he directed an army corps staff to be flown in to reconnoiter the best line forward of Mount Etna.  He personally sent a major to Sicily with the top-secret oral instruction that the German corps commander was to take over the battle himself, “unobtrusively excluding” Italians from control.  A German commandant was also nominated for the Strait of Messina ;  the Italian batteries there were if need be to be manned with German crews.  D–nitz eagerly supplied 1,723 naval gunners from the 10 batteries he had lined up in France for a possible occupation of northern Spain.  On the fourteenth, the OKW brought its contingency plans for a lightning German action against Italy and the Italian-occupied Balkans up to date.  If the Italians did an about-face, Rundstedt would force the mountain passes between France and Italy, and General Student’s paratroops would take over the Brenner Pass.

On July 14, Hitler showed Mussolini’s letter—drafted by Ambrosio—demanding 2,000 aircraft to Milch.  He had already ordered one fighter and four bomber squadrons added to Richthofen’s air force in Italy.  But the Italian ground organization would have to be overhauled.  In the last three weeks 320 aircraft had been destroyed in attacks on Italian airfields ;  36 fighters out of a squadron of 40 had just suffered tire damage, for the Italians had not bothered to sweep the runways clear of bomb fragments after a raid ;  Richthofen had had to turn down the Luftwaffe’s finest antishipping squadron because the Italian runways were too short and primitive to handle it.  “Otherwise,” Milch assured the Italian ambassador, “the F¸hrer could hardly have provided better air support for Germany than he is providing for Italy.  Hundreds of aircraft are already on their way to Italy and hundreds more are on their way at the expense of the night-fighter defenses of our own western air space.”  The navy and Luftwaffe were both contributing their heaviest gun batteries—literally hundreds of guns—to the defense of the Strait of Messina.  But Hitler rightly hesitated to commit his armored divisions to Sicily.  As Jodl warned, it seemed likely that Ambrosio was plotting to lure as many elite German divisions as possible to the south, where they could be cut off and turned over to the enemy on a platter when the time came.  Hitler agreed with this stark appraisal of their allies’ ulterior intentions.  Somehow he had to prevail on Mussolini to rid himself of General Ambrosio, his own appointed gravedigger ;  German generals had to take over the most endangered areas.  D–nitz supported Jodl’s view and asked that the Italian admiralty also be frozen out, to reduce its present unholy influence on the campaign.

Hitler decided to meet Mussolini again.  Meanwhile he picked General Hube, the veteran of Stalingrad, to command all ground troops in Sicily.  G–ring tried hard to get his own Luftwaffe’s General Rainer Stahel appointed, but Rommel outargued him.  Hitler had intended giving Rommel overall command in Italy, but now G–ring got his revenge.  On July 18, Rommel wrote in his diary :  “At midday with the F¸hrer.  Field Marshal Kluge also there ... I learn that the F¸hrer has been advised not to make me Commander in Chief in Italy, as I am supposed to be hostile toward the Italians.  I assume the Luftwaffe is behind this.  Thus my employment in Italy recedes into the dim and distant future again.—Apparently the F¸hrer’s going to meet the Duce.”

Two new army groups were now created :  B, to be commanded by Rommel from Salonika, covering Greece, Crete, and the Aegean ;  and E, commanded by General L–hr from Belgrade to control the rest of the Balkans.  In the event, Rommel’s new appointment lasted just one week.

On July 18, Hitler flew down to the Berghof.  He sat just behind the cockpit, his papers spread out on the folding table, meditating that it was all turning out just as he had feared.  “This was precisely why I was so apprehensive about launching our offensive in the east too early,” he said a few days later.  “I kept thinking that at the same time we’d find our hands full down south.”

His strategy now was this :  somehow they must tempt the enemy to pour huge reinforcements into the island of Sicily—then the Luftwaffe would bomb the supply ships to pieces and starve the invader into submission ;  what he wanted was Tunis in reverse.  He had therefore resolved to confront Mussolini with a personal ultimatum :  either Sicily must be effectively defended—with a view to reverting to the offensive later on—or it should be abandoned, and the decisive battle fought on the Italian mainland.  But first the Duce would have to tighten his grip over the Italians and his armed forces.

The one-day meeting between the Axis leaders had been planned for later but advanced to July 19 by events in Sicily.  Mussolini—who had originally wanted several days with Hitler as he had had in April—probably wanted to impart to the F¸hrer that his country could no longer fight on.  But Hitler did not give him a real opportunity to speak his mind—not even during the time they spent together in the Duce’s shabby, old-fashioned train with its jostling staff in comic-opera costumes.  The account rendered in Mussolini’s later diary describes how things went from the moment Hitler arrived at the Treviso airfield :

Punctually at nine the F¸hrer landed.  He inspected the guard of honor and we proceeded to the railroad station.  After about an hour the train left us at a station outside Feltre.  An automobile bore us onward to the villa selected for our meeting, the house of Senator Gaggia, a veritable labyrinth of rooms and salons which are still a nightmare in my memory.  We arrived there after an hour’s drive in an open car under a scorching sun, during which I merely exchanged polite small talk with the F¸hrer.

The actual meeting began at noon.... The F¸hrer began the talking, and continued for two hours.  His words were taken down in shorthand and the complete text of his speech is in foreign ministry files.  Scarcely had he begun when my secretary came in with a telephone message from Rome :  “Since 11 A.M. Rome has been under intense air bombardment.”  I informed the F¸hrer and the others.  The news charged the atmosphere with tragedy—the atmosphere crowded in on us with each fresh telephone message reporting the exceptional length of the raid, the number of bombers employed, and the severe damage (including the university and the church of San Lorenzo).

When the F¸hrer had concluded his speech, a first confidential exchange of opinions took place between the two of us.  He imparted two important facts to me :  firstly, the U-boat war was about to be resumed with other means ;  and secondly that at the end of August the German Luftwaffe would begin reprisal attacks on London, razing it to the ground within a week.  I replied that in anticipation of the reprisals this would provoke, Italy’s air defenses would have to be [strengthened].(3)

I was then called away to receive fresh reports, whereupon it was time to return.  Only during the hour-long train journey could I make one thing plainly understood to him :  that Italy is now withstanding the entire weight of two empires—Britain and the United States—and there is a very real and growing danger of her being crushed beneath them.  The bombing of our cities damages not only our public’s morale and powers of resistance, but also our main war production.  I told him again that the campaign in Africa would have ended very differently had we been at least equal, if not superior, to the enemy air force.  I also warned that the nervous tension within my country is now at an extreme and dangerous pitch.

He told me the Italian crisis was a leadership crisis, and hence a human one.  He would send reinforcements for the air force and new divisions to defend the peninsula.  He declared that the defense of Italy is also in Germany’s highest interests.  His choice of words was friendly at all times, and we parted on the best of terms.  The F¸hrer’s aircraft took off soon afterward.

Hitler was curiously satisfied with the outcome of this—as it happened, his last—-visit to Italy.  He believed he had revitalized the Italian war effort.  His generals were unimpressed.  Field Marshal Richthofen wrote that day :  “Landed at Treviso at five to nine.  As is right and proper, the Duce and Kesselring met me there. ... At the villa the F¸hrer delivered a two-hour speech without a break to the Duce, his military staff, and other companions on how to fight wars and battles.  Nobody apart from the Duce understood a word.  Afterward, Ambrosio observed with a smirk that it was not so much a coloquio as a disloquio. . . . The F¸hrer was tired from so much energetic speaking, but looked well, much better than the Duce.  Then the same trek back to Treviso.  The whole show has probably produced less than one could conceal under a little fingernail.”

“On parting,” Richthofen wrote, “the F¸hrer was again most cordial.  The routine query as to my well-being.  Particularly pressed me not to risk my health or myself-saying I would make a fine trophy for the British if they could get their hands on me.  I could only respond that I would look even more unsightly stuffed than I do now.”

As he flew back from the Berghof to East Prussia on July 20, Hitler was despondent about Mussolini’s future.  The previous evening Martin Bormann had shown him an Intelligence report cabled by Himmler to the Berghof ;  it contained clear evidence that “a coup d’etat is being planned to get rid of the Duce and install Marshal Badoglio to form a war cabinet.”  Himmler’s report said :  “B[adoglio] is known to be a leading Freemason in Italy.  His aim is said to be to commence immediate peace talks the moment the Anglo-American troops have completed their occupation of Sicily.”  The cable was long and circumstantial.  There was no point in warning Mussolini—he was of an almost childlike naivete.  On the railroad station he had blurted out to the F¸hrer :  “I just don’t know what my generals can be thinking of, stationing such strong forces up here in the north.  They are supposed to be defending Italy !”

Shortly afterward, German railroad officials on the border tipped off the OKW to the fact that the Italians were steadily stockpiling ammunition in the fortifications facing the Reich, for example at Tarvisio.

Rommel was summoned to see Hitler on July 20 and entered in his diary :  “At F¸hrer’s evening conference :  major breach in the eastern front at Army Group Center, aimed at Orel.  All quiet in Sicily.  His talk with Duce yielded no real clear decisions.  Duce unable to act as he would wish.  I am to take command over Greece, including the islands, for the time being, so that I can pounce on Italy later.”  The next day he wrote :  “Morning conference :  eastern front somewhat firmer, but big breach at Orel.  Russians still have 8,700 tanks operational.”  That afternoon he saw Jodl :  “The Duce is aware of his colleagues’ political intentions.”  On July 22, Rommel wrote :  “At the F¸hrer’s midday conference :  eastern front now stable apart from Orel.”  He flew off the next day to begin his thankless task in Greece, where apart from the questionable Italian Eleventh Army he would command only one German panzer division and three German infantry divisions.  Admiral Canaris’s Abwehr still maintained that the main Allied invasion was not that in Sicily, but still to come in the Balkans.

Meanwhile, an ominous calm had overtaken the murderous bombing war.  The Luftwaffe had abandoned its costly and ineffective raids on London and provincial cities, as the bomber squadrons were needed in Italy.  Since mid-June longrange German night fighters had begun harassing Allied bombers over their own English airfields, but Hitler disapproved of such intruder-operations :  the German public wanted revenge for their own dead and maimed—what did it care for minelaying operations or pinpricks against enemy airfields ?  When G–ring and Milch came to see him on July 23, he emphasized :  “You can only break terrorism by counterterrorism.  We have got to counterattack—anything else is useless !”  When Colonel Peltz defended the intruder-operations, Hitler variously replied, “At present we can be pleased with ourselves if our crews even find London !”  “Can’t find London—a disgrace !”  “If this goes on, the German public will go raving mad !”  “The British will only stop bombing if their own cities are being flattened, and not otherwise !”

The next day, July 24, the first storm signals were hoisted over southern Europe.  Unsettling and indeterminate news reached Hitler that the Fascist Grand Council was being convened that evening in Rome for the first time in many years.  Roberto Farinacci, a radical and independent Fascist agitator, evidently intended thereby to force Mussolini to adopt more extreme measures against his opponents ;  but this was in fact playing straight into his critics’ hands.  As midnight passed without fresh word from Rome, Hitler grumbled that if a Farinacci had pulled a trick like that on him, he would have had Himmler haul him off straight away.  “What good can possibly come of such a meeting ?  Just empty chatter !”  At 3 A.M., the consiglio was still in session.  Before Hitler retired for the night, word reached him that the British had attacked Hamburg with up to a thousand heavy bombers, that the port city was a blazing inferno, and that for some as yet undetermined reason the radar defenses had failed to function.

The first photographs of the hideous scenes there were shown to him the next morning.  Corpses of men, women, and children littered the streets—the women with their hair in curlers, the men clutching suitcases, the children seeking shelter in the arms of fire-fighters.  In one parish alone eight hundred civilians had died.  At his noon conference Hitler learned that the enemy had begun jamming the ground and airborne radar sets by the very means the experts had feared all along :  “They have released cascades of hundreds of thousands of strips of metal foil into the sky.”  The antiaircraft gunners and fighter pilots were fighting blind from now on ;  the bombers could maraud everywhere with virtual immunity.  During the week that followed, Hamburg was to suffer three more night attacks.  In one, an immense firestorm began, the huge fires creating hurricane-strength winds that sucked trees, rooftops, debris, and people into their flames ;  the tens of thousands sheltering in the massive concrete bunkers were incinerated alive, poisoned by monoxide fumes, or drowned by the flood of bursting water mains.  Part of Hamburg’s antiaircraft batteries had been sacrificed for the defense of Italy.

Even the terror of the first night failed to presage the fact that over forty thousand more people would be killed there in the week to come.  But Hitler steeled his heart.  For the present, Rome was more important.  He swung around on Ribbentrop’s liaison official.  “See that you find out what you can, Hewel !”  Hewel replied, “They adjourned their consiglio at three this morning.  I will find out the moment anything else comes through.”  But by the time the conference ended at 2 P.M. he could still report only that wild rumors were sweeping Rome.

Later that day word came that Marshal Badoglio had asked the German ambassador to see him.  Mackensen declined, but the aged marshal insisted on a meeting.  Badoglio then dropped his bombshell :  Benito Mussolini had resigned.  The king had asked the marshal to set up a military government.  “Badoglio has taken over,” exclaimed Hitler to Keitel that evening.  “The blackest of our enemies !”

1 Sir Stafford Cripps was minister of aircraft production, Sir Charles Portal was Chief of Air Staff and Sir Arthur Harris was Commander in Chief of RAF Bomber Command.

2 Hitler had just appointed him Special Commissioner for all Rubber Plant Affairs.

3 Mussolini omitted the word assicurare.—The German record indicates that Hitler told him of the radar warning-devices being fitted to the submarines and of the decoy buoys and new U-boat types arriving early in 1944.  “Finally the F¸hrer also mentioned a weapon on which he did not want to impart precise details, but which would enter service against the British when the winter began and against which there was no defense”—evidently meaning the A-4.


p. 526   Guderian’s note on his June 16 conference with Hitler is in BA file H16/236.  According to the naval staff war diary, June 25, the General Staff expected tank production to increase from four hundred to one thousand three hundred a month by autumn.  Zeitzler’s naval liaison officer emphasized the uncertainty being injected into the eastern front by the Mediterranean situation.  But “the troops’ morale is high, offset only by the bad news reaching them on the effects of enemy air raids at home” (ibid.).  According to Goebbels’s unpublished diary, June 25, Zeitzler had visited Hitler on the twenty-fourth—no doubt to agree to the final postponement of “Citadel.”

p. 528   On the dispute between Frank and the SS, I relied on Nuremburg trial documents NG-3556, 2233-PS, NO-2202, and 437-PS;  see also Hassell’s diary, May 15, 1943, with its authentic detail by Frank’s administration chief on the SS mass extermination of Jews in Poland.  On Frank’s meeting with Hitler on May 9, I used the diaries of Goebbels, Frank, and Bormann, and the latter’s memo of May 11 (BA, Schumacher Collection, file 371).  On May 31, Frank called a big security-conference in Cracow ;  Himmler agreed to send representatives, apologizing in a letter to Frank on May 26 :  “The evacuation of the last two hundred fifty thousand Jews, which will doubtless cause unrest for some weeks, must be completed as rapidly as possible despite all the difficulties” (T175/128/4157 et seq.).

p. 529   Himmler’s talk with Hitler, June 19, 1943 :  see his files, T175/94/5096 et seq., T175/40 and T175/76 ;  and T175/94/5098.

p. 529   On the Schirachs’ last visit to the Berghof (June 1943) I collected testimony from both Schirachs, Otto G¸nsche, secretary Christa Schroeder, Marion Sch–nmann—whose wording I have followed—Traudl Humps (who learned about it from her husband, Hans Junge), and the cameraman Walter Frentz ;  also from the Goebbels diary, June 25, 1943, and Table Talk, June 24 (evening).

Traces of Hitler’s “scalepan” argument recur in Table Talks on September 14 and November 5, 1941, and in Goebbels’s diary, May 23 and 30, 1942.

pp. 530-31   Professor Ernst Heinkel describes the aircraft designers’ conference with Hitler on June 27, 1943, in his memoirs, pages 459 et seq.  I also used Bormann’s diary, Speer’s notes, Messerschmitt’s interrogations and personal papers (FD-4355/45 Vol. 6), and Wolf Junge’s manuscript.

p. 531   The “Hektor” and “Josephine” reports (see pages 572-73) will be found in Baron Gustav Adolf Steengracht von Moyland’s AA file, Serial 98.  Controller of these alleged “agents” was Counsellor of Legation Karl-Heinz Kraemer, at the Stockholm legation ;  he has declined to identify them.

p. 532   Envoy Hans Thomsen’s telegram of June 21, 1943, is in Steengracht’s file, Serial 191.  The “gentleman” was Peter Kleist (see his book European Tragedy, pages 144 et seq.).  Subsequently the Russians claimed that Alexandrov—a former counsellor of their Berlin embassy, by June 1943 head of the German division of the Soviet foreign ministry—was in Australia in June 1943 (see Izvestia, July 29, 1947).  Not so.  The June 22, 1943, announcement was made in Pravda.  The July 1 article was by N. Malinin in Voina i rabochnii klass (War and the Working Class).

p. 532   General Hans Friessner (Twenty-Third Corps) wrote the manuscript record of Hitler’s speech which I quote.  I found it in his personal papers, BA file H 14-23/1, pages 121-9.  In his diary, Rommel wrote :  “Evening, big conference in outbuilding [of General Staff HQ].  Every field marshal and field commander present, and some corps commanders.  F¸hrer gives picture of the situation and the planned operations.  Afterward a gettogether until 2:50 A.M.”  A short verbatim extract of the speech (pages 55 to 61 only) is on microfilm T77/778/0773 et seq.  See also Manstein, pages 495 et seq.

The panzer general von Knobelsdorff was overheard on May 14, 1945, describing the evening to a fellow prisoner thus :  “Hitler promised us the world there.... Naturally we never got it.  Hermann [G–ring] sat next to him, wilting more and more from one quarter-hour to the next until his face looked downright sheepish—a complete dullard.  He kept eating pills and then perked up for a while.... We sat together with the F¸hrer for a while, but Hermann went off with his Luftwaffe men” (X-P4).

p. 534   In fact about three thousand Allied ships were involved.  Rommel’s diary states, July 10, 1943 :  “Noon war conference with F¸hrer.  British and Americans landed on Sicily with paratroops and landing craft.  Three hundred ships.—9:30 P.M. to 1:40 A.M. discussion with F¸hrer.”

p. 535   The view at Hitler’s HQ was that Stalin’s July 12, 1943, counteroffensive was a last desperate fling.  Milch—who saw Hitler the next day—reassured his staff on the nineteenth :  “The Russians have got to attack.  They have no option.  They have such ghastly domestic problems, and so little hope that things will get better, that they say, ‘If we don’t finish the war this summer and winter at the latest, then for me it’ll be all over.’  The Russians will not survive this winter as a fighting force—and that’s definite” (MD22/6076).  And see the food minister Herbert Backe’s remarks, quoted by his wife in a letter to Heydrich’s widow on July 25 :  “He says it’s very important for us not to have a bad harvest in this critical year.  America’s harvest has failed ;  Russia is starving.  Besides this, my husband thinks it good that the Russians are attacking—it’s a sign of their weakness :  they have to.”  Richthofen’s words, written after Hitler’s noon conference on July 28, are very similar (diary), as are Goebbels’s that same day.

pp. 535-36   The captured letters are analyzed in a report of July 7, 1943, shown to Hitler (H3/644).

p. 538   Rommel’s diary, July 13, 1943, encapsulates Germany’s growing military plight.  “Noon, F¸hrer’s war conference ;  ditto evening.—“Hermann G–ring” Division has not met desired success in attack [in Sicily].  Syracuse occupied by British.  Two battalions of enemy paratroops landed west of Catania destroyed by our own paratroops.  Field Marshals von Kluge and von Manstein report to F¸hrer, evening General Guderian too.  Russians staging counterattacks.  Model’s [Ninth] Army can’t keep up.”

p. 540   There is a record of the talk with the Italian ambassador in Milch’s files (MD53/1116 et seq.)

p. 540   Rommel’s diary on July 16, 1943, reads :  “At noon conference.  G–ring wants General Stahel as Commander in Chief [Sicily] and not Hube.  I get Hube accepted and suggest General Bayerlein as his Chief of Staff.  The F¸hrer acquiesces.—Heavy tank losses on eastern front.  The breach at Bryansk [Second Panzer Army] has been sealed off.—Phoned General Bayerlein, didn’t reach him.  Went over to F¸hrer’s evening conference.  Hube is called on to operate offensively.”  And the next day Rommel continued :  “At noon conference with F¸hrer.  Ambassador [Hans George] von Mackensen [Rome] with F¸hrer.  General Bayerlein expected in afternoon.—Situation in east for a time at crisis point, eases again.  Russian attacks beaten back.  Italy :  British air raids. . . . 4 P.M.:  summoned to F¸hrer.  Initially Admiral D–nitz, Field Marshal Keitel, General Jodl, and myself present ;  later General Bayerlein.  Bayerlein not taking on new job as still ill.  Colonel Kriebel is then proposed.  I suggest von Bonin instead and he gets the job.—To F¸hrer’s evening conference.”

On Hitler’s mid-July strategy prior to Mussolini’s overthrow, see his remarks to the Bulgarian leaders on October 18, 1943.

pp. 541-42   This fragment of Mussolini’s diary, dated August 19, 1943, is in secret AA files, Serial 715, pages 263729 et seq.;  for the official Italian record, see Mussolini’s papers (T586/405/394 et seq.) and the records of the comando supremo (T821/251/955 et seq.).

p. 543   Himmler’s Intelligence report to Bormann, July 19, 1943, is in the Reichsf¸hrer’s files (T175/53/7178ff).

p. 543   For the Abwehr’s mistaken belief that the Allies would soon invade the Balkans—which culminated in Hitler’s directive of July 26, 1943—see the naval staff and OKW war diaries, July 28.

pp. 543-45   My narrative of events at Hitler’s HQ is based on Milch’s diary, on Admiral Krancke’s reports (in naval staff diary), on Goebbels’s diary, and on the stenograms of Hitler’s dramatic war conferences on July 25.