David Irving


Waiting for a Telegram

When he awoke at 9 A.M. on January 16, 1945, his train was approaching the capital.  Snowdrifts concealed Berlin’s cruelest injuries.  Forty minutes later he was being driven from Grunewald station to the Reich Chancellery.

The old wing, scene of his prewar political triumphs, had suffered unmistakably, and he could make out snow-filled craters in the gardens.  A rectangular concrete slab elevated some feet above ground level marked the site of the deep shelter which Albert Speer had built for him.  It looked an inhospitable place.  Hitler decided to sleep in his usual first-floor bedroom for the time being—a hurricane seemed to have blasted through it, but it had been repaired—and to continue holding his war conferences in the ornate study overlooking the ravaged Chancellery gardens.

No stenograms of the next conferences survive, but they were clearly charged with high drama.  General Harpe’s Army Group A had collapsed ;  since Sch–rner’s army group had fought brilliant defensive actions in Kurland, Hitler send for him that afternoon, awarded him the Diamonds, and appointed him Harpe’s successor.  He also instructed the navy to embark two panzer and two infantry divisions at the Kurland port of Libau immediately and to bring them by sea to reinforce the main eastern front.  In Poland and East Prussia he designated several cities as “fortresses,” to be held as breakwaters and buttresses, slowing down the swirling enemy advance.

Postmortems on the catastrophe in Poland began.  Hitler learned that the Twenty-fourth Panzer Corps (General Nehring), stationed southwest of Kielce—much too close to the Russian Schwerpunkt—had received telephone orders from Harpe to hold Kielce as a “hinge,” without counterattacking, although that was what panzer divisions were for.  Now that the front line had been overrun so “unexpectedly rapidly,” the corps was engulfed.  Seething with anger, Hitler ordered Harpe to report to him in person.  The general calmly produced a F¸hrer Order explicitly reserving these divisions—the 16th and 17th panzer divisions to Hitler’s whim.  Hitler had never seen the order before, and concluded that Guderian’s staff was responsible.

The loss of Warsaw produced another example of the General Staffs waywardness.  Hitler had ordered the Polish capital defended as a fortress, but when Guderian next appeared at the Chancellery he told the startled F¸hrer that the city had already fallen to the Russians, and he had redrawn the situation map accordingly.  But even as they were conferring, a radio message arrived from the German battle commandant in Warsaw :  he was still holding out, though enveloped on all sides.  Hitler ordered the city held at all costs—like Budapest, which was still surviving the Soviet onslaught.  However, it was now too late, as Guderian’s earlier order to the contrary had been obeyed.

Asked for an explanation, Guderian blamed his chief of operations, Colonel Bogislaw von Bonin, for the inaccurate report (the same officer had expressed the General Staff’s confidence in the eastern front’s defenses in December).  Hitler ordered Bonin arrested, and when Guderian guiltily objected, Hitler retorted, “I’m out for the General Staff’s blood.  This General Staff clique has got to be stamped out !”(1)  On the eighteenth he instructed Jodl to draft a firmly worded order that in the future no commander was to commence any attack or retreat without first having informed the F¸hrer in sufficient time for the order to be countermanded ;  any future inaccurate reports submitted to him—“whether by design or through negligence”—would be severely punished.  The order was issued three days later.

Faced with this Soviet invasion, Hitler skeptically authorized Ribbentrop’s first cautious feelers to the western powers.  His mind was clear on the general terms.  (Once he had said he would fight on until “a peace that is honorable, acceptable to Germany, and will safeguard the life of her coming generations becomes possible ;  because I need hardly add how distasteful I find this war.”)  Failing that, Ribbentrop’s feelers might still drive a wedge into the enemy alliance.  Sources strongly suggested that it was falling apart.  Both Roosevelt and Churchill refused to accept Stalin’s “Lublin Committee” puppet government and his proposed frontiers for Poland.  Hitler confidently expected the alliance to founder on this rock—a misjudgment as monumental as his Dunkirk error five years before.

Whereas then, in 1940, Hitler had assumed that Churchill could not honorably abandon the French in battle, now in 1945 he could not believe that Churchill would bring himself to abandon Poland to bolshevism ;  after all, Britain had gone to war over Poland’s integrity in 1939.  Surely the British would now see that Germany was central Europe’s last bulwark against the hordes of Asia ?  “There must be people in Britain who can see what it is they are demolishing !” he exclaimed in exasperation to his adjutants.

On January 2, German Intelligence sources reported that Moscow’s Comintern had ordered anti-British agitation to begin.  With his Ardennes offensive still causing acute embarrassment to the Allies, Hitler authorized Ribbentrop—probably that same day—to draw up proposals for the western governments ;  the form of these proposals was to be such that they could not be attributed to Hitler himself.  By the nineteenth, when Ribbentrop brought the document to him, the political climate seemed even more propitious ;  London and Washington could surely find little comfort in the Red Army’s immense offensive.  The document proposed that Germany retain her national frontiers and renounce both her economic autarky and her ambitions to a hegemony over Europe ;  that she cooperate in her foreign policy and in economic affairs ;  that freedom of religion would be restored and the Jews resettled somewhere in an international community.  The proposals were stated to be the views of “authoritative sources in Berlin including the foreign minister.”  Hitler approved it.  Ribbentrop signed it and sent one of his most experienced diplomats, Dr. Werner von Schmieden, who had a distinguished League of Nations record, to Switzerland to make contact with a Mr. Allen Dulles—Roosevelt’s Intelligence chief there—and an equivalent British official.  Now Berlin could only wait for the reply.

Hitler confidently prepared fresh military undertakings in the east meanwhile.  His health must have improved, for his doctors only rarely visited him.  But his milieu changed.  Martin Bormann—who returned from a two-week leave on January 19, bringing Eva Braun to Berlin with him—held regular morning conferences with Hitler.  Goebbels and Ley were frequent guests.  Admiral D–nitz attended the war conferences almost daily—for his warships were to evacuate hundreds of thousands of civilians from the threatened eastern provinces.  On January 20, the admiral offered Hitler twenty thousand naval troops for the land battles.  That same day Hitler conferred with Speer and Saur on ways of restoring the Luftwaffe’s supremacy ;  G–ring, Messerschmitt, and other experts crowded the Chancellery study.  Hitler ordered—once again—the heaviest cannon, and air-to-air missiles like the R4M rocket, to be mass-produced for the fighter squadrons.  Jet-fighter development was to continue at top priority, and the F¸hrer called for a long-range heavy bomber to be designed using the jet-engine principle.  G–ring was ignored.  General Galland was not present—having been replaced that day in disgrace by Colonel Gollob as commander of the fighter force.

This long-term industrial planning showed that Hitler still expected a Seven Years’ War.  Jodl’s staff had formulated a new master plan to stave off an earlier defeat :  by weakening the western front to the utmost degree compatible with safety, an assault army would be built up in the east before the end of February 1945 ;  this would head off the Russian invasion.  Meanwhile the western enemy would be harried by more aggressive warfare from Hitler’s Atlantic “fortresses”—Lorient, Saint-Nazaire, La Rochelle, and North Gironde—and their long lines of communication would be disrupted by U-boat, minelaying, midget-submarine operations, and Luftwaffe attacks.  On January 19, D–nitz endorsed Hitler’s delaying strategy.  One hundred and seven of the secret Mark XXI electro-U-boats were already fitting out, and the first were to begin operations in March.

Before the eastern front had caved in, Hitler had ordered the powerful Sixth SS Panzer Army disengaged from the Ardennes battlefield as a tactical reserve for Rundstedt.  Late on January 19, Hitler began to consider transferring the army to the east instead, and the next day he ordered its First Panzer Corps to Berlin before heading for the eastern front as rapidly as possible.  But events were rapidly overtaking him, and he knew that weeks had to pass before the panzer army could complete its transfer.  Martin Bormann, who saw him at 1:45 P.M., wrote in his diary :  “Midday :  situation in the east growing increasingly menacing.  Evacuation of the Warthe Gau.  Tank spearheads approaching Kattowitz, etcetera.”  Hitler blotted from his mind the almost audible sounds of the battle approaching Berlin, and he tried to envisage the Wehrmacht’s plight several weeks hence.  He concluded that the strategic danger to the Reich lay in Hungary and Austria, where Stalin was preparing with an army of inferior troops and Balkan allies to capture the last remaining petroleum fields south of Lake Balaton and in the Viennese region.  On January 20, Hitler confided to press chief Otto Dietrich :  “I’m going to attack the Russians where they least expect it.  The Sixth SS Panzer Army’s off to Budapest !  If we start an offensive in Hungary, the Russians will have to go too.”

His plan was for a rapid pincer attack, launched from both ends of the fifty-mile-long Lake Balaton to unhinge the southern end of the Russian front.  On January 21 he cabled Weichs, the Commander in Chief Southeast, to investigate the feasibility of a simultaneous thrust by three or four divisions from Croatia across the Drava into southern Hungary ;  Weichs replied the next day in terms of conditional approval.  Hitler forthwith ordered the Sixth Panzer Army sent to Hungary.  When Guderian, exhausted by poor health, protested that he needed the army to defend Berlin, Hitler caustically replied, “You intend operating without gasoline.  Fine !  How far do you think your tanks will get !”  The counteroffensive in Hungary must come first.  But it took longer to prepare than Hitler had calculated.

In Poland, Cracow and Lodz were overrun.  To release a corps for East Prussia, Hitler ordered Memel abandoned and its dockyard destroyed ;  on January 21 he authorized General Hossbach’s badly mauled Fourth Army to fall back on the line of lakes on either side of the well-provided fortress town of Lotzen.  The Russians had torn a huge breach between the German armies fighting in East Prussia—Army Group Center—and Sch–rner’s Army Group A ;  now virtually nothing stood between them and the Baltic.  At a conference with Guderian and Jodl on January 21, Hitler announced that the Reichsf¸hrer SS, Himmler, would take over command of a new Army Group Vistula to plug this gap and thereby prevent the enemy from breaking right through to Danzig and Posen and even isolating East Prussia ;  Himmler was also to “organize the national defense on German soil behind the entire eastern front.”  When Guderian proposed that this would be an ideal assignment for Field Marshal von Weichs instead—he had an army group staff available and Himmler had not—Hitler rejected the suggestion.  Himmler’s unorthodox talents had impressed him during the Reichsf¸hrer’s brief command on the Upper Rhine front ;  he hoped for a ruthlessness and tenacity from the Reichsf¸hrer that was lacking in the elderly, worn-out army generals.

Two days later the Russians reached the coast at Elbing (Elblag), cutting off East Prussia.  On the twenty-fourth Hossbach withdrew the Fourth Army to the west and abandoned the Lotzen fortifications without a fight.  Hitler’s permission was not asked—in flagrant violation of an explicit order ;  he was not even told.  Confronted with this fresh fait accompli Hitler exploded :  “Hossbach and the Russians are hand in glove !”  The general and his entire staff were dismissed immediately ;  and the same rough justice was meted out to the army group commander, the badly injured General Hans Reinhardt, who was replaced by General Rendulic.  To Jodl, Hitler privately compared the Lotzen “treachery” with the August 1944 “Avranches affair” which had presaged the fall of France.

Russian tanks were now rolling into Upper Silesia—the industrial province to which Hitler had evacuated his most precious war factories.  The Oder was reached and bridged by the enemy at Steinau.  Auschwitz was overrun.  The fortress of Posen was encircled, and on January 27 the long, hard fight for possession of the city began ;  comparable in ferocity with the battles for Stalingrad and the Alcazar of Toledo, it would end only one month later with the death of its commandant and surrender to the Russians after they had threatened to massacre the injured Germans in their hands.  Millions of Germans began fleeing westward before the advancing Russians.  In East Prussia there were 2,000,000 :  the navy would evacuate 450,000 from the port of Pillau over the next weeks ;  900,000 more set out on foot despite sub-zero temperatures, along the forty-mile causeway to Danzig or across the frozen lagoon known as the Frisches Haff.  Behind them the invading Russians—incited by Stalin and by an order signed by Marshal Zhukov himself(2)—raped, pillaged, burned, and plundered.  Gehlen’s Intelligence branch confirmed that the Russians were shooting civilians quite indiscriminately.  “Refugee columns overtaken by Soviet tanks are often machinegunned and then crushed beneath them.”

Every road to Berlin, Dresden, and the west was choked with fleeing refugees.  All Germany listened on January 30 to Hitler’s radio broadcast, the last he would ever make.  His private adjutant, Alwin-Broder Albrecht, wrote the next day :  “From all sides the response to the F¸hrer’s speech has been indescribably positive, however gloomy the omens may be.... What moved me most deeply was one telegram that arrived today from a refugee column trekking from the east.  It just read :  ‘F¸hrer, we trust in you !’—signed, ‘A column passing through so-and-so.’ ”  And a few days later Albrecht wrote from Hitler’s Chancellery to a querulous mother uncomfortably billeted in Schleswig-Holstein :  “It should be sheer ecstasy to hear children noisily playing and shouting.  Imagine what a mother feels when her children freeze to death and must be left at the roadside, as happens in countless cases now.”  Hitler ordered Berlin’s buses to rush bread to the refugee columns.

The war he had started had bred inhumanity.  To exploit the refugee chaos in Berlin, the Americans sent over nine hundred heavy bombers at noon on February 3.  Hitler was awakened in time and took shelter as two thousand tons of bombs rained down, but it was a near thing :  his dining room collapsed onto his staffs prepared luncheon table, and the city’s casualties were immense.  But on the eastern front the slaying of prisoners—an atrocity rare in the west—was commonplace, as neither belligerent had the protection of the Geneva Convention.  On February 16, Himmler’s Chief of Staff signaled his army commanders :  “F¸hrer Order :  When villages are captured, and particularly during assault-troop raids, the prisoners are not to be slain near the front line as the civil population has to pay for it afterward.”  The world’s newspapers shortly reported what the Russians had found at Majdanek and other concentration camp sites.

Ever westward and northward the Russians swept, across frozen rivers and frosted fields, exploiting the Polish and east German railroads and autobahns which the withdrawing armies had not had time to destroy.  On January 27, Sch–rner had to order the Upper Silesian industrial region abandoned.  Two days later K–nigsberg, capital of East Prussia, was isolated by the enemy, and on the thirtieth the Russians reached and bridged the Oder on both sides of K¸strin (Kostrzyn)—only fifty miles from the center of Berlin.  The German command structure in the east had collapsed.  Hitler had lost contact with entire armies ;  he did not know which cities had fallen and which were still in his troops’ hands.  He instructed Guderian :  “Over the next few days I must be told everything that is known about the enemy’s movements and the most likely directions of attack and assembly areas, because our own countermeasures will depend on them.”  “Jawohl,” answered Guderian.

One thought consoled Hitler :  the Soviet avalanche must be causing concern in London and Washington.  A decoded directive of the Allied “combined chiefs of staff” showed this concern quite clearly.  The Allies’ strategic air forces were shortly to begin a series of annihilating attacks on east and central German railway centers, ostensibly in aid of the Russians but in fact designed to hinder their westward progress.(3)  The Berlin raid was clearly the first.  Hitler instructed Ribbentrop to feed to the British Intelligence networks a phony report that Stalin was raising an army of two hundred thousand German Communists ;  under General Paulus and other captured German officers, this “army” was to march westward and set up a puppet government, for example in K–nigsberg.  “That’ll shake them—like being jabbed with a cobbler’s awl !”

A dialogue between Hitler, Jodl, and G–ring on January 27 illustrates how firmly rooted their daydreams had become.  Hitler mused, “I don’t know—do you think the British can still be watching this entire Russian development with a thrill of excitement ?”  “No, definitely not,” replied Jodl.  “Their plans were quite different. . . .”  “They certainly never bargained for us standing firm in the west and letting the Russians conquer all Germany meanwhile,” seconded G–ring.  “If it goes on like this we’ll be getting a telegram in a few days’ time.... They went to war to stop us moving east, not to have the east coming right up to the Atlantic !”  “Absolutely right !” said Hitler.  “It doesn’t make sense.  The British newspapers are already bitterly asking, What’s the point of this war ?”

It was in this mood of Schadenfreude that Hitler conducted two lengthy conferences with Ribbentrop early in February 1945, and then on the seventh with SS General Karl Wolff—his chief police representative in occupied Italy—as well.  No note survives, but Wolff later described having drawn Hitler’s attention to the military stalemate in Italy and to the western Allies’ “increasingly concrete peace feelers extended via Switzerland,” coupled with similar offers of mediation by the Vatican.  Hitler took note of his remarks and pointedly refrained from forbidding him to pursue these channels to the West.  Ribbentrop notified Wolff that Hitler’s reaction was thus one of guarded approval.  Wolff then began secret talks in Switzerland with the same Mr. Dulles whom Herr von Schmieden had been sent to contact.

At the Reich Chancellery the broadcast of Hitler’s January 30 speech was followed by the premiere of Goebbels’s most ambitious color film ever, Kolberg :  the story of one of the most stirring battles in the Seven Years’ War.  Hitler never saw it, but throughout his rapidly shrinking domain the film revived failing spirits ;  it was even dispatched by fighter aircraft to inspire the German garrisons of the remaining Atlantic fortresses.  “These times require lionhearts,” wrote one of his adjutants after seeing Kolberg, “so it is salutary to be reminded of what previous generations suffered in the fight for our nation’s survival.... The film matches present history so well that its originators—and work began on the film in 1942—must have had clairvoyant powers.”  History in the besieged Baltic port of Kolberg would indeed soon be repeated.

Two weeks had passed since the Soviet invasion.  Sch–rner’s army group had now claimed 1,356 enemy tanks and the army group in East Prussia an equal number ;  but the enemy losses were being replaced with equal rapidity.  The fortress city of Posen—where German-speaking officers in German uniforms had infiltrated the lines—was still holding out ;  but other strongholds were being engulfed one after the other.  Chelmno, Thorn, and Marienwerder (Kwidzyn) had to be relinquished by Himmler’s makeshift army group ;  Hitler and Guderian authorized these painful retreats.  Hitler’s day ended later and later :  on January 30-31 it was five-thirty before he retired, only to be awakened at noon by Martin Bormann with the alarming news that Russian tanks were approaching Krossen and had just crossed the frozen Oder River between K¸strin and Wriezen.

The Oder was the last major river before Berlin.  Its western banks were defended only by the Volkssturm battalions rushed into position from the capital itself, from central Germany, and even from Austria.  These elderly soldiers—the ill-armed home guard which the Party had been organizing since autumn—slowed down the Russian onslaught and without support manned the Oder line, fighting off the Red Army for the whole first week of February until regular army reinforcements arrived.  Meanwhile Hitler directed that over three hundred heavy antiaircraft batteries be transferred from the Reich’s air defense to the Oder line to provide a formidable if immobile antitank defense.  All fighter planes were committed to the Silesian and East Prussian battlefields, because most could now carry bombs—as Hitler had always demanded.  Thus the crisis was overcome, though it took stamina :  even Himmler had called his army group staff together one evening and announced that there was no hope of withstanding the Russian pressure any longer.  (“But then it began to drip outside,” he recalled later.  “The thaw had come—we had been saved as though by a miracle.  Now we would have time to build up the Oder defenses after all.  Since then I have never doubted we’ll win the war.”)  Ten weeks would pass before the Russians could recover the impetus they had lost so close to their final objective—Berlin.

In weakening the Reich’s air defenses to keep the Russians at bay, Hitler perhaps hoped the Allied bombers might be called off just as those still German-occupied islands in the Aegean were very obviously being left unmolested by the British.  (“So that the British do not need to defend them against the Russians or any other usurpers,” the German naval staff observed.)  This fear was borne out by evidence that the British were fortifying the isles of Lemnos and Chios which the Germans had evacuated ;  in addition, the German commandant of the eastern Aegean had received a secret British offer to carry supplies to the German-held islands on British steamships.  From February 5 onward the Americans in the Saar began appealing by loudspeaker to the opposing German troops to concern themselves with the Russians, their common enemy, and make common cause with the Allies ;  this was a particularly worrying form of propaganda for the German High Command.  But against all these auguries Hitler had to set one new hard fact :  since early February, somewhere in the world, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin were meeting to settle their differences.

Almost all Silesia had been overrun.  In Breslau, the capital, 38 Volkssturm battalions had been raised from the city’s quarter-million population and from the surrounding countryside.  With these 15,000 men and 30,000 regular troops, Breslau defied air and artillery bombardment and ground attack in a long siege that was not ended until a week after Hitler himself had perished.  Here Bormann had a more than usually fanatical Gauleiter—Karl Hanke, Goebbels’s former state secretary and an intimate friend of Albert Speer.  “Hanke’s a devil of a fellow,” said Hitler approvingly.  “He’s a Silesian himself.”  Hitler knew, however, what the loss of the Silesian coal would mean, now that the Ruhr was virtually isolated by the rail and canal destruction.  Germany’s economic collapse seemed inevitable.  Japan was in a similar plight.  The enemy blockade of her seaways to the south—now that the Philippines had been retaken by the United States—would deprive her of rice, oil, bauxite, and iron ore ;  Hitler’s attachÈ in Tokyo warned that Japan could not fight on longer than another year.

This was the economic background to his “nod” to Karl Wolff and Ribbentrop early in February—the go-ahead to contact the western Allies.  The oil crisis had already forced on Hitler a strategic choice between East and West anyway.  In January the bomb-battered refineries had produced only 50,000 tons of gasoline and 12,000 tons of aviation fuel ;  the latter figure represented only 6 percent of the May 1944 output.  It was unlikely that the new U-boats and jet aircraft—145 Me-262 jets had been produced in January alone—would get the diesel and J-2 kerosene they needed.  Because of the fuel shortage, the air war against Antwerp was now restricted to single-engined fighter-bombers.  At the end of January Hitler ruled that in the future the western front must go short of fuel and ammunition to aid the eastern front :  Rundstedt had to forfeit fuel to replenish the Sixth SS Panzer Army before its departure for Hungary, although at any moment Eisenhower might begin his new offensive toward the Ruhr and Rundstedt lacked the fuel to move up his own reserves accordingly.

Along the Oder the ice was still thawing.  Hitler ordered ice-breakers and explosives used to speed up the process.  By February 8, the immediate danger to Berlin had passed.  During the previous week the OKW had taken forceful action to prevent a panic-stricken flight from the capital ;  but important Wehrmacht command posts were ordered to leave, and provision was made for the ministries to follow if a new crisis should develop.  For Hitler himself Bormann began preparing an emergency headquarters at Stolpe, in his own earlier stamping-ground, Mecklenburg.

The ruinous American daylight raid had left Berlin’s government quarter a shambles.  The railroads and stations were obliterated.  Bormann wrote :  “The Reich Chancellery garden is an amazing sight—deep craters, fallen trees, and the paths blotted out by rubble and debris.  The F¸hrer’s residence was badly hit several times.  Only fragments remain of the Winter Garden and the Banquet Hall walls.... Vossstrasse is pitted with enormous craters, and the houses opposite in Hermann-G–ringstrasse have been completely burned out.”  Hitler’s residence and Bormann’s Party Chancellery lost all telephone contact with the outside world.  An adjutant wrote on the fifth :  “Some twenty-five bombs fell on our district.  There’s no water, no heat, no electricity.... By roundabout route water reached the main points again after twenty hours, but we’ll have to wait another two weeks for heat—unless the visitors return in the meantime—for which possibility we are steeling ourselves.”

Every night the sirens wailed in Berlin.  The Russians had captured 130 airfields since mid-January, nearly all intact, and Soviet bombers joined the British and American campaign.  Many cities like Dresden had lost all their antiaircraft guns to the eastern front.  With the fighter squadrons still committed to the Oder battlefront, the big cities were defenseless.  Not one aircraft had climbed to the defense of Berlin on February 3 for this reason.  Every sea or land disaster was now laid at the Luftwaffe’s door.  When a Soviet submarine sank the liner Wilhelm Gustloff, drowning five thousand refugees from East Prussia, and when the hospital ship Steuben was torpedoed some days later, drowning nearly all the twenty-five hundred casualties and one thousand refugees aboard her, D–nitz blamed the Luftwaffe for failing to provide antisubmarine patrols.  Hitler—confined to his air raid shelter yet again by a small raiding force of Mosquitoes—received from the Ninth SS Panzer Corps in the heart of beleaguered Budapest the radio message familiar ever since Stalingrad :  the Luftwaffe airlift was letting them down.  The Luftwaffe war diary shows that Hitler strongly attacked G–ring for the failure, without even checking on the justice of the allegation.

In vain the anxious Reichsmarschall signed strings of belated death sentences on Luftwaffe officers—including a full general, Waber, his commander in the northern Balkans—for offenses ranging from desertion, cowardice, slackness, espionage, corruption, and loose living to precipitate flight from airfields and depots, and allowing new aircraft, fuel, and bomb dumps to fall into enemy hands.  For every sin that G–ring punished, Bormann could always prove the commission of ten more.

When Lammers ventilated the delicate matter of Hitler’s heir, Bormann contemptuously advised him that G–ring was out of the running.  Hitler openly ridiculed the Reichsmarschall’s visit to the Oder front, and no word of it reached the press.  G–ring’s very presence in the cramped air raid shelter revolted the F¸hrer, since both the Reichsmarschall and his adjutant Dr. Ramon Ondarza made liberal use of conflicting perfumes, with which the shelter’s air purification system could not cope.  Eventually Hitler loudly commanded G–ring :  “Tell your man Ondarza that he stinks like a cesspit, and he’s not to perfume himself when he comes visiting again !”  G–ring fully understood Hitler’s characteristically oblique hint.

No word had yet come from the western powers—no “telegram.”  Nor was there word of Stalin’s meeting with the western leaders, except that it was somewhere on the Black Sea.  In Bulgaria, King Boris’s successors had just been shot by the new Communist regime.  In Poland, Stalin’s new satellite government proclaimed the forthcoming annexation of Silesia and East Prussia.

The very simultaneity of action in east and west suggested there was a disconcertingly high degree of collaboration between the enemy powers after all.  On February 8, Marshal Konev attacked from the Steinau bridgehead across the Oder with the obvious aim of encircling Breslau.  On the same day a big Allied offensive developed between the Rhine and the Meuse.(4)  Far into the night Hitler sat talking with Bormann, Speer, the latter’s fellow architect, Professor Hermann Giesler—who had replaced Speer as Hitler’s principal confidant on city planning—and Eva Braun, who was returning to Munich the next day now that the immediate danger to Berlin had passed.  Toward morning Hitler was informed that the British had destroyed the P–litz synthetic refinery, the Luftwaffe’s last gasoline source.  It had been defended by 429 guns, but Hitler shortly learned that a nameless Luftwaffe officer had ordered its entire searchlight defenses removed.  With the Luftwaffe’s dwindling fuel stocks now down to only 6,000 tons, it would receive only 400 more tons in February.

Professor Giesler had come to Berlin for a specific reason.  Late on February 9 he unveiled to Hitler his model for the reconstruction of the bomb-desecrated city of Linz—where Hitler had first heard Wagner’s Rienzi and decided to become a statesman.  Hitler had decreed that Linz must replace Budapest as the Danube’s fairest city ;  it was to have fine Party buildings, a concert hall seating thirty-five thousand, and a bell tower five hundred feet high—with Hitler’s parents entombed in a crypt at its base—on the north bank, and a major replanning of the old city on the south.  A wide ceremonial mall was to extend from the railroad station to the city center, flanked by opera houses, theaters, a museum, library, and immense art gallery.  Now in Giesler’s model it all took shape before Hitler’s eyes.  At 4 A.M. that morning he again stole into the shelter where the model was laid out, and he returned at 3 A.M. the morning after.

When SS General Kaltenbrunner came with alarming reports of declining public morale, Hitler took the Gestapo chief, himself a native of Linz, into the model room.  For many minutes Hitler described how Linz would arise anew when victory was theirs—how he would be the art gallery’s principal benefactor, and he would found a medical academy there as well.  When the ponderous general himself warmed to the theme, Hitler challenged him with his haunting eyes.  “My dear Kaltenbrunner, do you imagine I could talk like this about my plans for the future if I did not believe deep down that we really are going to win this war in the end !”

In their advance toward Berlin, the Russians had been held off about seventy miles from the Pomeranian coast by Himmler’s army group, leaving an inviting three-hundred-mile flank for the Germans to attack.  Since early February Guderian had been planning to exploit this, to relieve the pressure on Berlin.  But the rate of buildup for this counterattack was slow, partly because only one bridge was available across the Oder at Stettin.  Hitler’s enthusiasm waned ;  the odds were heavily against them, and Himmler expressed a marked reluctance to risk his forces.  At one meeting Hitler was stung into rebuking Himmler :  “Now you too have turned defeatist !”—and showed him the door.  On February 10 he called both Guderian and Himmler to the Chancellery.  Guderian pleaded for the attack to be brought forward—“We can’t wait until every last can of gasoline has arrived !”—and demanded a capable army general for Himmler’s command staff.  He suggested his own deputy, General Wenck.  According to Guderian the argument lasted two and a half hours.  Eventually he got his way, because Hitler smiled wearily and instructed Himmler :  “Wenck will be attached to your staff.”  The attack would be brought forward to the fifteenth.

In the event, the operation, from south of Stargard, was a failure.  On the third day Wenck was injured in a motor accident.  Perhaps because of this the attack lost all further impetus, and Hitler called it off.

Guderian’s star began to wane as rapidly as Zeitzler’s had after the failure of “Citadel” in 1943.  When Hitler learned that the general had recently advised Ribbentrop that the war was lost, he made a terrible scene at the next war conference.  “In a situation like this any sign of defeatism is open treachery.  That is just what General Guderian’s recent discussion with Ribbentrop amounts to.  I expect every one of my colleagues to stand by me—the greater the peril, the more your tenacity.  It must be clear to everybody, if I throw an ordinary workman who mutters defeatist remarks in an air raid shelter into a concentration camp or hang him, or if the same thing happens to a soldier who loses his nerve and runs away, that I must expect at least as much from you.  This kind of sedition has got to stop.”

The outcome of Stalin’s meeting with Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta, in the Crimea, had produced this shift in Hitler’s stance.  The mere fact that the Allied and Soviet military staffs were also conferring there had persuaded him that the western leaders were blind to Stalin’s ambitions.  He cannot have been surprised when Werner von Schmieden now returned from Switzerland having failed “for technical reasons” to contact Allen Dulles.  From Yalta the enemy leaders announced on February 13 that Hitler’s Reich was to be destroyed and carved up between the victors as “occupation zones.”  The Yalta communiquÈ—sent in to Hitler page by page as it came over the teleprinters—produced a hoot of triumph from him.  “So much for the drivel talked by our coffeehouse diplomats and foreign ministry politicos !  Here they have it in black and white :  if we lose the war, Germany will cease to exist.  What matters now is to keep our nerve and not give in.”  He dictated to his press officer his own brutal response, deliberately burning any bridges that might still exist.  He would never surrender ;  nor would he allow his people to.

That evening, February 13, 1945, to distract himself with dividers and magnifying glass from the ugly world of war outside, Hitler again walked down to view the models for the rebuilding of Linz.  He dined at eight with two secretaries, then slept until it was time for the midnight war conference.

Here the news was that since midday Breslau had been totally encircled by the Soviet armies and that three hundred heavy bombers had just set the ancient heart of Dresden—alive with a million homeless refugees—on fire.  A firestorm like that in Hamburg had broken out there.  Before the conference was over, word arrived that a new attack, heavier than the first, had begun on Dresden.  The city had had no antiaircraft guns ;  and only that day the Luftwaffe had decided that jet-fighter and ground-attack operations in the east and west must take precedence over Reich defense, so no fighters had operated.  Fire brigades were converging on Dresden from all over Germany.  From the city itself there was a merciful silence, as all the telephone lines were down.  It was 6:15 A.M. before Hitler retired to his cramped bunker bedroom.  At 1 P.M. he was awakened with the news that the American bomber forces were continuing the carnage in Dresden which the British had left incomplete the night before ;  huge fires were still raging in the city.

After the all clear sounded in Berlin, Hitler was surprised to meet in the Chancellery hall the army doctor who had treated his ear injuries after July 20 ;  Dr. Giesing had been visiting an adjutant in the Chancellery when the alert sounded.  He wrote some weeks later :  “Hitler and I sat down on a corner bench in the big hall upstairs.  Now that I could see his face better by daylight, I was astounded at the change.  He looked older and more bowed than ever.  His complexion was as pale as before, and there were pronounced bags under his eyes.  His speech was clear but very soft....”  Twice the F¸hrer asked the doctor where his family was ;  twice he replied, “They are in Krefeld, mein F¸hrer.”  Hitler seemed distant ;  he looked exhausted.  His hands were white and his fingernails devoid of blood.  Twice he asked Giesing which hospital he worked at, and twice the doctor told him.

Then Hitler suddenly turned to the war.  “Germany is in a tough spot, but I’ll get her out of it.  The British and Americans have miscalculated badly.... In no time at all I’m going to start using my Victory weapon (Siegwaffe) and then the war will come to a glorious end.  Some time ago we solved the problem of nuclear fission, and we have developed it so far that we can exploit the energy for armaments purposes (R¸stungszwecke).  They won’t even know what hit them !  It’s the weapon of the future.  With it Germany’s future is assured.  It was Providence that allowed me to perceive this final path to victory.”(5)  His gaze remained rooted to the floor.  All at once he again asked the doctor where his family was.  “In Krefeld, mein F¸hrer.”  “Nothing can happen to them there, that’s for sure,” Hitler replied.  “The West Wall will stand fast and then our Siegwaffe will decide the war in a very short time.... And if the war should go against us, then we must all die bravely.  I shall remain at the head of my forces and die in action.  But Providence has brought me this far unscathed, and I shall continue along this prescribed path undeterred by whatever may befall me.”

The night’s death toll in Dresden was estimated at a quarter-million.  Hitler was intrigued that the British bombers had not instead been employed against Himmler’s armies, which were winding up for a counterattack in Pomerania.  “They flatten the Dresden opera house and wipe out refugees—but Stettin harbor, which is jam-packed with troop transports, they leave alone !”  At 7:15 P.M. on February 14, Hitler discussed Dresden for forty-five minutes with Goebbels.  The propaganda minister suggested retaliating with the Luftwaffe’s huge stocks of top-secret nerve gases, but without a bomber force this was impossible.

Goebbels’s alternative proposal was to execute one Allied prisoner for every German civilian killed in air raids.  It would invite reprisals against German prisoners in Allied hands, but to Hitler this was not without its attractions.  Since the renewed British offensive in the west, German desertions had assumed epidemic proportions ;  not without reason the German infantryman was attracted to the carefree prison-camp existence and the Allies’ humane treatment of prisoners.  “This constant sniveling about humanity will cost us the war,” Hitler complained.  “Neither the Russians in the east nor these hypocrites in the west stick to the Geneva Convention just look at their attacks on the civilian population !”  According to the staff stenographer present, Heinz Buchholz, Hitler emphasized that the Russians had demonstrated what could be achieved by ruthlessly punishing enemy airmen.  “Our airmen couldn’t be persuaded to fly over Moscow or Leningrad for their lives, after the Russians began executing Luftwaffe airmen.  They just published that ‘enemy paratroopers had been found and exterminated.’ ”

The idea of dropping the Geneva Convention appealed to Hitler, but not to the Party or the Wehrmacht.  Keitel, Jodl, and D–nitz opposed it (the latter recommended that at least they should not announce publicly that they were going to disregard the convention).  Ribbentrop—summoned by his horrified liaison officer Walther Hewel—ultimately talked Hitler out of the idea during a forty-minute stroll with him in the blitzed Chancellery gardens on February 21.  But their conversation also revolved around Ribbentrop’s latest clandestine peace approach to the Allies—four days previously Ribbentrop had sent a sixteen-page telegram to certain German ambassadors outlining arguments to use in favor of an armistice.  Germany proposed to fight on until her enemies realized she could not be defeated ;  Stalin’s aim was to rule Europe ;  he would abide by none of his solemn undertakings—already he was raising a Soviet German army.  Ribbentrop argued that this was Europe’s last chance to unite against Stalin.  But on February 21, after his talk with Hitler, he had to recall the telegram and tell his ambassadors to ignore it.

Hitler had seen the photographs of Dresden.  In heaps of five hundred at a time, the city’s air raid victims were now being publicly cremated on makeshift grids of steel girders in the ruined town center.  The pictures showed the thousands of men and women and children, still in their Mardi Gras fancy dress costumes, being stacked like rotting cabbages onto the bonfires.  Where was the justice in history if an enemy could vanquish Germany by means such as these ?  This was the mood that impelled Hitler now.

Two vivid descriptions of Hitler in late February 1945 exist.  One was by a General Staff officer who had last seen him in 1941 and was now brought by Sch–rner to the Chancellery on February 19.  “—Older, stooping, an unhealthy pink tinge in his bloated face.  But his eyes were as clear and calm as ever, though harsher than I recalled them.  His voice was still gruff and self-possessed.  He asked his questions calmly and listened patiently until I finished.”  A clammy, oppressive heat gripped the bunker under the Chancellery—the central heating had been restored two weeks after the Berlin raid.  “What repelled me was the atmosphere and the attitude of what we called ‘the scum’ in the anterooms.  Well-dressed and handsome young adjutants, many with the highest medals—which they unquestionably had once deserved—some of them SS officers, lolling around with bored expressions and criticizing everything....”

The second description was by a Gauleiter, summoned along with other Party dignitaries at short notice to the Chancellery at 2 P.M. on February 24.  On the previous day the Americans had unexpectedly begun their big offensive across the Roer River east of Aachen—even though the flood waters Rundstedt had released by breaching the Roer dams on the eighth had not subsided.  North of this, the Canadian First Army had already penetrated deeply into Germany west of the Rhine.  On this February 24, the Red Army had just begun an equally unexpected attack on Himmler’s thin line defending Pomerania.  Only in Hungary had a modest success been achieved, with the destruction that day of a Russian bridgehead across the Gran River after days of arduous fighting.

When Hitler entered one of the few still undamaged Chancellery halls, followed by Bormann, he found sixty or seventy of the Gauleiters and officials lined up around three sides.  He shook hands with each of them, then invited them to a simple luncheon—stew, followed by real coffee.  Afterward he made a speech, sitting at a small table on which he had spread out his notes—an old man, his back bent, his left hand shaking so violently that his entire frame trembled.  His voice gained in strength as the customary climax was reached, but the sensational news his Party faithfuls had all anticipated was not forthcoming ;  no mention here of “nuclear fission.”  He talked of a forthcoming counterattack in the east, an operation which had been delayed by the losses of heavy weapons.  He referred wistfully to the deceased General Hube and wished he had more generals “carved of the same oak.”  He asked for a supreme final effort from the Party so that the war might still be won—they must bring out a furor teutonicus in the people.  If the people now gave up, this would prove they had no moral worth :  they would deserve annihilation.

He lavished praise on the West Wall, the new U-boats, and the jet aircraft.  Politically, he now expected Britain to hold out to the end, unshakable in her alliance with Russia ;  but he predicted the day when serious conflict would arise between Russia and the United States.

In conclusion Hitler mentioned to the Gauleiters his own declining health.  Frederick the Great, he said, had also returned from his wars an ill and broken man, and now he too felt this burden.  At one stage he tried to convey a glass of water to his mouth, but his hand trembled so much that he abandoned the attempt.  Perhaps it was an act of showmanship, for he concluded with a smile :  “I used to have this tremor in my leg.  Now it’s in my arm.  I can only hope it won’t proceed to my head.  But even if it does I can only say this :  my heart will never quaver.”  Over the next few weeks, he warned them, he might be forced to adopt some harsh measures which they might not understand ;  he asked the Gauleiters not to misjudge him.

Six to eight thousand Russian tanks had been claimed destroyed since mid-January.  Still the General Staff’s belief was that the Red Army’s next move would be the assault on Berlin—regardless of the danger from Himmler’s army group.  General Ritter Bruno von Hauenschildt was designated commander of the Berlin district.  He attended Hitler’s daily war conferences.  The city’s antiaircraft batteries were regrouped into tight clusters situated where they could also command the main approach roads.

The very day of Hitler’s speech to the Gauleiters proved Guderian’s experts wrong.  Instead of continuing westward toward Berlin, Marshal Zhukov turned north against Himmler’s army group in Pomerania.  Gehlen conceded the new situation in a belated appreciation the next day.  On the twenty-seventh, Zhukov achieved a massive breakthrough in Himmler’s lines ;  two enemy tank armies which Gehlen had believed on the Oder front preparing to exploit the K¸strin bridgehead now emerged far to the northeast, racing toward K–slin and the Baltic coast.  At a conference that day Hitler promised immediate reinforcements to Himmler for a counterattack, and he ordered the historic rail and road corridor—cause of the 1939 dispute with Poland—held at all costs.  Meanwhile all manner of deception was to be used to persuade the Russians that between the Oder front and Berlin a deep and impregnable defense had been established.  Phonograph records of moving tanks, marching troops, and construction work were to be played over loudspeakers toward the enemy lines.  Unless Himmler’s counterattack succeeded, the loss of East and West Prussia seemed inevitable.

Germany’s military reserves were long since exhausted.  On February 27, Jodl showed Hitler a telegram from Rundstedt, forcefully complaining that of the 52,215 soldiers promised him in February, only 11,902 had come.  Martin Bormann believed that over 500,000 deserters were concealing themselves in the Reich, and he had campaigned since mid-February for action against this “epidemic of cowardice.”  His staff proposed public hangings of such men under the slogan Gauleiter Karl Hanke had recently found effective in his fanatical defense of Breslau :  “Death and dishonor to those who fear an honorable death !”  Hitler proposed to Himmler two radical solutions designed to shame the deserters back into their units: to attain “a suitable effect on the men’s attitude” the Reich women’s leader, Frau Scholtze-Klink, should be consulted on the creation of a women’s battalion.  Secondly, 6,000 youths of fifteen were to be recruited to reinforce Himmler’s rear lines of defense.  Bormann acidly observed to his staff in a memorandum :  “This means that we are now calling up women and fifteen-year-olds to strengthen the front.”

Turkey, Egypt, Finland, and a host of South American countries now declared war on Germany.  Turkey gave one week’s notice ;  Finland backdated her declaration to September 15, 1944, there being nothing in the rules against such an action.

In the west, the Americans broke out of their Roer bridgehead on February 28 and began advancing with tanks on the Rhine between D¸sseldorf and Venlo.  Hitler ordered every available jet- and propellor-driven aircraft to engage them.  American tanks flying German colors tried to rush the Rhine bridges at D¸sseldorf and Uerdingen, but these—and every other bridge from Duisburg down to Koblenz—were destroyed in the nick of time.  The apathy of the German people west of the Rhine shocked Hitler.  Weeks of terror-bombing, which had lately extended to even the smallest villages, had reduced the people’s former defiance to a simpering servility.  White flags waited for the enemy.  Local farmers attacked German troops with pitchforks when they tried to blow up minor bridges to hamper the enemy invasion ;  other gangs of farmers removed tank obstacles.  At Bingen the citizens refused to complete tank obstacles.  The deputy mayor of Ingelheim was publicly hanged for advising his citizens to let the enemy in.  At Trier the Volkssturm melted away ;  other Volkssturm units were reported throwing their bazookas, machine guns, and ammunition into lakes and rivers.  At Remagen, American troops entering the town were astonished (and delighted) to find the railway bridge across the Rhine still intact and flung an immediate armored bridgehead onto the eastern shore.  Most of Cologne was overrun.  The crisis developed so suddenly that Hitler voiced to the OKW a lingering suspicion that Rundstedt might be secretly dealing with the western powers ;  why else had his headquarters at Ziegenberg still not been bombed ?(6)

By March 8 the situation in the east was also worse.  Pomerania seemed lost, and with it Hitler’s faith in Himmler was finally destroyed.  Pleading angina, the Reichsf¸hrer SS had abandoned his command staff for a health clinic at Hohenlychen ;  his staff described as “utopian” Hitler’s orders to seal the breach torn by Zhukov in Pomerania’s defenses.  On March 4, General Hans Krebs—deputizing for the injured Wenck—quoted to Hitler the blunt objections telephoned by General Kinzel, Himmler’s operations officer :  “This war is being fought on paper, it’s quite divorced from reality !”

A year before Hitler would not have tolerated such criticism ;  but now he had to swallow it, because each military defeat eroded his authority.  He decided on a more limited eastward counterattack from Stettin instead.  General Erich Raus’s Fourth Panzer Army would receive the necessary reinforcements by March 6.  Shortly afterward his Third SS Panzer Corps (under General Martin Unrein’s command) announced that it was ready, or at least had enough ammunition for the first two days’ attack.  Hitler, cautious ever since Avranches, sent an SS adjutant to Stettin to check.  SS Major Johannes G–hler reported back that the divisions had no ammunition at all.  “On the drive up to Stettin,” wrote G–hler privately, “we passed endless columns of refugees who had set out weeks ago.  A shocking sight.  It was freezing cold and the roads were like glass.  The roads were jammed again and again, so I had time to speak with many of them.  I can scarcely comprehend their faith in victory.  As for the troops I spoke with, everybody from corps commander downward wanted to know about the F¸hrer’s health, about how things are on other sectors of the front, and more than anything about whether we can hope for further V-weapons.  What could I say ?  I radiated what optimism I could.  How young are the faces one sees among the soldiers, and what devotion !  Among the divisional commanders I found frequent skepticism but also a fierce determination to stand fast and do their duty.  Don’t ask me my own thoughts—I’d often like to believe in miracles.”

On the afternoon of March 8, General Raus came in person to the bunker to explain his army’s defeat in Pomerania.  He pointed out that his army’s 8 divisions—with only 70 tanks among them—had held a line 150 miles long against 8 Soviet armies and 1,600 tanks.  Hitler interrupted nigglingly :  “Fourteen hundred !”  Raus had built dense thickets of tank obstacles with the help of the Party and local authorities.  The Volkssturm had manned positions at every village entrance.  The battle for Pomerania was illuminated by countless acts of bravery by puny defenders against Stalin’s armored invaders.  Naval personnel armed with antitank weapons had wrought particular havoc.  Out of 34 tanks attacking the naval-held bridgehead at Divenow on March 7 only one had escaped destruction ;  and this very morning the same naval troops had fearlessly charged across open country and wiped out all 36 attacking Russian tanks—though not without heavy loss to themselves.  In the battle for Pomerania, 580 enemy tanks had been knocked out—360 by bazooka at close range.  But Hitler was unimpressed by Raus and sent him from the room.  “Where does he come from—Berlin ?  East Prussia ?” he inquired.  Guderian replied, “He’s one of your fellow countrymen :  an Austrian !”  Hitler decided to dismiss Raus.  “He’s too nondescript, bogged down in petty details.”  Manteuffel would replace him.  That day, March 8, 1945, Guderian predicted that since the Pomeranian threat to the Red Army’s northern flank had now collapsed, Stalin’s main attack on Berlin would begin “in about one week.”(7)

How high Hitler set his chances we do not know.  On March 13 he lightly assured Hindenburg’s wizened old state secretary, Otto Meissner, that he was to stay on to enjoy Germany’s peacetime reconstruction.  “I can’t let you retire until you’re seventy”—in 1950.  Two nights later Hitler was inspiring Kesselring, Rundstedt’s successor, with promise of a great “defensive victory” coming in the east, after which Germany’s main tank output would revert to the western front.

His new master plan must not fail :  a sudden northward thrust from the Ninth Army’s narrow bridgehead at Frankfurt-on-Oder would destroy Zhukov’s forces massing at K¸strin and thus disrupt the big offensive for weeks to come.  In conference with Himmler, G–ring, and Guderian on March 15, Hitler instructed them to deceive the Russians into expecting the thrust to turn south, not north.  That day he drove to the corps headquarters in the Frankfurt bridgehead to inspect for himself the unit strengths and their stocks of ammunition.  Refugees swirled past his car windows in anonymous multitudes ;  ten million were now fleeing the Russian tanks and guns.

On the road back from the Oder River to his capital, Hitler remained sunk deep in thought.

1 Bonin stayed in prison until the end of the war.  Subsequently he was involved in strange dealings with the Soviet occupation authorities in East Germany in the 1950s.  As for Hitler’s remarks about the General Staff, several officers present testified later that General Jodl (one of the General Staff’s most illustrious products) coldly informed him that it was small wonder that “the spirit of July 20” was prevalent if Hitler cast its officers into prison on such flimsy pretexts.

2 Zhukov’s long Order of the Day fell into German hands.  It was headed, “Death to the Germans !” and announced in uncompromising terms that the hour had come for the Red Army to wreak revenge on “Hitler’s cannibals.”  “We’ll take revenge for all those burned to death in the Devil’s furnaces, poisoned in the gas chambers, shot and martyred.  We’ll take cruel revenge for them all.... Woe betide the land of murderers ! ... This time we will destroy the German breed once and for all.”

3 The directive, dated January 24, 1945, was intercepted—together with two others issued by General Carl F. Spaatz, the American bomber force commander—and decoded by the Luftwaffe Intelligence branch.  A copy of the intercept is in classified files in London.

4 Rundstedt had asked permission to make local tactical withdrawals where necessary.  Hitler granted this but forbade the surrender of any fortifications or city.  “The enemy may well be able to storm the ruins of a bunker line or city, but they are never to be evacuated—except on the F¸hrer’s orders.”

5 Hitler had already hinted at atomic bombs in his last talk with Antonescu in August 1944.  Giesing in fact wrote his account of this conversation with Hitler from memory on June 21, 1945—six weeks before Hiroshima !  The origin of Hitler’s optimism is puzzling.  Scientists under Professors Werner Heisenberg and Carl-Friedrich von Weizs”cker had been studying nuclear fission and atomic bomb physics since 1939, and they had started building an experimental atomic pile at Haigerloch in 1944 ;  in December the Reich chief of nuclear research, Professor Walther Gerlach, appealed to Bormann for exemption for them from Volkssturm service and speciously mentioned their “atomic bomb” research as justification.  I suspect that Bormann was Hitler’s source.

6 Hitler replaced Rundstedt by Kesselring as Commander in Chief West two days after the Remagen incident ;  however, he stressed that Rundstedt still enjoyed his “fullest confidence.”

7 The General Staff misjudged again.  Not until mid-April 1945 did the Soviet attack on Berlin begin.


pp. 757-58   D–nitz’s adjutant, W. L¸dde-Neurath, described the scene with Harpe on January 19, 1945, in his book Regierung D–nitz (Berlin, 1964).

p. 759   Dr. Werner von Schmieden described his mission under OCMH interrogation ;  I also used the testimony of Fritz Hesse, interpreter Paul Schmidt, and Ribbentrop’s colleague Fr”ulein Blank.

p. 759   The new OKW master plan is summarized in the naval staff diary, January 19, 1945, but is not mentioned at all in Schramm’s OKW war diary.

p. 760   On the withdrawal of the Sixth SS Panzer Army to Hungary—instead of the eastern front—I used the annexes to the General Staff operations branch war diary (T78/305), the OKW war diary, and Jodl’s notes after F¸hrer conferences (1787-PS);  see also Helmut S¸ndermann’s diary, January 20, 1945, and Hitler’s conference with D–nitz three days later, which clearly puts the Hungarian and Viennese oil fields foremost among their defense priorities.

p. 761   The conference leading to Himmler’s appointment is in Jodl’s diary, January 21, 1945.  Hitler’s resulting order was sent by Bormann to the Gauleiters (IfZ file ED-36) and to Himmler himself ;  see the war diary of Army Group Vistula, T311/167/8516 et seq., and the General Staff war diary, T78/305/5979.

p. 762   Zhukov’s order is appended to Gehlen’s report of February 22, 1945, “Red Army’s Behavior on German Soil” (T311/168/oo14);  a copy in big typescript for Hitler is in General Staff files (T78/304/5627).

p. 763   The astounding decoded directive of the Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff is retranslated into English as an Appendix to a British Intelligence report on the achieve‚ments of the German Intelligence branches (Appendix III to ADI(K) Report 395/1945)  It begins :  “The Soviet Union has achieved successes in the east to an extent not expected by the Anglo-American command.  In the event of any further rapid advance towards the West, a situation may thus develop which would be extremely unwelcome to the Anglo-‚American Governments and Commands.  Experience has shown that the Soviet Union does not release—except under strongest military pressure—any territory it has occupied. ... Our military measures must therefore be such as to permit the Germans to reinforce their Eastern Front, a reinforcement they can mainly achieve by weakening their Western Front.  ....”  The directive lists ways of deceiving the Russians as to this shift in Allied aims—by cunning propaganda techniques, for example.  Its authenticity seems vouched for by the subsequent realization of much of the directive :  “Maximum ‘terror’ effort to shake the war morale of the German people ... The bombing of the communications system should receive the first priority.... The preparation of a strong ‘terror’ mission against Berlin of some 1,200 four-engined bombers in several streams. . . .”

pp. 763-64   I used Karl Wolff’s testimony at Nuremberg, December 1, 1947, and in IfZ file ZS-317.  He evidently saw Hitler on January 6 or 7, 1945 (Linge and Bormann diaries).

p. 764   See Hans Kissel’s study of the Volkssturm 1944-45 in WR, 1960, pages 219 et seq.

p. 764   On the transfer of antiaircraft batteries from the Reich to the Oder front see Jodl’s note on Hitler’s conference of February 1, 1945, and the war diary of the OKL operations staff (T321/10/6799 et seq.).

pp. 764-65   Himmler recalled the crisis in conversation with Schwerin von Krosigk on April 19 (diary);  and see the Reichsf¸hrer’s order of February 1, 1945 :  “The thaw which has begun at this precise stage in the conflict is a gift of Fate ... The Lord God has not forgotten his worthy German people” (T78/3o4/5774).

p.767   For G–ring’s punitive measures, see his order of January 16, 1945 (T177/3/5007 et seq.).  Lammers quotes Bormann’s advice in a letter of April 24 (T580/265).

p. 768   I corresponded with Professor Hermann Giesler on his model for Linz ;  Hitler’s plans are described by the local Gauleiter, August Eigruber, in a speech there on Novem‚ber 25, 1942 (T175/124/967o et seq.);  I also used Linge’s diary, February 9-10, and S¸nder‚mann’s, February 14, 1945, and Wilhelm Scheidt’s manuscript.

p. 769   On Ribbentrop’s last peace attempt, I used Guderian’s testimony, and an overheard conversation of Ribbentrop’s state secretary, Steengracht, on July 14, 1945 :  “So Guderian came to Ribbentrop and told him, ‘It’s all over.  The game’s up.  Their tank superiority is one to eight, their aircraft one to sixteen.’  Then Ribbentrop went to Hitler and told him that.  Hitler retorted that he would not allow the foreign office to concern itself with such criticism.  ‘Secondly the figures are all wrong, and thirdly the soldiers don’t know what they’re talking about anyway’ ” (X-P-18).

p. 771   On the proposal to kill Allied prisoners in reprisal, I relied on the testimony of Ribbentrop, Scheidt, Steengracht, S¸ndermann, Jodl, and the stenographer Krieger—‚who particularly recalled Keitel’s opposition.  Also, Hitler’s talks with D–nitz, February 19-21, and a memo by Jodl (ND, 606-D).  Linge’s diary of February 21 actually records : “3:15-3:55 P.M. [Hitler] strolls with foreign minister.”  The other main topic was clearly Ribbentrop’s unauthorized peace feelers, for that same day according to the Weizs”cker diary, Ribbentrop urgently canceled his previous instructions to ventilate armistice proposals through neutral channels.

p. 772   The first description is by General von Trotha ;  the second is by Gauleiter Karl Wahl, under U.S. Army interrogation, June 1, 1945.

p. 773   Gauleiter Friedrich Rainer also described the “glass of water” scene.  And see the account in Helmut S¸ndermann’s diary, February 25, 1945.  “He [Hitler] spoke with a firm voice, and particularly moved the Gauleiters with one sentence :  ‘You may see my hand tremble sometimes today, and perhaps even my head now and then ;  but my heart—never !’ ”  Herbert Backe, who had scribbled notes on his shirtcuff during the speech, quoted the identical words to his wife for her diary on March 10, 1945.

p. 774   Bormann’s memorandum is in the BA Schumacher collection, file 368.  The women’s battalion is also mentioned by G–ring under interrogation on May 24.

p. 775   There is an invaluable file of telephone conversations between the General Staff and Army Group Vistula in the latter’s war diary annexes (T311/167-169);  I also used General Erhard Raus’s postwar manuscript, “The Pomeranian Battle and the Command in the East” (D-189).

p. 776   Meissner related this under U.S. State Department interrogation, August 31, 1945.

p. 776   The conference is in Jodl’s diary.  General Eberhard Kinzel telephoned Army Group Vistula afterward that Hitler had ordered the Third Panzer Army to revert to the defensive at once, as “the imminent attack on Berlin” would necessitate the disengagement of various panzer and panzer-grenadier divisions for that front sector (T311/169/0913).