The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germ

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:28 am

Part 3 of 3

It may have been out of date, since the Germans chose to make it so, but what is important is that these German "proposals" were never meant to be taken seriously or indeed to be taken al all. In fact they were a hoax. They were a sham to fool the German people and, if possible, world opinion into believing that Hitler had attempted at the last minute to reach a reasonable settlement of his claims against Poland. The Fuehrer admitted as much. Dr. Schmidt later heard him say, "I needed an alibi, especially with the German people, to show them that I had done everything to maintain peace. This explains my generous offer about the settlement of the Danzig and Corridor questions." [xxii]

Compared to his demands of recent days, they were generous, astonishingly so. In them Hitler demanded only that Danzig be returned to Germany. The future of the Corridor would be decided by a plebiscite, and then only after a period of twelve months when tempers had calmed down. Poland would keep the port of Gdynia. Whoever received the Corridor in the plebiscite would grant the other party extraterritorial highway and railroad routes through it -- this was a reversion to his "offer" of the previous spring. There was to be an exchange of populations and full rights accorded to nationals of one country in the other.

One may speculate that had these proposals been offered seriously they would undoubtedly have formed at least the basis of negotiations between Germany and Poland and might well have spared the world its second great war in a generation. They were broadcast to the German people at 9 P.M. on August 31, eight and one half hours after Hitler had issued the final orders for the attack on Poland, and, so far as I could judge in Berlin, they succeeded in their aim of fooling the German people. They certainly fooled this writer, who was deeply impressed by their reasonableness when he heard them over the radio, and who said so in his broadcast to America on that last night of the peace.

Henderson returned to His Majesty's Embassy that night of August 30-31, convinced, as he later said, "that the last hope for peace had vanished." Still, he kept trying. He roused the Polish ambassador out of bed at 2 A.M., invited him to hurry over to the embassy, gave him "an objective and studiously moderate account" of his conversation with Ribbentrop, mentioned the cession of Danzig and the plebiscite in the Corridor as the two main points in the German proposals, stated that so far as he could gather "they were not too unreasonable" and suggested that Lipski recommend to his government that they should propose at once a meeting between Field Marshals Smigly-Rydz and Goering. "I felt obliged to add," says Henderson, "that I could not conceive of the success of any negotiations if they were conducted by Herr von Ribbentrop." [xxiii] [62]

In the meantime the tireless Dahlerus had not been inactive. At 10 P.M. on August 29, Goering had summoned him to his home and informed him of the "unsatisfactory course" of the meeting just finished between Hitler, Ribbentrop and Henderson. The corpulent Field Marshal was in one of his hysterical moods and treated his Swedish friend to a violent outburst against the Poles and the British. Then he calmed down, assured his visitor that the Fuehrer was already at work drawing up a "magnanimous" ("grosszuegig") offer to Poland in which the only clear-cut demand would be the return of Danzig and generously leaving the future of the Corridor to be decided by a plebiscite "under international control." Dahlerus mildly inquired about the size of the plebiscite area, whereupon Goering tore a page out of an old atlas and with colored pencils shaded off the "Polish" and "German" parts, including in the latter not only prewar Prussian Poland but the industrial city of Lodz, which was sixty miles east of the 1914 frontier. The Swedish interloper could not help but notice the "rapidity and the recklessness" with which such important decisions were made in the Third Reich. However, he agreed to Goering's request that he fly immediately back to London, emphasize to the British government that Hitler still wanted peace and hint that as proof of it the Fuehrer was already drawing up a most generous offer to Poland.

Dahlerus, who seems to have been incapable of fatigue, flew off to London at 4 A.M. August 30 and, changing cars several times on the drive in from Heston to the city to throw the newspaper reporters off the track (apparently no journalist even knew of his existence), arrived at Downing Street at 10: 30 A.M., where he was immediately received by Chamberlain, Halifax, Wilson and Cadogan.

But by now the three British architects of Munich (Cadogan, a permanent Foreign Office official, had always been impervious to Nazi charms) could no longer be taken in by Hitler and Goering, nor were they much impressed by Dahlerus' efforts. The well-meaning Swede found them "highly mistrustful" of both Nazi leaders and "inclined to assume that nothing would now prevent Hitler from declaring war on Poland." Moreover, the British government, it was made plain to the Swedish mediator, had not fallen for Hitler's trickery in demanding that a Polish plenipotentiary show up in Berlin within twenty-four hours.

But Dahlerus, like Henderson in Berlin, kept on trying. He telephoned Goering in Berlin, suggested that the Polish-German delegates meet "outside Germany" and received the summary answer that "Hitler was in Berlin" and the meeting would have to take place there.

So the Swedish go-between accomplished nothing by this flight. By midnight he was back in Berlin, where, it must be said, he had another opportunity to be at least helpful. He reached Goering's headquarters at half past midnight to find the Luftwaffe chief once more in an expansive mood. The Fuehrer, said Goering, had just handed Henderson through Ribbentrop a "democratic, fair and workable offer" to Poland. Dahlerus, who seems to have been sobered by his meeting in Downing Street, called up Forbes at the British Embassy to check and learned that Ribbentrop had "gabbled" the terms so fast that Henderson had not been able to fully grasp them and that the ambassador had been refused a copy of the text. Dahlerus says he told Goering that this was no way "to treat the ambassador of an empire like Great Britain" and suggested that the Field Marshal, who had a copy of the sixteen points, permit him to telephone the text to the British Embassy. After some hesitation Goering acquiesced.  [xxiv]

In such a way, at the instigation of an unknown Swedish businessman in connivance with the chief of the Air Force, were Hitler and Ribbentrop circumvented and the British informed of the German "proposals" to Poland. Perhaps by this time the Field Marshal, who was by no means unintelligent or inexperienced in the handling of foreign affairs, saw more quickly than the Fuehrer and his fawning Foreign Minister certain advantages which might be gained by finally letting the British in on the secret.

To make doubly sure that. Henderson got it correctly, Goering dispatched Dahlerus to the British Embassy at 10 A.M. of Thursday, August 31, with a typed copy of the sixteen points. Henderson was still trying to persuade the Polish ambassador to establish the "desired contact" with the Germans. At 8 A.M. he had once more urged this on Lipski, this time over the telephone, warning him that unless Poland acted by noon there would be war. [xxv] Shortly after Dahlerus had arrived with the text of the German proposals, Henderson dispatched him, along with Forbes, to the Polish Embassy. Lipski, who had never heard of Dahlerus, was somewhat confused at meeting the Swede -- he was by this time, like most of the key diplomats in Berlin, strained and dead tired -- and became irritated when Dahlerus urged him to go immediately to Goering and accept the Fuehrer's offer. Requesting the Swede to dictate the sixteen points to a secretary in an adjoining room, he expressed his annoyance to Forbes for bringing in a "stranger" at this late date on so serious a matter. The harassed Polish ambassador must have been depressed too at the pressure which Henderson was bringing on him and his government to negotiate immediately on the basis of an offer which he had just received quite unofficially and surreptitiously, but which the British envoy, as he had told Lipski the night before, thought was not "on the whole too unreasonable." [xxvi] He did not know that Henderson's view was not endorsed by Downing Street. What he did know was that he had no intention of taking the advice of an unknown Swede, even though he had been sent to him by the British ambassador, and of going to Goering to accept Hitler's "offer," even if he had been empowered to do so, which he was not. [xxvii]


Having got the Germans and Poles to agree to direct negotiations, as they thought, the British and French governments, though highly skeptical of Hitler, had concentrated their efforts on trying to bring such talks about. In this Britain took the lead, supported diplomatically in Berlin and especially in Warsaw by France. Although the British did not advise the Poles to accept Hitler's ultimatum and fetch an emissary with full powers to Berlin on August 30, holding that such a demand was, as Halifax had wired Henderson, "wholly unreasonable," they did urge Colonel Beck to declare that he was prepared to negotiate with Berlin "without delay." This was the substance of a message which Halifax got off to his ambassador in Warsaw late on the night of August 30. Kennard was to inform Beck of the contents of the British note to Germany which Henderson was presenting to Ribbentrop, assure him that Britain would stand by its commitments to Poland, but stress the importance of Poland's agreeing to direct discussions with Germany at once.

We regard it as most important [Halifax telegraphed] from the point of view of the internal situation in Germany and of world opinion that, so long as the German Government profess themselves ready to negotiate, no opportunity should be given them for placing the blame for a conflict on Poland. [67]

Kennard saw Beck at midnight and the Polish Foreign Minister promised to consult his government and give him a "considered reply" by midday on August 31. Kennard's dispatch describing this interview reached the British Foreign Office at 8 A.M. and Halifax was not entirely satisfied with it. At noon -- it was now the last day of August -- he wired Kennard that he should "concert" with his French colleague in Warsaw (Leon Noel, the French ambassador) and suggest to the Polish government

that they should now make known to the German Government, preferably direct, but if not, through us, that they have been made aware of our last reply to German Government and that they confirm their acceptance of the principle of direct discussions.

French Government fear that German Government might take advantage of silence on part of Polish Government. [68]

Lord Halifax was still uneasy about his Polish allies, and less than two hours later, at 1:45 P.M., he again wired Kennard:

Please at once inform Polish Government and advise them, in view of fact that they have accepted principle of direct discussions, immediately to instruct Polish Ambassador in Berlin to say to German Government that, if latter have any proposals, he is ready to transmit them to his Government so that they may at once consider them and make suggestions for early discussions. [69]

But shortly before this telegram was dispatched, Beck, in response to the demarche of the midnight before, had already informed the British ambassador in a written note that the Polish government "confirm their readiness ... for a direct exchange of views with the German Government" and had orally assured him that he was instructing Lipski to seek an interview with Ribbentrop to say that "Poland had accepted the British proposals." When Kennard asked Beck what Lipski would do if Ribbentrop handed over the German proposals, the Foreign Minister replied that his ambassador in Berlin would not be authorized to accept them as, "in view of past experience, it might be accompanied by some sort of an ultimatum." The important thing, said Beck, was to re-establish contact "and then details should be discussed as to where, with whom and on what basis negotiations should be commenced." In the light of the "past experience" which the once pro-Nazi Polish Foreign Minister mentioned, this was not an unreasonable view. Beck added, Kennard wired London, that "if invited to go to Berlin he would of course not go, as he had no intention of being treated like President Hacha." [70]

Actually Beck did not send to Lipski quite those instructions. Instead of saying that Poland "accepted" the British proposals, Lipski was told to tell the Germans that Poland "was favorably considering" the British suggestions and would make a formal reply "during the next few hours at the latest."

There was more to Beck's instructions to Lipski than that and the Germans, having solved the Polish ciphers, knew it.

For a simple and good reason that will soon become apparent, the Germans were not anxious to receive the Polish ambassador in Berlin. It was too late. At 1 P.M., a few minutes after he had received his telegraphic instructions from Warsaw, Lipski requested an interview with Ribbentrop for the purpose of presenting a communication from his government. After cooling his heels for a couple of hours he received a telephone call from Weizsaecker asking, on behalf of the German Foreign Minister, whether he was coming as an emissary with full power "or in some other capacity."

"I replied," Lipski reported later in his final report, [71] "that I was asking for an interview as Ambassador, to present a declaration from my Government."

Another long wait followed. At 5 P.M. Attolico called on Ribbentrop and communicated the "urgent desire of the Duce" that the Fuehrer should receive Lipski "to establish in this way at least the minimum contact necessary for the avoidance of a final breach." The German Foreign Minister promised to "transmit" the Duce's wishes to the Fuehrer. [72]

This was not the first call the Italian ambassador had made in the Wilhelmstrasse on this last day of August in order to try to save the peace. At 9 that morning Attolico had advised Rome that the situation was "desperate" and that unless "something new comes up there will be war in a few hours." In Rome Mussolini and Ciano put their heads together to find something new. The first result was that Ciano telephoned Halifax to say that Mussolini could not intervene unless he were able to produce for Hitler a "fat prize: Danzig." The British Foreign Secretary did not rise to the bait. He told Ciano the first thing to be done was to establish direct contact between the Germans and the Poles through Lipski.

Thus at 11:30 A.M. Attolico saw Weizsaecker at the German Foreign Office and apprised him that Mussolini was in contact with London and had suggested the return of Danzig as a first step toward a German-Polish settlement, and that the Duce needed a certain "margin of time" to perfect his plan for peace. In the meantime, couldn't the German government receive Lipski?

Lipski was received by Ribbentrop at 6: 15 P.M., more than five hours after he had requested the interview. It did not last long. The ambassador, despite his fatigue and his worn nerves, behaved with dignity. He read to the Nazi Foreign Minister a written communication.

Last night the Polish Government were informed by the British Government of an exchange of views with the Reich Government as to a possibility of direct negotiations between the Polish and German Governments.

The Polish Government are favorably considering the British Government's suggestion, and will make them a formal reply on the subject during the next few hours.

"I added," said Lipski later, "that I had been trying to present this declaration since 1 P.M." When Ribbentrop asked him whether he had come as an emissary empowered to negotiate, the ambassador replied that, "for the time being," he had only been instructed to remit the communication which he had just read, whereupon he handed it to the Foreign Minister. He had expected, Ribbentrop said, that Lipski would come as a "fully empowered delegate," and when the ambassador again declared that he had no such role he was dismissed. Ribbentrop said he would inform the Fuehrer. [73]

"On my return to the embassy," Lipski later related, "I found myself unable to communicate with Warsaw, as the Germans had cut my telephone."

The questions of Weizsaecker and Ribbentrop as to the ambassador's status as a negotiator were purely formal, with an eye, no doubt, for the record, for ever since noon, when Lipski's communication had been received by telegram from Warsaw, the Germans had known that he was not coming, as they had demanded, as a plenipotentiary. They had decoded the telegram immediately. A copy had been sent to Goering, who showed it to Dahlerus and instructed him to take it posthaste to Henderson so that the British government, as the Field Marshal later explained on the stand at Nuremberg, "should find out as quickly as possible how intransigent the Polish attitude was." Goering read to the tribunal the secret instructions to Lipski, which were that the ambassador should refrain from conducting official negotiations "under any circumstances" and should insist that he had "no plenipotentiary powers" and that he was merely empowered to deliver the official communication of his government. In his testimony, the Field Marshal made much of this during his vain effort to convince the Nuremberg judges that Poland had "sabotaged" Hitler's last bid for peace and that, as he said, he, Goering, did not want war and had done everything he could to prevent it. But Goering's veracity was only a shade above Ribbentrop's and one example of this was his further assertion to the court that only after Lipski's visit to the Wilhelmstrasse at 6: 15 P.M. on August 31 did Hitler decide "on invasion the next day."

The truth was quite otherwise. In fact, all these scrambling eleventh-hour moves of the weary and exhausted diplomats, and of the overwrought men who directed them on the afternoon and evening of that last day of August 1939, were but a flailing of the air, completely futile, and, in the case of the Germans, entirely and purposely deceptive.

For at half after noon on August 31, before Lord Halifax had urged the Poles to be more accommodating and before Lipski had called on Ribbentrop and before the Germans had made publicly known their "generous" proposals to Poland and before Mussolini had tried to intervene, Adolf Hitler had taken his final decision and issued the decisive order that was to throw the planet into its bloodiest war.



Berlin, August 31, 1939

Directive No. 1 for the Conduct of the War

1. Now that all the political possibilities of disposing by peaceful means of a situation on the Eastern Frontier which is intolerable for Germany are exhausted, I have determined on a solution by force. [xxviii]

2. The attack on Poland is to be carried out in accordance with the preparations made for Case White, with the alterations which result, where the Army is concerned, from the fact that it has in the meantime almost completed its dispositions.

Allotment of tasks and the operational target remain unchanged.

Date of attack: September 1, 1939.

Time of attack: 4:45 A.M. [Inserted in red pencil.]

This timing also applies to the operation at Gdynia, Bay of Danzig and the Dirschau Bridge.

3. In the West it is important that the responsibility for the opening of hostilities should rest squarely on England and France. For the time being insignificant frontier violations should be met by purely local action.

The neutrality of Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland, to which we have given assurances, must be scrupulously observed.

On land, the German Western Frontier is not to be crossed without my express permission.

A t sea, the same applies for all warlike actions or actions which could be regarded as such. [xxix]

4. If Britain and France open hostilities against Germany, it is the task of the Wehrmacht formations operating in the West to conserve their forces as much as possible and thus maintain the conditions for a victorious conclusion of the operations against Poland. Within these limits enemy forces and their military-economic resources are to be damaged as much as possible. Orders to go over to the attack I reserve, in any case, to myself.

The Army will hold the West Wall and make preparations to prevent its being outflanked in the north through violation of Belgian or Dutch territory by the Western powers ...

The Navy will carry on warfare against merchant shipping, directed mainly at England ... The Air Force is, in the first place, to prevent the French and British Air Forces from attacking the German Army and the German Lebensraum.

In conducting the war against England, preparations are to be made for the use of the Luftwaffe in disrupting British supplies by sea, the armaments industry, and the transport of troops to France. A favorable opportunity is to be taken for an effective attack on massed British naval units, especially against battleships and aircraft carriers. Attacks against London are reserved for my decision.

Preparations are to be made for attacks against the British mainland, bearing in mind that partial success with insufficient forces is in all circumstances to be avoided.


Shortly after noon on August 31, then, Hitler formally and in writing directed the attack on Poland to begin at dawn the next day. As his first war directive indicates, he was still not quite sure what Britain and France would duo He would refrain from attacking them first. If they took hostile action, he was prepared to meet it. Perhaps, as Halder had indicated in his diary entry of August 28, the British would go through the motions of honoring their obligation to Poland and "wage a sham war." If so, the Fuehrer would not take it "amiss."

Probably the Nazi dictator made his fateful decision a little earlier than 12:30 P.M. on the last day of August. At 6:40 P.M. on the previous day Halder jotted in his diary a communication from Lieutenant Colonel Curt Siewert, adjutant of General von Brauchitsch: "Make all preparations so that attack can begin at 4: 30 A.M. on September 1. Should negotiations in London require postponement, then September 2. In that case we shall be notified before 3 P.M. tomorrow .... Fuehrer: either September 1 or 2. All off after September 2." Because of the autumn rains, the attack had to begin at once or be called off altogether.

Very early on the morning of August 31, while Hitler still claimed he was waiting for the Polish emissary, the German Army received its orders. At 6:30 A.M. Halder jotted down: "Word from the Reich Chancellery that jump-off order has been given for September 1." At 11 :30: "Gen. Stuelpnagel reports on fixing of time of attack for 0445 [4:45 A.M.]. Intervention of West said to be unavoidable; in spite of this Fuehrer has decided to attack." An hour later the formal Directive No. 1 was issued.

There was, I remember, an eerie atmosphere that day in Berlin; everyone seemed to be going around in a daze. At 7:25 in the morning Weizsaecker had telephoned Ulrich von Hassell, one of the "conspirators," and asked him to hurry over to see him. The State Secretary saw only one last hope: that Henderson should persuade Lipski and his government to send a Polish plenipotentiary at once or at least to announce the intention of dispatching one. Could the unemployed Hassell see his friend Henderson at once and also Goering to this end? Hassell tried. He saw Henderson twice and Goering once. But veteran diplomat and, now, anti-Nazi that he was, he did not seem to realize that events had outstripped such puny efforts. Nor did he grasp the extent of his own confusions and of those of Weizsaecker and all the "good" Germans who, of course, wanted peace -- on German terms. For it must have been obvious to them on August 31 that there would be war unless either Hitler or the Poles backed down, and that there was not the slightest possibility of the one or the other capitulating. And yet, as Hassell's diary entry for this day makes clear, he expected the Poles to back down and to follow the same disastrous route which the Austrians and Czechs had taken.

When Henderson tried to point out to Hassell that the "chief difficulty" was in German methods, in the way they were trying to order the Poles around "like stupid little boys," Hassell retorted "that the persistent silence of the Poles was also objectionable." He added that "everything depended on Lipski putting in an appearance -- not to ask questions but to declare his willingness to negotiate." Even to Hassell the Poles, who were threatened with imminent attack on trumped-up Nazi charges, were not supposed to ask questions. And when the former ambassador summed up his "final conclusions" about the outbreak of the war, though he blamed Hitler and Ribbentrop for "knowingly taking the risk of war with the Western Powers," he also heaped much responsibility on the Poles and even on the British and French. "The Poles, for their part," he wrote, "with Polish conceit and Slavic aimlessness, confident of English and French support, had missed every remaining chance of avoiding war." One can only ask what chance they missed except to surrender to Hitler's full demands. "The Government in London," Hassell added, " ... gave up the race in the very last days and adopted a kind of devil-may-care attitude. France went through the same stages, only with much more hesitation. Mussolini did all in his power to avoid war." [75] If an educated, cultivated and experienced diplomat such as Hassell could be so woolly in his thinking is it any wonder that it was easy for Hitler to take in the mass of the German people?

There now followed during the waning afternoon of the last day of peace a somewhat grotesque interlude. In view of what is now known about the decisions of the day it might have been thought that the Commander in Chief of the Luftwaffe, which was to carry out far-flung air operations against Poland beginning at dawn on the morrow, would be a very busy Field Marshal. On the contrary. Dahlerus took him out to lunch at the Hotel Esplanade and plied him with good food and drink. The cognac was of such high quality that Goering insisted on lugging away two bottles of it when he left. Having got the Field Marshal into the proper humor, Dahlerus proposed that he invite Henderson for a talk. After receiving Hitler's permission, he did so, inviting him and Forbes to his house for tea at 5 P.M. Dahlerus (whose presence is not mentioned by Henderson in his Final Report or in his book) says that he suggested that Goering, on behalf of Germany, meet a Polish emissary in Holland and that Henderson promised to submit the proposal to London. The British ambassador's version of the tea talk, given in his Final Report, was that Goering "talked for two hours of the iniquities of the Poles and about Herr Hitler's and his own desire for friendship with England. It was a conversation which led to nowhere ... My general impression was that it constituted a final but forlorn effort on his part to detach Britain from the Poles ... I augured the worst from the fact that he was in a position at such a moment to give me so much of his time ... He could scarcely have afforded at such a moment to spare time in conversation if it did not mean that everything down to the last detail was now ready for action."

The third and most piquant description of this bizarre tea party was given by Forbes in answer to a questionnaire from Goering's lawyer at Nuremberg.

The atmosphere was negative and desperate, though friendly ... Goering's statement to the British ambassador was: If the Poles should not give in, Germany would crush them like lice, and if Britain should decide to declare war, he would regret it greatly, but it would be most imprudent of Britain. [76]

Later in the evening Henderson, according to his own account, drafted a dispatch to London saying "that it would be quite useless for me to make any further suggestions since they would now only be outstripped by events and that the only course remaining to us was to show our inflexible determination to resist force by force." [xxx]

Sir Nevile Henderson's disillusionment seemed complete. Despite all his strenuous efforts over the years to appease the insatiable Nazi dictator, his mission to Germany, as he called it, had failed. In the fading hours of August's last day this shallow, debonair Englishman whose personal diplomacy in Berlin had been so disastrously blind tried to face up to the shattering collapse of his vain hopes and abortive plans. And though he would suffer one more typical, incredible lapse the next day, the first day of war, an ancient truth was dawning on him: that there were times and circumstances when, as he at last said, force must be met by force. [xxxi]

As darkness settled over Europe on the evening of August 31, 1939, and a million and a half German troops began moving forward to their final positions on the Polish border for the jump-off at dawn, all that remained for Hitler to do was to perpetrate some propaganda trickery to prepare the German people for the shock of aggressive war.

The people were in need of the treatment which Hitler, abetted by Goebbels and Himmler, had become so expert in applying. I had been about in the streets of Berlin, talking with the ordinary people, and that morning noted in my diary: "Everybody against the war. People talking openly. How can a country go into a major war with a population so dead against it?" Despite all my experience in the Third Reich I asked such a naive question! Hitler knew the answer very well. Had he not the week before on his Bavarian mountaintop promised the generals that he would "give a propagandist reason for starting the war" and admonished them not to "mind whether it was plausible or not"? "The victor," he had told them, "will not be asked afterward whether he told the truth or not. In starting and waging a war it is not right that matters, but victory."

At 9 P.M., as we have seen, all German radio stations broadcast the Fuehrer's Polish peace proposals which, as they were read over the air, seemed so reasonable to this misled correspondent. The fact that Hitler had never presented them to the Poles nor even, except in a vague and unofficial manner, to the British, and then less than twenty-four hours before, was brushed over. In fact, in a lengthy statement explaining to the German people how their government had exhausted every diplomatic means to preserve the peace the Chancellor, no doubt aided by Goebbels, showed that he had lost none of his touch for masterly deceit. After the British government on August 28, it said, had offered its mediation between Germany and Poland, the German government on the next day had replied that,

in spite of being skeptical of the desire of the Polish Government to come to an understanding, they declared themselves ready in the interests of peace to accept the British mediation or suggestion ... They considered it necessary ... if the danger of a catastrophe was to be avoided that action must be taken readily and without delay. They declared themselves ready to receive a personage appointed by the Polish Government up to the evening of August 30, with the proviso that the latter was empowered not only to discuss but to conduct and conclude negotiations.

Instead of a statement regarding the arrival of an authorized personage, the first answer the Government of the Reich received to their readiness for an understanding was the news of the Polish mobilization ...

The Reich Government cannot be expected continually not only to emphasize their willingness to start negotiations, but actually to be ready to do so, while being from the Polish side merely put off with empty subterfuges and meaningless -- declarations.

It has once more been made clear as a result of a demarche which has meanwhile been made by the Polish Ambassador that the latter himself has no plenary powers either to enter into any discussion or even to negotiate.

The Fuehrer and the German Government have thus waited two days in vain for the arrival of a Polish negotiator.

In these circumstances the German Government regard their proposals as having this time too been ... rejected, although they considered that these proposals, in the form in which they were made known to the British Government also, were more than loyal, fair and practicable.

Good propaganda, to be effective, as Hitler and Goebbels had learned from experience, needs more than words. It needs deeds, however much they may have to be fabricated. Having convinced the German people (and of this the writer can testify from personal observation) that the Poles had rejected the Fuehrer's generous peace offer, there remained only the concocting of a deed which would "prove" that not Germany but Poland had attacked first.

For this last shady business, it will be remembered, the Germans, at Hitler's direction, had made careful preparation. [xxxii] For six days Alfred Naujocks, the intellectual S.S. ruffian, had been waiting at Gleiwitz on the Polish border to carry out a simulated Polish attack on the German radio station there. The plan had been revised. S.S. men outfitted in Polish Army uniforms were to do the shooting, and drugged concentration camp inmates were to be left dying as "casualties" -- this last delectable part of the operation had, as we have seen, the expressive code name "Canned Goods." There were to be several such faked "Polish attacks" but the principal one was to be on the radio station at Gleiwitz.

At noon on August 31 [Naujocks related in his Nuremberg affidavit] I received from Heydrich the code word for the attack which was to take place at 8 o'clock that evening. Heydrich said: "In order to carry out this attack report to Mueller for Canned Goods." I did this and gave Mueller instructions to deliver the man near the radio station. I received this man and had him laid down at the entrance to the station. He was alive but completely unconscious. I tried to open his eyes. I could not recognize by his eyes that he was alive, only by his breathing. I did not see the gun wounds but a lot of blood was smeared across his face. He was in civilian clothes.

We seized the radio station, as ordered, broadcast a speech of three to four minutes over an emergency transmitter, [xxxiii] fired some pistol shots and left. [xxxiv]

Berlin that evening was largely shut off from the outside world, except for outgoing press dispatches and broadcasts which reported the Fuehrer's "offer" to Poland and the German allegations of Polish "attacks" on German territory. I tried to get through on the telephone to Warsaw, London and Paris but was told that communications with these capitals were cut. Berlin itself was quite normal in appearance. There had been no evacuation of women and children, as there had been in Paris and London, nor any sandbagging of storefront windows, as was reported from the other capitals. Toward 4 A.M. on September 1, after my last broadcast, I drove back from Broadcasting House to the Adlon Hotel. There was no traffic. The houses were dark. The people were asleep and perhaps -- for all I knew -- had gone to bed hoping for the best, for peace.

Hitler himself had been in fine fettle all day. At 6 P.M. on August 31 General Halder noted in his diary, "Fuehrer calm; has slept well ... Decision against evacuation [in the west] shows that he expects France and England will not take action." [xxxv]

Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwehr in OKW and one of the key anti- Nazi conspirators, was in a different mood. Though Hitler was carrying Germany into war, an action which the Canaris circle had supposedly sworn to prevent by getting rid of the dictator, there was no conspiracy in being now that the moment for it had arrived.

Later in the afternoon Gisevius had been summoned to OKW headquarters by Colonel Oster. This nerve center of Germany's military might was humming with activity. Canaris drew Gisevius down a dimly lit corridor. In a voice choked with emotion he said:

"This means the end of Germany." [81]



i. "Hardly had the door shut on the Ambassador," Weizsaecker, who was present,  later noted, "than Hitler slapped himself on the thigh, laughed and said: 'Chamberlain  won't survive that conversation; his Cabinet will fall this evening.''' (Weizsaecker, Memoirs, p. 203.)
ii. According to Erich Kordt (Wahn und Wirklichkeit, p. 192) Hitler was so excited  by his triumph in Moscow that on the morning of August 25 he asked his press  bureau for news of the cabinet crises in Paris and London. He thought both  governments must fall. He was brought down to earth by being told of the firm  speeches of Chamberlain and Halifax in Parliament the day before.

iii. Or if not out of war, out of any serious participation in it. General Halder intimates  this in a recapitulation of the "sequence of events" of August 25 in a diary  entry made later, on August 28. Noting that at I :30 P.M. on the twenty-fifth Hitler  saw Henderson, Halder added: "Fuehrer would not take it amiss if England were to  wage a sham war."
iv. Although Hitler's standing orders, which had not been canceled, called for the attack on this day and hour and, as Halder said, were "automatic," a number of German writers have reported that the Fuehrer gave specific orders a few minutes after 3 P.M. to launch Fall Weiss the following morning. (See Weizsaecker, Memoirs; Kordt, Wahn und Wirklichkeit; and Walther Hofer, War Premeditated, 1939.) Hofer says the order was given at 3:02 P.M. and cites as his source General von Vormann, who was present at the Chancellery when it was issued. No official record of this has been found in the German documents.

v. There was a secret protocol to this treaty which stated that the "European Power" mentioned in Article 1, whose aggression would bring about mutual military assistance, was Germany. This saved the British government from the disastrous step of having to declare war on the Soviet Union when the Red Army, in cahoots with the Germans, invaded eastern Poland.
vi. Germany did not observe summer time, as did Great Britain. Therefore the one-hour difference in time between Berlin and London was canceled out.
vii. It must be kept in mind that the "Polish provocations" which Hitler and Ribbentrop harped on in their meetings and diplomatic exchanges with the British, French, Russians and Italians during these days, and the news of which was published under flaming headlines in the controlled Nazi press, were almost entirely invented by the Germans. Most of the provoking in Poland was done, on orders from Berlin, by the Germans. The captured German documents are replete with evidence on this.

viii. The day before, on August 24, Ciano had visited the King at his summer residence in Piedmont, and the aging ruler, who had been shunted to the sidelines by Mussolini, spoke contemptuously of the country's armed services. 'The Army is in a pitiful state," Ciano quotes him as saying. "Even the defense of our frontier is insufficient. He has made thirty-two inspections and is convinced that the French can go through it with great ease. The officers of the Italian Army are not qualified for the job, and our equipment is old and obsolete." (Ciano Diaries, p. 127.)
ix. In the German translation of Mussolini's letter found in the Foreign Office archives after the war, and which I have used here, the word "Germany" has been crossed out here and the word "Poland" typed above it, making it read: "If Poland attacks ... " In the Italian original, published after the war by the Italian government, the passage reads "Se la Germania attacca la Polonia." It is strange that the Nazis falsified even the secret documents deposited in their official government archives. [14]

x. As if Mussolini's letter were not bad enough medicine for Hitler, a number of German writers, mostly observers at first hand of the dramatic events of the last days of peace, have published an imaginary text of this letter of the Duce to the Fuehrer. Erich Kordt, one of the anti-Nazi conspirators, who was head of the secretariat at the Foreign Office, was the first to commit this faked version to print in his book, Wahn und Wirklichkeit, published in Stuttgart in 1947. Kordt dropped it in his second edition but other writers continued to copy it from the first edition. It shows up in Peter Kleist's Zwischen Hitler und Stalin, published in 1950, and even in the English translation of Paul Schmidt's memoirs published in New York and London in 1951. Yet the authentic text was 'published in Italy in 1946 and an English translation in the State Department's Nazi-Soviet Relations in 1948. Dr. Schmidt, who was with Hitler when he received the letter from Attolico, quotes the letter as saying, "In one of the most painful moments of my life, I have to inform you that Italy is not ready for war. According to what the responsible heads of  the services tell me, the gasoline supplies of the Italian Air Force are so low that  they would last only for three weeks of fighting. The position is the same with  regard to supplies for the Army, and supplies of raw materials ... Please understand  my situation." For an amusing note on the faking of this letter, see Namier,  In the Nazi Era, p. 5.
xi. See above, pp. 517-18.
xii. This caused added resentment in Berlin and some confusion in Rome which  Ciano had to straighten out. Attolico told Ciano later he had deliberately insisted  on complete deliveries before hostilities "in order to discourage the Germans from  meeting our requests." To deliver thirteen million tons of supplies in a few days  was, of course, utterly impossible, and Mussolini apologized to Ambassador von  Mackensen for the "misunderstanding," remarking that "even the Almighty Himself  could not transport such quantities here in a few days. It had never occurred to him  to make such an absurd request.'' [28]
xiii. I.e., Hitler's offer of August 25 to "guarantee" the British Empire.
xiv. "Ribbentrop knew nothing whatsoever about Dahlerus being sent," Goering testified on the stand at Nuremberg. "I never discussed the matter of Dahlerus with Ribbentrop. He did not know at all that Dahlerus went back and forth between me and the British government." [37] But Goering kept Hitler informed.

xv. The text is published in Documents on British Foreign Policy, Third Series, Vol. VII, p. 283. It was omitted from all published British records until the above volume came out in 1954, an omission much commented upon by British historians. Dahlerus is not mentioned in the British Blue Book of documents concerning the outbreak of the war nor in Henderson's Final Report nor even in Henderson's book Failure of a Mission, though in the book the Swedish intermediary is referred to as "a source in touch with Goering." In Henderson's dispatches and in those from other members of the British Embassy which have now been published, Dahlerus and his activities playa fairly prominent part, as they do in various memoranda of the British Foreign Office.

The role of this singular Swedish businessman in trying to save the peace was a well-kept secret and both the Wilhelmstrasse and Downing Street went to con  siderable lengths to keep his movements hidden from the correspondents and neutral  diplomats, who, to the best of my knowledge, knew absolutely nothing of them  until Dahlerus testified at Nuremberg on March 19, 1946. His book, The Last  Attempt, was published in Swedish in 1945, at the end of the war, but the English  edition did not come out until 1948 and there remained a further interval of six  years before his role was officially confirmed, so to speak, by the documents in Vol.  VII of the DBrFP series. The German Foreign Office documents for August do not  mention Dahlerus, except in one routine memorandum reporting receipt of a  message from the Lufthansa airline that "Dahlerus, a gentleman from the 'Foreign  Office,''' was arriving in Berlin August 26 on one of its planes. He does appear,  however, in some later papers.
xvi. Presumably President Roosevelt's message to Hitler on August 24 and 25 urging direct negotiations between Germany and Poland.

xvii. Dahlerus, it must be pointed out in all fairness, was not so pro-German as some of his messages seem to imply. On the night of this same Monday, after two hours with Goering at Luftwaffe headquarters at Oranienburg, he rang up Forbes to tell him, "German Army will be in final position of attack on Poland during night of Wednesday-Thursday, August 30-31." Forbes got this intelligence off to London as quickly as possible.

xviii. "I proceeded to outshout Hitler," Henderson wired Halifax the next day. " ... I  added a good deal more shouting at the top of my voice." [51] This temperamental  display was not mentioned in earlier British documents.
xix. General Halder put Hitler's game succinctly in a diary entry of August 29:  "Fuehrer hopes to drive wedge between British, French and Poles. Strategy: Raise  a barrage of demographic and democratic demands ... The Poles will come to  Berlin on August 30. On August 31 the negotiations will blow up. On September 1,  start to use force."
xx. Though couched in conciliatory terms, the British note was firm. His Majesty's Government, it said, "reciprocated" the German desire for improved relations, but "they could not sacrifice the interests of other friends in order to obtain that improvement." They fully understood, it continued, that the German government could not "sacrifice Germany's vital interests, but the Polish Government are in the same position." The British government must make "an express reservation" regarding Hitler's terms and, while urging direct negotiations between Berlin and Warsaw, considered that "it would be impracticable to establish contact so early as today." (Text in British Blue Book, pp. 142-43.)

xxi. Ribbentrop, who, it seemed to this writer, cut the sorriest figure of all the chief defendants at the Nuremberg trial -- and made the weakest defense -- claimed on the stand that Hitler, who, he said, "personally dictated" the sixteen points, had "expressly forbidden me to let these proposals out of my hands." Why, he did not say and was not asked on cross-examination. "Hitler told me," Ribbentrop conceded, "that I might communicate to the British Ambassador only the substance of them, if I thought it advisable. I did a little more than that: I read all the proposals from the beginning to the end." [59] Dr. Schmidt denies that Ribbentrop read the text of the proposals in German so fast that it would have been impossible for Henderson to grasp them. He says the Foreign Minister did not "particularly hurry over them." Henderson, Schmidt says, was "not exactly a master of German" and he might have been more effective in these crucial talks had he used his native language. Ribbentrop's English was excellent, but he refused to speak it during these parleys. [60]

xxii. The text of the sixteen proposals was telegraphed to the German charge d'affaires in London at 9: 15 P.M. on August 30, four hours before Ribbentrop "gabbled" them to Henderson. But the German envoy in London was instructed that they were to "be kept strictly secret and not to be communicated to anyone else until further instructions." [61] Hitler in his note of the previous day, it will be remembered, had promised to place them at the disposal of the British government before the arrival of the Polish negotiator.

xxiii. In a dispatch to Halifax filed at 5: 15 A.M. (August 31), Henderson reported that  he had also advised Lipski "in the very strongest terms" to "ring up" Ribbentrop  and ask for the German proposals so that he could communicate them to the  Polish government. Lipski said he would first have to talk with Warsaw. "The  Polish Ambassador," Henderson added, "promised to telephone at once to his Government, but he is so inert or so handicapped by instructions of his Government  that I cannot rely on his action being very effective." [63]
xxiv. On the stand at Nuremberg Goering claimed that in turning over the text of Hitler's "offer" to the British Embassy he was taking "an enormous risk. since the Fuehrer had forbidden this information being made public. Only I," Goering told the tribunal, "could take that risk." [64]

xxv. Even the levelheaded French ambassador supported his British colleague in this. Henderson had telephoned him at 9 A.M. to say that if the Poles did not agree by noon to sending a plenipotentiary to Berlin the German Army would begin its attack. Coulondre went immediately to the Polish Embassy and urged Lipski to telephone his government, asking authorization to make immediate contact with the Germans "as a plenipotentiary." (French Yellow Book, French edition, pp. 366-67.)
xxvi. By now, that is before noon of August 31, Henderson, striving desperately for peace at almost any price, had convinced himself that the German terms were quite reasonable and even moderate. And though Ribbentrop had told him the previous midnight that the German proposals were "out of date, since no Polish emissary had arrived," and though the Polish government had not yet even seen them, and though they were, in sum, a hoax, Henderson kept urging Halifax all day to put pressure on the Poles to send a plenipotentiary, as Hitler had demanded, and kept stressing the reasonableness of the Fuehrer's sixteen points.

At 12:30 P.M. (on August 31) Henderson wired Halifax "urging" him to "insist" to Poland that Lipski ask the German government for the German proposals for urgent communication to his government "with a view to dispatching a plenipotentiary. The terms sound moderate to me," Henderson contended. "This is no Munich ... Poland will never get such good terms again ... "

At the same time Henderson wrote a long letter to Halifax: " ... The German proposals do not endanger the independence of Poland ... She is likely to get a worse deal later ..."

Still keeping at it, Henderson wired Halifax at 12:30 A.M. on September I, four hours before the German attack was scheduled to begin (though he did not know this): "German proposals ... are not unreasonable ... I submit that on German offer war would be completely unjustifiable." He urged again that the British government pressure the Poles "in unmistakable language" to state "their intention to send a plenipotentiary to Berlin."

The British ambassador in Warsaw took a different view. He wired to Halifax on August 31: "H. M. Ambassador at Berlin appears to consider German terms reasonable. I fear that I cannot agree with him from point of view of Warsaw." [65]

xxvii. There was another somewhat weird diplomatic episode this last day of peace which deserves a footnote. Dahlerus returned from the visit with Lipski to the British Embassy, where from Henderson's office he put through at midday a telephone call to Sir Horace Wilson at the British Foreign Office in London. He told Wilson that the German proposals were "extremely liberal" but that the Polish ambassador had just rejected them. "It is clear," he said, "that the Poles are obstructing the possibilities of negotiations."

At this moment Wilson heard certain noises on the long-distance line which sounded to him as though the Germans were listening in. He tried to end the conversation, but Dahlerus persisted in rambling on about the unreasonableness of the Poles. "I again told Dahlerus," Sir Horace noted in a Foreign Office memorandum," to shut up, but as he did not I put down the receiver."

Wilson reported this indiscretion, committed in the very office of H. M. Ambassador in Berlin, to his superiors. At I P.M., less than an hour later, Halifax wired Henderson in code: "You really must be careful of use of telephone. D's conversation [Dahlerus was always referred to in the messages between the Foreign Office and the Berlin Embassy as "D") at midday from Embassy was most indiscreet and has certainly been heard by the Germans." [66]
xviii. The emphasis is in the original German text.

xix. A marginal note in the directive clears up this ambiguous point -- "Thus, Atlantic  forces will for the time being remain in a waiting position."
xxx. He may have drafted it that evening but he did not send it to London until 3:45 P.M. the next day, nearly twelve hours after the German attack on Poland had begun. It followed several of his telegrams, which like it were telephoned to London -- so that transmission was simultaneous -- reporting the outbreak of hostilities. It read: "Mutual distrust of Germans and Poles is so complete that I do not feel I can usefully acquiesce [sic] in any further suggestions from here, which would only once again be outstripped by events or lead to nothing as the result of methods followed or of considerations of honor and prestige.

"Last hope lies in inflexible determination on our part to resist force by force." [77]

xxxi. Since friends who have read this section have expressed doubts about this writer's objectivity in dealing with Henderson, perhaps another's view of the British ambassador in Berlin should be given. Sir L. B. Namier, the British historian, has summed up Henderson as follows: "Conceited, vain, self-opinionated, rigidly adhering to his preconceived ideas, he poured out telegrams, dispatches and letters in unbelievable numbers and of formidable length, repeating a hundred times the same ill-founded views and ideas. Obtuse enough to be a menace and not stupid enough to be innocuous, he proved un homme nefaste." (Namier, In the Nazi Era, p. 162.)

xxxii. See above, pp. 518-20.
xxxiii. The speech in Polish had been outlined by Heydrich to Naujocks. It contained inflammatory statements against Germany and declared that the Poles were attacking. See above, p. 519.

xxxiv. The "Polish attack" at Gleiwitz was used by Hitler in his speech to the Reichstag the next day and was cited as justification for the Nazi aggression by Ribbentrop, Weizsaecker and other members of the Foreign Office in their propaganda. The New York Times and other newspapers reported it, as well as similar incidents, in their issues of September 1, 1939. It remains only to be added that according to the testimony at Nuremberg of General Lahousen, of the Abwehr, all the S.S. men who wore Polish uniforms in the simulated attacks that evening were, as the General put it, "put out of the way." [78]

xxxv. During the day Hitler found time to send a telegram to the Duke of Windsor at  Antibes, France.

Berlin, August 31, 1939

I thank you for your telegram of August 27. You may rest assured that my attitude toward Britain and my desire to avoid another war between our peoples remain unchanged. It depends on Britain, however, whether my wishes for the future development of German-British relations can be realized.


This is the first mention of the former King of England, but by no means the last, in the captured German documents. Subsequently, for a time, as will be recorded further on, the Duke of Windsor loomed large in certain calculations of Hitler and Ribbentrop.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Thu Feb 08, 2018 3:26 am

Part 1 of 2


AT DAYBREAK on September 1, 1939, the very date which Hitler had set in his first directive for "Case White" back on April 3, the German armies poured across the Polish frontier and converged on Warsaw from the north, south and west.

Overhead German warplanes roared toward their targets: Polish troop columns and ammunition dumps, bridges, railroads and open cities. Within a few minutes they were giving the Poles, soldiers and civilians alike, the first taste of sudden death and destruction from the skies ever experienced on any great scale on the earth and thereby inaugurating a terror which would become dreadfully familiar to hundreds of millions of men, women and children in Europe and Asia during the next six years, and whose shadow, after the nuclear bombs came, would haunt all mankind with the threat of utter extinction.

It was a gray, somewhat sultry morning in Berlin, with clouds hanging low over the city, giving it some protection from hostile bombers, which were feared but never came.

The people in the streets, I noticed, were apathetic despite the immensity of the news which had greeted them from their radios and from the extra editions of the morning newspapers. [i] Across the street from the Adlon Hotel the morning shift of laborers had gone to work on the new I.G. Farben building just as if nothing had happened, and when newsboys came by shouting their extras no one laid down his tools to buy one. Perhaps, it occurred to me, the German people were simply dazed at waking up on this first morning of September to find themselves in a war which they had been sure the Fuehrer somehow would avoid. They could not quite believe it, now that it had come.

What a contrast, one could not help thinking, between this gray apathy and the way the Germans had gone to war in 1914. Then there had been a wild enthusiasm. The crowds in the streets had staged delirious demonstrations, tossed flowers at the marching troops and frantically cheered the Kaiser and Supreme Warlord, Wilhelm II.

There were no such demonstrations this time for the troops or for the Nazi warlord, who shortly before 10 A.M. drove from the Chancellery to the Reichstag through empty streets to address the nation on the momentous happenings which he himself, deliberately and cold-bloodedly, had just provoked. Even the robot members of the Reichstag, party hacks, for the most part, whom Hitler had appointed, failed to respond with much enthusiasm as the dictator launched into his explanation of why Germany found itself on this morning engaged in war. There was far less cheering than on previous and less important occasions when the Leader had declaimed from this tribune in the ornate hall of the Kroll Opera House.

Though truculent at times he seemed strangely on the defensive, and throughout the speech, I thought as I listened, ran a curious strain, as though he himself were dazed at the fix he had got himself into and felt a little desperate about it. His explanation of why his Italian ally had reneged on its automatic obligations to come to his aid did not seem to go over even with this hand-picked audience.

I should like [he said] here above all to thank Italy, which throughout has supported us, but you will understand that for the carrying out of this struggle we do not intend to appeal for foreign help. We will carry out this task ourselves.

Having lied so often on his way to power and in his consolidation of power, Hitler could not refrain at this serious moment in history from thundering a few more lies to the gullible German people in justification of his wanton act.

You know the endless attempts I made for a peaceful clarification and understanding of the problem of Austria, and later of the problem of the Sudetenland, Bohemia and Moravia. It was all in vain ...

In my talks with Polish statesmen ... I formulated at last the German proposals and ... there is nothing more modest or loyal than these proposals. I should like to say this to the world. I alone was in the position to make such proposals, for I know very well that in doing so I brought myself into opposition to millions of Germans. These proposals have been refused ....

For two whole days I sat with my Government and waited to see whether it was convenient for the Polish Government to send a plenipotentiary or not ... But I am wrongly judged if my love of peace and my patience are mistaken for weakness or even cowardice ... I can no longer find any willingness on the part of the Polish Government to conduct serious negotiations with us ... I have therefore resolved to speak to Poland in the same language that Poland for months past has used toward us ...

This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our own territory. Since 5:45 A.M. we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met with bombs.

Thus was the faked German attack on the German radio station at Gleiwitz, which, as we have seen, was carried out by S.S. men in Polish uniforms under the direction of Naujocks, used by the Chancellor of Germany as justification of his cold-blooded aggression against Poland. And indeed in its first communiques the German High Command referred to its military operations as a "counterattack." Even Weizsaecker did his best to perpetrate this shabby swindle. During the day he got off a circular telegram from the Foreign Office to all German diplomatic missions abroad advising them on the line they were to take.

In defense against Polish attacks, German troops moved into action against Poland at dawn today. This action is for the present not to be described as war, but merely as engagements which have been brought about by Polish attacks' [1]

Even the German soldiers, who could see for themselves who had done the attacking on the Polish border, were bombarded with Hitler's lie. In a grandiose proclamation to the German Army on September 1, the Fuehrer said:

The Polish State has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms ... A series of violations of the frontier, intolerable to a great Power, prove that Poland is no longer willing to respect the frontier of the Reich.

In order to put an end to this lunacy, I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on.

Only once that day did Hitler utter the truth.

I am asking of no German man [he told the Reichstag] more than I myself was ready throughout four years to do ... I am from now on just the first soldier of the German Reich. I have once more put on that coat that was most sacred and dear to me. I will not take it off again until victory is secured, or I will not survive the outcome.

In the end, this once, he would prove as good as his word. But no German I met in Berlin that day noticed that what the Leader was saying quite bluntly was that he could not face, not take, defeat should it come.

In his speech Hitler named Goering as his successor should anything happen to him. Hess, he added, would be next in line. "Should anything happen to Hess," Hitler advised, "then by law the Senate will be called and will choose from its midst the most worthy -- that is to say, the bravest  -- successor." What law? What Senate? Neither existed!

Hitler's relatively subdued manner at the Reichstag gave way to another and uglier mood as soon as he had returned to the Chancellery. The ubiquitous Dahlerus, in tow of Goering, found him there in an "exceedingly nervous and very agitated" state.

He told me [the Swedish mediator later testified] he had all along suspected that England wanted the war. He told me further that he would crush Poland and annex the whole country ...

He grew more and more excited, and began to wave his arms as he shouted in my face: "If England wants to fight for a year, I shall fight for a year; if England wants to fight two years, I shall fight two years ... " He paused and then yelled, his voice rising to a shrill scream and his arms milling wildly: "If England wants to fight for three years, I shall fight for three years ... "

The movements of his body now began to follow those of his arms, and when he finally bellowed: "Und wenn es erforderlich ist, will ich zehn Jahre kaempfen" ("And if necessary, I will fight for ten years") he brandished his fist and bent down so that it nearly touched the floor. [2]

Yet for all his hysteria Hitler was by no means convinced that he would have to fight Great Britain at all. It was now past noon, German armored columns were already several miles inside Poland and advancing rapidly and most of Poland's cities, including Warsaw, had been bombed with considerable civilian casualties. But there was not a word from London or Paris that Britain and France were in any hurry to honor their word to Poland.

Their course seemed clear, but Dahlerus and Henderson appeared to be doing their best to confuse it.

At 10: 30 A.M. the British ambassador telephoned a message to Halifax.

I understand [he said] that the Poles blew up the Dirschau bridge during the night. [ii] And that fighting took place with the Danzigers. On receipt of this news, Hitler gave orders for the Poles to be driven back from the border line and to Goering for destruction of the Polish Air Force along the frontier.

Only at the end of his dispatch did Henderson add:

This information comes from Goering himself.

Hitler may ask to see me after Reichstag as a last effort to save the peace. [3]

What peace? Peace for Britain? For six hours Germany had been waging war -- with all its military might -- against Britain's ally.

Hitler did not send for Henderson after his Reichstag speech, and the ambassador, who had accommodatingly passed along to London Goering's lies about the Poles beginning the attack, became discouraged -- but not completely discouraged. At 10:50 A.M. he telephoned a further message to Halifax. A new idea had sprung up in his fertile but confused mind.

I feel it my duty [he reported], however little prospect there may be of its realization, to· express the belief that the only possible hope now for peace would be for Marshal Smigly-Rydz to announce his readiness to come immediately to Germany to discuss as soldier and plenipotentiary the whole question with Field Marshal Goering. [4]

It does not seem to have occurred to this singular British ambassador that Marshal Smigly-Rydz might have his hands full trying to repel the massive and unprovoked German attack, or that if he could break off and did come to Berlin as a "plenipotentiary" it would be equivalent, under the circumstances, to surrender. The Poles might be quickly beaten but they would not surrender.

Dahlerus was even more active than Henderson during this first day of the German attack on Poland. At 8 A.M. he had gone to see Goering, who told him that "war had broken out because the Poles had attacked the radio station at Gleiwitz and blown up a bridge near Dirschau." The Swede immediately rang up the Foreign Office in London with the news.

"I informed somebody," he later testified in cross-examination at Nuremberg, "that according to the information I had received the Poles had attacked, and they naturally wondered what was happening to me when 1 gave that information." [5] But after all, it was only what H. M. Ambassador in Berlin would be telephoning a couple of hours later.

A confidential British Foreign Office memorandum records the Swede's call at 9:05 A.M. Aping Goering, Dahlerus insisted to London that "the Poles are sabotaging everything," and that he had "evidence they never meant to attempt to negotiate." [6]

At half after noon Dahlerus was on the long-distance phone again to the Foreign Office in London, and this time got Cadogan. He again blamed the Poles for sabotaging the peace by blowing the Dirschau bridge and suggested that he once again fly to London with Forbes. But the stern and unappeasing Cadogan had had about enough of Dahlerus now that the war which he had tried to prevent had come. He told the Swede that "nothing could now be done."

But Cadogan was merely the permanent Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, not even a member of the cabinet. Dahlerus insisted that his request be submitted to the cabinet itself, informing Cadogan haughtily that he would ring back in an hour. This he did, and got his answer.

Any idea of mediation [Cadogan said] while German troops are invading Poland is quite out of the question. The only way in which a world war can be stopped is (one) that hostilities be suspended, and (two) that German troops be immediately withdrawn from Polish territory. [7]

At 10 A.M. the Polish ambassador in London, Count Raczynski, had called on Lord Halifax and officially communicated to him the news of the German aggression, adding that "it was a plain case as provided for by the treaty." The Foreign Secretary answered that he had no doubt of the facts. At 10:50 he summoned the German charge d'affaires, Theodor Kordt, to the Foreign Office and asked him if he had any information. Kordt replied that he had neither information about a German attack on Poland nor any instructions. Halifax then declared that the reports which he had received "create a very serious situation." But further than that he did not go. Kordt telephoned this information to Berlin at 11:45 A.M.

By noon, then, Hitler had reason to hope that Britain, though it considered the situation serious, might not go to war after all. But the hope was soon to be dashed.

At 7:15 P.M. a member of the British Embassy in Berlin telephoned the German Foreign Office and requested Ribbentrop to receive Henderson and Coulondre "on a matter of urgency as soon as possible." The French Embassy made a similar request a few minutes later. Ribbentrop, having declined to meet the two ambassadors together, received Henderson at 9 P.M. and Coulondre an hour later. From the British ambassador he was handed a formal note from the British government.

... Unless the German Government are prepared [it said] to give His Majesty's Government satisfactory assurances that the German Government have suspended all aggressive action against Poland and are prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish territory, His Majesty's Government will without hesitation fulfill their obligation to Poland. [8]

The French communication was in identical words.

To both ambassadors Ribbentrop replied that he would transmit their notes to Hitler, whereupon he launched into a lengthy dissertation declaring that "there was no question of German aggression" but of Polish aggression and repeating the by now somewhat stale lie that "regular" Polish troops had attacked German soil on the previous day. Still, the diplomatic niceties were maintained. Sir Nevile Henderson did not fail to note in his dispatch that night describing the meeting that Ribbentrop had been "courteous and polite." As the ambassador prepared to take his leave an argument arose as to whether the German Foreign Minister had gabbled the text of the German "proposals" to Poland at their stormy meeting two evenings before. Henderson said he had; Ribbentrop said he had read them "slowly and clearly and even given oral explanations of the main points so that he could suppose Henderson had understood everything." It was an argument that would never be settled -- but what difference did it make now? [9]

On the night of September 1, as the German armies penetrated further into Poland and the Luftwaffe bombed and bombed, Hitler knew from the Anglo-French notes that unless he stopped his armies and quickly withdrew them -- which was unthinkable -- he had a world war on his hands. Or did he still hope that night that his luck -- his Munich luck -- might hold? For his friend Mussolini, frightened by the advent of war and fearing that an overwhelming Anglo-French naval and military force might strike against Italy, was desperately trying to arrange another Munich.


As late as August 26, it will be remembered, the Duce, in ducking out of Italy's obligations under the Pact of Steel, had insisted to the Fuehrer that there was still a possibility of "a political solution" which would give "full moral and material satisfaction to Germany." [iii] Hitler had not bothered to argue the matter with his friend and ally, and this had discouraged the junior partner in the Axis. Nevertheless on August 31, as we have seen, Mussolini and Ciano, after being advised by their ambassador in Berlin that the situation had become desperate, had urged Hitler at least to see the Polish ambassador, Lipski, and had informed him that they were trying to get the British government to agree to the return of Danzig "as a first step" in peace negotiations. [iv]

But it was too late for Hitler to be tempted by such small bait. Danzig was a mere pretense, as the Fuehrer had told his generals. What he wanted was to destroy Poland. But the Duce did not know this. On the morning of September 1, he himself was confronted with the choice of immediately declaring Italy's neutrality or risking an attack by Britain and France. Ciano's diary entries make clear what a nightmare this prospect was for his deflated father-in-law. [v]

Early on the morning of September 1 the unhappy Italian dictator personally telephoned Ambassador Attolico in Berlin and, in the words of Ciano, "urged him to entreat Hitler to send him a telegram releasing him from the obligations of the alliance." [11] The Fuehrer quickly and even graciously obliged. Just before he left for the Reichstag, at 9:40 A.M., he got off a telegram to his friend which was telephoned through to the German Embassy in Rome to save time.


I thank you most cordially for the diplomatic and political support which you have been giving recently to Germany and her just cause. I am convinced that we can carry out the task imposed upon us with the military forces of Germany. I do not therefore expect to need Italy's military support in these circumstances. I also thank you, Duce, for everything which you will do in future for the common cause of Fascism and National Socialism.

ADOLF HITLER [vi] [12]

At 12:45 P.M., after having addressed the Reichstag and after having, apparently, recovered from the effects of his outburst to Dahlerus, Hitler was moved to send a further message to Mussolini. Declaring that he had been prepared to solve the Polish problem "by negotiation" and that "for two whole days I have waited in vain for a Polish negotiator" and that "last night alone there were fourteen more cases of frontier violation" and that consequently he had "now decided to answer force with force," he again expressed his gratitude to his welshing partner.

I thank you, Duce, for all your efforts. I thank you in particular also for your offers of mediation. But from the start I was skeptical about these attempts because the Polish Government, if they had had even the slightest intention of solving the matter amicably, could have done so at any time. But they refused ...

For this reason, Duce, I did not want to expose you to the danger of assuming the role of mediator which, in view of the Polish Government's intransigent attitude, would in all probability have been in vain ...


But Mussolini, prompted by Ciano, made one last desperate effort to expose himself to the danger of being a mediator. Already on the previous day, shortly after noon, Ciano had proposed to the British and French ambassadors in Rome that, if their governments agreed, Mussolini would invite Germany to a conference on September 5 for the purpose of "examining the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles which are the cause of the present troubles."

It might have been thought that the news of the German invasion of Poland the next morning would have rendered Mussolini's proposal superfluous. But to the Italian's surprise Georges Bonnet, the French Foreign Minister and master appeaser, telephoned Francois-Poncet, who was now the ambassador of France in Rome, at 11:45 A.M. on September 1 and asked him to tell Ciano that the French government welcomed such a conference provided that it did not try to deal with problems of countries not represented and that it did not restrict itself to seeking "partial and provisional solutions for limited and immediate problems." Bonnet made no mention of any withdrawal of German troops or even of their halting, as a condition for such a conference. [14] [vii]

But the British were insistent upon that condition and succeeded in carrying the badly divided French cabinet along with them so that identical warning notes could be delivered in Berlin on the evening of September 1. Since the text of those notes giving notice that Britain and France would go to war unless the German troops were withdrawn from Poland was made public the same evening, it is interesting that Mussolini, now clutching desperately at every straw -- or even at straws which were not there -- went ahead the next morning in a further appeal to Hitler just as if he, the Duce, did not take the Anglo-French warnings at face value.

September 2, as Henderson noted in his Final Report, was a day of suspense.  [viii] He and Coulondre waited anxiously for Hitler's reply to their notes, but none came. Shortly after midday Attolico, somewhat out of breath, arrived at the British Embassy and told Henderson he must know one thing immediately: Was the British note of the previous evening an ultimatum or not?

"I told him," Henderson later wrote, "that I had been authorized to tell the Minister of Foreign Affairs if he had asked me -- which he had not done -- that it was not an ultimatum but a warning." [16]

Having received his answer, the Italian ambassador hastened down the Wilhelmstrasse to the German Foreign Office. Attolico had arrived at 10 o'clock that morning at the Wilhelmstrasse with a communication from Mussolini and, being told that Ribbentrop was unwell, handed it to Weizsaecker.

September 2, 1939

For purposes of information, Italy wishes to make known, naturally leaving any decision to the Fuehrer, that she still has the possibility of getting France, Britain and Poland to agree to a conference on the following bases:

1. An armistice, which leaves the armies where [emphasis in the original] they now are.

2. Convening of the conference within two to three days.

3. Settlement of the Polish-German dispute, which, as matters stand today, would certainly be favorable to Germany.

The idea, which originally emanated from the Duce, is now supported particularly by France. [ix]

Danzig is already German, and Germany has already in her hands pledges which guarantee her the greater part of her claims. Moreover, Germany has already had her "moral satisfaction." If she accepted the proposal for a conference she would achieve all her aims and at the same time avoid a war, which even now looks like becoming general and of extremely long duration.

The Duce does not want to insist, but it is of the greatest moment to him that the above should be immediately brought to the attention of Herr von Ribbentrop and the Fuehrer. [17]

No wonder that when Ribbentrop, who had quickly recovered from his indisposition, saw Attolico at 12:30 P.M., he pointed out that the Duce's proposal could not be "reconciled" with the Anglo-French notes of the evening before, which had "the character of an ultimatum."

The Italian ambassador, who was as anxious as his chief to avoid a world war and certainly more sincere, interrupted Ribbentrop to say that the British and French declarations "had been superseded by the latest communication from the Duce." Attolico, of course, had no authority whatsoever to make such a statement, which was not true, but at this late hour he probably thought he could lose nothing by being reckless. When the German Foreign Minister expressed his doubts, Attolico stuck to his view.

The French and British declarations [he said] no longer came into consideration. Count Ciano had telephoned only at 8:30 this morning, that is to say at a time when the declarations had already been given out on the radio in Italy. It followed that the two declarations must be considered as superseded. Count Ciano stated moreover that France in particular was greatly in favor of the Duce's proposal. The pressure comes at the moment from France but England will follow. [18]

Ribbentrop remained skeptical. He had just discussed Mussolini's proposal with Hitler, he said, and what the Fuehrer wanted to know was: Were the Anglo-French notes ultimata? The Foreign Minister finally agreed to Attolico's suggestion that the Italian envoy should immediately consult Henderson and Coulondre to find out.

That was the reason for Attolico's call at the British Embassy. "I can still see Attolico, no longer in his first youth," Schmidt, who acted as interpreter, wrote later, "running out of Ribbentrop's room and down the steps to consult Henderson and Coulondre A half hour later Attolico came running back, as breathless as he had left." [19]

Regaining his breath, the Italian ambassador reported that Henderson had just told him the British note was not an ultimatum. Ribbentrop replied that while "a German reply to the Anglo-French declarations could only be negative the Fuehrer was examining the Duce's proposals and, if Rome confirmed that there had been no question of an ultimatum in the Anglo-French declaration, would draft an answer in a day or two." When Attolico pressed for an earlier answer, Ribbentrop finally agreed to reply by noon the next day, Sunday, September 3.

Meantime in Rome Mussolini's hopes were being smashed. At 2 P.M. Ciano received the British and French ambassadors and in their presence telephoned to both Halifax and Bonnet and informed them of Attolico's talks with the German Foreign Minister. Bonnet was effusive as usual and, according to his own account (in the French Yellow Book), warmly thanked Ciano for his efforts on behalf of peace. Halifax was sterner. He confirmed that the British note was not an ultimatum -- one marvels at the splitting of hairs among the statesmen over a single word, for the Anglo-French declarations spoke for themselves unequivocably -- but added that in his own view the British could not accept Mussolini's proposal for a conference unless the German armies withdrew from Poland, a matter on which Bonnet again was silent. Halifax promised to telephone Ciano the decision of the British cabinet on that.

The decision came shortly after 7 P.M. Britain accepted the Duce's offer on condition that Hitler pull back his troops to the German frontier. The Italian Foreign Minister realized that Hitler would never accept this and that "nothing more could be done," as he put it in his diary.

It isn't my business [he added] to give Hitler advice that he would reject decisively and maybe with contempt. I tell this to Halifax, to the two ambassadors and to the Duce, and finally I telephone to Berlin that unless the Germans advise us to the contrary we shall let the conversations lapse. The last note of hope has died. [20]

And so at 8: 50 P.M. on September 2 the weary and crushed Attolico once more made his way to the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin. This time Ribbentrop received him in the Chancellery, where he was in conference with Hitler. A captured Foreign Office memo records the scene.

The Italian Ambassador brought the Foreign Minister the information that the British were not prepared to enter into negotiations on the basis of the Italian proposal of mediation. The British demanded, before starting negotiations, the immediate withdrawal of all German troops from the occupied Polish areas and from Danzig ...

In conclusion the Italian Ambassador stated that the Duce now considered his mediation proposal as no longer in being. The Foreign Minister received the communication from the Italian Ambassador without comment. [21]

Not a word of thanks to the tireless Attolico for all his efforts! Only the contempt of silence toward an ally who was trying to cheat Germany of its Polish spoils.

The last slight possibility of averting World War II had now been exhausted. This apparently was obvious to all except one actor in the drama. At 9 P.M. the pusillanimous Bonnet telephoned Ciano, confirmed once more that the French note to Germany did not have the "character of an ultimatum" and reiterated that the French government was prepared to wait until noon of September 3 -- the next day -- for a German response. However, "in order for the conference to achieve favorable results," Bonnet told Ciano, the French government agreed with the British that German troops must "evacuate" Poland. This was the first time Bonnet had mentioned this -- and now only because the British had insisted upon it. Ciano replied that he did not think the Reich government would accept this condition. But Bonnet would not give up. He sought during the night a final escape from France's obligations to the now battered and beleaguered Poland. Ciano recounts this bizarre move in the first paragraph of his diary entry for September 3.

During the night I was awakened by the Ministry because Bonnet had asked Guariglia [the Italian ambassador in Paris] if we could not at least obtain a symbolic withdrawal of German forces from Poland ... I throw the proposal in the wastebasket without informing the Duce. But this shows that France is moving toward the great test without enthusiasm and full of uncertainty. [22]


Sunday, September 3, 1939, in Berlin was a lovely, end-of-the-summer day. The sun was shining, the air was balmy -- "the sort of day," I noted in my diary, "the Berliner loves to spend in the woods or on the lakes nearby."

As it dawned a telegram arrived at the British Embassy from Lord Halifax for Sir Nevile Henderson, instructing him to seek an interview with the German Foreign Minister at 9 A.M. and convey a communication the text of which was then given.

The Chamberlain government had reached the end of the road. Some thirty-two hours before, it had informed Hitler that unless Germany withdrew its troops from Poland, Britain would go to war. There had been no answer, and now the British government was determined to make good its word. On the previous day it had feared, as Charles Corbin, the French ambassador in London, had informed the hesitant Bonnet at 2:30 P.M., that Hitler was deliberately delaying his reply in order to grab as much Polish territory as possible, after which, having secured Danzig, the Corridor and other areas, he might make a "magnanimous" peace proposal based on his sixteen points of August 31. [23]

To avoid that trap Halifax had proposed to the French that unless the German government gave a favorable reply within a few hours to the Anglo-French communications of September 1, the two Western nations should declare themselves at war with Germany. Following a British cabinet meeting on the afternoon of September 2, when a definite decision was made, Halifax suggested specifically that the two allies present an ultimatum to Berlin that very midnight which would expire at 6 A.M. on September 3.24 Bonnet would not hear of any such precipitate action.

Indeed, the badly divided French cabinet had had a difficult time over the past week reaching a decision to honor France's obligations to Poland  -- and to Britain -- in the first place. On the dark day of August 23, overwhelmed by the news that Ribbentrop had arrived in Moscow to conclude a Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact, Bonnet had persuaded Daladier to call a meeting of the Council of National Defense to consider what France should do. * Besides Premier Daladier and Bonnet, it was attended by the ministers of the three armed services, General Gamelin, the chiefs of the Navy and Air Force and four additional generals -- twelve in all.

The minutes state that Daladier posed three questions:

1. Can France remain inactive while Poland and Rumania (or one of them) are being wiped off the map of Europe?

2. What means has she of opposing it?

3. What measures should be taken now?

Bonnet himself, after explaining the grave turn of events, posed a question which was to remain uppermost in his mind to the last:

Taking stock of the situation, had we better remain faithful to our engagements and enter the war forthwith, or should we reconsider our attitude and profit by the respite thus gained? ... The answer to this question is essentially of a military character.

When thus handed the ball, Gamelin and Admiral Darlan answered

that the Army and Navy were ready. In the early stages of the conflict they can do little against Germany. But the French mobilization by itself would bring some relief to Poland by tying down some considerable German units at our frontier.

... General Gamelin, asked how long Poland and Rumania could resist, says that he believes Poland would honorably resist, which would prevent the bulk of the German forces from turning against France before next spring; by then Great Britain would be by her side. [x]

After a great deal of talk the French finally reached a decision, which was duly recorded in the minutes of the meeting.

In the course of the discussion it is pointed out that if we are stronger a few months hence, Germany will have gained even more, for she will have the Polish and Rumanian resources at her disposal.

Therefore France has no choice.

The only solution ... is to adhere to our engagements to Poland assumed before negotiations were started with the U.S.S.R.

Having made up its mind, the French government began to act. Following this meeting on August 23, the alerte was sounded, which placed all frontier troops in their war stations. The next day 360,000 reservists were called up. On August 31 the cabinet published a communique saying France would "firmly fulfill" its obligations. And the next day, the first day of the German attack on Poland, Bonnet was persuaded by Halifax to associate France with Britain in the warning to Berlin that both countries would honor their word to their ally.

But on September 2, when the British pressed for an ultimatum to be presented to Hitler at midnight, General Gamelin and the French General Staff held back. After all, it was the French who alone would have to do the fighting if the Germans immediately attacked in the West. There would not be a single British trooper to aid them. The General Staff insisted on a further forty-eight hours in which to carry out the general mobilization unhindered.

At 6 P.M. Halifax telephoned Sir Eric Phipps, the British ambassador in Paris: "Forty-eight hours is impossible for British Government. The French attitude is very embarrassing to H. M. Government."
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

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Part 2 of 2

It was to become dangerously so a couple of hours later when Chamberlain rose to address a House of Commons whose majority of members, regardless of party, was impatient at the British delay in honoring its obligations. Their patience became almost exhausted after the Prime Minister spoke. He informed the House that no reply had yet come from Berlin. Unless it did, and contained a German assurance of withdrawal from Poland, the government would "be bound to take action." If the Germans did agree to withdraw, the British government, he said, would "be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier." In the meantime, he said, the government was in communication with France about a time limit to their warning to Germany.

After thirty-nine hours of war in Poland the House of Commons was in no mood for such dilatory tactics. A smell of Munich seemed to emanate from the government bench. "Speak for England!" cried Leopold Amery from the Conservative benches as the acting leader of the Labor Opposition, Arthur Greenwood, got up to talk.

"I wonder how long we are prepared to vacillate," said Greenwood, "at a time when Britain and all that Britain stands for, and human civilization, are in peril ... We must march with the French ... "

That was the trouble. It was proving difficult at this moment to get the French to march. But so disturbed was Chamberlain at the angry mood of the House that he intervened in the sharp debate to plead that it took time to synchronize "thoughts and actions" by telephone with Paris. "I should be horrified if the House thought for one moment," he added, "that the statement that I have made to them betrayed the slightest weakening either of this Government or of the French Government." He said he understood the French government was "in session at this moment" and that a communication would be received from it "in the next few hours." At any rate, he tried to assure the aroused members, "I anticipate that there is only one answer I shall be able to give the House tomorrow ... and I trust the House ... will believe me that I speak in complete good faith ... "

The inexorable approach of the greatest ordeal in British history was announced, as Namier later wrote, "in a singularly halting manner."

Chamberlain well understood, as the confidential British papers make clear, that he was in deep trouble with his own people and that at this critical moment for his country his own government was in danger of being overthrown.

As soon as he left the Commons he rang up Daladier. The time is recorded as 9: 50 P.M. and Cadogan, listening in, made a minute of it for the record.

CHAMBERLAIN: The situation here is very grave ... There has been an angry scene in the House ... if France were to insist on forty-eight hours to run from midday tomorrow, it would be, impossible for the Government to hold the situation here.

The Prime Minister said he quite realized that it is France who must bear the burden of a German attack. But he was convinced some step must be taken this evening.

He proposed a compromise ... An ultimatum at 8 A.M. tomorrow ... expiring at noon... .

Daladier replied that unless British bombers were ready to act at once it would be better for French to delay, if possible, for some hours attacks on German armies.

Less than an hour later, at 10:30 P.M., Halifax rang up Bonnet. He urged the French to agree to the British compromise, an ultimatum to be presented in Berlin at 8 A.M. on the morrow (September 3) and to expire at noon. The French Foreign Minister not only would not agree, he protested to Halifax that the British insistence on such speed would create a "deplorable impression." He demanded that London wait at least until noon before presenting any ultimatum to Hitler.

HALIFAX: It is impossible for H. M. Government to wait until that hour . . It is very doubtful whether the [British] Government could hold the position here.

The House of Commons was to meet at noon, on Sunday, September 3, and it was obvious to Chamberlain and Halifax from the mood of Saturday evening's session that in order to survive they would have to give Parliament the answer it demanded. At 2 o'clock the next morning the French ambassador in London, Corbin, warned Bonnet that the Chamberlain cabinet risked overthrow if it could not give Parliament definite word. Halifax, at the close of his telephone conversation with Bonnet, therefore informed him that Britain proposed "to act on its own."

The telegram of Halifax to Henderson reached Berlin about 4 A.M. [xi] The communication he was to make to the German government at 9 A.M. on Sunday, September 3, recalled the British note of September 1 in which Great Britain declared its intention of fulfilling its obligations to Poland unless German troops were promptly withdrawn.

Although this communication [it continued] was made more than 24 hours ago, no reply has been received but German attacks upon Poland have been continued and intensified. I have accordingly the honor to inform you that, unless not later than 11 A.M., British summer time, today September 3, satisfactory assurances to the above effect have been given by the German Government and have reached His Majesty's Government in London, a state of war will exist between the two countries as from that hour. [26] [xii]

In the early predawn Sabbath hours Henderson found it difficult to make contact with the Wilhelmstrasse. He was told that Ribbentrop would not be "available" at 9 A.M. on the Sunday but that he could leave his communication with the official interpreter, Dr. Schmidt.

On this historic day Dr. Schmidt overslept, and, rushing to the Foreign Office by taxi, he saw the British ambassador already mounting the steps to the Foreign Office as he arrived. Ducking in by a side door, Schmidt managed to slip into Ribbentrop's office just at the stroke of 9 o'clock, in time to receive Henderson on the dot. "He came in looking very serious," Schmidt later recounted, "shook hands, but declined my invitation to be seated, remaining solemnly standing in the middle of the room." [28] He read out the British ultimatum, handed Schmidt a copy, and bade him goodby.

The official interpreter hastened down the Wilhelmstrasse to the Chancellery with the document. Outside the Fuehrer's office he found most members of the cabinet and several ranking party officials collected about and "anxiously awaiting" his news.

When I entered the next room [Schmidt later recounted] Hitler was sitting at his desk and Ribbentrop stood by the window. Both looked up expectantly as I came in. I stopped at some distance from Hitler's desk, and then slowly translated the British ultimatum. When 1 finished there was complete silence.

Hitler sat immobile, gazing before him ... After an interval which seemed an age, he turned to Ribbentrop, who had remained standing by the window. "What now?" asked Hitler with a savage look, as though implying that his Foreign Minister had misled him about England's probable reaction.

Ribbentrop answered quietly: "I assume that the French will hand in a similar ultimatum within the hour." [29]

His duty performed, Schmidt withdrew, stopping in the outer room to apprise the others of what had happened. They too were silent for a moment. Then:

Goering turned to me and said: "If we lose this war, then God have mercy on us!"

Goebbels stood in a corner by himself, downcast and self-absorbed. Everywhere in the room I saw looks of grave concern. [30]

In the meantime the inimitable Dahlerus had been making his last amateurish effort to avoid the inevitable. At 8 A.M. Forbes had informed him of the British ultimatum which was being presented an hour later. He hastened out to Luftwaffe headquarters to see Goering and, according to his later account on the stand at Nuremberg, appealed to him to see to it that the German reply to the ultimatum was "reasonable." He further suggested that the Field Marshal himself, before 11 o'clock, declare himself prepared to fly to London "to negotiate." In his book the Swedish businessman claims that Goering accepted the suggestion and telephoned to Hitler, who also agreed. There is no mention of this in the German papers, and Dr. Schmidt makes it clear that Goering, a few minutes after 9 o'clock, was not at his headquarters but at the Chancellery in the Fuehrer's anteroom.

At any rate, there is no doubt that the Swedish intermediary telephoned the British Foreign Office -- not once but twice. In the first call, at 10:15 A.M., he took it upon himself to inform the British government that the German reply to its ultimatum was "on the way" and that the Germans were still "most anxious to satisfy the British Government and to give satisfactory assurances not to violate the independence of Poland." (!) He hoped London would consider Hitler's response "in the most favorable light." [31]

Half an hour later, at 10:50 A.M. -- ten minutes before the ultimatum ran out -- Dahlerus was once more on the long-distance line to the Foreign Office in London, this time to present his proposal that Goering, with Hitler's assent, fly immediately to the British capital. He did not realize that it was past time for such diplomatic antics, but he was soon made to. He was given an uncompromising answer from Halifax. His proposal could not be entertained. The German government had been asked a definite question, "and presumably they would be sending a definite answer." H. M. Government could not wait for further discussion with Goering. [32]

Whereupon Dahlerus hung up and disappeared into the limbo of history until he reappeared, briefly, after the war at Nuremberg -- and in his book  -- to recount his bizarre attempt to save world peace. [xiii] He had meant well, he had striven for peace; for a few moments he had found himself in the center of the dazzling stage of world history. But as happened to almost everyone else, the confusion had been too great for him to see clearly; and as he would admit at Nuremberg, he had at no time realized how much he had been taken in by the Germans.

Shortly after 11 A.M., when the time limit in the British ultimatum had run out, Ribbentrop, who had declined to see the British 'ambassador two hours before, sent for him in order to hand him Germany's reply. The German government, it said, refused "to receive or accept, let alone to fulfill" the British ultimatum. There followed a lengthy and shabby propaganda statement obviously hastily concocted by Hitler and Ribbentrop during the intervening two hours. Designed to fool the easily fooled German people, it rehearsed all the lies with which we are now familiar, including the one about the Polish "attacks" on German territory, blamed Britain for all that had happened, and rejected attempts "to force Germany to recall their forces which are lined up for the defense of the Reich." It declared, falsely, that Germany had accepted Mussolini's eleventh-hour proposals for peace and pointed out that Britain had rejected them. And after all of Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler it accused the British government of "preaching the destruction and extermination of the German people." [xiv]

Henderson read the document ("this completely false representation of events," as he later called it) and remarked "It would be left to history to judge where the blame really lay." Ribbentrop retorted that "history had already proved the facts."

I was standing in the Wilhelmstrasse before the Chancellery about noon when the loudspeakers suddenly announced that Great Britain had declared herself at war with Germany. [xv] Some 250 people -- no more -- were standing there in the sun. They listened attentively to the announcement. When it was finished, there was not a murmur. They just stood there. Stunned. It was difficult for them to comprehend that Hitler had led them into a world war.

Soon, though it was the Sabbath, the newsboys were crying their extras. In fact, I noticed, they were giving the papers away. I took one. It was the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, its headlines marching in large type across the page:





The headline over the official account read as though it had been dictated by Ribbentrop.


"Proved" though it may have been to a people as easily swindled as the Germans, it aroused no ill feelings toward the British during the day. When I passed the British Embassy, from whose premises Henderson and his staff were moving to the Hotel Adlon around the corner, a lone Schupo paced up and down before the building. He had nothing to do but saunter back and forth.

The French held out a little longer. Bonnet played for time until the last moment, clinging stubbornly to the hope that Mussolini might still swing a deal with Hitler which would let France off the hook. He even pleaded with the Belgian ambassador to get King Leopold to use his influence with Mussolini to influence Hitler. All day Saturday, September 2, he argued with his own cabinet, as he did with the British, that he had "promised" Ciano to wait until noon of September 3 for the German answer to the Anglo-French warning notes of September 1, and that he could not go back on his word. He had, to be sure, given this assurance to the Italian Foreign Minister over the phone -- but not until 9 o'clock on the evening of September 2. [xvi] By that time the Duce's proposal for a conference was as dead as stone, as Ciano had tried to tell him. And by that hour, too, the British were pleading with him to present a joint ultimatum to Berlin at midnight.

Shortly before midnight on September 2, the French government finally reached a decision. At precisely midnight, Bonnet wired Coulondre at Berlin that in the morning he would forward the terms of a "new demarche" to be made "at noon to the Wilhelmstrasse." [xvii]

This he did, at 10:20 A.M. on Sunday, September 3 -- forty minutes before the British ultimatum ran out. The French ultimatum was similarly worded except that in case of a negative reply France declared that she would fulfill her obligations to Poland "which are known to the German government" -- even at this final juncture Bonnet held out against a formal declaration of war.

In the official French Yellow Book the text of the French ultimatum wired to Coulondre gives 5 P.M. as the time limit for the German response. But this was not the hour set in the original telegram. At 8:45 A.M. Ambassador Phipps had notified Halifax from Paris: "Bonnet tells me French time limit will only expire at 5 o'clock Monday morning [September 4]." That was the time given in Bonnet's telegram.

Though it represented a concession wrung by Daladier early Sunday morning from the French General Staff, which had insisted on a full forty-eight hours from the time the ultimatum was given Berlin at noon, it still irritated the British government, whose displeasure was communicated to Paris in no uncertain terms during the forenoon. Premier Daladier therefore made one last appeal to the military. He called in General Colston, of the General Staff, at 11:30 A.M. and urged a shorter deadline. The General reluctantly agreed to move it up by twelve hours to 5 P.M.

Thus it was that just as Coulondre was leaving the French Embassy in Berlin for the Wilhelmstrasse, Bonnet got through to him on the telephone and instructed him to make the necessary change in the zero hour. [34]

Ribbentrop was not available to the French ambassador at the noon hour. He was taking part in a little ceremony at the Chancellery, where the new Soviet ambassador, Alexander Shkvarzev, was being warmly received by the Fuehrer -- an occasion that lent a bizarre note to this historic Sabbath in Berlin. Coulondre, insistent on following the letter of his instructions to call at the Wilhelmstrasse at precisely twelve noon, was therefore received by Weizsaecker. To the ambassador's inquiry as to whether the State Secretary was empowered to give a "satisfactory" answer to the French, Weizsaecker replied that he was not in a position to give him "any kind of reply."

There now followed at this solemn moment a minor diplomatic comedy. When Coulondre attempted to treat Weizsaecker's response as the negative German reply which he fully anticipated and to hand to the State Secretary France's formal ultimatum, the latter declined to accept it. He suggested that the ambassador "be good enough to be patient a little longer and see the Foreign Minister personally." Thus rebuffed -- and not for the first time -- Coulondre cooled his heels for nearly half an hour. At 12:30 P.M. he was conducted to the Chancellery to see Ribbentrop. [35]

Though the Nazi Foreign Minister knew what the ambassador's mission was, he could not let the opportunity, the very last such one, slip by without treating the French envoy to one of his customary prevarications of history. After remarking that Mussolini, in presenting his last-minute peace proposal, had emphasized that France approved it, Ribbentrop declared that "Germany had informed the Duce yesterday that she also was prepared to agree to the proposal. Later in the day," Ribbentrop added, "the Duce reported that his proposal had been wrecked by the intransigence of the British Government."

But Coulondre, over the past months, had heard enough of Ribbentrop's falsifications. After listening a little longer to the Nazi Foreign Minister, who had gone on to say that he would regret it if France followed Great Britain and that Germany had no intention of attacking France, the ambassador got in the question he had come to ask: Did the Foreign Minister's remarks mean that the response of the German government to the French communication of September 1 was negative?

"Ja," replied Ribbentrop.

The ambassador then handed the Foreign Minister France's ultimatum, prefacing it with a remark that "for the last time" he must emphasize the "heavy responsibility of the Reich Government" in attacking Poland "without a declaration of war" and in refusing the Anglo-French request that German troops be withdrawn.

"Then France will be the aggressor," Ribbentrop said.

"History will be the judge of that," Coulondre replied.

On that Sunday in Berlin all the participants in the final act of the drama seemed intent on calling upon the judgment of history.

Although France was mobilizing an army which would have overwhelming superiority for the time being over the German forces in the west, it was Great Britain, whose army at the moment was negligible, which loomed in Hitler's feverish mind as the main enemy and as the antagonist who was almost entirely responsible for the pass in which he found himself as September 3, 1939, began to wane and pass into history. This was made clear in the two grandiose proclamations which he issued during the afternoon to the German people and to the Army of the West. His bitter resentment and hysterical anger at the British burst forth.

Great Britain [he said in an "Appeal to the German People"] has for centuries pursued the aim of rendering the peoples of Europe defenseless against the British policy of world conquest ... [and] claimed the right to attack on threadbare pretexts and destroy that European state which at the moment seemed most dangerous ...

We ourselves have been witnesses of the policy of encirclement ... carried on by Great Britain against Germany since before the war ... The British war inciters ... oppressed the German people under the Versailles Diktat ...

Soldiers of the Western Army! [Hitler said in an appeal to the troops who for many weeks could only face the French Army] ... Great Britain has pursued the policy of Germany's encirclement ... The British Government, driven on by those warmongers whom we knew in the last war, have resolved to let fall their mask and to proclaim war on a threadbare pretext ...

There was not a word about France.

In London at six minutes past noon, Chamberlain addressed the House of Commons and informed it that Britain was now at war with Germany. Though Hitler, on September 1, had forbidden listening to foreign broadcasts on the pain of death, we picked up in Berlin the words of the Prime Minister as quoted over the BBC. To those of us who had seen him risking his political life at Godesberg and Munich to appease Hitler, his words were poignant.

This is a sad day for all of us, and to none is it sadder than to me. Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins. There is only one thing left for me to do: that is, to devote what strength and powers I have to forwarding the victory of the cause for which we have to sacrifice so much ... I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed and a liberated Europe has been re-established.

Chamberlain was fated not to live to see that day. He died, a broken man -- though still a member of the cabinet -- on November 9, 1940. In view of all that has been written about him in these pages it seems only fitting to quote what was said of him by Churchill, whom he had excluded from the affairs of the British nation for so long and who on May 10, 1940, succeeded him as Prime Minister. Paying tribute to his memory in the Commons on November 12, 1940, Churchill said:

... It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart -- the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril and certainly in utter disdain of popularity or clamor.

His diplomacy having failed to keep Britain and France out of the war, Hitler turned his attention during the afternoon of September 3 to military matters. He issued Top-Secret Directive No. 2 for the Conduct of the War. Despite the Anglo-French war declarations, it said, "the German war objective remains for the time being the speedy and victorious conclusion of the operations against Poland ... In the West the opening of hostilities is to be left to the enemy ... Against Britain, naval offensive operations are permitted." The Luftwaffe was not to attack even British naval forces unless the British opened similar attacks on German targets -- and then only "if prospects of success are particularly favorable." The conversion of the whole of German industry to "war economy" was ordered. [36]

At 9 o'clock in the evening Hitler and Ribbentrop left Berlin in separate special trains for General Headquarters in the East. But not before they had made two more diplomatic moves. Britain and France were now at war with Germany. But there were the two other great European powers, whose support had made Hitler's venture possible, to consider: Italy, the ally, which had reneged at the last moment, and Soviet Russia, which, though distrusted by the Nazi dictator, had obliged him by making his gamble on war seem worth the taking.

Just before leaving the capital, Hitler got off another letter to Mussolini. It was dispatched by wire at 8:51 P.M., nine minutes before the Fuehrer's special train pulled out of the station. Though not entirely frank nor devoid of deceit it gives the best picture we shall probably ever have of the mind of Adolf Hitler as he set out for the first time from the darkened capital of the Third Reich to assume his role as Supreme German Warlord. It is among the captured Nazi papers.


I must first thank you for your last attempt at mediation. I would have been ready to accept, but only on condition that some possibility could have been found to give me certain guarantees that the conference would be successful. For the German troops have been engaged for two days in an extraordinarily rapid advance into Poland. It would have been impossible to allow blood which was there sacrificed to be squandered through diplomatic intrigue.

Nevertheless, I believe that a way could have been found if England had not been determined from the outset to let it come to war in any case. I did not yield to England's threats because, Duce, I no longer believe that peace could have been maintained for more than six months or, shall we say, a year. In these circumstances, I considered that the present moment was, in spite of everything, more suitable for making a stand.

... The Polish Army will collapse in a very short time. Whether it would have been possible to achieve this quick success in another year or two is. I must say, very doubtful in my opinion. England and France would have gone on arming their allies to such an extent that the decisive technical superiority of the German Wehrmacht could not have been in evidence in the same way. I am aware, Duce, that the struggle in which I am engaging is a struggle for life and death ... But I am also aware that such a struggle cannot in the end be avoided, and that the moment for resistance must be chosen with icy deliberation so that the likelihood of success is assured; and in this success, Duce, my faith is as firm as a rock.

Next came words of warning to Mussolini.

You kindly assured me recently that you believe you can help in some fields. I accept this in advance with sincere thanks. But I also believe that, even if we now march down separate paths, destiny will yet bind us one to the other. If National Socialist Germany were to be destroyed by the Western democracies, Fascist Italy also would face a hard future. I personally was always aware that the futures of our two regimes were bound up, and I know that you, Duce, are of exactly the same opinion.

After recounting the initial German victories in Poland, Hitler concluded:

... In the West I shall remain on the defensive. France can shed her blood there first. The moment will then come when we can pit ourselves there also against the enemy with the whole strength of the nation.

Please accept once more my thanks, Duce, for all the support you have given me in the past, and which I ask you not to refuse me in the future either.


Hitler's disappointment that Italy did not honor her word, even after Britain and France had honored theirs by declaring war on this day, was kept under tight control. A friendly Italy, even though nonbelligerent, could still be helpful to him.

But even more helpful could be Russia.

Already on the first day of the German attack on Poland the Soviet government, as the secret Nazi papers would later reveal, had rendered the German Luftwaffe a signal service. Very early on that morning the Chief of the General Staff of the Air Force, General Hans Jeschonnek, had rung up the German Embassy in Moscow to say that in order to give his pilots navigational aid in the bombing of Poland -- "urgent navigation tests," he called it -- he would appreciate it if the Russian radio station at Minsk would continually identify itself. By afternoon Ambassador von der Schulenburg was able to inform Berlin that the Soviet government was "prepared to meet your wishes." The Russians agreed to introduce a station identification as often as possible in the programs over their transmitter and to extend the broadcasting time of the Minsk station by two hours so as to aid the German flyers late at night. [38]

But as they prepared to leave Berlin late on September 3 Hitler and Ribbentrop had in mind much more substantial Russian military help for their conquest of Poland. At 6:50 P.M., Ribbentrop got off a "most urgent" telegram to the embassy in Moscow. It was marked "Top Secret" and began: "Exclusive for the Ambassador. For the Head of Mission or his representative personally. Special security handling. To be decoded by himself. Most secret."

In the greatest of secrecy the Germans invited the Soviet Union to join in the attack on Poland!

We definitely expect to have beaten the Polish Army decisively in a few weeks. We should then keep the territory that was fixed at Moscow as a German sphere of interest under military occupation. We should naturally, however, for military reasons, have to continue to take action against such Polish military forces as are at that time located in the Polish territory belonging to the Russian sphere of interest.

Please discuss this at once with Molotov and see if the Soviet Union does not consider it desirable for Russian forces to move at the proper time against Polish forces in the Russian sphere of interest and for their part to occupy this territory. In our estimation this would be not only a relief for us, but also be in the sense of the Moscow agreements and in the Soviet interest as well. [39]

That such a cynical move by the Soviet Union would be a "relief" to Hitler and Ribbentrop is obvious. It would not only avoid misunderstandings and friction between the Germans and the Russians in dividing up the spoils but would take some of the onus of the Nazi aggression in Poland off Germany and place it on the Soviet Union. If they shared the booty, why should they not share the blame?

The most gloomy German of any consequence in Berlin that Sunday noon after it became known that Britain was in the war was Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, Commander in Chief of the German Navy. For him the war had come four or five years too soon. By 1944-45, the Navy's Z Plan would have been completed, giving Germany a sizable fleet with which to confront the British. But this was September 3, 1939, and Raeder knew, even if Hitler wouldn't listen to him, that he had neither the surface ships nor even the submarines to wage effective war against Great Britain.

Confiding to his diary, the Admiral wrote:

Today the war against France and England broke out, the war which, according to the Fuehrer's previous assertions, we had no need to expect before 1944. The Fuehrer believed up to the last minute that it could be avoided, even if this meant postponing a final settlement of the Polish question... .

As far as the Navy is concerned, obviously it is in no way very adequately equipped for the great struggle with Great Britain ... the submarine arm is still much too weak to have any decisive effect on the war. The surface forces, moreover, are so inferior in number and strength to those of the British Fleet that, even at full strength, they can do no more than show that they know how to die gallantly ... [40]

Nevertheless at 9 P.M. on September 3, 1939, at the moment Hitler was departing Berlin, the German Navy struck. Without warning, the submarine U-30 torpedoed and sank the British liner Athenia some two hundred miles west of the Hebrides as it was en route from Liverpool to Montreal with 1,400 passengers, of whom 112, including twenty-eight Americans, lost their lives.

World War II had begun.



 i. Hitler's proclamation to the Army announcing the opening of hostilities was  broadcast over the German radio at 5:40 A. M., and the newspaper extras were on  the street shortly after. See below, p. 599.
ii. The German operation to seize the Dirschau bridge over the Vistula before the  Poles could blow it up had been planned early in the summer and appears constantly  in the papers for "Case White:' It was specifically ordered in Hitler's Directive No. 1 on August 31. Actually the operation failed, partly because early-morning  fog hampered the dropping of paratroopers who were to seize the bridge.  The Poles succeeded in blowing it up just in time.
iii. See above, pp. 566-67.

iv. See above, p. 588.

v. Actually Mussolini's decision was conveyed to Britain the night before. At 11:15 P.M. on August 31 the Foreign Office received a message from Sir Percy Loraine in Rome: "Decision of the Italian Government is taken. Italy will not fight against either England or France ... This communication made to me by Ciano at 21:15 [9:15 P.M.] under seal of secrecy." [10]

That evening the Italians had been given a scare by the British cutting off all telephone communication with Rome after 8 P.M. Ciano feared it might be the prelude to an Anglo-French attack.

vi. At 4:30 P.M., following a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Rome, the  Italian radio broadcast the Council's announcement "to the Italian people that  Italy will take no initiative in the way of military operations." Immediately afterward Hitler's message to Mussolini releasing Italy from its obligations was broad·  cast.
vii. Twice during the afternoon of September 1, Bonnet instructed Noel, the French ambassador in Warsaw, to ask Beck if Poland would accept the Italian proposal for a conference. Later that evening he received his reply: "We are in the midst of war as the result of unprovoked aggression. It is no longer a question of a conference but of common action which the Allies should take to resist." Bonnet's messages and Beck's reply are in the French Yellow Book.

The British government did not associate itself with Bonnet's efforts. A Foreign Office memorandum signed by R. M. Makins notes that the British government "was neither consulted nor informed of this demarche." [15]

viii. The previous afternoon, on instructions from Halifax, Henderson had burned his ciphers and confidential documents and officially requested the United States charge d'affaires "to be good enough to take charge of British interests in the event of war." (British Blue Book, p. 21.)

ix. Ciano claims that the note was sent as the result of "French pressure." (Ciano  Diaries, p. 136.) But this is surely misleading. Though Bonnet was doing all he  could to get a conference, Mussolini was pushing the proposal even more desperately.
x. The minutes of the meeting, drawn up by General Decamp, chief of Premier  Daladier's military cabinet, came to light at the Riom trial. The paper was never  submitted to other members of the meeting for correction, and General Gamelin  in his book, Servir, claims it was so abbreviated as to be misleading. Still, even the  timid generalissimo confirms its main outlines.
xi. In his book, Servir, Gamelin admits that he hesitated to call attention to some of France's military weaknesses because he did not trust Bonnet. He quotes Daladier as later telling him, "You did right. If you had exposed them, the Germans would have known about them the next day."

Gamelin also claimed (in his book) that he did point out at this conference the weakness of France's military position. He says he explained that if Germany "annihilated Poland" and then threw her whole weight against the French, France would be in a "difficult" situation. "In this case," he said, "it would no longer be possible for France to enter upon the struggle ... By spring, with the help of British troops and American equipment I hoped we should be in a position to fight a defensive battle (of course if necessary). I added that we could not hope for victory except in a long war. It had always been my opinion that we should not be able to assume the offensive in less than about two years ... that is, in 1941-2."

The French generalissimo's timid views explain a good deal of subsequent history.

xii. The Foreign Secretary had sent Henderson two warning telegrams during the night. The first, dispatched at 11:50 P.M., read:

I may have to send you instructions tonight to make an immediate communication to the German Government. Please be ready to act. You had better warn the Minister for Foreign Affairs that you may have to ask to see him at any moment.

It would seem from this telegram that the British government had not quite made up its mind to go it alone despite the French. But thirty-five minutes later, at 12:25 A.M. on September 3, Halifax wired Henderson:

You should ask for an appointment with M.F.A. [Minister for Foreign Affairs] at 9 A.M. Sunday morning. Instructions will follow. [25]

The decisive telegram from Halifax is dated 5 A.M., London time. Henderson, in his Final Report, says he received it 4 A.M.

xiii. Halifax sent an additional wire, also dated 5 A.M., informing the ambassador  that Coulondre "will not make a similar communication to the German Government  until midday today (Sunday)." He did not know what the French time limit  would be but thought it "likely" to be anything between six and nine hours. [27]
xiv. He reappeared for a moment on September 24 when he met with Forbes at Oslo  "to ascertain," as he told the Nuremberg tribunal before he was shut off, "if there  was still a possibility of averting a world war." [33]
xv. So shoddy was this hastily prepared note that it ended with this sentence: "The intention, communicated to us by order of the British Government by Mr. King- Hall, of carrying the destruction of the German people even further than was done through the Versailles Treaty, is taken note of by us, and we shall therefore answer any aggressive action on the part of England with the same weapons and in the same form." The British government had, of course, never presented to Germany any intentions of Stephen King-Hall, a retired naval officer, whose newsletters were a purely private venture. In fact, Henderson had protested to the Foreign Office against the circulation of King-Hall's publication in Germany and the British government had requested the editor to desist.

xvi. In London at 11:15 A.M. Halifax had handed the German charge d'affaires a formal note stating that since no German assurances had been received by 11 A.M., "I have the honor to inform you that a state of war exists between the two countries as from 11 A.M. today. September 3."

xvii. See above, p. 608.

xviii. But even after that, it will be remembered (see above, p. 608), Bonnet made a last-minute effort to keep France out of the war by proposing, during the night, to the Italians that they get Hitler to make a "symbolic" withdrawal from Poland.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Thu Feb 08, 2018 10:02 pm



AT TEN O'CLOCK on the morning of September 5, 1939, General Halder had a talk with General von Brauchitsch, the Commander in Chief of the German Army, and General von Bock, who led Army Group North. After sizing up the situation as it looked to them at the beginning of the fifth day of the German attack on Poland they agreed, as Halder wrote in his diary, that "the enemy is practically beaten."

By the evening of the previous day the battle for the Corridor had ended with the junction of General von Kluge's Fourth Army, pushing eastward from Pomerania, and General von Kuechler's Third Army, driving westward from East Prussia. It was in this battle that General Heinz Guderian first made a name for himself with his tanks. At one point, racing east across the Corridor, they had been counterattacked by the Pomorska Brigade of cavalry, and this writer, coming upon the scene a few days later, saw the sickening evidence of the carnage. It was symbolic of the brief Polish campaign.

Horses against tanks! The cavalryman's long lance against the tank's long cannon! Brave and valiant and foolhardy though they were, the Poles were simply overwhelmed by the German onslaught. This was their -- and the world's -- first experience of the blitzkrieg: the sudden surprise attack; the fighter planes and bombers roaring overhead, reconnoitering, attacking, spreading flame and terror; the Stukas screaming as they dove; the tanks, whole divisions of them, breaking through and thrusting forward thirty or forty miles in a day; self-propelled, rapid-firing heavy guns rolling forty miles an hour down even the rutty Polish roads; the incredible speed of even the infantry, of the whole vast army of a million and a half men on motorized wheels, directed and co-ordinated through a maze of electronic communications consisting of intricate radio, telephone and telegraphic networks. This was a monstrous mechanized juggernaut such as the earth had never seen.

Within forty-eight hours the Polish Air Force was destroyed, most of its five hundred first-line planes having been blown up by German bombing on their home airfields before they could take off. Installations were burned and most of the ground crews were killed or wounded. Cracow, the second city of Poland, fell on September 6. That night the Polish government fled from Warsaw to Lublin. The next day Halder busied himself with plans to begin transferring troops to the Western front, though he could detect no activity there. On the afternoon of September 8 the 4th Panzer Division reached the outskirts of the Polish capital, while directly south of the city, rolling up from Silesia and Slovakia, Reichenau's Tenth Army captured Kielce and List's Fourteenth Army arrived at Sandomierz, at the junction of the Vistula and San rivers.

In one week the Polish Army had been vanquished. Most of its thirty-five divisions -- all that there had been time to mobilize -- had been either shattered or caught in a vast pincers movement that closed in around Warsaw. There now remained for the Germans the "second phase"; tightening the noose around the dazed and disorganized Polish units which were surrounded and destroying them, and completing a second and larger pincers movement a hundred miles to the east which would trap the remaining Polish formations west of Brest Litovsk and the River Bug.

This phase began September 9 and ended on September 17. The left wing of Bock's Army Group North headed for Brest Litovsk, which Guderian's XIXth Corps reached on the fourteenth and captured two days later. On September 17 it met patrols of List's Fourteenth Army fifty miles south of Brest Litovsk at Wlodawa, closing the second great pincers there. The "counterattack," as Guderian later observed, had come to a "definite conclusion" on September 17. All Polish forces, except for a handful on the Russian border, were surrounded. Pockets of Polish troops in the Warsaw triangle and farther west near Posen held out valiantly, but they were doomed. The Polish government, or what was left of it, after being unceasingly bombed and strafed by the Luftwaffe reached a village on the Rumanian frontier on the fifteenth. For it and the proud nation all was over, except the dying in the ranks of the units which still, with incredible fortitude, held out.

It was now time for the Russians to move in on the stricken country to grab a share of the spoils.


The Kremlin in Moscow, like every other seat of government, had been taken by surprise at the rapidity with which the German armies hurtled through Poland. On September 5 Molotov, in giving a formal written reply to the Nazi suggestion that Russia attack Poland from the east, stated that this would be done "at a suitable time" but that "this time has not yet come." He thought that "excessive haste" might injure the Soviet "cause" but he insisted that even though the Germans got there first they must scrupulously observe the "line of demarcation" in Poland agreed upon in the secret clauses of the Nazi-Soviet Pact. [1] Russian suspicion of the Germans was already evident. So was the feeling in the Kremlin that the German conquest of Poland might take quite a long time.

But shortly after midnight of September 8, after a German armored division had reached the outskirts of Warsaw, Ribbentrop wired "urgent" a "top secret" message to Schulenburg in Moscow stating that operations in Poland were "progressing even beyond our expectations" and that in these circumstances Germany would like to know the "military intentions of the Soviet Government." [2] By 4: 10 P.M. the next day Molotov had replied that Russia would move militarily "within the next few days." Earlier in the day the Soviet Foreign Commissar had officially congratulated the Germans "on the entry of German troops into Warsaw." [3]

On September 10, Molotov and Ambassador von der Schulenburg got into a fine snafu. After declaring that the Soviet government had been taken "completely by surprise by the unexpectedly rapid German military successes" and that the Soviet Union was consequently in "a difficult situation," the Foreign Commissar touched on the excuse which the Kremlin would have to give for its own aggression in Poland. This was, as Schulenburg wired Berlin "most urgent" and "top secret,"

that Poland was falling apart and that it was necessary for the Soviet Union, in consequence, to come to the aid of the Ukrainians and the White Russians "threatened" by Germany. This argument [said Molotov] was necessary to make the intervention of the Soviet Union plausible to the masses and at the same time avoid giving the Soviet Union the appearance of an aggressor.

Furthermore, Molotov complained that General von Brauchitsch had just been quoted by D.N.B. as saying that "military action was no longer necessary on the German eastern border." If that were so, if the war was over, Russia, said Molotov, "could not start a new war." He was very displeased about the whole situation. [4] To further complicate matters he summoned Schulenburg to the Kremlin on September 14 and after informing him that the Red Army would march sooner than they had anticipated demanded to know when Warsaw would fall. In order to justify their move the Russians must wait on the capture of the Polish capital. [5]

The Commissar had raised some embarrassing questions. When would Warsaw fall? How did the Germans like being blamed for Russian intervention? On the evening of September 15 Ribbentrop dispatched a "most urgent," a "top secret" message to Molotov through the German ambassador, answering them. Warsaw, he said, would be occupied "in the next few days." Germany would "welcome the Soviet military operation now." As to the Russian excuse blaming Germany for it, this "was out of the question ... contrary to the true German intentions ... would be in contradiction to the arrangements made in Moscow and finally ... would make the two States appear as enemies before the whole world." He ended by asking the Soviet government to set "the day and the hour" for their attack on Poland. [6]

This was done the next evening and two dispatches of Schulenburg, which are among the captured German papers, telling how it was done give a revealing picture of the Kremlin's deceit.

I saw Molotov at 6 P.M. [Schulenburg wired on September 16]. Molotov declared that military intervention by the Soviet Union was imminent -- perhaps even tomorrow or the day after. Stalin was at present in consultation with the military leaders ...

Molotov added that ... the Soviet Government intended to justify its procedure as follows: The Polish State had disintegrated and no longer existed; therefore, all agreements concluded with Poland were void: third powers might try to profit by the chaos which had arisen; the Soviet Government considered itself obligated to intervene to protect its Ukrainian and White Russian brothers and make it possible for these unfortunate people to work in peace.

Since Germany could be the only possible "third power" in question, Schulenburg objected.

Molotov conceded that the proposed argument of the Soviet Government contained a note that was jarring to German sensibilities but asked us in view of the difficult situation of the Soviet Government not to stumble over this piece of straw. The Soviet Government unfortunately saw no possibility of any other motivation, since the Soviet Union had heretofore not bothered about the plight of its minorities in Poland and had to justify abroad, in some way or other, its present intervention. [7]

At 5:20 P.M. on September 17, Schulenburg got off another "most urgent" and "top secret" wire to Berlin.

Stalin received me at 2 o'clock ... and declared that the Red Army would cross the Soviet border at 6 o'clock ... Soviet planes would begin today to bomb the district east of Lwow (Lemberg).

When Schulenburg objected to three points in the Soviet communique the Russian dictator "with the utmost readiness" altered the text. [8]

Thus it was that on the shabby pretext that because Poland had ceased to exist and therefore the Polish-Soviet nonaggression pact had also ceased to exist and because it was necessary to protect its own interests and those of the Ukrainian and White Russian minorities, the Soviet Union trampled over a prostrate Poland beginning on the morning of September 17. To add insult to injury the Polish ambassador in Moscow was informed that Russia would maintain strict neutrality in the Polish conflict! The next day, September 18, Soviet troops met the Germans at Brest Litovsk, where exactly twenty-one years before a newborn Bolshevik government had gone back on its country's ties with the Western Allies and had received from the German Army, and accepted, separate peace terms of great harshness.

And yet though they were now accomplices of Nazi Germany in wiping ancient Poland off the map, the Russians were at once distrustful of their new comrades. At his meeting with the German ambassador on the eve of the Soviet aggression, Stalin had expressed his doubts, as Schulenburg duly notified Berlin, whether the German High Command would stand by the Moscow agreements and withdraw to the line that had been agreed upon. The ambassador tried to reassure him but apparently with no great success. "In view of Stalin's well-known attitude of mistrust," Schulenburg wired Berlin, "I would be gratified if I were authorized to make a further declaration of such a nature as to remove his last doubts." [9] The next day, September 19, Ribbentrop telegraphed the ambassador authorizing him to "tell Stalin that the agreements which I made at Moscow will, of course, be kept, and that they are regarded by us as the foundation stone of the new friendly relations between Germany and the Soviet Union." [10]

Nevertheless friction between the two unnatural partners continued. On September 17 there was disagreement over the text of a joint communique which would "justify" the Russo-German destruction of Poland. Stalin objected to the German version because "it presented the facts all too frankly." Whereupon he wrote out his own version, a masterpiece of subterfuge, and forced the Germans to accept it. It stated that the joint aim of Germany and Russia was "to restore peace and order in Poland, which has been destroyed by the disintegration of the Polish State, and to help the Polish people to establish new conditions for its political life." For cynicism Hitler had met his match in Stalin.

At first both dictators seem to have considered setting up a rump Polish state on the order of Napoleon's Grand Duchy of Warsaw in order to mollify world public opinion. But on September 19 Molotov disclosed that the Bolsheviks were having second thoughts on that. After angrily protesting to Schulenburg that the German generals were disregarding the Moscow agreement by trying to grab territory that should go to Russia, he came to the main point.

Molotov hinted [Schulenburg wired Berlin] that the original inclination entertained by the Soviet Government and Stalin personally to permit the existence of a residual Poland had given way to the inclination to partition Poland along the Pissa-Narew-Vistula-San Line. The Soviet Government wishes to commence negotiations on this matter at once. [11]

Thus the initiative to partition Poland completely, to deny the Polish people any independent existence of their own whatsoever, came from the Russians. But the Germans did not need much urging to agree. On September 23 Ribbentrop wired Schulenburg instructing him to tell Molotov that the "Russian idea of a border line along the well-known four-rivers line coincides with the view of the Reich Government." He proposed to again fly to Moscow to work out the details of that as well as of "the definitive structure of the Polish area." [12]

Stalin now took personal charge of the negotiations, and his German allies learned, as his British and American allies later would also learn, what a tough, cynical and opportunistic bargainer he was. The Soviet dictator summoned Schulenburg to the Kremlin at 8 P.M. on September 25 and the ambassador's dispatch later that evening warned Berlin of some stern realities and of some chickens that were coming home to roost.

Stalin stated ... he considered it wrong to leave an independent residual Poland. He proposed that from the territory to the east of the demarcation line, all the Province of Warsaw which extends to the Bug should be added to our share. In return we should waive our claim to Lithuania.

Stalin ... added that if we consented, the Soviet Union would immediately take up the solution of the problem of the Baltic countries in accordance with the [secret] Protocol of August 23, and expected in this matter the unstinting support of the German Government. Stalin expressly indicated Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but did not mention Finland. [13]

This was a shrewd and hard bargain. Stalin was offering to trade two Polish provinces, which the Germans had already captured, for the Baltic States. He was taking advantage of the great service he had rendered Hitler -- making it possible for him to attack Poland -- to get everything he could for Russia while the getting was good. Moreover, he was proposing that the Germans take over the mass of the Polish people. As a Russian, he well knew what centuries of history had taught: that the Poles would never peacefully submit to the loss of their independence. Let them be a headache for the Germans, not the Russians! In the meantime he would get the Baltic States, which had been taken from Russia after the First World War and whose geographical position offered the Soviet Union great protection against surprise attack by his German ally.

Ribbentrop arrived by plane in Mosl;OWfor the second time at 6 P.M. on September 28, and before proceeding to the Kremlin he had time to read two telegrams from Berlin which apprised him of what the Russians were up to. They were messages forwarded from the German minister at Tallinn, who reported that the Estonian government had just informed him that the Soviet Union had demanded, "under the gravest threat of imminent attack," military and air bases in Estonia. [14] Later that night, after a long conference with Stalin and Molotov, Ribbentrop wired Hitler that "this very night" a pact was being concluded wmich would put two Red Army divisions and an Air Force brigade "on Estonian territory, without, however, abolishing the Estonian system of government at this time." But the Fuehrer, an experienced hand at this sort of thing, knew how fleeting Estonia's time would be. The very next day Ribbentrop was informed that Hitler had ordered the evacuation of the 86,000 Volksdeutsche in Estonia and Latvia. [15]

Stalin was presenting his bill and Hitler, for the time being at least, had to pay it. He was instantly abandoning not only Estonia but Latvia, both of which, he had agreed in the Nazi-Soviet Pact, belonged in the Soviet sphere of interest. Before the day was up he was also giving up Lithuania, on Germany's northeastern border, which, according to the secret clauses of the Moscow Pact, belonged in the Reich's sphere.

Stalin had presented the Germans two choices in the meeting with Ribbentrop, which began at 10 P.M. on September 27 and lasted until 1 A.M. They were, as he had suggested to Schulenburg on the twenty-fifth: acceptance of the original line of demarcation in Poland along the Pissa, Narew, Vistula and San rivers, with Germany getting Lithuania; or yielding Lithuania to Russia in return for more Polish territory (the province of Lublin and the lands to the east of Warsaw) which would give the Germans almost all of the Polish people. Stalin strongly urged the second choice and Ribbentrop in a long telegram to Hitler filed at 4 A.M. on September 28 put it up to Hitler, who agreed.

Dividing up Eastern Europe took quite a bit of intricate drawing of maps, and after three and a half more hours of negotiations on the afternoon of September 28, followed by a state banquet at the Kremlin, Stalin and Molotov excused themselves in order to confer with a Latvian delegation they had summoned to Moscow. Ribbentrop dashed off to the opera house to take in an act of Swan Lake, returning to the Kremlin at midnight for further consultations about maps and other things. At 5 A.M. Molotov and Ribbentrop put their signatures to a new pact officially called the "German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty" while Stalin once more beamed on, as a German official later reported, "with obvious satisfaction." [i] He had reason to. [17]

The Treaty itself, which was made public, announced the boundary of the "respective national interests" of the two countries in "the former Polish state" and stated that within their acquired territories they would re-establish "peace and order" and "assure the people living there a peaceful life in keeping with their national character."

But, as with the previous Nazi-Soviet deal, there were "secret protocols" -- three of them, of which two contained the meat of the agreement. One added Lithuania to the Soviet "sphere of influence," and the provinces of Lublin and Eastern Warsaw to the German. The second was short and to the point.

Both parties will tolerate in their territories no Polish agitation which affects the territories of the other party. They will suppress in their territories all beginnings of such agitation and inform each other concerning suitable measures for this purpose.

So Poland, like Austria and Czechoslovakia before it, disappeared from the map of Europe. But this time Adolf Hitler was aided and abetted in his obliteration of a country by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which had posed for so long as the champion of the oppressed peoples. This was the fourth partition of Poland by Germany and Russia [ii] (Austria had participated in the others), and while it lasted it was to be by far the most ruthless and pitiless. In the secret protocol of September 28 [iii] Hitler and Stalin agreed to institute in Poland a regime of terror designed to brutally suppress Polish freedom, culture and national life.

Hitler fought and won the war in Poland, but the greater winner was Stalin, whose troops scarcely fired a shot. [iv] The Soviet Union got nearly half of Poland and a stranglehold on the Baltic States. It blocked Germany more solidly than ever from two of its main long-term objectives: Ukrainian wheat and Rumanian oil, both badly needed if Germany was to survive the British blockade. Even Poland's oil region of Borislav-Drogobycz, which Hitler desired, was claimed successfully by Stalin, who graciously agreed to sell the Germans the equivalent of the area's annual production.

Why did Hitler pay such a high price to the Russians? It is true that he had agreed to it in August in order to keep the Soviet Union out of the Allied camp and out of the war. But he had never been a stickler for keeping agreements and now, with Poland conquered by an incomparable feat of German arms, he might have been expected to welsh, as the Army urged, on the August 23 pact. If Stalin objected, the Fuehrer could threaten him with attack by the most powerful army in the world, as the Polish campaign had just proved it to be. Or could he? Not while the British and French stood at arms in the West. To deal with Britain and France he must keep his rear free. This, as subsequent utterances of his would make clear, was the reason why he allowed Stalin to strike such a hard bargain. But he did not forget the Soviet dictator's harsh dealings as he now turned his attention to the Western front.



i. This official, Andor Hencke, Understate Secretary in the Foreign Office, who had  served for many years in the embassy at Moscow, wrote a detailed and amusing  account of the talks. It was the only German record made of the second day's  conferences. [16]
ii. Arnold Toynbee, in his various writings, calls it the fifth partition.
iii. Though signed at 5 A.M. September 29, the treaty is officially dated September 28.
iv. German casualties in Poland were officially given as 10,572 killed, 30,322 wounded and 3,400 missing.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Fri Feb 09, 2018 1:57 am

Part 1 of 2


NOTHING MUCH had happened there. Hardly a shot had been fired. The German man in the street was beginning to call it the "sit-down war" -- Sitzkrieg. In the West it would soon be dubbed the "phony war." Here was "the strongest army in the world [the French]," as the British General J. F. C. Fuller would put it, "facing no more than twenty-six [German] divisions, sitting still and sheltering behind steel and concrete while a quixotically valiant ally was being exterminated!" [1]

Were the Germans surprised? Hardly. In Halder's very first diary entry, that of August 14, the Chief of the Army General Staff had composed a detailed estimate of the situation in the West if Germany attacked Poland. He considered a French offensive "not very likely." He was sure that France would not send its army through Belgium "against Belgian wishes." His conclusion was that the French would remain on the defensive. On September 7, with the Polish Army already doomed, Halder, as has been noted, was already occupied with plans to transfer German divisions to the west.

That evening he noted down the results of a conference which Brauchitsch had had during the afternoon with Hitler.

Operation in the West not yet clear. Some indications that there is no real intention of waging a war ... French cabinet lacks heroic caliber. Also from Britain first hints of sobering reflection.

Two days later Hitler issued Directive No. 3 for the Conduct of the War, ordering arrangements to be made for Army and Air Force units to be sent from Poland to the west. But not necessarily to fight. "Even after the irresolute opening of hostilities by Great Britain ... and France my express command," the directive laid it down, "must be obtained in each of the following cases: Every time our ground forces [or] ... one of our planes cross the western borders; [and] for every air attack on Britain." [2]

What had France and Britain promised Poland to do in case she were attacked? The British guarantee was general. But the French was specific. It was laid down in the Franco-Polish Military Convention of May 19, 1939. In this it was agreed that the French would "progressively launch offensive operations against limited objectives toward the third day after General Mobilization Day." General mobilization had been proclaimed September 1. But further, it was agreed that "as soon as the principal German effort develops against Poland, France will launch an offensive action against Germany with the bulk of her forces, starting on the fifteenth day after the first day of the general French mobilization." When the Deputy Chief of the Polish General Staff, Colonel J aklincz, had asked how many French troops would be available for this major offensive, General Gamelin had replied that there would be about thirty-five to thirty-eight divisions. [3]

But by August 23, as the German attack on Poland became imminent, the timid French generalissimo was telling his government, as we have seen, [i] that he could not possibly mount a serious offensive "in less than about two years ... in 1941-2" -- assuming, he had added, that France by that time had the "help of British troops and American equipment."

In the first weeks of the war, to be sure, Britain had pitifully few troops to send to France. By October 11, three weeks after the fighting was over in Poland, it had four divisions -- 158,000 men -- in France. "A symbolic contribution," Churchill called it, and Fuller noted that the first British casualty -- a corporal shot dead on patrol -- did not occur until December 9. "So bloodless a war," Fuller comments, "had not been seen since the Battles of Molinella and Zagonara." [ii]

In retrospect at Nuremberg the German generals agreed that by failing to attack in the West during the Polish campaign the Western Allies had missed a golden opportunity.

The success against Poland was only possible [said General Halder] by almost completely baring our Western border. If the French had seen the logic of the situation and had used the engagement of the German forces in Poland, they would have been able to cross the Rhine without our being able to prevent it and would have threatened the Ruhr area, which was the most decisive factor of the German conduct of the war. [4]

.... If we did not collapse in 1939 [said General Jodi] that was due only to the fact that during the Polish campaign the approximately 110 French and British divisions in the West were held completely inactive against the 23 German divisions. [5]

And General Keitel, Chief of the OKW, added this testimony:

We soldiers had always expected an attack by France during the Polish campaign, and were very surprised that nothing happened ... A French attack would have encountered only a German military screen, not a real defense. [6]

Why then did not the French Army (the first two British divisions were not deployed until the first week of October), which had overwhelming superiority over the German forces in the west, attack, as General Gamelin and the French government had promised in writing it would?

There were many reasons: the defeatism in the French High Command, the government and the people; the memories of how France had been bled white in the First World War and a determination not to suffer such slaughter again if it could be avoided; the realization by mid-September that the Polish armies were so badly defeated that the Germans would soon be able to move superior forces to the west and thus probably wipe out any initial French advances; the fear of German superiority in arms and in the air. Indeed, the French government had insisted from the start that the British Air Force should not bomb targets in Germany for fear of reprisal on French factories, though an all-out bombing of the Ruhr, the industrial heart of the Reich, might well have been disastrous to the Germans. It was the one great worry of the German generals in September, as many of them later admitted.

Fundamentally the answer to the question of why France did not attack Germany in September was probably best stated by Churchill. "This battle," he wrote, "had been lost some years before." [7] At Munich in 1938; at the time of the reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936; the year before when Hitler proclaimed a conscript army in defiance of Versailles. The price of those sorry Allied failures to act had now to be paid, though it seems to have been thought in Paris and London that payment might somehow be evaded by inaction.

At sea there was action.

The German Navy was not put under such wraps as the Army in the west, and during the first week of hostilities it sank eleven British ships with a total tonnage of 64,595 tons, which was nearly half the weekly tonnage sunk at the peak of German submarine warfare in April 1917 when Great Britain had been brought to the brink of disaster. British losses tapered off thereafter: 53,561 tons the second week, 12,750 the third week and only 4,646 the fourth week -- for a total during September of twenty-six ships of 135,552 tons sunk by U-boats and three ships of 16,488 tons by mines. [iii]

There was a reason, unknown to the British, for the sharp tapering off. On September 7, Admiral Raeder had a long conference with Hitler. The Fuehrer, jubilant over his initial victories in Poland and the failure of the French to attack in the west, advised the Navy to go more slowly. France was showing "political and military restraint"; the British were proving "hesitant." In view of this situation it was decided that submarines in the Atlantic would spare all passenger ships without exception and refrain altogether from attacking the French, and that the pocket battleships Deutschland in the North Atlantic and the Graf Spee in the South Atlantic should withdraw to their "waiting" stations for the time being. The "general policy," Raeder noted in his diary, would be "to exercise restraint until the political situation in the West has become clearer, which will take about a week." [8]


There was one other decision agreed upon by Hitler and Raeder at the meeting on September 7. The Admiral noted it in his diary: "No attempt shall be made to solve the Athenia affair until the submarines return home."

The war at sea, as we have noted, had begun ten hours after Britain's declaration of war when the British liner Athenia, jammed with some 1,400 passengers, was torpedoed without warning at 9 P.M. on September 3 some two hundred miles west of the Hebrides, with the loss of 112 lives, including twenty-eight Americans. The German Propaganda Ministry checked the first reports from London with the Naval High Command, was told that there were no U-boats in the vicinity and promptly denied that the ship had been sunk by the Germans. The disaster was most embarrassing to Hitler and the Naval Command and at first they did not believe the British reports. Strict orders had been given to all submarine commanders to observe the Hague Convention, which forbade attacking a ship without warning. Since all U-boats maintained radio silence, there was no means of immediately checking what had happened. [iv] That did not prevent the controlled Nazi press from charging, within a couple of days, that the British had torpedoed their own ship in order to provoke the United States into coming into the war.

The Wilhelmstrasse was indeed concerned with American reaction to a disaster that had caused the deaths of twenty-eight United States citizens. The day after the sinking Weizsaecker sent for the American charge, Alexander Kirk, and denied that a German submarine had done it. No German craft was in the vicinity, he emphasized. That evening, according to his later testimony at Nuremberg, the State Secretary sought out Raeder, reminded him of how the German sinking of the Lusitania during the First World War had helped bring America into it and urged that "everything should be done" to avoid provoking the United States. The Admiral assured him that "no German U-boat could have been involved." [9]

At the urging of Ribbentrop, Admiral Raeder invited the American naval attache to come to see him on September 16 and stated that he had now received reports from all the submarines, "as a result of which it was definitely established that the Athenia had not been sunk by a German U-boat." He asked him to so inform his government, which the attache promptly did. [v][10]

The Grand Admiral had not quite told the truth. Not all the submarines which were at sea on September 3 had yet returned to port. Among those that had not was the U-30, commanded by Oberleutnant Lemp, which did not dock in home waters until September 27. It was met by Admiral Karl Doenitz, commander of submarines, who years later at Nuremberg described the meeting and finally revealed the truth about who sank the Athenia.

I met the captain, Oberleutnant Lemp, on the lockside at Wilhelmshaven as the boat was entering harbor, and he asked permission to speak to me in private. I noticed immediately that he was looking very unhappy and he told me at once that he thought he was responsible for the sinking of the Athenia in the North Channel area. In accordance with my previous instructions he had been keeping a sharp lookout for possible armed merchant cruisers in the approaches to the British Isles, and had torpedoed a ship he afterward identified as the Athenia from wireless broadcasts, under the impression that she was an armed merchant cruiser on patrol ...

I dispatched Lemp at once by air to report to the Naval War Staff (SKL) at Berlin; in the meantime I ordered complete secrecy as a provisional measure. Later the same day, or early on the following day, I received an order from Kapitaen zur See Fricke that:

1. The affair was to be kept a total secret.

2. The High Command of the Navy (OKM) considered that a court-martial was not necessary, as they were satisfied that the captain had acted in good faith.

3. Political explanations would be handled by OKM. [vi]

I had had no part whatsoever in the political events in which the Fuehrer claimed that no U-boat had sunk the Athenia. [11]

But Doenitz, who must have suspected the truth all along, for otherwise he would not have been at the dock to greet the returning U-30, did have a part in altering the submarine's log and his own diary so as to erase any telltale evidence of the truth. In fact, as he admitted at Nuremberg, he himself ordered any mention of the Athenia stricken from the U-30's log and deleted it from his own diary. He swore the vessel's crew to absolute secrecy. [vii]

The military high commands of all nations no doubt have skeletons in their closets during the course of war, and it was understandable if not laudable that Hitler, as Admiral Raeder testified at Nuremberg, insisted that the Athenia affair be kept secret, especially since the Naval Command had acted in good faith in at first denying German responsibility and would have been greatly embarrassed to have to admit it later. But Hitler did not stop there. On the evening of Sunday, October 22, Propaganda Minister Goebbels personally took to the air -- this writer well remembers the broadcast -- and accused Churchill of having sunk the Athenia. The next day the official Nazi newspaper, the Voelkischer Beobachter, ran a front-page story under the headline CHURCHILL SANK THE "ATHENIA" and stating that the First Lord of the Admiralty had planted a time bomb in the ship's hold. At Nuremberg it was established that the Fuehrer had personally ordered the broadcast and the article -- and also that though Raeder, Doenitz and Weizsaecker were highly displeased at such a brazen lie, they dared not do anything about it. [13]

This spinelessness on the part of the admirals and the self-styled anti-Nazi leader in the Foreign Office, which was fully shared by the generals, whenever the demonic Nazi warlord cracked down, was to lead to one of the darkest pages in German history.


"Tonight the press talks openly of peace," I noted in my diary September 20. "All the Germans I've talked to today are dead sure we shall have peace within a month. They are in high spirits."

The afternoon before at the ornate Guild Hall in Danzig I had heard Hitler make his first speech since his Reichstag address of September 1 started off the war. Though he was in a rage because he had been balked from making this speech at Warsaw, whose garrison still gallantly held out, and dripped venom every time he mentioned Great Britain, he made a slight gesture toward peace. "I have no war aims against Britain and France," he said. "My sympathies are with the French poilu. What he is fighting for he does not know." And he called upon the Almighty, "who now has blessed our arms, to give other peoples comprehension of how useless this war will be ... and to cause reflection on the blessings of peace."

On September 26, the day before Warsaw fell, the German press and radio launched a big peace offensive. The line, 1recorded in my diary, was: "Why do France and Britain want to fight now? Nothing to fight about. Germany wants nothing in the West."

A couple of days later, Russia, fast devouring its share of Poland, joined in the peace offensive. Along with the signing of the German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty, with its secret clauses dividing up Eastern Europe, Molotov and Ribbentrop concocted and signed at Moscow on September 28 a ringing declaration for peace.

The governments of Germany and Russia, it said, after having

definitely settled the problems arising from the disintegration of the Polish state and created a firm foundation for a lasting peace in Eastern Europe, mutually express their conviction that it would serve the true interests of all peoples to put an end to the state of war between Germany and England and France. Both governments will therefore direct their common efforts ... toward attaining this goal as soon as possible.

Should, however, the efforts of the two governments remain fruitless, this would demonstrate the fact that England and France are responsible for the continuation of the war ...

Did Hitler want peace, or did he want to continue the war and, with Soviet help, push the responsibility for its continuance on the Western Allies? Perhaps he did not quite know himself, although he was pretty certain.

On September 26 he had a long talk with Dahlerus, who had by no means given up the quest for peace. Two days before, the indefatigable Swede had seen his old friend Ogilvie Forbes at Oslo, where the former counselor of the Berlin embassy was now serving in a similar capacity in the British Legation in the Norwegian capital. Dahlerus reported to Hitler, according to a confidential memorandum of Dr. Schmidt, [14] that Forbes had told him the British government was looking for peace. The only question was: How could the British save face?

"If the British actually want peace," Hitler replied, "they can have it in two weeks -- without losing face."

They would have to reconcile themselves, said the Fuehrer, to the fact "that Poland cannot rise again." Beyond that he was prepared, he declared, to guarantee the status quo "of the rest of Europe," including guarantees of the "security" of Britain, France and the Low Countries. There followed a discussion of how to launch the peace talks. Hitler suggested that Mussolini do it. Dahlerus thought the Queen of the Netherlands might be more "neutral." Goering, who was also present, suggested that representatives of Britain and Germany first meet secretly in Holland and then, if they made progress, the Queen could invite both countries to armistice talks. Hitler, who several times professed himself as skeptical regarding "the British will to peace," finally agreed to the Swede's proposal that he "go to England the very next day in order to send out feelers in the direction indicated."

"The British can have peace if they want it," Hitler told Dahlerus as he left, "but they will have to hurry."

That was one trend in the Fuehrer's thinking. He expressed another to his generals. The day before, on September 25, an entry in Halder's diary mentions receipt of "word on Fuehrer's plan to attack in the West." On September 27, the day after he had assured Dahlerus that he was ready to make peace with Britain, Hitler convoked the commanders in chief of the Wehrmacht to the Chancellery and informed them of his decision to "attack in the West as soon as possible, since the Franco-British army is not yet prepared." According to Brauchitsch he even set a date for the attack: November 12. [15] No doubt Hitler was fired that day by the news that Warsaw had finally capitulated. He probably thought that France, at least, could be brought to her knees as easily as Poland, though two days later Halder made a diary note to "explain" to the Fuehrer that "technique of Polish campaign no recipe for the West. No good against a well-knit army."

Perhaps Ciano penetrated Hitler's mind best when he had a long talk with the Chancellor in Berlin on October 1. The young Italian Foreign Minister, who by now thoroughly detested the Germans but had to keep up appearances, found the Fuehrer in a confident mood. As he outlined his plans, his eyes "flashed in a sinister fashion whenever he talked about his ways and means of fighting," Ciano observed. Summing up his impressions, the Italian visitor wrote:

... Today to offer his people a solid peace after a great victory is perhaps an aim which still tempts Hitler. But if in order to reach it he had to sacrifice, even to the smallest degree, what seems to him the legitimate fruits of his victory, he would then a thousand times prefer battle. [viii] [16]

To me as I sat in the Reichstag beginning at noon on October 6 and listened to Hitler utter his appeal for peace, it seemed like an old gramophone record being replayed for the fifth or sixth time. How often before I had heard him from this same rostrum, after his latest conquest, and in the same apparent tone of earnestness and sincerity, propose what sounded -- if you overlooked his latest victim -- like a decent and reasonable peace. He did so again this crisp, sunny autumn day, with his usual eloquence and hypocrisy. It was a long speech -- one of the most lengthy public utterances he ever made -- but toward the end, after more than an hour of typical distortions of history and a boastful account of the feat of German arms in Poland ("this ridiculous state") he came to his proposals for peace and the reasons therefore.

My chief endeavor has been to rid our relations with France of all trace of ill will and render them tolerable for both nations ... Germany has no further claims against France ... I have refused even to mention the problem of Alsace-Lorraine ... I have always expressed to France my desire to bury forever our ancient enmity and bring together these two nations, both of which have such glorious pasts ...

And Britain?

I have devoted no less effort to the achievement of Anglo-German understanding, nay, more than that, of an Anglo-German friendship. At no time and in no place have I ever acted contrary to British interests ... I believe even today that there can only be real peace in Europe and throughout the world if Germany and England come to an understanding.

And peace?

Why should this war in the West be fought? For restoration of Poland? Poland of the Versailles Treaty will never rise again ... The question of re-establishment of the Polish State is a problem which will not be solved by war in the West but exclusively by Russia and Germany ... It would be senseless to annihilate millions of men and to destroy property worth millions in order to reconstruct a State which at its very birth was termed an abortion by all those not of Polish extraction.

What other reason exists? ...

If this war is really to be waged only in order to give Germany a new regime ... then millions of human lives will be sacrificed in vain ... No, this war in the West cannot settle any problems ...

There were problems to be solved. Hitler trotted out a whole list of them: "formation of a Polish State" (which he had already agreed with the Russians should not exist); "solution and settlement of the Jewish problem"; colonies for Germany; revival of international trade; "an unconditionally guaranteed peace"; reduction of armaments; "regulation of air warfare, poison gas, submarines, etc."; and settlement of minority problems in Europe.

To "achieve these great ends" he proposed a conference of the leading European nations "after the most thorough preparation."

It is impossible [he continued] that such a conference, which is to determine the fate of this continent for many years to come, could carry on its deliberations while cannon are thundering or mobilized armies are bringing pressure to bear upon it.

If, however, these problems must be solved sooner or later, then it would be more sensible to tackle the solution before millions of men are first uselessly sent to death and billions of riches destroyed. Continuation of the present state of affairs in the West is unthinkable. Each day will soon demand increasing sacrifices ... The national wealth of Europe will be scattered in the form of shells and the vigor of every nation will be sapped on the battlefields ...

One thing is certain. In the course of world history there have never been two victors, but very often only losers. May those peoples and their leaders who are of the same opinion now make their reply. And let those who consider war to be the better solution reject my outstretched hand.

He was thinking of Churchill.

If, however, the opinions of Messrs. Churchill and followers should prevail, this statement will have been my last. Then we shall fight ... There will never be another November, 1918, in German history.

It seemed to me highly doubtful, as I wrote in my diary on my return from the Reichstag, that the British and French would listen to these vague proposals "for five minutes." But the Germans were optimistic. On my way to broadcast that evening I picked up an early edition of Hitler's own paper, the Voelkischer Beobachter. The flamboyant headlines said:


The Wilhelmstrasse, it is now known from the secret German documents, was encouraged to believe by the reports it was getting from Paris through the Spanish and Italian ambassadors there that the French had no stomach for continuing the war. As early as September 8, the Spanish ambassador was tipping the Germans off that Bonnet, "in view of the great unpopularity of the war in France, is endeavoring to bring about an understanding as soon as the operations in Poland are concluded. There are certain indications that he is in contact with Mussolini to that end." [17]

On October 2, Attolico handed Weizsaecker the text of the latest message from the Italian ambassador in Paris, stating that the majority of the French cabinet were in favor of a peace conference and it was now mainly a question of "enabling France and England to save face." Apparently, though, Premier Daladier did not belong to the majority. [ix] [18]

This was good intelligence. On October 7, Daladier answered Hitler. He declared that France would not lay down her arms until guarantees for a "real peace and general security" were obtained. But Hitler was more interested in hearing from Chamberlain than from the French Premier. On October 10, on the occasion of a brief address at the Sportpalast inaugurating Winterhilfe, Winter Relief, he again stressed his "readiness for peace." Germany, he added, "has no cause for war against the Western Powers."

Chamberlain's reply came on October 12. It was a cold douche to the German people, if not to Hitler. [x] Addressing the House of Commons, the Prime Minister termed Hitler's proposals "vague and uncertain" and noted that "they contain no suggestions for righting the wrongs done to Czechoslovakia and Poland." No reliance, he said, could be put on the promises "of the present German Government." If it wanted peace, "acts -- not words alone -- must be forthcoming." He called for "convincing proof' from Hitler that he really wanted peace.

The man of Munich could no longer be fooled by Hitler's promises. The next day, October 13, an official German statement declared that Chamberlain, by turning down Hitler's offer of peace, had deliberately chosen war. Now the Nazi dictator had his excuse.

Actually, as we now know from the captured German documents, Hitler had not waited for the Prime Minister's reply before ordering preparations for an immediate assault in the West. On October 10 he called in his military chiefs, read them a long memorandum on the state of the war and the world and threw at them Directive No. 6 for the Conduct of the War. [20]

The Fuehrer's insistence toward the end of September that an attack be mounted in the West as soon as possible had thrown the Army High Command into a fit. Brauchitsch and Halder, aided by several other generals, had consorted to prove to the Leader that an immediate offensive was out of the question. It would take several months, they said, to refit the tanks used in Poland. General Thomas furnished figures to show that Germany had a monthly steel deficit of 600,000 tons. General von Stuelpnagel, the Quartermaster General, reported there was ammunition on hand only "for about one third of our divisions for fourteen combat days" -- certainly not long enough to win a battle against the French. But the Fuehrer would not listen to his Army Commander in Chief and his Chief of the General Staff when they presented a formal report to him on Army deficiencies on October 7. General Jodl, the leading yes man on OKW, next to Keitel, warned Halder "that a very severe crisis is in the making" because of the Army's opposition to an offensive in the West and that the Fuehrer was "bitter because the soldiers do not obey him."

It was against this background that Hitler convoked the generals at 11 A.M. on October 10. They were not asked for their advice. Directive No. 6, dated the day before, told them what to do:


If it should become apparent in the near future that England, and under England's leadership, also France, are not willing to make an end of the war, I am determined to act vigorously and aggressively without great delay ...

Therefore I give the following orders:

a. Preparations are to be made for an attacking operation ... through the areas of Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland. This attack must be carried out ... at as early a date as possible.

b. The purpose will be to defeat as strong a part of the French operational army as possible, as well as allies fighting by its side, and at the same time to gain as large an area as possible in Holland, Belgium and northern France as a base for conducting a promising air and sea war against England ...

I request the Commanders in Chief to give me, as soon as possible, detailed reports of their plans on the basis of this directive and to keep me currently informed ...

The secret memorandum, also dated October 9, which Hitler read out to his military chiefs before presenting them the directive is one of the most impressive papers the former Austrian corporal ever wrote. It showed not only a grasp of history, from the German viewpoint, and of military strategy and tactics which is remarkable but, as a little later would be proved, a prophetic sense of how the war in the West would develop and with what results. The struggle between Germany and the Western Powers, which, he said, had been going on since the dissolution of the First German Reich by the Treaty of Muenster (Westphalia) in 1648 "would have to be fought out one way or the other." However, after the great victory in Poland, "there would be no objection to ending the war immediately" providing the gains in Poland were not "jeopardized."

It is not the object of this memorandum to study the possibilities in this direction or even to take them into consideration. I shall confine myself exclusively to the other case: the necessity to continue the fight ... The German war aim is the final military dispatch of the West, that is, the destruction of the power and ability of the Western Powers ever again to be able to oppose the state consolidation and further development of the German people in Europe.

As far as the outside world is concerned, this eternal aim will have to undergo various propaganda adjustments ... This does not alter the war aim. It is and remains the destruction of our Western enemies.

The generals had objected to haste in taking the offensive in the West. Time, however, he told them, was on the enemy's side. The Polish victories, he reminded them, were possible because Germany really had only one front. That situation still held -- but for how long?

By no treaty or pact can a lasting neutrality of Soviet Russia be insured with certainty. At present all reasons speak against Russia's departure from neutrality. In eight months, one year, or even several years, this may be altered. The trifling significance of treaties has been proved on all sides in recent years. The greatest safeguard against any Russian attack lies ... in a prompt demonstration of German strength.

As for Italy, the "hope of Italian support for Germany" was dependent largely on whether Mussolini lived and on whether there were further German successes to entice the Duce. Here too time was a factor, as it was with Belgium and Holland, which could be compelled by Britain and France to give up their neutrality -- something Germany could not afford to wait for. Even with the United States, "time is to be viewed as working against Germany."

There were great dangers to Germany, Hitler admitted, in a long war, and he enumerated several of them. Friendly and unfriendly neutrals (he seems to have been thinking mainly of Russia, Italy and the U.S.A.) might be drawn to the opposite side, as they were in the First World War. Also, he said, Germany's "limited food and raw -- material basis" would make it difficult to find "the means for carrying on the war." The greatest danger, he said, was the vulnerability of the Ruhr. If this heart of German industrial production were hit, it would "lead to the collapse of the German war economy and thus of the capacity to resist."

It must be admitted that in this memorandum the former corporal showed an astonishing grasp of military strategy and tactics, accompanied though it was by a typical lack of morals. There are several pages about the new tactics developed by the tanks and planes in Poland, and a detailed analysis of how these tactics can work in the West and just where. The chief thing, he said, was to avoid the positional warfare of 1914-18. The armored divisions must be used for the crucial breakthrough.

They are not to be lost among the maze of endless rows of houses in Belgian towns. It is not necessary for them to attack towns at all, but ... to maintain the flow of the army's advance, to prevent fronts from becoming stable by massed drives through identified weakly held positions.

This was a deadly accurate forecast of how the war in the West would be fought, and when one reads it one wonders why no one on the Allied side had similar insights.

This goes too for Hitler's strategy. "The only possible area of attack," he said, was through Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland. There must be two military objectives first in mind: to destroy the Dutch, Belgian, French and British armies and thereby to gain positions on the Channel and the North Sea from which the Luftwaffe could be "brutally employed" against Britain.

Above all, he said, returning to tactics, improvise!

The peculiar nature of this campaign may make it necessary to resort to improvisations to the utmost, to concentrate attacking or defending forces at certain points in more than normal proportion (for example, tank or antitank forces) and in subnormal concentrations at others.

As for the time of the attack, Hitler told his reluctant generals, "the start cannot take place too early. It is to take place in all circumstances (if at all possible) this autumn."

The German admirals, unlike the generals, had not needed any prodding from Hitler to take the offensive, outmatched though their Navy was by the British. In fact all through the last days of September and the first days of October Raeder pleaded with the Fuehrer to take the wraps off the Navy. This was gradually done. On September 17 a German U-boat torpedoed the British aircraft carrier Courageous off southwest Ireland. On September 27 Raeder ordered the pocket battleships Deutschland and Graf Spee to leave their waiting areas and start attacking British shipping. By the middle of October they had accounted for seven British merchantmen and taken in prize the American ship City of Flint.

On October 14, the German U-boat U-47, commanded by Oberleutnant Guenther Prien, penetrated the seemingly impenetrable defenses of Scapa Flow, the great British naval base, and torpedoed and sank the battleship Royal Oak as it lay at anchor, with a loss of 786 officers and men. It was a notable achievement, exploited to the full by Dr. Goebbels in his propaganda, and it enhanced the Navy in the mind of Hitler.

The generals remained, however, a problem. Despite his long and considered memorandum to them and the issuance of Directive No. 6 to get ready for an imminent attack in the West, they stalled. It wasn't that they had any moral scruples against violating Belgium and Holland; they simply were highly doubtful of success at this time. There was one exception.

General Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb, commander of Army Group C opposing the French on the Rhine and along the Maginot Line, not only was skeptical of victory in the West; he, alone so far as the available records reveal, opposed attacking neutral Belgium and Holland at least partly on moral grounds. The day after Hitler's meeting with the generals, on October 11, Leeb composed a long memorandum himself, which he sent to Brauchitsch and other generals. The whole world, he wrote, would turn against Germany,

which for the second time within 25 years assaults neutral Belgium! Germany, whose government solemnly vouched for and promised the preservation of and respect for this neutrality only a few weeks ago!

Finally, after detailing military arguments against an attack in the West, he appealed for peace. "The entire nation," he said, "is longing for peace." [21]

But Hitler by this time was longing for war, for battle, and he was fed up with what he thought to be the unpardonable timidity of his generals. On October 14 Brauchitsch and Halder put their heads together in a lengthy conference. The Army chief saw "three possibilities: Attack. Wait and see. Fundamental changes." Halder noted them in his diary that day and, after the war, explained that "fundamental changes" meant "the removal of Hitler." But the weak Brauchitsch thought such a drastic measure was "essentially negative and tends to render us vulnerable." They decided that none of the three possibilities offered "prospects of decisive successes." The only thing to do was to work further on Hitler.

Brauchitsch saw the Fuehrer again on October 17, but his arguments, he told Halder, were without effect. The situation was "hopeless." Hitler informed him curtly, as Halder wrote in his diary that day, that "the British will be ready to talk only after a beating. We must get at them as quickly as possible. Date between November 15 and 20 at the latest."

There were further conferences with the Nazi warlord, who finally laid down the law to the generals on October 27. After a ceremony conferring on fourteen of them the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, the Fuehrer got down to the business of the attack in the West. When Brauchitsch tried to argue that the Army would not be ready for a month, not before November 26, Hitler answered that this was "much too late." The attack, he ordered, would begin on November 12. Brauchitsch and Halder retired from the meeting feeling battered and defeated. That night they tried to console one another. "Brauchitsch tired and dejected," Halder noted in his diary.


The time had now come for the conspirators to spring to action once more, or so they thought. The unhappy Brauchitsch and Halder were faced with the stern alternatives of either carrying out the third of the "possibilities" they had seen on October 14 -- the removal of Hitler -- or organizing an attack in the West which they thought would be disastrous for Germany. Both the military and civilian "plotters," suddenly come to life, were urging the first alternative.

They had already been balked once since the start of the war. General von Hammerstein, recalled temporarily from his long retirement on the eve of the attack on Poland, had been given a command in the west. During the first week of the war he had urged Hitler to visit his headquarters in order to show that he was not neglecting that front while conquering Poland. Actually Hammerstein, an implacable foe of Hitler, planned to arrest him. Fabian von Schlabrendorff had already tipped Ogilvie Forbes on this plot the day Britain declared war, on September 3, at a hasty meeting in the Ad Ion Hotel in Berlin. But the Fuehrer had smelled a rat, had declined to visit the former Commander in Chief of the Army and shortly thereafter had sacked him. [22]

The conspirators continued to maintain contact with the British. Having failed to take any action to prevent Hitler from destroying Poland, they had concentrated their efforts on trying to keep the war from spreading to the West. The civilian members realized that, more than before, the Army was the only organization in the Reich which possessed the means of stopping Hitler: its power and importance had vastly increased with general mobilization and the lightning victory in Poland. But its expanded size, as Halder tried to explain to the civilians, also was a handicap. The officers' ranks had been swollen with reserve officers many of whom were fanatical Nazis; and the mass of the troops were thoroughly indoctrinated with Nazism. It would be difficult, Halder pointed out -- he was a great man to emphasize difficulties, whether to friend or foe -- to find an army formation which could be trusted to move against the Fuehrer.

There was another consideration which the generals pointed out and which the men in mufti fully appreciated. If they were to stage a revolt against Hitler with the accompanying confusion in the Army as well as the country, might not the British and French take advantage of it to break through in the west, occupy Germany and mete out a harsh peace to the German people -- even though they had got rid of their criminal leader? It was necessary therefore to keep in contact with the British in order to come to a clear understanding that the Allies would not take such an advantage of a German anti-Nazi coup.

Several channels were used. One was developed through the Vatican by Dr. Josef Mueller, a leading Munich lawyer, a devout Catholic, a man of such great physical bulk and tremendous energy and toughness that he had been dubbed in his youth "Joe the Ox"-Ochsensepp. Early in October, with the connivance of Colonel Oster of the Abwehr, Mueller had journeyed to Rome and at the Vatican had established contact with the British minister to the Holy See. According to German sources, he succeeded in obtaining not only an assurance from the British but the agreement of the Pope to act as an intermediary between a new anti-Nazi German regime and Britain. [23]

The other contact was in Berne, Switzerland. There Weizsaecker had installed Theodor Kordt, until recently the German charge in London, as an attache in the German Legation and it was in the Swiss capital that he saw on occasion an Englishman, Dr. Philip Conwell-Evans, whose professorship at the German University of Koenigsberg had made him both an expert on Nazism and to some extent a sympathizer with it. In the latter part of October Conwell-Evans brought to Kordt what the latter later described as a solemn promise by Chamberlain to deal justly and understandingly with a future anti-Nazi German government. Actually the Britisher had only brought extracts from Chamberlain's speech to the Commons in which, while rejecting Hitler's peace proposals, the Prime Minister had declared that Britain had no desire to "exclude from her rightful place in Europe a Germany which will live in amity and confidence with other nations." Though this statement and others in the speech of a friendly nature toward the German people had been broadcast from London and presumably picked up by the conspirators, they hailed the "pledge" brought by the unofficial British representative to Berne as of the utmost importance. With this and the British assurances they thought they had through the Vatican, the conspirators turned hopefully to the German generals. Hopefully, but also desperately. "Our only hope of salvation," Weizsaecker told Hassell on October 17, "lies in a military coup d'etat. But how?"

Time was short. The German attack through Belgium and Holland was scheduled to begin on November 12. The plot had to be carried out before that date. As Hassell warned the others, it would be impossible to get a "decent peace" after Germany had violated Belgium.

There are several accounts from the participants as to what happened next, or rather why nothing much happened, and they are conflicting and confusing. General Halder, the Chief of the Army General Staff, was again the key figure, as he had been at the time of Munich. But he blew hot and cold, was hesitant and confused. In his interrogation at Nuremberg he explained that the "Field Army" could not stage the revolt because it had a "fully armed enemy in front of it." He says he appealed to the "Home Army," which was not up against the enemy, to act but the most he could get from its commander, General Friedrich (Fritz) Fromm, was an understanding that "as a soldier"24 he would execute any order from Brauchitsch.

But Brauchitsch was even more wishy-washy than his General Staff Chief. "If Brauchitsch hasn't enough force of character," General Beck told Halder, "to make a decision, then you must make the decision and present him with a fait accompli." But Halder insisted that since Brauchitsch was the Commander in Chief of the Army, the final responsibility was his. Thus the buck was continually passed. "Halder," Hassell mourned in his diary at the end of October, "is not equal to the situation either in caliber or in authority." As for Brauchitsch, he was, as Beck said, "a sixth-grader." Still the conspirators, led this time by General Thomas, the economic expert of the Army, and Colonel Oster of the Abwehr, worked on Halder, who finally agreed, they thought, to stage a putsch as soon as Hitler gave the final order for the attack in the West. Halder himself says it was still conditional on Brauchitsch's making the final decision. At any rate, on November 3, according to Colonel Hans Groscurth of OKW, a confidant of both Halder and Oster, Halder sent word to General Beck and Goerdeler, two of the chief conspirators, to hold themselves in readiness from November 5 on. Zossen, the headquarters of both the Army Command and the General Staff, became a hotbed of conspiratorial activity.

November 5 was a key date. On that day the movement of troops to their jump-off points opposite Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg was to begin. Also on that day, Brauchitsch had an appointment for a showdown with Hitler. He and Halder had visited the top army commands in the west on November 2 and 3 and fortified themselves with the negative opinions of the field commanders. "None of the higher headquarters," Halder confided to his diary, "thinks the offensive ... has any prospect of success." Thus amply supplied with arguments from the generals on the Western front as well as his own and Halder's and Thomas', which were assembled in a memorandum, and carrying for good measure a "countermemorandum," as Halder calls it, replying to Hitler's memorandum of October 9, the Commander in Chief of the German Army drove over to the Chancellery in Berlin on November 5 determined to talk the Fuehrer out of his offensive in the West. If Brauchitsch were unsuccessful, he would then join the conspiracy to remove the dictator -- or so the conspirators understood. They were in a high state of excitement -- and optimism. Goerdeler, according to Gisevius, was already drawing up a cabinet list for the provisional anti-Nazi government and had to be restrained by the more sober Beck. Schacht alone was highly skeptical. "Just you watch," he warned. "Hitler will smell a rat and won't make any decision at all tomorrow."

They were all, as usual, wrong.

Brauchitsch, as might have been expected, got nowhere with his memoranda or his reports from the front-line commanders or his own arguments. When he stressed the bad weather in the West at this time of year, Hitler retorted that it was as bad for the enemy as for the Germans and moreover that it might be no better in the spring. Finally in desperation the spineless Army chief informed the Fuehrer that the morale of the troops in the west was similar to that in 1917-18, when there was defeatism, insubordination and even mutiny in the German Army.

At hearing this, Hitler, according to Halder (whose diary is the principal source for this highly secret meeting), flew into a rage. "In what units," he demanded to know, "have there been any cases of lack of discipline? What happened? Where?" He would fly there himself tomorrow. Poor Brauchitsch, as Halder notes, had deliberately exaggerated "in order to deter Hitler," and he now felt the full force of the Leader's uncontrolled wrath. "What action has been taken by the Army Command?" the Fuehrer shouted. "How many death sentences have been carried out?" The truth was, Hitler stormed, that "the Army did not want to fight."

"Any further conversation was impossible," Brauchitsch told the tribunal at Nuremberg in recalling his unhappy experience. "So I left." Others remembered that he staggered into headquarters at Zossen, eighteen miles away, in such a state of shock that he was unable at first to give a coherent account of what had happened.

That was the end of the "Zossen Conspiracy." It had failed as ignobly as the "Halder Plot" at the time of Munich. Each time the conditions laid down by the plotters in order to enable them to act had been fulfilled. This time Hitler had stuck to his decision to attack on November 12. In fact, after the stricken Brauchitsch had left his presence he had the order reconfirmed by telephone to Zossen. When Halder asked that it be sent in writing, he was immediately obliged. Thus the conspirators had in writing the evidence which they had said they needed in order to overthrow Hitler -- the order for an attack which they thought would bring disaster to Germany. But they did nothing further except to panic. There was a great scramble to burn incriminating papers and cover up traces. Only Colonel Oster seems to have kept his head. He sent a warning to the Belgian and Dutch legations in Berlin to expect an attack on the morning of November 12. [25] Then he set out for the Western front on a fruitless expedition to see if he could again interest General von Witzleben in bumping off Hitler. The generals, Witzleben included, knew when they were beaten. The former corporal had once again triumphed over them with the greatest of ease. A few days later Rundstedt, commanding Army Group A, called in his corps and divisional commanders to discuss details of the attack. While still doubting its success he advised his generals to bury their doubts. "The Army," he said, "has been given its task, and it will fulfill that task!"

The day after provoking Brauchitsch to the edge of a nervous breakdown Hitler busied himself with composing the texts of proclamations to the Dutch and Belgian people justifying his attack on them. Halder noted the pretext: "French march into Belgium."

But on the next day, November 7, to the relief of the generals, Hitler postponed the date of the attack.


Berlin, November 7, 1939

The Fuehrer and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, after hearing reports on the meteorological and the railway transport situation, has ordered:

A-day is postponed by three days. The next decision will be made at 6 P.M. on November 9, 1939.


This was the first of fourteen postponements ordered by Hitler throughout the fall and winter, copies of which were found in the OKW archives at the end of the war. [26] They show that at no time did the Fuehrer abandon for one moment his decision to attack in the West; he merely put off the date from week to week. On November 9, the attack was postponed to November 19; on November 13, to November 22; and so on, with five or six days' notice being given each time, and usually the weather stated as the reason. Probably the Fuehrer was, to some extent, deferring to the generals. Probably he got it through his head that the Army was not ready. Certainly the strategic and tactical plans had not been fully worked out, for he was always tinkering with them.

There may have been other reasons for Hitler's first postponement of the offensive. On November 7, the day the decision was made, the Germans had been considerably embarrassed by a joint declaration of the King of the Belgians and the Queen of the Netherlands, offering, "before the war in Western Europe begins in full violence," to mediate a peace. In such circumstances it would have been difficult to convince anyone, as Hitler was attempting to do in the proclamations he was drafting, that the German Army was moving into the two Low Countries because it had learned the French Army was about to march into Belgium.

Also Hitler may have got wind that his attack on the neutral little country of Belgium would not have the benefit of surprise, on which he had counted. At the end of October, Goerdeler had journeyed to Brussels with a secret message from Weizsaecker urging the German ambassador, Buelow-Schwante, to privately warn the King of the "extreme gravity of the situation." This the ambassador did and shortly thereafter King Leopold rushed to The Hague to consult with the Queen and draw up their declaration. But the Belgians had more specific information. Some of it came from Oster, as we have seen. On November 8, Buelow-Schwante wired Berlin a warning that King Leopold had told the Dutch Queen that he had "exact information" of a German military build-up on the Belgian frontier which pointed toward a German offensive through Belgium "in two or three days." [27]

Then on the evening of November 8 and the afternoon of the following day there occurred two strange events -- a bomb explosion that just missed killing Hitler and the kidnapping by the S.S. of two British agents in Holland near the German border -- which at first distracted the Nazi warlord from his plans for attacking the West and yet in the end bolstered his prestige in Germany while frightening the Zossen conspirators, who actually had nothing to do with either happening.


Twelve minutes after Hitler had finished making his annual speech, on the evening of November 8, to the "Old Guard" party cronies at the Buergerbraukeller in Munich in commemoration of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, a shorter speech than usual, a bomb which had been planted in a pillar directly behind the speaker's platform exploded, killing seven persons and wounding sixty-three others. By that time all the important Nazi leaders, with Hitler at their head, had hurriedly left the premises, though it had been their custom in former years to linger over their beers and reminisce with old party comrades about the early putsch.

The next morning Hitler's own paper, the Voelkischer Beobachter, alone carried the story of the attempt on the Fuehrer's life. It blamed the "British Secret Service" and even Chamberlain for the foul deed. "The attempted 'assassination,' " I wrote that evening in my diary, "undoubtedly will buck up public opinion behind Hitler and stir up hatred of England ... Most of us think it smells of another Reichstag fire."

What connection could the British secret service have with it, outside of Goebbel's feverish mind? An attempt was made at once to connect them. An hour or two after the bomb went off in Munich, Heinrich Himmler, chief of the S.S. and the Gestapo, telephoned to one of his rising young S.S. subordinates, Walter Schellenberg, at Duesseldorf and ordered him by command of the Fuehrer, to cross the border into Holland the next day and kidnap two British secret-service agents with whom Schellenberg had been in contact.

Himmler's order led to one of the most bizarre incidents of the war. For more than a month Schellenberg, who, like Alfred Naujocks, was a university-educated intellectual gangster, had been seeing in Holland two British intelligence officers, Captain S. Payne Best and Major R. H. Stevens. To them he posed as "Major Schaemmel," an anti-Nazi officer in OKW (Schellenberg took the name from a living major) and gave a convincing story of how the German generals were determined to overthrow Hitler. What they wanted from the British, he said, were assurances that the London government would deal fairly with the new anti-Nazi regime. Since the British had heard from other sources (as we have seen) of a German military conspiracy, whose members wanted the same kind of assurances, London was interested in developing further contacts with "Major Schaemmel." Best and Stevens provided him with a small radio transmitter and receiving set; there were numerous ensuing communications over the wireless and further meetings in various Dutch towns. By November 7, when the two parties met at Venlo, a Dutch town on the German frontier, the British agents were able to give "Schaemmel" a rather vague message from London to the leaders of the German resistance stating in general terms the basis for a just peace with an anti-Nazi regime. It was agreed that "Schaemmel" should bring one of these leaders, a German general, to Venlo the next day, to begin definitive negotiations. This meeting was put off to the ninth.

Up to this moment the objectives of the two sides were clear. The British were trying to establish direct contact with the German military putschists in order to encourage and aid them. Himmler was attempting to find out through the British who the German plotters were and what their connection was with the enemy secret service. That Himmler and Hitler were already suspicious of some of the generals as well as of men like Oster and Canans of the Abwehr is clear. But now on the night of November 8, Hitler and Himmler found need of a new objective: Kidnap Best and Stevens and blame these two British secret-service agents for the Buergerbrau bombing!
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

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Part 2 of 2

A familiar character now entered the scene. Alfred Naujocks, who had staged the "Polish attack" on the German radio station at Gleiwitz, showed up in command of a dozen Security Service (S.D.) toughs to help Schellenberg carry out the kidnaping. The deed came off nicely. At 4 P.M. on November 9, while Schellenberg sipped an aperitif on the terrace of a cafe at Venlo, waiting for a rendezvous with Best and Stevens, the two British agents drove up in their Buick, parked it behind the cafe, and then ran into a hail of bullets from an S.S. car filled with Naujock's ruffians. Lieutenant Klop, a Dutch intelligence officer, who had always accompanied the British pair in their talks with Schellenberg, fell mortally wounded. Best and Stevens were tossed into the S.S. car "like bundles of hay," as Schellenberg later remembered, along with the wounded Klop, and driven speedily across the border into Germany. [28]

And so on November 21 Himmler announced to the public that the assassination plot against Hitler at the Buergerbraukeller had been solved. It was done at the instigation of the British Intelligence Service, two of whose leaders, Stevens and Best, had been arrested "on the Dutch-German frontier" on the day following the bombing. The actual perpetrator was given as Georg Elser, a German Communist carpenter residing in Munich.

Himmler's detailed account of the crime sounded "fishy" to me, as I wrote in my diary the same day. But his accomplishment was very real. "What Himmler and his gang are up to, obviously," I jotted down, "is to convince the gullible German people that the British government tried to win the war by murdering Hitler and his chief aides."

The mystery of who arranged the bombing has never been completely cleared up. Elser, though not the half-wit that was Marinus van der Lubbe of the Reichstag fire, was a man of limited intelligence though quite sincere. He not only pleaded guilty to making and setting off the bomb, he boasted of it. Though of course he had never met Best and Stevens prior to the attempt, he did make the former's acquaintance during long years at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. There he told the Englishman a long and involved -- and not always logical -- story.

One day in October at the Dachau concentration camp, where he had been incarcerated since midsummer as a Communist sympathizer, he related, he had been summoned to the office of the camp commandant, where he was introduced to two strangers. They explained the necessity of doing away with some of the Fuehrer's "traitorous" followers by exploding a bomb in the Buergerbraukeller immediately after Hitler had made his customary address on the evening of November 8 and had left the hall. The bomb was to be planted in a pillar behind the speakers' platform. Since Elser was a skilled cabinetmaker and electrician and a tinkerer, they suggested that he was the man to do the job. If he did, they would arrange for his escape to Switzerland and for a large sum of money to keep him in comfort there. As a token of their seriousness they promised him better treatment in the camp in the meanwhile: better food, civilian clothes, plenty of cigarettes -- for he was a chain smoker -- and a carpenter's bench and tools. There Elser constructed a crude but efficient bomb with an eight-day alarm-clock mechanism and a contraption by which the weapon could also be detonated by an electric switch. Elser asserted that he was taken one night early in November to the beer cellar, where he installed his gadget in the well-placed pillar.

On the evening of November 8, at about the time the bomb was set to go off, he was taken by his accomplices, he said, to the Swiss frontier, given a sum of money and -- interestingly -- a picture postcard of the interior of the beer hall, with the pillar in which he had placed his bomb marked with a cross. But instead of being helped across the frontier -- and this seems to have surprised the dim-witted fellow -- he was nabbed by the Gestapo, postcard and all. Later he was coached by the Gestapo to implicate Best and Stevens at the coming state trial, in which he would be made the center of attention. [xi]

The trial never came off. We know now that Himmler, for reasons best known to himself, didn't dare to have a trial. We also know -- now -- that Elser lived on at Sachsenhausen and then Dachau concentration camps, being accorded, apparently on the express orders of Hitler, who had personally gained so much from the bombing, quite humane treatment under the circumstances. But Himmler kept his eye on him to the last. It would not do to let the carpenter survive the war and live to tell his tale. Shortly before the war ended, on April 16, 1945, the Gestapo announced that Georg Elser had been killed in an Allied bombing attack the previous day. We know now that the Gestapo murdered him. [30]


Having escaped assassination, or so it was made to seem, and quelled defiance among his generals, Hitler went ahead with his plans for the big attack in the West. On November 20, he issued Directive No. 8 for the Conduct of the War, ordering the maintenance of the "state of alert" so as to "exploit favorable weather conditions immediately," and laying down plans for the destruction of Holland and Belgium. And then to put courage in the fainthearted and arouse them to the proper pitch he thought necessary on the eve of great battles, he summoned the commanding generals and General Staff officers to the Chancellery at noon on November 23.

It was one of the most revealing of the secret pep talks to his principal military chiefs, and thanks to the Allied discovery of some of the OKW files at Flensburg it has been preserved in the form of notes taken by an unidentified participant. [31]

The purpose of this conference [Hitler began] is to give you an idea of the world of my thoughts, which govern me in the face of future events, and to tell you my decisions.

His mind was full of the past, the present and the future, and to this limited group he spoke with brutal frankness and great eloquence, giving a magnificent resume of all that had gone on in his warped but fertile brain and predicting with deadly accuracy the shape of things to come. But it seems difficult to imagine that anyone who heard it could have had any further doubts that the man who now held the fate of Germany -- and the world -- in his hands had become beyond question a dangerous megalomaniac.

I had a clear recognition of the probable course of historical events [he said in discussing his early struggles] and the firm will to make brutal decisions ... As the last factor I must name my own person in all modesty: irreplaceable. Neither a military man nor a civilian could replace me. Assassination attempts may be repeated. I am convinced of the powers of my intellect and of decision ... No one has ever achieved what I have achieved ... I have led the German people to a great height, even if the world does hate us now .. The fate of the Reich depends only on me. I shall act accordingly.

He chided the generals for their doubts when he made his "hard decisions" to leave the League of Nations, decree conscription, occupy the Rhineland, fortify it and seize Austria. "The number of people who put trust in me," he said, "was very small."

"The next step," he declared in describing his conquests with a cynicism which it is unfortunate that Chamberlain never heard, "was Bohemia, Moravia and Poland."

It was clear to me from the first moment that I could not be satisfied with the Sudeten-German territory. That was only a partial solution. The decision to march into Bohemia was made. Then followed the establishment of the Protectorate and with that the basis for the conquest of Poland was laid, but I was not quite clear at that time whether I should start first against the East and then against the West, or vice versa. By the pressure of events it came first to the fight against Poland. One might accuse me of wanting to fight and fight again. In struggle I see the fate of all beings. Nobody can avoid fighting if he does not want to go under.

The increasing number of [German] people required a larger Lebensraum. My goal was to create a rational relation between the number of people and the space for them to live in. The fight must start here. No nation can evade the solution of this problem. Otherwise it must yield and gradually go down ... No calculated cleverness is of any help here: solution only with the sword. A people unable to produce the strength to fight must withdraw ...

The trouble with the German leaders of the past, Hitler said, including Bismarck and Moltke, was "insufficient hardness. The solution was possible only by attacking a country at a favorable moment." Failure to realize this brought on the 1914 war "on several fronts. It did not bring a solution of the problem."

Today [Hitler went on] the second act of this drama is being written. For the first time in sixty-seven years we do not have a two-front war to wage ... But no one can know how long that will remain so ... Basically I did not organize the armed forces in order not to strike. The decision to strike was always in me.

Thoughts of the present blessings of a one-front war brought the Fuehrer to the question of Russia.

Russia is at present not dangerous. It is weakened by many internal conditions. Moreover, we have the treaty with Russia. Treaties, however, are kept only as long as they serve a purpose. Russia will keep it only as long as Russia herself considers it to be to her benefit ... Russia still has far-reaching goals, above all the strengthening of her position in the Baltic. We can oppose Russia only when we are free in the West.

As for Italy, all depended on Mussolini, "whose death can alter everything ... Just as the death of Stalin, so the death of the Duce can bring danger to us. How easily the death of a statesman can come I myself have experienced recently." Hitler did not think that the United States was yet dangerous -- "because of her neutrality laws" -- nor that her aid to the Allies yet amounted to much. Still, time was working for the enemy. "The moment is favorable now; in six months it might not be so any more." Therefore:

My decision is unchangeable. I shall attack France and England at the most favorable and earliest moment. Breach of the neutrality of Belgium and Holland is of no importance. No one will question that when we have won. We shall not justify the breach of neutrality as idiotically as in 1914.

The attack in the West, Hitler told his generals, meant "the end of the World War, not just a single action. It concerns not just a single question but the existence or nonexistence of the nation." Then he swung into his peroration.

The spirit of the great men of our history must hearten us all. Fate demands from us no more than from the great men of German history. As long as I live I shall think only of the victory of my people. I shall shrink from nothing and shall annihilate everyone who is opposed to me ... I want to annihilate the enemy!

It was a telling speech and so far as is known not a single general raised his voice either to express the doubts which almost all the Army commanders shared about the success of an offensive at this time or to question the immorality of attacking Belgium and Holland, whose neutrality and borders the German government had solemnly guaranteed. According to some of the generals present Hitler's remarks about the poor spirit in the top echelons of the Army and the General Staff were much stronger than in the above account.

Later that day, at 6 P.M., the Nazi warlord sent again for Brauchitsch and Halder and to the former -- the General Staff Chief was kept waiting outside the Fuehrer's office like a bad boy -- delivered a stern lecture on the "spirit of Zossen." The Army High Command (OKH) was shot through with "defeatism," Hitler charged, and Halder's General Staff had a "stiff-necked attitude which kept it from falling in with the Fuehrer." The beaten Brauchitsch, according to his own account given much later on the stand at Nuremberg, offered his resignation, but Hitler rejected it, reminding him sharply, as the Commander in Chief remembered, "that I had to fulfill my duty and obligation just like every other soldier." That evening Halder scribbled a shorthand note in his diary: "A day of crisis!" [32]

In many ways November 23,1939, was a milestone. It marked Hitler's final, decisive triumph over the Army, which in the First World War had shunted Emperor Wilhelm II aside and assumed supreme political as well as military authority in Germany. From that day on the onetime Austrian corporal considered not only his political but his military judgment superior to that of his generals and therefore refused to listen to their advice or permit their criticism -- with results ultimately disastrous to all.

"A breach had occurred," Brauchitsch told the Nuremberg tribunal in describing the events of November 23, "which was later closed but was never completely mended."

Moreover, Hitler's harangue to the generals that autumn day put a complete damper on any ideas Halder and Brauchitsch might have had, however tepidly, to overthrow the Nazi dictator. He had warned them that he would "annihilate" anyone who stood in his way, and Halder says Hitler had specifically added that he would suppress any opposition to him on the General Staff "with brutal force." Halder, for the moment at least, was not the man to stand up to such terrible threats. When four days later, on November 27, General Thomas went to see him, at the prompting of Schacht and Popitz, and urged him to keep after Brauchitsch to take action against the Fuehrer ("Hitler has to be removed!" Halder later remembered Thomas as saying), the General Staff Chief reminded him of all the "difficulties." He was not yet sure, he said, that Brauchitsch "would take part actively in a coup d'etat." [33]

A few days later Halder gave Goerdeler the most ludicrous reasons for not going on with the plans to get rid of the Nazi dictator. Hassell noted them down in his diary. Besides the fact that "one does not rebel when face to face with the enemy," Halder added, according to Hassell, the following points: "We ought to give Hitler this last chance to deliver the German people from the slavery of English capitalism ... There is no great man available ... The opposition has not yet matured enough ... One could not be sure of the younger officers." Hassell himself appealed to Admiral Canaris, one of the original conspirators, to go ahead, but got nowhere. "He has given up hope of resistance from the generals," the former ambassador confided to his diary on November 30, "and thinks it would be useless to try anything more along this line." A little later Hassell noted that "Halder and Brauchitsch are nothing more than caddies to Hitler." [34]


Not many days after the German attack on Poland my diary began to fill with items about the Nazi terror in the conquered land. Later one would learn that many another diary was filling with them too. Hassell on October 19 reported hearing of "the shocking bestialities of the S.S., especially toward the Jews." A little later he was confiding to his diary a story told by a German landlord in the province of Posen.

The last thing he had seen there was a drunken district Party leader who had ordered the prison opened; he had shot five whores, and attempted to rape two others. [35]

On October 18, Halder wrote down in his diary the main points of a talk he had had with General Eduard Wagner, the Quartermaster General, who had conferred with Hitler that day about the future of Poland. That future was to be grim.

We have no intention of rebuilding Poland ... Not to be a model state by German standards. Polish intelligentsia must be prevented from establishing itself as a governing class. Low standard of living must be conserved. Cheap slaves ...

Total disorganization must be created! The Reich will give the Governor General the means to carry out this devilish plan.

The Reich did.

A brief account of the beginning of Nazi terror in Poland, as disclosed by the captured German documents and the evidence at the various Nuremberg trials, may now be given. It was but a forerunner to dark and terrible deeds that would eventually be inflicted by the Germans on all the conquered peoples. But from first to last it was worse in Poland than anyplace else. Here Nazi barbarism reached an incredible depth.

Just before the attack on Poland was launched, Hitler had told his generals at the conference on the Obersalzberg on August 22 that things would happen "which would not be to the taste of German generals" and he warned them that they "should not interfere in such matters but restrict themselves to their military duties." He knew whereof he spoke. Both in Berlin and in Poland this writer soon was being overwhelmed with reports of Nazi massacres. So were the generals. On September 10, with the Polish campaign in full swing, Halder noted in his diary an example which soon became widely known in Berlin. Some toughs belonging to an S.S. artillery regiment, having worked fifty Jews all day on a job of bridge repairing, herded them into a synagogue and, as Halder put it, "massacred them." Even General von Kuechler, the commander of the Third Army, who was later to have few qualms, refused to confirm the light sentences of the court-martial meted out to the murderers -- one year in prison -- on the ground that they were too lenient. But the Army Commander in Chief, Brauchitsch, quashed the sentences altogether though not until Himmler had intervened, with the excuse that they came under a "general amnesty."

The German generals, upright Christians that they considered themselves to be, found the situation embarrassing. On September 12 there was a meeting on the Fuehrer's railroad train between Keitel and Admiral Canaris at which the latter protested against the atrocities in Poland. The lackey Chief of OKW curtly replied that "the Fuehrer has already decided on this matter." If the Army wanted "no part in these occurrences it would have to accept the S.S. and Gestapo as rivals" -- that is, it would have to accept S.S. commissars in each military unit "to carry out the exterminations."

I pointed out to General Keitel [Canaris wrote in his diary, which was produced at Nuremberg] that I knew that extensive executions were planned in Poland and that particularly the nobility and the clergy were to be exterminated. Eventually the world would hold the Wehrmacht responsible for these deeds. [36]

Himmler was too clever to let the generals wiggle out of part of the responsibility. On September 19 Heydrich, Himmler's chief assistant, paid a visit to the Army High Command and told General Wagner of S.S. plans for the "housecleaning of [Polish] Jews, intelligentsia, clergy and the nobility." Halder's reaction to such plans was put down in his diary after Wagner had reported to him:

Army insists that "housecleaning" be deferred until Army has withdrawn and the country has been turned over to civil administration. Early December.

This brief diary entry by the Chief of the Army General Staff provides a key to the understanding of the morals of the German generals. They were not going to seriously oppose the "housecleaning" -- that is, the wiping out of the Polish Jews, intelligentsia, clergy and nobility. They were merely going to ask that it be "deferred" until they got out of Poland and could escape the responsibility. And, of course, foreign public opinion must be considered. As Halder jotted down in his diary the next day, after a long conference with Brauchitsch about the "housecleaning" in Poland:

Nothing must occur which would afford foreign countries an opportunity to launch any sort of atrocity propaganda based on such incidents. Catholic clergy! Impractical at this time.

The next day, September 21, Heydrich forwarded to the Army High Command a copy of his initial "housecleaning" plans. As a first step the Jews were to be herded into the cities (where it would be easy to round them up for liquidation). "The final solution," he declared, would take some time to achieve and must be kept "strictly secret," but no general who read the confidential memorandum could have doubted that the "final solution" was extermination. [37] Within two years, when it came time to carry it out, it would become one of the most sinister code names bandied about by high German officials to cover one of the most hideous Nazi crimes of the war.

What was left of Poland after Russia seized her share in the east and Germany formally annexed her former provinces and some additional territory in the west was designated by a decree of the Fuehrer of October 12 as the General Government of Poland and Hans Frank appointed as its Governor General, with Seyss-Inquart, the Viennese quisling, as his deputy. Frank was a typical example of the Nazi intellectual gangster. He had joined the party in 1927, soon after his graduation from law school, and quickly made a reputation as the legal light of the movement. Nimble-minded, energetic, well read not only in the law but in general literature, devoted to the arts and especially to music, he became a power in the legal profession after the Nazis assumed office, serving first as Bavarian Minister of Justice, then Reichsminister without Portfolio and president of the Academy of Law and of the German Bar Association. A dark, dapper, bouncy fellow, father of five children, his intelligence and cultivation partly offset his primitive fanaticism and up to this time made him one of the least repulsive of the men around Hitler. But behind the civilized veneer of the man lay the cold killer. The forty-two-volume journal he kept of his life and works, which showed up at Nuremberg, [xii] was one of the most terrifying documents to come out of the dark Nazi world, portraying the author as an icy, efficient, ruthless, bloodthirsty man. Apparently it omitted none of his barbaric utterances.

"The Poles," he declared the day after he took his new job, "shall be the slaves of the German Reich." When once he heard that Neurath, the "Protector" of Bohemia, had put up posters announcing the execution of seven Czech university students, Frank exclaimed to a Nazi journalist, "If I wished to order that one should hang up posters about every seven Poles shot, there would not be enough forests in Poland with which to make the paper for these posters." [38]

Himmler and Heydrich were assigned by Hitler to liquidate the Jews. Frank's job, besides squeezing food and supplies and forced labor out of Poland, was to liquidate the intelligentsia. The Nazis had a beautiful code name for this operation: "Extraordinary Pacification Action" (Ausserordenliche Befriedigungsaktion, or "AB Action," as it came to be known). It took some time for Frank to get it going. It was not until the following late spring, when the big German offensive in the West took the attention of the world from Poland, that he began to achieve results. By May 30, as his own journal shows, he could boast in a pep talk to his police aides of good progress -- the lives of "some thousands" of Polish intellectuals taken, or about to be taken.

"I pray you, gentlemen," he asked, "to take the most rigorous measures possible to help us in this task." Confidentially he added that these were "the Fuehrer's orders." Hitler, he said, had expressed it this way:

"The men capable of leadership in Poland must be liquidated. Those following them ... must be eliminated in their turn. There is no need to burden the Reich with this ... no need to send these elements to Reich concentration camps."

They would be put out of the way, he said, right there in Poland. [39]

At the meeting, as Frank noted in his journal, the chief of the Security Police gave a progress report. About two thousand men and several hundred women, he said, had been apprehended "at the beginning of the Extraordinary Pacification Action." Most of them already had been "summarily sentenced" -- a Nazi euphemism for liquidation. A second batch of intellectuals was now being rounded up "for summary sentence." Altogether "about 3,500 persons," the most dangerous of the Polish intelligentsia, would thus be taken care of. [40]

Frank did not neglect the Jews, even if the Gestapo had filched the direct task of extermination away from him. His journal is full of his thoughts and accomplishments on the subject. On October 7, 1940, it records a speech he made that day to a Nazi assembly in Poland summing up his first year of effort.

My dear Comrades! ... I could not eliminate all lice and Jews in only one year. ["Public amused," he notes down at this point.] But in the course of time, and if you help me, this end will be attained. [41]

A fortnight before Christmas of the following year, Frank closed a cabinet session at Cracow, his headquarters, by saying:

As far as the Jews are concerned, I want to tell you quite frankly that they must be done away with in one way or another ... Gentlemen, I must ask you to rid yourself of all feeling of pity. We must annihilate the Jews.

It was difficult, he admitted, to "shoot or poison the three and a half million Jews in the General Government, but we shall be able to take measures which will lead, somehow, to their annihilation." This was an accurate prediction. [42]

The hounding of Jews and Poles from the homes which they and their families had dwelt in for generations began as soon as the fighting in Poland was over. On October 7, the day after his "peace speech" in the Reichstag, Hitler appointed Himmler to be the head of a new organization, the Reich Commissariat for the Strengthening of German Nationhood, or R.K.F.D.V., for short. It was to carry out the deportation of Poles and Jews first from the Polish provinces annexed outright by Germany and replace them by Germans and Volksdeutsche, the latter being Germans of foreign nationality who were streaming in from the threatened Baltic lands and various outlying parts of Poland. Halder had heard of the plan a fortnight before, noting in his diary that "for every German moving into these territories, two people will be expelled to Poland."

On October 9, two days after assuming the latest of his posts, Himmler decreed that 550,000 of the 650,000 Jews living in the annexed Polish provinces, together with all Poles not fit for "assimilation," should be moved into the territory of the General Government, east of the Vistula River. Within a year 1,200,000 Poles and 300,000 Jews had been uprooted and driven to the east. But only 497,000 Volksdeutsche had been settled in their place. This was a little better than Halder's ratio: three Poles and Jews expelled to one German settled in their stead.

It was an unusually severe winter, that of 1939-40, as this writer remembers, with heavy snows, and the "resettlement," carried out in zero weather and often during blizzards, actually cost more Jewish and Polish lives than had been lost to Nazi firing squads and gallows. Himmler himself may be cited as authority. Addressing the S.S. Leibstandarte the following summer after the fall of France, he drew a comparison between the deportations which his men were beginning to carry out in the West with what had been accomplished in the East.

[It] happened in Poland in weather forty degrees below zero, where we had to haul away thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands; where we had to have the toughness -- you should hear this, but also forget it immediately -- to shoot thousands of leading Poles ... Gentlemen, it is much easier in many cases to go into combat with a company than to suppress an obstructive population of low cultural level, or to carry out executions or to haul away people or to evict crying and hysterical women. [43]

Already on February 21, 1940, S.S. Oberfuehrer Richard Gluecks, the head of the Concentration Camp Inspectorate, scouting around near Cracow, had informed Himmler that he had found a "suitable site" for a new "quarantine camp" at Auschwitz, a somewhat forlorn and marshy town of twelve thousand inhabitants in which was situated, besides some factories, a former Austrian cavalry barracks. Work was commenced immediately and on June 14 Auschwitz was officially opened as a concentration camp for Polish political prisoners whom the Germans wished to treat with special harshness. It was soon to become a much more sinister place. In the meantime the directors of I. G. Farben, the great German chemical trust, had discovered Auschwitz as a "suitable" site for a new synthetic coal-oil and rubber plant. There not only the construction of new buildings but the operation of the new plant would have the benefit of cheap slave labor.

To superintend the new camp and the supply of slave labor for I. G. Farben there arrived at Auschwitz in the spring of 1940 a gang of the most choice ruffians in the S.S., among them Josef Kramer, who would later become known to the British public as the "Beast of Belsen," and Rudolf Franz Hoess, a convicted murderer who had served five years in prison -- he spent most of his adult life as first a convict and then a jailer -- and who in 1946, at the age of forty-six, would boast at Nuremberg that at Auschwitz he had superintended the extermination of two and a half million persons, not counting another half million who had been allowed to "succumb to starvation."

For Auschwitz was soon destined to become the most famous of the extermination camps -- Vernichtungslager -- which must be distinguished from the concentration camps, where a few did survive. It is not without significance for an understanding of the Germans, even the most respectable Germans, under Hitler, that such a distinguished, internationally known firm as I. G. Farben, whose directors were honored as being among the leading businessmen of Germany, God-fearing men all, should deliberately choose this death camp as a suitable place for profitable operations.


The Rome-Berlin Axis became squeaky that first fall of the war.

Sharp exchanges at various levels took place over several differences: the failure of the Germans to carry out the evacuation of the Volksdeutsche from Italian South Tyrol, which had been agreed upon the previous June; failure of the Germans to supply Italy with a million tons of coal a month; failure of the Italians to ignore the British blockade and supply Germany with raw materials brought through it; Italy's thriving trade with Britain and France, including the sale to them of war materials; Ciano's increasingly anti-German sentiments.

Mussolini, as usual, blew hot and cold, and Ciano recorded his waverings in his diary. On November 9, the Duce had trouble composing a telegram to Hitler congratulating him on his escape from assassination.

He wanted it to be warm, but not too warm, because in his judgment no Italian feels any great joy over the fact that Hitler escaped death -- least of all the Duce.

November 20 .... For Mussolini the idea of Hitler's waging war, and, worse still, winning it, is altogether unbearable.

The day after Christmas the Duce was expressing a "desire for a German defeat" and instructing Ciano to secretly inform Belgium and Holland that they were about to be attacked. [xiii] But by New Year's Eve he was talking again of jumping into the war on Hitler's side.

The chief cause of friction between the two Axis Powers was Germany's pro-Russian policy. On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Red Army had attacked Finland and Hitler had been placed in a most humiliating position. Driven out of the Baltic as the price of his pact with Stalin, forced to hurriedly evacuate the German families who had lived there for centuries, he now had to officially condone Russia's unprovoked attack on a little country which had close ties with Germany and whose very independence as a non-Communist nation had been won from the Soviet Union largely by the intervention of regular German troops in 1918. [xiv] It was a bitter pill to swallow, but he swallowed it. Strict instructions were given to German diplomatic missions abroad and to the German press and radio to support Russia's aggression and avoid expressing any sympathy with the Finns.

This may have been the last straw with Mussolini, who had to cope with anti-German demonstrations throughout Italy. At any rate, shortly after the New Year, 1940, on January 3, he unburdened himself in a long letter to the Fuehrer. Never before, and certainly never afterward, was the Duce so frank with Hitler or so ready to give such sharp and unpleasant advice.

He was "profoundly convinced," he said, that Germany, even if assisted by Italy, could never bring Britain and France "to their knees or even divide them. To believe that is to delude oneself. The United States would not permit a total defeat of the democracies." Therefore, now that Hitler had secured his eastern frontier, was it necessary "to risk all -- including the regime -- and sacrifice the flower of German generations" in order to try to defeat them? Peace could be had, Mussolini suggested, if Germany would allow the existence of "a modest, disarmed Poland, which is exclusively Polish. Unless you are irrevocably resolved to prosecute the war to a finish," he added, "I believe that the creation of a Polish state ... would be an element that would resolve the war and constitute a condition sufficient for the peace."

But it was Germany's deal with Russia which chiefly concerned the Italian dictator.

... Without striking a blow, Russia has in Poland and the Baltic profited from the war. But I, a born revolutionist, tell you that you cannot permanently sacrifice the principles of your Revolution to the tactical exigencies of a certain political moment ... It is my duty to add that one further step in your relations with Moscow would have catastrophic repercussions in Italy ... [45]

Mussolini's letter not only was a warning to Hitler of the degeneration of Italo-German relations but it hit a vulnerable target: the Fuehrer's honeymoon with Soviet Russia, which was beginning to get on the nerves of both parties. It had enabled him to launch his war and destroy Poland. It had even given him other benefits. The captured German papers reveal, for instance, one of the best-kept secrets of the war: the Soviet Union's help in providing ports on the Arctic, the Black Sea and the Pacific through which Germany could import badly needed raw materials otherwise shut off by the British blockade.

On November 10, 1939, Molotov even agreed to the Soviet government's paying the freight charges on all such goods carried over the Russian railways. [46] Refueling and repair facilities were provided German ships, including submarines, at the Arctic port of Teriberka, east of Murmansk-Molotov thought the latter port "was not isolated enough," whereas Teriberka was "more suited because it was more remote and not visited by foreign ships." [47]

All through the autumn and early winter of 1939 Moscow and Berlin negotiated for increased trade between the two countries. By the end of October Russian deliveries of raw stuffs, especially grain and oil, to Germany were considerable, but the Germans wanted more. However, they were learning that in economics, as well as politics, the Soviets were shrewd and hard bargainers. On November 1, Field Marshal Goering, Grand Admiral Raeder and Colonel General Keitel, "independently of each other," as Weizsaecker noted, protested to the German Foreign Office that the Russians were demanding too much German war material. A month later Keitel was again complaining to Weizsaecker that Russian requirements for German products, especially machine tools for manufacturing munitions, were "growing more and more voluminous and unreasonable. " [48]

But if Germany wanted food and oil from Russia, it would have to pay for them in the goods Moscow needed and wanted. So desperate was the blockaded Reich for these necessities from Russia that later, on March 30, 1940, at a crucial moment, Hitler ordered that delivery of war material to the Russians should have priority even over that to the German armed forces. [xv] [50] At one point the Germans threw in the unfinished heavy cruiser Luetzow as part of current payments to Moscow. Earlier, on December 15, Admiral Raeder proposed selling the plans and drawings for the Bismarck, the world's biggest battleship (45,000 tons), then building, to the Russians if they paid "a very high price." [51]

By the end of 1939 Stalin himself was personally participating in the negotiations at Moscow with the German trade delegation. The German economists found him a formidable trader. In the captured Wilhelmstrasse papers there are long and detailed memoranda of three memorable meetings with the awesome Soviet dictator, who had a grasp of detail that stunned the Germans. Stalin, they found, could not be bluffed or cheated but could be terribly demanding, and at times, as Dr. Schnurre, one of the Nazi negotiators, reported to Berlin, he "became quite agitated." The Soviet Union, Stalin reminded the Germans, had "rendered a very great service to Germany [and] had made enemies by rendering this assistance." In return it expected some consideration from Berlin. At one conference at the Kremlin on New Year's Eve, 1939-40,

Stalin characterized the total price of the airplanes as out of the question. It represented a multiplication of the actual prices. If Germany did not wish to deliver the airplanes. he would have preferred to have this openly stated.

At a midnight meeting in the Kremlin on February 8

Stalin requested the Germans to propose suitable prices and not to set them too high, as had happened before. As examples were mentioned the total price of 300 million Reichsmarks for airplanes and the German valuation of the cruiser Luetzow at 150 million RM. One should not take advantage of the Soviet Union's good nature. [52]

On February 11, 1940, an intricate trade agreement was finally signed in Moscow providing for an exchange of goods, during the ensuing eighteen months, of a minimum worth of 640 million Reichsmarks. This was in addition to the trade agreed upon during the previous August amounting to roughly 150 millions a year. Russia was to get, besides the cruiser Luetzow and the plans of the Bismarck, heavy naval guns and other gear and some thirty of Germany's latest warplanes, including the Messerschmitt fighters 109 and 110 and the Ju-88 dive bombers. In addition the Soviets were to receive machines for their oil and electric industries, locomotives, turbines, generators, Diesel engines, ships, machine tools and samples of German artillery, tanks, explosives, chemical-warfare equipment and so on. [53]

What the Germans got the first year was recorded by OKW -- one million tons of cereals, half a million tons of wheat, 900,000 tons of oil, 100,000 tons of cotton, 500,000 tons of phosphates, considerable amounts of numerous other vital raw materials and the transit of a million tons of soybeans from Manchuria. [54]

Back in Berlin, Dr. Schnurre, the Foreign Office's economic expert, who had masterminded the trade negotiations for Germany in Moscow, drew up a long memorandum on what he had gained for the Reich. Besides the desperately needed raw materials which Russia would supply, Stalin, be said, bad promised "generous help" in acting "as a buyer of metals and raw materials in third countries."

The Agreement [Schnurre concluded] means a wide-open door to the East for us ... The effects of the British blockade will be decisively weakened. [55]

This was one reason why Hitler swallowed his pride, supported Russia's aggression against Finland, which was very unpopular in Germany, and accepted the threat of Soviet troops and airmen setting up bases in the three Baltic countries (to be eventually used against whom but Germany?). Stalin was helping him to surmount the British blockade. But more important than that, Stalin still afforded him the opportunity of fighting a one-front war, of concentrating all his military might in the west for a knockout blow against France and Britain and the overrunning of Belgium and Holland, after which -- well, Hitler had already told his generals what he had in mind.

As early as October 17, 1939, with the Polish campaign scarcely over, he had reminded Keitel that Polish territory

is important to us from a military point of view as an advanced jumping-off point and for strategic concentration of troops. To that end the railroads, roads and communication channels are to be kept in order. [56]

As the momentous year of 1939 approached its end Hitler realized, as he had told his generals in his memorandum of October 9, that Soviet neutrality could not be counted on forever. In eight months or a year, he had said, things might change. And in his harangue to them on November 23 he had emphasized that "we can oppose Russia only when we are free in the West." This was a thought which never left his restless mind.

The fateful year faded into history in a curious and even eerie atmosphere. Though there was world war, there was no fighting on land, and in the skies the big bombers carried only propaganda pamphlets, and badly written ones at that. Only at sea was there actual warfare. U-boats continued to take their toll of British and sometimes neutral shipping in the cruel, icy northern Atlantic.

In the South Atlantic the Graf Spee, one of Germany's three pocket battleships, had emerged from its waiting area and in three months had sunk nine British cargo vessels totaling 50,000 tons. Then, a fortnight before the first Christmas of the war, on December 14, 1939, the German public was electri·fied by the news, splashed in flaming headlines and in bulletins flashed over the radio, of a great victory at sea. The Graf Spee, it was said, had engaged three British cruisers on the previous day four hundred miles off Montevideo and put them out of action. But elation soon turned to puzzlement. Three days later the press announced that the pocket battleship had scuttled herself in the Plate estuary just outside the Uruguayan capital. What kind of a victory was that? On December 21, the High Command of the Navy announced that the Graf Spee's commander, Captain Hans Langsdorff, had "followed his ship" and thus "fulfilled like a fighter and hero the expectations of his Fuehrer, the German people and the Navy."

The wretched German people were never told that the Graf Spee had been severely damaged by the three British cruisers, which it outgunned, [xvi] that it had had to put into Montevideo for repairs, that the Uruguayan government, in accordance with international law, had allowed it to remain for only seventy-two hours, which was not enough, that the "hero," Captain Langsdorff, rather than risk further battle with the British with his crippled ship, had therefore scuttled it, and that he himself, instead of going down with her, had shot himself two days afterward in a lonely hotel room in Buenos Aires. Nor were they told, of course, that, as General Jodl jotted in his diary on December 18, the Fuehrer was "very angry about the scuttling of Graf Spee without a fight" and sent for Admiral Raeder, to whom he gave a dressing down. [57]

On December 12, Hitler issued another top-secret directive postponing the attack in the West and stipulating that a fresh decision would not be made until December 27 and that the earliest date for "A Day" would be January 1, 1940. He advised that Christmas leaves could therefore be granted. According to my diary, Christmas, the high point of the year for Germans, was a bleak one in Berlin that winter, with few presents exchanged, Spartan food, the menfolk away, the streets blacked out, the shutters and curtains drawn tight, and everyone grumbling about the war, the food and the cold.

There was an exchange of Christmas greetings between Hitler and Stalin.

Best wishes [Hitler wired] for your personal well-being as well as for the prosperous future of the peoples of the friendly Soviet Union.

To which Stalin replied:

The friendship of the peoples of Germany and the Soviet Union, cemented by blood, has every reason to be lasting and firm.

In Berlin Ambassador von Hassell used the holidays to confer with his fellow conspirators, Popitz, Goerdeler and General Beck, and on December 30 recorded in his diary the latest plan. It was

to have a number of divisions stop in Berlin "in transit from west to east." Then Witzleben was to appear in Berlin and dissolve the S.S. On the basis of this action Beck would go to Zossen and take the supreme command from Brauchitsch's hands. A doctor would declare Hitler incapable of continuing in office, whereupon he would be taken into custody. Then an appeal would be made to the people along these lines: prevention of further S.S. atrocities, restoration of decency and Christian morality, continuation of the war, but readiness for peace on a reasonable basis ...

But it was all unreal; all talk. And so confused were the "plotters" that Hassell devoted a long patch of his diary to the consideration of whether they should retain Goering or not!

Goering himself, along with Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Ley and other party leaders, used the New Year to issue grandiose proclamations. Ley said, "The Fuehrer is always right! Obey the Fuehrer!" The Fuehrer himself proclaimed that not he but "the Jewish and capitalistic warmongers" had started the war and went on:

United within the country, economically prepared and militarily armed to the highest degree, we enter this most decisive year in German history ... May the year 1940 bring the decision. It will be, whatever happens, our victory.

On December 27 he had again postponed the attack in the West "by at least a fortnight." On January 10 he ordered it definitely set for January 17 "fifteen minutes before sunrise -- 8: 16 A.M." The Air Force was to begin its attack on January 14, three days in advance, its task being to destroy enemy airfields in France, but not in Belgium and Holland. The two little neutral countries were to be kept guessing about their fate until the last moment.

But on January 13 the Nazi warlord suddenly postponed the onslaught again "on account of the meteorological situation." The captured OKW file on D Day in the West is thereafter silent until May 7. Weather may have played a part in the calling off of the attack on January 13. But we now know that two other events were mainly responsible -- an unfortunate forced landing of a very special German military plane in Belgium on January 10 and a new opportunity that now appeared to the north.

On the very day, January 10, that Hitler had ordered the attack through Belgium and Holland to begin on the seventeenth, a German military plane flying from Muenster to Cologne became lost in the clouds over Belgium and was forced to land near Mechelen-sur-Meuse. In it was Major Helmut Reinberger, an important Luftwaffe staff officer, and in his briefcase were the German plans, complete with maps, for the attack in the West. As Belgian soldiers closed in, the major made for some nearby bushes and lit a fire to the contents of his briefcase. Attracted by this interesting phenomenon the Belgian soldiers stamped out the flames and retrieved what was left. Taken to military quarters nearby, Reinberger, in a desperate gesture, grabbed the partly burned papers, which a Belgian officer had placed on a table, and threw them into a lighted stove. The Belgian officer quickly snatched them out.

Reinberger promptly reported to Luftwaffe headquarters in Berlin through his embassy in Brussels that he had succeeded in burning down the papers to "insignificant fragments, the size of the palm of his hand." But in Berlin there was consternation in high quarters. Jodl immediately reported to Hitler "on what the enemy mayor may not know." But he did not know himself. "If enemy is in possession of all the files," he confided to his diary on January 12, after seeing the Fuehrer, "the situation is catastrophic." That evening Ribbentrop sent a "most urgent" wire to the German Embassy in Brussels asking for an immediate report on the "destruction of the courier baggage." On the morning of January 13, JodI's diary reveals, there was a conference of Goering with his air attache in Brussels, who had flown posthaste back to Berlin, and the top Luftwaffe brass. "Result: Dispatch case burned for certain," Jodi recorded.

But this was whistling in the dark, as Jodi's journal makes clear. At 1 P.M. it noted: "Order to Gen. Halder by telephone: All movements to stop."

The same day, the thirteenth, the German ambassador in Brussels was urgently informing Berlin of considerable Belgian troop movements "as a result of alarming reports received by the Belgian General Staff." The next day the ambassador got off another "most urgent" message to Berlin: The Belgians were ordering "Phase D," the next-to-the-last step in mobilization, and calling up two new classes. The reason, he thought, was "reports of German troop movements on the Belgian and Dutch frontiers as well as the content of the partly unburned courier mail found on the German Air Force officer."

By the evening of January 15 doubts had risen in the minds of the top brass in Berlin whether Major Reinberger had really destroyed the incriminating documents as he had claimed. They were "presumably burned," Jodl remarked after another conference on the matter. But on January 17 the Belgian Foreign Minister, Paul-Henri Spaak, sent for the German ambassador and told him flatly, as the latter promptly reported to Berlin, that

the plane which made an emergency landing on January 10 had put into Belgian hands a document of the most extraordinary and serious nature, which contained clear proof of an intention to attack. It was not just an operations plan, but an attack order worked out in every detail, in which only the time remained to be inserted.

The Germans were never quite sure whether Spaak was not bluffing. On the Allied side -- the British and French general staffs were given copies of the German plan -- there was a tendency to view the German papers as a "plant." Churchill says he vigorously opposed this interpretation and laments that nothing was done about this grave warning. What is certain is that on January 13, the day after Hitler was informed of the affair, he postponed the attack and that by the time it again came up for decision in the spring the whole strategic plan had been fundamentally changed. [58]

But the forced landing in Belgium -- and the bad weather -- were not the only reasons for putting off the attack. Plans for a daring German assault on two other little neutral states farther to the north had in the meantime been ripening in Berlin and now took priority. The phony war, so far as the Germans were concerned, was coming to an end with the approach of spring.



i. See above, p. 610n.
ii. On October 9 this writer journeyed by rail up the east bank of the Rhine where for a hundred miles it forms the Franco-German frontier and noted in his diary: "No sign of war and the train crew told me not a shot had been fired on this front since the war began ... We could see the French bunkers and at many places great mats behind which the French were building fortifications. Identical picture on the German side. The troops ... went about their business in full sight and range of each other ... The Germans were hauling up guns and supplies on the railroad line, but the French did not disturb them. Queer kind of war." (Berlin Diary, p. 234.)

iii. Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, disclosed the general figures in the House of Commons on September 26. He gives the corrected official figures in his memoirs. He also told the House that six or seven U-boats had been sunk, but actually, as he also notes in his book, the figure was later learned to be only two.
Churchill's speech was marked by an amusing anecdote in which he told how a U-boat commander had signaled him personally the position of a British ship he had just sunk and urged that rescue should be sent. "I was in some doubt to what address I should direct a reply," Churchill said. "However, he is now in our hands." But he wasn't. This writer interviewed the submarine skipper, Captain Herbert Schultze, in Berlin two days later in a broadcast to America. He produced from his logbook his message to Churchill. (See Churchill, The Gathering Storm, pp. 436-37; Berlin Diary, pp. 225-27.)

iv. The next day, September 4, all U-boats were signaled: "By order of the Fuehrer, on no account are operations to be carried out against passenger steamers, even when under escort."
v. Apparently not in code. A copy of the naval attache's cable to Washington showed up in the German naval papers at Nuremberg.

vi. The italics are the Admiral's.
vii.  The officers, including Lemp, and some of the crew were transferred to the U-110 and went down with her on May 9, 1941. One member of the crew was wounded by aircraft fire a few days after the sinking of the Athenia. He was disembarked at Reykjavik, Iceland, under pledge of the strictest secrecy, later taken to a POW camp in Canada, and after the war signed an affidavit giving the facts. The Germans appear to have been worried that he would "talk," but he didn't until the war's end. [12]

viii. Mussolini did not share Hitler's confidence in victory, which Ciano reported to  him. He thought the British and French "would hold firm ... Why hide it?"  Ciano wrote in his diary October 3, "he [Mussolini] is somewhat bitter about Hitler's  sudden rise to fame." (Ciano Diaries, p. 155.)
ix. A little later, on November 16, the Italians informed the Germans that according to their information from Paris, "Marshal Petain is regarded as the advocate of a peace policy in France ... If the question of peace should become more acute in France, Petain will playa role." [19] This appears to be the first indication to the Germans that Petain might prove useful to them later on.
x. The day before, on October II, there had been a peace riot in Berlin. Early in the morning a broadcast on the Berlin radio wave length announced that the British government had fallen and that there would be an immediate armistice. There was great rejoicing in the capital as the rumor spread. Old women in the vegetable markets tossed their cabbages into the air, wrecked their stands in sheer joy and made for the nearest pub to toast the peace with Schnaps.

xi. According to the official Dutch account, which came to light after the war, the  British car, with Stevens, Best and Klop in it, was towed by the Germans across the  frontier, which was only 125 feet away. Starting on November 10, the next day,  the Dutch government made nine written requests at frequent intervals for the  return of Klop and the Dutch chauffeur of the car and also demanded a German  investigation of this violation of Dutch neutrality. No reply was ever made until  May 10, when Hitler justified his attack on the Netherlands partly on the grounds  that the Venlo affair had proven the complicity of the Dutch with the British secret  service. Klop died from his wounds a few days later. Best and Stevens survived five  years in Nazi concentration camps. [29]
xii. Later at Dachau Elser told a similar story to Pastor NiemoelIer, who since has stated his personal conviction that the bombing was sanctioned by Hitler to increase his own popularity and stir up the war fever of the people. It is only. fair to add that Gisevius, archenemy of Hitler, Himmler and Schellenberg, believes -- as he testified at Nuremberg and in his book -- that Elser realIy attempted to kill Hitler and that there were no Nazi accomplices. Schellenberg, who is less reliable, states that though he was suspicious at first of Himmler and Heydrich, he later concluded, after questioning the carpenter and after reading interrogations made while Elser was first drugged and then hypnotized, that it was a case of a genuine attempt at assassination.

xiii. It was found in May 1945 by Lieutenant Walter Stein of the U.S. Seventh  Army in Frank's apartment at the hotel Berghof near Neuhaus in Bavaria.
xiv. Ciano conveyed the warning to the Belgian ambassador in Rome on January 2,  noting the action in his diary. According to Weizsaecker the Germans intercepted  two coded telegrams from the ambassador to Brussels containing the Italian warning  and deciphered them. [44]
xv. On October 9, 1918 -- this is a little-known, ludicrous tidbit of history -- the  Finnish Diet, under the impression that Germany was winning the war, elected by  a vote of 75 to 25 Prince Friedrich Karl of Hesse to be King of Finland. Allied  victory a month later put an end to this fantastic episode.
xvi. After the conquest of France and the lowlands, Goering informed General  Thomas, the economic chief of OKW, "that the Fuehrer desired punctual delivery  to the Russians only until the spring of 1941. Later on," he added, "we would have  no further interest in completely satisfying the Russian demands." [49]
xvii. The day before the scuttling Goebbels had made the German press play up a faked  dispatch from Montevideo saying the Graf Spee had suffered only "superficial  damage" and that British reports that it had been severely crippled were "pure lies."
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Sat Feb 10, 2018 3:44 am

Part 1 of 3


THE INNOCENT-SOUNDING code name for the latest plan of German aggression was Weseruebung, or "Weser Exercise." Its origins and development were unique, quite unlike those for unprovoked attack that have filled so large a part of this narrative. It was not the brain child of Hitler, as were all the others, but of an ambitious admiral and a muddled Nazi party hack. It was the only act of German military aggression in which the German Navy played the decisive role. It was also the only one for which OKW did the planning and co-ordinating of the three armed services. In fact, the Army High Command and its General Staff were not even consulted, much to their annoyance, and Goering was not brought into the picture until the last moment -- a slight that infuriated the corpulent chief of the Luftwaffe.

The German Navy had long had its eyes on the north. Germany had no direct access to the wide ocean, a geographical fact which had been imprinted on the minds of its naval officers during the First World War. A tight British net across the narrow North Sea, from the Shetland Islands to the coast of Norway, maintained by a mine barrage and a patrol of ships, had bottled up the powerful Imperial Navy, seriously hampered the attempts of U-boats to break out into the North Atlantic, and kept German merchant shipping off the seas. The German High Seas Fleet never reached the high seas. The British naval blockade stifled Imperial Germany in the first war. Between the wars the handful of German naval officers who commanded the country's modestly sized Navy pondered this experience and this geographical fact and came to the conclusion that in any future war with Britain, Germany must try to gain bases in Norway, which would break the British blockade line across the North Sea, open up the broad ocean to German surface and undersea vessels and indeed offer an opportunity for the Reich to reverse the tables and mount an effective blockade of the British Isles.

It was not surprising, then, that at the outbreak of war in 1939 Admiral Rolf Carls, the third-ranking officer in the German Navy and a forceful personality, should start peppering Admiral Raeder, as the latter noted in his diary and testified at Nuremberg, with letters suggesting "the importance of an occupation of the Norwegian coast by Germany." [1] Raeder needed little urging and on October 3, at the end of the Polish campaign, sent a confidential questionnaire to the Naval War Staff asking it to ascertain the possibility of gaining "bases in Norway under the combined pressure of Russia and Germany." Ribbentrop was consulted about Moscow's attitude and replied that "far-reaching support may be expected" from that source. Raeder told his staff that Hitler must be informed as soon as possible about the "possibilities." [2]

On October 10, in the course of a lengthy report to the Fuehrer on naval operations, Raeder suggested the importance of obtaining naval bases in Norway, if necessary with the help of Russia. This -- so far as the confidential records show -- was the first time the Navy had directly called the matter to the attention of Hitler. Raeder says the Leader "saw at once the significance of the Norwegian problem." He asked him to leave his notes on the subject and promised to give the question some thought. But at the moment the Nazi warlord was preoccupied with launching his attack in the West and with overcoming the hesitations of his generals. [i] Norway apparently slipped out of his mind. [3]

But it came back in two months -- for three reasons.

One was the advent of winter. Germany's very existence depended upon the import of iron ore from Sweden. For the first war year the Germans were counting on eleven million tons of it out of a total annual consumption of fifteen million tons. During the warm-weather months this ore was transported from northern Sweden down the Gulf of Bothnia and across the Baltic to Germany, and presented no problem even in wartime, since the Baltic was effectively barred to British submarines and surface ships. But in the wintertime this shipping lane could not be used because of thick ice. During the cold months the Swedish ore had to be shipped by rail to the nearby Norwegian port of Narvik and brought down the Norwegian coast by ship to Germany. For almost the entire journey German ore vessels could sail within Norway's territorial waters and thereby escape destruction by British naval vessels and bombers.

Thus, as Hitler at first pointed out to the Navy, a neutral Norway had its advantages. It enabled Germany to obtain its lifeblood of iron ore without interference from Britain.

In London, Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, perceived this at once and in the very first weeks of the war attempted to persuade the cabinet to allow him to lay mines in Norwegian territorial waters in order to stop the German iron traffic. But Chamberlain and Halifax were most reluctant to violate Norwegian neutrality, and the proposal was for the time being dropped. [4]

Russia's attack on Finland on November 30, 1939, radically changed the situation in Scandinavia, immensely increasing its strategic importance to both the Western Allies and Germany. France and Britain began to organize an expeditionary force in Scotland to be sent to the aid of the gallant Finns, who, defying all predictions, held out stubbornly against the onslaughts of the Red Army. But it could reach Finland only through Norway and Sweden, and the Germans at once saw that if Allied troops were granted, or took, transit across the northern part of the two Scandinavian lands enough of them would remain, on the excuse of maintaining communications, to completely cut off Germany's supply of Swedish iron ore. [ii] Moreover, the Western Allies would outflank the Reich on the north. Admiral Raeder was not backward in reminding Hitler of these threats.

The chief of the German Navy had now found in Norway itself a valuable ally for his designs in the person of Major Vidkun Abraham Lauritz Quisling, whose name would soon become a synonym in almost all languages for a traitor.


Quisling had begun life honorably enough. Born in 1887 of peasant stock, he had graduated first in his class at the Norwegian Military Academy and while still in his twenties had been sent to Petro grad as military attache. For his services in looking after British interests after diplomatic relations were broken with the Bolshevik government, Great Britain awarded him the C.B.E. At this time he was both pro-British and pro- Bolshevik. He remained in Soviet Russia for some time as assistant to Fridtjof Nansen, the great Norwegian explorer and humanitarian, in Russian relief work.

So impressed had the young Norwegian Army officer been by the success of the Communists in Russia that when he returned to Oslo he offered his services to the Labor Party, which at that time was a member of the Comintern. He proposed that he establish a "Red Guard," but the Labor Party was suspicious of him and his project and turned him down. He then veered to the opposite extreme. After serving as Minister of Defense from 1931 to 1933, he founded in May of the latter year a fascist party called Nasjonal Samling -- National Union -- appropriating the ideology and tactics of the Nazis, who had just come to power in Germany. But Nazism did not thrive in the fertile democratic soil of Norway. Quisling was unable even to get himself elected to Parliament. Defeated at the polls by his own people, he turned to Nazi Germany.

There he established contact with Alfred Rosenberg, the befuddled official philosopher of the Nazi movement, among whose jobs was that of chief pf the party's Office for Foreign Affairs. This Baltic dolt, one of Hitler's earliest mentors, thought he saw possibilities in the Norwegian officer, for one of Rosenberg's pet fantasies was the establishment of a great Nordic Empire from which the Jews and other "impure" races would be excluded and which eventually would dominate the world under Nazi German leadership. From 1933 on, he kept in touch with Quisling and heaped on him his nonsensical philosophy and propaganda.

In June 1939, as the war clouds gathered over Europe, Quisling took the occasion of his attendance at a convention of the Nordic Society at Luebeck to ask Rosenberg for something more than ideological support. According to the latter's confidential reports, which were produced at Nuremberg, Quisling warned Rosenberg of the danger of Britain's getting control of Norway in the event of war and of the advantages to Germany of occupying it. He asked for some substantial aid for his party and press. Rosenberg, a great composer of memoranda, dashed out three of them for Hitler, Goering and Ribbentrop, but the three top men appear to have ignored them -- no one in Germany took the "official philosopher" very seriously. Rosenberg himself was able to arrange at least for a fortnight's training course in Germany in August for twenty-five of Quisling's husky storm troopers.

During the first months of the war Admiral Raeder -- or so he testified at Nuremberg -- had no contact with Rosenberg, whom he scarcely knew, and none with Quisling, of whom he had never heard. But immediately after the Russian attack on Finland Raeder began to get reports from his naval attache at Oslo, Captain Richard Schreiber, of imminent Allied landings in Norway. He mentioned these to Hitler on December 8 and advised him flatly, "It is important to occupy Norway." [5]

Shortly afterward Rosenberg dashed off a memorandum (undated) to Admiral Raeder "regarding visit of Privy Councilor Quisling-Norway." The Norwegian conspirator had arrived in Berlin and Rosenberg thought Raeder ought to be told who he was and what he was up to. Quisling, he said, had many sympathizers among key officers in the Norwegian Army and, as proof, had shown him a recent letter from Colonel Konrad Sundlo, the commanding officer at Narvik, characterizing Norway's Prime Minister as a "blockhead" and one of his chief ministers as "an old soak" and declaring his willingness to "risk his bones for the national uprising." Later Colonel Sundlo did not risk his bones to defend his country against aggression.

Actually, Rosenberg informed Raeder, Quisling had a plan for a coup. It must have fallen upon sympathetic ears in Berlin, for it was copied from the Anschluss. A number of Quisling's storm troopers would be hurriedly trained in Germany "by experienced and diehard National Socialists who are practiced in such operations." The pupils, once back in Norway, would seize strategic points in Oslo,

and at the same time the German Navy with contingents of the German Army will have to put in an appearance at a prearranged bay outside Oslo in answer to a special summons from the new Norwegian Government.

It was the Anschluss tactic all over again, with Quisling playing the part of Seyss-Inquart.

Quisling has no doubt [Rosenberg added] that such a coup ... would meet with the approval of those sections of the Army with which he now has connections ... As regards the King, he believes that he would accept such a fait accompli.

Quisling's estimate of the number of German troops needed for the operation coincides with the German estimates. [6]

Admiral Raeder saw Quisling on December 11, the meeting being arranged through Rosenberg by one Viljam Hagelin, a Norwegian businessman whose affairs kept him largely in Germany and who was Quisling's chief liaison there. Hagelin and Quisling told Raeder a mouthful and he duly recorded it in the confidential naval archives.

Quisling stated ... a British landing is planned in the vicinity of Stavanger, and Christians and is proposed as a possible British base. The present Norwegian Government as well as the Parliament and the whole foreign policy are controlled by the well-known Jew, Hambro [Carl Hambro, the President of the Storting], a great friend of Hore-Belisha ... The dangers to Germany arising from a British occupation were depicted in great detail ...

To anticipate a British move, Quisling proposed to place "the necessary bases at the disposal of the German Armed Forces. In the whole coastal area men in important positions (railway, post office, communications) have already been bought for this purpose." He and Hagelin had come to Berlin to establish "clear-cut relations with Germany for the future ... Conferences are desired for discussion of combined action, transfer of troops to Oslo, etc." [7]

Raeder, as he later testified at Nuremberg, was impressed and told his two visitors that he would confer with the Fuehrer and inform them of the results. This he did the next day at a meeting at which Keitel and Jodl were also present. The Navy Commander in Chief (whose report on this conference is among the captured documents) informed Hitler that Quisling had made "a reliable impression" on him. He then outlined the main points the Norwegians had made, emphasizing Quisling's "good connections with officers in the Norwegian Army" and his readiness "to take over the government by a political coup and ask Germany for aid." All present agreed that a British occupation of Norway could not be countenanced, but Raeder, become suddenly cautious, pointed out that a German occupation "would naturally occasion strong British countermeasures ... and the German Navy is not yet prepared to cope with them for any length of time. In the event of occupation this is a weak spot." On the other hand, Raeder suggested that OKW

be permitted to make plans with Quisling for preparing and executing the occupation either:

a. by friendly methods, i.e., the German Armed Forces are called upon by Norway, or

b. by force.

Hitler was not quite ready to go so far at the moment. He replied that he first wanted to speak to Quisling personally "in order to form an impression of him." [8]

This he did the very next day, December 14, Raeder personally escorting the two Norwegian traitors to the Chancellery. Although no record of this meeting has been found, Quisling obviously impressed the German dictator, [iii] as he had the Navy chief, for that evening Hitler ordered OKW to work out a draft plan in consultation with Quisling. Halder heard that it would also include action against Denmark. [10]

Hitler saw Quisling again on December 16 and 18, despite his preoccupation with the bad news about the Graf Spee. The naval setback, however, seems to have added to his cautiousness about a Scandinavian adventure which would depend first of all on the Navy. According to Rosenberg, the Fuehrer emphasized to his visitor that "the most preferable attitude for Norway would be ... complete neutrality." However, if the British were preparing to enter Norway the Germans would have to beat them to it. In the meantime he would provide Quisling with funds to combat British propaganda and strengthen his own pro-German movement. An initial sum of 200,000 gold marks was allotted in January, with the promise of 10,000 pounds sterling per month for three months beginning on March 15. [11]

Shortly before Christmas Rosenberg dispatched a special agent, Hans- Wilhelm Scheidt, to Norway to work with Quisling, and over the holidays the handful of officers at OKW who were in the know began working on "Study North," as the plans were first called. In the Navy opinion was divided. Raeder was convinced that Britain intended to move into Norway in the near future. The Operations Division of the Naval War Staff disagreed, and in its confidential war diary for January 13, 1940, their differences were aired. [12]

The Operations Division does not believe an imminent British occupation of Norway is probable ... [It] considers, however, that an occupation of Norway by Germany, if no British action is to be feared, would be a dangerous undertaking.

The Naval War Staff therefore concluded "that the most favorable solution is definitely the maintenance of the status quo" and emphasized that this would permit the continued use of Norwegian territorial waters for the ore traffic "in perfect safety."

Hitler was displeased with both the hesitations of the Navy and the results of Study North, which OKW presented to him the middle of January. On January 27 he had Keitel issue a top-secret directive stating that further work on "North" be continued under the Fuehrer's "personal and immediate supervision" and directing Keitel to take charge of all preparations. A small working staff composed of one representative from each of the three armed services was to be set up in OKW and henceforth the operation was to have the code name Weseruebung. [13]

This step seems to have marked the end of the Fuehrer's hesitations about occupying Norway, but if there were any lingering doubts in his mind they were dispelled by an incident which occurred in Norwegian waters on February 17.

An auxiliary supply ship of the Graf Spee, the Altmark, had managed to slip back through the British blockade and on February 14 was discovered by a British scouting plane proceeding southward in Norwegian territorial waters toward Germany. The British government knew that aboard it were three hundred captured British seamen from the ships sunk by the Graf Spee. They were being taken to Germany as prisoners of war. Norwegian naval officers had made a cursory inspection of the Altmark, found that it had no prisoners aboard and was unarmed, and given it clearance to proceed on to Germany. Now Churchill, who knew otherwise, personally ordered a British destroyer flotilla to go into Norwegian waters, board the German vessel and liberate the prisoners.

The British destroyer Cossack, commanded by Captain Philip Vian, carried out the mission on the night of February 16-17 in Josing Fjord, where the Altmark had sought safety. After a scuffle in which four Germans were killed and five wounded, the British boarding party liberated 299 seamen, who had been locked in storerooms and in an empty oil tank to avoid their detection by the Norwegians.

The Norwegian government made a vehement protest to Britain about this violation of its territorial waters, but Chamberlain replied in the Commons that Norway itself had violated international law by allowing its waters to be used by the Germans to convey British prisoners to a German prison.

For Hitler this was the last straw. It convinced him that the Norwegians would not seriously oppose a British display of force in their own territorial waters. He was also furious, as Jodi noted in his diary, that the members of the Graf Spee crew aboard the Altmark had not put up a stiffer fight -- "no resistance, no British losses." On February 19, Jodi's diary discloses, Hitler "pressed energetically" for the completion of plans for Weseruebung. "Equip ships. Put units in readiness," he told Jodl. They still lacked an officer to lead the enterprise and Jodl reminded Hitler that it was time to appoint a general and his staff for this purpose.

Keitel suggested an officer who had fought with General von der Goltz's division in Finland at the end of the First World War, General Nikolaus von Falkenhorst, who now commanded an army corps in the west, and Hitler, who had overlooked the little matter of a commander for the northern adventure, immediately sent for him. Though the General came from an old Silesian military family by the name of Jastrzembski, which he had changed to Falkenhorst (in German, "falcon's eyrie"), he was personally unknown to the Fuehrer.

Falkenhorst later described in an interrogation at Nuremberg their first meeting at the Chancellery on the morning of February 21, which was not without its amusing aspects. Falkenhorst had never even heard of the "North" operation and this was the first time he had faced the Nazi warlord, who apparently did not awe him as he had all the other generals.

I was made to sit down [he recounted at Nuremberg]. Then I had to tell the Fuehrer about the operations in Finland in 1918 ... He said: "Sit down and just tell me how it was," and I did.

Then we got up and he led me to a table that was covered with maps. He said: "... The Reich Government has knowledge that the British intend to make a landing in Norway ... "

Falkenhorst said he got the impression from Hitler that it was the Altmark incident which had influenced the Leader the most to "carry out the plan now." And the General, to his surprise, found himself appointed then and there to do the carrying out as commander in chief. The Army, Hitler added, would put five divisions at his disposal. The idea was to seize the main Norwegian ports.

At noon the warlord dismissed Falkenhorst and told him to report back at 5 P.M. with his plans for the occupation of Norway.

I went out and bought a Baedeker, a travel guide [Falkenhorst explained at Nuremberg], in order to find out just what Norway was like. I didn't have any idea ... Then I went to my hotel room and I worked on this Baedeker At 5 P.M. I went back to the Fuehrer. [14]

The General's plans, worked out from an old Baedeker -- he was never shown the plans worked out by OKW -- were, as can be imagined, somewhat sketchy, but they seem to have satisfied Hitler. One division was to be allotted to each of Norway's five principal harbors, Oslo, Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik. "There wasn't much else you could do," Falkenhorst said later, "because they were the large harbors." After being sworn to secrecy and urged "to hurry up," the General was again dismissed and thereupon set to work.

Of all these goings on, Brauchitsch and Halder, busy preparing the offensive on the Western front, were largely ignorant until Falkenhorst called on the Army General Staff Chief on February 26 and demanded some troops, especially mountain units, to carry out his operation. Halder was not very co-operative; in fact, he was indignant and asked for more information on what was up and what was needed. "Not a single word on this matter has been exchanged between the Fuehrer and Brauchitsch," Halder exclaimed in his diary. "That must be recorded for the history of the war!"

However, Hitler, full of contempt as he was for the old-line generals and especially for his General Staff Chief, was not to be put off. On March 29 he enthusiastically approved Falkenhorst's plans, including his acquisition of two mountain divisions, and moreover declared that more troops would be necessary because he wanted "a strong force at Copenhagen." Denmark had definitely been added to the list of Hitler's victims; the Air Force had its eyes on bases there to be used against Britain.

The next day, March 1, Hitler issued the formal directive for Weser Exercise.



The development of the situation in Scandinavia requires the making of all preparations for the occupation of Denmark and Norway. This operation should prevent British encroachment on Scandinavia and the Baltic. Further it should guarantee our ore base in Sweden and give our Navy and the Air Force a wider starting line against Britain ...

In view of our military and political power in comparison with that of the Scandinavian States, the force to be employed in "Weser Exercise" will be kept as small as possible. The numerical weakness will be balanced by daring actions and surprise execution.

On principle, we will do our utmost to make the operation appear as a peaceful occupation, the object of which is the military protection of the neutrality of the Scandinavian States. Corresponding demands will be transmitted to the Governments at the beginning of the occupation. If necessary, demonstrations by the Navy and Air Force will provide the necessary emphasis. If, in spite of this, resistance should be met, all military means will be used to crush it ... The crossing of the Danish border and the landings in Norway must take place simultaneously ...

It is most important that the Scandinavian States as well as the Western opponents should he taken by surprise ... The troops may be acquainted with the actual objectives only after putting to sea ... [15]

That very evening, March 1, there was "fury" at the Army High Command, Jodl reported, because of Hitler's demands for troops for the northern operation. The next day Goering "raged" at Keitel and went to complain to Hitler. The fat Field Marshal was furious at having been left out of the secret so long and because the Luftwaffe had been put under Falkenhorst's command. Threatened by a serious jurisdictional dispute, Hitler convoked the heads of the three armed services to the Chancellery on March 5 to smooth matters out, but it was difficult.

Field Marshal [Goering] vents his spleen [Jodi wrote in his diary] because he was not consulted beforehand. He dominates the discussion and tries to prove that all previous preparations are good for nothing.

The Fuehrer mollified him by some small concessions, and plans raced forward. As early as February 21, according to his diary, Halder had got the impression that the attack on Denmark and Norway would not begin until after the offensive in the West had been launched and "carried to a certain point." Hitler himself had been in doubt which operation to begin first and raised the question with Jodl on February 26. Jodl's advice was to keep the two operations quite separate and Hitler agreed, "if it were possible."

On March 3 he decided that Weser Exercise would precede "Case Yellow" (the code name for attack in the West) and expressed "very sharply" to Jodl "the necessity of prompt and strong action in Norway." By this time the courageous but outmanned and outgunned Finnish Army was facing disaster from a massive Russian offensive and there were well-founded reports that the Anglo-French expeditionary corps was about to embark from its bases in Scotland for Norway and march across that country and Sweden to Finland to try to save the Finns. [iv] The threat of this was the main reason for Hitler's hurry.

But on March 12 the Russo-Finnish War suddenly ended with Finland accepting Russia's harsh terms for peace. While this was generally welcomed in Berlin because it freed Germany from its unpopular championship of the Russians against the Finns and also brought an end, for the moment, of the Soviet drive to take over the Baltic, it nevertheless embarrassed Hitler so far as his own Scandinavian venture was concerned. As Jodl confided to his diary, it made the "motivation" for the occupation of Norway and Denmark "difficult." "Conclusion of peace between Finland and Russia," he noted on March 12, "deprives England, but us too, of any political basis to occupy Norway."

In fact, Hitler was now hard put to find an excuse. On March 13 the faithful Jodl recorded that the Fuehrer was "still looking for some justification." The next day: "Fuehrer has not yet decided how to justify the 'Weser Exercise.''' To make matters worse, Admiral Raeder began to get cold feet. He was "in doubt whether it was still important to play at preventive war (?) in Norway." [16]

For the moment Hitler hesitated. Two other problems had in the meantime arisen: (1) how to handle Sumner Welles, the United States Undersecretary of State, who had arrived in Berlin March 1 on a mission from President Roosevelt to see if there was any chance of ending the war before the slaughter began in the West; and (2) how to placate the neglected, offended Italian ally. Hitler had not yet bothered to answer Mussolini's defiant letter of January 3, and relations between Berlin and Rome had distinctly cooled. Now Sumner Welles, the Germans believed, and with some reason, had come to Europe to try to detach Italy from the creaky Axis and persuade her, at any event, not to enter the war on Germany's side if the conflict continued. Various warnings had reached Berlin from Rome that it was time something were done to keep the sulking Duce in line.


Hitler's ignorance of the United States, as well as that of Goering and Ribbentrop, was abysmal. [v] And though their policy at this time was to try to keep America out of the war, they, like their predecessors in Berlin in 1914, did not take the Yankee nation seriously as even a potential military power. As early as October I, 1939, the German military attache in Washington, General Friedrich von Boetticher, advised OKW in Berlin not to worry about any possible American expeditionary force in Europe. On December 1 he further informed his military superiors in Berlin that American armament was simply inadequate "for an aggressive war policy" and added that the General Staff in Washington "in contrast to the State Department's sterile policy of hatred and the impulsive policy of Roosevelt -- often based on an overestimation of American military power -- still has understanding for Germany and her conduct of the war." In his first dispatch Boetticher had noted that "Lindbergh and the famous flyer Rickenbacker" were advocating keeping America out of the war. By December 1, however, despite his low estimate of American military power, he warned OKW that "the United States will still enter the war if it considers that the Western Hemisphere is threatened." [18]

Hans Thomsen, the German charge d'affaires in Washington, did his best to impart some facts about the U.S.A. to his ignorant Foreign Minister in Berlin. On September 18, as the Polish campaign neared its end, he warned the Wilhelmstrasse that "the sympathies of the overwhelming majority of the American people are with our enemies, and America is convinced of Germany's war guilt." In the same dispatch he pointed out the dire consequences of any attempts by Germany to carry out sabotage in America and requested that there be no such sabotage "in any manner whatsoever." [19]

The request evidently was not taken very seriously in Berlin, for on January 25, 1940, Thomsen was wiring Berlin:

I have learned that a German-American, von Hausberger, and a German citizen, Walter, both of New York, are alleged to be planning acts of sabotage against the American armament industry by direction of the German Abwehr. Von Hausberger is supposed to have detonators hidden in his dwelling.

Thomsen asked Berlin to desist, declaring that

there is no surer way of driving America into the war than by resorting again to a course of action which drove America into the ranks of our enemies once before in the World War and, incidentally, did not in the least impede the war industries of the United States.

Besides, he added, "both individuals are unfitted in every respect to act as agents of the Abwehr." [vi]

Since November 1938, when Roosevelt had recalled the American ambassador in Berlin in protest against the officially sponsored Nazi pogrom against the Jews, neither country had been represented in the other by an ambassador. Trade had dwindled to a mere trickle, largely as the result of American boycotts, and was now completely shut down by the British blockade. On November 4, 1939, the arms embargo was lifted, following votes in the Senate and the House, thus opening the way for the United States to supply the Western Allies with arms. It was against this background of rapidly deteriorating relations that Sumner Welles arrived in Berlin on March 1, 1940.

The day before, on February 29 -- it was a leap year -- Hitler had taken the unusual step of issuing a secret "Directive for the Conversations with Mr. Sumner Welles." [20] It called for "reserve" on the German side and advised that "as far as possible Mr. Welles be allowed to do the talking." It then laid down five points for the guidance of all the top officials who were to receive the special American envoy. The principal German argument was to be that Germany had not declared war on Britain and France but vice versa; that the Fuehrer had offered them peace in October and that they had rejected it; that Germany accepted the challenge; that the war aims of Britain and France were "the destruction of the German State," and that Germany therefore had no alternative but to continue the war.

A discussion [Hitler concluded] of concrete political questions, such as the question of a future Polish state, is to be avoided as much as possible. In case [he] brings up subjects of this kind, the reply should be that such questions are decided by me. It is self-evident that it is entirely out of the question to discuss the subject of Austria and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia ...

All statements are to be avoided which could be interpreted ... to mean that Germany is in any way interested at present in discussing possibilities of peace. I request, rather, that Mr. Sumner Welles not be given the slightest reason to doubt that Germany is determined to end this war victoriously ...
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

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Part 2 of 3

Not only Ribbentrop and Goering but the Leader himself followed the directive to a letter when they saw Welles separately on March 1, 3 and 2, respectively. Judging by the lengthy minutes of the talks kept by Dr. Schmidt (which are among the captured documents), the American diplomat, a somewhat taciturn and cynical man, must have got the impression that he had landed in a lunatic asylum -- if he could believe his ears. Each of the Big Three Nazis bombarded Welles with the most grotesque perversions of history, in which facts were fantastically twisted and even the simplest of words lost all meaning. [viii] Hitler, who on March 1 had issued his directive for Weseruebung, received Welles the next day and insisted that the Allied war aim was "annihilation," that of Germany "peace." He lectured his visitor on all he had done to maintain peace with England and France.

Shortly before the outbreak of the war the British Ambassador had sat exactly where Sumner Welles was now sitting, and the Fuehrer had made him the greatest offer of his life.

All his offers to the British had been rejected and now Britain was out to destroy Germany. Hitler therefore believed "that the conflict would have to be fought to a finish ... there was no other solution than a life-and-death struggle."

No wonder that Welles confided to Weizsaecker and repeated to Goering that if Germany were determined to win a military victory in the West then his trip to Europe "was pointless ... and there was nothing more for him to say." [21] [ix]

Though he had emphasized in his talks with the Germans that what he heard from the European statesmen on this trip was for the ears of Roosevelt only, Welles thought it wise to be sufficiently indiscreet to tell both Hitler and Goering that he had had a "long, constructive and helpful" talk with Mussolini and that the Duce thought "there was still a possibility of bringing about a firm and lasting peace in Europe." If these were the Italian dictator's thoughts, then it was time, the Germans realized, to correct them. Peace yes, but only after a resounding German victory in the West.

Hitler's failure to answer Mussolini's letter of January 3 had filled the Duce with mounting annoyance. All through the month Ambassador Attolico was inquiring of Ribbentrop when a reply might be expected and hinting that Italy's relations with France and Britain -- and their trade, to boot -- were improving.

This trade, which included Italian sales of war materials, aggravated the Germans, who constantly protested in Rome that it was unduly aiding the Western Allies. Ambassador von Mackensen kept reporting his "grave anxieties" to his friend Weizsaeckcr and the latter himself was afraid that Mussolini's unanswered letter, if it were "disregarded" much longer, would give the Duce "freedom of action" -- he and Italy might be lost for good. [23]

Then on March 1 Hitler received a break. The British announced that they were cutting off shipments of German coal by sea via Rotterdam to Italy. This was a heavy blow to the Italian economy and threw the Duce into a rage against the British and warmed his feelings toward the Germans, who promptly promised to find the means of delivering their coal by rail. Taking advantage of this circumstance, Hitler got off a long letter to Mussolini on March 8, which Ribbentrop delivered personally in Rome two days later. [24]

It made no apologies for its belatedness, but was cordial in tone and went into considerable detail about the Fuehrer's thoughts and policies on almost every conceivable subject, being more wordy than any previous letter of Hitler's to his Italian partner. It defended the Nazi alliance with Russia, the abandonment of the Finns, the failure to leave even a rump Poland.

If I had withdrawn the German troops from the General Government this would not have brought about a pacification of Poland, but a hideous chaos. And the Church would not have been able to exercise its function in praise of the Lord, but the priests would have had their heads chopped off ...

As for the visit of Sumner Welles, Hitler continued, it had achieved nothing. He was still determined to attack in the West. He realized "that the coming battle will not be a walkover but the fiercest struggle in Germany's history ... a battle for life or death."

And then Hitler made his pitch to Mussolini to get into the war.

I believe, Duce, that there can be no doubt that the outcome of this war will also decide the future of Italy ... You will some day be confronted by the very opponents who are fighting Germany today ... I, too, see the destinies of our two countries, our peoples, our revolutions and our regimes indissolubly joined with each other ...

And, finally, let me assure you that in spite of everything I believe that sooner or later fate will force us after all to fight side by side, that is, that you will likewise not escape this clash of arms, no matter how the individual aspects of the situation may develop today, and that your place will then more than ever be at our side, just as mine will be at yours.

Mussolini was flattered by the letter and at once assured Ribbentrop that he agreed that his place was at Hitler's side "on the firing line." The Nazi Foreign Minister, on his part, lost no time in buttering up his host. The Fuehrer, he said, was "deeply aroused by the latest British measures to block the shipment of coal from Germany to Italy by sea." How much coal did the Italians need? From 500,000 to 700,000 tons a month, Mussolini replied. Germany was now prepared, Ribbentrop answered glibly, to furnish a million tons a month and would provide most of the cars to haul it.

There were two lengthy meetings between the two, with Ciano present, on March 11 and 12, and Dr. Schmidt's shorthand minutes reveal that Ribbentrop was at his most flatulent. [25] Though there were more important things to talk about, he produced captured Polish diplomatic dispatches from the Western capitals to show "the monstrous war guilt of the United States."

The Foreign Minister explained that these documents showed specifically the sinister role of the American Ambassadors Bullitt [Paris], Kennedy [London] and Drexel Biddle [Warsaw] ... They gave an intimation of the machinations of that Jewish-plutocratic clique whose influence, through Morgan and Rockefeller, reached all the way up to Roosevelt.

For several hours the arrogant Nazi Foreign Minister raved on, displaying his customary ignorance of world affairs, emphasizing the common destiny of the two fascist nations and stressing that Hitler would soon attack in the West, "beat the French Army in the course of the summer" and drive the British from the Continent "before fall." Mussolini mostly listened, only occasionally interjecting a remark whose sarcasm apparently escaped the Nazi Minister. When, for example, Ribbentrop pompously declared that "Stalin had renounced the idea of world revolution," the Duce retorted, according to Schmidt's notes, "Do you really believe that?" When Ribbentrop explained that "there was not a single German soldier who did not believe that victory would be won this year," Mussolini interjected, "That is an extremely interesting remark." That evening Ciano noted in his diary:

After the interview, when we were left alone, Mussolini says that he does not believe in the German offensive nor in a complete German success.

The Italian dictator had promised to give his own views at the meeting the next day and Ribbentrop was somewhat uneasy as to what they might be, wiring Hitler that he had been unable to obtain a "hint as to the Duce's thoughts."

He need not have worried. The next day Mussolini was a completely different man. He had quite suddenly, as Schmidt noted, "turned completely prowar." It was not a question, he told his visitor, of whether Italy would enter the war on Germany's side, but when. The question of timing was "extremely delicate, for he ought not to intervene until all his preparations were complete, so as not to burden his partner."

In any event he had to state at this time with all distinctness that Italy was in no position financially to sustain a long war. He could not afford to spend a billion lire a day, as England and France were doing.

This remark seems to have set Ribbentrop back for a moment and he tried to pin the Duce down on a date for Italy's entry into the war, but the latter was wary of committing himself. "The moment would come," he said, "when a definition of Italy's relations with France and England, i.e., a break with these countries, would occur." It would be easy, he added, to "provoke" such a rupture. Though he persisted, Ribbentrop could not get a definite date. Obviously Hitler himself would have to intervene personally for that. The Nazi Foreign Minister thereupon suggested a meeting at the Brenner between the two men for the latter part of March, after the nineteenth, to which Mussolini readily agreed. Ribbentrop, incidentally, had not breathed a word about Hitler's plans to occupy Denmark and Norway. There were some secrets you did not mention to an ally, even while pressing for it to join you.

Though he had not succeeded in getting Mussolini to agree to a date, Ribbentrop had lured the Duce into a commitment to enter the war. "If he wanted to reinforce the Axis," Ciano lamented in his diary, "he has succeeded." When Sumner Welles, after visiting Berlin, Paris and London, returned to Rome and saw Mussolini again on March 16, he found him a changed man.

He seemed to have thrown off some great weight [Welles wrote later] I have often wondered whether. during the two weeks which had elapsed since my first visit to Rome, he had not determined to cross the Rubicon, and during Ribbentrop's visit had not decided to force Italy into the war. [26]

Welles need not have wondered.

As soon as Ribbentrop had departed Rome in his special train the anguished Italian dictator was prey to second thoughts. "He fears," Ciano jotted in his diary on March 12, "that he has gone too far in his commitment to fight against the Allies. He would now like to dissuade Hitler from his land offensive, and this he hopes to achieve at the meeting at the Brenner Pass." But Ciano, limited as he was, knew better. "It cannot be denied," he added in his diary, "that the Duce is fascinated by Hitler, a fascination which involves something deeply rooted in his makeup. The Fuehrer will get more out of the Duce than Ribbentrop was able to get." This was true -- with reservations, as shortly will be seen.

No sooner had he returned to Berlin than Ribbentrop telephoned Ciano  -- on March 13 -- asking that the Brenner meeting be set earlier than contemplated, for March 18. "The Germans are unbearable," Mussolini exploded. "They don't give one time to breathe or to think matters over." Nevertheless, he agreed to the date.

The Duce was nervous [Ciano recorded in his diary that day]. Until now he has lived under the illusion that a real war would not be waged. The prospect of an imminent clash in which he might remain an outsider disturbs him and, to use his words, humiliates him. [27]

It was snowing when the respective trains of the two dictators drew in on the morning of March 18, 1940, at the little frontier station at the Brenner Pass below the lofty snow-mantled Alps. The meeting, as a sop to Mussolini, took place in the Duce's private railroad car, but Hitler did almost all the talking. Ciano summed up the conference in his diary that evening.

The conference is more a monologue ... Hitler talks all the time ... Mussolini listens to him with interest and with deference. He speaks little and confirms his intention to move with Germany. He reserves to himself only the choice of the right moment.

He realized, Mussolini said, when he was finally able to get in a word, that it was "impossible to remain neutral until the end of the war." Co-operation with England and France was "inconceivable. We hate them. Therefore Italy's entry into the war is inevitable." Hitler had spent more than an hour trying to convince him of that -- if Italy did not want to be left out in the cold and, as he added, become "a second-rate power." [28] But having answered the main question to the Fuehrer's satisfaction. the Puce immediately began to hedge.

The great problem, however, was the date ... One condition for this would have to be fulfilled. Italy would have to be "very well prepared" ... Italy's financial position did not allow her to wage a protracted war ...

He was asking the Fuehrer whether there would be any danger for Germany if the offensive were delayed. He did not believe there was such a danger ... he would [then] have finished his military preparations in three to four months, and would not be in the embarrassing position of seeing his comrade fighting and himself limited to making demonstrations ... He wanted to do something more and he was not now in a position to do it.

The Nazi warlord had no intention of postponing his attack in the West and said so. But he had a "few theoretical ideas" which might solve Mussolini's difficulty of making a frontal attack on mountainous southern France, since that conflict, he realized, "would cost a great deal of blood." Why not, he suggested, supply a strong Italian force which together with German troops would advance along the Swiss frontier toward the Rhone Valley "in order to turn the Franco-Italian Alpine front from the rear." Before this, of course, the main German armies would have rolled back the French and British in the north. Hitler was obviously trying to make it easy for the Italians.

When the enemy has been smashed [in northern France] the moment would come [Hitler continued] for Italy to intervene actively, not at the most difficult point on the Alpine front, but elsewhere ...

The war will be decided in France. Once France is disposed of, Italy will be mistress of the Mediterranean and England will have to make peace.

Mussolini, it must be said, was not slow at seizing upon this glittering prospect of getting so much after the Germans had done all the hard fighting.

The Duce replied that once Germany had made a victorious advance he would intervene immediately ... he would lose no time ... when the Allies were so shaken by the German attack that it needed only a second blow to bring them to their knees.

On the other hand,

If Germany's progress was slow, the Duce said that then he would wait.

This crude, cowardly bargain seems not to have unduly bothered Hitler. If Mussolini was personally attracted to him, as Ciano said, by "something deeply rooted in his make-up," it might be said that the attraction was mutual, for the same mysterious reasons. Disloyal as he had been to some of his closest associates, a number of whom he had had murdered, such as Roehm and Strasser, Hitler maintained a strange and unusual loyalty to his ridiculous Italian partner that did not weaken, that indeed was strengthened when adversity and then disaster overtook the strutting, sawdust Roman Caesar. It is one of the interesting paradoxes of this narrative.

At any rate, for what it was worth -- and few Germans besides Hitler, especially among the generals, thought it was worth very much -- Italy's entrance into the war had now at last been solemnly promised. The Nazi warlord could turn his thoughts again to new and imminent conquests. Of the most imminent one -- in the north -- he did not breathe a word to his friend and ally.


Once more the anti-Nazi plotters tried to persuade the generals to depose the Leader -- this time before he could launch his new aggression in the north, of which they had got wind. What the civilian conspirators again wanted was assurance from the British government that it would make peace with an anti-Nazi German regime, and, being what they were, they were insistent that in any settlement the new Reich government be allowed to keep most of Hitler's territorial gains: Austria, the Sudetenland and the 1914 frontier in Poland, though this last had only been obtained in the past by the wiping out of the Polish nation.

It was with such a proposal that Hassell, with considerable personal courage, journeyed to Arosa, Switzerland, on February 21, 1940, to confer with a British contact whom he calls "Mr. X" in his diary and who was a certain J. Lonsdale Bryans. They conferred in the greatest secrecy at four meetings on February 22 and 23. Bryans, who had cut a certain figure in the diplomatic society of Rome, was another of those self-appointed and somewhat amateurish negotiators for peace who have turned up in this narrative. He had contacts in Downing Street, and Hassell, once they had met, was personally impressed by him. After the fiasco of the attempt of Major Stevens and Captain Best in Holland to get in touch with the German conspirators, the British were somewhat skeptical of the whole business, and when Bryans pressed Hassell for some reliable information as to whom he was speaking for the German envoy became cagey.

"I am not in a position to name the men who are backing me," Hassell retorted. "I can only assure you that a statement from Halifax would get to the right people." [29]

Hassell then outlined the views of the German "opposition": it was realized that Hitler had to be overthrown "before major military operations are undertaken"; that this must be "an exclusively German affair"; that there must be "some authoritative English statement" about how a new anti-Nazi regime in Berlin would be treated and that "the principal obstacle to any change in regime is the story of 1918, that is, German anxiety lest things develop as they did then, after the Kaiser was sacrificed." Hassell and his friends wanted guarantees that if they got rid of Hitler Germany would be treated more generously than it was after the Germans had got rid of Wilhelm II.

He thereupon handed over to Bryans a memorandum which he himself had drawn up in English. It is a wooly document, though full of noble sentiments about a future world based "on the principles of Christian ethics, justice and law, social welfare and liberty of thought and conscience." The greatest danger of continuing "this mad war," Hassell wrote, was "a bolshevization of Europe" -- he considered that worse than the continuance of Nazism. And his main condition for peace was that the new Germany be left with almost all of Hitler's conquests, which he enumerated. The German acquisition of Austria and the Sudetenland could not even be discussed in any proposed peace; and Germany would have to have the 1914 frontier with Poland, which, of course, though he did not say so, was actually the 1914 frontier with Russia, since Poland' had not been allowed to exist in 1914.

Bryans agreed that speedy action was necessary in view of the imminence of the German offensive in the West and promised to deliver Hassell's memorandum to Lord Halifax. Hassell returned to Berlin to acquaint his fellow plotters with his latest move. Although they hoped for the best from Hassell's "Mr. X" they were more concerned at the moment with the so-called "X Report" which Hans von Dohnanyi, one of the members of the group in the Abwehr, had drawn up on the basis of Dr. Mueller's contact with the British at the Vatican. [x] It declared that the Pope was ready to intervene with Britain for reasonable peace terms with a new anti-Nazi German government, and it is a measure of the views of these opponents of Hitler that one of their terms, which they claimed the Holy Father would back, was "the settlement of the Eastern question in favor of Germany." The demonic Nazi dictator had obtained a settlement in the East "in favor of Germany" by armed aggression; the good German conspirators wanted the same thing handed to them by the British with the Pope's blessings.

The X Report loomed very large in the minds of the plotters that winter of 1939-40. At the end of October General Thomas had shown it to Brauchitsch with the intention of bucking up the Army Commander in Chief in his efforts to dissuade Hitler from launching the offensive in the West that fall. But Brauchitsch did not appreciate such encouragement. In fact, he threatened to have General Thomas arrested if he brought the matter up again. It was "plain high treason," he barked at him.

Now, with a fresh Nazi aggression in the offing, Thomas took the X Report to General Halder in the hope that he might act on it. But this was a vain hope. As the General Staff Chief told Goerdeler, one of the most active of the conspirators -- who had also begged him to take the lead, since the spineless Brauchitsch would not -- he could not at this time justify breaking his oath as a soldier to the Fuehrer. Besides:

England and France had declared war on us, and one had to see it through.

A peace of compromise was senseless. Only in the greatest emergency could one take the action desired by Goerdeler.

"Also, doch!" exclaimed Hassell in his diary on April 6, 1940, in recounting Halder's state of mind as explained to him by Goerdeler. "Halder," the diarist added, "who had begun to weep during the discussion of his responsibility, gave the impression of a weak man with shattered nerves."

The accuracy of such an impression is to be doubted. When one goes over Halder's diary for the first week of April, cluttered as it is with hundreds of detailed entries about preparations for the gigantic offensive in the West, which he was helping to mastermind, this writer at least gets the impression that the General Staff Chief was in a buoyant mood as he conferred with the field commanders and checked the final plans for the 1greatest and most daring military operation in German history. There is no hint in his journal of treasonable thoughts or of any wrestling with his conscience. Though he has misgivings about the attack on Denmark and Norway, they are based purely on military grounds, and there is not a word of moral doubt about Nazi aggression against the four small neutral countries whose frontiers Germany had solemnly guaranteed and whom Halder knew Germany was about to attack, and against two of whom, Belgium and Holland, he himself had taken a leading part in drafting the plans.

So ended the latest attempt of the "good Germans" to oust Hitler before it was too late. It was the last opportunity they would have to obtain a generous peace. The generals, as Brauchitsch and Halder had made clear, were not interested in a negotiated peace. They were thinking now, as was the Fuehrer, of a dictated peace -- dictated after German victory. Not until the chances of that had gone glimmering did they seriously return to their old and treasonable thoughts, which had been so strong at Munich and at Zossen, of removing their mad dictator. This state of mind and character must be remembered in view of subsequent events and of subsequent spinning of myths.


Hitler's preparations for the conquest of Denmark and Norway have been called by many writers one of the best-kept secrets of the war, but it has seemed to this author that the two Scandinavian countries and even the British were caught napping not because they were not warned of what was coming but because they did not believe the warnings in time.

Ten days before disaster struck, Colonel Oster of the Abwehr warned a close friend of his, Colonel J. G. Sas, the Dutch military attache in Berlin, of the German plans for Weseruebung and Sas immediately informed the Danish naval attache, Captain Kjolsen. [30] But the complacent Danish government would not believe its own naval attache, and when on April 4 the Danish minister in Berlin sent Kjolsen scurrying to Copenhagen to repeat the warning in person his intelligence was still not taken seriously. Even on the eve of catastrophe, on the evening of March 8, after news had been received of the torpedoing of a German transport laden with troops off the south coast of Norway -- just north of Denmark -- and the Danes had seen with their own eyes a great German naval armada sailing north between their islands, the King of Denmark had dismissed with a smile a remark at the dinner table that his country was in danger.

"He really didn't believe that," a Guards officer who was present later reported. In fact, this officer related, the King had proceeded after dinner to the Royal Theater in a "confident and happy" frame of mind. [31]

Already in March the Norwegian government had received warnings from its legation in Berlin and from the Swedes about a German concentration of troops and naval vessels in the North Sea and Baltic ports and on April 5 definite intelligence arrived from Berlin of imminent German landings on the southern coast of Norway. But the complacent cabinet in Oslo remained skeptical. Not even on the seventh, when several large German war vessels were sighted proceeding up the Norwegian coast and reports arrived of British planes strafing a German battle fleet off the mouth of the Skagerrak, not even on April 8, when the British Admiralty informed the Legation of Norway in London that a strong German naval force had been discovered approaching Narvik and the newspapers in Oslo were reporting that German soldiers rescued from the transport Rio de Janeiro, torpedoed that day off the Norwegian coast at Lillesand by a Polish submarine, had declared they were en route to Bergen to help defend it against the British -- not even then did the Norwegian government consider it necessary to take such obvious steps as mobilizing the Army, fully manning the forts guarding the harbors, blocking the airfield runways, or, most important of all, mining the easily mined narrow water approaches to the capital and the main cities. Had it done these things history might have taken a different turning.

Ominous news, as Churchill puts it, had begun filtering into London by the first of April, and on April 3 the British War Cabinet discussed the latest intelligence, above all from Stockholm, which told of the Germans collecting sizable military forces in its northern ports with the objective of moving into Scandinavia. But the news does not seem to have been taken very seriously. Two days later, on April 5, when the first wave of German naval supply ships was already at sea, Prime Minister Chamberlain proclaimed in a speech that Hitler, by failing to attack in the West when the British and French were unprepared, had "missed the bus" -- a phrase he was very shortly to rue. [xi]

The British government at this moment, according to Churchill, was inclined to believe that the German build-up in the Baltic and North Sea ports was being done merely to enable Hitler to deliver a counterstroke in case the British, in mining Norwegian waters to cut off the ore shipments from Narvik, also occupied that port and perhaps others to the south.

As a matter of fact, the British government was contemplating such an occupation. After seven months of frustration Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, had finally succeeded in getting the approval of the War Cabinet and the Allied Supreme War Council to mine the Norwegian Leads on April 8 -- an action called "Wilfred." Since it seemed likely that the Germans would react violently to the mortal blow of having their iron ore shipments from Narvik blocked, it was decided that a small Anglo- French force should be dispatched to Narvik and advance to the nearby Swedish frontier. Other contingents would be landed at Trondheim, Bergen and Stavanger farther south in order, as Churchill explained, "to deny these bases to the enemy." This was known as "Plan R-4." [32]

Thus during the first week of April, while German troops were being loaded on various warships for the passage to Norway, British troops, though in much fewer numbers, were being embarked on transports in the Clyde and on cruisers in the Forth for the same destination.

On the afternoon of April 2, Hitler, after a long conference with Goering, Raeder and Falkenhorst, issued a formal directive ordering Weseruebung to begin at 5:15 A.M. on April 9. At the same time he issued another directive stipulating that "the escape of the Kings of Denmark and Norway from their countries at the time of the occupation must be prevented by all means." [33] Also on the same day OKW let the Foreign Office in on the secret. A lengthy directive was presented to Ribbentrop instructing him to prepare the diplomatic measures for inducing Denmark and Norway to surrender without a fight as soon as the German armed forces had arrived and to concoct some kind of justification for Hitler's latest aggression. [34]

But trickery was not to be confined to the Foreign Office. The Navy was also to make use of it. On April 3, with the departure of the first vessels, Jodl reflected in his diary on the problem of how deceit could be used to hoodwink the Norwegians in case they became suspicious of the presence of so many German men-of-war in their vicinity. Actually this little matter had already been worked out by the Navy. It had instructed its warships and transports to try to pass as British craft -- even if it were necessary to fly the Union Jack! Secret German naval commands laid down detailed orders for "Deception and Camouflage in the Invasion of Norway." [35]


Behavior During Entrance into the Harbor

All ships darkened ... The disguise as British craft must be kept as long as possible. All challenges in Morse by Norwegian ships will be answered in English. In answer, something like the following will be chosen:

"Calling at Bergen for a short visit. No hostile intent."

... Challenges to be answered with names of British warships:

Koeln -- H.M.S. Cairo.

Koenigsberg -- H.M.S. Calcutta .... (etc.)

Arrangements are to be made to enable British war flags to be illuminated ...

For Bergen ... Following is laid down as guiding principle should one of our own units find itself compelled to answer the challenge of passing craft:

To challenge: (in case of the Koeln) H.M.S. Cairo.

To order to stop: "(1) Please repeat last signal. (2) Impossible to understand your signal."

In case of a warning shot: "Stop firing. British ship. Good friend."

In case of an inquiry as to destination and purpose: "Going Bergen. Chasing German steamers." [xii]

And so on April 9, 1940, at 5:20 A.M. precisely (4:20 A.M. in Denmark), an hour before dawn, the German envoys at Copenhagen and Oslo, having routed the respective foreign ministers out of bed exactly twenty minutes before (Ribbentrop had insisted on a strict timetable in co-ordination with the arrival at that hour of the German troops), presented to the Danish and Norwegian governments a German ultimatum demanding that they accept on the instant, and without resistance, the "protection of the Reich." The ultimatum was perhaps the most brazen document yet composed by Hitler and Ribbentrop, who were such masters and by now so experienced in diplomatic deceit. [37]

After declaring that the Reich had come to the aid of Denmark and Norway to protect them against an Anglo-French occupation, the memorandum stated:

The German troops therefore do not set foot on Norwegian soil as enemies. The German High Command does not intend to make use of the points occupied by German troops as bases for operations against England as long as it is not forced to ... On the contrary, German military operations aim exclusively at protecting the north against the proposed occupation of Norwegian bases by Anglo-French forces ...

... In the spirit of the good relations between Germany and Norway which have existed hitherto, the Reich Government declares to the Royal Norwegian Government that Germany has no intention of infringing by her measures the territorial integrity and political independence of the Kingdom of Norway now or in the future ...

The Reich Government therefore expects that the Norwegian Government and the Norwegian people will ... offer no resistance to it. Any resistance would have to be, and would be, broken by all possible means ... and would therefore lead only to absolutely useless bloodshed... .

German expectations proved justified as regards Denmark but not Norway. This became known in the Wilhelmstrasse with the receipt of the first urgent messages from the respective ministers to those countries. The German envoy in Copenhagen wired Ribbentrop at 8:34 A.M. that the Danes had "accepted all our demands [though] registering a protest." Minister Curt Brauer in Oslo had a quite different report to make. At 5:52 A.M., just thirty-two minutes after he had delivered the German ultimatum, he wired Berlin the quick response of the Norwegian government: "We will not submit voluntarily: the struggle is already under way." [38]

The arrogant Ribbentrop was outraged. [xiii] At 10:55 he wired Brauer "most urgent": "You will once more impress on the Government there that Norwegian resistance is completely senseless."

This the unhappy German envoy could no longer do. The Norwegian King, government and members of Parliament had by this time fled the capital for the mountains in the north. However hopeless the odds, they were determined to resist. In fact, resistance had already begun in some places, though not in all, with the arrival of German ships out of the night.

The Danes were in a more hopeless position. Their pleasant little island country was incapable of defense. It was too small, too flat, and the largest part, Jutland, lay open by land to Hitler's panzers. There were no mountains for the King and the government to flee to as there were in Norway, nor could any help be expected from Britain. It has been said that the Danes were too civilized to fight in such circumstances; at any rate, they did not. General W. W. Pryor, the Army Commander in Chief, almost alone pleaded for resistance, but he was overruled by Premier Thorvald Stauning, Foreign Minister Edvard Munch, and the King, who, when the bad news began coming in on April 8, refused his pleas for mobilization. For reasons which remain obscure to this writer, even after an investigation in Copenhagen, the Navy never fired a shot, either from its ships or from its shore batteries, even when German troop ships passed under the noses of its guns and could have been blown to bits. The Army fought a few skirmishes in Jutland, the Royal Guard fired a few shots around the royal palace in the capital and suffered a few men wounded. By the time the Danes had finished their hearty breakfasts it was all over. The King, on the advice of his government but against that of General Pryor, capitulated and ordered what slight resistance there was to cease.

The plans to take Denmark by surprise and deceit, as the captured German Army records show, had been prepared with meticulous care. General Kurt Himer, chief of staff of the task force for Denmark, had arrived by train in civilian clothes in Copenhagen on April 7 to reconnoiter the capital and make the necessary arrangements for a suitable pier to dock the troopship Hansestadt Danzig and a truck to handle the moving of a few supplies and a radio transmitter. The commander of the battalion -- ail that was considered necessary to capture a great city -- had also been in Copenhagen in civilian clothes a couple of days before to get the layout of the land.

It was not so strange, therefore, that the plans of the General and the battalion major were carried out with scarcely a hitch. The troopship arrived off Copenhagen shortly before dawn, passed without challenge the guns of 'the fort guarding the harbor and those of the Danish patrol vessels and tied up neatly at the Langelinie Pier in the heart of the city, only a stone's throw from the Citadel, the headquarters of the Danish Army, and but a short distance from Amalienborg Palace, where the King resided. Both were quickly seized by the lone battalion with no resistance worth mentioning.

Upstairs in the palace, amidst the rattle of scattered shots, the King conferred with his ministers. The latter were all for nonresistance. Only General Pryor begged to be allowed to put up a fight. At the very least he demanded that the King should leave for the nearest military camp at Hovelte to escape capture. But the King agreed with his ministers. The monarch, according to one eyewitness, asked "whether our soldiers had fought long enough" -- and Pryor retorted that they had not. [xiv] [39]

General Himer became restless at the delay. He telephoned headquarters for the combined operation, which had been set up at Hamburg -- the Danish authorities had not thought of cutting the telephone lines to Germany -- and, according to his own story, [40] asked for some bombers to zoom over Copenhagen "in order to force the Danes to accept." The conversation was in code and the Luftwaffe understood that Himer was calling for an actual bombing, which it promised to carry out forthwith -- an error which was finally corrected just in time. General Himer says the bombers "roaring over the Danish capital did not fail to make their impression: the Government accepted the German requests."

There was some difficulty in finding means of broadcasting the government's capitulation to the Danish troops, because the local radio stations were not yet on the air at such an early hour. This was solved by broadcasting it on the Danish wave length over the transmitter which the German battalion had brought along with it and for which General Himer had thoughtfully dug up a truck to haul it to the Citadel.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Sat Feb 10, 2018 3:45 am

Part 3 of 3

At 2 o'clock that afternoon General Himer, accompanied by the German minister, Cecil von Renthe-Fink, called on the King of Denmark, who was no longer sovereign but did not yet realize it. Himer left a record of the interview in the secret Army archives.

The seventy-year-old King appeared inwardly shattered, although he preserved outward appearances perfectly and maintained absolute dignity during the audience. His whole body trembled. He declared that he and his government would do everything possible to keep peace and order in the country and to eliminate any friction between the German troops and the country. He wished to spare his country further misfortune and misery.

General Himer replied that personally he very much regretted coming to the King on such a mission, but that he was only doing his duty as a soldier ... We came as friends, etc. When the King then asked whether he might keep his bodyguard, General Himer replied ... that the Fuehrer would doubtless permit him to retain them. He had no doubt about it.

The King was visibly relieved at hearing this. During the course of the audience ... the King became more at ease, and at its conclusion addressed General Himer with the words: "General, may I, as an old soldier, tell you something? As soldier to soldier? You Germans have done the incredible again! One must admit that it is magnificent work!"

For nearly four years, until the tide of war had changed, the Danish King and his people, a good-natured, civilized and happy-go-lucky race, offered very little trouble to the Germans. Denmark became known as the "model protectorate." The monarch, the government, the courts, even the Parliament and the press, were at first allowed a surprising amount of freedom by their conquerors. Not even Denmark's seven thousand Jews were molested -- for a time. But the Danes, later than most of the other conquered peoples, finally came to the realization that further "loyal cooperation," as they called it, with their Teutonic tyrants, whose brutality increased with the years and with the worsening fortunes of war, was impossible -- if they were to retain any shred of self-respect and honor. They also began to see that Germany might not win the war after all and that little Denmark was not inexorably condemned, as so many had feared at first, to be a vassal state in Hitler's unspeakable New Order. Then resistance began.


It began in Norway from the outset, though certainly not everywhere. At Narvik, the port and railhead of the iron ore line from Sweden, Colonel Konrad Sundlo, in command of the local garrison, who, as we have seen, was a fanatical follower of Quisling, [xv] surrendered to the Germans without firing a shot. The naval commander was of a different caliber. With the approach of ten German destroyers at the mouth of the long fjord, the Eidsvold, one of two ancient ironclads in the harbor, fired a warning shot and signaled to the destroyers to identify themselves. Rear Admiral Fritz Bonte, commanding the German destroyer flotilla, answered by sending an officer in a launch to the Norwegian vessel to demand surrender. There now followed a bit of German treachery, though German naval officers later defended it with the argument that in war necessity knows no law. When the officer in the launch signaled the German Admiral that the Norwegians had said they would resist, Bonte waited only until his launch got out of the way and then quickly blew up the Eidsvold with torpedoes. The second Norwegian ironclad, the Norge, then opened fire but was quickly dispatched. Three hundred Norwegian sailors -- almost the entire crews of the two vessels -- perished. By 8 A.M. Narvik was in the hands of the Germans, taken by ten destroyers which had slipped through a formidable British fleet, and occupied by a mere two battalions of Nazi troops under the command of Brigadier General Eduard Dietl, an old Bavarian crony of Hitler since the days of the Beer Hall Putsch, who was to prove himself a resourceful and courageous commander when the going at Narvik got rough, as it did beginning the next day.

Trondheim, halfway down the long Norwegian west coast, was taken by the Germans almost as easily. The harbor batteries failed to fire on the German naval ships, led by the heavy cruiser Hipper, as they came up the long fjord, and the troops aboard that ship and four destroyers were conveniently disembarked at the city's piers without interference. Some forts held out for a few hours and the nearby airfield at Vaernes for two days, but this resistance did not affect the occupation of a fine harbor suitable for the largest naval ships as well as submarines and the railhead of a line that ran across north-central Norway to Sweden and over which the Germans expected, and with reason, to receive supplies should the British cut them off at sea.

Bergen, the second port and city of Norway, lying some three hundred miles down the coast from Trondheim and connected with Oslo, the capital, by railway, put up some resistance. The batteries guarding the harbor badly damaged the cruiser Koenigsberg and an auxiliary ship, but troops from other vessels landed safely and occupied the city before noon. It was at Bergen that the first direct British aid for the stunned Norwegians arrived. In the afternoon fifteen naval dive bombers sank the Koenigsberg, the first ship of that size ever to go down as the result of an air attack. Outside the harbor the British had a powerful fleet of four cruisers and seven destroyers which could have overwhelmed the smaller German naval force. It was about to enter the harbor when it received orders from the Admiralty to cancel the attack because of the risk of mines and bombing from the air, a decision which Churchill, who concurred in it, later regretted. This was the first sign of caution and of half measures which would cost the British dearly in the next crucial days.

Sola airfield, near the port of Stavanger on the southwest coast, was taken by German parachute troops after the Norwegian machine gun emplacements -- there was no real antiaircraft protection -- were silenced. This was Norway's biggest airfield and strategically of the highest importance to the Luftwaffe, since from here bombers could range not only against the British fleet along the Norwegian coast but against the chief British naval bases in northern Britain. Its seizure gave the Germans immediate air superiority in Norway and spelled the doom of any attempt by the British to land sizable forces.

Kristiansand on the south coast put up considerable resistance to the Germans, its shore batteries twice driving off a German fleet led by the light cruiser Karlsruhe. But the forts were quickly reduced by Luftwaffe bombing and the port was occupied by midafternoon. The Karlsruhe, however, on leaving port that evening was torpedoed by a British submarine and so badly damaged that it had to be sunk.

By noon, then, or shortly afterward, the five principal Norwegian cities and ports and the one big airfield along the west and south coasts that ran for 1,500 miles from the Skagerrak to the Arctic were in German hands. They had been taken by a handful of troops conveyed by a Navy vastly inferior to that of the British. Daring, deceit and surprise had brought Hitler a resounding victory at very little cost.

But at Oslo, the main prize, his military force and his diplomacy had run into unexpected trouble.

All through the chilly night of April 8-9, a gay welcoming party from the German Legation, led by Captain Schreiber, the naval attache, and joined occasionally by the busy Dr. Brauer, the minister, stood at the quayside in Oslo Harbor waiting for the arrival of a German fleet and troop transports. A junior German naval attache was darting about the bay in a motorboat waiting to act as pilot for the fleet, headed by the pocket battleship Leutzow (its name changed from Deutschland because Hitler did not want to risk losing a ship by that name) and the brand-new heavy cruiser Bluecher, flagship of the squadron.

They waited in vain. The big ships never arrived. They had been challenged at the entrance to the fifty-mile-long Oslo Fjord ·by the Norwegian mine layer Olav Trygverson, which sank a German torpedo boat and damaged the light cruiser Emden. After landing a small force to subdue the shore batteries the German squadron, however, continued on its way up the fjord. At a point some fifteen miles south of Oslo where the waters narrowed to fifteen miles, further trouble developed. Here stood the ancient fortress of Oskarsborg, whose defenders were more alert than the Germans suspected. Just before dawn the fort's 28-centimeter Krupp guns opened fire on the Luetzow and the Bluecher, and torpedoes were also launched from the shore. The 10,000-ton Bluecher, ablaze and torn by the explosions of its ammunition, went down, with the loss of 1,600 men, including several Gestapo and administrative officials (and all their papers) who were to arrest the King and the government and take over the administration of the capital. The Luetzow was also damaged but not completely disabled. Rear Admiral Oskar Kummetz, commander of the squadron, and General Erwin Engelbrecht, who led the 163rd Infantry Division, who were on the Bluecher, managed to swim ashore, where they were made prisoners by the Norwegians. Whereupon the crippled German fleet turned back for the moment to lick its wounds. It had failed in its mission to take the main German objective, the capital of Norway. It did not get there until the next day.

Oslo, in fact, fell to little more than a phantom German force dropped from the air at the local, undefended airport. The catastrophic news from the other seaports and the pounding of the guns fifteen miles down the Oslo Fjord had sent the Norwegian royal family, the government and members of Parliament scurrying on a special train from the capital at 9:30 A.M. for Hamar, eighty miles to the north. Twenty motor trucks laden with the gold of the Bank of Norway and three more with the secret papers of the Foreign Office got away at the same hour. Thus the gallant action of the garrison at Oskarsborg had foiled Hitler's plans to get his hands on the Norwegian King, government and gold.

But Oslo was left in complete bewilderment. There were some Norwegian troops there, but they were not put into a state for defense. Above all, nothing was done to block the airport at nearby Fornebu, which could have been done with a few old automobiles parked along the runway and about the field. Late on the previous night Captain Spiller, the German air attache in Oslo, had stationed himself there to welcome the airborne troops, which were to come in after the Navy had reached the city. When the ships failed to arrive a frantic radio message was sent from the legation to Berlin apprising it of the unexpected and unhappy situation. The response was immediate. Soon parachute and airborne infantry troops were being landed at Fornebu. By noon about five companies had been assembled. As they were only lightly armed, the available Norwegian troops in the capital could have easily destroyed them. But for reasons never yet made clear -- so great was the confusion in Oslo -- they were not mustered, much less deployed, and the token German infantry force marched into the capital behind a blaring, if makeshift, military band. Thus the last of Norway's cities fell. But not Norway; not yet.

On the afternoon of April 9, the Storting, the Norwegian Parliament, met at Hamar with only five of the two hundred members missing, but adjourned at 7:30 P.M. when news was received that German troops were approaching and moved on to Elverum, a few miles to the east toward the Swedish border. Dr. Brauer, pressed by Ribbentrop, was demanding an immediate audience with the King, and the Norwegian Prime Minister had assented on condition that German troops withdraw to a safe distance south. This the German minister would not agree to.

Indeed, at this moment a further piece of Nazi treachery was in the making. Captain Spiller, the air attache, had set out from the Fornebu airport for Hamar with two companies of German parachutists to capture the recalcitrant King and government. It seemed to them more of a lark than anything else. Since Norwegian troops had not fired a shot to prevent the German entry into Oslo, Spiller expected no resistance at Hamar. In fact the two companies, traveling on commandeered autobuses, were making a pleasant sightseeing jaunt of it. But they did not reckon with a Norwegian Army officer who acted quite unlike so many of the others. Colonel Ruge, Inspector General of Infantry, who had accompanied the King northward, had insisted on providing some sort of protection to the fugitive government and had set up a roadblock near Hamar with two battalions of infantry which he had hastily rounded up. The German buses were stopped and in a skirmish which followed Spiller was mortally wounded. After suffering further casualties the Germans fell back all the way to Oslo.

The next day, Dr. Brauer set out from Oslo alone along the same road to see the King. An old-school professional diplomat, the German minister did not relish his role, but Ribbentrop had kept after him relentlessly to talk the King and the government into surrender. Brauer's difficult task had been further complicated by certain political events which had just taken place in Oslo. On the preceding evening Quisling had finally bestirred himself, once the capital was firmly in German hands, stormed into the radio station and broadcast a proclamation naming himself as head of a new government and ordering all Norwegian resistance to the Germans to halt immediately. Though Brauer could not yet grasp it -- and Berlin could never, even later, understand it -- this treasonable act doomed the German efforts to induce Norway to surrender. And paradoxically, though it was a moment of national shame for the Norwegian people, the treason of Quisling rallied the stunned Norwegians to a resistance which was to become formidable and heroic.

Dr. Brauer met Haakon VII, the only king in the twentieth century who had been elected to the throne by popular vote and the first monarch Norway had had of its own for five centuries, [xvi] in a schoolhouse at the little town of Elverum at 3 P.M. on April 10. From a talk this writer later had with the monarch and from a perusal of both the Norwegian records and Dr. Brauer's secret report (which is among the captured German Foreign Office documents) it is possible to give an account of what happened. After considerable reluctance the King had agreed to receive the German envoy in the presence of his Foreign Minister, Dr. Halvdan Koht. When Brauer insisted on seeing Haakon at first alone the King, with the agreement of Koht, finally consented.

The German minister, acting on instructions, alternately flattered and tried to intimidate the King. Germany wanted to preserve the dynasty. It was merely asking Haakon to do what his brother had done the day before in Copenhagen. It was folly to resist the Wehrmacht. Only useless slaughter for the Norwegians would ensue. The King was asked to approve the government of Quisling and return to Oslo. Haakon, a salty, democratic man and a great stickler, even at this disastrous moment, for constitutional procedure, tried to explain to the German diplomat that in Norway the King did not make political decisions; that was exclusively the business of the government, which he would now consult. Koht then joined the conversation and it was agreed that the government's answer would be telephoned to Brauer at some point on his way back to Oslo.

For Haakon, who, though he could not make the political decision could surely influence it, there was but one answer to the Germans. Retiring to a modest inn in the village of Nybergsund near Elverum -- just in case the Germans, with Brauer gone, tried to capture him in another surprise attack -- he assembled the members of the government as Council of State.

... For my part [he told them] I cannot accept the German demands. 11 would conflict with all that I have considered to be my duty as King of Norway since I came to this country nearly thirty-five years ago ... I do not want the decision of the government to be influenced by or based upon this statement. But ... I cannot appoint Quisling Prime Minister, a man in whom I know neither our people ... nor its representatives in the Starting have any confidence at all.

If therefore the government should decide to accept the German demands -- and I fully understand the reasons in favor of it, considering the impending danger of war in which so many young Norwegians will have to give their lives -- if so, abdication will be the only course open to me. [41]

The government, though there may have been some waverers up to this moment, could not be less courageous than the King, and it quickly rallied behind him. By the time Brauer got to Eidsvold, halfway back to Oslo, Koht was on the telephone line to him with the Norwegian reply. The German minister telephoned it immediately to the legation in Oslo, where it was sped to Berlin.

The King will name no government headed by Quisling and this decision was made upon the unanimous advice of the Government. To my specific question, Foreign Minister Koht replied: "Resistance will continue as long as possible." [42]

That evening from a feeble little rural radio station nearby, the only means of communication to the outside world available, the Norwegian government flung down the gauntlet to the mighty Third Reich. It announced its decision not to accept the German demands and called upon the people -- there were only three million of them -- to resist the invaders. The King formally associated himself with the appeal.

But the Nazi conquerors could not quite bring themselves to believe that the Norwegians meant what they said. Two more attempts were made to dissuade the King. On the morning of April 11 an emissary of Quisling, a Captain Irgens, arrived to urge the monarch to return to the capital. He promised that Quisling would serve him loyally. His proposal was dismissed with silent contempt.

In the afternoon an urgent message came from Brauer, requesting a further audience with the King to talk over "certain proposals." The hard-pressed German envoy had been instructed by Ribbentrop to tell the monarch that he "wanted to give the Norwegian people one last chance of a reasonable agreement." [xvii] This time Dr. Koht, after consulting the King, replied that if the German minister had "certain proposals" he could communicate them to the Foreign Minister.

The Nazi reaction to this rebuff by such a small and now helpless country was immediate and in character. The Germans had failed, first, to capture the King and the members of the government and, then, to persuade them to surrender. Now the Germans tried to kill them. Late on April 11, the Luftwaffe was sent out to give the village of Nybergsund the full treatment. The Nazi flyers demolished it with explosive and incendiary bombs and then machine-gunned those who tried to escape the burning ruins. The Germans apparently believed at first that they had succeeded in massacring the King and the members of the government. The diary of a German airman, later captured in northern Norway, had this entry for April 11: "Nybergsund. Oslo Regierung. Alles vernichtet." (Oslo government. Completely wiped out.)

The village had been, but not the King and the government. With the approach of the Nazi bombers they had taken refuge in a nearby wood. Standing in snow up to their knees, they had watched the Luftwaffe reduce the modest cottages of the hamlet to ruins. They now faced a choice of either moving on to the nearby Swedish border and asylum in neutral Sweden or pushing north into their own mountains, still deep in the spring snow. They decided to move on up the rugged Gudbrands Valley, which led past Hamar and Lillehammer and through the mountains to Andalsnes on the northwest coast, a hundred miles southwest of Trondheim. Along the route they might organize the still dazed and scattered Norwegian forces for further resistance. And there was some hope that British troops might eventually arrive to help them.


In the far north at Narvik the British Navy already had reacted sharply to the surprise German occupation. It had been, as Churchill, who was in charge of it, admitted, "completely outwitted" by the Germans. Now in the north at least, out of range of the German land-based bombers, it went over to the offensive. On the morning of April 10, twenty-four hours after ten German destroyers had taken Narvik and disembarked Dietl's troops, a force of five British destroyers entered Narvik harbor, sank two of the five 'German destroyers then in the port, damaged the other three and sank all the German cargo vessels except one. In this action the German naval commander, Rear Admiral Bonte, was killed. On leaving the harbor, however, the British ships ran into the five remaining German destroyers emerging from nearby fjords. The German craft were heavier gunned and sank one British destroyer, forced the beaching of another on which the British commander, Captain Warburton-Lee, was mortally wounded, and damaged a third. Three of the five British destroyers managed to make the open sea where, in retiring, they sank a large German freighter, laden with ammunition, which was approaching the port.

At noon on April 13 the British, this time with the battleship Warspite, a survivor of the First World War Battle of Jutland, leading a flotilla of destroyers, returned to Narvik and wiped out the remaining German war vessels. Vice-Admiral W. J. Whitworth, the commanding officer, in wirelessing the Admiralty of his action urged that since the German troops on shore had been stunned and disorganized -- Dietl and his men had in fact taken to the hills -- Narvik be occupied at once "by the main landing force." Unfortunately for the Allies, the British Army commander, Major General P. J. Mackesy, was an exceedingly cautious officer and, arriving the very next day with an advance contingent of three infantry battalions, decided not to risk a landing at Narvik but to disembark his troops at Harstad, thirty-five miles to the north, which was in the hands of the Norwegians. This was a costly error.

In the light of the fact that they had prepared a small expeditionary corps for Norway, the British were unaccountably slow in getting their troops under way. On the afternoon of April 8, after news was received of the movement of German fleet units up the Norwegian coast, the British Navy hurriedly disembarked the troops that had already been loaded on shipboard for the possible occupation of Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik, on the ground that every ship would be needed for naval action. By the time the British land forces were re-embarked all those port cities were in German hands. And by the time they reached central Norway they were doomed, as were the British naval ships which were to cover them, by the Luftwaffe's control of the air.

By April 20, one British brigade, reinforced by three battalions of French Chasseurs Alpins, had been landed at Namsos, a small port eighty miles northeast of Trondheim, and a second British brigade had been put ashore at Andalsnes, a hundred miles to the southwest of Trondheim, which was thus to be attacked from north and south. But lacking field artillery, antiaircraft guns and air support, their bases pounded night and day by German bombers which blocked the further landing of supplies or reinforcements, neither force ever seriously threatened Trondheim. The Andalsnes brigade, after meeting a Norwegian unit at Dombas, a rail junction sixty miles to the east, abandoned the proposed attack northward toward Trondheim and pushed southeast down the Gudbrandsdal in order to aid the Norwegian troops which, under the energetic command of Colonel Ruge, had been slowing up the main German drive coming up the valley from Oslo.

At Lillehammer, north of Hamar, the first engagement of the war between British and German troops took place on April 21, but it was no match. The ship laden with the British brigade's artillery had been sunk and there were only rifles and machine guns with which to oppose a strong German force armed with artillery and light tanks. Even worse, the British infantry, lacking air support, was incessantly pounded by Luftwaffe planes operating from nearby Norwegian airfields. Lillehammer fell after a twenty-four-hour battle and the British and Norwegian forces began a retreat of 140 miles up the valley railway to Andalsnes, halting here and there to fight a rear-guard action. which slowed the Germans but never stopped them. On the nights of April 30 and May 1 the British forces were evacuated from Andalsnes and on May 2 the Anglo-French contingent from Namsos, considerable feats in themselves, for both harbors were blazing shambles from continuous German bombing. On the night of April 29 the King of Norway and the members of his government were taken aboard the British cruiser Glasgow at Molde, across the Romsdalsfjord from Andalsnes, itself also a shambles from Luftwaffe bombing, and conveyed to Tromso, far above the Arctic Circle and north of Narvik, where on May Day the provisional capital was set up.

By then the southern half of Norway, comprising all the cities and main towns, had been irretrievably lost. But northern Norway seemed secure. On May 28 an Allied force of 25,000 men, including two brigades of Norwegians, a brigade of Poles and two battalions of the French Foreign Legion, had driven the greatly outnumbered Germans out of Narvik. There seemed no reason to doubt that Hitler would be deprived of both his iron ore and his objective of occupying all of Norway and making the Norwegian government capitulate. But by this time the Wehrmacht had struck with stunning force on the Western front and every Allied soldier was needed to plug the gap. Narvik was abandoned, the Allied troops were hastily re-embarked, and General Dietl, who had held out in a wild mountainous tract near the Swedish border, reoccupied the port on June 8 and four days later accepted the surrender of the persevering and gallant Colonel Ruge and his bewildered, resentful Norwegian troops, who felt they had been left in the lurch by the British. King Haakon and his government were taken aboard the cruiser Devonshire at Tromso on June 7 and departed for London and five years of bitter exile. [xviii] In Berlin Dietl was promoted to Major General, awarded the Ritterkreuz and hailed by Hitler as the Sieger von Narvik.

Despite his amazing successes the Fuehrer had had his bad moments during the Norwegian campaign. General Jodl's diary is crammed with terse entries recounting a succession of the warlord's nervous crises. "Terrible excitement," he noted on April 14 after news had been received of the wiping out of the German naval forces at Narvik. On April 17 Hitler had a fit of hysteria about the loss of Narvik; he demanded that General Dietl's troops there be evacuated by air -- an impossibility. "Each piece of bad news," Jodi scribbled that day in his diary, "leads to the worst fears." And two days later: "Renewed crisis. Political action has failed. Envoy Brauer is recalled. According to the Fuehrer, force has to be used ... [xix] The conferences at the Chancellery in Berlin that day, April 19, became so embittered, with the heads of the three services blaming each other for the delays, that even the lackey Keitel stalked out of the room. "Chaos of leadership is again threatening," Jodl noted. And on April 22 he added: "Fuehrer is increasingly worried about the English landings."

On April 23 the slow progress of the German forces moving up from Oslo toward Trondheim and Andalsnes caused the "excitement to grow," as Jodl put it, but the next day the news was better and from that day it continued to grow more rosy. By the twenty-sixth the warlord was in such fine fettle that at 3:30 in the morning, during an all-night session with his military advisers, he told them he intended to start "Yellow" between May 1 and 7. "Yellow" was the code name for the attack in the West across Holland and Belgium. Though on April 29 Hitler was again "worried about Trondheim," the next day he was "happy with joy" at the news that a battle group from Oslo had reached the city. He could at last turn his attention back to the West. On May 1 he ordered that preparations for the big attack there be ready by May 5.

The Wehrmacht commanders -- Goering, Brauchitsch, Halder, Keitel, Jodl, Raeder and the rest -- had for the first time had a foretaste during the Norwegian campaign of how their demonic Leader cracked under the strain of even minor setbacks in battle. It was a weakness which would grow on him when, after a series of further astonishing military successes, the tide of war changed, and it would contribute mightily to the eventual debacle of the Third Reich.

Still, any way one looked at it, the quick conquest of Denmark and Norway had been an important victory for Hitler and a discouraging defeat for the British. It secured the winter iron ore route, gave added protection to the entrance to the Baltic, allowed the daring German Navy to break out into the North Atlantic and provided them with excellent port facilities there for submarines and surface ships in the sea war against Britain. It brought Hitler air bases hundreds of miles closer to the main enemy. And perhaps most important of all it immensely enhanced the military prestige of the Third Reich and correspondingly diminished that of the Western Allies. Nazi Germany seemed invincible. Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and now Denmark and Norway had succumbed easily to Hitler's force, or threat of force, and not even the help of two major allies in the West had been, in the latter cases, of the slightest avail. The wave of the future, as an eminent American woman wrote, seemed to belong to Hitler and Nazism.

For the remaining neutral states Hitler's latest conquest was also a terrifying lesson. Obviously neutrality no longer offered protection to the little democratic nations trying to survive in a totalitarian -- dominated world. Finland had just found that out, and now Norway and Denmark. They had themselves to blame for being so blind, for declining to accept in good time -- before the actual aggression -- the help of friendly world powers.

I trust this fact [Churchill told Commons on April 11] will be meditated upon by other countries who may tomorrow, or a week hence, or a month hence, find themselves the victims of an equally elaborately worked -- out staff plan for their destruction and enslavement. [45]

He was obviously thinking of Holland and Belgium, but even in their case, though there would be a month of grace, no such meditation began. [xx]

There were military lessons, too, to be learned from Hitler's lightning conquest of the two Scandinavian countries. The most significant was the importance of air power and its superiority over naval power when land bases for bombers and fighters were near. Hardly less important was an old lesson, that victory often goes to the daring and the imaginative. The German Navy and Air Force had been both, and Dietl at Narvik had shown a resourcefulness of the German Army which the Allies had lacked.

There was one military result of the Scandinavian adventure which could not be evaluated at once, if only because it was not possible to look very far into the future. The losses in men in Norway on both sides were light. The Germans suffered 1,317 killed, 2,375 missing and 1,604 wounded, a total of 5,296 casualties; those of the Norwegians, French and British were slightly less than 5,000. The British lost one aircraft carrier, one cruiser and seven destroyers and the Poles and the French one destroyer each. German naval losses were comparably much heavier: ten out of twenty destroyers, three of eight cruisers, while the battle cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the pocket battleship Luetzow were damaged so severely that they were out of action for several months. Hitler had no fleet worthy of mention for the coming events of the summer. When the time to invade Britain came, as it did so shortly, this proved to be an insurmountable handicap.

The possible consequences of the severe crippling of the German Navy, however, did not enter the Fuehrer's thoughts as, at the beginning of May, with Denmark and Norway now added to his long list of conquests, he worked with his eager generals -- for they had now shed their misgivings of the previous autumn -- on the last-minute preparations for what they were confident would be the greatest conquest of all.



i. It was on October 10 that Hitler had called in his military chiefs, read them a long  memorandum on the necessity of an immediate attack in the West and handed them  Directive No. 6 ordering preparations for an offensive through Belgium and  Holland. (See above. pp. 644-46.)
ii. It was a correct assumption. It is now known that the Allied Supreme War  Council, meeting in Paris on February 5, 1940, decided that in sending an expeditionary  force to Finland the Swedish iron fields should be occupied by troops  landed at Narvik, which was but a short distance from the mines. (See the author's  The Challenge of Scandinavia, pp. 115-16n.) Churchill remarks that at the meeting  it was decided "incidentally to get control of the Gullivare ore-field." (The Gathering  Storm, p. 560.)
iii. He had not impressed the German minister in Oslo, Dr. Curt Brauer, who twice  in December warned Berlin that Quisling "need not be taken seriously ... his  influence and prospects are ... very slight." [9] For his frankness and reluctance to  play Hitler's game, the minister was quickly to pay.
iv. On March 7 General Ironside, Chief of the British General Staff, informed Marshal  Mannerheim that an Allied expeditionary force of 57,000 men was ready to come  to the aid of the Finns and that the first division, of 15,000 troops, could reach  Finland by the end of March if Norway and Sweden would allow them transit.  Actually five days before, on March 2, as Mannerheim knew, both Norway and  Sweden had again turned down the Franco-British request for transit privileges.  This did not prevent Premier Daladier on March 8 from scolding the Finns for not  officially asking for Allied troops and from intimating that the Allied forces would  be sent regardless of Norwegian and Swedish protests. But Mannerheim was not  to be fooled, and, having advised his government to sue for peace while the Finnish  Army was still intact and undefeated, he approved the immediate dispatch of a  peace delegation to Moscow on March 8. The Finnish Commander in Chief seems  to have been skeptical of the French zeal for fighting on the Finnish front rather than on their own front in France. (See The Memoirs of Marshal Mannerheim.)

One can only speculate on the utter confusion which would have resulted among the belligerents had the Franco-British expeditionary corps ever arrived in Finland and fought the Russians. In little more than a year Germany would be at war with Russia, in which case the enemies in the West would have been allies in the East!

v. Examples of Hitler's weird views on America have been given in earlier chapters, but in the captured Foreign Office documents there is a revealing paper on the Fuehrer's state of mind at this very moment. On March 12 Hitler had a long talk with Colin Ross, a German "expert" on the United States, who had recently returned from a lecture trip in America, where he had contributed his mite to Nazi propaganda. When Ross remarked that an "imperialist tendency" prevailed in the United States, Hitler asked (according to the shorthand notes of Dr. Schmidt) "whether this imperialist tendency did not strengthen the desire for the Anschluss of Canada to the United States, and thus produce an anti-English attitude."

It must be admitted that Hitler's advisers on the U.S.A. were not very helpful in shedding light on their subject. At this same interview, Ross, in trying to answer Hitler's questions as to why America was so anti-German, gave the following answers, among others:

... An additional factor in hatred against Germany ... is the monstrous power of Jewry, directing with a really fantastic cleverness and organizational skill the struggle against everything German and National Socialist ...

Colin Ross then talked about Roosevelt, whom he believes to be an enemy of the Fuehrer for reasons of pure personal jealousy and also on account of his personal lust for power ... He had come to power the same year as the Fuehrer and he had to watch the latter carrying out his great plans, while he, Roosevelt ... had not reached his goal. He too had ideas of dictatorship which in some respects were very similar to National Socialist ideas. Yet precisely this realization that the Fuehrer had attained his goal, while he had not, gave to his pathological ambition the desire to act upon the stage of world history as the Fuehrer's rival ...

After Herr Colin Ross had taken his leave, the Fuehrer remarked that Ross was a very intelligent man who certainly had many good ideas. [17]

[vi] Weizsaecker replied that Canaris himself had assured him that neither of the  men mentioned by Thomsen was an agent of the Abwehr. But no good secret  service admits these things. Other Foreign Office papers reveal that on January 24  an Abwehr agent left Buenos Aires with instructions to report to Fritz von Hausberger  at Weehawken, N.J., "for instructions in our speciality." Another agent  had been sent from the same place to New York in Decemberto gather information  on American aircraft factories and arms shipments to the Allies. Thomsen himself  reported on February 20 the arrival of Baron Konstantin von Maydell, a Baltic  German of Estonian citizenship, who had told the German Embassy in Washington  that he was on a sabotage mission for the Abwehr.
[vii] "Before God and the world," Goering exclaimed to Welles, "he, the Field Marshal, could state that Germany had not desired the war. It had been forced upon her ... But what was Germany to do when the others wanted to destroy her?"

[viii] A quite unofficial American peacemaker was also in Berlin at this time: James D. Mooney, a vice-president of General Motors. He had been in Berlin, as I recall, shortly before or after the outbreak of the war, trying like that other amateur in diplomacy, Dahlerus, though without the latter's connections, to save the peace. The day after Welles left Berlin, on March 4, 1940, Hitler received Mooney, who told him, according to a captured German record of the meeting, that President Roosevelt was "more friendly and sympathetic" to Germany "than was generally believed in Berlin" and that the President was prepared to act as "moderator" in bringing the belligerents together. Hitler merely repeated what he had told Welles two days before.

On March 11 Thomsen sent to Berlin a confidential memorandum prepared for  him by an unnamed American informant declaring that Mooney "was more or less  pro-German." The General Motors executive was certainly taken in by the  Germans. Thomsen's memorandum states that Mooney had informed Roosevelt  on the basis of an earlier talk with Hitler that the Fuehrer "was desirous of peace  and wished to prevent the bloodshed of a spring campaign." Hans Dieckhoff, the  recalled German ambassador to the United States, who was whiling away his time  in Berlin, saw Mooney immediately after the latter's interview with Hitler and  reported to the Foreign Office that the American businessman was "rather verbose"  and that "I cannot believe that the Mooney initiative has any great importance." [22]
[ix] See above, p. 648.
[x] The first three German supply ships had sailed for Narvik at 2 A.M. on April 3.  Germany's largest tanker left Murmansk for Narvik on April 6, with the connivance  of the Russians, who obligingly furnished the cargo of oil.
[xi] On the stand at Nuremberg, Grand Admiral Raeder justified such tactics on the  ground that they were a legitimate "ruse of war against which, from the legal point  of view, no objection can be made." [36]
[xii] This writer had rarely seen the Nazi Foreign Minister more insufferable than he  was that morning. He strutted into a specially convoked press conference at the  Foreign Office, garbed in a flashy field-gray uniform and looking, I noted in my  diary, "as if he owned the earth." He snapped, "The Fuehrer has given his  answer ... Germany has occupied Danish and Norwegian soil in order to protect  those countries from the Allies, and will defend their true neutrality until the end  of the war. Thus an honored part of Europe has been saved from certain downfall."  The Berlin press was also something to see that day. The Boersen Zeitung:  "England goes cold-bloodedly over the dead bodies of small peoples. Germany  protects the weak states from the English highway robbers ... Norway ought to  see the righteousness of Germany's action, which was taken to ensure the freedom  of the Norwegian people." Hitler's own paper, the Voelkischer Beobachter, carried  this banner line: GERMANY SAVES SCANDINAVIA!
[xiii] Total Danish casualties throughout the realm were thirteen killed and twenty-three  wounded. The Germans suffered some twenty casualties.
[xiv] See above, p. 676.
[xv] Norway had been a part of Denmark for four centuries and of Sweden for a  further century, regaining its complete independence only in 1905, when it broke  away from its union with Sweden and the people elected Prince Carl of Denmark  as King of Norway. He assumed the name of Haakon VII. Haakon VI had died  in 1380. Haakon VII was a brother of Christian X of Denmark, who surrendered  so promptly to the Germans on the morning of April 9, 1940.
[xvi] There is an ominous hint of further treachery in Ribbentrop's secret instructions.  Brauer was told to try to arrange the meeting "at a point between Oslo and the  King's present place of residence. For obvious reasons he, Brauer, would have to  discuss this move fully with General von Falkenhorst and would then also have to  inform the latter of the meeting place agreed upon." Gaus, who telephoned Ribbentrop's  instructions, reported that "Herr Brauer clearly understood the meaning  of the instructions." One cannot help but think that had the King gone to this  meeting, Falkenhorst's troops would have grabbed him. [43]
[xvii] Quisling did not last long in his first attempt to govern Norway. Six days after he had proclaimed himself Prime Minister, on April 15, the Germans kicked him out and appointed an Administrative Council of six leading Norwegian citizens, including Bishop Eivind Berggrav, head of the Lutheran Church of Norway, and Paal Berg, the President of the Supreme Court. It was mostly the doing of Berg, an eminent and scrappy jurist who later became the secret head of the Norwegian resistance movement. On April 24 Hitler appointed Josef Terboven, a tough young Nazi gauleiter, to be Reich Commissar for Norway, and it was he who actually governed the country, with increasing brutality, during the occupation. Brauer, who had opposed Quisling from the beginning, was recalled on April 17, retired from the diplomatic service, and sent to the Western front as a soldier. The Germans reinstated Quisling as Prime Minister in 1942, but though his unpopularity among the people was immense, his power was nil despite his best efforts to serve his German masters.

At the end of the war Quisling was tried for treason and after an exhaustive trial sentenced to death and executed on October 24, 1945. Terboven committed suicide rather than face capture. Knut Hamsun, the great Norwegian novelist, who had openly collaborated with the Germans, singing their praises, was indicted for treason, but the charges were dropped on the grounds of his old age and senility. He was, however, tried and convicted for "profiting from the Nazi regime," and fined $65,000. He died on February 19, 1952, at the age of ninety-three. General von Falkenhorst was tried as a war criminal before a mixed British and Norwegian military court on charges of having handed over captured Allied commandos to the S.S. for execution. He was sentenced to death on August 2, 1946, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

[xviii] On April 13, General von Falkenhorst, no doubt goaded by Hitler, who was in a fury because of Norwegian resistance, signed an order providing for taking as hostages twenty of the most distinguished citizens of Oslo, including Bishop Berggravand Paal Berg, who, in the words of Minister Brauer, "were to be shot in the event of the continued resistance or attempted sabotage. [44]

[ix] The Swedes, caught between Russia in Finland and the Baltic countries and Germany in possession of adjoining Denmark and Norway, meditated and decided there was no choice except to cling to their precarious neutrality and go down fighting if they were attacked. They had placated the Soviet Union by refusing to allow Allied troops transit to Finland, and now under great pressure they placated Germany. Though Sweden had sent an impressive stock of arms to Finland, it refused to sell Norway either arms or gasoline when it was attacked. All through April the Germans demanded that Sweden allow the transit of troops to Narvik to relieve Dietl, but this was refused until the end of hostilities, although a train of medical personnel and supplies was allowed through. On June 19, fearing a direct attack by Germany, Sweden gave in to Hitler's pressure and agreed to permit the transport over Swedish railways of Nazi troops and war material to Norway on condition that the number of troops moving in each direction should balance so that the German garrisons in Norway would not be strengthened by the arrangement.

This was of immense help to Germany. By transporting fresh troops and war material by land through Sweden Hitler avoided the risk of having them sunk at sea by the British. In the first six months of the accord, some 140,000 German troops in Norway were exchanged and the German forces there greatly strengthened by supplies. Later, just before the German onslaught on Russia, Sweden permitted the Nazi High Command to transport an entire army division, fully armed, from Norway across Sweden to Finland to be used to attack the Soviet Union. What it had refused the Allies the year before it accorded to Nazi Germany. For details of German pressure on Sweden and for the text of the exchange of letters between King Gustav V and Hitler, see Documents on German Foreign Policy, IX. The author has covered the subject more thoroughly in The Challenge of Scandinavia.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Sat Feb 10, 2018 7:15 am

Part 1 of 3


SHORTLY AFTER DAWN on the fine spring day of May 10, 1940, the ambassador of Belgium and the minister of the Netherlands in Berlin were summoned to the Wilhelmstrasse and informed by Ribbentrop that German troops were entering their countries to safeguard their neutrality against an imminent attack by the Anglo-French armies -- the same shabby excuse that had been made just a month before with Denmark and Norway. A formal German ultimatum called upon the two governments to see to it that no resistance was offered. If it were, it would be crushed by all means and the responsibility for the bloodshed would "be borne exclusively by the Royal Belgian and the Royal Netherlands Government."

In Brussels and The Hague, as previously in Copenhagen and Oslo, the German envoys made their way to the respective foreign offices with similar messages. Ironically enough, the bearer of the ultimatum in The Hague was Count Julius von Zech-Burkersroda, the German minister, who was a son-in-law of Bethmann-Hollweg, the Kaiser's Chancellor, who in 1914 had publicly called Germany's guarantee of Belgian neutrality, which the Hohenzollern Reich had just violated, "a scrap of paper."

At the Foreign Ministry in Brussels, while German bombers roared overhead and the explosion of their bombs on nearby airfields rattled the windows, Buelow-Schwante, the German ambassador, started to take a paper from his pocket as he entered the Foreign Minister's office. Paul- Henri Spaak stopped him.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Ambassador. I will speak first."

The German Army [Spaak said, not attempting to hold back his feeling of outrage] has just attacked our country. This is the second time in twenty-five years that Germany has committed a criminal aggression against a neutral and loyal Belgium. What has happened is perhaps even more odious than the aggression of 1914. No ultimatum, no note, no protest of any kind has ever been placed before the Belgian Government. It is through the attack itself that Belgium has learned that Germany has violated the undertakings given by her The German Reich will be held responsible by history. Belgium is resolved to defend herself.

The unhappy German diplomat then began to read the formal German ultimatum, but Spaak cut him short. "Hand me the document," he said. "I should like to spare you so painful a task." [1]

The Third Reich had given the two small Low Countries guarantees of their neutrality almost without number. The independence and neutrality of Belgium had been guaranteed "perpetually" by the five great European powers· in 1839, a pact that was observed for seventy-five years until Germany broke it in 1914. The Weimar Republic had promised never to take up arms against Belgium, and Hitler, after he came to power, continually reaffirmed that policy and gave similar assurances to the Netherlands. On January 30, 1937, after he had repudiated the Locarno Treaty, the Nazi Chancellor publicly proclaimed:

The German Government has further given the assurance to Belgium and Holland that it is prepared to recognize and to guarantee the inviolability and neutrality of these territories.

Frightened by the remilitarization of the Third Reich and its reoccupation of the Rhineland in the spring of 1936, Belgium, which wisely had abandoned neutrality after 1918, again sought refuge in it. On April 24, 1937, Britain and France released her from the obligations of Locarno and on October 13 of that year Germany officially and solemnly confirmed

its determination that in no circumstances will it impair the inviolability and integrity [of Belgium] and that it will at all times respect Belgian territory ... and [be] prepared to assist Belgium should she be subjected to an attack ...

From that day on there is a familiar counterpoint in Hitler's solemn public assurances to the Low Countries and his private admonitions to his generals. On August 24, 1938, in regard to one of the papers drawn up for him for Case Green, the plan for the attack on Czechoslovakia, he spoke of the "extraordinary advantage" to Germany if Belgium and Holland were occupied and asked the Army's opinion "as to the conditions under which an occupation of this area could be carried out and how long it would take." On April 28, 1939, in his reply to Roosevelt, Hitler again stressed the "binding declarations" which he had given to the Netherlands and Belgium, among others. Less than a month later, on May 23, the Fuehrer, as has been noted, was telling his generals that "the Dutch and Belgian air bases must be occupied by armed force ... with lightning speed. Declarations of neutrality must be ignored."

He had not yet started his war, but his plans were ready. On August 22, a week before he launched the war by attacking Poland, he conferred with his generals about the "possibility" of violating Dutch and Belgian neutrality. "England and France," he said, "will not violate the neutrality of these countries." Four days later, on August 26, he ordered his envoys in Brussels and The Hague to inform the respective governments that in the event of an outbreak of war "Germany will in no circumstances impair the inviolability of Belgium and Holland," an assurance which he repeated publicly on October 6, after the conclusion of the Polish campaign. The very next day, October 7, General von Brauchitsch advised his army group commanders, at Hitler's prompting,

to make all preparations for immediate invasion of Dutch and Belgian territory, if the political situation so demands. [2]

Two days later, on October 9, in Directive No. 6, Hitler ordered:

Preparations are to be made for an attacking operation ... through Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland. This attack must be carried out as soon and as forcefully as possible ... The object of this attack is to acquire as great an area of Holland, Belgium and northern France as possible. [3]

The Belgians and Dutch, of course, were not privy to Hitler's secret orders. Nevertheless they did receive warnings of what was in store for them. A number of them have already been noted: Colonel Oster, one of the anti-Nazi conspirators, warned the Dutch and Belgian military attaches in Berlin on November 5 to expect the German attack on November 12, which was then the target date. At the end of October Goerdeler, another one of the conspirators, had gone to Brussels at the instigation of Weizsaecker, to warn the Belgians of an imminent attack. And shortly after the New Year, on January 10, 1940, Hitler's plans for the offensive in the West had fallen into the hands of the Belgians when an officer carrying them had made a forced landing in Belgium. [i]

By that time the Dutch and Belgian general staffs knew from their own border intelligence that the Germans were concentrating some fifty divisions on their frontiers. They also had the benefit of an unusual source of information in the German capital. This "source" was Colonel G. J. Sas, the Netherland's military attache in Berlin. Sas was a close personal friend of Colonel Oster and often dined with him at the latter's home in the secluded suburb of Zehlendorf -- a practice facilitated, once the war broke out, by the blackout, whose cover enabled a number of persons in Berlin at that time, German and foreign, to get about on various subversive missions without much fear of detection. It was Sas whom Oster tipped off early in November about the German onslaught then set for November 12, and he gave the attache a new warning in January. The fact that neither attack came off somewhat lessened the credibility of Sas in The Hague and in Brussels, where the fact that Hitler had actually set dates for his aggression and then postponed them naturally was not known. However the ten days' warning that Sas got through Oster of the invasion of Norway and Denmark and his prediction of the exact date seems to have restored his prestige at home.

On May 3, Oster told Sas flatly that the German attack in the West through the Netherlands and Belgium would begin on May 10, and the military attache promptly informed his government. The next day The Hague received confirmation of this from its envoy at the Vatican. The Dutch immediately passed the word along to the Belgians. May 5 was a Sunday and as the week began to unfold it became pretty obvious to all of us in Berlin that the blow in the West would fall within a few days. Tension mounted in the capital. By May 8 I was cabling my New York office to hold one of our correspondents in Amsterdam instead of shipping him off to Norway, where the war had ended anyway, and that evening the military censors allowed me to hint in my broadcast that there would soon be action in the West, including Holland and Belgium.

On the evening of May 9 Oster and Sas dined together for what would prove the last time. The German officer confirmed that the final order had been given to launch the attack in the West at dawn the next day. Just to make sure that there were no last-minute changes Oster dropped by OKW headquarters in the Bendlerstrasse after dinner. There had been no changes. "The swine has gone to the Western front," Oster told Sas. The "swine" was Hitler. Sas informed the Belgian military attache and then went to his own legation and put through a call to The Hague. A special code for this moment already had been arranged and Sas spoke some seemingly innocuous words which conveyed the message "Tomorrow, at dawn. Hold tight!" [4]

Strangely enough, the two Big Powers in the West, Britain and France, were caught napping. Their general staffs discounted the alarming reports from Brussels and The Hague. London itself was preoccupied with a three-day cabinet crisis which was resolved only on the evening of May 10 by the replacement of Chamberlain by Churchill as Prime Minister. The first the French and British headquarters heard of the German onslaught was when the peace of the spring predawn was broken by the roar of German bombers and the screech of Stuka dive bombers overhead, followed shortly afterward, as daylight broke, by frantic appeals for help from the Dutch and Belgian governments which had held the Allies at arm's length for eight months instead of concerting with them for a common defense.

Nevertheless the Allied plan to meet the main German attack in Belgium went ahead for the first couple of days almost without a hitch. A great Anglo-French army rushed northeastward from the Franco-Belgian border to man the main Belgian defense line along the Dyle and Meuse rivers east of Brussels. As it happened, this was just what the German High Command wanted. This massive Allied wheeling movement played directly into its hands. Though they did not know it the Anglo-French armies sped directly into a trap that, when sprung, would soon prove to be utterly disastrous.


The original German plan of attack in the West had been drastically changed since it fell into the hands of the Belgians and, as the Germans suspected, of the French and British, in January. Fall Gelb (Case Yellow), as the operation was called, had been hastily concocted in the fall of 1939 by the Army High Command under the pressure of Hitler's order to launch the offensive in the West by mid-November. There is much dispute among military historians and indeed among the German generals themselves whether this first plan was a modified version of the old Schlieffen plan or not; Halder and Guderian have maintained that it was. It called for the main German drive on the right flank through Belgium and northern France, with the object of occupying the Channel ports. It fell short of the famous Schlieffen plan, which had failed by an ace of success in 1914 and which provided not only for the capture of the Channel ports but for a continuation of a great wheeling movement which would bring the German right-wing armies through Belgium and northern France and across the Seine, after which they would turn east below Paris and encircle and destroy the remaining French forces. Its purpose had been to quickly put an end to armed French resistance so that Germany, in 1914, could then turn on Russia with the great bulk of its military might.

But in 1939-40 Hitler did not have to worry about a Russian front. Nevertheless his objective was more limited. In the first phase of the campaign, at any rate, he planned not to knock out the French Army but to roll it back and occupy the Channel coast, thus cutting off Britain from its ally and at the same time securing air and naval bases from which he could harass and blockade the British Isles. It is obvious from his various harangues to the generals at this time that he thought that after such a defeat Britain and France would be inclined to make peace and leave him free to turn his attention once more to the East.

Even before the original plan for Fall Gelb had fallen into the hands of the enemy it was anticipated by the Allied Supreme Command. On November 17 the Allied Supreme War Council, meeting in Paris, had adopted "Plan D," which, in the event of a German attack through Belgium, called for the French First and Ninth armies and the British Expeditionary Force to dash forward to the principal Belgian defense line on the Dyle and Meuse rivers from Antwerp through Louvain, Namur and Givet to Mezieres. A few days before, the French and British general staffs, in a series of secret meetings with the Belgian High Command, had received the latter's assurance that it would strengthen the defenses on that line and make its main stand there. But the Belgians, still clinging to the illusions of neutrality which fortified their hope that they yet might be spared involvement in war, would not go further. The British chiefs of staff argued that there would not be time to deploy the Allied forces so far forward once the Germans had attacked, but they went along with Plan D at the urging of General Gamelin.

At the end of November the Allies added a scheme to rush General Henri Giraud's Seventh Army up the Channel coast to help the Dutch north of Antwerp in case the Netherlands was also attacked. Thus a German attempt to sweep through Belgium -- and perhaps Holland -- to flank the Maginot Line would be met very early in the game by the entire B.E.F., the bulk of the French Army, the twenty-two divisions of the Belgians and the ten divisions of the Dutch -- a force numerically equal, as it turned out, to that of the Germans.

It was to avoid such a head-on clash and at the same time to trap the British and French armies that would speed forward so far that General Erich von Manstein (born Lewinski), chief of staff of Rundstedt's Army Group A on the Western front, proposed a radical change in Fall Gelb. Manstein was a gifted and imaginative staff officer of relatively junior rank, but during the winter he succeeded in getting his bold idea put before Hitler over the initial opposition of Brauchitsch, Halder and a number of other generals. Manstein's proposal was that the main German assault should be launched in the center through the Ardennes with a massive armored force which would then cross the Meuse just north of Sedan and break out into the open country and race to the Channel at Abbeville.

Hitler, always attracted by daring and even reckless solutions, was interested. Rundstedt pushed the idea relentlessly not only because he believed in it but because it would give his Army Group A the decisive role in the offensive. Although Halder's personal dislike of Manstein and certain professional jealousies among some of the generals who outranked him led to Manstein's transfer from his staff post to the command of an infantry corps at the end of January, he had an opportunity to expound his unorthodox views to Hitler personally at a dinner given for a number of new corps commanders in Berlin on February 17. He argued that an armored strike through the Ardennes would hit the Allies where they least expected it, since their generals probably, like most of the Germans, considered this hilly, wooded country unsuitable for tanks. A feint by the right wing of the German forces would bring the British and French armies rushing pell-mell into Belgium. Then by cracking through the French at Sedan and heading west along the north bank of the Somme for the Channel, the Germans would entrap the major Anglo-French forces as well as the Belgian Army.

It was a daring plan, not without its risks, as several generals, including Jodl, emphasized. But by now Hitler, who considered himself a military genius, practically believed that it was his own idea and his enthusiasm for it mounted. Halder, who had at first dismissed it as a crackpot idea, also began to embrace it and indeed, with the help of his General Staff officers, considerably improved it. On February 24, 1940, it was formally adopted in a new OKW directive and the generals were told to redeploy their troops by March 7. Somewhere along the line, incidentally, the plan for the conquest of the Netherlands, which had been dropped from Fall Gelb in a revision on October 29, 1939, was reinstated on November 14 at the urging of the Luftwaffe, which wanted the Dutch airfields for use against Britain and which offered to supply a large batch of airborne troops for this minor but somewhat complicated operation. On such considerations are the fates of little nations sometimes decided. [5]

And so as the campaign in Norway approached its victorious conclusion and the first warm days of the beginning of May arrived, the Germans, with the most powerful army the world had ever seen up to that moment, stood poised to strike in the West. In mere numbers the two sides were evenly matched -- 136 German divisions against 135 divisions of the French, British, Belgian and Dutch. The defenders had the advantage of vast defensive fortifications: the impenetrable Maginot Line in the south, the extensive line of Belgian forts in the middle and fortified water lines in Holland in the north. Even in the number of tanks, the Allies matched the Germans. But they had not concentrated them as had the latter. And because of the aberration of the Dutch and Belgians for neutrality there had been no staff consultations by which the defenders could pool their plans and resources to the best advantage. The Germans had a unified command, the initiative of the attacker, no moral scruples against aggression, a contagious confidence in themselves and a daring plan. They had had experience in battle in Poland. There they had tested their new tactics and their new weapons in combat. They knew the value of the dive bomber and the mass use of tanks. And they knew, as Hitler had never ceased to point out, that the French, though they would be defending their own soil, had no heart in what lay ahead.

Notwithstanding their confidence and determination, the German High Command, as the secret records make clear, suffered some moments of panic as the zero hour drew near -- or at least Hitler, the Supreme Commander, did. General Jodl jotted them down in his diary. Hitler ordered several last-minute postponements of the jump-off, which on May 1 he had set for May 5. On May 3 he put it off until May 6 on account of the weather but perhaps also in part because the Foreign Office didn't think his proposed justification for violating the neutrality of Belgium and Holland was good enough. The next day he set May 7 as X Day and on the following day postponed it again until Wednesday, May 8. "Fuehrer has finished justification for Case Yellow," Jodl noted. Belgium and the Netherlands were to be accused of having acted most unneutrally.

May 7. Fuehrer railroad train was scheduled to leave Finkenkrug at 16:38 hours [Jodl's diary continued]. But weather remains uncertain and therefore the order [for the attack] is rescinded ... Fuehrer greatly agitated about new postponement as there is danger of treachery. Talk of the Belgian Envoy to the Vatican with Brussels permits the deduction that treason has been committed by a German personality who left Berlin for Rome on April 29 ...

May 8. Alarming news from Holland. Canceling of furloughs, evacuations, roadblocks, other mobilization methods ... Fuehrer does not want to wait any longer. Goering wants postponement until the 10th, at least ... Fuehrer is very agitated; then he consents to postponement until May 10, which he says is against his intuition. But not one day longer ...

May 9. Fuehrer decides on attack for May 10 for sure. Departure with Fuehrer train at 17:00 hours from Finkenkrug. After report that weather situation will be favorable on the 10th. the code word "Danzig" is given at 21:00 hours.

Hitler, accompanied by Keitel, Jodl and others of the OKW staff, arrived at headquarters, which he had named Felsennest (Eyrie), near Muenstereifel just as dawn was breaking on May 10. Twenty-five miles to the west German forces were hurtling over the Belgian frontier. Along a front of 175 miles, from the North Sea to the Maginot Line, Nazi troops broke across the borders of three small neutral states, Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, in brutal violation of the German word, solemnly and repeatedly given.


For the Dutch it was a five-day war, and indeed in that brief period the fate of Belgium, France and the British Expeditionary Force was sealed. For the Germans everything went according to the book, or even better than the book, in the unfolding both of strategy and of tactics. Their success exceeded the fondest hopes of Hitler. His generals were confounded by the lightning rapidity and the extent of their own victories. As for the Allied leaders, they were quickly paralyzed by developments they had not faintly expected and could not -- in the utter confusion that ensued -- comprehend.

Winston Churchill himself, who had taken over as Prime Minister on the first day of battle, was dumfounded. He was awakened at half past seven on the morning of May 15 by a telephone call from Premier Paul Reynaud in Paris, who told him in an excited voice, "We have been defeated! We are beaten!" Churchill refused to believe it. The great French Army vanquished in a week? It was impossible. "I did not comprehend," he wrote later, "the violence of the revolution effected since the last war by the incursion of a mass of fast-moving armor." [6]

Tanks -- seven divisions of them concentrated at one point, the weakest position in the Western defenses, for the big breakthrough -- that was what did it. That and the Stuka dive bombers and the parachutists and the airborne troops who landed far behind the Allied lines or on the top of their seemingly impregnable forts and wrought havoc.

And yet we who were in Berlin wondered why these German tactics should have come as such a shattering surprise to the Allied leaders. Had not Hitler's troops demonstrated their effectiveness in the campaign against Poland? There the great breakthroughs which had surrounded or destroyed the Polish armies within a week had been achieved by the massing of armor after the Stukas had softened up resistance. Parachutists and airborne troops had not done well in Poland even on the very limited scale with which they were used; they had failed to capture intact the key bridges. But in Norway, a month before the onslaught in the West, they had been prodigious, capturing Oslo and all the airfields, and reinforcing the isolated small groups that had been landed by sea at Stavanger, Bergen, Trondheim and Narvik and thereby enabling them to hold out. Hadn't the Allied commanders studied these campaigns and learned their lessons?


Only one division of panzers could be spared by the Germans for the conquest of the Netherlands, which was accomplished in five days largely by parachutists and by troops landed by air transports behind the great flooded water lines which many in Berlin had believed would hold the Germans up for weeks. To the bewildered Dutch was reserved the experience of being subjected to the first large-scale airborne attack in the history of warfare. Considering their unpreparedness for such an ordeal and the complete surprise by which they were taken they did better than was realized at the time.

The first objective of the Germans was to land a strong force by air on the flying fields near The Hague, occupy the capital at once and capture the Queen and the government, as they had tried to do just a month before with the Norwegians. But at The Hague, as at Oslo, the plan failed, though due to different circumstances. Recovering from their initial surprise and confusion, Dutch infantry, supported by artillery, was able to drive the Germans -- two regiments strong -- from the three airfields surrounding The Hague by the evening of May 10. This saved the capital and the government momentarily, but it tied down the Dutch reserves, which were desperately needed elsewhere.

The key to the German plan was the seizure by airborne troops of the bridges just south of Rotterdam over the Nieuwe Maas and those farther southeast over the two estuaries of the Maas (Meuse) at Dordrecht and Moerdijk. It was over these bridges that General Georg von Kuechler's Eighteenth Army driving from the German border nearly a hundred miles away hoped to force his way into Fortress Holland. In no other way could this entrenched place, lying behind formidable water barriers and comprising The Hague, Amsterdam, Utretcht, Rotterdam and Leyden, be taken easily and quickly.

The bridges were seized on the morning of May 10 by airborne units  -- including one company that landed on the river at Rotterdam in antiquated seaplanes -- before the surprised Dutch guards could blow them. Desperate efforts were made by improvised Netherlands units to drive the Germans away and they almost succeeded. But the Germans hung on tenuously until the morning of May 12, when the one armored division assigned to Kuechler arrived, having smashed through the Grebbe-Peel Line, a fortified front to the east strengthened by a number of water barriers, on which the Dutch had hoped to hold out for several days.

There was some hope that the Germans might be stopped short of the Moerdijk bridges by General Giraud's French Seventh Army, which had raced up from the Channel and reached Tilburg on the afternoon of May 11. But the French, like the hard-pressed Dutch, lacked air support, armor, and antitank and antiaircraft guns, and were easily pushed back to Breda. This opened the way for the German 9th Panzer Division to cross the bridges at Moerdijk and Dordrecht and, on the afternoon of May 12, arrive at the south bank of the Nieuwe Maas across from Rotterdam, where the German airborne troops still held the bridges.

But the tanks could not get across the Rotterdam bridges. The Dutch in the meantime had sealed them off at the northern ends. By the morning of May 14, then, the situation for the Netherlands was desperate but not hopeless. Fortress Holland had not been cracked. The strong German airborne forces around The Hague had been either captured or dispersed into nearby villages. Rotterdam still held. The German High Command, anxious to pull the armored division and supporting troops out of Holland to exploit a new opportunity which had just been opened to the south in France, was not happy. Indeed, on the morning of the fourteenth Hitler issued Directive No. 11 stating: "The power of resistance of the Dutch Army has proved to be stronger than was anticipated. Political as well as military considerations require that this resistance be broken speedily." How? He commanded that detachments of the Air Force be taken from the Sixth Army front in Belgium "to facilitate the rapid conquest of Fortress Holland." [7]

Specifically he and Goering ordered a heavy bombing of Rotterdam. The Dutch would be induced to surrender by a dose of Nazi terror -- the kind that had been applied the autumn before at beleaguered Warsaw.

On the morning of May 14 a German staff officer from the XXXIXth Corps had crossed the bridge at Rotterdam under a white flag and demanded the surrender of the city. He warned that unless it capitulated it would be bombed. While surrender negotiations were under way -- a Dutch officer had come to German headquarters near the bridge to discuss the details and was returning with the German terms -- bombers appeared and wiped out the heart of the great city. Some eight hundred persons, almost entirely civilians, were massacred, several thousand wounded and 78,000 made homeless. [ii] This bit of treachery, this act of calculated ruthlessness, would long be remembered by the Dutch, though at Nuremberg both Goering and Kesselring of the Luftwaffe defended it on the grounds that Rotterdam was not an open city but stoutly defended by the Dutch. Both denied that they knew that surrender negotiations were going on when they dispatched the bombers, though there is strong evidence from German Army archives that they did. [iii] [9] At any rate, OKW made no excuses at the time. I myself heard over the Berlin radio on the evening of May 14 a special OKW communique:

Under the tremendous impression of the attacks of German dive bombers and the imminent attack of German tanks, the city of Rotterdam has capitulated and thus saved itself from destruction.

Rotterdam surrendered, and then the Dutch armed forces. Queen Wilhelmina and the government members had fled to London on two British destroyers. At dusk on May 14 General H. G. Winkelmann, the Commander in Chief of the Dutch forces, ordered his troops to lay down their arms and at 11 A.M. on the next day he signed the official capitulation. Within five days it was all over. The fighting, that is. For five years a night of savage German terror would henceforth darken this raped, civilized little land.


By the time the Dutch had surrendered, the die was cast for Belgium, France and the British Expeditionary Force. May 14, though it was only the fifth day of the attack, was the fatal day. The previous evening German armor had secured four bridgeheads across the steeply banked and heavily wooded Meuse River from Dinant to Sedan, captured the latter city, which had been the scene of Napoleon III's surrender to Moltke in 1870 and the end of the Third Empire, and gravely threatened the center of the Allied lines and the hinge on which the flower of the British and French armies had so quickly wheeled into Belgium.

The next day, May 14, the avalanche broke. An army of tanks unprecedented in warfare for size, concentration, mobility and striking power, which when it had started through the Ardennes Forest from the German frontier on May 10 stretched in three columns back for a hundred miles far behind the Rhine, broke through the French Ninth and Second armies and headed swiftly for the Channel, behind the Allied forces in Belgium. This was a formidable and frightening juggernaut. Preceded by waves of Stuka dive bombers, which softened up the French defensive positions, swarming with combat engineers who launched rubber boats and threw up pontoon bridges to get across the rivers and canals, each panzer division possessed of its own self-propelled artillery and of one brigade of motorized infantry, and the armored corps closely followed by divisions of motorized infantry to hold the positions opened up by the tanks, this phalanx of steel and fire could not be stopped by any means in the hands of the bewildered defenders. On both sides of Dinant on the Meuse the French gave way to General Hermann Hoth's XVth Armored Corps, one of whose two tank divisions was commanded by a daring young brigadier general, Erwin Rommel. Farther south along the river, at Montherme, the same pattern was being executed by General Georg- Hans Reinhardt's XLIst Armored Corps of two tank divisions.

But it was around Sedan, of disastrous memory to the French, that the greatest blow fell. Here on the morning of May 14 two tank divisions of General Heinz Guderian's XIXth Armored Corps [iv] poured across a hastily constructed pontoon bridge set up during the night over the Meuse and struck toward the west. Though French armor and British bombers tried desperately to destroy the bridge -- forty of seventy-one R.A.F. planes were shot down in one single attack, mostly by flak, and seventy French tanks were destroyed -- they could not damage it. By evening the German bridgehead at Sedan was thirty miles wide and fifteen miles deep and the French forces in the vital center of the Allied line were shattered. Those who were not surrounded and made prisoners were in disorderly retreat. The Franco-British armies to the north, as well as the twenty-two divisions of Belgians, were placed in dire danger of being cut off.

The first couple of days had gone fairly well for the Allies, or so they thought. To Churchill, plunging with new zest into his fresh responsibilities as Prime Minister, "up until the night of the twelfth," as he later wrote, "there was no reason to suppose that the operations were not going well." [10] Gamelin, the generalissimo of the Allied forces, was highly pleased with the situation. The evening before, the best and largest part of the French forces, the First, Seventh and Ninth armies, along with the B.E.F., nine divisions strong under Lord Gort, had joined the Belgians, as planned, on a strong defensive line running along the Dyle River from Antwerp through Louvain to Wavre and thence across the Gembloux gap to Namur and south along the Meuse to Sedan. Between the formidable Belgian fortress of Namur and Antwerp, on a front of only sixty miles, the Allies actually outnumbered the oncoming Germans, having some thirty-six divisions against the twenty in Reichenau's Sixth Army.

The Belgians, though they had fought well along the reaches of their northeast frontier, had not held out there as long as had been expected, certainly not as long as in 1914. They, like the Dutch to the north of them, had simply not been able to cope with the revolutionary new tactics of the Wehrmacht. Here, as in Holland, the Germans seized the vital bridges by the daring use of a handful of specially trained troops landed silently at dawn in gliders. They overpowered the guards at two of the three bridges over the Albert Canal behind Maastricht before the defenders could throw the switches that were supposed to blow them.

They had even greater success in capturing Fort Eben Emael, which commanded the junction of the Meuse River and the Albert Canal. This modern, strategically located fortress was regarded by both the Allies and the Germans as the most impregnable fortification in Europe, stronger than anything the French had built in the Maginot Line or the Germans in the West Wall. Constructed in a series of steel-and-concrete galleries deep underground, its gun turrets protected by heavy armor and manned by 1,200 men, it was expected to hold out indefinitely against the pounding of the heaviest bombs and artillery shells. It fell in thirty hours to eighty German soldiers who under the command of a sergeant had landed in nine gliders on its roof and whose total casualties amounted to six killed and nineteen wounded. In Berlin, I remember, OKW made the enterprise look very mysterious, announcing in a special communique on the evening of May 11 that Fort Eben Emael had been taken by a "new method of attack," an announcement that caused rumors to spread -- and Dr. Goebbels was delighted to fan them -- that the Germans had a deadly new "secret weapon," perhaps a nerve gas that temporarily paralyzed the defenders.

The truth was much more prosaic. With their usual flair for minute preparation, the Germans during the winter of 1939-40 had erected at Hildesheim a replica of the fort and of the bridges across the Albert Canal and had trained some four hundred glider troops on how to take them. Three groups were to capture the three bridges, the fourth Eben Emael. This last unit of eighty men landed on the top of the fortress and placed a specially prepared "hollow" explosive in the armored gun turrets which not only put them out of action but spread flames and gas in the chambers below. Portable flame throwers were also used at the gun portals and observation openings. Within an hour the Germans were able to penetrate the upper galleries, render the light and heavy guns of the great fort useless and blind its observation posts. Belgian infantry behind the fortification tried vainly to dislodge the tiny band of attackers but they were driven off by Stuka attacks and by reinforcements of parachutists. By the morning of May 11 advance panzer units, which had raced over the two intact bridges to the north, arrived at the fort and surrounded it, and, after further Stuka bombings and hand-to-hand fighting in the underground tunnels, a white flag was hoisted at noon and the 1,200 dazed Belgian defenders filed out and surrendered. [11]
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