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 » Sat Feb 10, 2018 7:15 am

Part 2 of 3

This feat, along with the capture of the bridges and the violence of the attack mounted by General van Reichenau's Sixth Army, which was sustained by General Hoepner's XVIth Armored Corps of two tank divisions and one mechanized infantry division, convinced the Allied High Command that now, as in 1914, the brunt of the German offensive was being carried out by the enemy's right wing and that they had taken the proper means to stop it. In fact, as late as the evening of May 15 the Belgian, British and French forces were holding firm on the Dyle line from Antwerp to Namur.

This was just what the German High Command wanted. It had now become possible for it to spring the Manstein plan and deliver the haymaker in the center. General Halder, the Chief of the Army General Staff, saw the situation -- and his opportunities -- very clearly on the evening of May 13.

North of Namur [he wrote in his diary] we can count on a completed concentration of some 24 British and French and about 15 Belgian divisions. Against this our Sixth Army has 15 divisions on the front and six in reserve ... We are strong enough there to fend off any enemy attack. No need to bring up any more forces. South of Namur we face a weaker enemy. About half our strength. Outcome of Meuse attack will decide if, when and where we will be able to exploit this superiority. The enemy has no force worth mentioning behind this front.

No force worth mentioning behind this front, which, the next day, was broken?

On May 16 Prime Minister Churchill flew to Paris to find out. By the afternoon, when he drove to the Quai d'Orsay to see Premier Reynaud and General Gamelin, German spearheads were sixty miles west of Sedan, rolling along the undefended open country. Nothing very much stood between them and Paris, or between them and the Channel, but Churchill did not know this. "Where is the strategic reserve?" he asked Gamelin and, breaking into French, "Ou est la masse de manoeuvre?" The Commander in Chief of the Allied armies turned to him with a shake of the head and a shrug and answered, "Aucune -- there is none." [v]

"I was dumfounded," Churchill later related. It was unheard of that a great army, when attacked, held no troops in reserve. "I admit," says Churchill, "that this was one of the greatest surprises I have had in my life." [12]

It was scarcely less a surprise to the German High Command, or at least to Hitler and the generals at OKW if not to Halder. Twice during this campaign in the West, which the Fuehrer himself directed, he hesitated. The first occasion was on May 17 when a crisis of nerves overcame him. That morning Guderian, who was a third of the way to the Channel with his panzer corps, received an order to halt in his tracks. Intelligence had been received from the Luftwaffe that the French were mounting a great counterattack to cut off the thin armored German wedges which extended westward from Sedan. Hitler conferred hastily with his Army Commander in Chief, Brauchitsch, and with Halder. He was certain that a serious French threat was developing from the south. Rundstedt, commander of Army Group A, the main force which had launched the breakthrough over the Meuse, backed him up when they conferred later in the day. He expected, he said, "a great surprise counteroffensive by strong French forces from the Verdun and Chalons-sur-Marne areas." The specter of a second Marne rose in Hitler's feverish mind. "I am keeping an eye on this," he wrote Mussolini the next day. "The miracle of the Marne of 1914 will not be repeated!" [13]

A very unpleasant day [Halder noted in his diary the evening of May 17]. The Fuehrer is terribly nervous. He is worried over his own success, will risk nothing and insists on restraining us. Puts forward the excuse that it is all because of his concern with the left flank ... [He] has brought only bewilderment and doubts.

The Nazi warlord showed no improvement during the next day despite the avalanche of news about the French collapse. Halder recorded the crisis in his diary of the eighteenth:

The Fuehrer has an unaccountable worry about the south flank. He rages and screams that we are on the way to ruining the whole operation and that we are courting the danger of a defeat. He won't have any part in continuing the drive westward, let alone southwest, and clings always to the idea of a thrust to the northwest. This is the subject of a most unpleasant dispute between the Fuehrer on the one side and Brauchitsch and me on the other.

General Jodl of OKW, for whom the Fuehrer was nearly always right, also noted the discord at the top.

Day of great tension [he wrote on the eighteenth]. The Commander in Chief of the Army [Brauchitsch] has not carried out the intention of building up as quickly as possible a new flanking position to the south ... Brauchitsch and Halder are called immediately and ordered peremptorily to adopt the necessary measures immediately.

But Halder had been right; the French had no forces with which to stage a counterattack from the south. And though the panzer divisions, chafing at the bit as they were, received orders to do no more than proceed with "a reconnaissance in force" this was all they needed to press toward the Channel. By the morning of May 19 a mighty wedge of seven armored divisions, driving relentlessly westward north of the Somme River past the storied scenes of battle of the First World War, was only some fifty miles from the Channel. On the evening of May 20, to the surprise of Hitler's headquarters, the 2nd Panzer Division reached Abbeville at the mouth of the Somme. The Belgians, the B.E.F. and three French armies were trapped.

Fuehrer is beside himself with joy [Jodl scribbled in his diary that night]. Talks in words of highest appreciation of the German Army and its leadership. Is working on the peace treaty, which shall express the tenor: return of territory robbed over the last 400 years from the German people, and of other values ...

A special memorandum is in the files containing the emotion-choked words of the Fuehrer when receiving the telephone report from the Commander in Chief of the Army about the capture of Abbeville.

The only hope of the Allies to extricate themselves from this disastrous encirclement was for the armies in Belgium to immediately turn southwest, disengage themselves from the German Sixth Army attacking them there, fight their way across the German armored wedge that stretched across northern France to the sea and join up with fresh French forces pushing northward from the Somme. This was in fact what General Gamelin ordered on the morning of May 19, but he was replaced that evening by General Maxime Weygand, who immediately canceled the order. Weygand, who had a formidable military reputation gained in the First World War, wanted to confer first with the Allied commanders in Belgium before deciding what to do. As a result, three days were lost before Weygand came up with precisely the same plan as his predecessor. The delay proved costly. There were still forty French, British and Belgian battle-tested divisions in the north, and had they struck south across the thin armored German line on May 19 as Gamelin ordered, they might have succeeded in breaking through. By the time they moved, communications between the various national commands had become chaotic and the several Allied armies, hard pressed as they were, began to act at cross-purposes. At any rate, the Weygand plan existed only in the General's mind; no French troops ever moved up from the Somme.

In the meantime the German High Command had thrown in all the infantry troops that could be rushed up to strengthen the armored gap and enlarge it. By May 24 Guderian's tanks, driving up the Channel from Abbeville, had captured Boulogne and surrounded Calais, the two main ports, and reached Gravelines, some twenty miles down the coast from Dunkirk. The front in Belgium had moved southwestward as the Allies attempted to detach themselves there. By the 24th, then, the British, French and Belgian armies in the north were compressed into a relatively small triangle with its base along the Channel from Gravelines to Temeuzen and its apex at Valenciennes, some seventy miles inland. There was now no hope of breaking out of the trap. The only hope, and it seemed a slim one, was possible evacuation by sea from Dunkirk.

It was at this juncture, on May 24, that the German armor, now within sight of Dunkirk and poised along the Aa Canal between Gravelines and St.-Omer for the final kill, received a strange -- and to the soldiers in the field inexplicable -- order to halt their advance. It was the first of the German High Command's major mistakes in World War II and became a subject of violent controversy, not only between the German generals themselves but among the military historians, as to who was responsible and why. We shall return to that question in a moment in the light of a mass of material now available. Whatever the reasons for this stop order, it provided a miraculous reprieve to the Allies, and especially to the British, leading as it did to the miracle of Dunkirk. But it did not save the Belgians.


King Leopold III of the Belgians surrendered early on the morning of May 28. The headstrong young ruler, who had taken his country out of its alliance with France and Britain into a foolish neutrality, who had refused to restore the alliance even during the months when he knew the Germans were preparing a massive assault across his border, who at the last moment, after Hitler had struck, called on the French and British for military succor and received it, now deserted them in a desperate hour, opening the dyke for German divisions to pour through on the flank of the sorely pressed Anglo-French troops. Moreover, he did it, as Churchill told the Commons on June 4, "without prior consultation, with the least possible notice, without the advice of his ministers and upon his own personal act."

Actually he did it against the unanimous advice of his government, which he was constitutionally sworn to follow. At 5 A.M. on May 25 there was a showdown meeting at the King's headquarters between the monarch and three members of the cabinet, including the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. They urged him for the last time not to surrender personally and become a prisoner of the Germans, for if he did he "would be degraded to the role of Hacha" in Prague. They also reminded him that he was head of state as well as Commander in Chief, and that if matters came to the worst he could exercise his first office in exile, as the Queen of Holland and the King of Norway had decided to do, until eventual Allied victory came.

"I have decided to stay," Leopold answered. "The cause of the Allies is lost." [14]

At 5 P.M. on May 27 he dispatched General Derousseaux, Deputy Chief of the Belgian General Staff, to the Germans to ask for a truce. At 10 o'clock the General brought back the German terms: "The Fuehrer demands that arms be laid down unconditionally." The King accepted unconditional surrender at 11 P.M. and proposed that fighting cease at 4 A.M., which it did.

Leopold's capitulation was angrily denounced by Premier Reynaud of France in a violent broadcast, and Belgian Premier Pierlot, also broadcasting from Paris but in a more dignified tone, informed the Belgian people that the King had acted against the unanimous advice of the government, broken his links with the people and was no longer in a position to govern, and that the Belgian government in exile would continue the struggle. Churchill when he spoke in the House on May 28 reserved judgment on Leopold's action but on June 4 joined in the general criticism.

The controversy raged long after the war was over. Leopold's defenders, and there were many in and outside Belgium, believed that he had done he right and honorable thing in sharing the fate of his soldiers and of the Belgian people. And they made much of the claim that the King acted not as chief of state but as Commander in Chief of the Belgian Army in surrendering.

That the battered Belgian troops were in desperate straits by May 27 there is no dispute. Valiantly they had agreed to extend their front in order to free the British and French to fight their way south. And that extended front was fast collapsing though the Belgians fought doggedly. Also Leopold was not told that on May 26 Lord Gort had received orders from London to withdraw to Dunkirk and save what he could of the B.E.F. That is one side of the argument, but there is another. The Belgian Army was under the over-all Allied Command and Leopold made a separate peace without consulting it. In his defense it has been pointed out that on May 27 at 12:30 P.M. he telegraphed Gort that he soon would "be forced to capitulate to avoid a collapse." But the British commander, who was extremely busy and constantly on the move, did not receive it. He later testified that he first heard of the surrender only shortly after 11 P.M. on May 27 and found himself "suddenly faced with an open gap of twenty miles between Ypres and the sea through which enemy armored forces might reach the beaches." [15] To General Weygand, who was the King's superior military commander, the news arrived by telegram from French liaison at Belgian headquarters a little after 6 P.M. and it hit him, he later said, "like a bolt out of the blue. There had been no warning ... " [16]

Finally, even as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, Leopold in this constitutional, democratic monarchy was bound to accept the advice of his government. Neither in that role nor certainly as chief of state did he have the authority to surrender on his own. In the end the Belgian people, as was proper, passed judgment on their sovereign. He was not recalled to the throne from Switzerland, where he took refuge at the war's end, until five years after it was over. When the call came, on July 20, 1950, after 57 per cent of those voting in a referendum had approved it, his return provoked such a violent reaction among the populace that civil war threatened to break out. He soon abdicated in favor of his son.

Whatever may be said of Leopold's behavior, there should be no dispute -- though there has been [vi] -- about the magnificent way his Army fought. For a few days in May I followed Reichenau's Sixth Army through Belgium and saw for myself the tenacity with which the Belgians struggled against insuperable odds. Not once did they break under the unmerciful and unopposed bombing of the Luftwaffe or when the German armor tried to cut through them. This could not be said of certain other Allied troops in that campaign. The Belgians held out for eighteen days and would have held out much longer had not they, like the B.E.F. and the French northern armies, been caught in a trap which was not of their making.


Ever since May 20, when Guderian's tanks broke through to Abbeville on the sea, the British Admiralty, on the personal orders of Churchill, had been rounding up shipping for a possible evacuation of the B.E.F. and other Allied forces from the Channel ports. Noncombatant personnel and other "useless mouths" began to be ferried across the narrow sea to England at once. By May 24, as we have seen, the Belgian front to the north was near collapse, and to the south the German armor, striking up the coast from Abbeville, after taking Boulogne and enveloping Calais, had reached the Aa Canal only twenty miles from Dunkirk. In between were caught the Belgian Army, the nine divisions of the B.E.F. and ten divisions of the French First Army. Though the terrain on the southern end of the pocket was bad tank country, being crisscrossed with canals, ditches and flooded areas, Guderian's and Reinhardt's panzer corps already had five bridgeheads across the main barrier, the Aa Canal, between Gravelines on the sea and St.-Omer, and were poised for the knockout blow which would hammer the Allied armies against the anvil of the advancing German Sixth and Eighteenth armies pushing down from the northeast and utterly destroy them.

Suddenly on the evening of May 24 came the peremptory order from the High Command, issued at the insistence of Hitler with the prompting of Rundstedt and Goering but over the violent objections of Brauchitsch and Halder, that the tank forces should halt on the canal line and attempt no further advance. This furnished Lord Gort an unexpected and vital reprieve which he and the British Navy and Air Force made the most of and which, as Rundstedt later perceived and said, led "to one of the great turning points of the war."

How did this inexplicable stop order on the threshold of what seemed certain to be the greatest German victory of the campaign come about? What were the reasons for it? And who was responsible? The questions have provoked one of the greatest arguments of the war, among the German generals involved and among the historians. The generals, led by Rundstedt and Halder, have put the blame exclusively on Hitler. Churchill added further fuel to the controversy in the second volume of his war memoirs by contending that the initiative for the order came from Rundstedt and not Hitler and citing as evidence the war diaries of Rundstedt's own headquarters. In the maze of conflicting and contradictory testimony it has been difficult to ascertain the facts. In the course of preparing this chapter the author wrote General Halder himself for further elucidation and promptly received a courteous and detailed reply. On the basis of Ihis and much other evidence now in, certain conclusions may be drawn and the controversy settled, if not conclusively, at least fairly convincingly.

As for responsibility for the famous order, Rundstedt, despite his later assertions to the contrary, must share it with Hitler. The Fuehrer visited the General's Army Group A headquarters at Charleville on the morning of May 24. Rundstedt proposed that the panzer divisions on the canal line before Dunkirk be halted until more infantry could be brought up. * Hitler agreed, observing that the armor should be conserved for later operations against the French south of the Somme. Moreover, he declared that if the pocket in which the Allies were entrapped became too small it would hamper the activities of the Luftwaffe. Probably Rundstedt, with the approval of the Fuehrer, issued the stop order at once, for Churchill notes that the B.E.F. intercepted a German radio message giving orders to that effect at 11:42 that morning. [17] Hitler and Rundstedt were at that moment in conference.

At any rate, that evening Hitler issued the formal order from OKW, both Jodl and Halder noting it in their diaries. The General Staff Chief was most unhappy.

Our left wing, consisting of armor and motorized forces [he wrote in his diary], will thus be stopped dead in its tracks on the direct orders of the Fuehrer! Finishing off the encircled enemy army is to be left to the Air Force!

This exclamation mark of contempt indicates that Goering had intervened with Hitler, and it is now known that he did. He offered to liquidate the entrapped enemy troops with his Air Force alone! The reasons for his ambitious and vain proposal were given the writer in the letter from Halder on July 19, 1957.

During the following days [i.e., after May 24] it became known that Hitler's decision was mainly influenced by Goering. To the dictator the rapid movement of the Army, whose risks and prospects of success he did not understand because of his lack of military schooling, became almost sinister. He was constantly oppressed by a feeling of anxiety that a reversal loomed ...

Goering, who knew his Fuehrer well, took advantage of this anxiety. He offered to fight the rest of the great battle of encirclement alone with his Luftwaffe, thus eliminating the risk of having to use the valuable panzer formations. He made this proposal ... for a reason which was characteristic of the unscrupulously ambitious Goering. He wanted to secure for his Air Force, after the surprisingly smooth operations of the Army up to then, the decisive final act in the great battle and thus gain the glory of success before the whole world.

General Halder then tells in his letter of an account given him by Brauchitsch after a talk which the latter had with the Luftwaffe Generals Milch and Kesselring in Nuremberg jail in January 1946, in which the Air Force officers declared

that Goering at that time [May 1940] emphasized to Hitler that if the great victory in battle then developing could be claimed exclusively by the Army generals, the prestige of the Fuehrer in the German homeland would be damaged beyond repair. That could be prevented only if the Luftwaffe and not the Army carried out the decisive battle.

It is fairly clear, then, that Hitler's idea, prompted by Goering and Rundstedt but strenuously opposed by Brauchitsch and Halder, was to let the Air Force and Bock's Army Group B, which, without any armor to speak of, was slowly driving back the Belgians and British southwest to the Channel, mop up the enemy troops in the pocket. Rundstedt's Army Group A, with some seven tank divisions, halted on the water lines west and south of Dunkirk, would merely stand pat and keep the enemy hemmed in. But neither the Luftwaffe nor Bock's army group proved able to achieve their objectives. On the morning of May 26, Halder was fuming in his diary that "these orders from the top just make no sense ... The tanks are stopped as if they were paralyzed."

Finally, on the evening of May 26, Hitler rescinded the stop order and agreed that, in view of Bock's slow advance in Belgium and the movement of transports off the coast, the armored forces could resume their advance on Dunkirk. By then it was late; the cornered enemy had had time to strengthen his defenses and behind them was beginning to slip away to sea.

We now know that there were political reasons too for Hitler's fatal order. Halder had noted in his diary on May 25, a day, he says, that started "off with one of those painful wrangles between Brauchitsch and the Fuehrer on the next moves in the battle of encirclement," that

now political command has formed the fixed idea that the battle of decision must not be fought on Flemish soil, but rather in northern France.

This entry puzzled me and when I wrote to the former General Staff Chief I asked him if he could recall Hitler's political reasons for wanting to finish this battle in northern France rather than in Belgium. Halder recalled them very well. "According to my still quite lively memory," he replied, "Hitler, in our talks at the time, supported his reasons for the stop order with two main lines of thought. The first were military reasons: the unsuitable nature of the terrain for tanks, the resulting high losses which would weaken the impending attack on the rest of France, and so on." Then, writes Halder, the Fuehrer cited

a second reason which he knew that we, as soldiers, could not argue against since it was political and not military.

This second reason was that for political reasons he did not want the decisive final battle, which inevitably would cause great damage to the population, to take place in territory inhabited by the Flemish people. He had the intention, he said, of making an independent National Socialist region out of the territory inhabited by the German-descended Flemish, thereby binding them close to Germany. His supporters on Flemish soil had been active in this direction for a long time; he had promised them to keep their land free from the damage of war. If he did not keep this promise now, their confidence in him would be severely damaged. That would be a political disadvantage for Germany which he, as the politically responsible leader, must avoid.

Absurd? If this seems to be another of Hitler's sudden aberrations (Halder writes that he and Brauchitsch were "not convinced by this reasoning"), other political consideration which he confided to other generals were more sane -- and important. Describing after the war Hitler's meeting with Rundstedt on May 24, General Guenther Blumentritt, the latter's chief of operations, told Liddell Hart, the British military writer:

Hitler was in very good humor ... and gave us his opinion that the war would be finished in six weeks. After that he wished to conclude a reasonable peace with France and then the way would be free for an agreement with Britain ...

He then astonished us by speaking with admiration of the British Empire, of the necessity for its existence, and of the civilization that Britain had brought into the world ... He said that all he wanted from Britain was that she should acknowledge Germany's position on the continent. The return of Germany's colonies would be desirable but not essential ... He concluded by saying that his aim was to make peace with Britain on a basis that she would regard as compatible with her honor to accept. [18]

Such thoughts Hitler was to express often during the next few weeks to his generals, to Ciano and Mussolini and finally in public. Ciano was astonished a month later to find the Nazi dicta:or, then at the zenith of his success, harping about the importance of maintaining the British Empire as "a factor in world equilibrium," [19] and on July 13 Halder, in his diary, described the Fuehrer as sorely puzzled over Britain's failure to accept peace. To bring England to her knees by force, he told his generals that day, "would not benefit Germany ... only Japan, the United States and others."

It may be, then, though some doubt it, that Hitler restrained his armored forces before Dunkirk in order to spare Britain a bitter humiliation and thereby facilitate a peace settlement. It would have to be, as he said, a peace in which the British left Germany free to turn once more eastward, this time against Russia. London would have to recognize, as he also said, the Third Reich's domination of the Continent. For the next couple of months Hitler would be confident that such a peace was within his grasp. No more now than in all the years before did he comprehend the character of the British nation or the kind of world its leaders and its people were determined to fight for -- to the end.

Nor did he and his generals, ignorant of the sea as they were -- and remained -- dream that the sea-minded British could evacuate a third of a million men from a small battered port and from the exposed beaches right under their noses.

At three minutes before seven on the evening of May 26, shortly after Hitler's stop order had been canceled, the British Admiralty signaled the beginning of "Operation Dynamo," as the Dunkirk evacuation was called. That night the German armor resumed its attack on the port from the west and south, but now the panzers found it hard going. Lord Gort had had time to deploy against them three infantry divisions with heavy artillery support. The tanks made little progress. In the meantime the evacuation began. An armada of 850 vessels of all sizes, shapes and methods of propulsion, from cruisers and destroyers to small sailboats and Dutch skoots, many of them manned by civilian volunteers from the English coastal towns, converged on Dunkirk. The first day, May 27, they took off 7,669 troops; the next day, 17,804; the following day, 47,310; and on May 30, 53,823, for a total of 126,606 during the first four days. This was far more than the Admiralty had hoped to get out. When the operation began it counted on evacuating only about 45,000 men in the two days' time it then thought it would have.

It was not until this fourth day of Operation Dynamo, on May 30, that the German High Command woke up to what was happening. For four days the communiques of OKW had been reiterating that the encircled enemy armies were doomed. A communique of May 29, which I noted in my diary, stated flatly: "The fate of the French army in Artois is sealed ... The British army, which has been compressed into the territory ... around Dunkirk, is also going to its destruction before our concentric attack."

But it wasn't; it was going to sea. Without its heavy arms and equipment, to be sure, but with the certainty that the men would live to fight another day.

As late as the morning of May 30, Halder confided confidentially in his diary that "the disintegration of the enemy which we have encircled continues." Some of the British, he conceded, were "fighting with tooth and nail:" the others were "fleeing to the coast and trying to get across the Channel on anything that floats. Le Debacle," he concluded, alluding to Zola's famous novel of the French collapse in the Franco-Prussian War.

By afternoon, after a session with Brauchitsch, the General Staff Chief had awakened to the significance of the swarms of miserable little boats on which the British were fleeing.

Brauchitsch is angry ... The pocket would have been closed at the coast if only our armor had not been held back. The bad weather has grounded the Luftwaffe and we must now stand by and watch countless thousands of the enemy get away to England right under our noses.

That was, in fact, what they watched. Despite increased pressure which was immediately applied by the Germans on all sides of the pocket, the British lines held and more troops were evacuated. The next day, May 31, was the biggest day of all. Some 68,000 men were embarked for England, a third of them from the beaches, the rest from the Dunkirk harbor. A total of 194,620 men had now been taken out, more than four times the number originally hoped for.

Where was the famed Luftwaffe? Part of the time, as Halder noted, it was grounded by bad weather. The rest of the time it encountered unexpected opposition from the Royal Air Force, which from bases just across the Channel successfully challenged it for the first time. [vii] Though outnumbered, the new British Spitfires proved more than a match for the Messerschmitts and they mowed down the cumbersome German bombers. On a few occasions Goering's planes arrived over Dunkirk between British sorties and did such extensive damage to the port that for a time it was unusable and the troops had to be lifted exclusively from the beaches. The Luftwaffe also pressed several strong attacks on the shipping and accounted for most of the 243 -- out of 861 -- vessels sunk. But it failed to achieve what Goering had promised Hitler: the annihilation of the B.E.F. On June 1, when it carried out its heaviest attack (and suffered its heaviest losses -- each side lost thirty planes), sinking three British destroyers and a number of small transports, the second-highest day's total was evacuated  -- 64,429 men. By dawn of the next day, only 4,000 British troops remained in the perimeter, protected by 100,000 French who now manned the defenses.

Medium German artillery had in the meantime come within range and daytime evacuation operations had to be abandoned. The Luftwaffe at that time did not operate after dark and during the nights of June 2 and 3 the remainder of the B.E.F. and 60,000 French troops were successfully brought out. Dunkirk, still defended stubbornly by 40,000 French soldiers, held out until the morning of June 4. By that day 338,226 British and French soldiers had escaped the German clutches. They were no longer an army; most of them, understandably, were for the moment in a pitiful shape. But they were battle-tried; they knew that if properly armed and adequately covered from the air they could stand up to the Germans. Most of them, when the balance in armament was achieved, would prove it -- and on beaches not far down the Channel coast from where they had been rescued.

A deliverance Dunkirk was to the British. But Churchill reminded them in the House on June 4 that "wars are not won by evacuations." The predicament of Great Britain was indeed grim, more dangerous than it had been since the Norman landings nearly a millennium before. It had no army to defend the islands. The Air Force had been greatly weakened in France. Only the Navy remained, and the Norwegian campaign had shown how vulnerable the big fighting ships were to land-based aircraft. Now the Luftwaffe bombers were based but five or ten minutes away across the narrow Channel. France, to be sure, still held out below the Somme and the Aisne. But its best troops and armament had been lost in Belgium and in northern France, its small and obsolescent Air Force had been largely destroyed, and its two most illustrious generals, Marshal Petain and General Weygand, who now began to dominate the shaky government, had no more stomach for battle against such a superior foe.

These dismal facts were very much on the mind of Winston Churchill when he rose in the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, while the last transports from Dunkirk were being unloaded, determined, as he wrote later, to show not only his own people but the world -- and especially the U.S.A. -- "that out resolve to fight on was based on serious grounds." It was on this occasion that he uttered his famous peroration, which will be long remembered and will surely rank with the greatest ever made down the ages:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight in the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.


The determination of the British to fight on does not seem to have troubled Hitler's thoughts. He was sure they would see the light after he had finished off France, which he now proceeded to do. The morning after Dunkirk fell, on June 5, the Germans launched a massive assault on the Somme and soon they were attacking in overwhelming strength all along a 400-mile front that stretched across France from Abbeville to the Upper Rhine. The French were doomed. Against 143 German divisions, including ten armored, they could deploy only 65 divisions, most of them second-rate, for the best units and most of the armor had been expended in Belgium. Little was left of the weak French Air Force. The British could contribute but one infantry division, which had been in the Saar, and parts of an armored division. The R.A.F. could spare few planes for this battle unless it were to leave the British Isles themselves defenseless. Finally, the French High Command, now dominated by Petain and Weygand, had become sodden with defeatism. Nevertheless some French units fought with great bravery and tenacity, temporarily stopping even the German armor here and there, and standing up resolutely to the incessant pounding of the Luftwaffe.

But it was an unequal struggle. In "victorious confusion," as Telford Taylor has aptly put it, the German troops surged across France like a tidal wave, the confusion coming because there were so many of them and they were moving so fast and often getting in each other's way. [20] On June 10 the French government hastily departed Paris and on June 14 the great city, the glory of France, which was undefended, was occupied by General von Kuechler's Eighteenth Army. The swastika was immediately hoisted on the Eiffel Tower. On June 16, Premier Reynaud, whose government had fled to Bordeaux, resigned and was replaced by Petain, who the next day asked the Germans, through the Spanish ambassador, for an armistice. [viii] Hitler replied the same day that he would first have to consult his ally, Mussolini. For this strutting warrior, after making sure that the French armies were hopelessly beaten, had, like a jackal, hopped into the war on June 10, to try to get in on the spoils.


Despite his preoccupation with the unfolding of the Battle of the West, Hitler had found time to write Mussolini at surprisingly frequent intervals, keeping him informed of the mounting German victories.

After the first letter on May 7, apprising the Duce that he was attacking Belgium and Holland "to ensure their neutrality" and saying he would keep his friend informed of his progress so that the Duce could make his own decisions in time, there were further ones on May 13, 18 and 25, each more detailed and enthusiastic than the other. [22] Though the generals, as Halder's diary confirms, couldn't have cared less what Italy did -- whether it came into the war or not -- the Fuehrer for some reason attached importance to Italian intervention. As soon as the Netherlands and Belgium had surrendered and the Anglo-French northern armies had been smashed and the surviving British troops began taking to the boats at Dunkirk, Mussolini decided to slither into the war. He informed Hitler by letter on May 30 that the date would be June 5. Hitler replied immediately that he was "most profoundly moved."

If there could still be anything which could strengthen my unshakable belief in the victorious outcome of this war [Hitler wrote on May 31] it was your statement ... The mere fact of your entering the war is an element calculated to deal the front of our enemies a staggering blow.

The Fuehrer asked his ally, however, to postpone his date for three days -- he wanted to knock out the rest of the French Air Force first, he said -- and Mussolini obliged by setting it back five days, to June 10. Hostilities, the Duce said, would begin the following day.

They did not amount to much. By June 18, when Hitler summoned his junior partner to Munich to discuss an armistice with France, some thirty-two Italian divisions, after a week of "fighting," had been unable to budge a scanty French force of six divisions on the Alpine front and farther south along the Riviera, though the defenders were now threatened by assault in the rear from the Germans sweeping down the Rhone Valley. [ix] On June 21 Ciano noted in his diary:

Mussolini is quite humiliated because our troops have not moved a step forward. Even today they have not succeeded in advancing and have halted in front of the first French fortification which put up some resistance. [23]

The hollowness of Mussolini's boasted military might was exposed at the very beginning and this put the deflated Italian dictator in a dour mood as he and Ciano set out by train on the evening of June 17 to confer with Hitler about the armistice with France.

Mussolini dissatisfied [Ciano wrote in his diary]. This sudden peace disquiets him. During the trip we speak at length in order to clarify conditions under which the armistice is to be granted to the French. The Duce ... would like to go so far as the total occupation of French territory and demands the surrender of the French fleet. But he is aware that his opinion has only a consultative value. The war has been won by Hitler without any active military participation on the part of Italy, and it is Hitler who will have the last word. This naturally disturbs and saddens Mussolini.

The mildness of the Fuehrer's "last word" came as a distinct shock to the Italians when they conferred with the Nazi warlord at the Fuehrerhaus at Munich where Chamberlain and Daladier had been so accommodating to the two dictators regarding Czechoslovakia less than two years before. The secret German memorandum of the meeting [24] makes clear that Hitler was determined above all not to allow the French fleet to fall into the hands of the British. He was also concerned lest the French government flee to North Africa or to London and continue the war. For that reason the armistice terms -- the final terms of peace might be something else -- would have to be moderate, designed to keep "a French government functioning on French soil" and "the French fleet neutralized." He abruptly dismissed Mussolini's demands for the Italian occupation of the Rhone Valley, including Toulon (the great French Mediterranean naval base, where most of the fleet was concentrated) and Marseilles, and the disarmament of Corsica, Tunisia and Djibouti. The last town, the gateway to Italian-held Ethiopia, was thrown in by Ciano, the German notes say, "in an undertone."

Even the bellicose Ribbentrop, Ciano found, was "exceptionally moderate and calm, and in favor of peace." The warrior Mussolini was "very much embarrassed," his son-in-law noted.

He feels that his role is secondary ... In truth, the Duce fears that the hour of peace is growing near and sees fading once again that unattainable dream of his life: glory on the field of battle. [25]

Mussolini was unable even to get Hitler to agree to joint armistice negotiations with the French. The Fuehrer was not going to share his triumph at a very historic spot (he declined to name it to his friend) with this Johnny-come-lately. But he promised the Duce that his armistice with France would not come into effect until the French had also signed one with Italy.

Mussolini left Munich bitter and frustrated, but Ciano had been very favorably impressed by a side of Hitler which his diaries make clear he had not previously seen or suspected.

From all that he [Hitler] says [he wrote in his diary as they returned to Rome] it is clear that he wants to act quickly to end it all. Hitler is now the gambler, who has made a big scoop and would like to get up from the table, risking nothing more. Today he speaks with a reserve and a perspicacity which, after such a victory, are really astonishing. I cannot be accused of excessive tenderness toward him, but today I truly admire him. [26]


I followed the German Army into Paris that June, always the loveliest of months in the majestic capital, which was now stricken, and on June 19 got wind of where Hitler was going to lay down his terms for the armistice which Petain had requested two days before. It was to be on the same spot where the German Empire had capitulated to France and her allies on November 11, 1918: in the little clearing in the woods at Compiegne. There the Nazi warlord would get his revenge, and the place itself would add to the sweetness of it for him. On May 20, a bare ten days after the great offensive in the West had started and on the day the German tanks reached Abbeville, the idea had come to him. Jodi noted it in his diary that day: "Fuehrer is working on the peace treaty ... First negotiations in the Forest of Compiegne." Late on the afternoon of June 19 I drove out there and found German Army engineers demolishing the wall of the museum where the old wagon-lit of Marshal Foch, in which the 1918 armistice was signed, had been preserved. By the time I left, the engineers, working with pneumatic drills, had tom the wall down and were pulling the car out to the tracks in the center of the clearing on the exact spot, they said, where it had stood at 5 A.M. on November 11, 1918, when at the dictation of Foch the German emissaries put their signatures to the armistice.

And so it was that on the afternoon of June 21 I stood by the edge of the forest at Compiegne to observe the latest and greatest of Hitler's triumphs, of which, in the course of my work, I had seen so many over the last turbulent years. It was one of the loveliest summer days I ever remember in France. A warm June sun beat down on the stately trees -- elms, oaks, cypresses and pines -- casting pleasant shadows on the wooded avenues leading to the little circular clearing. At 3:15 P.M. precisely, Hitler arrived in his big Mercedes, accompanied by Goering, Brauchitsch, Keitel, Raeder, Ribbentrop and Hess, all in their various uniforms, and Goering, the lone Field Marshal of the Reich, fiddling with his field marshal's baton. They alighted from their automobiles some two hundred yards away, in front of the Alsace-Lorraine statue, which was draped with German war flags so that the Fuehrer could not see (though I remembered from previous visits in happier days) the large sword, the sword of the victorious Allies of 1918, sticking through a limp eagle representing the German Empire of the Hohenzollerns. Hitler glanced at the monument and strode on.

I observed his face [I wrote in my diary]. It was grave, solemn, yet brimming with revenge. There was also in it, as in his springy step, a note of the triumphant conqueror, the defier of the world. There was something else ... a sort of scornful, inner joy at being present at this great reversal of fate -- a reversal he himself had wrought.

When he reached the little opening in the forest and his personal standard had been run up in the center of it, his attention was attracted by a great granite block which stood some three feet above the ground.

[quote]Hitler, followed by the others, walks slowly over to it [I am quoting my diary], steps up, and reads the inscription engraved (in French) in great high letters:


Hitler reads it and Goering reads it. They all read it, standing there in the June sun and the silence. I look for the expression in Hitler's face. I am but fifty yards from him and see him through my glasses as though he were directly in front of me. I have seen that face many times at the great moments of his life. But today! It is afire with scorn, anger, hate, revenge, triumph.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

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Part 3 of 3

He steps off the monument and contrives to make even this gesture a masterpiece of contempt. He glances back at it, contemptuous, angry -- angry, you almost feel, because he cannot wipe out the awful, provoking lettering with one sweep of his high Prussian boot. [x] He glances slowly around the clearing, and now, as his eyes meet ours, you grasp the depth of his hatred. But there is triumph there too -- revengeful, triumphant hate. Suddenly, as though his face were not giving quite complete expression to his feelings, he throws his whole body into harmony with his mood. He swiftly snaps his hands on his hips, arches his shoulders, plants his feet wide apart. It is a magnificent gesture of defiance, of burning contempt for this place now and all that it has stood for in the twenty-two years since it witnessed the humbling of the German Empire.[/quote]

Hitler and his party then entered the armistice railway car, the Fuehrer seating himself in the chair occupied by Foch in 1918. Five minutes later the French delegation arrived, headed by General Charles Huntziger, commander of the Second Army at Sedan, and made up of an admiral, an Air Force general and one civilian, Leon Noel, the former ambassador to Poland, who was now witnessing his second debacle wrought by German arms. They looked shattered, but retained a tragic dignity. They had not been told that they would be led to this proud French shrine to undergo such a humiliation, and the shock was no doubt just what Hitler had calculated. As Halder wrote in his diary that evening after being given an eyewitness account by Brauchitsch:

The French had no warning that they would be handed the terms at the very site of the negotiations in 1918. They were apparently shaken by this arrangement and at first inclined to be sullen.

Perhaps it was natural, even for a German so cultivated as Halder, or Brauchitsch, to mistake solemn dignity for sullenness. The French, one saw at once, were certainly dazed. Yet, contrary to the reports at the time, they tried, as we now know from the official German minutes of the meetings found among the captured Nazi secret papers, [27] to soften the harsher portions of the Fuehrer's terms and to eliminate those which they thought were dishonorable. But they tried in vain.

Hitler and his entourage left the wagon-lit as soon as General Keitel had read the preamble of the armistice terms to the French, leaving the negotiations in the hands of his OKW Chief, but allowing him no leeway in departing from the conditions which he himself had laid down.

Huntziger told the Germans at once, as soon as he had read them, that they were "hard and merciless," much worse than those which France had handed Germany here in 1918. Moreover, if "another country beyond the Alps, which had not defeated France (Huntziger was too contemptuous of Italy even to name her), advanced similar demands France would in no circumstances submit. She would fight to the bitter end ... It was therefore impossible for him to put his signature to the German armistice agreement ..."

General Jodl, the Number Two officer at OKW, who presided temporarily at this moment, had not expected such defiant words from a hopelessly beaten foe and replied that though he could not help express his "understanding" for what Huntziger had said about the Italians nevertheless he had no power to change the Fuehrer's terms. All he could do, he said, was "to give explanations and clear up obscure points." The French would have to take the armistice document or leave it, as it was.

The Germans had been annoyed that the French delegation had arrived without authority to conclude an armistice except with the express agreement of the government at Bordeaux. By a miracle of engineering and perhaps with some luck they succeeded in setting up a telephone connection from the old sleeping car right through the battle lines, where the fighting still continued, to Bordeaux. The French delegates were authorized to use it to transmit the text of the armistice terms and to discuss it with their government. Dr. Schmidt, who served as interpreter, was directed to listen in on the tapped conversations from an Army communications van a few yards away behind a clump of trees. The next day I myself contrived to hear the German recording of part of the conversation between Huntziger and General Weygand.

To the credit of the latter, who bears a grave responsibility for French defeatism and the final surrender and the break with Britain, it must be recorded that he at least strenuously objected to many of the German demands. One of the most odious of them obligated the French to turn over to the Reich all anti-Nazi German refugees in France and in her territories. Weygand called this dishonorable in view of the French tradition of the right of asylum, but when it was discussed the next day the arrogant Keitel would not listen to its being deleted. "The German emigres," he shouted, were "the greatest warmongers." They had "betrayed their own people." They must be handed over "at all costs." The French made no protest against a clause which stated that all their nationals caught fighting with another country against Germany would be treated as "francs-tireurs" -- that is, immediately shot. This was aimed against De Gaulle, who was already trying to organize a Free French force in Britain, and both Weygand and Keitel knew it was a crude violation of the primitive rules of war. Nor did the French question a paragraph which provided for all prisoners of war to remain in captivity until the conclusion of peace. Weygand was sure the British would be conquered within three weeks and the French POWs thereafter released. Thus he condemned a million and a half Frenchmen to war prison camps for five years.

The crux of the armistice treaty was the disposal of the French Navy. Churchill, as France tottered, had offered to release her from her pledge not to make a separate peace if the French Navy were directed to sail for British ports. Hitler was determined that this should not take place; he fully realized, as he told Mussolini on June 18, that it would immeasurably strengthen Britain. With so much at stake he had to make a concession, or at least a promise, to the beaten foe. The armistice agreement stipulated that the French fleet would be demobilized and disarmed and the ships laid up in their home ports. In return for this

the German Government solemnly declares to the French Government that it does not intend to use for its own purposes in the war the French fleet which is in ports under German supervision. Furthermore, they solemnly and expressly declare that they have no intention of raising any claim to the French war fleet at the time of the conclusion of peace.

Like almost all of Hitler's promises, this one too would be broken.

Finally, Hitler left the French government an unoccupied zone in the south and southeast in which it ostensibly was free to govern. This was an astute move. It would not only divide France itself geographically and administratively; it would make difficult if not impossible the formation of a French government-in-exile and quash any plans of the politicians in Bordeaux to move the seat of government to French North Africa -- a design which almost succeeded, being defeated in the end not by the Germans but by the French defeatists: Petain, Weygand, Laval and their supporters. Moreover, Hitler knew that the men who had now seized control of the French government at Bordeaux were enemies of French democracy and might be expected to be co-operative in helping him set up the Nazi New Order in Europe.

Yet on the second day of the armistice negotiations at Compiegne the French delegates continued to bicker and delay. One reason for the delay was that Huntziger insisted that Weygand give him not an authorization to sign but an order -- no one in France wanted to take the responsibility. Finally, at 6:30 P.M. Keitel issued an ultimatum. The French must accept or reject the German armistice terms within an hour. Within the hour the French government capitulated. At 6:50 P. M. on June 22, 1940, Huntziger and Keitel signed the armistice treaty. [xi]

I listened to the last scene as it was picked up by the hidden microphones in the wagon-lit. Just before he signed, the French General, his voice quivering, said he wished to make a personal statement. I took it down in French, as he spoke.

I declare that the French Government has ordered me to sign these terms of armistice ... Forced by the fate of arms to cease the struggle in which we were engaged on the side of the Allies, France sees imposed on her very hard conditions. France has the right to expect in the future negotiations that Germany show a spirit which will permit the two great neighboring countries to live and work in peace.

Those negotiations -- for a peace treaty -- would never take place, but the spirit which the Nazi Third Reich would have shown, if they had, soon became evident as the occupation became harsher and the pressure on the servile Petain regime increased. France was now destined to become a German vassal, as Petain, Weygand and Laval apparently believed -- and accepted.

A light rain began to fall as the delegates left the armistice car and drove away. Down the road through the woods you could see an unbroken line of refugees making their way home on weary feet, on bicycles, on carts, a few fortunate ones on old trucks. I walked out to the clearing. A gang of German Army engineers, shouting lustily, had already started to move the old wagon-lit.

"Where to?" I asked.

"To Berlin," they said. [xii]

The Franco-Italian armistice was signed in Rome two days later. Mussolini was able to occupy only what his troops had conquered, which meant a few hundred yards of French territory, and to impose a fifty-mile demilitarized zone opposite him in France and Tunisia. The armistice was signed at 7:35 P.M. on June 24. Six hours later the guns in France lapsed into silence.

France, which had held out unbeaten for four years the last time, was out of the war after six weeks. German troops stood guard over most of Europe, from the North Cape above the Arctic Circle to Bordeaux, from the English Channel to the River Bug in eastern Poland. Adolf Hitler had reached the pinnacle. The former Austrian waif, who had been the first to unite the Germans in a truly national State, this corporal of the First World War, had now become the greatest of German conquerors. All that stood between him and the establishment of German hegemony in Europe under his dictatorship was one indomitable Englishman, Winston Churchill, and the determined people Churchill led, who did not recognize defeat when it stared them in the face and who now stood alone, virtually unarmed, their island home besieged by the mightiest military machine the world had ever seen.


Ten days after the German onslaught on the West began, on the evening German tanks reached Abbeville, General Jodi, after describing in his diary how the Fuehrer was "beside himself with joy," added: " ... is working on the peace treaty ... Britain can get a separate peace any time after restitution of the colonies." That was May 20. For several weeks thereafter Hitler seems to have had no doubts that, with France knocked out, Britain would be anxious to make peace. His terms, from the German point of view, seemed most generous, considering the beating the British had taken in Norway and in France. He had expounded them to General von Rundstedt on May 24, expressing his admiration of the British Empire and stressing the "necessity" for its existence. All he wanted from London) he said, was a free hand on the Continent.

So certain was he that the British would agree to this that even after the fall of France he made no plans for continuing the war against Britain, and the vaunted General Staff, which supposedly planned with Prussian thoroughness for every contingency far in advance, did not bother to furnish him any. Halder, the Chief of the General Staff, made no mention of the subject at this time in his voluminous diary entries. He was more disturbed about Russian threats in the Balkans and the Baltic than about the British.

Indeed, why should Great Britain fight on alone against helpless odds? Especially when it could get a peace that would leave it, unlike France, Poland and all the other defeated lands, unscathed, intact and free? This was a question asked everywhere except in Downing Street, where, as Churchill later revealed, it was never even discussed, because the answer was taken for granted. [28] But the German dictator did not know this, and when Churchill began to state it publicly -- that Britain was not quitting -- Hitler apparently did not believe it. Not even when on June 4, after the evacuation from Dunkirk, the Prime Minister had made his resounding speech about fighting on in the hills and on the beaches; not even when on June 18, after Petain had asked for an armistice, Churchill reiterated in the Commons Britain's "inflexible resolve to continue the war" and in another one of his eloquent and memorable perorations concluded:

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say: "This was their finest hour."

These could be merely soaring words from a gifted orator, and so Hitler, a dazzling orator himself, must have thought. He must have been encouraged too by soundings in neutral capitals and by the appeals for ending the war that now emanated from them. On June 28 a confidential message arrived for Hitler from the Pope -- analogous communications were addressed to Mussolini and Churchill -- offering his mediation for "a just and honorable peace" and declaring that before initiating this step he wished to ascertain confidentially how it would be received. [29] The King of Sweden was also active in proposing peace to both London and Berlin.

In the United States the German Embassy, under the direction of Hans Thomsen, the charge d'affaires, was spending every dollar it could lay its hands on to support the isolationists in keeping America out of the war and thus discourage Britain from continuing it. The captured German Foreign Office documents are full of messages from Thomsen reporting on the embassy's efforts to sway American public opinion in Hitler's favor. The party conventions were being held that summer and Thomsen was bending every effort to influence their foreign-policy planks, especially that of the Republicans.

On June 12, for example, he cabled Berlin in code "most urgent, top secret" that a "well-known Republican Congressman," who was working "closely" with the German Embassy, had offered, for $3,000, to invite fifty isolationist Republican Congressmen to the Republican convention "so that they may work on the delegates in favor of an isolationist foreign policy." The same individual, Thomsen reported, wanted $30,000 to help pay for full-page advertisements in the American newspapers, to be headed "Keep America Out of the War!" [xiii] [30]

The next day Thomsen was wiring Berlin about a new project he said he was negotiating through an American literary agent to have five well-known American writers write books "from which I await great results." For this project he needed $20,000, a sum Ribbentrop okayed a few days later. [xiv] [31]

One of Hitler's first public utterances about his hopes for peace with Britain had been given Karl von Wiegand, a Hearst correspondent, and published in the New York Journal-American on June 14. A fortnight later Thomsen informed the German Foreign Office that he had printed 100,000 extra copies of the interview and that

I was able furthermore through a confidential agent to induce the isolationist Representative Thorkelson [Republican of Montana] to have the Fuehrer interview inserted in the Congressional Record of June 22. This assures the interview once more the widest distribution. [33]

The Nazi Embassy in Washington grasped at every straw. At one point during the summer its press attache was forwarding what he said was a suggestion of Fulton Lewis, Jr., the radio commentator, whom he described as an admirer of "Germany and the Fuehrer and a highly respected American journalist."

The Fuehrer should address telegrams to Roosevelt ... reading approximately as follows: "You, Mr. Roosevelt, have repeatedly appealed to me and always expressed the wish that a sanguinary war be avoided. I did not declare war on England; on the contrary I always stressed that I did not wish to destroy the British Empire. My repeated requests to Churchill to be reasonable and to arrive at an honorable peace treaty were stubbornly rejected by Churchill. I am aware that England will suffer severely when I order total war to be launched against the British Isles. I ask you therefore to approach Churchill on your part and prevail upon him to abandon his senseless obstinacy." Lewis added that Roosevelt would, of course, make a rude and spiteful reply; that would make no difference. Such an appeal would surely make a profound impression on the North American people and especially in South America ... [34]

Adolf Hitler did not take Mr. Lewis' purported advice, but the Foreign Office in Berlin cabled to ask how important the radio commentator was in America. Thomsen replied that Lewis had "enjoyed a particular success of late ... [but that] on the other hand, in contrast to some leading American commentators, no political importance is to be attached to L." [xv] [35]

Churchill himself, as he related later in his memoirs, was somewhat troubled by the peace feelers emanating through Sweden, the United States and the Vatican and, convinced that Hitler was trying to make the most of them, took stern measures to counter them. Informed that the German charge in Washington, Thomsen, had been attempting to talk with the British ambassador there, he cabled that "Lord Lothian should be told on no account to make any reply to the German Charge d'Affaires' message."  [36]

To the King of Sweden, who had urged Great Britain to accept a peace settlement, the grim Prime Minister drafted a strong reply.

... Before any such requests or proposals could even be considered, it would be necessary that effective guarantees by deeds, not words, should be forthcoming from Germany which would ensure the restoration of the free and independent life of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and above all, France ...[xvi] [37]

That was the nub of Churchill's case and apparently no one in London dreamt of compromising it by concluding a peace that would preserve Britain but permanently enslave the countries Hitler had conquered. But this was not comprehended in Berlin, where, as I recall those summer days, everyone, especially in the Wilhelmstrasse and the Bendlerstrasse, was confident that the war was as good as over.

All through the last fortnight of June and the first days of July, Hitler waited for word from London that the British government was ready to throw in the sponge and conclude peace. On July 1 he told the new Italian ambassador, Dino Alfieri, [xvii] that he "could not conceive of anyone in England still seriously believing in victory." [38] Nothing had been done in the High Command about continuing the war against Britain.

But the next day, July 2, the first directive on that subject was finally issued by OKW. It was a hesitant order.

The Fuehrer and Supreme Commander has decided:

That a landing in England is possible, providing that air superiority can be attained and certain other necessary conditions fulfilled. The date of commencement is still undecided. All preparations to be begun immediately.

Hitler's lukewarm feeling about the operation and his belief that it would not be necessary is reflected in the concluding paragraph of the directive.

All preparations must be undertaken on the basis that the invasion is still only a plan, and has not yet been decided upon. [39]

When Ciano saw the Fuehrer in Berlin on July 7, he got the impression, as he noted in his diary, that the Nazi warlord was having trouble making up his mind.

He is rather inclined to continue the struggle and to unleash a storm of wrath and of steel upon the English. But the final decision has not been reached, and it is for this reason that he is delaying his speech, of which, as he himself puts it, he wants to weigh every word. [40]

On July 11 Hitler began assembling his military chiefs on the Obersalzberg to see how they felt about the matter. Admiral Raeder, whose Navy would have to ferry an invading army across the Channel, had a long talk with the Fuehrer on that date. Neither of them was eager to come to grips with the problem -- in fact, they spent most of their time together discussing the matter of developing the naval bases at Trondheim and Narvik in Norway.

The Supreme Commander. judging by Raeder's confidential report of the meeting, [41] was in a subdued mood. He asked the Admiral whether he thought his planned speech to the Reichstag "would be effective." Raeder replied that it would be, especially if it were preceded by a "concentrated" bombing attack on Britain. The Admiral, who reminded his chief that the R.A.F. was carrying out "damaging attacks" on the principal German naval bases at Wilhelmshaven, Hamburg and Kiel, thought the Luftwaffe ought to get busy immediately on Britain. But on the question of invasion, the Navy Commander in Chief was distinctly cool. He urgently advised that it be attempted "only as a last resort to force Britain to sue for peace."

He [Raeder] is convinced that Britain can be made to ask for peace simply by cutting off her import trade by means of submarine warfare, air attacks on convoys and heavy air attacks on her main centers... .

The C. in C., Navy [Raeder], cannot for his part therefore advocate an invasion of Britain as he did in the case of Norway ...

Whereupon the Admiral launched into a long and detailed explanation of all the difficulties involved in such an invasion, which must have been most discouraging to Hitler. Discouraging but perhaps also convincing. For Raeder reports that "the Fuehrer also views invasion as a last resort."

Two days later, on July 13, the generals arrived at the Berghof above Berchtesgaden to confer with the Supreme Commander. They found him still baffled by the British. "The Fuehrer," Halder jotted in his diary that evening, "is obsessed with the question why England does not yet want to take the road to peace." But now, for the first time, one of the reasons had begun to dawn on him. Halder noted it

He sees, just as we do, the solution of this question in the fact that England is still setting her hope in Russia. Thus he too expects that England will have to be compelled by force to make peace. He does not like to do such a thing. however. Reasons: If we smash England militarily, the British Empire will disintegrate. Germany, however, would not profit from this. With German blood we would achieve something from which only Japan, America and others will derive profit.

On the same day, July 13, Hitler wrote Mussolini, declining with thanks the Duce's offer to furnish Italian troops and aircraft for the invasion of Britain. It is clear from this letter that the Fuehrer was at last beginning to make up his mind. The strange British simply wouldn't listen to reason.

I have made to Britain so many offers of agreement, even of co-operation, and have been treated so shabbily [he wrote] that I am now convinced that any new appeal to reason would meet with a similar rejection. For in that country at present it is not reason that rules ... [42]

Three days later, on July 16, the warlord finally reached a decision. He issued "Directive No. 16 on the Preparation of a Landing Operation against England." [43]


Fuehrer's Headquarters

July 16, 1940

Since England, despite her militarily hopeless situation, still shows no sign of willingness to come to terms, I have decided to prepare a landing operation against England, and if necessary to carry it out.

The aim of this operation is to eliminate the English homeland as a base for the carrying on of the war against Germany, and, if it should become necessary, to occupy it completely.

The code name for the assault was to be "Sea Lion." Preparations for it were to be completed by mid-August.

"If necessary to carry it out." Despite his growing instinct that it would be necessary, he was not quite sure, as the directive shows. The "if" was still a big one as Adolf Hitler rose in the Reichstag on the evening of July 19 to make his final peace offer to Britain. It was the last of his great Reichstag speeches and the last of so many in this place down the years that this writer would hear. It was also one of his best. I put down my impressions of it that same evening.

The Hitler we saw in the Reichstag tonight was the conqueror and conscious of it, and yet so wonderful an actor, so magnificent a handler of the German mind, that he mixed superbly the full confidence of the conqueror with the humbleness which always goes down so well with the masses when they know a man is on top. His voice was lower tonight; he rarely shouted as he usually does; and he did not once cry out hysterically as I've seen him do so often from this rostrum.

To be sure, his long speech was swollen with falsifications of history and liberally sprinkled with personal insults of Churchill. But it was moderate in tone, considering the glittering circumstances, and shrewdly conceived to win the support not only of his own people but of the neutrals and to give the masses in England something to think about.

From Britain [he said] I now hear only a single cry -- not of the people but of the politicians -- that the war must go on! I do not know whether these politicians already have a correct idea of what the continuation of this struggle will be like. They do, it is true, declare that they will carry on with the war and that, even if Great Britain should perish, they would carry on from Canada. I can hardly believe that they mean by this that the people of Britain are to go to Canada. Presumably only those gentlemen interested in the continuation of their war will go there. The people, I am afraid, will have to remain in Britain and ... will certainly regard the war with other eyes than their so-called leaders in Canada.

Believe me, gentlemen, I feel a deep disgust for this type of unscrupulous politician who wrecks whole nations. It almost causes me pain to think that I should have been selected by fate to deal the final blow to the structure which these men have already set tottering ... Mr. Churchill ... no doubt will already be in Canada, where the money and children of those principally interested in the war have already been sent. For millions of other people, however, great suffering will begin. Mr. Churchill ought perhaps, for once, to believe me when I prophesy that a great Empire will be destroyed -- an Empire which it was never my intention to destroy or even to harm ...

Having thus tilted at the dogged Prime Minister and attempted to detach the British people from him, Hitler came to the point of his lengthy speech.

In this hour I feel it to be my duty before my own conscience to appeal once more to reason and common sense in Great Britain as much as elsewhere. I consider myself in a position to make this appeal since I am not the vanquished begging favors, but the victor speaking in the name of reason.

I can see no reason why this war must go on. [xviii]

He was not more specific than that. He made no concrete suggestions for peace terms, no mention of what was to happen to the hundred million people now under the Nazi yoke in the conquered countries. But there were few if any in the Reichstag that evening who believed that it was necessary at this stage to go into the details. I mingled with a good many officials and officers at the close of the session and not one of them had the slightest doubt, as they said, that the British would accept what they really believed was a very generous and even magnanimous offer from the Fuehrer. They were not for long to be deceived.

I drove directly to the Rundfunk to make a broadcast report of the speech to the United States. I had hardly arrived at Broadcasting House when I picked up a BBC broadcast in German from London. It was giving the British answer to Hitler already -- within the hour. It was a determined No! [xix]

Junior officers from the High Command and officials from various ministries were sitting around the room listening with rapt attention. Their faces fell. They could not believe their ears. "Can you make it out?" one of them shouted to me. He seemed dazed. "Can you understand those British fools?" he continued to bellow. "To turn down peace now? They're crazy!"

The same evening Ciano [xx] heard the reaction to the crazy English on a much higher level in Berlin than mine. "Late in the evening," he noted in his diary, "when the first cold English reactions to the speech arrive, a sense of ill-concealed disappointment spreads among the Germans." The effect on Mussolini, according to Ciano, was just the opposite.

He ... defines it "a much too cunning speech." He fears that the English may find in it a pretext to begin negotiations. That would be sad for Mussolini, because now more than ever he wants war. [44]

The Duce, as Churchill later remarked, "need not have fretted himself. He was not to be denied all the war he wanted." [45]

"As a manuever calculated to rally the German people for the fight against Britain," I wrote in my diary that night, "Hitler's speech was a masterpiece. For the German people will now say: 'Hitler offers England peace, and no strings attached. He says he sees no reason why this war should go on. If it does, it's England's fault.'"

And was that not the principal reason for giving it, three days after he had issued Directive No. 16 to prepare the invasion of Britain? He admitted as much -- beforehand -- to two Italian confidants, Alfieri and Ciano. On July 1 he had told the ambassador:

... It was always a good tactic to make the enemy responsible in the eyes of public opinion in Germany and abroad for the future course of events. This strengthened one's own morale and weakened that of the enemy. An operation such as the one Germany was planning would be very bloody ... Therefore one must convince public opinion that everything had first been done to avoid this horror ...

In his speech of October 6 [when he had offered peace to the West at the conclusion of the Polish campaign -- W.L.S.] he had likewise been guided by the thought of making the opposing side responsible for all subsequent developments. He had thereby won the war, as it were, before it had really started. Now again he intended for psychological reasons to buttress morale, so to speak, for the action about to be taken. [46]

A week later, on July 8, Hitler confided to Ciano that

he would stage another demonstration so that in case the war should continue -- which he thought was the only real possibility that came into question -- he might achieve a psychological effect among the English people ... Perhaps it would be possible by a skillful appeal to the English people to isolate the English Government still further in England. [47]

It did not prove possible. The speech of July 19 worked with the German people, but not with the British. On July 22 Lord Halifax in a broadcast made the rejection of Hitler's peace offer official. Though it had been expected, it somehow jolted the Wilhelmstrasse, where I found many angry faces that afternoon. "Lord Halifax," the official government spokesman told us, "has refused to accept the peace offer of the Fuehrer. Gentlemen, there will be war!"

It was easier said than done. In truth neither Hitler, the High Command nor the general staffs of the Army, Navy and Air Force had ever seriously considered how a war with Great Britain could be fought and won. Now in the midsummer of 1940 they did not know what to do with their glittering success; they had no plans and scarcely any will for exploiting the greatest military victories in the history of their soldiering nation. This is one of the great paradoxes of the Third Reich. At the very moment when Hitler stood at the zenith of his military power, with most of the European Continent at his feet, his victorious armies stretched from the Pyrenees to the Arctic Circle, from the Atlantic to beyond the Vistula, rested now and ready for further action, he had no idea how to go on and bring the war to a victorious conclusion. Nor had his generals, twelve of whom now bandied field marshals' batons.

There is, of course, a reason for this, although it was not clear to us at the time. The Germans, despite their vaunted military talents, lacked any grand strategic concept. Their horizons were limited -- they had always been limited -- to land warfare against the neighboring nations on the European Continent. Hitler himself had a horror of the sea [xxi] and his great captains almost a total ignorance of it. They were land-minded, not sea-minded. And though their armies could have crushed in a week the feeble land forces of Britain if they had only been able to come to grips with them, even the narrow waters of the Dover Straits which separated the two -- so narrow that you can see across to the opposite shore -- loomed in their minds, as the splendid summer began to wane, as an obstacle they knew not how to overcome.

There was of course another alternative open to the Germans. They might bring Britain down by striking across the Mediterranean with their Italian ally, taking Gibraltar at its western opening and in the east driving on from Italy's bases in North Africa through Egypt and over the canal to Iran, severing one of the Empire's main life lines. But this necessitated vast operations overseas at distances far from home bases, and in 1940 it seemed beyond the scope of the German imagination.

Thus at the height of dizzy success Hitler and his captains hesitated. They had not thought out the next step and how it was to be carried through. This fateful neglect would prove to be one of the great turning points of the war and indeed of the short life of the Third Reich and of the meteoric career of Adolf Hitler. Failure, after so many stupendous victories, was now to set in. But this, to be sure, could not be foreseen as beleaguered Britain, now holding out alone, girded herself with what small means she had for the German onslaught at the summer's end.



i. See above, pp. 651, 652, 671-72, respectively.
ii. It was first reported and long believed that from 25,000 to 30,000 Dutch were  killed, and this is the figure given in the 1953 edition of the Encyclopaedia  Britannica. However, at Nuremberg the Dutch government gave the figure as  814 killed. [8]

iii. There were no criminal convictions at Nuremberg for the bombing of Rotterdam.
iv. The two armored corps of Reinhardt and Guderian made up General Ewald  von Kleist's panzer group, which consisted of five tank divisions and three motorized  infantry divisions.
v. After the war Gamelin stated that his reply was not "There is none," but "There  is no longer any." (L'Aurore, Paris, November 21, 1949.)
vi. From, among others, General Sir Alan Brooke, who commanded the British IInd  Corps and later became Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial  General Staff. See Sir Arthur Bryant, The Turn of the Tide, based on Alanbrooke's  diaries.
vii. This fact, established from the records of Rundstedt's own headquarters, did not prevent the General from making several statements after the war which put the blame entirely on Hitler. "If I had had my way," he told Major Milton Shulman, a Canadian intelligence officer, "the English would not have got off so lightly at Dunkirk. But my hands were tied by direct orders from Hitler himself. While the English were clambering into the ships off the beaches, I was kept uselessly outside the port unable to move ... I sat outside the town, watching the English escape, while my tanks and infantry were prohibited from moving. This incredible blunder was due to Hitler's personal idea of generalship." (Shulman, Defeat in the West, pp. 42-43.)

To a commission of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg on June 20, 1946 (mimeographed transcript, p. 1490), Rundstedt added: "That was a very big mistake of the Commander ... How angry we leaders were at that time is indescribable." Rundstedt made similar declarations to Liddell Hart (The German Generals Talk, pp. 112-13) and to the Nuremberg Military Tribunal in the trial of United States v. Leeb (pp. 3350-53, 3931-32, of the mimeographed transcript).

Telford Taylor in The March of Conquest and Major L. F. Ellis in The War in France and Flanders, 1939-40 have analyzed the German Army records of the incident and drawn conclusions that somewhat differ. Ellis' book is the official British account of the campaign and contains both British and German documents. Taylor, who spent four years as an American prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, is an authority on the German documents.
viii. A good many of the exhausted Tommies on the beaches, who underwent severe  bombings, were not aware of this, since the air clashes were often above the clouds  or some distance away. They knew only that they had been bombed and strafed all  the way back from eastern Belgium to Dunkirk, and they felt their Air Force had let  them down. When they reached the home ports some of them insulted men in the  blue R.A.F. uniforms. Churchill was much aggrieved at this and went out of his  way to put them right when he spoke in the House on June 4. The deliverance at  Dunkirk, he said, "was gained by the Air Force."
ix. On this day, June 17, 1940, the exiled Kaiser sent from Doorn, in occupied Holland, a telegram of congratulations to Hitler, whom he had for so long scorned as a vulgar upstart. It was found among the captured Nazi papers.

Under the deeply moving impression of the capitulation of France I con gratulate you and the whole German Wehrmacht on the mighty victory granted by God, in the words of the Emperor Wilhelm the Great in 1870: "What a turn of events brought about by divine dispensation."

In all German hearts there echoes the Leuthen chorale sung by the victors of Leuthen, the soldiers of the Great King: "Now thank we all our God!"

Hitler, who believed that the mighty victory was due more to himself than to God, drafted a restrained reply, but whether it was ever sent is not indicated in the documents. [21]

The Fuehrer had been furious a little earlier when he learned that a German unit which overran Doorn had posted a guard of honor around the exiled Emperor's residence. Hitler ordered the guard removed and Doorn posted as out of bounds to all German soldiers. Wilhelm II died at Doorn on June 4, 1941, and was buried there. His death, Hassell noted in his diary (p. 200), "went almost unnoticed" in Germany. Hitler and Goebbels saw to that.

x. The defeatist French High Command forbade any offensive action against Italy.  On June 14 a French naval squadron bombarded factories, oil tanks and refineries  near Genoa, but Admiral Darlan prohibited any further action of this kind. When  the R.A.F. tried to send bombers from the airfield at Marseilles to attack Milan and  Turin the French drove trucks onto the field and prevented the planes from taking off.
xi. It was blown up three days later, at Hitler's command.
xii. It was stipulated that it would go into effect as soon as the Franco-Italian armistice was signed, and that hostilities would cease six hours after that event.

xiii. It arrived there July 8. Ironically, it was destroyed in an Allied bombing of Berlin  later in the war.
xiv. Such an advertisement appeared in the New York Times June 25, 1940.

xv. By July 5, 1940, Thomsen had become so apprehensive about his payments that he cabled Berlin for permission to destroy all receipts and accounts:

The payments ... are made to the recipients through trusted go-betweens, but in the circumstances it is obvious that no receipts can be expected ... Such receipts or memoranda would fall into the hands of the American Secret Service if the Embassy were suddenly to be seized by American authorities, and despite all camouflage, by the fact of their existence alone, they would mean political ruin and have other grave consequences for our political friends, who are probably known to our enemies ...

I therefore request that the Embassy be authorized to destroy these receipts and statements and henceforth dispense with making them, as also with keeping accounts of such payments.

This telegraphic report has been destroyed. [52]

xvi. The doings of the German Embassy in Washington at this period, as disclosed in its own dispatches which are published in Documents on German Foreign Policy, would furnish the material for a revealing book. One is struck by the tendency of the German diplomats to tell the Nazi dictator pretty much what he wanted to hear  -- a practice common among representatives of totalitarian lands. Two officers of OKW told me in Berlin that the High Command, or at least the General Staff, was highly suspicious of the objectivity of the reports from the Washington embassy and that they had established their own military intelligence in the United States.

They were not served very well by General Friedrich von Boetticher, the German military attache in Washington, if one can judge by his dispatches included in the DGFP volumes. He never tired of warning OKW and the general staffs of the Army and Air Force to whom his messages were addressed, that America was controlled by the Jews and the Freemasons, which was exactly what Hitler thought. Boetticher also overestimated the influence of the isolationists in American politics, especially of Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh, who emerges in his dispatches as his great hero. An extract or two indicates the tenor of his reports.

July 20, 1940: ... As the exponent of the Jews, who especially through Freemasonry control the broad masses of the American people, Roosevelt wants England to continue fighting and the war to be prolonged ... The circle about Lindbergh has become aware of this development and now tries at least to impede the fatal control of American policy by the Jews ... I have repeatedly reported on the mean and vicious campaign against Lindbergh, whom the Jews fear as their most potent adversary ... [DGFP, X, pp. 254-55.]

August 6, 1940: ... The background of Lindbergh's re-emergence in public and the campaign against him.

The Jewish element now controls key positions in the American armed forces, after having in the last weeks filled the posts of Secretary of War, Assistant Secretary of War, and Secretary of the Navy with subservient individuals and attached a leading and very influential Jew, "Colonel" Julius Ochs-Adler, as secretary to the Secretary of War.

The forces opposing the Jewish element and the present policy of the United States have been mentioned in my reports, taking account also of the importance of the General Staff. The greatly gifted Lindbergh, whose connections reach very far, is much the most important of them all. The Jewish element and Roosevelt fear the spiritual and, particularly, the moral superiority and purity of this man.

On Sunday [August 4] Lindbergh delivered a blow that will hurt the Jews. He ... stressed that America should strive for sincere collaboration with Germany with a view to peace and the preservation of Western culture. Several hours later, the aged General Pershing, who has long been a puppet in the hands of Roosevelt, which means of the Jews, read over the radio a declaration, foisted upon him by the wire-pullers, to the effect that America would be imperiled by England's defeat ...

The chorus of the Jewish element casting suspicion on Lindbergh in the press, and his denunciation by a Senator ... Lucas, who spoke against Lindbergh over the radio Monday night at Roosevelt's behest ... as a "fifth columnist," that is, a traitor, merely serve to underline the fear of the spiritual power of this man, about whose progress I have reported since the beginning of the war and in whose great importance for future German-American relations I believe. [DGFP, X, pp. 413-15.]

On September 18, Thomsen, in a further report, gave an account of a confidential conversation he said had taken place between Lindbergh and several American General Staff officers. Lindbergh gave it as his opinion that England would soon collapse before German air attacks. The General Staff officers, however, held that Germany's air strength was not sufficient to force a decision. (DGFP, X, pp. 413- 15.)

On October 19, 1938, three weeks after Munich, Lindbergh had been awarded -- and had accepted -- the "Service Cross of the German Eagle with Star." This was, I believe, the second highest German decoration, usually conferred on distinguished foreigners who, in the official words of the citations, "deserved well of the Reich."

xvii. There are in the DGFP volumes several dispatches to the German Foreign Office about alleged contacts with various British diplomats and personages, sometimes direct, sometimes through neutrals such as the Franco Spaniards. Prince Max von Hohenlohe, the Sudeten-German Anglophile, reported to Berlin on his conversations with the British minister in Switzerland, Sir David Kelly, and with the Aga Khan. He claimed the latter had asked him to relay the following message to the Fuehrer:

The Khedive of Egypt, who is also here, had agreed with him that on the day when the Fuehrer puts up for the night in Windsor, they would drink a bottle of champagne together ... If Germany or Italy were thinking of taking over India, he would place himself at our disposal ... The struggle against England was not a struggle against the English people but against the Jews. Churchill had been for years in their pay and the King was too weak and limited. . If he were to go with these ideas to England, Churchill would lock him up .... [DGFP, X, pp. 294-95.]

It must be kept in mind that these are German reports and may not be true at all, but they are what Hitler had to go on. The Nazi plan to enlist the Duke of Windsor, indeed the plot to kidnap him and then try to use him, as disclosed in the Foreign Office secret papers, is noted later.

xviii. Attolico had been replaced by Alfieri at the instigation of Ribbentrop in May.

xix. There was a colorful scene and one unprecedented in German history when Hitler  suddenly broke off his speech in the middle to award field marshals' batons to twelve  generals and a special king-size one to Goering, who was given the newly created  rank of Reich Marshal of the Greater German Reich, which put him above all the  others. He was also awarded the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross, the only one given  during the entire war. Halder was passed over in this avalanche of field marshal  awards, being merely promoted one grade, from lieutenant general to general. This  promiscuous award of field-marshalships -- the Kaiser had named only five field  marshals from the officer corps during all of World War I and not even Ludendorff  had been made one -- undoubtedly helped to stifle any latent opposition to Hitler  among the generals such as had threatened to remove him on at least three occasions in the past. In achieving this and in debasing the value of the highest military rank by raising so many to it, Hitler acted shrewdly to tighten his hold over the generals. Nine Army generals were promoted to field marshal: Brauchitsch, Keitel, Rundstedt, Bock, Leeb, List, Kluge, Witzleben and Reichenau; and three Luftwaffe officers: Milch, Kesselring and Sperrle.

xx. Churchill later declared that this immediate and brusque rejection of Hitler's peace offer was made "by the BBC without any prompting from H. M. Government as soon as Hitler's speech was heard over the radio." (Churchill, Their Finest Hour, p. 260.)

xxi. The Italian Foreign Minister had behaved like a clown during the Reichstag session, bobbing up and down like a jack-in-the-box to give the Fascist salute every time Hitler paused for breath. I also noticed Quisling, a pig-eyed little man, crouching in a corner seat in the first balcony. He had come to Berlin to beg the Fuehrer to reinstate him in power in Oslo.

xxii. "On land I am a hero, but on water I am a coward," he told Rundstedt once.  (Shulman, Defeat in the West, p. 50.)
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Sun Feb 11, 2018 5:23 am

Part 1 of 2


"THE FINAL GERMAN VICTORY over England is now only a question of time," General Jodl, Chief of Operations at OKW, wrote on June 30, 1940. "Enemy offensive operations on a large scale are no longer possible."

Hitler's favorite strategist was in a confident and complacent mood. France had capitulated the week before, leaving Britain alone and apparently helpless. On June 15 Hitler had informed the generals that he wanted the Army partially demobilized -- from 160 to 120 divisions. "The assumption behind this," Halder noted in his diary that day, "is that the task of the Army is fulfilled. The Air Force and Navy will be given the mission of carrying on alone the war against England."

In truth, the Army showed little interest in it. Nor was the Fuehrer himself much concerned. On June 17 Colonel Walter Warlimont, Jodl's deputy, informed the Navy that "with regard to the landing in Britain, the Fuehrer ... has not up to now expressed such an intention ... Therefore, even at this time, no preparatory work of any kind [has] been carried out in OKW." [1] Four days later, on June 21, at the very moment Hitler was entering the armistice car at Compiegne to humble the French, the Navy was informed that the "Army General Staff is not concerning itself with the question of England. Considers execution impossible. Does not know how operation is to be conducted from southern area ... General Staff rejects the operation." [2]

None of the gifted planners in any of the three German armed services knew how Britain was to be invaded, though it was the Navy, not unnaturally, which had first given the matter some thought. As far back as November 15, 1939, when Hitler was trying vainly to buck up his generals to launch an attack in the West, Raeder instructed the Naval War Staff to examine "the possibility of invading England, a possibility arising if certain conditions are fulfilled by the further course of the war." [3] It was the first time in history that any German military staff had been asked even to consider such an action. It seems likely that Raeder took this step largely because he wanted to anticipate any sudden aberration of his unpredictable Leader. There is no record that Hitler was consulted or knew anything about it. The furthest his thoughts went at this time was to get airfields and naval bases in Holland, Belgium and France for the tightening of the blockade against the British Isles.

By December 1939, the Army and Luftwaffe high commands were also giving some thought to the problem of invading Britain. Rather nebulous ideas of the three services were exchanged, but they did not get very far. In January 1940, the Navy and Air Force rejected an Army plan as unrealistic. To the Navy it did not take into account British naval power; to the Luftwaffe it underestimated the R.A.F. "In conclusion," remarked the Luftwaffe General Staff in a communication to OKH, "a combined operation with a landing in England as its object must be rejected." [4] Later, as we shall see, Goering and his aides were to take a quite contrary view.

The first mention in the German records that Hitler was even facing the possibility of invading Britain was on May 21, the day after the armored forces drove through to the sea at Abbeville. Raeder discussed "in private" with the Fuehrer "the possibility of a later landing in England." The source of this information is Admiral Raeder,' whose Navy was not sharing in the glory of the astounding victories of the Army and Air Force in the West and who, understandably, was seeking means of bringing his service back into the picture. But Hitler's thoughts were on the battle of encirclement to the north and on the Somme front then forming to the south. He did not trouble his generals with matters beyond these two immediate tasks.

The naval officers, however, with little else to do, continued to study the problem of invasion, and by May 27 Rear Admiral Kurt Fricke, Chief of the Naval War Staff Operations Division, came up with a fresh plan entitled Studie England. Preliminary work was also begun on rounding up shipping and developing landing craft, the latter of which the Germany Navy was entirely bereft. In this connection Dr. Gottfried Feder, the economic crank who had helped Hitler draft the party program in the early Munich days and who was now a State Secretary in the Ministry of Economics, where his crackpot ideas were given short shrift, produced plans for what he called a "war crocodile." This was a sort of self-propelled barge made of concrete which could carry a company of two hundred men with full equipment or several tanks or pieces of artillery, roll up on any beach and provide cover for the disembarking troops and vehicles. It was taken quite seriously by the Naval Command and even by Halder, who mentioned it in his diary, and was discussed at length by Hitler and Raeder on June 20. But nothing came of it in the end.

To the admirals nothing seemed to be coming of an invasion of the British Isles as June approached its end. Following his appearance at Compiegne on June 21, Hitler went off with some old cronies to do the sights of Paris briefly [i] and then to visit the battlefields, not of this war but of the first war, where he had served as a dispatch runner. With him was his tough top sergeant of those days, Max Amann, now a millionaire Nazi publisher. The future course of the war -- specifically, how to continue the fight against Britain -- seemed the least of his concerns, or perhaps it was merely that he believed that this little matter was already settled, since the British would now come to "reason" and make peace.

Hitler did not return to his new headquarters, Tannenberg, west of Freudenstadt in the Black Forest, until the twenty-ninth of June. The next day, coming down to earth, he mulled over Jodl's paper on what to do next. It was entitled "The Continuation of the War against England." [6] Though Jodl was second only to Keitel at OKW in his fanatical belief in the Fuehrer's genius, he was, when left alone, usually a prudent strategist. But now he shared the general view at Supreme Headquarters that the war was won and almost over. If Britain didn't realize it, a little more force would have to be supplied to remind her. For the "siege" of England, his memorandum proposed three steps: intensification of the German air and sea war against British shipping, storage depots, factories and the R.A.F.; "terror attacks against the centers of population"; "a landing of troops with the objective of occupying England."

Jodl recognized that "the fight against the British Air Force must have top priority." But, on the whole, he thought this as well as other aspects of the assault could be carried out with little trouble.

Together with propaganda and periodic terror attacks, announced as reprisals, this increasing weakening of the basis of food supply will paralyze and finally break the will of the people to resist, and thereby force its government to capitulate. [ii]

As for a landing, it could

only be contemplated after Germany has gained control of the air. A landing, therefore, should not have as its objective the military conquest of England, a task that could be left to the Air Force and Navy. Its aim should rather be to administer the deathblow [Todesstoss] to an England already economically paralyzed and no longer capable of fighting in the air, if this is still necessary.[iii]

However, thought Jodl, all this might not be necessary.

Since England can no longer fight for victory, but only for the preservation of its possessions and its world prestige she should, according to all predictions. be inclined to make peace when she learns that she can still get it now at relatively little cost.

This was what Hitler thought too and he immediately set to work on his peace speech for the Reichstag. In the meantime, as we have seen, he ordered (July 2) some preliminary planning for a landing and on July 16, when no word of "reason" had come from London, issued Directive No. 16 for Sea Lion. At last, after more than six weeks of hesitation, it was decided to invade Britain, "if necessary." This, as Hitler and his generals belatedly began to realize, would have to be a major military operation, not without its risks and depending for success on whether the Luftwaffe and the Navy could prepare the way for the troops against a far superior British Navy and a by no means negligible enemy Air Force.

Was Sea Lion a serious plan? And was it seriously intended that it should be carried out?

To this day many have doubted it and they have been reinforced in their opinions by the chorus from the German generals after the war. Rundstedt, who was in command of the invasion, told Allied investigators in 1945:

The proposed invasion of England was nonsense, because adequate ships were not available ... We looked upon the whole thing as a sort of game because it was obvious that no invasion was possible when our Navy was not in a position to cover a crossing of the Channel or carry reinforcements. Nor was the German Air Force capable of taking on these functions if the Navy failed ... I was always very skeptical about the whole affair ... I have a feeling that the Fuehrer never really wanted to invade England. He never had sufficient courage ... He definitely hoped that the English would make peace ... [7]

Blumentritt, Rundstedt's chief of operations, expressed similar views to Liddell Hart after the war, claiming that "among ourselves we talked of it [Sea Lion] as a bluff." [8]

I myself spent a few days at the middle of August on the Channel, snooping about from Antwerp to Boulogne in search of the invasion army. On August 15, at Calais and at Cap Gris-Nez, we saw swarms of German bombers and fighters heading over the Channel toward England on what turned out to be the first massive air assault. And while it was evident that the Luftwaffe was going all out, the lack of shipping and especially of invasion barges in the ports and in the canals and rivers behind them left me with the impression that the Germans were bluffing. They simply did not have the means, so far as I could see, of getting their troops across the Channel.

But one reporter can see very little of a war and we know now that the Germans did not begin to assemble the invasion fleet until September 1. As for the generals, anyone who read their interrogations or listened to them on cross-examination at the Nuremberg trials learned to take their postwar testimony with more than a grain of salt. [iv] The trickiness of man's memory is always considerable and the German generals were no exception to this rule. Also they had many axes to grind, one of the foremost being to discredit Hitler's military leadership. Indeed, their principal theme, expounded at dreary length in their memoirs and in their interrogations and trial testimony, was that if they had been left to make the decisions Hitler never would have led the Third Reich to defeat.

Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for posterity and the truth, the mountainous secret German military files leave no doubt that Hitler's plan to invade Britain in the early fall of 1940 was deadly serious and that, though given to many hesitations, the Nazi dictator seriously intended to carry it out if there were any reasonable chance of success. Its ultimate fate was settled not by any lack of determination or effort but by the fortunes of war, which now, for the first time, began to turn against him.

On July 17, the day after Directive No. 16 was issued to prepare the invasion and two days before the Fuehrer's "peace" speech in the Reichstag, the Army High Command (OKH) allocated the forces for Sea Lion and ordered thirteen picked divisions to the jumping-off places on the Channel coast for the first wave of the invasion. On the same day the Army Command completed its detailed plan for a landing on a broad front on the south coast of England.

The main thrust here, as in the Battle of France, would be carried out by Field Marshal von Rundstedt (as he would be titled on July 19) as commander of Army Group A. Six infantry divisions of General Ernst Busch's Sixteenth Army were to embark from the Pas de Calais and hit the beaches between Ramsgate and Bexhill. Four divisions of General Adolf Strauss's Ninth Army would cross the Channel from the area of Le Havre and land between Brighton and the Isle of Wight. Farther to the west three divisions of Field Marshal von Reichenau's Sixth Army (from Field Marshal von Bock's Army Group B), taking off from the Cherbourg peninsula, would be put ashore in Lyme Bay, between Weymouth and Lyme Regis. Altogether 90,000 men would form the first wave; by the third day the High Command planned on putting ashore a total of 260,000 men. Airborne forces would help out after being dropped at Lyme Bay and other areas. An armored force of no less than six panzer divisions, reinforced by three motorized divisions, would follow in the second wave and in a few days it was planned to have ashore a total of thirty-nine divisions plus two airborne divisions.

Their task was as follows. After the bridgeheads had been secured, the divisions of Army Group A in the southeast would push forward to the first objective, a line running between Gravesend and Southampton. Reichenau's Sixth Army would advance north to Bristol, cutting off Devon and Cornwall. The second objective would be a line between Maldon on the east coast north of the Thames estuary to the Severn River, blocking off Wales. "Heavy battles with strong British forces" were expected to develop at about the time the Germans reached their first objective. But they would be quickly won, London surrounded, and the drive northward resumed. [9] Brauchitsch told Raeder on July 17 that the whole operation would be finished in a month and would be relatively easy. [v] [10]

But Raeder and the Naval High Command were skeptical. An operation of such size on such a broad front -- it stretched over two hundred miles from Ramsgate to Lyme Bay -- was simply beyond the means of the German Navy to convoy and protect. Raeder so informed OKW two days later and brought it up again on July 21 when Hitler summoned him, Brauchitsch and General Hans Jeschonnek (Chief of the Luftwaffe General Staff) to a meeting in Berlin. The Fuehrer was still confused about "what is going on in England." He appreciated the Navy's difficulties but stressed the importance of ending the war as soon as possible. For the invasion forty divisions would be necessary, he said, and the "main operation" would have to be completed by September 15. On the whole the warlord was in an optimistic mood despite Churchill's refusal at that very moment to heed his peace appeal.

England's situation is hopeless [Halder noted Hitler as saying]. The war has been won by us. A reversal of the prospects of success is impossible. [11]

But the Navy, faced with the appalling task of transporting a large army across the choppy Channel in the face of a vastly stronger British Navy and of an enemy Air Force that seemed still rather active, was not so sure. On July 29 the Naval War Staff drew up a memorandum advising "against undertaking the operation this year" and proposing that "it be considered in May 1941 or thereafter." [12]

Hitler, however, insisted on considering it on July 31, 1940, when he again summoned his military chiefs, this time to his villa on the Obersalzberg. Besides Raeder, Keitel and Jodl were there from OKW and Brauchitsch and Halder from the Army High Command. The Grand Admiral, as he now was, did most of the talking. He was not in a very hopeful mood.

September 15, he said, would be the earliest date for Sea Lion to begin, and then only if there were no "unforeseen circumstances due to the weather or the enemy." When Hitler inquired about the weather problem Raeder responded with a lecture on the subject that grew quite eloquent and certainly forbidding. Except for the first fortnight in October the weather, he explained, was "generally bad" in the Channel and the North Sea; light fog came in the middle of that month and heavy fog at the end. But that was only part of the weather problem. "The operation," he declared, "can be carried out only if the sea is calm." If the water were rough, the barges would sink and even the big ships would be helpless, since they could not unload supplies. The Admiral grew gloomier with every minute that he contemplated what lay ahead.

Even if the first wave crosses successfully [he went on] under favorable weather conditions, there is no guarantee that the same favorable weather will carry through the second and third waves ... As a matter of fact, we must realize that no traffic worth mentioning will be able to cross for several days, until certain harbors can be utilized.

That would leave the Army in a fine pickle, stranded on the beaches without supplies and reinforcements. Raeder now came to the main point of the differences between the Army and the Navy. The Army wanted a broad front from the Straits of Dover to Lyme Bay. But the Navy simply couldn't provide the ships necessary for such an operation against the expected strong reaction of the British Navy and Air Force. Raeder therefore argued strongly that the front be shortened -- to run only from the Dover Straits to Eastbourne. The Admiral saved his clincher for the end.

"All things considered," he said, "the best time for the operation would be May 1941."

But Hitler did not want to wait that long. He conceded that "naturally" there was nothing they could do about the weather. But they had to consider the consequences of losing time. The German Navy would not be any stronger vis-a-vis the British Navy by spring. The British Army at the moment was in poor shape. But give it another eight to ten months and it would have from thirty to thirty-five divisions, which was a considerable force in the restricted area of the proposed invasion. Therefore his decision (according to the confidential notes made by both Raeder and Halder) [13] was as follows:

Diversions in Africa should be studied. But the decisive result can be achieved only by an attack on England. An attempt must therefore be made to prepare the operation for September 15, 1940 ... The decision as to whether the operation is to take place in September or is to be delayed until May 1941, will be made after the Air Force has made concentrated attacks on southern England for one week. If the effect of the air attacks is such that the enemy air force, harbors and naval forces, etc. are heavily damaged. Operation Sea Lion will be carried out in 1940. Otherwise it is to be postponed until May 1941.

All now depended on the Luftwaffe.

The next day, August 1, Hitler issued as a consequence two directives from OKW, one signed by himself, the other by Keitel.

Fuehrer's Headquarters

August 1, 1940


Directive No. 17 for the Conduct of Air and Naval Warfare against England

In order to establish the conditions necessary for the final conquest of England, I intend to continue the air and naval war against the English homeland more intensively than heretofore.

To this end I issue the following orders:

1. The German Air Force is to overcome the British Air Force with all means at its disposal and as soon as possible ...

2. After gaining temporary or local air superiority the air war is to be carried out against harbors, especially against establishments connected with food supply ... Attacks on the harbors of the south coast are to be undertaken on the smallest scale possible, in view of our intended operations....

4. The Luftwaffe is to stand by in force for Operation Sea Lion.

5. I reserve for myself the decision on terror attacks as a means of reprisal.

6. The intensified air war may commence on or after August 6 ... The Navy is authorized to begin the projected intensified naval warfare at the same time.


The directive signed by Keitel on behalf of Hitler the same day read in part:


Operation Sea Lion

The C. in C., Navy, having reported on July 31 that the necessary preparations for Sea Lion could not be completed before September 15, the Fuehrer has ordered:

Preparations for Sea Lion are to be continued and completed by the Army and Air Force by September 15.

Eight to fourteen days after the launching of the air offensive against Britain, scheduled to begin about August 5, the Fuehrer will decide whether the invasion will take place this year or not; his decision will depend largely on the outcome of the air offensive ...

In spite of the Navy's warning that it can guarantee only the defense of a narrow strip of coast (as far west as Eastbourne), preparations are to be continued for the attack on a broad basis, as originally planned . . . [15]

The last paragraph only served to inflame the feud between the Army and Navy over the question of a long or a short invasion front. A fortnight before, the Naval War Staff had estimated that to fulfill the demands of the Army for landing 100,000 men with equipment and supplies in the first wave, along a 200-mile front from Ramsgate to Lyme Bay, would necessitate rounding up 1,722 barges, 1,161 motorboats, 471 tugs and 155 transports. Even if it were possible to assemble such a vast amount of shipping, Raeder told Hitler on July 25, it would wreck the German economy, since taking away so many barges and tugs would destroy the whole inland-waterway transportation system, on which the economic life of the country largely depended.16 At any rate, Raeder made it clear, the protection of such an armada trying to supply such a broad front against the certain attacks of the British Navy and Air Force was beyond the powers of the German naval forces. At one point the Naval War Staff warned the Army that if it insisted on the broad front, the Navy might lose all of its ships.

But the Army persisted. Overestimating British strength as it did, it argued that to land on a narrow front would confront the attackers with a "superior" British land force. On August 7 there was a showdown between the two services when Halder met his opposite number in the Navy, Admiral Schniewind, the Chief of the Naval War Staff. There was a sharp and dramatic clash.

"I utterly reject the Navy's proposal," the Army General Staff Chief, usually a very calm man, fumed. "From the point of view of the Army 1 regard it as complete suicide. I might just as well put the troops that have landed straight through a sausage machine!"

According to the Naval War Staff's record of the meeting [vi] Schniewind replied that it would be "equally suicidal" to attempt to transport the troops for such a broad front as the Army desired, "in view of British naval supremacy."

It was a cruel dilemma. If a broad front with the large number of troops to man it was attempted, the whole German expedition might be sunk at sea by the British Navy. If a short front, with correspondingly fewer troops, was adopted, the invaders might be hurled back into the sea by the British Army. On August 10 Brauchitsch, the Commander in Chief of the Army, informed OKW that he "could not accept" a landing between Folkestone and Eastbourne. However, he was willing, albeit "very reluctantly," to abandon the landing at Lyme Bay in order to shorten the front and meet the Navy halfway.

This was not enough for the hardheaded admirals, and their caution and stubbornness were beginning to have an effect at OKW. On August 13 Jodi drafted an "appreciation" of the situation, laying down five conditions for the success of Sea Lion that seemingly would have struck the generals and admirals as almost ludicrous had their dilemma not been so serious. First, he said, the British Navy would have to be eliminated from the south coast, and second, the R.A.F. would have to be eliminated from the British skies. The other conditions concerned the landing of troops in a strength and with a rapidity that were obviously far beyond the Navy's powers. If these conditions were not fulfilled, he considered the landing "an act of desperation which would have to be carried out in a desperate situation, but which we have no cause to carry out now." [17]

If the Navy's fears were spreading to Jodl, the OKW Operations Chief's hesitations were having their effect on Hitler. All through the war the Fuehrer leaned much more heavily on Jodl than on the Chief of OKW, the spineless, dull-minded Keitel. It is not surprising, then, that on August 13, when Raeder saw the Supreme Commander in Berlin and requested a decision on the broad versus the narrow front, Hitler was inclined to agree with the Navy on the smaller operation. He promised to make a definite ruling the next day after he had seen the Commander in Chief of the Army. [18] After hearing Brauchitsch's views on the fourteenth, Hitler finally made up his mind, and on the sixteenth an OKW directive signed by Keitel declared that the Fuehrer had decided to abandon the landing in Lyme Bay, which Reichenau's Sixth Army was to have made. Preparations for landings on the narrower front on September 15 were to be continued, but now, for the first time, the Fuehrer's own doubts crept into a secret directive. "Final orders," it added, "will not be given until the situation is clear." The new order, however, was somewhat of a compromise. For a further directive that day enlarged the narrower front.

Main crossing to be on narrow front. Simultaneous landing of four to five thousand troops at Brighton by motorboats and the same number of airborne troops at Deal-Ramsgate. In addition, on D-minus-l Day the Luftwaffe is to make a strong attack on London, which would cause the population to flee from the city and block the roads. [19]

Although Halder on August 23 was scribbling a shorthand note in his diary that "on this basis, an attack has no chance of success this year," a directive on August 27 over Keitel's signature laid down final plans for landings in four main areas on the south coast between Folkestone and Selsey Bill, just east of Portsmouth, with the first objective, as before, a line running between Portsmouth and the Thames east of London at Gravesend, to be reached as soon as the beachheads had been connected and organized and the troops could strike north. At the same time orders were given to get ready to carry out certain deception maneuvers, of which the principal one was "Autumn Journey" (Herbstreise). This called for a large-scale feint against Britain's east coast, where, as has been noted, Churchill and his military advisers were still expecting the main invasion blow to fall. For this purpose four large liners, including Germany's largest, Europa and Bremen, and ten additional transports, escorted by four cruisers, were to put out from the southern Norwegian ports and the Heligoland Bight on D-minus-2 Day and head for the English coast between Aberdeen and Newcastle. The transports would be empty and the whole expedition would turn back as darkness fell, repeating the maneuver the next day. [20]

On August 30 Brauchitsch gave out a lengthy order of instructions for the landings, but the generals who received it must have wondered how much heart their Army chief now had in the undertaking. He entitled it "Instruction for the Preparation of Operation Sea Lion" -- rather late in the game to be ordering preparations for an operation that he commanded must be carried out from September 15. "The order for execution," he I added, "depends on the political situation" -- a condition that must have puzzled the unpolitical generals. [21]

On September 1 the movement of shipping from Germany's North Sea ports toward the embarkation harbors on the Channel began, and two days later, on September 3, came a further directive from OKW.

The earliest day for the sailing of the invasion fleet has been fixed as September 20, and that of the landing for September 21.

Orders for the launching of the attack will be given D-minus-10 Day. presumably therefore on September 11.

Final commands will be given at the latest on D-minus-3 Day, at midday.

All preparations must remain liable to cancellation 24 hours before zero hour.


This sounded like business. But the sound was deceptive. On September 6 Raeder had another long session with Hitler. "The Fuehrer's decision to land in England," the Admiral recorded in the Naval Staff War Diary that night, "is still by no means settled, as he is firmly convinced that Britain's defeat will be achieved even without the 'landing.''' Actually, as Raeder's long recording of the talk shows, the Fuehrer discoursed at length about almost everything except Sea Lion: about Norway, Gibraltar, Suez, "the problem of the U.S.A.," the treatment of the French colonies and his fantastic views about the establishment of a "North Germanic Union." [23]

If Churchill and his military chiefs had only got wind of this remarkable conference the code word "Cromwell" might not have been sent out in England on the evening of the next day, September 7, signifying "Invasion imminent" and causing no end of confusion, the endless ringing of church bells by the Home Guard, the blowing of several bridges by Royal Engineers and the needless casualties suffered by those stumbling over hastily laid mines. [vii]

But on the late afternoon of Saturday, September 7, the Germans had begun their first massive bombing of London, carried out by 625 bombers protected by 648 fighters. It was the most devastating attack from the air ever delivered up to that day on a city -- the bombings of Warsaw and Rotterdam were pinpricks beside it -- and by early evening the whole dockside area of the great city was a mass of flames and every railway line to the south, so vital to the defense against invasion, was blocked. In the circumstances, many in London believed that this murderous bombing was the prelude to immediate German landings, and it was because of this more than anything else that the alert, "Invasion imminent," was sent out. As will shortly be seen, this savage bombing of London on September 7, though setting off a premature warning and causing much damage, marked a decisive turning point in the Battle of Britain, the first great decisive struggle in the air the earth had ever experienced, which was now rapidly approaching its climax.

The time for Hitler to make his fatal decision to launch the invasion or not to launch it was also drawing near. It was to be made, as the September 3 directive stipulated, on September 11, giving the armed services ten days to carry out the preliminaries. But on the tenth Hitler decided to postpone his decision until the fourteenth. There seem to have been at least two reasons for the delay. One was the belief at OKW that the bombing of London was causing so much destruction, both to property and to British morale, that an invasion might not be necessary. [viii]

The other reason arose from the difficulties the German Navy was beginning to experience in assembling its shipping. Besides the weather, which the naval authorities reported on September 10 as being "completely abnormal and unstable," the R.A.F., which Goering had promised to destroy, and the British Navy were increasingly interfering with the concentration of the invasion fleet. That same day the Naval War Staff warned of the "danger" of British air and naval attacks on German transport movements, which it said had "undoubtedly been successful." Two days later, on September 12, H.Q. of Naval Group West sent an ominous message to Berlin:

Interruptions caused by the enemy's air forces, long-range artillery and light naval forces have, for the first time, assumed major significance. The harbors at Ostend, Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne cannot be used as night anchorages for shipping because of the danger of English bombings and shelling. Units of the British Fleet are now able to operate almost unmolested in the Channel. Owing to these difficulties further delays are expected in the assembly of the invasion fleet.

The next day matters grew worse. British light naval forces bombarded the chief Channel invasion ports, Ostend, Calais, Boulogne and Cherbourg, while the R.A.F. sank eighty barges in Ostend Harbor. In Berlin that day Hitler conferred with his service chiefs at lunch. He thought the air war was going very well and declared that he had no intention of running the risk of invasion. [24] In fact, Jodl got the impression from the Fuehrer's remarks that he had "apparently decided to abandon Sea Lion completely," an impression which was accurate for that day, as Hitler confirmed the following day -- when, however, he again changed his mind.

Both Raeder and Halder have left confidential notes of the meeting of the Fuehrer with his commanders in chief in Berlin on September 14. [25] The Admiral managed to slip Hitler a memorandum before the session opened, setting forth the Navy's opinion that

the present air situation does not provide conditions for carrying out the operation [Sea Lion], as the risk is still too great.

At the beginning of the conference, the Nazi warlord displayed a somewhat negative mood and his thoughts were marred by contradictions. He would not give the order to launch the invasion, but neither would he call it off as, Raeder noted in the Naval War Diary, "he apparently had planned to do on September 13."

What were the reasons for his latest change of mind? Halder recorded them in some detail.

A successful landing [the Fuehrer argued] followed by an occupation would end the war in a short time. England would starve. A landing need not necessarily be carried out within a specified time ... But a long war is not desirable. We have already achieved everything that we need.

British hopes in Russia and America, Hitler said, had not materialized. Russia was not going to bleed for Britain. America's rearmament would not be fully effective until 1945. As for the moment, the "quickest solution would be a landing in England. The Navy has achieved the necessary conditions. The operations of the Luftwaffe are above all praise. Four or five days of decent weather would bring the decisive results ... We have a good chance of bringing England to her knees."

What was wrong, then? Why hesitate any longer in launching the invasion?

The trouble was, Hitler conceded:

The enemy recovers again and again ... Enemy fighters have not yet been completely eliminated. Our own reports of successes do not give a completely reliable picture, although the enemy has been severely damaged.

On the whole, then, Hitler declared, "in spite of all of our successes the prerequisite conditions for Operation Sea Lion have not yet been realized." (The emphasis is Halder's.)

Hitler summed up his reflections.

1. Successful landing means victory, but for this we must obtain complete air superiority.

2. Bad weather has so far prevented our attaining complete air superiority.

3. All other factors are in order.

Decision therefore: The operation will not be renounced yet.

Having come to that negative conclusion, Hitler thereupon gave way to soaring hopes that the Luftwaffe might still bring off the victory that so tantalizingly and so narrowly continued to evade him. "The air attacks up to now," he said, "have had a tremendous effect, though perhaps chiefly on the nerves. Even if victory in the air is only achieved in ten or twelve days the English may yet be seized by mass hysteria."

To help bring that about, Jeschonnek of the Air Force begged to be allowed to bomb London's residential districts, since, he said, there was no sign of "mass panic" in London while these areas were being spared. Admiral Raeder enthusiastically supported some terror bombing. Hitler, however, thought concentration on military objectives was more important. "Bombing with the object of causing a mass panic," he said, "must be left to the last."

Admiral Raeder's enthusiasm for terror bombing seems to have been due mainly to his lack of enthusiasm for the landings. He now intervened to stress again the "great risks" involved. The situation in the air, he pointed out, could hardly improve before the projected dates of September 24-27 for the landing; therefore they must be abandoned "until October 8 or 24."

But this was practically to call off the invasion altogether, as Hitler realized, and he ruled that he would hold up his decision on the landings only until September 17 -- three days hence -- so that they still might take place on September 27. If not feasible then, he would have to think about the October dates. A Supreme Command directive was thereupon issued.


September 14, 1940


The Fuehrer has decided:

The start of Operation Sea Lion is again postponed. A new order follows September 17. All preparations are to be continued.

The air attacks against London are to be continued and the target area expanded against military and other vital installations (e.g., railway stations).

Terror attacks against purely residential areas are reserved for use as an ultimate means of pressure. [26]

Thus though Hitler had put off for three days a decision on the invasion he had by no means abandoned it. Give the Luftwaffe another few days to finish off the R.A.F. and demoralize London, and the landing then could take place. It would bring final victory. So once again all depended on Goering's vaunted Air Force. It would make, in fact, its supreme effort the very next day.

The Navy's opinion of the Luftwaffe, however, grew hourly worse. On the evening of the crucial conference in Berlin the German Naval War Staff reported severe R.A.F. bombings of the invasion ports, from Antwerp to Boulogne.

... In Antwerp ... considerable casualties are inflicted on transports -- five transport steamers in port heavily damaged; one barge sunk, two cranes destroyed, an ammunition train blown up, several sheds burning.

The next night was even worse, the Navy reporting "strong enemy air attacks on the entire coastal area between Le Havre and Antwerp." An S.O.S. was sent out by the sailors for more antiaircraft protection of the invasion ports. On September 17 the Naval Staff reported:

The R.A.F. are still by no means defeated: on the contrary they are showing increasing activity in their attacks on the Channel ports and in their mounting interference with the assembly movements. [ix] [27]

That night there was a full moon and the British night bombers made the most of it. The German Naval War Staff reported "very considerable losses" of the shipping which now jammed the invasion ports. At Dunkirk eighty-four barges were sunk or damaged, and from Cherbourg to Den Helder the Navy reported, among other depressing items, a 500-ton ammunition store blown up, a rations depot burned out, various steamers and torpedo boats sunk and many casualties to personnel suffered. This severe bombing plus bombardment from heavy guns across the Channel made it necessary, the Navy Staff reported, to disperse the naval and transport vessels already concentrated on the Channel and to stop further movement of shipping to the invasion ports.

Otherwise [it said] with energetic enemy action such casualties will occur in the course of time that the execution of the operation on the scale previously envisaged will in any case be problematic. [28]

It had already become so.

In the German Naval War Diary there is a laconic entry for September 17.

The enemy Air Force is still by no means defeated. On the contrary, it shows increasing activity. The weather situation as a whole does not permit us to expect a period of calm ... The Fuehrer therefore decides to postpone "Sea Lion" indefinitely. [29]

The emphasis is the Navy's.

Adolf Hitler, after so many years of dazzling successes, had at last met failure. For nearly a month thereafter the pretense was kept up that the invasion might still take place that autumn, but it was a case of whistling in the dark. On September 19 the Fuehrer formally ordered the further assembling of the invasion fleet to be stopped and the shipping already in the ports to be dispersed "so that the loss of shipping space caused by enemy air attacks may be reduced to a minimum."

But it was impossible to maintain even a dispersed armada and all the troops and guns and tanks and supplies that had been assembled to cross over the Channel for an invasion that had been postponed indefinitely. "This state of affairs," Halder exclaimed in his diary September 28, "dragging out the continued existence of Sea Lion, is unbearable." When Ciano and Mussolini met the Fuehrer on the Brenner on October 4, the Italian Foreign Minister observed in his diary that "there is no longer any talk about a landing in the British Isles." Hitler's setback put his partner, Mussolini, in the best mood he had been in for ages. "Rarely have I seen the Duce in such good humor ... as at the Brenner Pass today," Ciano noted. [30]

Already both the Navy and the Army were pressing the Fuehrer for a decision to call off Sea Lion altogether. The Army General Staff pointed out to him that the holding of the troops on the Channel "under constant British air attacks led to continual casualties."

Finally on October 12, the Nazi warlord formally admitted failure and called off the invasion until spring, if then. A formal directive was issued.

Fuehrer's Headquarters

October 12, 1940


The Fuehrer has decided that from now on until the spring, preparations for "Sea Lion" shall be continued solely for the purpose of maintaining political and military pressure on England.

Should the invasion be reconsidered in the spring or early summer of 1941, orders for a renewal of operational readiness will be issued later ...

The Army was commanded to release its Sea Lion formations "for other duties or for employment on other fronts." The Navy was instructed to "take all measures to release personnel and shipping space." But both services were to camouflage their moves. "The British," Hitler laid it down, "must continue to believe that we are preparing an attack on a broad front." [31]

What had happened to make Adolf Hitler finally give in?

Two things: the fatal course of the Battle of Britain in the air, and the turning of his thoughts once more eastward, to Russia.


Goering's great air offensive against Britain, Operation Eagle (Adlerangriffe), had been launched on August 15 with the objective of driving the British Air Force from the skies and thus achieving the one condition on which the launching of the invasion depended. The fat Reich Marshal, as he now was, had no doubts about victory. By mid-July he was confident that British fighter defenses in southern England could be smashed within four days by an all-out assault, thus opening the way for the invasion. To destroy the RA.F. completely would take a little longer, Goering told the Army High Command: from two to four weeks. [32] In fact, the bemedaled German Air Force chief thought that the Luftwaffe alone could bring Britain to her knees and that an invasion by land forces probably would not be necessary.

To obtain this mighty objective he had three great air fleets (Luftflotten): Number 2 under Field Marshal Kesselring, operating from the Low Countries and northern France, Number 3 under Field Marshal Sperrle, based on northern France, and Number 5 under General Stumpff, stationed in Norway and Denmark. The first two had a total of 929 fighters, 875 bombers and 316 dive bombers; Number 5 was much smaller, with 123 bombers and 34 twin-engined ME-110 fighters. Against this vast force the R.A.F. had for the air defense of the realm at the beginning of August between 700 and 800 fighters.
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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

Throughout July the Luftwaffe gradually stepped up its attacks on British shipping in the Channel and on Britain's southern ports. This was a probing operation. Though it was necessary to clear the narrow waters of British ships before an invasion could begin, the main object of these preliminary air assaults was to lure the British fighters to battle. This failed. The R.A.F. Command shrewdly declined to commit more than a fraction of its fighters, and as a result considerable damage was done to shipping and to some of the ports. Four destroyers and eighteen merchant ships were sunk, but this preliminary sparring cost the Luftwaffe 296 aircraft destroyed and 135 damaged. The R.A.F. lost 148 fighters.

On August 12, Goering gave orders to launch Eagle the next day. As a curtain raiser heavy attacks were made on the twelfth on enemy radar stations, five of which were actually hit and damaged and one knocked out, but the Germans at this stage did not realize how vital to Britain's defenses radar was and did not pursue the attack. On the thirteenth and fourteenth the Germans put in the air some 1,500 aircraft, mostly against R.A.F. fighter fields, and though they claimed five of them had been "completely destroyed" the damage was actually negligible and the Luftwaffe lost forty-seven planes against thirteen for the R.A.F. [x]

August 15 brought the first great battle in the skies. The Germans threw in the bulk of their planes from all three air fleets, flying 801 bombing and 1,149 fighter sorties. Luftflotten 5, operating from Scandinavia, met disaster. By sending some 800 planes in a massive attack on the south coast the Germans had expected to find the northeast coast defenseless. But a force of a hundred bombers, escorted by thirty-four twin-engined ME-110 fighters, was surprised by seven squadrons of Hurricanes and Spitfires as it approached the Tyneside and severely mauled. Thirty German planes, mostly bombers, were shot down without loss to the defenders. That was the end of Air Fleet 5 in the Battle of Britain. It never returned to it.

In the south of England that day the Germans were more successful. They launched four massive attacks, one of which was able to penetrate almost to London. Four aircraft factories at Croydon were hit and five R.A.F. fighter fields damaged. In all, the Germans lost seventy-five planes, against thirty-four for the R.A.F. [xi] At this rate, despite their numerical superiority, the Germans could scarcely hope to drive the R.A.F. from the skies.

Now Goering made the first of his two tactical errors. The skill of British Fighter Command in committing its planes to battle against vastly superior attacking forces was based on its shrewd use of radar. From the moment they took off from their bases in Western Europe the German aircraft were spotted on British radar screens, and their course so accurately plotted that Fighter Command knew exactly where and when they could best be attacked. This was something new in warfare and it puzzled the Germans, who were far behind the British in the development and use of this electronic device.

We realized [Adolf Galland, the famous German fighter ace, later testified] that the R.A.F. fighter squadrons must be controlled from the ground by some new procedure because we heard commands skillfully and accurately directing Spitfires and Hurricanes on to German formations ... For us this radar and fighter control was a surprise and a very bitter one. [33]

Yet the attack on British radar stations which on August 12 had been so damaging had not been continued and on August 15, the day of his first major setback, Goering called them off entirely, declaring: "It is doubtful whether there is any point in continuing the attacks on radar stations, since not one of those attacked has so far been put out of action."

A second key to the successful defense of the skies over southern England was the sector station. This was the underground nerve center from which the Hurricanes and Spitfires were guided by radiotelephone into battle on the basis of the latest intelligence from radar, from ground observation posts and from pilots in the air. The Germans, as Galland noted, could hear the constant chatter over the air waves between the sector stations and the pilots aloft and finally began to understand the importance of these ground control centers. On August 24 they switched their tactics to the destruction of the sector stations, seven of which on the airfields around London were crucial to the protection of the south of England and of the capital itself. This was a blow against the very vitals of Britain's air defenses.

Until that day the battle had appeared to be going against the Luftwaffe. On August 17 it lost seventy-one aircraft against the R.A.F.'s twenty-seven. The slow Stuka dive bomber, which had helped to pave the way for the Army's victories in Poland and in the West, was proving to be a sitting duck for British fighters and on that day, August 17, was withdrawn by Goering from the battle, reducing the German bombing force by a third. Between August 19 and 23 there was a five-day lull in the air due to bad weather. Goering, reviewing the situation at Karinhall, his country show place near Berlin, on the nineteenth, ordered that as soon as the weather improved, the Luftwaffe was to concentrate its attacks exclusively on the Royal Air Force.

"We have reached the decisive period of the air war against England," he declared. "The vital task is the defeat of the enemy air force. Our first aim is to destroy the enemy's fighters." [34]

From August 24 to September 6 the Germans sent over an average of a thousand planes a day to achieve this end. For once the Reich Marshal was right. The Battle of Britain had entered its decisive stage. Though the R.A.F. pilots, already strained from a month of flying several sorties a day, put up a valiant fight, the German preponderance in sheer numbers began to tell. Five forward fighter fields in the south of England were extensively damaged and, what was worse, six of the seven key sector stations were so severely bombed that the whole communications system seemed to be on the verge of being knocked out. This threatened disaster to Britain.

Worst of all, the pace was beginning to tell on the R.A.F. fighter defense. In the crucial fortnight between August 23 and September 6 the British lost 466 fighters destroyed or badly damaged, and though they did not know it at the time the Luftwaffe losses were less: 385 aircraft, of which 214 were fighters and 138 bombers. Moreover, the R.A.F. had lost 103 pilots killed and 128 seriously wounded -- a quarter of all those available.

"The scales," as Churchill later wrote, "had tilted against Fighter Command ... There was much anxiety." A few more weeks of this and Britain would have had no organized defense of its skies. The invasion would almost certainly succeed.

And then suddenly Goering made his second tactical error, this one comparable in its consequences to Hitler's calling off the armored attack on Dunkirk on May 24. It saved the battered, reeling R.A.F. and marked one of the major turning points of history's first great battle in the air.

With the British fighter defense suffering losses in the air and on the ground which it could not for long sustain, the Luftwaffe switched its attack on September 7 to massive night bombings of London. The R.A.F. fighters were reprieved.

What had happened in the German camp to cause this change in tactics which was destined to prove so fatal to the ambitions of Hitler and Goering? The answer is full of irony.

To begin with, there was a minor navigational error by the pilots of a dozen German bombers on the night of August 23. Directed to drop their loads on aircraft factories and oil tanks on the outskirts of London, they missed their mark and dropped bombs on the center of the capital, blowing up some homes and killing some civilians. The British thought it was deliberate and as retaliation bombed Berlin the next evening.

It didn't amount to much. There was a dense cloud cover over Berlin that night and only about half of the eighty-one R.A.F. bombers dispatched found the target. Material damage was negligible. But the effect on German morale was tremendous. For this was the first time that bombs had ever fallen on Berlin.

The Berliners are stunned [I wrote in my diary the next day, August 26]. They did not think it could ever happen. When this war began, Goering assured them it couldn't ... They believed him. Their disillusionment today therefore is all the greater. You have to see their faces to measure it.

Berlin was well defended by two great rings of antiaircraft and for three hours while the visiting bombers droned above the clouds, which prevented the hundreds of searchlight batteries from picking them up, the flak fire was the most intense I had ever seen. But not a single plane was brought down. The British also dropped a few leaflets saying that "the war which Hitler started will go on, and it will last as long as Hitler does." This was good propaganda, but the thud of exploding bombs was better.

The R.A.F. came over in greater force on the night of August 28-29 and, as I noted in my diary, "for the first time killed Germans in the capital of the Reich." The official count was ten killed and twenty-nine wounded. The Nazi bigwigs were outraged. Goebbels, who had ordered the press to publish only a few lines on the first attack, now gave instructions to cry out at the "brutality" of the British flyers in attacking the defenseless women and children of Berlin. Most of the capital's dailies carried the same headline: COWARDLY BRITISH ATTACK. Two nights later, after the third raid, the headlines read: BRITISH AIR PIRATES OVER BERLIN!

The main effect of a week of constant British night bombings [I wrote in my diary on September 1] has been to spread great disillusionment among the people and sow doubt in their minds ... Actually the bombings have not been very deadly.

September 1 was the first anniversary of the beginning of the war. I noted the mood of the people, aside from their frayed nerves at having been robbed of their sleep and frightened by the surprise bombings and the terrific din of the flak.

In this year German arms have achieved victories never equaled even in the brilliant military history of this aggressive, militaristic nation. And yet the war is not yet over or won. And it was on this aspect that people's minds were concentrated today. They long for peace. And they want it before the winter comes.

Hitler deemed it necessary to address them on September 4 on the occasion of the opening of the Winterhilfe campaign at the Sportpalast. His appearance there was kept secret to the last moment, apparently out of fear that enemy planes might take advantage of the cloud cover and break up the meeting, though it was held in the afternoon, an hour before dark.

I have rarely seen the Nazi dictator in a more sarcastic mood or so given to what the German people regarded as humor, though Hitler was essentially a humorless man. He described Churchill as "that noted war correspondent." For "a character like Duff Cooper," he said, "there is no word in conventional German. Only the Bavarians have a word that adequately describes this type of man, and that is Krampfhenne," which might be translated as "a nervous old hen."

The babbling of Mr. Churchill or of Mr. Eden [he said] -- reverence for old age forbids the mention of Mr. Chamberlain -- doesn't mean a thing to the German people. At best, it makes them laugh.

And Hitler proceeded to make his audience, which consisted mostly of women nurses and social workers, laugh -- and then applaud hysterically. He was faced with the problem of answering two questions uppermost in the minds of the German people: When would Britain be invaded, and what would be done about the night bombings of Berlin and other German cities? As to the first:

In England they're filled with curiosity and keep asking, "Why doesn't he come?" Be calm. Be calm. He's coming! He's coming!

His listeners found that crack very funny, but they also believed that it was an unequivocal pledge. As to the bombings, he began by a typical falsification and ended with a dire threat:

Just now ... Mr. Churchill is demonstrating his new brain child, the night air raid. Mr. Churchill is carrying out these raids not because they promise to be highly effective, but because his Air Force cannot fly over Germany in daylight ... whereas German planes are over English soil every day ... Whenever the Englishman sees a light, he drops a bomb ... on residential districts, farms and villages.

And then came the threat.

For three months I did not answer because I believed that such madness would be stopped. Mr. Churchill took this for a sign of weakness. We are now answering night for night.

When the British Air Force drops two or three or four thousand kilograms of bombs, then we will in one night drop 150-, 230-, 300- or 400,000 kilograms.

At this point, according to my diary, Hitler had to pause because of the hysterical applause of the German women listeners.

"When they declare," Hitler continued, "that they will increase their attacks on our cities, then we will raze their cities to the ground." At this, I noted, the young ladies were quite beside themselves and applauded phrenetically. When they had recovered, he added, "We will stop the handiwork of these night air pirates, so help us God!"

On hearing this, I also noted, "the young German women hopped to their feet and, their breasts heaving, screamed their approval!"

"The hour will come," Hitler concluded, "when one of us will break, and it will not be National Socialist Germany!" At this, I finally noted, "the raving maidens kept their heads sufficiently to break their wild shouts of joy with a chorus of 'Never! Never!'"

Ciano in Rome, listening to the broadcast, which was made from records some hours later, confessed to being perplexed. "Hitler must be nervous," he concluded. [35]

His nerves were a factor in the fatal decision to switch the Luftwaffe's winning daylight attacks on the R.A.F. to massive night bombings of London. This was a political as well as a military decision, made in part to revenge the bombings of Berlin and other German cities (which were but pinpricks compared to what the Luftwaffe was doing to Britain's cities) and to destroy the will of the British to resist by razing their capital. If it succeeded, and Hitler and Goebbels had no doubt it would, an invasion might not be necessary.

And so on the late afternoon of September 7 the great air attack on London began. The Germans threw in, as we have seen, [xii] 625 bombers and 648 fighters. At about 5 P.M. that Saturday the first wave of 320 bombers, protected by every fighter the Germans had, flew up the Thames and began to drop their bombs on Woolwich Arsenal, various gas works, power stations, depots and mile upon mile of docks. The whole vast area was soon a mass of flames. At one locality, Silvertown, the population was surrounded by fire and had to be evacuated by water. At 8:10 P.M., after dark, a second wave of 250 bombers arrived and resumed the attack, which was kept up by successive waves until dawn at 4: 30 on Sunday morning. The next evening at 7:30, the attack was renewed by two hundred bombers and continued throughout the night. Some 842 persons were killed and 2,347 wounded, according to the official British historian, during these first two nights, and vast damage was inflicted on the sprawling city. [36] The assault went on all the following week, night after night. [xiii]

And then, stimulated by its successes, or what it thought were such, the Luftwaffe decided to carry out a great daylight assault on the battered, burning capital. This led on Sunday, September 15, to one of the decisive battles of the war.

Some two hundred German bombers, escorted by three times as many fighters, appeared over the Channel about midday, headed for London. Fighter Command had watched the assembling of the attackers on its radar screens and was ready. The Germans were intercepted before they approached the capital, and though some planes got through, many were dispersed and others shot down before they could deliver their bomb load. Two hours later an even stronger German formation returned and was routed. Though the British claimed to have shot down 185 Luftwaffe planes, the actual figure, as learned after the war from the Berlin archives, was much lower -- fifty-six, but thirty-four of these were bombers. The R.A.F. lost only twenty-six aircraft.

The day had shown that the Luftwaffe could not for the moment, anyway, now that it had given Fighter Command a week to recover, carry out a successful major daylight attack on Britain. That being so, the prospect of an effective landing was dim. September 15 therefore was a turning point, "the crux," as Churchill later judged, of the Battle of Britain. Though Goering the next day, in ordering a change of tactics that provided for the use of bombers in daylight no longer to bomb but merely to serve as decoys for British fighters, boasted that the enemy's fighters "ought to be finished off within four or five days," [37] Hitler and the Army and Navy commanders knew better and two days after the decisive air battle, on September 17, as has been noted, the Fuehrer called off Sea Lion indefinitely.

Although London was to take a terrible pounding for fifty-seven consecutive nights from September 7 to November 3 from a daily average of two hundred bombers, so that it seemed certain to Churchill, as he later revealed, that the city would soon be reduced to a rubble heap, and though most of Britain's other cities, Coventry above all, were to suffer great damage throughout that grim fall and winter, British morale did not collapse nor armament production fall off, as Hitler had so confidently expected. Just the opposite. Aircraft factories in England, one of the prime targets of the Luftwaffe bombers, actually outproduced the Germans in 1940 by 9,924 to 8,070 planes. Hitler's bomber losses over England had been so severe that they could never be made up, and in fact the Luftwaffe, as the German confidential records make clear, never fully recovered from the blow it received in the skies over Britain that late summer and fall.

The German Navy, crippled by the losses off Norway in the early spring, was unable, as its chiefs admitted all along, to provide the sea power for an invasion of Britain. Without this, and without air supremacy, the German Army was helpless to move across the narrow Channel waters. For the first time in the war Hitler had been stopped, his plans of further conquest frustrated, and just at the moment, as we have seen, when he was certain that final victory had been achieved.

He had never conceived -- nor had anyone else up to that time -- that a decisive battle could be decided in the air. Nor perhaps did he yet realize as the dark winter settled over Europe that a handful of British fighter pilots, by thwarting his invasion, had preserved England as a great base for the possible reconquest of the Continent from the west at a later date. His thoughts were perforce turning elsewhere; in fact, as we shall see, had already turned.

Britain was saved. For nearly a thousand years it had successfully defended itself by sea power. Just in time, its leaders, a very few of them, despite all the bungling (of which these pages have been so replete) in the interwar years, had recognized that air power had become decisive in the mid-twentieth century and the little fighter plane and its pilot the chief shield for defense. As Churchill told the Commons in another memorable peroration on August 20, when the battle in the skies still raged and its outcome was in doubt, "never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."


The Nazi German occupation of Britain would not have been a gentle affair. The captured German papers leave no doubt of that. On September 9 Brauchitsch, the Commander in Chief of the Army, signed a directive providing that "the able-bodied male population between the ages of seventeen and forty-five [in Britain] will, unless the local situation calls for an exceptional ruling, be interned and dispatched to the Continent." Orders to this effect were sent out a few days later by the Quartermaster General, in OKH, to the Ninth and Sixteenth armies, which were assembled for the invasion. In no other conquered country, not even in Poland, had the Germans begun with such a drastic step. Brauchitsch's instructions were headed "Orders Concerning the Organization and Function of Military Government in England" and went into considerable detail. They seem designed to ensure the systematic plunder of the island and the terrorization of its inhabitants. A special "Military Economic Staff England" was set up on July 27 to achieve the first aim. Everything but normal household stocks was to be confiscated at once. Hostages would be taken. Anybody posting a placard the Germans didn't like would be liable to immediate execution, and a similar penalty was provided for those who failed to turn in firearms or radio sets within twenty-four hours.

But the real terror was to be meted out by Himmler and the S.S. For this the dreaded R.S.H.A., [xiv] under Heydrich, was put in charge. The man who was designated to direct its activities on the spot from London was a certain S.S. colonel, Professor Dr. Franz Six, another of the peculiar intellectual gangsters who in the Nazi time were somehow attracted to the service of Himmler's secret police. Professor Six had left his post as dean of the economic faculty of Berlin University to join Heydrich's S.D., where he specialized in "scientific matters," the weirder side of which cast such a spell over the bespectacled Heinrich Himmler and his fellow thugs. What the British people missed by not having Dr. Six in their presence may be judged by his later career in Russia, where he was active in the S.S. Einsatzgruppen, which distinguished themselves in wholesale massacres there, one of the professor's specialties being to ferret out captured Soviet political commissars for execution. [xv]

On August 1, the R.S.H.A. captured archives reveal, Goering told Heydrich to get busy. The S.S. Security Police and the S.D. (Security Service) were to

commence their activities simultaneously with the military invasion in order to seize and combat effectively the numerous important organizations and societies in England which are hostile to Germany.

On September 17, which, ironically, was the date on which Hitler postponed the invasion indefinitely, Professor Six was formally appointed to his new post in England by Heydrich and told:

Your task is to combat, with the requisite means, all anti-German organizations, institutions, and opposition groups which can be seized in England, to prevent the removal of all available material and to centralize and safeguard it for future exploitation. I designate London as the location of your headquarters ... and I authorize you to set up small Einsatzgruppen in other parts of Great Britain as the situation dictates and the necessity arises.

Actually, already in August Heydrich had organized six Einsatzkommando for Britain which were to operate from headquarters in London, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh -- or in Glasgow, if the Forth Bridge was found blown up. They were to carry out Nazi terror; to begin with, they were to arrest all those on the "Special Search List, G.B. [Great Britain]," which in May had been hurriedly and carelessly compiled by Walter Schellenberg, another one of Himmler's bright young university graduates, who was then chief of Amt (Bureau) IV E -- Counterespionage -- of R.S.H.A. Or so Schellenberg later claimed, though at this time he was mainly occupied in Lisbon, Portugal, on a bizarre mission to kidnap the Duke of Windsor.

The Special Search List, G.B. (die Sonderfahndungsliste, G.B.) is among the more amusing "invasion" documents found in the Himmler papers, though of course it was not meant to be. It contains the names of some 2,300 prominent persons in Great Britain, not all of them English, whom the Gestapo thought it important to incarcerate at once. Churchill is there, naturally, along with members of the cabinet and other well-known politicians of all parties. Leading editors, publishers and reporters. including two former Times correspondents in Berlin, Norman Ebbutt and Douglas Reed, whose dispatches had displeased the Nazis, are on the list. British authors claim special attention. Shaw's name is conspicuously absent, but H. G. Wells is there along with such writers as Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, J. B. Priestley, Stephen Spender, C. P. Snow, Noel Coward, Rebecca West, Sir Philip Gibbs and Norman Angell. The scholars were not omitted either. Among them: Gilbert Murray, Bertrand Russell, Harold Laski, Beatrice Webb and J. B. S. Haldane.

The Gestapo also intended to take advantage of its sojourn in England to round up both foreign and German emigres. Paderewski, Freud [xvi] and Chaim Weizmann were on its list, as well as Bend, the President, and Jan Masaryk, the Foreign Minister, of the Czechoslovak government in exile. Of the German refugees there were, among many others, two former personal friends of Hitler who had turned on him: Hermann Rauschning and Putzi Hanfstaengl. Many English names were so badly misspelled as to make them almost unrecognizable and sometimes bizarre identifications were attached, as the one for Lady Bonham Carter, who was also listed as "Lady Carter-Bonham" and described not only as "born, Violet Asquith," but as "an Encirclement lady politician." After each name was marked the bureau of R.S.H.A. which was to handle that person. Churchill was to be placed in the hands of Amt VI-Foreign Intelligence -- but most were to be handed over to Amt IV -- the Gestapo. [xvii]

This Nazi Black Book actually formed a supplement to a supposedly highly secret handbook called Informationsheft, which Schellenberg also claims to have written, and whose purpose seems to have been to aid the conquerors in looting Britain and stamping out anti-German institutions there. It is even more amusing than the Search List. Among the dangerous institutions, besides the Masonic lodges and Jewish organizations, which deserved "special attention" by R.S.H.A., were the "public schools" (in England, the private schools), the Church of England, which was described as "a powerful tool of British imperial politics," and the Boy Scouts, which was put down as "an excellent source of information for the British Intelligence Service." Its revered leader and founder, Lord Baden- Powell, was to be immediately arrested.

Had the invasion been attempted the Germans would not have been received gently by the British. Churchill later confessed that he had often wondered what would have happened. Of this much he was certain:

The massacre would have been on both sides grim and great. There would have been neither mercy nor quarter. They would have used terror, and we were prepared to go all lengths. [38]

He does not say specifically to what lengths, but Peter Fleming in his book on Sea Lion gives one of them. The British had decided, he says, as a last resort and if all other conventional methods of defense failed, to attack the German beachheads with mustard gas, sprayed from low-flying airplanes. It was a painful decision, taken not without much soul searching at the highest level; and as Fleming comments, the decision was "surrounded by secrecy at the time and ever since." [39]

This particular massacre on which Churchill speculates, the unleashing of this kind of terror which the Gestapo planned, did not take place at this time in this place -- for reasons which have been set down in this chapter. But in less than a year, in another part of Europe, the Germans were to unleash horrors on a scale never before experienced.

Already, even before the invasion of Britain was abandoned, Adolf Hitler had come to a decision. He would turn on Russia in the following spring.


More amusing than important, but not without its insight into the ludicrous side of the rulers of the Third Reich that summer of their great conquests, is the story of the Nazi plot to kidnap the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and induce the former King of England to work with Hitler for a peace settlement with Great Britain. The evolution of the fantastic plan is told at length in the captured German Foreign Office documents [40] and touched on by Walter Schellenberg, the youthful S.S.-S.D. chief who was designated to carry it out, in his memoirs. [41]

The idea, Schellenberg was told by Ribbentrop, was Hitler's. The Nazi Foreign Minister embraced it with all the enthusiasm to which his abysmal ignorance often drove him, and the German Foreign Office and its diplomatic representatives in Spain and Portugal were forced to waste a great deal of time on it during the climactic summer of 1940.

After the fall of France in June 1940, the Duke, who had been a member of the British military mission with the French Army High Command, made his way with the Duchess to Spain to escape capture by the Germans. On June 23 the German ambassador in Madrid, Eberhard von Stohrer, a career diplomat, telegraphed Berlin:

The Spanish Foreign Minister requests advice with regard to the treatment of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor who were to arrive in Madrid today, apparently en route to England by way of Lisbon. The Foreign Minister assumes that we might perhaps be interested in detaining the Duke here and possibly establishing contact with him. Please telegraph instructions.

Ribbentrop shot back instructions by wire the next day. He suggested that the Windsors be "detained for a couple of weeks in Spain" but warned that it must not appear "that the suggestion came from Germany." On the following day, June 25, Stohrer replied: "The [Spanish] Foreign Minister promised me to do everything possible to detain Windsor here for a time." The Foreign Minister, Colonel Juan Beigbeder y Atienza, saw the Duke and reported on his talk to the German ambassador, who informed Berlin by "top secret" telegram of July 2 that Windsor would not return to England unless his wife were recognized as a member of the royal family and he himself given a position of importance. Otherwise he would settle in Spain in a castle promised him by the Franco government.

Windsor has expressed himself to the Foreign Minister and other acquaintances [the ambassador added] against Churchill and against this war.

The Windsors proceeded to Lisbon early in July and on July 11 the German minister there informed Ribbentrop that the Duke had been named Governor of the Bahamas but "intends to postpone his departure there as long as possible ... in hope of a turn of events favorable to him."

He is convinced [the minister added] that if he had remained on the throne war would have been avoided, and he characterized himself as a firm supporter of a peaceful arrangement with Germany. The Duke definitely believes that continued severe bombing would make England ready for peace.

This intelligence spurred the arrogant German Foreign Minister to get off from his special train at Fuschl a telegram marked "Very Urgent, Top Secret" to the German Embassy in Madrid late on the evening of the same day, July 11. He wanted the Duke to be prevented from going to the Bahamas by being brought back to Spain, preferably by his Spanish friends. "After their return to Spain," Ribbentrop advised, "the Duke and his wife must be persuaded or compelled to remain on Spanish territory." If necessary Spain could "intern" him as an English officer and treat him "as a military fugitive."

At a suitable occasion [Ribbentrop further advised] the Duke must be informed that Germany wants peace with the English people, that the Churchill clique stands in the way of it, and that it would be a good thing if the Duke would hold himself in readiness for further developments. Germany is determined to force England to peace by every means of power and upon this happening would be prepared to accommodate any desire expressed by the Duke, especially with a view to the assumption of the English throne by the Duke and Duchess. If the Duke should have other plans, but be prepared to cooperate in the establishment of good relations between Germany and England, we would likewise be prepared to assure him and his wife of a subsistence which would permit him ... to lead a life suitable for a king. [xviii]

The fatuous Nazi Minister, whose experience as German ambassador in London had taught him little about the English, added that he had information that the "British Secret Service" was going to "do away" with the Duke as soon as it got him to the Bahamas.

The next day, July 12, the German ambassador in Madrid saw Ramon Serrano Suner, Spanish Minister of the Interior and brother-in-law of Franco, who promised to get the Generalissimo in on the plot and carry out the following plan. The Spanish government would send to Lisbon an old friend of the Duke, Miguel Primo de Rivera, Madrid leader of the Falange and son of a former Spanish dictator. Rivera would invite the Duke to Spain for some hunting and also to confer with the government about Anglo -- Spanish relations. Suner would inform the Duke about the British secret-service plot to bump him off.

The Minister [the German ambassador informed Berlin] will then add an invitation to the Duke and Duchess to accept Spanish hospitality, and possibly financial assistance as well. Possibly also the departure of the Duke could be prevented in some other way. In this whole plan we remain completely in the background.

Rivera, according to the German papers, returned from Lisbon to Madrid after his first visit with the Windsors on July 16 and brought a message to the Spanish Foreign Minister, who passed it along to the German ambassador, who, in turn, flashed it to Berlin. Churchill, the message said, had designated the Duke as Governor of the Bahamas "in a very cool and categorical letter" and ordered him to proceed to his post at once. Should he fail to do so, "Churchill has threatened Windsor with a court-martial." The Spanish government agreed, the dispatch added, "to warn the Duke most urgently once more against taking up the post."

Rivera was back from a second visit to Lisbon on July 22, and the next day the German ambassador in Madrid duly reported on his findings in a "most urgent, top secret" telegram to Ribbentrop.

He had two long conversations with the Duke of Windsor; at the last one the Duchess was present also. The Duke expressed himself very freely ... Politically he was more and more distant from the King and the present British Government. The Duke and Duchess have less fear of the King, who was quite foolish, than of the shrewd Queen, who was intriguing skillfully against the Duke and particularly against the Duchess.

The Duke was considering making a public statement ... disavowing present English policy and breaking with his brother ... The Duke and Duchess said they very much desired to return to Spain.

To facilitate this, the ambassador had arranged with Suner, the telegram added, to send another Spanish emissary to Portugal "to persuade the Duke to leave Lisbon, as if for a long excursion in an automobile, and then to cross the border at a place which has been arranged, where the Spanish secret police will see that there is a safe crossing of the frontier."

Two days later the ambassador added further information from Rivera in an "urgent and strictly confidential" telegram to Ribbentrop.

When he gave the Duke the advice not to go to the Bahamas, but to return to Spain, since the Duke was likely to be called upon to play an important role in English policy and possibly to ascend the English throne, both the Duke and Duchess gave evidence of astonishment. Both ... replied that according to the English constitution this would not be possible after the abdication. When the confidential emissary then expressed his expectation that the course of the war might bring about changes even in the English constitution, the Duchess especially became very pensive.

In this dispatch the German ambassador reminded Ribbentrop that Rivera did not know of "any German interest in the matter." The young Spaniard apparently believed he was acting for his own government.

By the last week in July, the Nazi plan to kidnap the Windsors had been drawn up. Walter Schellenberg was assigned personally by Hitler to carry it out. He had flown from Berlin to Madrid, conferred with the German ambassador there, and gone on to Portugal to begin work. On July 26 the ambassador was able to file a long "most urgent and top secret" dispatch to Ribbentrop outlining the plot.

... A firm intention by the Duke and Duchess to return to Spain can be assumed. To strengthen this intention the second confidential emissary was sent off today with a letter to the Duke very skillfully composed; as an enclosure to it was attached the very precisely prepared plan for carrying out the crossing of the frontier.

According to this plan the Duke and his wife should set out officially for a summer vacation in the mountains at a place near the Spanish frontier, in order to cross over at a precisely designated place at a particular time in the course of a hunting trip. Since the Duke is without passports, the Portuguese frontier official in charge there will be won over.

At the time set according to plan, the first confidential emissary [Primo de Rivera] is to be staying at the frontier with Spanish forces suitably placed in order to guarantee safety.

Schellenberg, with his group, is operating out of Lisbon in closest relation to the same purpose.

For this purpose, the journey to the place of the summer vacation, as well as the vacation itself, will be shadowed with the help of a trustworthy Portuguese police chief ...

At the exact moment of the crossing of the frontier as scheduled the Schellenberg group is to take over the security arrangements on the Portuguese side of the frontier and continue thus into Spain as a direct escort which is to be unobtrusively changed from time to time.

For the security of the entire plan, the [Spanish] Minister has selected another confidential agent, a woman, who can make contact if necessary with the second confidential agent and can also, if necessary, get information to the Schellenberg group.

In case there should be an emergency as a result of action by the British Intelligence Service preparations are being made whereby the Duke and Duchess can reach Spain by plane. In this case, as in the execution of the first plan, the chief requisite is to obtain willingness to leave by psychologically adroit influence upon the pronounced English mentality of the Duke, without giving the impression of flight, through exploiting anxiety about the British Intelligence Service and the prospect of free political activity from Spanish soil.

In addition to the protection in Lisbon, it is being considered in case of necessity to induce willingness to leave by a suitable scare maneuver to be charged to the British Intelligence Service.

Such was the Nazi plan to kidnap the Windsors. It had a typical German clumsiness, and it was handicapped by the customary German inability to understand "the English mentality of the Duke."

The "scare maneuvers" were duly carried out by Schellenberg. One nigh, he arranged for some stone-throwing against the windows of the Windsors' villa and then circulated rumors among the servants that it had been done by the "British Secret Service." He had a bouquet delivered to the Duchess with a card: "Beware of the machinations of the British Secret Service. From a Portuguese friend who has your interests at heart." And in an official report to Berlin he reported that "a firing of shots (harmless breaking of the bedroom window) scheduled for the night of July 30 was omitted, since the psychological effect on the Duchess would only have been to increase her desire to depart."

Time was getting short. On July 30 Schellenberg reported the arrival in Lisbon of Sir Walter Monckton, an old friend of the Duke and an important official in the British government. His mission was obviously to get the Windsors speeding toward the Bahamas as soon as possible. On the same day the German ambassador in Madrid was telegraphing Ribbentrop "most urgent, top secret" that a German agent in Lisbon had just informed him that the Duke and Duchess were planning to depart on August 1 -- two days hence. In view of this information he asked Ribbentrop "whether we should not, to some extent, emerge from our reserve." According to German intelligence, the ambassador continued, the Duke had expressed to his host, the Portuguese banker Ricardo do Espirito Santo Silva, "a desire to come in contact with the Fuehrer." Why not arrange for a meeting between Windsor and Hitler?

The next day, July 31, the ambassador was again wiring Ribbentrop "most urgent and top secret," telling him that according to the Spanish emissary, who had just returned from seeing the Windsors in Lisbon, the Duke and Duchess, while "strongly impressed by reports of English intrigues against them and the danger of their personal safety," apparently were planning to sail on August I, though Windsor was trying "to conceal the true date." The Spanish Minister of the Interior, the ambassador added, was going to make "a last effort to prevent the Duke and Duchess from leaving."

The news that the Windsors might be leaving so soon alarmed Ribbentrop and from his special train at Fuschl he got off a "most urgent, top secret" telegram to the German minister in Lisbon late on the afternoon of the same day, July 31. He asked that the Duke be informed through his Portuguese banker host of the following:

Basically Germany wants peace with the English people. The Churchill clique stands in the way of this peace. Following the rejection of the Fuehrer's last appeal to reason, Germany is now determined to force England to make peace by every means in her power. It would be a good thing if the Duke were to keep himself prepared for further developments. In such case Germany would be willing to co-operate most closely with the Duke and to clear the way for any desire expressed by the Duke and Duchess ... Should the Duke and Duchess have other intentions, but be ready to collaborate in the establishment of a good relationship between Germany and England, Germany is likewise prepared to co-operate with the Duke and to arrange the future of the Ducal couple in accordance with their wishes. The Portuguese confidant, with whom the Duke is living, should make the most earnest effort to prevent his departure tomorrow, since reliable reports are in our possession to the effect that Churchill intends to get the Duke into his power in the Bahamas in order to keep him there permanently, and also because the establishment of contact at an appropriate moment with the Duke on the Bahama Islands would present the greatest difficulty for us ...

The German Foreign Minister's urgent message reached the legation in Lisbon shortly before midnight. The German minister saw Senhor Espirito Santo Silva during the course of the night and urged him to pass the word on to his distinguished guest. This the banker did on the morning of August I and according to a dispatch of the legation the Duke was deeply impressed.

The Duke paid tribute to the Fuehrer's desire for peace, which was in complete agreement with his own point of view. He was firmly convinced that if he had been King it would never have come to war. To the appeal made to him to co-operate at a suitable time in the establishment of peace he agreed gladly. However, at the present time he must follow the official orders of his Government. Disobedience would disclose his intentions prematurely, bring about a scandal, and deprive him of his prestige in England. He was also convinced that the present moment was too early for him to come forward, since there was as yet no inclination in England for an approach to Germany. However, as soon as this frame of mind changed he would be ready to return immediately ... Either England would yet call upon him, which he considered to be entirely possible, or Germany would express the desire to negotiate with him. In both cases he was prepared for any personal sacrifice and would make himself available without the slightest personal ambition.

He would remain in continuing communication with his previous host and had agreed with him upon a code word, upon receiving which he would immediately come back over.

To the consternation of the Germans, the Duke and Duchess sailed on the evening of August I on the American liner Excalibur. In a final report on the failure of his mission made in a long telegram "to the Foreign Minister [Ribbentrop] personally" on the following day, Schellenberg declared that he had done everything possible right up to the last moment to prevent the departure. A brother of Franco, who was the Spanish ambassador in Lisbon, was prevailed upon to make a last-minute appeal to the Windsors not to go. The automobile carrying the ducal baggage was "sabotaged," Schellenberg claimed, so that the luggage arrived at the ship late. The Germans spread rumors that a time bomb had been planted aboard the ship. Portuguese officials delayed the sailing time until they had searched the liner from top to bottom.

Nevertheless, the Windsors departed that evening. The Nazi plot had failed. Schellenberg, in his final report to Ribbentrop, blamed it on the influence of Monckton, on the collapse of "the Spanish plan" and on "the Duke's mentality."

There is one last paper on the plot in the captured files of the German Foreign Minister. On August 15 the German minister in Lisbon wired Berlin: "The confidant has just received a telegram from the Duke from Bermuda, asking him to send a communication as soon as action was advisable. Should any answer be made?"

No answer has been found in the Wilhelmstrasse papers. By the middle of August, Hitler had decided to conquer Great Britain by armed force. There was no need to find a new King for England. The island, like all the other conquered territory, would be ruled from Berlin. Or so Hitler thought.

So much for this curious tale, as told by the secret German documents and added to by Schellenberg, who was the least reliable of men -- though it is difficult to believe that he invented his own role, which he admits was a ridiculous one, out of whole cloth.

In a statement made through his London solicitors on August 1, 1957, after the German documents were released for publication, the Duke branded the communications between Ribbentrop and the German ambassadors in Spain and Portugal as "complete fabrications and, in part, gross distortions of the truth." Windsor explained that while in Lisbon in 1940, waiting to sail for the Bahamas, "certain people," whom he discovered to be pro-Nazi sympathizers, made definite efforts to persuade him to return to Spain and not assume his post as governor.

"It was even suggested to me that there would be a personal risk to the Duchess and myself if we were to proceed to the Bahamas," he said. "At no time did I ever entertain any thought of complying with such a suggestion, which I treated with the contempt it deserved."

The British Foreign Office issued a formal statement declaring that the Duke never wavered in his loyalty to Great Britain during the war. [42]



i. And to gaze down at the tomb of Napoleon at the Invalides. "That," he told his faithful photographer. Heinrich Hoffmann, "was the greatest and finest moment of my life."

ii. The emphasisis Jodl's.

iii. Jodl also suggested the possibility of "extending the war to the periphery" -- that is, attacking the British Empire with the help not only of Italy but of Japan, Spain and Russia.

iv. Even so astute a military critic as Liddell Hart neglected always to do so, and  this neglect mars his book The German Generals Talk. Talk they did, but not always  with very good memories or even very truthfully.
v. German intelligence overestimated British strength on the ground throughout July, August and September by about eight divisions. Early in July the German General Staff estimated British strength at from fifteen to twenty divisions "of fighting value." Actually there were twenty-nine divisions in England at this time but not more than half a dozen of much "fighting value," as they had practically no armor or artillery. But contrary to widespread belief at the time, which has lingered to this day, the British Army by the middle of September would have been a match for the German divisions then allocated for the first wave of invasion. By that time it had ready to meet an attack on the south coast a force of sixteen well-trained divisions, of which three were armored, with four divisions plus an armored brigade covering the east coast from the Thames to the Wash. This represented a remarkable recovery after the debacle at Dunkirk, which had left Britain virtually defenseless on land in June.

British intelligence of the German plans was extremely faulty and for the first three months of the invasion threat almost completely wrong. Throughout the summer, Churchill and his military advisers remained convinced that the Germans would make their main landing attempt on the east coast and it was here that the bulk of the British land forces were concentrated until September.

vi. In his diary entry that evening Halder did not quote himself as above. He declared,  however, that "the talk led only to the confirmation of an unbridgeable gap." The  Navy, he said, was "afraid of the British High Seas Fleet and maintained that a  defense against this danger by the Luftwaffe was impossible." Obviously by this  time the German Navy, if not the Army, had few illusions about the striking power  of Goering's Air Force.
vii. Churchill says that neither he nor the chiefs of staff were "aware" that the decisive code word Cromwell had been given. It was sent out by Headquarters of the Home Forces. (Their Finest Hour, p. 312.) But four days later, on September II, the Prime Minister did broadcast a warning that if the invasion were going to take place it could not "be long delayed. Therefore," he said, "we must regard the next week or so as a very important period in our history. It ranks with the days when the Spanish Armada was approaching the Channel, and Drake was finishing his game of bowls; or when Nelson stood between us and Napoleon's Grand Army at Boulogne."

viii. The Germans were greatly impressed by reports from the embassy in Washington, which relayed information received there from London and embroidered on it. The American General Staff was said to believe that Britain couldn't hold out much longer. According to Lieutenant Colonel von Lossberg (Im Wehrmacht Fuehrungsstab, p. 91) Hitler seriously expected a revolution to break out in Britain. Lossberg was an Army representative on OKW.

ix. On September 16. according to a German authority, R.A.F. bombers surprised a  large invasion training exercise and inflicted heavy losses in men and landing vessels.  This gave rise to many reports in Germany and elsewhere on the Continent  that the Germans had actually attempted a landing and been repulsed by the British. (Georg W. Feuchter, Geschichte des Luftkriegs, p. 176.) I heard such a "report" on the night of September 16 in Geneva, Switzerland, where I was taking a few days off. On September 18 and again on the next day I saw two long ambulance trains unloading wounded soldiers in the suburbs of Berlin. From the bandages, I concluded the wounds were mostly burns. There had been no fighting anywhere for three months on land.

On September21, confidential German Navy papers recorded that 21 transports and 214 barges -- some 12 per cent of the total assembled for the invasion -- had been lost or damaged. (Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs. p. 102.)

x. The Luftwaffe claimed 134 British craft against a loss of 34. From that date on  both sides grossly overestimated the damage they did the other.
xi. In London that evening an official communique reported 182 German planes shot  down and 43 more probably destroyed. This gave a great fillip to British morale in  general and to that of the hard-pressed fighter pilots in particular.
xii. Above, p. 769.

xiii. At this time night defenses had not yet been perfected and the German losses were negligible.

xiv. R.S.H.A., the initials of the Reich Central Security Office (Reichssicherheitshauptamt),  which, as has been noted, took over control in 1939 of the Gestapo, the  Criminal Police and the Security Service, or S.D.
xv. Dr. Six was sentenced in 1948 at Nuremberg as a war criminal to twenty years in  prison, but was released in 1952.
xvi. The famous psychoanalyst had died in London in 1939.

xvii. A number of Americans are on the arrest list, including Bernard Baruch, John Gunther, Paul Robeson, Louis Fischer, Daniel de Luce (the A.P. correspondent, who is listed under the D's as "Daniel, de Luce -- U.S.A. correspondent") and M. W. Fodor, the Chicago Daily News correspondent, who was well known for his anti- Nazi writings.

xviii. Fifty million Swiss francs, deposited in Switzerland, Ribbentrop told Schellenberg.  adding that "the Fuehrer is quite ready to go to a higher figure."
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Mon Feb 12, 2018 1:21 am

Part 1 of 4


WHILE HITLER WAS BUSY that summer of 1940 directing the conquest of the West, Stalin was taking advantage of the Fuehrer's preoccupations by moving into the Baltic States and reaching down into the Balkans. On the surface all was friendly between the two great dictatorships. Molotov, acting for Stalin, lost no opportunity to praise and flatter the Germans on every occasion of a new act of aggression or a fresh conquest. When Germany invaded Norway and Denmark on April 9, 1940, the Soviet Foreign Commissar hastened to tell Ambassador von der Schulenburg in Moscow that very morning that "the Soviet Government understood the measures which were forced on Germany." "We wish Germany," said Molotov, "complete success in her defensive measures." [1]

A month later, when the German ambassador called on Molotov to inform him officially of the Wehrmacht's attack in the West, which Ribbentrop had instructed his envoy to explain "was forced upon Germany by the impending Anglo-French push on the Ruhr by way of Belgium and Holland," the Soviet statesman again expressed his pleasure. "Molotov received the communication in an understanding spirit," Schulenburg wired Berlin, "and added that he realized that Germany must protect herself against Anglo-French attack. He had no doubt of our success." [2]

On June 17, the day France asked for an armistice, Molotov summoned Schulenburg to his office "and expressed the warmest congratulations of the Soviet Government on the splendid success of the German Wehrmacht."

The Foreign Commissar had something else to say, and this did not sound quite so pleasant in German ears. He informed the German envoy, as the latter wired Berlin "most urgent," of "the Soviet action against the Baltic States," adding -- and one can almost see the gleam in Molotov's eyes -- "that it had become necessary to put an end to all the intrigues by which England and France had tried to sow discord and mistrust between Germany and the Soviet Union in the Baltic States." [3] To put an end to such "discord" the Soviet government, Molotov added, had dispatched "special emissaries" to the three Baltic countries. They were, in fact, three of Stalin's best hatchetmen: Dekanozov, who was sent to Lithuania; Vishinsky, to Latvia; Zhdanov, to Estonia.

They carried out their assignments with the thoroughness which one would expect from this trio, especially the latter two individuals. Already on June 14, the day German troops entered Paris, the Soviet government had sent a nine-hour ultimatum to Lithuania demanding the resignation of its government, the arrest of some of its key officials and the right to send in as many Red Army troops as it pleased. Though the Lithuanian government accepted the ultimatum, Moscow deemed its acceptance "unsatisfactory," and the next day, June 15, Soviet troops occupied the country, the only one of the Baltic States to border on Germany. During the next couple of days similar Soviet ultimatums were dispatched to Latvia and Estonia, after which they were similarly overrun by the Red Army.

Stalin could be as crude and as ruthless in these matters as Hitler -- and even more cynical. The press having been suppressed, the political leaders arrested and all parties but the Communist declared illegal, "elections" were staged by the Russians in all three countries on July 14, and after the respective parliaments thus "elected" had voted for the incorporation of their lands into the Soviet Union, the Supreme Soviet (Parliament) of Russia "admitted" them into the motherland: Lithuania on August 3, Latvia on August 5, Estonia on August 6.

Adolf Hitler was humiliated, but, busy as he was trying to organize the invasion of Britain, could do nothing about it. The letters from the envoys of the three Baltic States in Berlin protesting Russian aggression were returned to them by order of Ribbentrop. To further humble the Germans Molotov brusquely told them on August 11 to "liquidate" their legations in Kaunas, Riga and Tallinn within a fortnight and close down their Baltic consulates by September 1.

The seizure of the Baltic States did not satisfy Stalin's appetite. The surprisingly quick collapse of the Anglo-French armies spurred him on to get as much as he could while the getting was good. He obviously thought there was little time to lose. On June 23, the day after the French formally capitulated and signed the armistice at Compiegne, Molotov again called in the Nazi ambassador in Moscow and told him that "the solution of the Bessarabian question brooked no further delay. The Soviet government was determined to use force, should the Rumanian government decline a peaceful agreement." It expected Germany, Molotov added, "not to hinder but to support the Soviets in their action." Moreover, "the Soviet claim likewise extended to Bucovina."4 Bessarabia had been taken by Rumania from Russia at the end of the First World War, but Bucovina had never belonged to it, having been under Austria until Rumania grabbed it in 1919. At the negotiations in Moscow for the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Ribbentrop, as he now reminded Hitler, who had questioned him about it, had been forced to give Bessarabia to the Russian sphere of interest. But he had never given away Bucovina.

There was some alarm in Berlin, which spread to OKW headquarters in the West. The Wehrmacht was desperately dependent on Rumanian oil and Germany needed the foodstuffs and fodder it also got from this Balkan country. These would be lost if the Red Army occupied Rumania. Some time back, on May 23, at the height of the Battle of France, the Rumanian General Staff had sent an S.O.S. to OKW informing it that Soviet troops were concentrating on the border. J adl summed up the reaction at Hitler's headquarters in his diary the next day: "Situation in East becomes threatening because of Russian concentration of force against Bessarabia."

On the night of June 26 Russia delivered an ultimatum to Rumania demanding the ceding to it of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina and insisting on a reply the next day. Ribbentrop, in panic, dashed off instructions from his special train to his minister in Bucharest telling him to advise the Rumanian government to yield, which it did on June 27. Soviet troops marched into the newly acquired territories the next day and Berlin breathed a sigh of relief that at least the rich sources of oil and food had not been cut off by Russia's grabbing the whole of Rumania.

It is clear from his acts and from the secret German papers that though Stalin was out to get all he could in Eastern Europe while the Germans were tied down in the West, he did not wish or contemplate a break with Hitler.

Toward the end of June Churchill had tried to warn Stalin in a personal letter of the danger of the German conquests to Russia as well as to Britain. [5] The Soviet dictator did not bother to answer; probably, like almost everyone else, he thought Britain was finished. So he tattled to the Germans what the British government was up to. Sir Stafford Cripps, a left-wing Labor Party leader, whom the Prime Minister had rushed to Moscow as the new British ambassador in the hope of striking a more responsive chord among the Bolsheviks -- a forlorn hope, as he later ruefully admitted -- was received by Stalin early in July in an interview that Churchill described as "formal and frigid." On July 13 Molotov, on Stalin's instructions, handed the German ambassador a written memorandum of this confidential conversation.

It is an interesting document. It reveals, as no other source does, the severe limitations of the Soviet dictator in his cold calculations of foreign affairs. Schulenburg sped it to Berlin "most urgent" and, of course, "secret," and Ribbentrop was so grateful for its contents that he told the Soviet government he "greatly appreciated this information." Cripps had pressed Stalin, the memorandum said, for his attitude on this principal question, among others:

The British Government was convinced that Germany was striving for hegemony in Europe ... This was dangerous to the Soviet Union as well as England. Therefore both countries ought to agree on a common policy of self-protection against Germany and on the re-establishment of the European balance of power ...

Stalin's answers are given as follows:

He did not see any danger of the hegemony of anyone country in Europe and still less any danger that Europe might be engulfed by Germany. Stalin observed the policy of Germany, and knew several leading German statesmen well. He had not discovered any desire on their part to engulf European countries. Stalin was not of the opinion that German military successes menaced the Soviet Union and her friendly relations with Germany ... [6]

Such staggering smugness, such abysmal ignorance leave one breathless. The Russian tyrant did not know, of course, the secrets of Hitler's turgid mind, but the Fuehrer's past behavior, his known ambitions and the unexpectedly rapid Nazi conquests ought to have been enough to warn him of the dire danger the Soviet Union was now in. But, incomprehensibly, they were not enough.

From the captured Nazi documents and from the testimony of many leading German figures in the great drama that was being played over the vast expanse of Western Europe that year, it is plain that at the very moment of Stalin's monumental complacency Hitler had in fact been mulling over in his mind the idea of turning on the Soviet Union and destroying her.

The basic idea went back much further, at least fifteen years -- to Mein Kampf.

And so we National Socialists [Hitler wrote] take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless German movement toward the south and west of Europe and turn our gaze toward the lands of the East ... When we speak of new territory in Europe today we must think principally of Russia and her border vassal states. Destiny itself seems to wish to point out the way to us here ... This colossal empire in the East is ripe for dissolution, and the end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state. [7]

This idea lay like bedrock in Hitler's mind, and his pact with Stalin had not changed it at all, but merely postponed acting on it. And but briefly. In fact, less than two months after the deal was signed and had been utilized to destroy Poland the Fuehrer instructed the Army that the conquered Polish territory was to be regarded "as an assembly area for future German operations." The date was October 18, 1939, and Halder recorded it that day in his diary.

Five weeks later, on November 23, when he harangued his reluctant generals about attacking in the West, Russia was by no means out of his mind. "We can oppose Russia," he declared, "only when we are free in the West." At that time the two-front war, the nightmare of German generals for a century, was very much on Hitler's mind, and he spoke of it at length on this occasion. He would not repeat the mistake of former German rulers; he would continue to see to it that the Army had one front at a time.

It was only natural, then, that with the fall of France, the chasing of the British Army across the Channel and the prospects of Britain's imminent collapse, Hitler's thoughts should turn once again to Russia. For he now supposed himself to be free in the West and thereby to have achieved the one condition he had laid down in order to be in a position to "oppose Russia." The rapidity with which Stalin seized the Baltic States and the two Rumanian provinces in June spurred Hitler to a decision.

The moment of its making can now be traced. Jodi says that the "fundamental decision" was taken "as far back as during the Western Campaign."H Colonel Walter Warlimont, Jodi's deputy at OKW, remembers that on July 29 Jodi announced at a meeting of Operations Staff officers that "Hitler intended to attack the U.S.S.R. in the spring of 1941." Sometime previous to this meeting, Jodi related, Hitler had told Keitel "that he intended to launch the attack against the U.S.S.R. during the fall of 1940." But this was too much even for Keitel and he had argued Hitler out of it by contending that not only the bad weather in the autumn but the difficulties of transferring the bulk of the Army from the West to the East made it impossible. By the time of this conference on July 29, Warlimont relates, "the date for the intended attack [against Russia] had been moved back to the spring of 1941." [9]

Only a week before, we know from Halder's diary, [10] the Fuehrer had still held to a possible campaign in Russia for the autumn if Britain were not invaded. At a military conference in Berlin on July 21 he told Brauchitsch to get busy on the preparations for it. That the Army Commander in Chief and his General Staff already had given the problem some thought -- but not enough thought -- is evident from his response to Hitler. Brauchitsch told the Leader that the campaign "would last four to six weeks" and that the aim would be "to defeat the Russian Army or at least to occupy enough Russian territory so that Soviet bombers could not reach Berlin or the Silesian industrial area while, on the other hand, the Luftwaffe bombers could reach all important objectives in the Soviet Union." Brauchitsch thought that from eighty to a hundred German divisions could do the job; he assessed Russian strength as "fifty to seventy-five good divisions." Halder's notes on what Brauchitsch told him of the meeting show that Hitler had been stung by Stalin's grabs in the East, that he thought the Soviet dictator was "coquetting with England" in order to encourage her to hold out, but that he had seen no signs that Russia was preparing to enter the war against Germany.

At a further conference at the Berghof on the last day of July 1940, the receding prospects of an invasion of Britain prompted Hitler to announce for the first time to his Army chiefs his decision on Russia. Halder was personally present this time and jotted down his shorthand notes of exactly what the warlord said. [11] They reveal not only that Hitler had made a definite decision to attack Russia in the following spring but that he had already worked out in his mind the major strategic aims.

Britain's hope [Hitler said] lies in Russia and America. If that hope in Russia is destroyed then it will be destroyed for America too because elimination of Russia will enormously increase Japan's power in the Far East.

The more he thought of it the more convinced he was, Hitler said, that Britain's stubborn determination to continue the war was due to its counting on the Soviet Union.

Something strange [he explained] has happened in Britain! The British were already completely down. [i] Now they are back on their feet. Intercepted conversations. Russia unpleasantly disturbed by the swift developments in Western Europe.

Russia needs only to hint to England that she does not wish to see Germany too strong and the English, like a drowning man, will regain hope that the situation in six to eight months will have completely changed.

But if Russia is smashed, Britain's last hope will be shattered. Then Germany will be master of Europe and the Balkans.

Decision: In view of these considerations Russia must be liquidated. Spring, 1941.

The sooner Russia is smashed, the better. [ii]

The Nazi warlord then elaborated on his strategic plans which, it was obvious to the generals, had been ripening in his mind for some time despite all his preoccupations with the fighting in the West. The operation, he said, would be worth carrying out only if its aim was to shatter the Soviet nation in one great blow. Conquering a lot of Russian territory would not be enough. "Wiping out of the very power to exist of Russia! That is the goal!" Hitler emphasized. There would be two initial drives: one in the south to Kiev and the Dnieper River, the second in the north up through the Baltic States and then toward Moscow. There the two armies would make a junction. After that a special operation, if necessary, to secure the Baku oil fields. The very thought of such new conquests excited Hitler; he already had in mind what he would do with them. He would annex outright, he said, the Ukraine, White Russia and the Baltic States and extend Finland's territory to the White Sea. For the whole operation he would allot 120 divisions, keeping sixty divisions for the defense of the West and Scandinavia. The attack, he laid it down, would begin in May 1941 and would take five months to carry through. It would be finished by winter. He would have preferred, he said, to do it this year but this had not proved possible.

The next day, August 1, Halder went to work on the plans with his General Staff. Though he would later claim to have opposed the whole idea of an attack on Russia as insane, his diary entry for this day discloses him full of enthusiasm as he applied himself to the challenging new task.

Planning now went ahead with typical German thoroughness on three levels: that of the Army General Staff, of Warlimont's Operations Staff at OKW, of General Thomas' Economic and Armaments Branch of OKW. Thomas was instructed on August 14 by Goering that Hitler desired deliveries of ordered goods to the Russians "only till spring of 1941." [iii] In the meantime his office was to make a detailed survey of Soviet industry, transportation and oil centers both as a guide to targets and later on as an aid for administering Russia.

A few days before, on August 9, Warlimont had got out his first directive for preparing the deployment areas in the East for the jump-off against the Russians. The code name for this was Aufbau Ost -- "Build-up East." On August 26, Hitler ordered ten infantry and two armored divisions to be sent from the West to Poland. The panzer units, he stipulated, were to be concentrated in southeastern Poland so that they could intervene to protect the Rumanian oil fields. [13] The transfer of large bodies of troops to the Eastt could not be done without exciting Stalin's easily aroused suspicions if he learned of it, and the Germans went to great lengths to see that he didn't. Since some movements were bound to be detected, General Ernst Koestring, the German military attache in Moscow, was instructed to inform the Soviet General Staff that it was merely a question of replacing older men, who were being released to industry, by younger men. On September 6, Jodi got out a directive outlining in considerable detail the means of camouflage and deception. "These regroupings," he laid it down, "must not create the impression in Russia that we are preparing an offensive in the East." [14]

So that the armed services should not rest on their laurels after the great victories of the summer, Hitler issued on November 12, 1940, a comprehensive top-secret directive outlining new military tasks all over Europe and beyond. We shall come back to some of them. What concerns us here is that portion dealing with the Soviet Union.

Political discussions have been initiated with the aim of clarifying Russia's attitude for the time being. Irrespective of the results of these discussions, all preparations for the East which have already been verbally ordered will be continued. Instructions on this will follow, as soon as the general outline of the Army's operational plans have been submitted to, and approved by, me. [15]

As a matter of fact, on that very day, November 12, Molotov arrived in Berlin to continue with Hitler himself those political discussions.


Relations between Berlin and Moscow had for some months been souring. It was one thing for Stalin and Hitler to double-cross third parties, but quite another when they began to double-cross each other. Hitler had been helpless to prevent the Russians from grabbing the Baltic States and the two Rumanian provinces of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina, and his frustration only added to his growing resentment. The Russian drive westward would have to be stopped and first of all in Rumania, whose oil resources were of vital importance to a Germany which, because of the British blockade, could no longer import petroleum by sea.

To complicate Hitler's problem, Hungary and Bulgaria too demanded slices of Rumanian territory. Hungary, in fact, as the summer of 1940 approached its end, prepared to go to war in order to win back Transylvania, which Rumania had taken from her after the First World War. Such a war, Hitler realized, would cut off Germany from her main source of crude oil and probably bring the Russians in to occupy all of Rumania and rob the Reich permanently of Rumanian oil.

By August 28 the situation had become so threatening that Hitler ordered five panzer and three motorized divisions plus parachute and airborne troops to make ready to seize the Rumanian oil fields on September 1. [16] That same day he conferred with Ribbentrop and Ciano at the Berghof and then dispatched them to Vienna, where they were to lay down the law to the foreign ministers of Hungary and Rumania and make them accept Axis arbitration. This mission was accomplished without much trouble after Ribbentrop had browbeaten both sides. On August 30 at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna the Hungarians and Rumanians accepted the Axis settlement. When Mihai Manoilescu, the Rumanian Foreign Minister, saw the map stipulating that about one half of Transylvania should go to Hungary, he fainted, falling across the table at which the signing of the agreement was taking place, and regaining consciousness only after physicians had worked over him with camphor. [iv] [17] Ostensibly for her reasonableness but really to give Hitler a legal excuse for his further plans, Rumania received from Germany and Italy a guarantee of what was left of her territory. [v]

Light on the Fuehrer's further plans came to his intimates three weeks later. On September 20, in a top-secret directive, Hitler ordered the sending of "military missions" to Rumania.

To the world their tasks will be to guide friendly Rumania in organizing and instructing her forces.

The real tasks -- which must not become apparent either to the Rumanians or to our own troops -- will be:

To protect the oil district ...

To prepare for deployment from Rumanian bases of German and Rumanian forces in case a war with Soviet Russia is forced upon us. [18]

That would take care of the southern flank of a new front he was beginning to picture in his mind.

The Vienna award and especially the German guarantee of Rumania's remaining territory went down badly in Moscow, which had not been consulted. When Schulenburg called on Molotov on September 1 to present a windy memorandum from Ribbentrop attempting to explain -- and justify -- what had taken place in Vienna, the Foreign Commissar, the ambassador reported, "was reserved, in contrast to his usual manner." He was not too reserved, however, to lodge a strong verbal protest. He accused the German government of violating Article III of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which called for consultation, and of presenting Russia with "accomplished facts" which conflicted with German assurances about "questions of common interests." [19] The thieves, as is almost inevitable in such cases, had begun to quarrel over the spoils.

Recriminations became more heated in the following days. On September 3 Ribbentrop telegraphed a long memorandum to Moscow denying that Germany had violated the Moscow Pact and accusing Russia of having done just that by gobbling up the Baltic Slates and two Rumanian provinces without consulting Berlin. The memorandum was couched in strong language and the Russians replied to it on September 21 with equally stern words -- by this time both sides were putting their cases in writing. The Soviet answer reiterated that Germany had broken the pact, warned that Russia still had many interests in Rumania and concluded with a sarcastic proposal that if the article calling for consultation involved "certain inconveniences and restrictions" for the Reich the Soviet government was ready to amend or delete this clause of the treaty. [20]

The Kremlin's suspicions of Hitler were further aroused by two events in September. On the sixteenth, Ribbentrop wired Schulenburg to call on Molotov and "casually" inform him that German reinforcements for northern Norway were going to be sent by way of Finland. A few days later, on September 25, the Nazi Foreign Minister got off another telegram to the embassy in Moscow, this time addressed to the charge, Schulenburg having returned to Germany on leave. It was a most confidential message, being marked "Strictly Secret-State Secret," and directing that its instructions were to be carried out only if on the next day the charge received from Berlin by wire or telephone a special code word. [21]

He was to inform Molotov that "in the next few days" Japan, Italy and Germany were going to sign in Berlin a military alliance. It was not to be directed against Russia -- a specific article would say that.

This alliance [Ribbentrop stated] is directed exclusively against American warmongers. To be sure this is, as usual, not expressly stated in the treaty, but can be unmistakably inferred from its terms ... Its exclusive purpose is to bring the elements pressing for America's entry into the war to their senses by conclusively demonstrating to them that if they enter the present struggle they will automatically have to deal with the three great powers as adversaries.  [22]

The chilly Soviet Foreign Commissar, whose suspicions of the Germans were now growing like flowers in June, was highly skeptical when Werner von Tippelskirch, the charge, brought him this news on the evening of September 26. He said immediately, with that pedantic attention to detail which so annoyed all with whom he negotiated, friend or foe, that according to Article IV of the Moscow Pact the Soviet government was entitled to see the text of this tripartite military alliance before it was signed, including, he added, the text of "any secret protocols."

Molotov also wanted to know more about the German agreement with Finland for the transport of troops through that country, which he had heard of mostly through the press, he said, including a United Press dispatch from Berlin. During the last three days, Molotov added, Moscow had received reports of the landing of German forces in at least three Finnish ports, "without having been informed thereof by Germany."

The Soviet Government [Molotov continued] wished to receive the text of the agreement on the passage of troops through Finland, including its secret portions ... and to be informed as to the object of the agreement, against whom it was directed, and the purposes that were being served thereby. [23]

The Russians had to be mollified -- even the obtuse Ribbentrop could see that -- and on October 2 he telegraphed to Moscow what he said was the text of the agreement with Finland. He also reiterated that the Tripartite Pact, which in the meantime had been signed, [vi] was not directed against the Soviet Union and solemnly declared that "there were no secret protocols nor any other secret agreements." [24] After instructing Tippelskirch on October 7 to inform Molotov "incidentally" that a German "military mission" was being sent to Rumania and after receiving Molotov's skeptical reaction to this further news ("How many troops are you sending to Rumania?" the Foreign Commissar had demanded to know),25 Ribbentrop on October 13 got off a long letter to Stalin in an attempt to quiet Soviet uneasiness about Germany. [26]

It is, as might be expected, a fatuous and at the same time arrogant epistle, abounding in nonsense and lies and subterfuge. England is blamed for the war and all its aftermaths thus far, but one thing is sure: "The war as such has been won by us. It is only a question of how long it will be before England ... admits to collapse." The German moves against Russia in Finland and Rumania as well as the Tripartite Pact are explained as really a boon to Russia. In the meantime British diplomacy and British secret agents are trying to stir up trouble between Russia and Germany. To frustrate them, why not send Molotov to Berlin, Ribbentrop asked Stalin, so that the Fuehrer could "explain personally his views regarding the future molding of relations between our two countries"?

Ribbentrop gave a sly hint what those views were: nothing less than dividing up the world among the four totalitarian powers.

It appears to be the mission of the Four Powers [he said] -- the Soviet Union, Italy, Japan and Germany -- to adopt a long-range policy ... by delimitation of their interests on a world-wide scale.

The emphasis is Ribbentrop's.

There was some delay in the German Embassy in Moscow in getting this letter to its destination, which made Ribbentrop livid with rage and inspired an angry telegram from him to Schulenburg demanding to know why his letter had not been delivered until the seventeenth and why, "in keeping with the importance of its contents," it was not delivered to Stalin personally -- Schulenburg had handed it to Molotov. [27] Stalin replied on October 22, in a remarkably cordial tone. "Molotov admits," he wrote, "that he is under obligation to pay you a visit in Berlin. He hereby accepts your invitation." [28] Stalin's geniality must have been only a mask. Schulenburg wired Berlin a few days later that the Russians were protesting the refusal of Germany to deliver war material while at the same time shipping arms to Finland. "This is the first time," Schulenburg advised Berlin, "that our deliveries of arms to Finland have been mentioned by the Soviets." [29]

A dark, drizzling day, and Molotov arrived, his reception being extremely stiff and formal. Driving up the Linden to the Soviet Embassy, he looked to me like a plugging, provincial schoolmaster. But to have survived in the cutthroat competition of the Kremlin he must have something. The Germans talk glibly of letting Moscow have that old Russian dream, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, while they will take the rest of the Balkans: Rumania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria ...

Thus began my diary entry in Berlin on November 12, 1940. The glib talk of the Germans was accurate enough, as far as it went. Today we know much more about this strange and -- as it turned out -- fateful meeting, thanks to the capture of the Foreign Office documents, in which one finds the confidential German minutes of the two-day sessions, all but one of them kept by the ubiquitous Dr. Schmidt. [vii] [30]

At the first meeting between the two foreign ministers, during the forenoon of November 12, Ribbentrop was in one of his most vapid and arrogant moods but Molotov quickly saw through him and sized up what the German game was. "England," Ribbentrop began, "is beaten and it is only a question of time when she will finally admit her defeat ... The beginning of the end has now arrived for the British Empire." The British, it was true, were hoping for aid from America, but "the entry of the United States into the war is of no consequence at all for Germany. Germany and Italy will never again allow an Anglo-Saxon to land on the European Continent ... This is no military problem at all ... The Axis Powers are, therefore, not considering how they can win the war, but rather how rapidly they can end the war which is already won."

This being so, Ribbentrop explained, the time had come for the four powers, Russia, Germany, Italy and Japan, to define their "spheres of interest." The Fuehrer, he said, had concluded that all four countries would naturally expand "in a southerly direction." Japan had already turned south, as had Italy, while Germany, after the establishment of the "New Order" in Western Europe, would find her additional Lebensraum in (of all places!) "Central Africa." Ribbentrop said he "wondered" if Russia would also not "turn to the south for the natural outlet to the open sea which was so important for her."

"Which sea?" Molotov interjected icily.

This was an awkward but crucial question, as the Germans would learn during the next thirty-six hours of ceaseless conversations with this stubborn, prosaic, precise Bolshevik. The interruption floored Ribbentrop for a moment and he could not think of an answer. Instead, he rambled on about "the great changes that would take place all over the world after the war" and gabbled that the important thing was that "both partners to the German-Russian pact had together done some good business" and "would continue to do some business." But when Molotov insisted on an answer to his simple question, Ribbentrop finally replied by suggesting that "in the long run the most advantageous access to the sea for Russia could be found in the direction of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea."

Molotov sat there, says Dr. Schmidt, who was present taking notes, "with an impenetrable expression." [31] He said very little, except to comment at the end that "precision and vigilance" were necessary in delimiting spheres of interest, "particularly between Germany and Russia." The wily Soviet negotiator was saving his ammunition for Hitler, whom he saw in the afternoon. For the all-powerful Nazi warlord it turned out to be quite a surprising, nerve-racking, frustrating and even unique experience.

Hitler was just as vague as his Foreign Minister and even more grandiose. As soon as the weather improved, he began by saying, Germany would strike "the final blow against England." There was, to be sure, "the problem of America." But the United States could not "endanger the freedom of other nations before 1970 or 1980 ... It had no business either in Europe, in Africa or in Asia" -- an assertion which Molotov broke in to say he was in agreement with. But he was not in agreement with much else that Hitler said. After the Nazi leader had finished a lengthy exposition of pleasant generalities, stressing that there were no fundamental differences between the two countries in the pursuit of their respective aspirations and in their common drive toward "access to the ocean," Molotov replied that "the statements of the Fuehrer had been of a general nature." He would now, he said, set forth the ideas of Stalin, who on his departure from Moscow had given him "exact instructions." Whereupon he hurled the book at the German dictator who, as the minutes make clear, was scarcely prepared for it.

"The questions hailed down upon Hitler," Schmidt afterward recalled. "No foreign visitor had ever spoken to him in this way in my presence." [32]

What was Germany up to in Finland? Molotov wanted to know. What was the meaning of the New Order in Europe and in Asia, and what role would the U.S.S.R. be given in it? What was the "significance" of the Tripartite Pact? "Moreover," he continued, "there are issues to be clarified regarding Russia's Balkan and Black Sea interests with respect to Bulgaria, Rumania and Turkey." He would like, he said, to hear some answers and "explanations."

Hitler, perhaps for the first time in his life, was too taken aback to answer. He proposed that they adjourn "in view of a possible air-raid alarm," promising to go into a detailed discussion the next day.

A showdown had been postponed but not prevented, and the next morning when Hitler and Molotov resumed their talks the Russian Commissar was relentless. To begin with, about Finland, over which the two men soon became embroiled in a bitter and caustic dispute. Molotov demanded that Germany get its troops out of Finland. Hitler denied that "Finland was occupied by German troops." They were merely being sent through Finland to Norway. But he wanted to know "whether Russia intended to go to war against Finland." According to the German minutes, Molotov "answered this question somewhat evasively," and Hitler was not satisfied.

"There must be no war in the Baltic," Hitler insisted. "It would put a heavy strain on German-Russian relations," a threat which he added to a moment later by saying that such a strain might bring "unforeseeable consequences." What more did the Soviet Union want in Finland, anyway? Hitler wanted to know, and his visitor answered that it wanted a "settlement on the same scale as in Bessarabia" -- which meant outright annexation. Hitler's reaction to this must have perturbed even the imperturbable Russian, who hastened to ask the Fuehrer's "opinion on that."

The dictator in turn was somewhat evasive, replying that he could only repeat that "there must be no war with Finland because such a conflict might have far-reaching repercussions."

"A new factor has been introduced into the discussion by this position," Molotov retorted.

So heated had the dispute become that Ribbentrop, who must have become thoroughly frightened by this time, broke in to say, according to the German minutes, "that there was actually no reason at all for making an issue of the Finnish question. Perhaps it was merely a misunderstanding."

Hitler took advantage of this timely intervention to quickly change the subject. Could not the Russians be tempted by the unlimited plunder soon to be available with the collapse of the British Empire?

"Let us turn to more important problems," he said.

After the conquest of England [he declared] the British Empire would be apportioned as a gigantic world-wide estate in bankruptcy of forty million square kilometers. In this bankrupt estate there would be for Russia access to the ice-free and really open ocean. Thus far, a minority of forty-five million Englishmen had ruled six hundred million inhabitants of the British Empire. He was about to crush this minority ... Under these circumstances there arose world-wide perspectives ... All the countries which could possibly be interested in the bankrupt estate would have to stop all controversies among themselves and concern themselves exclusively with the partition of the British Empire. This applied to Germany, France, Italy, Russia and Japan.

The chilly, impassive Russian guest did not appear to be moved by such glittering "world-wide perspectives," nor was he as convinced as the Germans -- a point he later rubbed in -- that the British Empire would soon be there for the taking. He wanted, he said, to discuss problems "closer to Europe." Turkey, for instance, and Bulgaria and Rumania.

"The Soviet Government," he said, "is of the opinion that the German guarantee of Rumania is aimed against the interests of Soviet Russia -- if one may express oneself so bluntly." He had been expressing himself bluntly all day, to the growing annoyance of his hosts, and now he pressed on. He demanded that Germany "revoke" this guarantee. Hitler declined.

All right, Molotov persisted, in view of Moscow's interest in the Straits, what would Germany say "if Russia gave Bulgaria ... a guarantee under exactly the same conditions as Germany and Italy had given one to Rumania"?

One can almost see Hitler's dark frown. He inquired whether Bulgaria had asked for such a guarantee, as had Rumania? "He (the Fuehrer)," the German memorandum quotes him as adding, "did not know of any request by Bulgaria." At any rate, he would first have to consult Mussolini before giving the Russians a more definite answer to their question. And he added ominously that if Germany "were perchance looking for sources of friction with Russia, she would not need the Straits for that."

But the Fuehrer, usually so talkative, had no more stomach for talk with this impossible Russian.

"At this point in the conversation," say the German minutes, "the Fuehrer called attention to the late hour and stated that in view of the possibility of English air attacks it would be better to break off the talk now, since the main issues had probably been sufficiently discussed."

That night Molotov gave a gala banquet to his hosts at the Russian Embassy on Unter den Linden. Hitler, apparently exhausted and still irritated by the afternoon's ordeal, did not put in an appearance.

The British did. I had wondered why their bombers had not appeared over Berlin, as they had almost every recent night, to remind the Soviet Commissar on his first evening in the capital that, whatever the Germans told him, Britain was still in the war, and kicking. Some of us, I confess, had waited hopefully for the planes, but they had not come. Officials in the Wilhelmstrasse, who had feared the worst, were visibly relieved. But not for long.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

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Part 2 of 4

On the evening of November 13, the British came over early. [viii] It gets dark in Berlin about 4 P.M. at this time of year, and shortly after 9 o'clock the air-raid sirens began to whine and then you could hear the thunder of the flak guns and, in between, the hum of the bombers overhead. According to Dr. Schmidt, who was at the banquet in the Soviet Embassy, Molotov had just proposed a friendly toast and Ribbentrop had risen to his feet to reply when the air-raid warning was sounded and the guests scattered to shelter. I remember the hurrying and scurrying down the Linden and around the corner at the Wilhelmstrasse as Germans and Russians made for the underground shelter of the Foreign Ministry. Some of the officials, Dr. Schmidt among them, ducked into the Adlon Hotel, from in front of which some of us were watching, and were unable to get to the impromptu meeting which the two foreign ministers now held in the underground depths of the Foreign Office. The minutes of this meeting were therefore taken, in the enforced absence of Dr. Schmidt, by Gustav Hilger, counselor of the German Embassy in Moscow, who had acted as one of the interpreters during the conference.

While the British bombers cruised overhead in the night and the antiaircraft guns fired away ineffectively at them, the slippery Nazi Foreign Minister tried one last time to take the Russians in. Out of his pocket he pulled a draft of an agreement which, in substance, transformed the Tripartite Pact into a four-power pact, with Russia as the fourth member. Molotov listened patiently while Ribbentrop read it through.

Article II was the core. In it Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union undertook "to respect each other's natural spheres of influence." Any disputes concerning them would be settled "in an amicable way." The two fascist countries and Japan agreed to "recognize the present extent of the possessions of the Soviet Union and will respect it." All four countries, in Article III, agreed not to join or support any combination "directed against one of the Four Powers."

The agreement itself, Ribbentrop proposed, would be made public, but not, of course, its secret protocols, which he next proceeded to read. The most important one defined each country's "territorial aspirations." Russia's was to "center south of the national territory of the Soviet Union in the direction of the Indian Ocean."

Molotov did not rise to the bait. The proposed treaty was obviously an attempt to divert Russia from its historic pressure westward, down the Baltic, into the Balkans and through the Straits to the Mediterranean, where inevitably it would clash with the greedy designs of Germany and Italy. The U.S.S.R. was not, at least at the moment, interested in the Indian Ocean, which lay far away. What it was interested in at the moment, Molotov replied, was Europe and the Turkish Straits. "Consequently," he added, "paper agreements will not suffice for the Soviet Union; she would have to insist on effective guarantees of her security."

The questions which interested the Soviet Union [he elaborated] concerned not only Turkey but Bulgaria ... But the fate of Rumania and Hungary was also of interest to the U.S.S.R. and could not be immaterial to her under any circumstances. It would further interest the Soviet Government to learn what the Axis contemplated with regard to Yugoslavia and Greece, and likewise, what Germany intended with regard to Poland ... The Soviet Government was also interested in the question of Swedish neutrality ... Besides, there existed the question of the passages out of the Baltic Sea ...

The untiring, poker-faced Soviet Foreign Commissar left nothing out and Ribbentrop, who felt himself being buried under the avalanche of questions -- for at this point Molotov said he would "appreciate it" if his guest made answer to them -- protested that he was being "interrogated too closely."

He could only repeat again and again [he replied weakly] that the decisive question was whether the Soviet Union was prepared and in a position to co-operate with us in the great liquidation of the British Empire.

Molotov was ready with a cutting retort. Hilger duly noted it in the minutes.

In his reply Molotov stated that the Germans were assuming that the war against England had already actually been won. If therefore [as Hitler had maintained] Germany was waging a life-and-death struggle against England, he could only construe this as meaning that Germany was fighting "for life" and England "for death."

This sarcasm may have gone over the head of Ribbentrop, a man of monumental denseness, but Molotov took no chances. To the German's constant reiteration that Britain was finished, the Commissar finally replied, "If that is so, why are we in this shelter, and whose are these bombs which fall?" [ix]

From this wearing experience with Moscow's tough bargainer and from further evidence that came a fortnight later of Stalin's increasingly rapacious appetite, Hitler drew his final conclusions.

It must be set down here that the Soviet dictator, his subsequent claims to the contrary notwithstanding, now accepted Hitler's offer to join the fascist camp, though at a stiffer price than had been offered in Berlin. On November 26, scarcely two weeks after Molotov had returned from Germany, he informed the German ambassador in Moscow that Russia was prepared to join the four-power pact, subject to the following conditions:

1. That German troops are immediately withdrawn from Finland, which belongs to the Soviet Union's sphere of influence ...

2. That within the next few months the security of the Soviet Union in the Straits is assured by the conclusion of a mutual-assistance pact between the U.S.S.R. and Bulgaria ... and by the establishment of a base for land and naval forces by the Soviet Union within range of the Bosporus and the Dardanelles by means of a long-term lease.

3. That the area south of Batum and Baku in the general direction of the Persian Gulf is recognized as the center of the aspirations of the Soviet Union.

4. That Japan renounce her rights to concessions for coal and oil in northern Sakhalin. [33]

In all Stalin asked for five, instead of two, secret protocols embodying his new proposals and, for good measure, asked that, should Turkey prove difficult about Russian bases controlling the Straits, the four powers take military measures against her.

The proposals constituted a price higher than Hitler was willing even to consider. He had tried to keep Russia out of Europe, but now Stalin was demanding Finland, Bulgaria, control of the Straits and, in effect, the Arabian and Persian oil fields, which normally supplied Europe with most of its oil. The Russians did not even mention the Indian Ocean, which the Fuehrer had tried to fob off as the center of "aspirations" for the U.S.S.R.

"Stalin is clever and cunning," Hitler told his top military chiefs. "He demands more and more. He's a cold-blooded blackmailer. A German victory has become unbearable for Russia. Therefore: she must be brought to her knees as soon as possible." [34]

The great cold-blooded Nazi blackmailer had met his match, and the realization infuriated him. At the beginning of December he told Halder to bring him the Army General Staff's plan for the onslaught on the Soviet Union. On December 5 Halder and Brauchitsch dutifully brought it to him, and at the end of a four-hour conference he approved it. Both the captured OKW War Diary and Halder's own confidential journal contain a report on this crucial meeting. [35] The Nazi warlord stressed that the Red Army must be broken through both north and south of the Pripet Marshes, surrounded and annihilated "as in Poland." Moscow, he told Halder, "was not important." The important thing was to destroy the "life force" of Russia. Rumania and Finland were to join in the attack, but not Hungary. General Dietl's mountain division at Narvik was to be transported across northern Sweden to Finland for an attack on the Soviet arctic region. [x] Altogether some" 120 to 130 divisions" were allotted for the big campaign.

In its report on this conference, as in previous references to the plan to attack Russia, General Halder's diary employs the code name "Otto." Less than a fortnight later, on December 18, 1940, the code name by which it will go down in history was substituted. On this day Hitler crossed the Rubicon. He issued Directive No. 21. It was headed "Operation Barbarossa." It began:


The Fuehrer's Headquarters

December 18, 1940

The German Armed Forces must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign before the end of the war against England. [xi] For this purpose the Army will have to employ all available units with the reservation that the occupied territories will have to be safeguarded against surprise attacks ...

Preparations ... are to be completed by May 15, 1941. Great caution has to be exercised that the intention of an attack will not be recognized.

So the target date was mid-May of the following spring. The "general purpose" of Operation Barbarossa Hitler laid down as follows:

The mass of the Russian Army in western Russia is to be destroyed in daring operations by driving forward deep armored wedges, and the retreat of intact, battle-ready troops into the wide spaces of Russia is to be prevented. The ultimate objective of the operation is to establish a defense line against Asiatic Russia from a line running from the Volga River to Archangel.

Hitler's directive then went into considerable detail about the main lines of attack. [xii] The roles of Rumania and Finland were defined. They were to provide the jumping-off areas for attacks on the extreme north and south flanks as well as troops to aid the German forces in these operations. Finland's position was especially important. Various Finnish- German armies were to advance on Leningrad and the Lake Ladoga area, cut the Munnansk rail line, secure the Petsamo nickel mines and occupy the Russian ice-free ports on the Arctic Ocean. Much depended, Hitler admitted, on whether Sweden would permit the transit of German troops from Norway, but he correctly predicted that the Swedes would be accommodating in this.

The main operations were to be divided, Hitler explained, by the Pripet Marshes. The major blow would be delivered north of the swamps with two whole army groups. One would advance up the Baltic States to Leningrad. The other, farther south, would drive through White Russia and then swing north to join the first group, thus trapping what was left of the Soviet forces trying to retreat from the Baltic. Only then, Hitler laid it down, must an offensive against Moscow be undertaken. The Russian capital, which a fortnight before had seemed "unimportant" to Hitler, now assumed more significance. "The capture of this city," he wrote, "means a decisive political and economic victory, beyond the fall of the country's most important railroad junction." And he pointed out that Moscow was not only the main communications center of Russia but its principal producer of armaments.

A third army group would drive south of the marshes through the Ukraine toward Kiev, its principal objective being to roll up and destroy the Soviet forces there west of the Dnieper River. Farther south German-Rumanian troops would protect the flank of the main operation and advance toward Odessa and thence along the Black Sea. Thereafter the Donets basin, where 60 per cent of Soviet industry was concentrated, would be taken.

Such was Hitler's grandiose plan, completed just before the Christmas holidays of 1940, and so well prepared that no essential changes would be made in it. In order to secure secrecy, only nine copies of the directive were made, one for. each of the three armed services and the rest to be guarded at OKW headquarters. Even the top field commanders, the directive makes clear, were to be told that the plan was merely for "precaution, in case Russia should change her previous attitude toward us." And Hitler instructed that the number of officers in the secret "be kept as small as possible. Otherwise the danger exists that our preparations will become known and the gravest political and military disadvantages result."

There is no evidence that the generals in the Army's High Command objected to Hitler's decision to turn on the Soviet Union, whose loyal fulfillment of the pact with Germany had made possible their victories in Poland and the West. Later Halder would write derisively of "Hitler's Russian adventure" and claim the Army leaders were against it from the beginning. [37] But there is not a word in his voluminous diary entries for December 1940 which supports him in this. Indeed, he gives the impression of being full of genuine enthusiasm for the "adventure," which he himself, as Chief of the General Staff, had the main responsibility for planning.

At any rate, for Hitler the die was cast, and, though he did not know it, his ultimate fate sealed, by this decision of December 18, 1940. Relieved to have made up his mind at last, as he later revealed, he went off to celebrate the Christmas holidays with the troops and flyers along the English Channel -- as far as it was possible for him to get from Russia. Out of his mind too -- as far as possible -- must have been any thoughts of Charles XII of Sweden and of Napoleon Bonaparte, who after so many glorious conquests not unlike his own, had met disaster in the vast depths of the Russian steppes. How could they be much in his mind? By now, as the record shortly will show, the one-time Vienna waif regarded himself as the greatest conqueror the world had ever seen. Egomania, that fatal disease of all conquerors, was taking hold.


And yet, after all the tumultuous victories of the spring and early summer of 1940, there had been a frustrating six months for the Nazi conqueror. Not only the final triumph over Britain eluded him but opportunities to deal her a mortal blow in the Mediterranean had been thrown away.

Two days after Christmas Grand Admiral Raeder saw Hitler in Berlin, but he had little Yuletide cheer to offer. "The threat to Britain in the entire eastern Mediterranean, the Near East and in North Africa," he told the Fuehrer, "has been eliminated ... The decisive action in the Mediterranean for which we had hoped therefore is no longer possible." [38]

Adolf Hitler, balked by a shifty Franco, by the ineptitude of Mussolini and even by the senility of Marshal Petain, had really missed the bus in the Mediterranean. Disaster had struck the Italian ally in the Egyptian desert and now in December confronted it in the snowy mountains of Albania. These untoward happenings were also turning points in the war and in the course of history of the Third Reich. They had come about not only because of the weaknesses of Germany's friends and allies, but, in part, because of the Nazi warlord's incapacity to grasp the larger, intercontinental strategy that was called for and that Raeder and even Goering had urged upon him.

Twice in September 1940, on the sixth and the twenty-sixth, the Grand Admiral attempted to open up new vistas in the Fuehrer's mind now that the direct attack on England seemed out of the question. For the second conference Raeder cornered Hitler alone and, without the Army and Air Force officers to muddle the conversation, gave his chief a lengthy lecture on naval strategy and the importance of getting at Britain in other places than over the English Channel.

The British [Raeder said] have always considered the Mediterranean the pivot of their world Empire ... Italy, surrounded by British power, is fast becoming the main target of attack ... The Italians have not yet realized the danger when they refuse our help. Germany, however, must wage war against Great Britain with all the means at her disposal and without delay, before the United States is able to intervene effectively. For this reason the Mediterranean question must be cleared up during the winter months.

Cleared up how? The Admiral then got down to brass tacks.

Gibraltar must be taken. The Canary Islands must be secured by the Air Force.

The Suez Canal must be taken.

After Suez, Raeder painted a rosy picture of what then would logically ensue.

An advance from Suez through Palestine and Syria as far as Turkey is necessary. If we reach that point, Turkey will be in our power. The Russian problem will then appear in a different light ... It is doubtful whether an advance against Russia from the north will be necessary.

Having in his mind driven the British out of the Mediterranean and put Turkey and Russia in Germany's power, Raeder went on to complete the picture. Correctly predicting that Britain, supported by the U.S.A. and the Gaullist forces, eventually would try to get a foothold on Northwest Africa as a basis for subsequent war against the Axis, the Admiral urged that Germany and Vichy France forestall this by securing this strategically important region themselves.

According to Raeder, Hitler agreed with his "general trend of thought" but added that he would have to talk matters over first with Mussolini, Franco and Petain. [39] This he proceeded to do, though only after much time was lost. He arranged to see the Spanish dictator on October 23, Petain, who was now the head of a collaborationist government at Vichy, the next day, and the Duce a few days thereafter.

Franco, who owed his triumph in the Spanish Civil War to the massive military aid of Italy and Germany, had, like all his fellow dictators, an inordinate appetite for spoils, especially if they could be gained cheaply. In June, at the moment of France's fall, he had hastily informed Hitler that Spain would enter the war in return for being given most of the vast French African empire, including Morocco and western Algeria, and provided that Germany supplied Spain liberally with arms, gasoline and foodstuffs. [40] It was to give Franco the opportunity to redeem this promise that the Fuehrer arrived in his special train at the Franco-Spanish border town of Hendaye on October 23. But much had happened in the intervening months -- Britain had stoutly held out, for one thing -- and Hitler was in for an unpleasant surprise.

The crafty Spaniard was not impressed by the Fuehrer's boast that "England already is decisively beaten," nor was he satisfied with Hitler's promise to give Spain territorial compensation in French North Africa "to the extent to which it would be possible to cover France's losses from British colonies." Franco wanted the French African empire, with no strings attached. Hitler's proposal was that Spain enter the war in January 1941, but Franco pointed out the dangers of such precipitate action. Hitler wanted the Spaniards to attack Gibraltar on January 10, with the help of German specialists who had taken the Belgian fort of Eben Emael from the air. Franco replied, with typical Spanish pride, that Gibraltar would have to be taken by Spaniards "alone." And so the two dictators wrangled -- for nine hours. According to Dr. Schmidt, who was present here too, Franco spoke on and on in a monotonous singsong voice and Hitler became increasingly exasperated, once springing up, as he had done with Chamberlain, to exclaim that there was no point in continuing the conversations. [41]

"Rather than go through that again," he later told Mussolini, in recounting his ordeal with the Caudillo, "I would prefer to have three or four teeth yanked out." [42]

After nine hours, with time out for dinner in Hitler's special dining car, the talks broke up late in the evening without Franco's having definitely committed himself to come into the war. Hitler left Ribbentrop behind that night to continue the parley with Serrano Suner, the Spanish Foreign Minister, and to try to get the Spaniards to sign something, at least an agreement to drive the British out of Gibraltar and close to them the western Mediterranean -- but to no avail. "That ungrateful coward!" Ribbentrop cursed to Schmidt about Franco the next morning. "He owes us everything and now won't join us!" [43]

Hitler's meeting with Petain at Montoire the next day went off better. But this was because the aging, defeatist Marshal, the hero of Verdun in the First World War and the perpetrator of the French surrender in the Second, agreed to France's collaboration with her conqueror in one last effort to bring Britain, the late ally, to her knees. In fact, he assented to put down in writing this odious deal.

The Axis Powers and France have an identical interest in seeing the defeat of England accomplished as soon as possible. Consequently, the French Government will support, within the limits of its ability, the measures which the Axis Powers may take to this end. [44]

In return for this treacherous act, France was to be given in the "New Europe" "the place to which she is entitled," and in Africa she was to receive from the fascist dictators compensation from the British Empire for whatever territory she was forced to cede to others. Both parties agreed to keep the pact "absolutely secret." [xiii]

Despite Petain's dishonorable but vital concessions, Hitler was not satisfied. According to Dr. Schmidt, he had wanted more -- nothing less than France's active participation in the war against Britain. On the long journey back to Munich the official interpreter found the Fuehrer disappointed and depressed with the results of his trip. He was to become even more so in Florence, where he arrived on the morning of October 28 to see Mussolini.

They had conferred but three weeks before, on October 4, at the Brenner Pass. Hitler, as usual, had done most of the talking, giving one of his dazzling tours d'horizon in which was not included any mention that he was sending troops to Rumania, which Italy also coveted. When the Duce learned of this a few days later he was indignant.

Hitler always faces me with a fait accompli [he fumed to Ciano]. This time I am going to pay him back in his own coin. He will find out from the newspapers that I have occupied Greece. In this way the equilibrium will be re-established. [45]

The Duce's ambitions in the Balkans were as rabid as Hitler's and cut across them so that as far back as the middle of August the Germans had warned Rome against any adventures in Yugoslavia and Greece. "It is a complete order to halt all along the line," Ciano noted in his diary on August 17. Mussolini scrapped, for the moment anyway, his plans for further martial glory in the Balkans and confirmed this in a humble letter to Hitler of August 27. But the prospect of a quick, easy conquest of Greece, which would compensate to some extent for his partner's glittering victories, proved too big a temptation for the strutting Fascist Caesar to resist, false though the prospect was.

On October 22 he set the date for a surprise Italian assault on Greece for October 28 and on the same day wrote Hitler a letter (predated October 19) alluding to his contemplated action but making it vague as to the exact nature and date. He feared, Ciano noted that day in his diary, that the Fuehrer might "order" him to halt. Hitler and Ribbentrop got wind of the Duce's plans while they were returning in their respective special trains from France, and at the Fuehrer's orders the Nazi Foreign Minister stopped at the first station in Germany to telephone Ciano in Rome and urge an immediate meeting of the Axis leaders. Mussolini suggested October 28 at Florence and, when his German visitor alighted from the train on the morning of that day, greeted him, his chin up and his eyes full of glee: "Fuehrer, we are on the march! Victorious Italian troops crossed the Greco-Albanian frontier at dawn today!" [46]

According to all accounts, Mussolini greatly enjoyed this revenge on his friend for all the previous occasions when the Nazi dictator had marched into a country without previously confiding to his Italian ally. Hitler was furious. This rash act against a sturdy foe at the worst possible time of year threatened to upset the applecart in the Balkans. The Fuehrer, as he wrote Mussolini a little later, had sped to Florence in the hope of preventing it, but he had arrived too late. According to Schmidt, who was present, the Nazi leader managed to control his rage.

Hitler went north that afternoon [Schmidt later wrote] with bitterness in his heart. He had been frustrated three times -- at Hendaye, at Montoire, and now in Italy. In the lengthy winter evenings of the next few years these long, exacting journeys were a constantly recurring theme of bitter reproaches against ungrateful and unreliable friends, Axis partners and "deceiving" Frenchmen. [47]

Nevertheless he had to do something to prosecute the war against the British, now that the invasion of Britain had proved impossible. Hardly had the Fuehrer returned to Berlin before the need to act was further impressed upon him by the fiasco of the Duce's armies in Greece. Within a week, the "victorious" Italian attack there had been turned into a rout. On November 4 Hitler called a war conference at the Chancellery in Berlin to which he summoned Brauchitsch and Halder from the Army and Keitel and Jodl from OKW. Thanks to Halder's diary and a captured copy of Jodl's report to the Navy on the conference, we know the warlord's decisions, which were embodied in Directive No. 18 issued by Hitler on November 12, the text of which is among the Nuremberg records. [48]

The German Navy's influence on Hitler's strategy became evident, as did the necessity for doing something about the faltering Italian ally. Halder noted the Fuehrer's "lack of confidence" in Italian leadership. As a result it was decided not to send any German troops to Libya until Marshal Rodolfo Graziani's army, which in September had advanced sixty miles into Egypt to Sidi Barrani, had reached Mersa Matruh, a further seventy-five miles along the coast, which was not expected before Christmas, if then. In the meantime plans were to be made to send a few dive bombers to Egypt to attack the British fleet in Alexandria and mine the Suez Canal.

As for Greece, the Italian attack there, Hitler admitted to his generals, had been a "regrettable blunder" and unfortunately had endangered Germany's position in the Balkans. The British by occupying Crete and Lemnos had achieved air bases from which they could easily bomb the Rumanian oil fields and by sending troops to the Greek mainland threatened the whole German position in the Balkans. To counter this danger Hitler ordered the Army to prepare immediately plans to invade Greece through Bulgaria with a force of at least ten divisions which would be sent first to Rumania. "It is anticipated," he said, "that Russia will remain neutral."

But it was in regard to destroying Britain's position in the western Mediterranean that most of the conference of November 4 and most of the ensuing Directive No. 18 was devoted.

Gibraltar will be taken [said the directive] and the Straits closed.

The British will be prevented from gaining a foothold at another point of the Iberian peninsula or the Atlantic islands.

"Felix" was to be the code name for the taking of Gibraltar and the Spanish Canary Islands and the Portuguese Cape Verde Islands. The Navy was also to study the possibility of occupying Portugal's Madeira and the Azores. Portugal itself might have to be occupied. "Operation Isabella" would be the cover name for that, and three German divisions would be assembled on the Spanish-Portuguese frontier to carry it out.

Finally, units of the French fleet and some troops were to be released so that France could defend her possessions in Northwest Africa against the British and De Gaulle. "From this initial task," Hitler said in his directive, "France's participation in the war against England can develop fully."

Hitler's new plans, as enunciated to the generals on November 4 and laid down in the directive a week later, went into considerable military detail -- especially on how Gibraltar was to be taken by a daring German stroke -- and apparently they impressed his Army chiefs as bold and shrewd. But in reality they were half measures which could not possibly achieve their objectives, and they were based partly on his deceiving his own generals. He assured them on November 4, Halder noted, that he had just received Franco's renewed promise to join Germany in the war, but this, as we have seen, was not quite true. The objectives of driving the British out of the Mediterranean were sound, but the forces allotted to the task were quite insufficient, especially in view of Italy's weaknesses.

The Naval War Staff pointed this out in a toughly worded memorandum which Raeder gave Hitler on November 14. [49] The Italian disaster in Greece -- Mussolini's troops had now been hurled back into Albania and were still retreating -- had not only greatly improved Britain's strategic position in the Mediterranean, the sailors pointed out, but enhanced British prestige throughout the world. As for the Italian attack on Egypt, the Navy told Hitler flatly: "Italy will never carry out the Egyptian offensive. [xiv] The Italian leadership is wretched. They have no understanding of the situation. The Italian armed forces have neither the leadership nor the military efficiency to carry the required operations in the Mediterranean area to a successful conclusion with the necessary speed and decision."

Therefore, the Navy concluded, this task must be carried out by Germany. The "fight for the African area," it warned Hitler, is "the foremost strategic objective of German warfare as a whole ... It is of decisive importance for the outcome of the war."

But the Nazi dictator was not convinced. He had never been able to envisage the war in the Mediterranean and North Africa as anything but secondary to his main objective. As Admiral Raeder elaborated to him the Navy's strategic conceptions in their meeting on November 14, Hitler retorted that he was "still inclined toward a demonstration with Russia." [50] In fact, he was more inclined than ever, for Molotov had just departed Berlin that morning after so arousing the Fuehrer's ire. When the Admiral next saw his chief a couple of days after Christmas to report on how the bus had been missed in the Mediterranean, Hitler was not unduly perturbed. To Raeder's argument that the victory of Britain over the Italians in Egypt [xv] and the increasing material aid which she was receiving from America necessitated the concentration of all German resources to bring the British down, and that Barbarossa ought to be postponed until "the overthrow of Britain," Hitler turned an almost deaf ear.

"In view of present political developments and especially Russia's interference in Balkan affairs," Hitler said, "it is necessary to eliminate at all costs the last enemy remaining on the Continent before coming to grips with Britain." From now on to the bitter end he would stick fanatically to this fundamental strategy.

As a sop to his naval chief, Hitler promised to "try once more to influence Franco" so that the attack against Gibraltar could be made and the Mediterranean closed to the British fleet. Actually, he had already dropped the whole idea. On December 11 he had quietly ordered, "Operation Felix will not be carried out as the political conditions no longer exist." Nagged by his own Navy and by the Italians to keep after Franco, Hitler made one final effort, though it was painful to him. On February 6, 1941, he addressed a long letter to the Spanish dictator.

... About one thing, Caudillo, there must be clarity: we are fighting a battle of life and death and cannot at this time make any gifts ...

The battle which Germany and Italy are fighting will determine the destiny of Spain as well. Only in the case of our victory will your present regime continue to exist. [51]

Unfortunately for the Axis, the letter reached the Caudillo on the very day that Marshal Graziani's last forces in Cyrenaica had been wiped out by the British south of Benghazi. Little wonder that when Franco got around to replying -- on February 26, 1941 -- though protesting his "absolute loyalty" to the Axis, he reminded the Nazi leader that recent developments had left "the circumstances of October far behind" and that their understanding of that time had become "outmoded."

For one of the very few times in his stormy life, Adolf Hitler conceded defeat. "The long and short of the tedious Spanish rigmarole," he wrote Mussolini, "is that Spain does not want to enter the war and will not enter it. This is extremely tiresome since it means that for the moment the possibility of striking at Britain in the simplest manner, in her Mediterranean possessions, is eliminated."

Italy, not Spain, however, was the key to defeating Britain in the Mediterranean, but the Duce's creaky empire was not equal to the task of doing it alone and Hitler was not wise enough to give her the means, which he had, to accomplish it. The possibility of striking at Britain either directly across the Channel or indirectly across the broader Mediterranean, he now confessed, had been eliminated "for the moment." Though this was frustrating, the acknowledgment of it brought Hitler relief. He could now turn to matters nearer his heart and mind.

On January 8-9, 1941, he held a council of war at the Berghof above Berchtesgaden, which now lay deep in the winter's snow. The mountain air seems to have cleared his mind, and once more, as the lengthy confidential reports of the meeting by Admiral Raeder and General Halder [52] disclose, his thoughts ranged far and wide as he outlined his grand strategy to his military chiefs. His optimism had returned.

The Fuehrer [Raeder noted) is firmly convinced that the situation in Europe can no longer develop unfavorably for Germany even if we should lose the whole of North Africa. Our position in Europe is so firmly established that the outcome cannot possibly be to our disadvantage ... The British can hope to win the war only by beating us on the Continent. The Fuehrer is convinced that this is impossible.

It was true, he conceded, that the direct invasion of Britain was "not feasible unless she is crippled to a considerable degree and Germany has complete air superiority." The Navy and Air Force, he said, must concentrate on attacking her shipping lanes and thereby cut off her supplies. Such attacks, he thought, "might lead to victory as early as July or August." In the meantime, he said, "Germany must make herself so strong on the Continent that we can handle a further war against England (and America)." The parentheses are Halder's and their enclosure is significant. This is the first mention in the captured German records that Hitler -- at the beginning of 1941 -- is facing up to the possibility of the entry of the United States into the war against him.

The Nazi warlord then took up the various strategic areas and problems and outlined what he intended to do about them.

The Fuehrer is of the opinion [Raeder wrote] that it is vital for the outcome of the war that Italy does not collapse ... He is determined to ... prevent Italy from losing North Africa ... It would mean a great loss of prestige to the Axis powers ... He is [therefore] determined to give them support.

At this point he cautioned his military leaders about divulging German plans.

He does not wish to inform the Italians of our plans. There is great danger that the Royal Family is transmitting intelligence to Britain!! [xvi]

Support for Italy, Hitler declared, would consist of antitank formations and some Luftwaffe squadrons for Libya. More important, he would dispatch an army corps of two and a half divisions to buck up the retreating Italians in Albania -- into which the Greeks had now pushed them. In connection with this, "Operation Marita" [xvii] would be pushed. The transfer of troops from Rumania to Bulgaria, he ordered, must begin at once so that Marita could commence on March 26. Hitler also spoke at some length of the need to be ready to carry out "Operation Attila" -- the German cover names seem almost endless -- which he had outlined in a directive of December 10, 1940. This was a plan to occupy the rest of France and seize the French fleet at Toulon. He thought now it might have to be carried out soon. "If France becomes troublesome," he declared, "she will have to be crushed completely." This would have been a crude violation of the Compiegne armistice, but no general or admiral, so far as Halder and Raeder noted -- or at least recorded -- raised the question.

It was at this war conference that Hitler described Stalin as "a coldblooded blackmailer" and informed his commanders that Russia would have to be brought to her knees "as soon as possible."

If the U.S.A. and Russia should enter the war against Germany [Hitler said, and it was the second time he mentioned that possibility for America], the situation would become very complicated. Hence any possibility for such a threat to develop must be eliminated at the very beginning. If the Russian threat were removed, we could wage war on Britain indefinitely. If Russia collapsed, Japan would be greatly relieved: this in turn would mean increased danger to the U.S.A.

Such were the thoughts of the German dictator on global strategy as 1941 got under way. Two days after the war council, on January 11, he embodied them in Directive No. 22. German reinforcements for Tripoli were to move under "Operation Sunflower"; those for Albania under "Operation Alpine Violets." [54]


Mussolini was summoned by Hitler to the Berghof for January 19 and 20. Shaken and humiliated by the Italian debacles in Egypt and Greece, he had no stomach for this journey. Ciano found him "frowning and nervous" when he boarded his special train, fearful that Hitler, Ribbentrop and the German generals would be insultingly condescending. To make matters worse the Duce took along General Alfredo Guzzoni, Assistant Chief of Staff, whom Ciano in his diary described as a mediocre man with a big paunch and a little dyed wig and whom, he thought, it would be positively humiliating to present to the Germans.

To his surprise and relief, Mussolini found Hitler, who came down to the snow-covered platform of the little station at Puch to greet him, both tactful and cordial and there were no reproaches for Italy's sorry record on the battlefields. He also found his host, as Ciano noted in his diary, in a very anti-Russian mood. For more than two hours on the second day Hitler lectured his Italian guests and an assembly of generals from both countries, and a secret report on it prepared by General Jodl [55] confirms that while the Fuehrer was anxious to be helpful to the Italians in Albania and Libya, his principal thoughts were on Russia.

I don't see great danger coming from America [Hitler said] even if she should enter the war. The much greater danger is the gigantic block of Russia. Though we have very favorable political and economic agreements with Russia, I prefer to rely on powerful means at my disposal.

Though he hinted at what he intended to do with his "powerful means," he did not disclose his plans to his partner. These, however, were sufficiently far along to enable the Chief of the Army General Staff, who was responsible for working out the details, to present them to the Supreme Commander at a meeting in Berlin a fortnight later.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Mon Feb 12, 2018 1:22 am

Part 3 of 4

This war conference, attended by the top generals of OKW and of the Army High Command (OKH), lasted from noon until 6 P.M. on February 3. And though General Halder, who outlined the Army General Staff's plans, contended later in his book [56] that he and Brauchitsch raised doubts about their own assessment of Soviet military strength and in general opposed Barbarossa as an "adventure," there is not a word in his own diary entry made the same evening or in the highly secret OKW memorandum of the meeting [57] that supports this contention. Indeed, they disclose Halder to have made at first a businesslike estimate of the opposing forces, calculating that while the enemy would have approximately 155 divisions, German strength would be about the same and, as Halder reported, "far superior in quality." Later, when catastrophe set in, Halder and his fellow generals realized that their intelligence on the Red Army had been fantastically faulty. But on February 3, 1941, they did not suspect that. In fact, so convincing was Halder's report on respective strengths and on the strategy to be employed to annihilate the Red armies [xviii] that Hitler at the end not only expressed agreement "on the whole" but was so excited by the prospects which the General Staff Chief had raised that he exclaimed:

"When Barbarossa commences, the world will hold its breath and make no comment!"

He could scarcely wait for it to commence. Impatiently he ordered the operation map and the plan of deployment of forces to be sent to him "as soon as possible."


Before Barbarossa could get under way in the spring the southern flank, which lay in the Balkans, had to be secured and built up. By the third week in February 1941, the Germans had massed a formidable army of 680,000 troops in Rumania, which bordered the Ukraine for three hundred miles between the Polish border and the Black Sea. [58] But to the south, Greece still held the Italians at bay and Berlin had reason to believe that British troops from Libya would soon be landed there. Hitler, as the minutes of his numerous conferences at this period make clear, feared that an Allied front above Salonika might be formed which would be more troublesome to Germany than a similar one had been in the First World War, since it would give the British a base from which to bomb the Rumanian oil fields. Moreover, it would jeopardize Barbarossa. In fact, the danger had been foreseen as far back as December 1940, when the first directive for Operation Marita had been issued providing for a strong German attack on Greece through Bulgaria with troops assembled in Rumania.

Bulgaria, whose wrong guess as to the victors in the first war had cost her dearly, now made a similar miscalculation. Believing Hitler's assurances that he had already won the war and bedazzled by the prospect of obtaining Greek territory to the south which would give her access to the Aegean Sea, her government agreed to participate in Marita -- at least to the extent of allowing passage of German troops. An agreement to this effect was made secretly on February 8, 1941, between Field Marshal List and the Bulgarian General Staff. [59] On the night of February 28 German Army units crossed the Danube from Rumania and took up strategic positions in Bulgaria, which the next day joined the Tripartite Pact.

The hardier Yugoslavs were not quite so accommodating. But their stubbornness only spurred on the Germans to bring them into camp too. On March 4-5, the Regent, Prince Paul, was summoned in great secrecy to the Berghof by the Fuehrer, given the usual threats and, in addition, offered the bribe of Salonika. On March 25, the Yugoslav Premier, Dragisha Cvetkovic, and Foreign Minister Aleksander Cincar-Markovic, having slipped surreptitiously out of Belgrade the night before to avoid hostile demonstrations or even kidnaping, arrived at Vienna, where in the presence of Hitler and Ribbentrop they signed up Yugoslavia to the Tripartite Pact. Hitler was highly pleased and told Ciano that this would facilitate his attack on Greece. Before leaving Vienna the Yugoslav leaders were given two letters from Ribbentrop confirming Germany's "determination" to respect "the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Yugoslavia at all times" and promising that the Axis would not demand transit rights for its troops across Yugoslavia "during this war." [60] Both agreements were broken by Hitler in what even for him was record time.

The Yugoslav ministers had no sooner returned to Belgrade than they, the government and the Prince Regent were overthrown on the night of March 26-27, by a popular uprising led by a number of top Air Force officers and supported by most of the Army. The youthful heir to the throne, Peter, who had escaped from the surveillance of regency officials by sliding down a rain pipe, was declared King, and though the new regime of General Dusan Simovic immediately offered to sign a nonaggression pact with Germany, it was obvious in Berlin that it would not accept the puppet status for Yugoslavia which the Fuehrer had assigned. During the delirious celebrations in Belgrade, in which a crowd spat on the German minister's car, the Scrbs had shown where their sympathies lay.

The coup in Belgrade threw Adolf Hitler into one of the wildest rages of his entire life. He took it as a personal affront and in his fury made sudden decisions which would prove utterly disastrous to the fortunes of the Third Reich.

He hurriedly summoned his military chieftains to the Chancellery in Berlin on March 27-the meeting was so hastily called that Brauchitsch, Halder and Ribbentrop arrived late -- and raged about the revenge he would take on the Yugoslavs. The Belgrade coup, he said, had endangered both Marita and, even more, Barbarossa. He was therefore determined, "without waiting for possible declarations of loyalty of the new government, to destroy Yugoslavia militarily and as a nation. No diplomatic inquiries will be made," he ordered, "and no ultimatums presented." Yugoslavia, he added, would be crushed with "unmerciful harshness." He ordered Goering then and there to "destroy Belgrade in attacks by waves," with bombers operating from Hungarian air bases. He issued Directive No. 25G1for the immediate invasion of Yugoslavia and told Keitel and Jodl to work out that very evening the military plans. He instructed Ribbentrop to advise Hungary, Rumania and Italy that they would all get a slice of Yugoslavia, which would be divided up among them, except for a small Croatian puppet state. [xix]

And then, according to an underlined passage in the top-secret OKW notes of the meeting, [62] Hitler announced the most fateful decision of all.

"The beginning of the Barbarossa operation," he told his generals, "will have to be postponed up to four weeks." [63]

This postponement of the attack on Russia in order that the Nazi warlord might vent his personal spite against a small Balkan country which had dared to defy him was probably the most catastrophic single decision in Hitler's career. It is hardly too much to say that by making it that March afternoon in the Chancellery in Berlin during a moment of convulsive rage he tossed away his last golden opportunity to win the war and to make of the Third Reich, which he had created with such stunning if barbarous genius, the greatest empire in German history and himself the master of Europe. Field Marshal von Brauchitsch, the Commander in Chief of the German Army, and General Halder, the gifted Chief of the General Staff, were to recall it with deep bitterness but also with more understanding of its consequences than they showed at the moment of its making, when later the deep snow and subzero temperatures of Russia hit them three or four weeks short of what they thought they needed for final victory. For ever afterward they and their fellow generals would blame that hasty, ill-advised decision of a vain and infuriated man for all the disasters that ensued.

Military Directive No. 25, which the Supreme Commander issued to his generals before the meeting broke up, was a typical Hitlerian document.

The military putsch in Yugoslavia has altered the political situation in the Balkans. Yugoslavia, in spite of her protestations of loyalty, must be considered for the time being as an enemy and therefore crushed as speedily as possible.

It is my intention to force my way into Yugoslavia ... and to annihilate the Yugoslav Army ...

Jodl, as Chief of the Operations Staff of OKW, was told to prepare the plans that very night. "I worked the whole night at the Reich Chancellery," Jodl later told the Nuremberg tribunal. "At four o'clock in the morning of March 28, I put an aide-memoire into the hand of General von Rintelen, our liaison officer with the Italian High Command." [63]

For Mussolini, whose sagging armies in Albania were in danger of being taken in the rear by the Yugoslavs, had to be told immediately of the German operational plans and asked to co-operate with them. To make sure that the Duce understood what was expected of him and without waiting for General Jodi to concoct the military plans, Hitler dashed off a letter at midnight of the twenty-seventh and ordered it wired to Rome immediately so that it would reach Mussolini that same night. [64]

DUCE, events force me to give you by this quickest means my estimation of the situation and the consequences which may result from it.

From the beginning I have regarded Yugoslavia as a dangerous factor in the controversy with Greece ... For this reason I have done everything honestly to bring Yugoslavia into our community ... Unfortunately these endeavors did not meet with success ... Today's reports leave no doubt as to the imminent turn in the foreign policy of Yugoslavia.

Therefore I have already arranged for all necessary measures .. with military means. Now, I would cordially request you, Duce, not to undertake any further operations in Albania in the course of the next few days. I consider it necessary that you should cover and screen the most important passes from Yugoslavia into Albania with all available forces.

... I also consider it necessary, Duce, that you should reinforce your forces on the Italian-Yugoslav front with all available means and with utmost speed.

I also consider it necessary, Duce, that everything which we do and order be shrouded in absolute secrecy ... These measures will completely lose their value should they become known ... Duce, should secrecy be observed, then I have no doubt that we will both achieve a success no less than the success in Norway a year ago. This is my unshaken conviction.

Accept my heartfelt and friendly greetings,



For this short-range objective, the Nazi warlord was again right in his prediction, but he seems to have had no inkling how costly his successful revenge on Yugoslavia would be in the long run. At dawn on April 6, his armies in overwhelming strength fell on Yugoslavia and Greece, smashing across the frontiers of Bulgaria, Hungary and Germany itself with all their armor and advancing rapidly against poorly armed defenders dazed by the usual preliminary bombing from the Luftwaffe.

Belgrade itself, as Hitler ordered, was razed to the ground. For three successive days and nights Goering's bombers ranged over the little capital at rooftop level -- for the city had no antiaircraft guns -- killing 17,000 civilians, wounding many more and reducing the place to a mass of smoldering rubble. "Operation Punishment," Hitler called it, and he obviously was satisfied that his commands had been so effectively carried out. The Yugoslavs, who had not had time to mobilize their tough little army and whose General Staff made the mistake of trying to defend the whole country, were overwhelmed. On April 13 German and Hungarian troops entered what was left of Belgrade and on the seventeenth the remnants of the Yugoslav Army, still twenty-eight divisions strong, surrendered at Sarajevo, the King and the Prime Minister escaping by plane to Greece.

The Greeks, who had humiliated the Italians in six months of fighting, could not stand up to Field Marshal List's Twelfth Army of fifteen divisions, four of which were armored. The British had hurriedly sent to Greece some four divisions from Libya -- 53,000 men in all -- but they, like the Greeks, were overwhelmed by the German panzers and by the murderous strikes of the Luftwaffe. The northern Greek armies surrendered to the Germans and -- bitter pill -- to the Italians on April 23. Four days later Nazi tanks rattled into Athens and hoisted the swastika over the Acropolis. By this time the British were desperately trying once again to evacuate their troops by sea -- a minor Dunkirk and almost as successful.

By the end of April -- in three weeks -- it was all over except for Crete, which was taken by the Germans from the British in an airborne assault toward the end of May. Where Mussolini had failed so miserably all winter, Hitler had succeeded in a few days in the spring. Though the Duce was relieved to be pulled off the hook, he was humiliated that it had to be done by the Germans. Nor were his feelings assuaged by Italy's disappointing share in the Yugoslav spoils, which Hitler now began to divide up. [xx]

The Balkans was not the only place where the Fuehrer pulled his muddling junior partner off the hook. After the annihilation of the Italian armies in Libya Hitler, although reluctantly, had finally consented to sending a light armored division and some Luftwaffe units to North Africa, where he arranged for General Erwin Rommel to be in over-all command of the Italo-German forces. Rommel, a dashing, resourceful tank officer, who had distinguished himself as commander of a panzer division in the Battle of France, was a type of general whom the British had not previously met in the North African desert and he was to prove an immense problem to them for two years. But he was not the only problem. The sizable army and air force which the British had sent to Greece from Libya had greatly weakened them in the desert. At first they were not unduly worried, not even after their intelligence reported the arrival of German armored units in Tripolitania at the end of February. But they should have been.

Rommel, with his German panzer division and two Italian divisions, one of which was armored, struck suddenly at Cyrenaica on the last day of March. In twelve days he recaptured the province, invested Tobruk and reached Bardia, a few miles from the Egyptian border. The entire British position in Egypt and the Suez was again threatened; in fact, with the Germans and Italians in Greece the British hold on the eastern Mediterranean had become gravely endangered.

Another spring, the second of the war, had brought more dazzling German victories, and the predicament of Britain, which now held out alone, battered at home by nightly Luftwaffe bombings, its armies overseas chased out of Greece and Cyrenaica, seemed darker and more hopeless than ever before. Its prestige, so important in a life-and-death struggle where propaganda was so potent a weapon, especially in influencing the United States and Russia, had sunk to a new low point. [xxi]

Hitler was not slow or backward in taking advantage of this in a victory speech to the Reichstag in Berlin on May 4. It consisted mostly of a venomous and sarcastic personal attack on Churchill as the instigator (along with the Jews) of the war and as the man who was masterminding the losing of it.

He is the most bloodthirsty or amateurish strategist in history ... For over five years this man has been chasing around Europe like a madman in search of something that he could set on fire ... As a soldier he is a bad politician and as a politician an equally bad soldier ... The gift Mr. Churchill possesses is the gift to lie with a pious expression on his face and to distort the truth until finally glorious victories are made of the most terrible defeats ... Churchill, one of the most hopeless dabblers in strategy, thus managed [in Yugoslavia and Greece] to lose two theaters of war at one single blow. In any other country he would be court-martialed ... His abnormal state of mind can only be explained as symptomatic either of a paralytic disease or of a drunkard's ravings ...

As to the Yugoslavian coup which had provoked him to such fury, Hitler made no attempt to hide his true feelings.

We were all stunned by that coup, carried through by a handful of bribed conspirators ... You will understand, gentlemen, that when I heard this I at once gave orders to attack Yugoslavia. To treat the German Reich in this way is impossible ...

Arrogant though he was over his spring victories and especially those over the British, Hitler did not fully realize what a blow they had been to Britain nor how desperate was the predicament of the Empire. On the very day he was addressing he Reichstag, Churchill was writing President Roosevelt about the grave consequences of the loss of Egypt and the Middle East and pleading for America to enter the war. The Prime Minister was in one of the darkest moods he was to know throughout the war.

I adjure you, Mr. President [he wrote], not to underestimate the gravity of the consequences which may follow from a Middle-East collapse. [66]

The German Navy urged the Fuehrer to make the most of this situation. To further improve matters for the Axis, the newly appointed premier of Iraq, Rashid Ali, who was pro-German, had led an attack against the British airbase of Habbaniya, outside Bagdad, and appealed to Hitler for aid in driving the British out of the country. This was at the beginning of May. With Crete conquered by May 27, Admiral Raeder, who had always been lukewarm to Barbarossa, appealed to Hitler on May 30 to prepare a decisive offensive against Egypt and Suez, and Rommel, eager to continue his advance as soon as he had received reinforcements, sent similar pleas from North Africa. "This stroke," Raeder told the Fuehrer, "would be more deadly to the British Empire than the capture of London!" A week later the Admiral handed Hitler a memorandum prepared by the Operations Division of the Naval War Staff which warned that, while Barbarossa "naturally stands in the foreground of the OKW leadership, it must under no circumstances lead to the abandonment of, or to delay in, the conduct of the war in the Mediterranean." [67]

But the Fuehrer already had made up his mind; in fact, he had not changed it since the Christmas holidays when he had promulgated Barbarossa and told Admiral Raeder that Russia must be "eliminated first." His landlocked mind simply did not comprehend the larger strategy advocated by the Navy. Even before Raeder and the Naval Staff pleaded with him at the end of May he laid down the law in Directive No. 30 issued on May 25. [68] He ordered a military mission, a few planes and some arms to be dispatched to Bagdad to help Iraq. "I have decided," he said, "to encourage developments in the Middle East by supporting Iraq." But he saw no further than this small, inadequate step. As for the larger, bold strategy championed by the admirals and Rommel, he declared:

Whether -- and if so, by what means -- it would be possible afterward to launch an offensive against the Suez Canal and eventually oust the British finally from their position between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf cannot be decided until Operation Barbarossa is completed.

The destruction of the Soviet Union came first; all else must wait. This, we can now see, was a staggering blunder. At this moment, the end of May 1941, Hitler, with the use of only a fraction of his forces, could have dealt the British Empire a crushing blow, perhaps a fatal one. No one realized this better than the hard-pressed Churchill. In his message to President Roosevelt on May 4, he had admitted that, were Egypt and the Middle East to be lost, the continuation of the war "would be a hard, long and bleak proposition," even if the United States entered the conflict. But Hitler did not understand this. His blindness is all the more incomprehensible because his Balkan campaign had delayed the commencement of Barbarossa by several weeks and thereby jeopardized it. The conquest of Russia would have to be accomplished in a shorter space of time than originally planned. For there was an inexorable deadline: the Russian winter, which had defeated Charles XII and Napoleon. That gave the Germans only six months to overrun, before the onset of winter, an immense country that had never been conquered from the west. And though June had arrived, the vast army which had been turned southeast into Yugoslavia and Greece had to be brought back great distances to the Soviet frontier over unpaved roads and run-down single-track railway lines that were woefully inadequate to handle so swarming a traffic.

The delay, as things turned out, was fatal. Defenders of Hitler's military genius have contended that the Balkan campaign did not set back the timetable for Barbarossa appreciably and that in any case the postponement was largely due to the late thaw that year which left the roads in Eastern Europe deep in mud until mid-June. But the testimony of the key German generals is otherwise. Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus, whose name will always be associated with Stalingrad, and who at this time was the chief planner of the Russian campaign on the Army General Staff, testified on the stand at Nuremberg that Hitler's decision to destroy Yugoslavia postponed the beginning of Barbarossa by "about five weeks." [69] The Naval War Diary gives the same length of time. [70] Field Marshal von Rundstedt, who led Army Group South in Russia, told Allied interrogators after the war that because of the Balkan campaign "we began at least four weeks late. That," he added, "was a very costly delay." [71]

At any rate, on April 30, when his armies had completed their conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece, Hitler set the new date for Barbarossa. It was to begin on June 22, 1941. [72]


No holds were to be barred in the taking of Russia. Hitler insisted that the generals understand this very clearly. Early in March 1941, he convoked the chiefs of the three armed services and the key Army field commanders and laid down the law. Halder took down his words. [73]

The war against Russia [Hitler said] will be such that it cannot be conducted in a knightly fashion. This struggle is one of ideologies and racial differences and will have to be conducted with unprecedented, unmerciful and unrelenting harshness. All officers will have to rid themselves of obsolete ideologies. I know that the necessity for such means of waging war is beyond the comprehension of you generals but ... I insist absolutely that my orders be executed without contradiction. The commissars are the bearers of ideologies directly opposed to National Socialism. Therefore the commissars will be liquidated. German soldiers guilty of breaking international law ... will be excused. Russia has not participated in the Hague Convention and therefore has no rights under it.

Thus was the so-called "Commissar Order" issued; it was to be much discussed at the Nuremberg trial when the great moral question was posed to the German generals whether they should have obeyed the orders of the Fuehrer to commit war crimes or obeyed their own consciences. [xxii]

According to Halder, as he later remembered it, the generals were outraged at this order and, as soon as the meeting was over, protested to their Commander in Chief, Brauchitsch. This spineless Field Marshal [xxiii] promised that he would "fight against this order in the form it was given." Later, Halder swears, Brauchitsch informed OKW in writing that the officers of the Army "could never execute such orders." But did he?

In his testimony on direct examination at Nuremberg Brauchitsch admitted that he took no such action with Hitler "because nothing in the world could change his attitude." What the head of the Army did, he told the tribunal, was to issue a written order that "discipline in the Army was to be strictly observed along the lines and regulations that applied in the past."

"You did not give any order directly referring to the Commissar Order?" Lord Justice Lawrence, the peppery president of the tribunal, asked Brauchitsch.

"No," he replied. "I could not rescind the order directly." [75]

The old-line Army officers, with their Prussian traditions, were given further occasion to struggle with their consciences by subsequent directives issued in the name of the Fuehrer by General Keitel on May 13. The principal one limited the functions of German courts-martial. They were to give way to a more primitive form of law.

Punishable offenses committed by enemy civilians [in Russia] do not, until further notice, come any longer under the jurisdiction of the courts-martial ...

Persons suspected of criminal action will be brought at once before an officer. This officer will decide whether they are to be shot.

With regard to offenses committed against enemy civilians by members of the Wehrmacht, prosecution is not obligatory even where the deed is at the same time a military crime or offense. [xxiv]

The Army was told to go easy on such offenders, remembering in each case all the harm done to Germany since 1918 by the "Bolsheviki." Courts-martial of German soldiers would be justified only if "maintenance of discipline or security of the Forces call for such a measure." At any rate, the directive concluded, "only those court sentences are confirmed which are in accordance with the political intentions of the High Command."  [76] The directive was to "be treated as 'most secret.'" [xxv]

A second directive of the same date signed by Keitel on behalf of Hitler entrusted Himmler with "special tasks" for the preparation of the political administration in Russia -- "tasks," it said, "which result from the struggle which has to be carried out between two opposing political systems." The Nazi secret-police sadist was delegated to act "independently" of the Army, "under his own responsibility." The generals well knew what the designation of Himmler for "special tasks" meant, though they denied that they did when they took the stand at Nuremberg. Furthermore, the directive said, the occupied areas in Russia were to be sealed off while Himmler went to work. Not even the "highest personalities of the Government and Party," Hitler stipulated, were to be allowed to have a look. The same directive named Goering for the "exploitation of the country and the securing of its economic assets for use by German industry." Incidentally, Hitler also declared in this order that as soon as military operations were concluded Russia would be "divided up into individual states with governments of their own." [78]

Just how this would be done was to be worked out by Alfred Rosenberg, the befuddled Bait and officially the leading Nazi thinker, who had been, as we have seen, one of Hitler's early mentors in the Munich days. On April 20 the Fuehrer appointed him "Commissioner for the Central Control of Questions Connected with the East-European Region" and immediately this Nazi dolt, with a positive genius for misunderstanding history, even the history of Russia, where he was born and educated, went to work to build his castles in his once native land. Rosenberg's voluminous files were captured intact; like his books, they make dreary reading and will not be allowed to impede this narrative, though occasionally they must be referred to because they disclose some of Hitler's plans for Russia.

By early May, Rosenberg had drawn up his first wordy blueprint for what promised to be the greatest German conquest in history. To begin with, European Russia was to be divided up into so-called Reich Commissariats. Russian Poland would become a German protectorate called Ostland, the Ukraine "an independent state in alliance with Germany," Caucasia, with its rich oil fields, would be ruled by a German "plenipotentiary," and the three Baltic States and White Russia would form a German protectorate preparatory to being annexed outright to the Greater German Reich. This last feat, Rosenberg explained in one of the endless memoranda which he showered on Hitler and the generals in order, as he said, to elucidate "the historical and racial conditions" for his decisions, would be accomplished by Germanizing the racially assimilable Baits and "banishing the undesirable elements." In Latvia and Estonia, he cautioned, "banishment on a large scale will have to be envisaged." Those driven out would be replaced by Germans, preferably war veterans. "The Baltic Sea," he ordained, "must become a Germanic inland sea." [79]

Two days before the troops jumped off, Rosenberg addressed his closest collaborators who were to take over the rule of Russia.

The job of feeding the German people [he said] stands at the top of the list of Germany's claims on the East. The southern [Russian] territories will have to serve ... for the feeding of the German people.

We see absolutely no reason for any obligation on our part to feed also the Russian people with the products of that surplus territory. We know that this is a harsh necessity, bare of any feelings ... The future will hold very hard years in store for the Russians. [80]

Very hard years indeed, since the Germans were deliberately planning to starve to death millions of them!

Goering, who had been placed in charge of the economic exploitation of the Soviet Union, made this even clearer than Rosenberg did. In a long directive of May 23, 1941, his Economic Staff, East, laid it down that the surplus food from Russia's black-earth belt in the south must not be diverted to the people in the industrial areas, where, in any case, the industries would be destroyed. The workers and their families in these regions would simply be left to starve -- or, if they could, to emigrate to Siberia. Russia's great food production must go to the Germans.

The German Administration in these territories [the directive declared] may well attempt to mitigate the consequences of the famine which undoubtedly will take place and to accelerate the return to primitive agricultural conditions. However, these measures will not avert famine. Any attempt to save the population there from death by starvation by importing surpluses from the black-soil zone would be at the expense of supplies to Europe. It would reduce Germany's staying power in the war, and would undermine Germany's and Europe's power to resist the blockade. This must be clearly and absolutely understood. [81]

How many Russian civilians would die as the result of this deliberate German policy? A meeting of state secretaries on May 2 had already given a general answer. "There is no doubt," a secret memorandum of the conference declared, "that as a result, many millions of persons will be starved to death if we take out of the country the things necessary for us." [82] And Goering had said, and Rosenberg, that they would be taken out -- that much had to be "clearly and absolutely understood."

Did any German, even one single German, protest against this planned ruthlessness, this well-thought-out scheme to put millions of human beings to death by starvation? In all the memoranda concerning the German directives for the spoliation of Russia, there is no mention of anyone's objecting -- as at least some of the generals did in regard to the Commissar Order. These plans were not merely wild and evil fantasies of distorted minds and souls of men such as Hitler, Goering, Himmler and Rosenberg. For weeks and months, it is evident from the records, hundreds of German officials toiled away at their desks in the cheerful light of the warm spring days, adding up figures and composing memoranda which coldly calculated the massacre of millions. By starvation, in this case. Heinrich Himmler, the mild-faced ex-chicken farmer, also sat at his desk at S.S. headquarters in Berlin those days, gazing through his pince-nez at plans for the massacre of other millions in a quicker and more violent way.

Well pleased with the labors of his busy minions, both military and civilian, in planning the onslaught on the Soviet Union, her destruction, her exploitation and the mass murder of her citizenry, Hitler on April 30 set the date for the attack -- June 22 -- made his victory speech in the Reichstag on May 4 and then retired to his favorite haunt, the Berghof above Berchtesgaden, where he could gaze at the splendor of the Alpine mountains, their peaks still covered with spring snow, and contemplate his next conquest, the greatest of all, at which, as he had told his generals, the world would hold its breath.

It was here on the night of Saturday, May 10, 1941, that he received strange and unexpected news which shook him to the bone and forced him, as it did almost everyone else in the Western world, to take his mind for the moment off the war. His closest personal confidant, the deputy leader of the Nazi Party, the second in line to succeed him after Goering, the man who had been his devoted and fanatically loyal follower since 1921 and, since Roehm's murder, the nearest there was to a friend, had literally flown the coop and on his own gone to parley with the enemy!


The first report late that evening of May 10 that Rudolf Hess had taken off alone for Scotland in a Messerschmitt-110 fighter plane hit Hitler, as Dr. Schmidt recalled, "as though a bomb had struck the Berghof." [83] General Keitel found the Fuehrer pacing up and down his spacious study pointing a finger at his forehead and mumbling that Hess must have been crazy. [84] "I've got to talk to Goering right away," Hitler shouted. The next morning there was an agitated powwow with Goering and all the party gauleiter as they sought to "figure out" -- the words are Keitel's -- how to present this embarrassing event to the German public and to the world. Their task was not made easier, Keitel later testified, by the British at first keeping silent about their visitor, and for a time Hitler and his conferees hoped that perhaps Hess had run out of gasoline and fallen into the chilly North Sea and drowned.

The Fuehrer's first information had come in a somewhat incoherent letter from Hess which was delivered by courier a few hours after he took off at 5:45 P.M. on May 10 from Augsburg. "I can't recognize Hess in it. It's a different person. Something must have happened to him -- some mental disturbance," Hitler told Keitel. But the Fuehrer was also suspicious. Messerschmitt, from whose company airfield Hess had taken off, was ordered arrested, as were dozens of men on the deputy leader's staff.

If Hitler was mystified by Hess's abrupt departure, so was Churchill by his unexpected arrival. [xxvi] Stalin was highly suspicious. For the duration of the war, the bizarre incident remained a mystery, and it was cleared up only at the Nuremberg trial, in which Hess was one of the defendants. The facts may be briefly set down.

Hess, always a muddled man though not so doltish as Rosenberg, flew on his own to Britain under the delusion that he could arrange a peace settlement. Though deluded, he was sincere -- there seems to be no reason to doubt that. He had met the Duke of Hamilton at the Olympic games in Berlin in 1936, and it was within twelve miles of the Duke's home in Scotland -- so efficient was his navigation -- that he baled out of his Messerschmitt, parachuted safely to the ground and asked a farmer to take him to the Scottish lord. As it happened, Hamilton, a wing commander in the R.A.F., was on duty that Saturday evening at a sector operations room and had spotted the Messerschmitt plane off the coast as it came in to make a landfall shortly after 10 P.M. An hour later it was reported to him that the plane had crashed in flames, that the pilot, who had baled out and who gave his name as Alfred Horn, had claimed to be on a "special mission" to see the Duke of Hamilton. This meeting was arranged by British authorities for the next morning.

To the Duke, Hess explained that he was on "a mission of humanity and that the Fuehrer did not want to defeat England and wished to stop the fighting." The fact, Hess said, that this was his fourth attempt to fly to Britain -- on the three other tries, he had had to turn back because of weather -- and that he was, after all, a Reich cabinet minister, showed "his sincerity and Germany's willingness for peace." In this interview, as in later ones with others, Hess was not backward in asserting that Germany would win the war and that if it continued the plight of the British would be terrible. Therefore, his hosts had better take advantage of his presence and negotiate peace. So confident was this Nazi fanatic that the British would sit down and parley with him, that he asked the Duke to request "the King to give him 'parole,' as he had come unarmed and of his own free will." [85] Later he demanded that he be treated with the respect due to a cabinet member.

The subsequent talks, with one exception, were conducted on the British side by Ivone Kirkpatrick, the knowing former First Secretary of the British Embassy in Berlin, whose confidential reports were later made available at Nuremberg. [86] To this sophisticated student of Nazi Germany Hess, after parroting Hitler's explanations of all the Nazi aggressions, from Austria to Scandinavia and the Lowlands, and having insisted that Britain was responsible for the war and would certainly lose it if she didn't bring a stop to it now, divulged his proposals for peace. They were none other than those which Hitler had urged on Chamberlain -- unsuccessfully -- on the eve of his attack on Poland: namely, that Britain should give Germany a free hand in Europe in return for Germany's giving Britain "a completely free hand in the Empire." The former German colonies would have to be returned and of course Britain would have to make peace with Italy.

Finally, as we were leaving the room [Kirkpatrick reported], Hess delivered a parting shot. He had forgotten, he declared, to emphasize that the proposal could only be considered on the understanding that it was negotiated by Germany with an English government other than the present one. Mr. Churchill, who had planned the war since 1936, and his colleagues who had lent themselves to his war policy, were not persons with whom the Fuehrer could negotiate.

For a German who had got so far in the jungle warfare within the Nazi Party and then within the Third Reich, Rudolf Hess, as all who knew him could testify, was singularly naive. He had expected, it is evident from the record of these interviews, to be received immediately as a serious negotiator -- if not by Churchill, then by the "opposition party," of which he thought the Duke of Hamilton was one of the leaders. When his contacts with British officialdom continued to be restricted to Kirkpatrick, he grew bellicose and threatening. At an interview on May 14, he pictured to the skeptical diplomat the dire consequences to Britain if she continued the war. There would soon be, he said, a terrible and absolutely complete blockade of the British Isles.

It was fruitless [Kirkpatrick was told by Hess] for anyone here to imagine that England could capitulate and that the war could be waged from the Empire. It was Hitler's intention, in such an eventuality, to continue the blockade of England ... so that we would have to face the deliberate starvation of the population of these islands.
Hess urged that the conversations, which he had risked so much to bring about, get under way at once. "His own flight," as explained to Kirkpatrick, "was intended to give us a chance of opening conversations without loss of prestige. If we rejected this chance it would be clear proof that we desire no understanding with Germany, and Hitler would be entitled -- in fact, it would be his duty -- to destroy us utterly and to keep us after the war in a state of permanent subjection." Hess insisted that the number of negotiators be kept small.

As a Reich Minister he could not place himself in the position of being a lone individual subjected to a crossfire of comment and questions from a large number of persons.

On this ridiculous note, the conversations ended, so far as Kirkpatrick was concerned. But -- surprisingly -- the British cabinet, according to Churchill, [87] "invited" Lord Simon to interview Hess on June 10. According to the Nazi deputy leader's lawyer at Nuremberg, Simon promised that he would bring Hess's peace proposals to the attention of the British government. [xxvii] [88]

Hess's motives are clear. He sincerely wanted peace with Britain. He had not the shadow of doubt that Germany would win the war and destroy the United Kingdom unless peace were concluded at once. There were, to be sure, other motives. The war had brought his personal eclipse. Running the Nazi Party as Hitler's deputy during the war was dull business and no longer very important. What mattered in Germany now was running the war and foreign affairs. These were the things which engaged the attention of the Fuehrer to the exclusion of almost all else, and which put the limelight on Goering, Ribbentrop, Himmler, Goebbels and the generals. Hess felt frustrated and jealous. How better restore his old position with his beloved Leader and in the country than by pulling off a brilliant and daring stroke of statesmanship such as singlehandedly arranging peace between Germany and Britain?

Finally, the beetle-browed deputy leader, like some of the other Nazi bigwigs -- Hitler himself and Himmler -- had come to have an abiding belief in astrology. At Nuremberg he confided to the American prison psychiatrist, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, that late in 1940 one of his astrologers had read in the stars that he was ordained to bring about peace. He also related how his old mentor, Professor Haushofer, the Munich Geopolitiker, had seen him in a dream striding through the tapestried halls of English castles, bringing peace between the two great "Nordic" nations. [90] For a man who had never escaped from mental adolescence, this was heady stuff and no doubt helped impel Hess to undertake his weird mission to England.

At Nuremberg one of the British prosecutors suggested still another reason: that Hess flew to England to try to arrange a peace settlement so that Germany would have only a one-front war to fight when she attacked the Soviet Union. The Russian prosecutor told the tribunal that he was sure of it. And so was Joseph Stalin, whose mighty suspicions at this critical time seem to have been concentrated not on Germany, as they should have been, but on Great Britain. The arrival of Hess in Scotland convinced him that there was some deep plot being hatched between Churchill and Hitler which would give Germany the same freedom to strike the Soviet Union which the Russian dictator had given her to assault Poland and the West. When three years later the British Prime Minister, then on his second visit to Moscow, tried to convince Stalin of the truth, he simply did not believe it. It is fairly clear from the interrogations conducted by Kirkpatrick, who tried to draw the Nazi leader out on Hitler's intentions regarding Russia, that either Hess did not know of Barbarossa or, if he did, did not know that it was imminent.

The days following Hess's sudden departure were among the most embarrassing of Hitler's life. He realized that the prestige of his regime had been severely damaged by the flight of his closest collaborator. How was it to be explained to the German people and the outside world? The questioning of the arrested members of Hess's entourage convinced the Fuehrer that there had been no disloyalty toward him and certainly no plot, and that his trusted lieutenant had simply cracked up. It was decided at the Berghof, after the British had confirmed Hess's arrival, to offer this explanation to the public. Soon the German press was dutifully publishing brief accounts that this once great star of National Socialism had become "a deluded, deranged and muddled idealist, ridden with hallucinations traceable to World War [I] injuries."

It seemed [said the official press communique] that Party Comrade Hess lived in a state of hallucination, as a result of which he felt he could bring about an understanding between England and Germany ... This, however, will have no effect on the continuance of the war, which has been forced on the German people.

Privately, Hitler gave orders to have Hess shot at once if he returned, [xxviii] and publicly he stripped his old comrade of all his offices, replacing him as deputy leader of the party by Martin Bormann, a more sinister and conniving character. The Fuehrer hoped that the bizarre episode would be forgotten as soon as possible; his own thoughts quickly turned again to the attack on Russia, which was not far off.


Despite all the evidence of Hitler's intentions -- the build-up of German forces in eastern Poland, the presence of a million Nazi troops in the nearby Balkans, the Wehrmacht's conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece and its occupation of Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary -- the men in the Kremlin, Stalin above all, stark realists though they were reputed to be and had been, blindly hoped that Russia somehow would still escape the Nazi tyrant's wrath. Their natural suspicions, of course, could not help but feed on the bare facts, nor could their growing resentment at Hitler's moves in southeastern Europe be suppressed. There is, however, something unreal, almost unbelievable, quite grotesque, in the diplomatic exchanges between Moscow and Berlin in these spring weeks (exhaustively recorded in the captured Nazi documents), in which the Germans tried clumsily to deceive the Kremlin to the last and the Soviet leaders seemed unable to fully grasp reality and act on it in time.

Though they several times protested the entry of German troops into Rumania and Bulgaria and then the attack on Yugoslavia and Greece as a violation of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and a threat to Russian "security interests," the Soviets went out of their way to appease Berlin as the date for the German attack approached. Stalin personally took the lead in this. On April 13, 1941, Ambassador von der Schulenburg telegraphed an interesting dispatch to Berlin recounting how on the departure of the Japanese Foreign Minister, Yosuke Matsuoka, that evening from Moscow, Stalin had shown "a remarkably friendly manner" not only to the Japanese but to the Germans. At the railroad station

Stalin publicly asked for me [Schulenburg wired] ... and threw his arm around my shoulders: "We must remain friends and you must now do everything to that end!" Somewhat later Stalin turned to the acting German Military Attache, Colonel Krebs, first made sure that he was a German, and then said to him: "We will remain friends with you -- through thick and thin!" [91]

Three days later the German charge in Moscow, Tippelskirch, wired Berlin stressing that the demonstration at the station showed Stalin's friendliness toward Germany and that this was especially important "in view of the persistently circulating rumors of an imminent conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union." [92] The day before, Tippelskirch had informed Berlin that the Kremlin had accepted "unconditionally," after months of wrangling, the German proposals for the settlement of the border between the two countries from the Igorka River to the Baltic Sea. "The compliant attitude of the Soviet Government," he said, "seems very remarkable." [93] In view of what was brewing in Berlin, it surely was.

In supplying blockaded Germany with important raw materials, the Soviet government continued to be equally compliant. On April 5, 1941, Schnurre, in charge of trade negotiations with Moscow, reported jubilantly to his Nazi masters that after the slowdown in Russian deliveries in January and February 1941, due to the "cooling off of political relations," they had risen "by leaps and bounds in March, especially in grains, petroleum, manganese ore and the nonferrous and precious metals."

Transit traffic through Siberia [he added] is proceeding favorably as usual. At our request the Soviet Government even put a special freight train for rubber at our disposal at the Manchurian border. [94]
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Mon Feb 12, 2018 1:22 am

Part 4 of 4

Six weeks later, on May 15, Schnurre was reporting that the obliging Russians had put on several special freight trains so that 4,000 tons of badly needed raw rubber could be delivered to Germany over the Siberian railway.

The quantities of raw materials contracted for are being delivered punctually by the Russians, despite the heavy burden this imposes on them ... I am under the impression that we could make economic demands on Moscow which would even go beyond the scope of the treaty of January 10, demands designed to secure German food and raw-material requirements beyond the extent now contracted for. [95]

German deliveries of machinery to Russia were falling behind, Schnurre observed, but he did not seem to mind, if the Russians didn't. However, he was disturbed on May 15 by another factor. "Great difficulties are created," he complained, "by the countless rumors of an imminent German-Russian conflict," for which he blamed German official sources. Amazingly, the "difficulties," Schnurre explained in a lengthy memorandum to the Foreign Office, did not come from Russia but from German industrial firms, which, he said, were trying "to withdraw" from their contracts with the Russians.

Hitler, it must be noted here, was doing his best to contradict the rumors, but at the same time he was busy trying to convince his generals and top officials that Germany was in growing danger of being attacked by Russia. Though the generals, from their own military intelligence, knew better, so hypnotic was Hitler's spell over them that even after the war Halder, Brauchitsch, Manstein and others (though not Paulus, who seems to have been more honest) contended that a Soviet military build-up on the Polish frontier had become very threatening by the beginning of the summer.

Count von der Schulenburg, who had come home from Moscow on a brief leave, saw Hitler in Berlin on April 28 and tried to convince him of Russia's peaceful intentions. "Russia," he attempted to explain, "is very apprehensive at the rumors predicting a German attack on Russia. I cannot believe," he added, "that Russia will ever attack Germany ... If Stalin was unable to go with England and France in 1939 when both were still strong, he will certainly not make such a decision today, when France is destroyed and England badly battered. On the contrary, I am convinced that Stalin is prepared to make even further concessions to us."

The Fuehrer feigned skepticism. He had been "forewarned," he said, "by events in Serbia ... What devil had possessed the Russians," he asked, "to conclude the friendship pact with Yugoslavia?" [xxix] He did not believe, it was true, he said, that "Russia could be brought to attack Germany." Nevertheless, he concluded, he was obliged "to be careful." Hitler did not tell his ambassador to the Soviet Union what plans he had in store for that country, and Schulenburg, an honest, decent German of the old school, remained ignorant of them to the last.

Stalin, too, but not of the signs, or of the warnings, of what Hitler was up to. On April 22 the Soviet government formally protested eighty instances of border violations by Nazi planes which it said had taken place between March 27 and April 18, providing detailed accounts of each. In one case, it said, in a German reconnaissance plane which landed near Rovno on April 15 there was found a camera, rolls of exposed film and a torn topographical map of the western districts of the U.S.S.R., "all of which give evidence of the purpose of the crew of this airplane." Even in protesting the Russians were conciliatory. They had given the border troops, the note said, "the order not to fire on German planes flying over Soviet territory so long as such flights do not occur frequently." [97]

Stalin made further conciliatory moves early in May. To please Hitler he expelled the diplomatic representatives in Moscow of Belgium, Norway, Greece and even Yugoslavia and closed their legations. He recognized the pro-Nazi government of Rashid Ali in Iraq. He kept the Soviet press under the strictest restraint in order to avoid provoking Germany.

These manifestations [Schulenburg wired Berlin on May 12] of the intention of the Stalin Government are calculated ... to relieve the tension between the Soviet Union and Germany and to create a better atmosphere for the future. We must bear in mind that Stalin personally has always advocated a friendly relationship between Germany and the Soviet Union. [98]

Though Stalin had long been the absolute dictator of the Soviet Union this was the first mention by Schulenburg in his dispatches of the term "Stalin Government." There was good reason. On May 6 Stalin had personally taken over as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, or Prime Minister, replacing Molotov, who remained as Foreign Commissar. This was the first time the all-powerful secretary of the Communist Party had taken government office and the general world reaction was that it meant the situation had become so serious for the Soviet Union, especially in its relations with Nazi Germany, that only Stalin could deal with it as the nominal as well as the actual head of government. This interpretation was obvious, but there was another which was not so clear but which the astute German ambassador in Moscow promptly pointed out to Berlin.

Stalin, he reported, was displeased with the deterioration of German -- Soviet relations and blamed Molotov's clumsy diplomacy for much of it.

In my opinion [Schulenburg said] it may be assumed with certainty that Stalin has set himself a foreign-policy goal of overwhelming importance ... which he hopes to attain by his personal efforts. I firmly believe that in an international situation which he considers serious, Stalin has set himself the goal of preserving the Soviet Union from a conflict with Germany. [99]

Did the crafty Soviet dictator not realize by now -- the middle of May 1941 -- that this was an impossible goal, that there was nothing, short of an abject surrender to Hitler, that he could do to attain it? He surely knew the significance of Hitler's conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece, of the presence of large masses of German troops in Rumania and Hungary on his southwest borders, of the Wehrmacht build-up on his western frontier in Poland. The persistent rumors in Moscow itself surely reached him. By the beginning of May what Schulenburg called in a dispatch on the second day of that month "rumors of an imminent German-Russian military showdown" were so rife in the Soviet capital that he and his officials in the German Embassy were having difficulty in combating them.

Please bear in mind [he advised Berlin] that attempts to counteract these rumors here in Moscow must necessarily remain ineffectual if such rumors incessantly reach here from Germany, and if every traveler who comes to Moscow, or travels through Moscow, not only brings these rumors along, but can even confirm them by citing facts. [100]

The veteran ambassador was getting suspicious himself. He was instructed by Berlin to continue to deny the rumors, and to spread it about that not only was there no concentration of German troops on Russia's frontiers but that actually considerable forces (eight divisions, he was told for his "personal information") were being transferred from "east to west." [101] Perhaps these instructions only confirmed the ambassador's uneasiness, since by this time the press throughout the world was beginning to trumpet the German military build-up along the Soviet borders.

But long before this, Stalin had received specific warnings of Hitler's plans, and apparently paid no attention to them. The most serious one came from the government of the United States.

Early in January 1941, the U.S. commercial attache in Berlin, Sam E. Woods, had sent a confidential report to the State Department stating that he had learned from trustworthy German sources that Hitler was making plans to attack Russia in the spring. It was a long and detailed message, outlining the General Staff plan of attack (which proved to be quite accurate) and the preparations being made for the economic exploitation of the Soviet Union, once it was conquered. [xxx]

Secretary of State Cordell Hull thought at first that Woods had been victim of a German "plant." He called in J. Edgar Hoover. The F.B.I. head read the report and judged it authentic. Woods had named some of his sources, both in various ministries in Berlin and in the German General Staff, and on being checked they were adjudged in Washington to be men who ought to know what was up and anti-Nazi enough to tattle. Despite the strained relations then existing between the American and Soviet governments Hull decided to inform the Russians, requesting Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles to communicate the substance of the report to Ambassador Constantine Oumansky. This was done on March 20.

Mr. Oumansky turned very white [Welles later wrote]. He was silent for a moment and then merely said: "I fully realize the gravity of the message you have given me. My government will be grateful for your confidence and I will inform it immediately of our conversation." [102]

If it was grateful, indeed if it ever believed this timely intelligence, it never communicated any inkling to the American government. In fact, as Secretary Hull has related in his memoirs, Moscow grew more hostile and truculent because America's support of Britain made it impossible to supply Russia with all the materials it demanded. Nevertheless, according to Hull, the State Department, having received dispatches from its legations in Bucharest and Stockholm the first week in June stating that Germany would invade Russia within a fortnight, forwarded copies of them to Ambassador Steinhardt in Moscow, who turned them over to Molotov.

Churchill too sought to warn Stalin. On April 3 he asked his ambassador in Moscow, Sir Stafford Cripps, to deliver a personal note to the dictator pointing out the significance to Russia of German troop movements in southern Poland which he had learned of through a British agent. Cripps' delay in delivering the message still vexed Churchill when he wrote about the incident years later in his memoirs. [103]

Before the end of April, Cripps knew the date set for the German attack, and the Germans knew he knew it. On April 24, the German naval attache in Moscow sent a curt message to the Navy High Command in Berlin:

The British Ambassador predicts June 22 as the day of the outbreak of the war. [104]

This message, which is among the captured Nazi papers, was recorded in the German Naval Diary on the same day, with an exclamation point added at the end. [105] The admirals were surprised at the accuracy of the British envoy's prediction. The poor naval attache, who, like the ambassador in Moscow, had not been let in on the secret, added in his dispatch that it was "manifestly absurd."

Molotov must have thought so too. A month later, on May 22, he received Schulenburg to discuss various matters. "He was as amiable, self-assured and well-informed as ever," the ambassador reported to Berlin, and again emphasized that Stalin and Molotov, "the two strongest men in the Soviet Union," were striving "above all" to avoid a conflict with Germany. [106]

On one point the usually perspicacious ambassador couldn't have been more wrong. Molotov, at this juncture, was certainly not "well-informed." But neither was the ambassador.

The extent to which the Russian Foreign Commissar was ill-informed was given public expression on June 14, 1941, just a week before the German blow fell. Molotov called in Schulenburg that evening and handed him the text of a Tass statement which, he said, was being broadcast that very night and published in the newspapers the next morning. [107] Blaming Cripps personally for the "widespread rumors of 'an impending war between the U.S.S.R. and Germany' in the English and foreign press," this official statement of the Soviet government branded them as an "obvious absurdity ... a clumsy propaganda maneuver of the forces arrayed against the Soviet Union and Germany." It added:

In the opinion of Soviet circles the rumors of the intention of Germany to launch an attack against the Soviet Union are completely without foundation.

Even the recent German troop movements from the Balkans to the Soviet frontiers were explained in the communique as "having no connection with Soviet-German relations." As for the rumors saying that Russia would attack Germany, they were "false and provocative."

The irony of the Tass communique on behalf of the Soviet government is enhanced by two German moves, one on the day of its publication, June 15, the other on the next day.

From Venice, where he was conferring with Ciano, Ribbentrop sent a secret message on June 15 to Budapest warning the Hungarian government "to take steps to secure its frontiers."

In view of the heavy concentration of Russian troops at the German eastern border, the Fuehrer will probably be compelled, by the beginning of July at the latest, to clarify German-Russian relations and in this connection to make certain demands. [108]

The Germans were tipping off the Hungarians, but not their principal ally. When Ciano the next day, during a gondola ride on the canals of Venice, asked Ribbentrop about the rumors of a German attack on Russia, the Nazi Foreign Minister replied:

"Dear Ciano, I cannot tell you anything as yet because every decision is locked in the impenetrable bosom of the Fuehrer. However, one thing is certain: if we attack them, the Russia of Stalin will be erased from the map within eight weeks." [xxxi]

While the Kremlin was smugly preparing to broadcast to the world on June 14, 1941, that the rumors of a German attack on Russia were an "obvious absurdity," Adolf Hitler that very day was having his final big war conference on Barbarossa with the leading officers of the Wehrmacht. The timetable for the massing of troops in the East and their deployment to the jumping-off positions had been put in operation on May 22. A revised version of the timetable was issued a few days later. [109] It is a long and detailed document and shows that by the beginning of June not only were all plans for the onslaught on Russia complete but the vast and complicated movement of troops, artillery, armor, planes, ships and supplies was well under way and on schedule. A brief item in the Naval War Diary for May 29 states: "The preparatory movements of warships for Barbarossa has begun." Talks with the general staffs of Rumania, Hungary and Finland -- the last country anxious now to win back what had been taken from her by the Russians in the winter war -- were completed. On June 9 from Berchtesgaden Hitler sent out an order convoking the commanders in chief of the three Armed Services and the top field generals for a final all-day meeting on Barbarossa in Berlin on June 14.

Despite the enormity of the task, not only Hitler but his generals were in a confident mood as they went over last-minute details of the most gigantic military operation in history -- an all-out attack on a front stretching some 1,500 miles from the Arctic Ocean at Petsamo to the Black Sea. The night before, Brauchitsch had returned to Berlin from an inspection of the build-up in the East. Halder noted in his diary that the Army Commander in Chief was highly pleased. Officers and men, he said, were in top shape and ready.

This last military powwow on June 14 lasted from 11 A.M. until 6: 30 P.M. It was broken by lunch at 2 P.M., at which Hitler gave his generals yet another of his fiery, eve-of-the-battle pep talks.110 According to Halder, it was "a comprehensive political speech," with Hitler stressing that he had to attack Russia because her fall would force England to "give up." But the bloodthirsty Fuehrer must have emphasized something else even more. Keitel told about it during direct examination on the stand at Nuremberg.

The main theme was that this was the decisive battle between two ideologies and that the practices which we knew as soldiers -- the only correct ones under international law -- had to be measured by completely different standards.

Hitler thereupon, said Keitel, gave various orders for carrying out an unprecedented terror in Russia by "brutal means."

"Did you, or did any other generals, raise objections to these orders?" asked Keitel's own attorney.

"No. I personally made no remonstrances," the General replied. Nor did any of the other generals, he added. [xxxii]

It is almost inconceivable but nevertheless true that the men in the Kremlin, for all the reputation they had of being suspicious, crafty and hardheaded, and despite all the evidence and all the warnings that stared them in the face, did not realize right up to the last moment that they were to be hit, and with a force which would almost destroy their nation.

At 9:30 on the pleasant summer evening of June 21, 1941, nine hours before the German attack was scheduled to begin, Molotov received the German ambassador at his office in the Kremlin and delivered his "final fatuity." [xxxiii] After mentioning further border violations by German aircraft, which he said he had instructed the Soviet ambassador in Berlin to bring to the attention of Ribbentrop, Molotov turned to another subject, which Schulenburg described in an urgent telegram to the Wilhelmstrasse that same night:

There were a number of indications [Molotov had told him] that the German Government was dissatisfied with the Soviet Government. Rumors were even current that a war was impending between Germany and the Soviet Union ... The Soviet Government was unable to understand the reasons for Germany's dissatisfaction ... He would appreciate it if I could tell him what had brought about the present situation in German-Soviet relations.

I replied [Schulenburg added] that I could not answer his questions, as I lacked the pertinent information. [111]

He was soon to get it.

For on its way to him over the air waves between Berlin and Moscow was a long coded radio message. from Ribbentrop, dated June 21, 1941, marked "Very Urgent, State Secret, For the Ambassador Personally," which began:

Upon receipt of this telegram, all of the cipher material still there is to be destroyed. The radio set is to be put out of commission.

Please inform Herr Molotov at once that you have an urgent communication to make to him ... Then please make the following declaration to him.

It was a familiar declaration, strewn with all the shopworn lies and fabrications at which Hitler and Ribbentrop had become so expert and which they had concocted so often before to justify each fresh act of unprovoked aggression. Perhaps -- at least such is the impression this writer gets in rereading it -- it somewhat topped all the previous ones for sheer effrontery and deceit. While Germany had loyally abided by the Nazi-Soviet Pact, it said, Russia had repeatedly broken it. The U.S.S.R. had practiced "sabotage, terrorism and espionage" against Germany. It had "combated the German attempt to set up a stable order in Europe." It had conspired with Britain "for an attack against the German troops in Rumania and Bulgaria." By concentrating "all available Russian forces on a long front from the Baltic to the Black Sea," it had "menaced" the Reich.

Reports received the last few days [it went on] eliminate the last remaining doubts as to the aggressive character of this Russian concentration ... In addition, there are reports from England regarding the negotiations of Ambassador Cripps for still closer political and military collaboration between England and the Soviet Union.

To sum up, the Government of the Reich declares, therefore, that the Soviet Government, contrary to the obligations it assumed,

1. has not only continued, but even intensified its attempts to undermine Germany and Europe;

2. has adopted a more and more anti-German foreign policy;

3. has concentrated all its forces in readiness at the German border.

Thereby the Soviet Government has broken its treaties with Germany and is about to attack Germany from the rear in its struggle for life. The Fuehrer has therefore ordered the German Armed Forces to oppose this threat with all the means at their disposal. [112]

"Please do not enter into any discussion of this communication," Ribbentrop advised his ambassador at the end. What could the shaken and disillusioned Schulenburg, who had devoted the best years of his life to improving German-Russian relations and who knew that the attack on the Soviet Union was unprovoked and without justification, say? Arriving back at the Kremlin just as dawn was breaking, he contented himself with reading the German declaration. [xxxiv] Molotov, stunned at last, listened in silence to the end and then said:

"It is war. Do you believe that we deserved that?"

At the same hour of daybreak a similar scene was taking place in the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin. All afternoon on June 21, the Soviet ambassador, Vladimir Dekanozov, had been telephoning the Foreign Office asking for an appointment with Ribbentrop so that he could deliver his little protest against further border violations by German planes. He was told that the Nazi Foreign Minister was "out of town." Then at 2 A.M. on the twenty-second he was informed that Ribbentrop would receive him at 4 A.M. at the Foreign Office. There the envoy, who had been a deputy foreign commissar, a hatchetman for Stalin and the troubleshooter who had arranged the taking over of Lithuania, received, like Molotov in Moscow, the shock of his life. Dr. Schmidt, who was present, has described the scene.

I had never seen Ribbentrop so excited as he was in the five minutes before Dekanozov's arrival. He walked up and down his room like a caged animal ...

Dekanozov was shown in and, obviously not guessing anything was amiss, held out his hand to Ribbentrop. We sat down and ... Dekanozov proceeded to put on behalf of his Government certain questions that needed clarification. But he had hardly begun before Ribbentrop, with a stony expression, interrupted, saying: "That's not the question now" ...

The arrogant Nazi Foreign Minister thereupon explained what the question was, gave the ambassador a copy of the memorandum which Schulenburg at that moment was reading out to Molotov, and informed him that German troops were at that instant taking "military countermeasures" on the Soviet frontier. The startled Soviet envoy, says Schmidt, "recovered his composure quickly and expressed his deep regret" at the developments, for which he blamed Germany. "He rose, bowed perfunctorily and left the room without shaking hands." [113]

The Nazi-Soviet honeymoon was over. At 3: 30 A.M. on June 22, 1941, a half hour before the closing diplomatic formalities in the Kremlin and the Wilhelmstrasse, the roar of Hitler's guns along hundreds of miles of front had blasted it forever.

There was one other diplomatic prelude to the cannonade. On the afternoon of June 21, Hitler sat down at his desk in his new underground headquarters, Wolfsschanze (Wolfs Lair), near Rastenburg in a gloomy forest of East Prussia, and dictated a long letter to Mussolini. As in the preparation of all his other aggressions he had not trusted his good friend and chief ally enough to let him in on his secret until the last moment. Now, at the eleventh hour, he did. His letter is the most revealing and authentic evidence we have of the reasons for his taking this fatal step, which for so long puzzled the outside world and which was to pave the way for his end and that of the Third Reich. The letter, to be sure, is full of Hitler's customary lies and evasions which he tried to fob off even on his friends. But beneath them, and between them, there emerges his fundamental reasoning and his true -- if mistaken -- estimate of the world situation as the summer of 1941, the second of the war, officially began.


I am writing this letter to you at a moment when months of anxious deliheration and continuous nerve-racking waiting are ending in the hardest decision of my life.

The situation: [xxxv] England has lost this war. Like a drowning person, she grasps at every straw. Nevertheless, some of her hopes are naturally not without a certain logic ... The destruction of France ... has directed the glances of the British warmongers continually to the place from which they tried to start the war: to Soviet Russia.

Both countries, Soviet Russia and England, are equally interested in a Europe rendered prostrate by a long war. Behind these two countries stands the North American Union goading them on ....

Hitler next explained that with large Soviet military forces in his rear he could never assemble the strength -- "particularly in the air" -- to make the all-out attack on Britain which would bring her down.

Really, all available Russian forces are at our border ... If circumstances should give me cause to employ the German Air Force against England, there is danger that Russia will then begin its strategy of extortion, to which I would have to yield in silence simply from a feeling of air inferiority ... England will be all the less ready for peace for it will be able to pin its hopes on the Russian partner. Indeed this hope must naturally grow with the progress in preparedness of the Russian armed forces. And behind this is the mass delivery of war material from America which they hope to get in 1942 ...

I have therefore, after constantly racking my brains, finally reached the decision to cut the noose before it can be drawn tight ... My over-all view is now as follows:

1. France is, as ever, not to be trusted.

2. North Africa itself, insofar as your colonies, Duce, are concerned, is probably out of danger until fall.

3. Spain is irresolute and -- I am afraid -- will take sides only when the outcome of the war is decided ...

5. An attack on Egypt before autumn is out of the question ...

6. Whether or not America enters the war is a matter of indifference, inasmuch as she supports our enemy with all the power she is able to mobilize.

7. The situation in England itself is bad; the provision of food and raw materials is growing steadily more difficult. The martial spirit to make war, after all, lives only on hopes. These hopes are based solely on two assumptions: Russia and America. We have no chance of eliminating America. But it does lie in our power to exclude Russia. The elimination of Russia means, at the same time, a tremendous relief for Japan in East Asia, and thereby the possibility of a much stronger threat to American activities through Japanese intervention.

I have decided under these circumstances to put an end to the hypocritical performance in the Kremlin.

Germany, Hitler said, would not need any Italian troops in Russia. (He was not going to share the glory of conquering Russia any more than he had shared the conquest of France.) But Italy, he declared, could "give decisive aid" by strengthening its forces in North Africa and by preparing "to march into France in case of a French violation of the treaty." This was a fine bait for the land-hungry Duce.

So far as the air war on England is concerned, we shall, for a time, remain on the defensive ...

As for the war in the East, Duce, it will surely be difficult, but I do not entertain a second's doubt as to its great success. I hope, above all, that it will then be possible for us to secure a common food-supply base in the Ukraine which will furnish us such additional supplies as we may need in the future.

Then came the excuse for not tipping off his partner earlier.

If I waited until this moment, Duce, to send you this information, it is because the final decision itself will not be made until 7 o'clock tonight ...

Whatever may come, Duce, our situation cannot become worse as a result of this step; it can only improve ... Should England nevertheless not draw any conclusions from the hard facts, then we can, with our rear secured, apply ourselves with increased strength to the dispatching of our enemy.

Finally Hitler described his great feeling of relief at having finally made up his mind.

... Let me say one more thing, Duce. Since I struggled through to this decision, I again feel spiritually free. The partnership with the Soviet Union, in spite of the complete sincerity of our efforts to bring about a final conciliation, was nevertheless often very irksome to me, for in some way or other it seemed to me to be a break with my whole origin, my concepts and my former obligations. I am happy now to be relieved of these mental agonies.

With hearty and comradely greetings,



At 3 o'clock in the morning of June 22, a bare half hour before the German troops jumped off, Ambassador von Bismarck awakened Ciano in Rome to deliver Hitler's long missive, which the Italian Foreign Minister then telephoned to Mussolini, who was resting at his summer place at Riccione. It was not the first time that the Duce had been wakened from his sleep in the middle of the night by a message from his Axis partner, and he resented it. "Not even I disturb my servants at night," Mussolini fretted to Ciano, "but the Germans make me jump out of bed at any hour without the least consideration." [115] Nevertheless, as soon as Mussolini had rubbed the sleep from his eyes he gave orders for an immediate declaration of war on the Soviet Union. He was now completely a prisoner of the Germans. He knew it and resented it. "I hope for only one thing," he told Ciano, "that in this war in the East the Germans lose a lot of feathers." UG Still, he realized that his own future now depended wholly on German arms. The Germans would win in Russia, he was sure, but he hoped that at least they would get a bloody nose.

He could not know, nor did he suspect, nor did anyone else in the West, on either side, that they would get much worse. On Sunday morning, June 22, the day Napoleon had crossed the Niemen in 1812 on his way to Moscow, and exactly a year after Napoleon's country, France, had capitulated at Compiegne, Adolf Hitler's armored, mechanized and hitherto invincible armies poured across the Niemen and various other rivers and penetrated swiftly into Russia. The Red Army, despite all the warnings and the warning signs, was, as General Halder noted in his diary the first day, "tactically surprised along the entire front." [xxxvi] All the first bridges were captured intact. In fact, says Halder, at most places along the border the Russians were not even deployed for action and were overrun before they could organize resistance. Hundreds of Soviet planes were destroyed on the flying fields. [xxxvii] Within a few days tens of thousands of prisoners began to pour in; whole armies were quickly encircled. It seemed like the Feldzug in Polen all over again.

"It is hardly too much to say," the usually cautious Halder noted in his diary on July 3 after going over the latest General Staff reports, "that the Feldzug against Russia has been won in fourteen days." In a matter of weeks, he added, it would all be over.



i. Halder uses the English word "down" here in the German text.

ii. The emphasis in the report is Halder's.

iii. In his report on this Thomas stresses how punctual Soviet deliveries of goods to Germany were at this time. In fact, he says, they continued to be "right up to the start of the attack," and observes, not without amusement, that "even during the last few days, shipments of India rubber from the Far East were completed [by the Russians] over express transit trains" -- presumably over the Trans-Siberian Railway,  [12]

iv. The Germans had kept only seven divisions in Poland, two of which were transferred to the West during the spring campaign. The troops there, Halder cracked, were scarcely enough to maintain the customs service. If Stalin had attacked Germany in June 1940, the Red Army probably could have got to Berlin before any serious resistance was organized.

v. It cost King Carol his throne. On September 6 he abdicated in favor of his eighteen-  year-old son, Michael, and fled with his red-haired mistress, Magda Lupescu.  in a ten-car special train filled with what might be described as "loot" across Yugoslavia  to Switzerland. General Ion Antonescu, chief of the fascist "Iron Guard" and  a friend of Hitler, became dictator.
vi. Minus southern Dobrudja, which Rumania was forced to cede to Bulgaria.
vii. It was signed in Berlin on September 27, 1940, in a comic-opera setting and ceremony  which I have described elsewhere (Berlin Diary, pp. 532-37). In Articles 1  and 2, respectively, Japan recognized "the leadership of Germany and Italy in the  establishment of a new order in Europe," and the two countries recognized Japan's  leadership for the same in Greater East Asia. Article 3 provided for mutual assistance  should anyone of the powers be attacked by the United States, though America  was not specifically mentioned, only defined. To me, as I wrote in my diary that  day in Berlin, the most significant thing about the pact was that it meant that Hitler  was now reconciled to a long war. Ciano, who signed the pact for Italy, came to the  same conclusion (Ciano Diaries, p. 296). Also, despite the disclaimer, the pact was,  and was meant to be, a warning to the Soviet Union.
viii. Their accuracy on this occasion was later confirmed by Stalin, though not intentionally.  Churchill says he received an account of Molotov's talks in Berlin from  Stalin in August 1942 "which in no essential differs from the German record," though  it was "more pithy." (Churchill, Their Finest Hour, pp. 585-86.)
ix. Churchill says the air raid was timed for this occasion. "We had heard of the  conference beforehand," he later wrote, "and though not invited to join in the discussion  did not wish to be entirely left out of the proceedings." (Churchill, Their  Finest Hour, p. 584.)
x. Molotov's parting shot is given by Churchill, to whom it was related by Stalin  later in the war. (Churchill, Their Finest Hour, p. 586.)
xi. Sweden, which had refused transit to the Allies during the Russo-Finnish War, permitted this fully armed division to pass through. Hungary, of course, later joined in the war against Russia.

xii. The italics are Hitler's.

xiii. A good many historians have contended that Hitler in this first Barbarossa directive  did not go into detail, a misunderstanding due probably to the extremely abbreviated  version given in English translation in the NCA volumes. But the complete  German text given in TMWC, XXVI, pp: 47-52 discloses the full details, thus  revealing how far advanced the German military plans were at this early date. [36]
xiv. Although they did not learn the contents of the secret accord at Montoire, both  Churchill and Roosevelt suspected the worst. The King of England sent through  American channels a personal appeal to Petain asking him not to take sides against  Britain. President Roosevelt's message to the Marshal was stern and toughly worded  and warned him of the dire consequences of Vichy France's betraying Britain. (See  William L. Langer, Our Vichy Gamble, p. 97. To write this book, Professor Langer  had access to German documents that eleven years later have not been released by  the British and American governments.)
xv. The Navy's italics.

xvi. By this time a ramshackle British desert force of one armored division, an Indian infantry division, two infantry brigades and a Royal Tank regiment -- 31,000 men in all -- had driven an Italian force three times as large out of Egypt and captured 38,000 prisoners at a cost of 133 killed, 387 wounded and 8 missing. The British counteroffensive, under the over-all command of General Sir Archibald Wavell, had begun on December 7 and in four days Marshal Graziani's army was routed. What had started as a five-day limited counterattack continued until February 7, by which time the British had pushed clear across Cyrenaica, a distance of 500 miles, annihilated the entire Italian army of ten divisions in Libya, taken 130,000 prisoners, 1,240 guns and 500 tanks and lost themselves 500 killed, 1,373 wounded and 55 missing. To the skeptical British military writer General J. F. Fuller it was "one of the most audacious campaigns ever fought." (Fuller, The Second World War, p. 98.)

The Italian Navy had also been dealt a lethal blow. On the night of November 11-12, bombers from the British carrier Illustrious (which the Luftwaffe claimed to have sunk) attacked the Italian fleet at anchor at Taranto and put out of action for many months three battleships and two cruisers. "A black day," Ciano began his diary on November 12. "The British, without warning, have sunk the dreadnought Cavour and seriously damaged the battleships Littorio and Duilio."

xvii. The italics and double exclamation points are Raeder's.

xviii. Operation Marita was promulgated in Directive No. 20 on December 13, 1940. It called for an army of twenty-four divisions to be assembled in Rumania and to descend on Greece through Bulgaria as soon as favorable weather set in. It was signed by Hitler. [53]

xix. The strategy was essentially that laid down in Directive No. 21 of December 18,  1940. (See pp. 810-11.) Again in comments to Brauchitsch and Halder, Hitler  emphasized the importance of "wiping out large sections of the enemy" instead of  forcing them to retreat. And he stressed that "the main aim [his emphasis] is to gain  possession of the Baltic States and Leningrad."
xx. "The war against Yugoslavia should be very popular in Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria," Hitler sneered. He said he would give the Banat to Hungary, Macedonia to Bulgaria and the Adriatic coast to Italy.

xxi. It had originally been set for May 15 in the first Barbarossa directive of December 18, 1940.

xxii. On April 12, 1941, six days after the launching of his attack, Hitler issued a secret  directive dividing up Yugoslavia among Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria.  Croatia was created as an autonomous puppet state. The Fuehrer helped himself liberally, Germany taking territory contiguous to the old Austria and keeping under its occupation all of old Serbia as well as the copper- and coal-mining districts. Italy's grab was left somewhat vague, but it did not amount to much. [65]

xxiii. Charles A. Lindbergh, the hero flyer, who had seemed to this writer to have fallen with startling naivete, during his visits to Germany, to Nazi propaganda boasts, was already consigning Britain to defeat in his speeches to large and enthusiastic audiences in America. On April 23, 1941, at the moment of the Nazi victories in the Balkans and North Africa, he addressed 30,000 persons in New York at the first mass meeting of the newly formed America First Committee. "The British government," he said, "has one last desperate plan: ... To persuade us to send another American Expeditionary Force to Europe and to share with England militarily, as well as financially, the fiasco of this war." He condemned England for having "encouraged the smaller nations of Europe to fight against hopeless odds." Apparently it did not occur to this man that Yugoslavia and Greece, which Hitler had just crushed, were brutally attacked without provocation, and that they had instinctively tried to defend themselves because they had a sense of honor and because they had courage even in the face of hopeless odds. On April 28 Lindbergh resigned his commission as a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve after President Roosevelt on the twenty-fifth had publicly branded him as a defeatist and an appeaser. The Secretary of War accepted the resignation.

xxiv. "It was the first time I found myself involved in a conflict between my soldierly conceptions and my duty to obey," Field Marshal von Manstein declared on the stand at Nuremberg in discussing the Commissar Order. "Actually, I ought to have obeyed, but I said to myself that as a soldier I could not possibly co-operate in a thing like that. I told the Commander of the Army Group under which I served at that time ... that I would not carry out such an order, which was against the honor of a soldier." [74]

As a matter of record, the order, of course, was carried out on a large scale.

xxv. "A man of straw," Hitler later called him. (Hitler's Secret Conversations, p. 153.)

xxvi. The emphasis is in the original order.

xxvii. On July 27, 1941, Keitel ordered all copies of this directive of May I3 concerning courts-martial destroyed, though "the validity of the directive," he stipulated, "is not affected by the destruction of the copies." The July 27 order, he added, "would itself be destroyed." But copies of both survived and turned up at Nuremberg to haunt the High Command.

Four days before, on July 23, Keitel had issued another order marked "Top Secret":

On July 22, the Fuehrer after receiving the Commander of the Army [Brauchitsch I issued the following order:

In view of the vast size of the occupied areas in the East, the forces available for establishing security will be sufficient only if all resistance is punished not by legal prosecution of the guilty, but by the spreading of such terror by the occupying forces as is alone appropriate to eradicate every inclination to resist amongst the population. [77]

xviii. Churchill has graphically described how he received the news late that Saturday  night while visiting in the country and how at first he thought it too fantastic to believe.  (The Grand Alliance, pp. 50-55.)
xix. At Nuremberg Hess told the tribunal that Lord Simon had introduced himself to  him as "Dr. Guthrie" and had declared, "I come with the authority of the Government  and I shall be willing to discuss with you as far as seems good anything you  would wish to state for the information of the Government." [89]
xxx. Hess, a sorry, broken figure at Nuremberg, where for a part of the trial he faked total amnesia (his mind had certainly been shattered), outlived Hitler. He was sentenced to life imprisonment by the International Tribunal, escaping the death sentence largely due to his mental collapse. I have described his appearance there in End of a Berlin Diary.

The British treated him as a prisoner of war, releasing him on October 10, 1945, so that he could stand trial at Nuremberg. During his captivity in England, he complained bitterly at being denied "full diplomatic privileges," which he constantly demanded, and his none too balanced mind began to deteriorate and he had long stretches of amnesia. He told Dr. Kelley, however, that he twice tried to kill himself during his internment. He became convinced, he said, that the British were trying to poison him.

xxxi. On April 5, the day before the German attack on Yugoslavia, the Soviet government  had hastily concluded a "Treaty of Nonaggression and Friendship" with the  new Yugoslav government, apparently in a frantic attempt to head off Hitler. Molotov  had informed Schulenburg of it the night before and the ambassador had exclaimed  that "the moment was very unfortunate" and had tried, unsuccessfully, to  argue the Russians into at least postponing the signing of the treaty. [96]
xxxii. Sam Woods, a genial extrovert whose grasp of world politics and history was not striking, seems to those of us who knew him and liked him the last man in the American Embassy in Berlin likely to have come by such crucial intelligence. Some of his colleagues in the embassy still doubt that he did. But Cordell Hull has confirmed it in his memoirs and disclosed the details. Woods, the late Secretary of State relates, had a German friend, an anti-Nazi, who had contacts high in the ministries, the Reichsbank and the Nazi Party. As early as August 1940, this friend informed Woods of conferences taking place at Hitler's headquarters concerning preparations for an attack on the Soviet Union. From then on this informant kept the commercial attache au courant of what was transpiring both at the General Staff and among those planning the economic spoliation of Russia. To avoid detection, Woods met his informant in various movie houses in Berlin and in the darkness received scribbled notes from him. (See The Memoirs of Cordell Hull, II, pp. 967-68.)

I left Berlin in December 1940. George Kennan, the most brilliant Foreign Service officer at the embassy, who remained there, informs me that the embassy learned from several sources of the coming attack on Russia. Two or three weeks before the assault, he says, our consul at Koenigsberg. Kuykendall, relayed a report specifying correctly the exact day it would begin.

xxxiii. This is from the last diary entry of Ciano, made on December 23, 1943, in Cell 27  of the Verona jail, a few days before he was executed. He added that the Italian  government learned of the German invasion of Russia a half hour after it began.  (Ciano Diaries, p. 583.)
xxxiv. Hassell confirms this. Writing in his diary two days later, June 16, he remarks: "Brauchitsch and Halder have already agreed to Hitler's tactics [in Russia]. Thus the Army must assume the onus of the murders and burnings which up to now have been confined to the S.S."

At first the anti-Nazi "conspirators" had naively believed that Hitler's terror orders for Russia might shock the generals into joining an anti-Nazi revolt. But by June 16 Hassell himself is disillusioned. His diary entry for that date begins:

A series of conferences with Popitz, Goerdeler, Beck and Oster to consider whether certain orders which the Army commanders have received (but which they have not as yet issued) might suffice to open the eyes of the military leaders to the nature of the regime for which they are fighting. These orders concern brutal ... measures the troops are to take against the Bolsheviks when Russia is invaded.

We came to the conclusion that nothing was to be hoped for now ... They [the generals] delude themselves ... Hopeless sergeant majors! [The Von Hassell Diaries, pp. 198-99.]

xxxv. The expression is Churchill's.
xxxvi. Thus ended the veteran ambassador's diplomatic career. Returning to Germany  and forced to retire, he joined the opposition circle led by General Beck. Goerdeler,  Hassell and others and for a time was marked to become Foreign Minister of an  anti-Hitler regime. Hassell reported Schulenburg in 1943 as being willing to cross  the Russian lines in order to talk with Stalin about a negotiated peace with an anti-Nazi government in Germany. (The Von Hassell Diaries, pp. 321-22.) Schulenburg  was arrested and imprisoned after the July 1944 plot against Hitler and executed  by the Gestapo on November 10.
xxxvii. Hitler's emphasis.

xxxiii. There is a curious notation in Halder's diary that first day. After mentioning that at noon the Russian radio stations, which the Germans were monitoring, had come back on the air he writes: "They have asked Japan to mediate the political and economic differences between Russia and Germany, and remain in active contact with the German Foreign Office." Did Stalin believe -- nine hours after the attack -- that he somehow might get it called off?

xxxix. General Guenther Blumentritt, chief of staff of the Fourth Army, later recalled that a little after midnight on the twenty-first, when the German artillery had already zeroed on its targets, the Berlin-Moscow express train chugged through the German lines on the Bug and across the river into Brest Litovsk "without incident." It struck him as a "weird moment." Almost equally weird to him was that the Russian artillery did not respond even when the assault began. "The Russians," he subsequently wrote, "were taken entirely by surprise on our front." As dawn broke German signal stations picked up the Red Army radio networks. "We are being fired on. What shall we do?" Blumentritt quotes one Russian message as saying. Back came the answer from headquarters: "You must be insane. And why is your signal not in code?" (The Fatal Decisions, edited by Seymour Freidin and William Richardson.)
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

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By THE BEGINNING of autumn 1941, Hitler believed that Russia was finished.

Within three weeks of the opening of the campaign, Field Marshal von Bock's Army Group Center, with thirty infantry divisions and fifteen panzer or motorized divisions, had pushed 450 miles from Bialystok to Smolensk. Moscow lay but 200 miles farther east along the high road which Napoleon had taken in 1812. To the north Field Marshal von Leeb's army group, twenty-one infantry and six armored divisions strong, was moving rapidly up through the Baltic States toward Leningrad. To the south Field Marshal von Rundstedt's army group of twenty-five infantry, four motorized, four mountain and five panzer divisions was advancing toward the Dnieper River and Kiev, capital of the fertile Ukraine, which Hitler coveted.

So planmaessig (according to plan), as the OKW communiques put it, was the German progress along a thousand-mile front from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and so confident was the Nazi dictator that it would continue at an accelerated pace as one Soviet army after another was surrounded or dispersed, that on July 14, a bare three weeks after the invasion had begun, he issued a directive advising that the strength of the Army could be "considerably reduced in the near future" and that armament production would be concentrated on naval ships and Luftwaffe planes, especially the latter, for the conduct of the war against the last remaining enemy, Britain, and -- he added -- "against America should the case arise." [1] By the end of September he instructed the High Command to prepare to disband forty infantry divisions so that this additional manpower could be utilized by industry. [2]

Russia's two greatest cities, Leningrad, which Peter the Great had built as the capital on the Baltic, and Moscow, the ancient and now Bolshevik capital, seemed to Hitler about to fall. On September 18 he issued strict orders: "A capitulation of Leningrad or Moscow is not to be accepted, even if offered." [3] What was to happen to them he made clear to his commanders in a directive of September 29:

The Fuehrer has decided to have St. Petersburg [Leningrad] wiped off the face of the earth.[i] The further existence of this large city is of no interest once Soviet Russia is overthrown ...

The intention is to close in on the city and raze it to the ground by artillery and by continuous air attack ...

Requests that the city be taken over will be turned down, for the problem of the survival of the population and of supplying it with food is one which cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for existence we have no interest in keeping even part of this great city's population. [ii] [4]

That same week, on October 3, Hitler returned to Berlin and in an address to the German people proclaimed the collapse of the Soviet Union. "I declare today, and I declare it without any reservation," he said, "that the enemy in the East has been struck down and will never rise again ... Behind our troops there already lies a territory twice the size of the German Reich when I came to power in 1933."

When on October 8, Orel, a key city south of Moscow, fell, Hitler sent his press chief, Otto Dietrich, flying back to Berlin, to tell the correspondents of the world's leading newspapers there the next day that the last in~ct Soviet armies, those of Marshal Timoshenko, defending Moscow, were locked in two steel German pockets before the capital; that the southern armies of Marshal Budenny were routed and dispersed; and that sixty to seventy divisions of Marshal VoroshiIov's army were surrounded in Leningrad.

"For all military purposes," Dietrich concluded smugly, "Soviet Russia is done with. The British dream of a two-front war is dead."

These public boasts of Hitler and Dietrich were, to say the least, premature.  [iii] In reality the Russians, despite the surprise with which they were taken on June 22, their subsequent heavy losses in men and equipment, their rapid withdrawal and the entrapment of some of their best armies, had begun in July to put up a mounting resistance such as the Wehrmacht had never encountered before. Halder's diary and the reports of such front-line commanders as General Guderian, who led a large panzer group on the central front, began to be peppered -- and then laden -- with accounts of severe fighting, desperate Russian stands and counterattacks and heavy casualties to German as well as Soviet troops.

"The conduct of the Russian troops," General Blumentritt wrote later, "even in this first battle [for Minsk] was in striking contrast to the behavior of the Poles and the Western Allies in defeat. Even when encircled the Russians stood their ground and fought." [5] And there proved to be more of them, and with better equipment, than Adolf Hitler had dreamed was possible. Fresh Soviet divisions which German intelligence had no inkling of were continually being thrown into battle. "It is becoming ever clearer," Halder wrote in his diary on August 11, "that we underestimated the strength of the Russian colossus not only in the economic and transportation sphere but above all in the military. At the beginning we reckoned with some 200 enemy divisions and we have already identified 360. When a dozen of them are destroyed the Russians throw in another dozen. On this broad expanse our front is too thin. It has no depth. As a result, the repeated enemy attacks often meet with some success." Rundstedt put it bluntly to Allied interrogators after the war. "I realized," he said, "soon after the attack was begun that everything that had been written about Russia was nonsense."

Several generals, Guderian, Blumentritt and Sepp Dietrich among them, have left reports expressing astonishment at their first encounter with the Russian T-34 tank, of which they had not previously heard and which was so heavily armored that the shells from the German antitank guns bounced harmlessly off it. The appearance of this panzer, Blumentritt said later, marked the beginning of what came to be called the "tank terror." Also, for the first time in the war; the Germans did not have the benefit of overwhelming superiority in the air to protect their ground troops and scout ahead. Despite the heavy losses on the ground in the first day of the campaign and in early combat, Soviet fighter planes kept appearing, like the fresh divisions, out of nowhere. Moreover, the swiftness of the German advance and the lack of suitable airfields in Russia left the German fighter bases too far back to provide effective cover at the front. "At several stages in the advance," General von Kleist later reported, "my panzer forces were handicapped through lack of cover overhead." [6]

There was another German miscalculation about the Russians which Kleist mentioned to Liddell Hart and which, of course, was shared by most of the other peoples of the West that summer.

"Hopes of victory," Kleist said, "were largely built on the prospect that the invasion would produce a political upheaval in Russia ... Too high hopes were built on the belief that Stalin would be overthrown by his own people if he suffered heavy defeats. The belief was fostered by the Fuehrer's political advisers." [7]

Indeed Hitler had told Jodl, "We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down."

The opportunity to kick in the door seemed to the Fuehrer to be at hand halfway through July when there occurred the first great controversy over strategy in the German High Command and led to a decision by the Fuehrer, over the protests of most of the top generals, which Halder thought proved to be "the greatest strategic blunder of the Eastern campaign." The issue was simple but fundamental. Should Bock's Army Group Center, the most powerful and so far the most successful of the three main German armies, push on the two hundred miles to Moscow from Smolensk, which it had reached on July 16? Or should the original plan, which Hitler had laid down in the December 18 directive, and which called for the main thrusts on the north and south flanks, be adhered to? In other words, was Moscow the prize goal, or Leningrad and the Ukraine?

The Army High Command, led by Brauchitsch and Halder and supported by Bock, whose central army group was moving up the main highway to Moscow, and by Guderian, whose panzer forces were leading it, insisted on an all-out drive for the Soviet capital. There was much more to their argument than merely stressing the psychological value of capturing the enemy capital. Moscow, they pointed out to Hitler, was a vital source of armament production and, even more important, the center of the Russian transportation and communications system. Take it, and the Soviets would not only be deprived of an essential source of arms but would be unable to move troops and supplies to the distant fronts, which thereafter would weaken, wither and collapse.

But there was a final conclusive argument which the generals advanced to the former corporal who was now their Supreme Commander. All their intelligence reports showed that the main Russian forces were now being concentrated before Moscow for an all-out defense of the capital. Just east of Smolensk a Soviet army of half a million men, which had extricated itself from Bock's double envelopment, was digging in to bar further German progress toward the capital.

The center of gravity of Russian strength [Halder wrote in a report prepared for the Allies immediately after the war] [8] was therefore in front of Army Group Center ...

The General Staff had been brought up with the idea that it must be the aim of an operation to defeat the military power of the enemy, and it therefore considered the next and most pressing task to be to defeat the forces of Timoshenko by concentrating all available forces at Army Group Center, to advance on Moscow, to take this nerve center of enemy resistance and to destroy the new enemy formations. The assembly for this attack had to be carried out as soon as possible because the season was advanced. Army Group North was in the meantime to fulfill its original mission and to try to contact the Finns. Army Group South was to advance farther East to tie down the strongest possible enemy force.

... After oral discussions between the General Staff and the Supreme Command [OKW] had failed, the Commander in Chief of the Army [Brauchitsch] submitted a memorandum of the General Staff to Hitler.

This, we learn from Halder's diary, was done on August 18. "The effect," says Halder, "was explosive." Hitler had his hungry eyes on the food belt and industrial areas of the Ukraine and on the Russian oil fields just beyond in the Caucasus. Besides, he thought he saw a golden opportunity to entrap Budenny's armies east of the Dnieper beyond Kiev, which still held out. He also wanted to capture Leningrad and join up with the Finns in the north. To accomplish these twin aims, several infantry and panzer divisions from Army Group Center would have to be detached and sent north and especially south. Moscow could wait.

On August 21, Hitler hurled a new directive at his rebellious General Staff. Halder copied it out word for word in his diary the next day.

The proposals of the Army for the continuation of the operations in the East do not accord with my intentions.

The most important objective to attain before the onset of winter is not the capture of Moscow but the taking of 'the Crimea, the industrial and coal-mining areas of the Donets basin and the cutting off of Russian oil supplies from the Caucasus. In the north it is the locking up of Leningrad and the union with the Finns.

The Soviet Fifth Army on the Dnieper in the south, whose stubborn resistance had annoyed Hitler for several days, must, he laid it down, be utterly destroyed, the Ukraine and the Crimea occupied, Leningrad surrounded and a junction with the Finns achieved. "Only then," he concluded, "will the conditions be created whereby Timoshenko's army can be attacked and successfully defeated."

Thus [commented Halder bitterly] the aim of defeating decisively the Russian armies in front of Moscow was subordinated to the desire to obtain a valuable industrial area and to advance in the direction of Russian oil ... Hitler now became obsessed with the idea of capturing both Leningrad and Stalingrad, for he persuaded himself that if these two "holy cities of Communism" were to fall, Russia would collapse.

To add insult to injury to the field marshals and the generals who did not appreciate his strategic genius, Hitler sent what Halder called a "countermemorandum" (to that of the Army of the eighteenth), which the General Staff Chief described as "full of insults," such as stating that the Army High Command was full of "minds fossilized in out-of-date theories."

"Unbearable! Unheard of! The limit!" Halder snorted in his diary the next day. He conferred all afternoon and evening with Field Marshal von Brauchitsch about the Fuehrer's "inadmissible" mixing into the business of the Army High Command and General Staff, finally proposing that the head of the Army and he himself resign their posts. "Brauchitsch refused," Halder noted, "because it wouldn't be practical and would change nothing." The gutless Field Marshal had already, as on so many other occasions, capitulated to the onetime corporal.

When General Guderian arrived at the Fuehrer's headquarters the next day, August 23, and was egged on by Halder to try to talk Hitler out of his disastrous decision, though the hard-bitten panzer leader needed no urging, he was met by Brauchitsch. "I forbid you," the Army Commander in Chief said, "to mention the question of Moscow to the Fuehrer. The operation to the south has been ordered. The problem now is simply how it is to be carried out. Discussion is pointless."

Nevertheless, when Guderian was ushered into the presence of Hitler -- neither Brauchitsch nor Halder accompanied him -- he disobeyed orders and argued as strongly as he could for the immediate assault on Moscow.

Hitler let me speak to the end [Guderian later wrote]. He then described in detail the considerations which had led him to make a different decision. He said that the raw materials and agriculture of the Ukraine were vitally necessary for the future prosecution of the war. He spoke of the need of neutralizing the Crimea, "that Soviet aircraft carrier for attacking the Roumanian oil fields." For the first time I heard him use the phrase: "My generals know nothing about the economic aspects of war." ... He had given strict orders that the attack on Kiev was to be the immediate strategic objective and all actions were to be carried out with that in mind. I here saw for the first time a spectacle with which I was later to become very familiar: all those present -- Keitel, Jodl and others -- nodded in agreement with every sentence that Hitler uttered, while I was left alone with my point of view ... [9]

But Halder had at no point in the previous discussions nodded his agreement. When Guderian saw him the next day and reported his failure to get Hitler to change his mind, he says the General Staff Chief "to my amazement suffered a complete nervous collapse, which led him to make accusations and imputations which were utterly unjustified." [iv]

This was the most severe crisis in the German military High Command since the beginning of the war. Worse were to follow, with adversity.

In itself Rundstedt's offensive in the south, made possible by the reinforcement of Guderian's panzer forces and infantry divisions withdrawn from the central front, was, as Guderian put it, a great tactical victory. Kiev itself fell on September 19 -- German units had already penetrated 150 miles beyond it -- and on the twenty-sixth the Battle of Kiev ended with the encirclement and surrender of 665,000 Russian prisoners, according to the German claim. To Hitler it was "the greatest battle in the history of the world," but though it was a singular achievement some of his generals were more skeptical of its strategic significance. Bock's armorless army group in the center had been forced to cool its heels for two mon!hs along the Desna River just beyond Smolensk. The autumn rains, which would turn the Russian roads into quagmires, were drawing near. And after them -- the winter, the cold and the snow.


Reluctantly Hitler gave in to the urging of Brauchitsch, Halder and Bock and consented to the resumption of the drive on Moscow. But too late! Halder saw him on the afternoon of September 5 and now the Fuehrer, his mind made up, was in a hurry to get to the Kremlin. "Get started on the central front within eight to ten days," the Supreme Commander ordered. ("Impossible!" Halder exclaimed in his diary.) "Encircle them, beat and destroy them," Hitler added, promising to return to Army Group Center Guderian's panzer group, then still heavily engaged in the Ukraine, and add Reinhardt's tank corps from the Leningrad front. But it was not until the beginning of October that the armored forces could be brought back, refitted and made ready. On October 2 the great offensive was finally launched. "Typhoon" was the code name. A mighty wind, a cyclone, was to hit the Russians, destroy their last fighting forces before Moscow and bring the Soviet Union tumbling down.

But here again the Nazi dictator became a victim of his megalomania. Taking the Russian capital before winter came was not enough. He gave orders that Field Marshal von Leeb in the north was at the same time to capture Leningrad, make contact with the Finns beyond the city and drive on and cut the Murmansk railway. Also, at the same time, Rundstedt was to clear the Black Sea coast, take Rostov, seize the Maikop oil fields and push forward to Stalingrad on the Volga, thus severing Stalin's last link with the Caucasus. When Rundstedt tried to explain to Hitler that this meant an advance of more than four hundred miles beyond the Dnieper, with his left flank dangerously exposed, the Supreme Commander told him that the Russians in the south were now incapable of offering serious resistance. Rundstedt, who says that he "laughed aloud" at such ridiculous orders, was soon to find the contrary.

The German drive along the old road which Napoleon had taken to Moscow at first rolled along with all the fury of a typhoon. In the first fortnight of October, in what later Blumentritt called a "textbook battle," the Germans encircled two Soviet armies between Vyazma and Bryansk and claimed to have taken 650,000 prisoners along with 5,000 guns and 1,200 tanks. By October 20 German armored spearheads were within forty miles of Moscow and the Soviet ministries and foreign embassies were hastily evacuating to Kuibyshev on the Volga. Even the sober Halder who had fallen off his horse and broken a collarbone and was temporarily hospitalized, now believed that with bold leadership and favorable weather Moscow could be taken before the severe Russian winter set in.

The fall rains, however, had commenced. Rasputitza, the period of mud, set in. The great army, moving on wheels, was slowed down and often forced to halt. Tanks had to be withdrawn from battle to pull guns and ammunition trucks out of the mire. Chains and couplings for this job were lacking and bundles of rope had to be dropped by Luftwaffe transport planes which were badly needed for lifting other military supplies. The rains began in mid-October and, as Guderian later remembered, "the next few weeks were dominated by the mud." General Blumentritt, chief of staff of Field Marshal von Kluge's Fourth Army, which was in the thick of the battle for Moscow, has vividly described the predicament.

The infantryman slithers in the mud, while many teams of horses are needed to drag each gun forward. All wheeled vehicles sink up to their axles in the slime. Even tractors can only move with great difficulty. A large portion of our heavy artillery was soon stuck fast ... The strain that all this caused our already exhausted troops can perhaps be imagined. [10]

For the first time there crept into the diary of Halder and the reports of Guderian, Blumentritt and other German generals signs of doubt and then of despair. It spread to the lower officers and the troops in the field -- or perhaps it stemmed from them. "And now, when Moscow was already almost in sight," Blumentritt recalled, "the mood both of commanders and troops began to change. Enemy resistance stiffened and the fighting became more bitter ... Many of our companies were reduced to a mere sixty or seventy men." There was a shortage of serviceable artillery and tanks. "Winter," he says, "was about to begin, but there was no sign of winter clothing ... Far behind the front the first partisan units were beginning to make their presence felt in the vast forests and swamps. Supply columns were frequently ambushed ... "

Now, Blumentritt remembered, the ghosts of the Grand Army, which had taken this same road to Moscow, and the memory of Napoleon's fate began to haunt the dreams of the Nazi conquerors. The German generals began to read, or reread, Caulaincourt's grim account of the French conqueror's disastrous winter in Russia in 1812.

Far to the south, where the weather was a little warmer but the rain and the mud were just as bad, things were not going well either. Kleist's tanks had entered Rostov at the mouth of the Don on November 21 amidst much fanfare from Dr. Goebbels' propaganda band that the "gateway to the Caucasus" had been opened. It did not remain open very long. Both Kleist and Rundstedt realized that Rostov could not be held. Five days later the Russians retook it and the Germans, attacked on both the northern and southern flanks, were in headlong retreat back fifty miles to the Mius River where Kleist and Rundstedt had wished in the first place to establish a winter line.

The retreat from Rostov is another little turning point in the history of the Third Reich. Here was the first time that any Nazi army had ever suffered a major setback. "Our misfortunes began with Rostov," Guderian afterward commented; "that was the writing on the wall." It cost Field Marshal von Rundstedt, the senior officer in the German Army, his command. As he was retreating to the Mius:

Suddenly an order came to me [he subsequently told Allied interrogators] from the Fuehrer: "Remain where you are, and retreat no further." I immediately wired back: "It is madness to attempt to hold. In the first place the troops cannot do it and in the second place if they do not retreat they will be destroyed. I repeat that this order be rescinded or that you find someone else." That same night the Fuehrer's reply arrived: "I am acceding to your request. Please give up your command."

"I then," said Rundstedt, "went home." [v] [11]

This mania for ordering distant troops to stand fast no matter what their peril perhaps saved the German Army from complete collapse in the shattering months ahead, though many generals dispute it, but it was to lead to Stalingrad and other disasters and to help seal Hitler's fate.

Heavy snows and subzero temperatures came early that winter in Russia. Guderian noted the first snow on the night of October 6-7, just as the drive on Moscow was being resumed. It reminded him to ask headquarters again for winter clothing, especially for heavy boots and heavy wool socks. On October 12 he recorded the snow as still falling. On November 3 came the first cold wave, the thermometer dropping below the freezing point and continuing to fall. By the seventh Guderian was reporting the first "severe cases of frostbite" in his ranks and on the thirteenth that the temperature had fallen to 8 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, and that the lack of winter clothing "was becoming increasingly felt." The bitter cold affected guns and machines as well as men.

Ice was causing a lot of trouble [Guderian wrote] since the calks for the tank tracks had not yet arrived. The cold made the telescopic sights useless. In order to start the engines of the tanks fires had to be lit beneath them. Fuel was freezing on occasions and the oil became viscous ... Each regiment [of the 112th Infantry Division] had already lost some 500 men from frostbite. As a result of the cold the machine guns were no longer able to fire and our 37-mm. antitank guns had proved ineffective against the [Russian] T-34 tank. [12]

"The result," says Guderian, "was a panic which reached as far back as Bogorodsk. This was the first time that such a thing had occurred during the Russian campaign, and it was a warning that the combat ability of our infantry was at an end."

But not only of the infantry. On November 21 Halder scribbled in his diary that Guderian had telephoned to say that his panzer troops "had reached their end." This tough, aggressive tank commander admits that on this very day he decided to visit the commander of Army Group Center, Bock, and request that the orders he had received be changed, since he "could see no way of carrying them out." He was in a deep mood of depression, writing on the same day:

The icy cold, the lack of shelter, the shortage of clothing, the heavy losses of men and equipment, the wretched state of our fuel supplies -- all this makes the duties of a commander a misery, and the longer it goes on the more I am crushed by the enormous responsibility I have to bear. [13]

In retrospect Guderian added:

Only he who saw the endless expanse of Russian snow during this winter of our misery and felt the icy wind that blew across it, burying in snow every object in its path; who drove for hour after hour through that no-man's land only at last to find too thin shelter with insufficiently clothed, half-starved men; and who also saw by contrast the well-fed, warmly clad and fresh Siberians, fully equipped for winter fighting ... can truly judge the events which now occurred. [14]

Those events may now be briefly narrated, but not without first stressing one point: terrible as the Russian winter was and granted that the Soviet troops were naturally better prepared for it than the German, the main factor in what is now to be set down was not the weather but the fierce fighting of the Red Army troops and their indomitable will not to give up. The diary of Halder and the reports of the field commanders, which constantly express amazement at the extent and severity of Russian attacks and counterattacks and despair at the German setbacks and losses, are proof of that. The Nazi generals could not understand why the Russians, considering the nature of their tyrannical regime and the disastrous effects of the first German blows, did not collapse, as had the French and so many others with less excuse.

"With amazement and disappointment," Blumentritt wrote, "we discovered in late October and early November that the beaten Russians seemed quite unaware that as a military force they had almost ceased to exist." Guderian tells of meeting an old retired Czarist general at Orel on the road to Moscow.

"If only you had come twenty years ago [he told the panzer General], we should have welcomed you with open arms. But now it's too late. We were just beginning to get on our feet, and now you arrive and throw us back twenty years so that we will have to start from the beginning all over again. Now we are fighting for Russia and in that cause we are all united." [15]

Yet, as November approached its end amidst fresh blizzards and continued subzero temperatures, Moscow seemed within grasp to Hitler and most of his generals. North, south and west of the capital German armies had reached points within twenty to thirty miles of their goal. To Hitler poring over the map at his headquarters far off in East Prussia the last stretch seemed no distance at all. His armies had advanced five hundred miles; they had only twenty to thirty miles to go. "One final heave," he told Jodl in mid-November, "and we shall triumph." On the telephone to Halder on November 22, Field Marshal von Bock, directing Army Group Center in its final push for Moscow, compared the situation to the Battle of the Marne, "where the last battalion thrown in decided the battle." Despite increased enemy resistance Bock told the General Staff Chief he believed "everything was attainable." By the last day of November he was literally throwing in his last battalion. The final all-out attack on the heart of the Soviet Union was set for the next day, December 1,1941.

It stumbled on a steely resistance. The greatest tank force ever concentrated on one front: General Hoepner's Fourth Tank Group and General Hermann Hoth's Third Tank Group just north of Moscow and driving south, Guderian's Second Panzer Army just to the south of the capital and pushing north from Tula, Kluge's great Fourth Army in the middle and fighting its way due east through the forests that surrounded the city -- on this formidable array were pinned Hitler's high hopes. By December 2 a reconnaissance battalion of the 258th Infantry Division had penetrated to Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, within sight of the spires of the Kremlin, but was driven out the next morning by a few Russian tanks and a motley force of hastily mobilized workers from the city's factories. This was the nearest the German troops ever got to Moscow; it was their first and last glimpse of the Kremlin.

Already on the evening of December 1, Bock, who was now suffering severe stomach cramps, had telephoned Halder to say that he could no longer "operate" with his weakened troops. The General Staff Chief had tried to cheer him on. "One must try," he said, "to bring the enemy down by a last expenditure of force. If that proves impossible then we will have to draw new conclusions." The next day Halder jotted in his diary: "Enemy resistance has reached its peak." On the following day, December 3, Bock was again on the phone to the Chief of the General Staff, who noted his message in his diary:

Spearheads of the Fourth Army again pulled back because the flanks could not come forward ... The moment must be faced when the strength of our troops is at an end.

When Bock spoke for the first time of going over to the defensive Halder tried to remind him that "the best defense was to stick to the attack."

It was easier said than done, in view of the Russians and the weather. The next day, December 4, Guderian, whose Second Panzer Army had been halted in its attempt to take Moscow from the south, reported that the thermometer had fallen to 31 degrees below zero. The next day it dropped another five degrees. His tanks, he said, were "almost immobilized" and he was threatened on his flanks and in the rear north of Tula.

December 5 was the critical day. Everywhere along the 200-mile semicircular front around Moscow the Germans had been stopped. By evening Guderian was notifying Bock that he was not only stopped but must pull back, and Bock was telephoning Halder that "his strength was at an end," and Brauchitsch was telling his Chief of the General Staff in despair that he was quitting as Commander in Chief of the Army. It was a dark and bitter day for the German generals.

This was the first time [Guderian later wrote] that I had to take a decision of this sort, and none was more difficult ... Our attack on Moscow had broken down. All the sacrifices and endurance of our brave troops had been in vain. We had suffered a grievous defeat. [16]

At Kluge's Fourth Army headquarters, Blumentritt, the chief of staff, realized that the turning point had been reached. Recalling it later, he wrote: "Our hopes of knocking Russia out of the war in 1941 had been dashed at the very last minute."

The next day, December 6, General Georgi Zhukov, who had replaced Marshal Timoshenko as commander of the central front but six weeks before, struck. On the 200-mile front before Moscow he unleashed seven armies and two cavalry corps -- 100 divisions in all-consisting of troops that were either fresh or battle-tried and were equipped and trained to fight in the bitter cold and the deep snow. The blow which this relatively unknown general now delivered with such a formidable force of infantry, artillery, tanks, cavalry and planes, which Hitler had not faintly suspected existed, was so sudden and so shattering that the German Army and the Third Reich never fully recovered from it. For a few weeks during the rest of that cold and bitter December and on into January it seemed that the beaten and retreating German armies, their front continually pierced by Soviet breakthroughs, might disintegrate and perish in the Russian snows, as had Napoleon's Grand Army just 130 years before. At several crucial moments it came very close to that. Perhaps it was Hitler's granite will and determination and certainly it was the fortitude of the German soldier that saved the armies of the Third Reich from a complete debacle.

But the failure was great. The Red armies had been crippled but not destroyed. Moscow had not been taken, nor Leningrad nor Stalingrad nor the oil fields of the Caucasus; and the lifelines to Britain and America, to the north and to the south, remained open. For the first time in more than two years of unbroken military victories the armies of Hitler were retreating before a superior force.

That was not all. The failure was greater than that. Halder realized this, at least later. "The myth of the invincibility of the German Army," he wrote, "was broken." There would be more German victories in Russia when another summer came around, but they could never restore the myth. December 6, 1941, then, is another turning point in the short history of the Third Reich and one of the most fateful ones. Hitler's power had reached its zenith; from now on it was to decline, sapped by the growing counterblows of the nations against which he had chosen to make aggressive war.

A drastic shake-up in the German High Command and among the field commanders now took place. As the armies fell back over the icy roads and snowy fields before the Soviet counteroffensive, the heads of the German generals began to roll. Rundstedt, as we have already seen, was relieved of command of the southern armies because he had been forced to retreat from Rostov. Field Marshal von Bock's stomach pains became worse with the setbacks in December and he was replaced on December 18 by Field Marshal von Kluge, whose battered Fourth Army was being pushed back, forever, from the vicinity of Moscow. Even the dashing General Guderian, the originator of massive armored warfare which had so revolutionized modern battle, was cashiered -- on Christmas Day -- for ordering a retreat without permission from above. General Hoepner, an equally brilliant tank commander, whose Fourth Armored Group had come within sight of Moscow on the north and then been pushed back, was abruptly dismissed by Hitler on the same grounds, stripped of his rank and forbidden to wear a uniform. General Hans Count von Sponeck, who had received the Ritterkreuz for leading the airborne landings at The Hague the year before, received a severer chastisement for pulling back one division of his corps in the Crimea on December 29 after Russian troops had landed by sea behind him. He was not only summarily stripped of his rank but imprisoned, court-martialed and, at the insistence of Hitler, sentenced to death. [vi]

Even the obsequious Keitel was in trouble with the Supreme Commander. Even he had enough sense to see during the first days of December that a general withdrawal around Moscow was necessary in order to avert disaster. But when he got up enough courage to say so to Hitler the latter turned on him and gave him a tongue-lashing, shouting that he was a "blockhead." Jodl found the unhappy OKW Chief a little later sitting at a desk writing out his resignation, a revolver at one side. Jodl quietly removed the weapon and persuaded Keitel -- apparently without too much difficulty -- to stay on and to continue to swallow the Fuehrer's insults, which he did, with amazing endurance, to the very end. [17]

The strain of leading an army which could not always win under a Supreme Commander who insisted that it always do had brought about renewed heart attacks for Field Marshal von Brauchitsch, and by the time Zhukov's counteroffensive began he was determined to step down as Commander in Chief. He returned to headquarters from a trip to the receding front on December 15 and Halder found him "very beaten down." "Brauchitsch no longer sees any way out," Halder noted in his diary, "for the rescue of the Army from its desperate position." The head of the Army was at the end of his rope. He had asked Hitler on December 7 to relieve him and he renewed the request on December 17. It was formally granted two days later. What the Fuehrer really thought of the man he himself had named to head the Army he told to Goebbels three months later.

The Fuehrer spoke of him [Brauchitsch] only in terms of contempt [Goebbels wrote in his diary on March 20, 1942]. A vain, cowardly wretch ... and a nincompoop. [18]

To his cronies Hitler said of Brauchitsch, "He's no soldier; he's a man of straw. If Brauchitsch had remained at his post only for another few weeks, things would have ended in catastrophe." [19]

There was some speculation in Army circles as to who would succeed Brauchitsch, but it was as wide of the mark as the speculation years before as to who would succeed Hindenburg. On December 19 Hitler called in Halder and informed him that he himself was taking over as Commander in Chief of the Army. Halder could stay on as Chief of the General Staff if he wanted to -- and he wanted to. But from now on, Hitler made it clear, he was personally running the Army, as he ran almost everything else in Germany.

This little matter of operational command [Hitler told him] is something anyone can do. The task of the Commander in Chief of the Army is to train the Army in a National Socialist way. I know of no general who could do that, as I want it done. Consequently, I've decided to take over command of the Army myself. [20]

Hitler's triumph over the Prussian officer corps was thus completed. The former Vienna vagabond and ex-corporal was now head of state, Minister of War, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and Commander in Chief of the Army. The generals, as Halder complained -- in his diary -- were now merely postmen purveying Hitler's orders based on Hitler's singular conception of strategy.

Actually the megalomaniacal dictator soon would make himself something even greater, legalizing a power never before held by any man -- emperor, king or president -- in the experience of the German Reichs. On April 26, 1942, he had his rubber-stamp Reichstag pass a law which gave him absolute power of life and death over every German and simply suspended any laws which might stand in the way of this. The words of the law have to be read to be believed.

... In the present war, in which the German people are faced with a struggle for their existence or their annihilation, the Fuehrer must have all the rights postulated by him which serve to further or achieve victory. Therefore -- without being bound by existing legal regulations -- in his capacity as Leader of the nation, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Head of Government and supreme executive chief, as Supreme Justice and Leader of the Party -- the Fuehrer must be in a position to force with all means at his disposal every German, if necessary, whether he be common soldier or officer, low or high official or judge, leading or subordinate official of the party, worker or employer -- to fulfill his duties. In case of violation of these duties, the Fuehrer is entitled after conscientious examination, regardless of so-called well-deserved rights, to mete out due punishment and to remove the offender from his post, rank and position without introducing prescribed procedures. [21]

Truly Adolf Hitler had become not only the Leader of Germany but the Law. Not even in medieval times nor further back in the barbarous tribal days had any German arrogated such tyrannical power, nominal and legal as well as actual, to himself.

But even without this added authority, Hitler was absolute master of the Army, of which he had now assumed direct command. Ruthlessly he moved that bitter winter to stem the retreat of his beaten armies and to save them from the fate of Napoleon's troops along the same frozen, snowbound roads back from Moscow. He forbade any further withdrawals. The German generals have long debated the merits of his stubborn stand -- whether it saved the troops from complete disaster or whether it compounded the inevitable heavy losses. Most of the commanders have contended that if they had been given freedom to pull back when their position became untenable they could have saved many men and much equipment and been in a better position to reform and even counterattack. As it was, whole divisions were frequently overrun or surrounded and cut to pieces when a timely withdrawal would have saved them.

And yet some of the generals later reluctantly admitted that Hitler's iron will in insisting that the armies stand and fight was his greatest accomplishment of the war in that it probably did save his armies from completely disintegrating in the snow. This view is best summed up by General Blumentritt.

Hitler's fanatical order that the troops must hold fast regardless in every position and in the most impossible circumstances was undoubtedly correct. Hitler realized instinctively that any retreat across the snow and ice must, within a few days, lead to the dissolution of the front and that if this happened the Wehrmacht would suffer the same fate that had befallen the Grande Armee ... The withdrawal could only be carried out across the open country since the roads and tracks were blocked with snow. After a few nights this would prove too much for the troops, who would simply lie down and die wherever they found themselves. There were no prepared positions in the rear into which they could be withdrawn, nor any sort of line to which they could hold on. [22]

General von Tippelskirch, a corps commander, agreed.

It was Hitler's one great achievement. At that critical moment the troops were remembering what they had heard about Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, and living under the shadow of it. If they had once begun a retreat, it might have turned into a panic flight. [23]

There was panic in the German Army, not only at the front but far in the rear at headquarters, and it is graphically recorded in Halder's diary. "Very difficult day!" he begins his journal on Christmas Day, 1941, and thereafter into the new year he repeats the words at the head of many a day's entry as he describes each fresh Russian breakthrough and the serious situation of the various armies.

December 29. Another critical day! ... Dramatic long-distance telephone talk between Fuehrer and Kluge. Fuehrer forbids further withdrawal of northern wing of 4th Army. Very bad crisis by 9th Army where apparently the commanders have lost their heads. At noon an excited call from Kluge. 9th Army wishes to withdraw behind Rzhev ...

January 2, 1942. A day of wild fighting! ... Grave crisis by 4th and 9th Armies ... Russian breakthrough north of Maloyaroslavets tears the front wide open and it's difficult to see at the moment how front can be restored ... This situation leads Kluge to demand withdrawal of sagging front. Very stormy argument with Fuehrer, who however holds to his stand: The front will remain where it is regardless of consequences ...

January 3. The situation has become more critical as the result of the breakthrough between Maloyaroslavets and Borovsk. Kuebler [vii] and Bock very excited and demand withdrawal on the north front, which is crumbling. Again a dramatic scene by Fuehrer, who doubts courage of generals to make hard decisions. But troops simply don't hold their ground when it's 30 below zero. Fuehrer orders: He will personally decide if any more withdrawals necessary....

Not the Fuehrer but the Russian Army was by now deciding such matters. Hitler could force the German troops to stand fast and die, but he could no more stop the Soviet advance than King Canute could prevent the tides from coming in. At one moment of panic some of the High Command officers suggested that perhaps the situation could be retrieved by the employment of poison gas. "Colonel Ochsner tries to talk me into beginning gas warfare against the Russians," Halder noted in his diary on January 7. Perhaps it was too cold. At any rate nothing came of the suggestion.

January 8 was "a very critical day," as Halder noted in his journal. "The breakthrough at Sukhinichi [southwest of Moscow] is becoming unbearable for Kluge. He is consequently insisting on withdrawing the 4th Army front." All day long the Field Marshal was on the phone to Hitler and Halder insisting on it. Finally, in the evening the Fuehrer reluctantly consented. Kluge was given permission to withdraw "step by step in order to protect his communications."

Step by step and sometimes more rapidly throughout that grim winter the German armies, which had planned to celebrate Christmas in Moscow, were driven back or forced by Russian encirclements and breakthroughs to retreat. By the end of February they found themselves from 75 to 200 miles from the capital. By the end of that freezing month Halder was noting in his diary the cost in men of the misfired Russian adventure. Total losses up to February 28, he wrote down, were 1,005,636, or 31 per cent of his entire force. Of these 202,251 had been killed, 725,642 wounded and 46,511 were missing. (Casualties from frostbite were 112,627.) This did not include the heavy losses among the Hungarians, Rumanians and Italians in Russia.

With the coming of the spring thaws a lull came over the long front and Hitler and Halder began making plans for bringing up fresh troops and more tanks and guns to resume the offensive -- at least on part of the front. Never again would they have the strength to attack all along the vast battle line. The bitter winter's toll and above all Zhukov's counteroffensive doomed that hope.

But Hitler, we now know, had realized long before that his gamble of conquering Russia -- not only in six months but ever -- had failed. In a diary entry of November 19, 1941, General Halder notes a long "lecture" of the Fuehrer to several officers of the High Command. Though his armies are only a few miles from Moscow and still driving hard to capture it, Hitler has abandoned hopes of striking Russia down this year and has already turned his thoughts to next year. Halder jotted down the Leader's ideas.

Goals for next year. First of all the Caucasus. Objective: Russia's southern borders. Time: March to April. In the north after the close of this year's campaign, Vologda or Gorki, [viii] but only at the end of May.

Further goals for next year must remain open. They will depend on the capacity of our railroads. The question of later building an "East Wall" also remains open.

No East Wall would be necessary if the Soviet Union were to be destroyed. Halder seems to have mulled over that as he listened to the Supreme Commander go on.

On the whole [he concluded] one gets the impression that Hitler recognizes now that neither side can destroy the other and that this will lead to peace negotiations.

This must have been a rude awakening for the Nazi conqueror who six weeks before in Berlin had made a broadcast declaring "without any reservation" that Russia had been "struck down and would never rise again." His plans had been wrecked, his hopes doomed. They were further dashed a fortnight later, on December 6, when his troops began to be beaten back from the suburbs of Moscow.

The next day, Sunday, December 7, 1941, an event occurred on the other side of the round earth that transformed the European war, which he had so lightly provoked, into a world war, which, though he could not know it, would seal his fate and that of the Third Reich. Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbor. The next day [ix] Hitler hurried back by train to Berlin from his headquarters at Wolfsschanze. He had made a solemn secret promise to Japan and the time had come to keep it -- or break it.



i. Emphasis in the original.

ii. A few weeks later Goering told Ciano, "This year between twenty and thirty million persons will die of hunger in Russia. Perhaps it is well that it should be so, for certain nations must be decimated. But even if it were not, nothing can be done about it. It is obvious that if humanity is condemned to die of hunger, the last to die will be our two peoples ... In the camps for Russian prisoners they have begun to eat each other." (Ciano's Diplomatic Papers, pp. 464-65.)

iii. Not as premature, however, as the warnings of the American General Staff, which in July had confidentially informed American editors and Washington correspondents that the collapse of the Soviet Union was only a matter of a few weeks. It is not surprising that the declarations of Hitler and Dr. Dietrich early in October 1941 were widely believed in the United States and Britain as well as in Germany and elsewhere.

iv. Halder, in his diary of August 24, gives quite a different version. He accuses  Guderian of "irresponsibly" changing his mind after seeing Hitler and muses how  useless it is to try to change a man's character. If he suffered, as Guderian alleges,  "a complete nervous collapse," his pedantic diary notes that day indicate that he  quickly recovered.
v. "Groesste Aufregung (greatest excitement) by the Fuehrer," Halder noted in his diary on November 30 in describing Rundstedt's retreat to the Mius and Hitler's dismissal of the Field Marshal. "The Fuehrer calls in Brauchitsch and hurls reproaches and abuse at him." Halder had begun his diary that day by noting the figures of German casualties up to November 26. "Total losses of the Eastern armies (not counting the sick), 743,112 officers and men -- 23 per cent of the entire force of 3.2 million."

On December 1, Halder recorded the replacement of Rundstedt by Reichenau, who still commanded the Sixth Army, which he had led in France and which had been having a hard time of it to the north of Kleist's armored divisions, which were retreating from Rostov.

"Reichenau phones the Fuehrer," Halder wrote, "and asks permission to withdraw tonight to the Mius line. Permission is given. So we are exactly where we were yesterday. But time and strength have been sacrificed and Rundstedt lost.

"The health of Brauchitsch," he added, "as the result of the continuing excitement is again causing anxiety." On November 10 Halder had recorded that the Army chief had suffered a severe heart attack.

vi. He was not executed until after the July 1944 plot against Hitler, in which he  was in no way involved.
vii. General Kuebler had replaced Kluge on December 26 as commander of the  Fourth Army when the latter took over Army Group Center. Though a tough  soldier, he stood the strain only three weeks and then was relieved by General  Heinrici.
viii. Vologda, 300 miles northeast of Moscow, controlled the railway to Archangel. Gorki is 300 miles due east of the capital.

ix. Hitler's movements and whereabouts are noted in his daily calendar book, which is among the captured documents.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Mon Feb 12, 2018 9:35 pm

Part 1 of 2


ADOLF HITLER'S reckless promise to Japan had been made during a series of talks in Berlin with Yosuke Matsuoka, the pro-Axis Japanese Foreign Minister, in the spring of 1941 just before the German attack on Russia. The captured German minutes of the meetings enable us to trace the development of another one of Hitler's monumental miscalculations. They and other Nazi documents of the period show the Fuehrer too ignorant, Goering too arrogant and Ribbentrop too stupid to comprehend the potential military strength of the United States -- a blunder which had been made in Germany during the First World War by Wilhelm II, Hindenburg and Ludendorff.

There was a basic contradiction from the beginning in Hitler's policy toward America. Though he had only contempt for her military prowess he endeavored during the first two years of the conflict to keep her out of the war. This, as we have seen, was the main task of the German Embassy in Washington, which went to great lengths, including the bribing of Congressmen, attempting to subsidize writers and aiding the America First Committee, to support the American isolationists and thus help to keep America from joining Germany's enemies in the war.

That the United States, as long as it was led by President Roosevelt, stood in the way of Hitler's grandiose plans for world conquest and the dividing up of the planet among the Tripartite powers the Nazi dictator fully understood, as his various private utterances make clear. The American Republic, he saw, would have to be dealt with eventually and, as he said, "severely." But one nation at a time. That had been the secret of his successful strategy thus far.· The turn of America would come, but only after Great Britain and the Soviet Union had been struck down. Then, with the aid of Japan and Italy, he would deal with the upstart Americans, who, isolated and alone, would easily succumb to the power of the victorious Axis.

Japan was the key to Hitler's efforts to keep America out of the war until Germany was ready to take her on. Japan, as Ribbentrop pointed out to Mussolini on March 11, 1940, possessed the counterweight to the United States which would prevent the Americans from trying to intervene in Europe against Germany as they had in the first war. [1]

In their wartime dealings with the Japanese, Hitler and Ribbentrop at first stressed the importance of not provoking the United States to abandon her neutrality. By the beginning of 1941 they were exceedingly anxious to draw Japan into the war, not against America, not even against Russia, which they were shortly to attack, but against Britain, which had refused to give in even when apparently beaten. Early in 1941 German pressure on Japan was stepped up. On February 23, Ribbentrop received at his stolen estate at Fuschl, near Salzburg, the fiery and hot-tempered Japanese ambassador, General Hiroshi Oshima, who had often impressed this observer as more Nazi than the Nazis. Though the war, Ribbentrop told his guest, was already won, Japan should come in "as soon as possible -- in its own interest," and seize Britain's empire in Asia.

A surprise intervention by Japan [he continued] was bound to keep America out of the war. America, which at present is not armed and would hesitate to expose her Navy to any risks west of Hawaii, could do this even less in such a case. If Japan would otherwise respect the American interests, there would not even be the possibility for Roosevelt to use the argument of lost prestige to make war plausible to the Americans. It was very unlikely that America would declare war if it had to stand by while Japan took the Philippines.

But even if the United States did get involved, Ribbentrop declared, "this would not endanger the final victory of the countries of the Three-Power Pact." The Japanese fleet would easily defeat the American fleet and the war would be brought rapidly to an end with the fall of both Britain and America. This was heady stuff for the fire-eating Japanese envoy and Ribbentrop poured it on. He advised the Japanese to be firm and "use plain language" in their current negotiations in Washington.

Only if the U.S. realized that they were confronting firm determination would they hold back. The people in the U.S.... were not willing to sacrifice their sons, and therefore were against any entry into the war. The American people felt instinctively that they were being drawn into war for no reason by Roosevelt and the Jewish wire-pullers. Therefore our policies with the U.S. should be plain and firm ...

The Nazi Foreign Minister had one warning to give, the one that had failed so dismally with Franco.

If Germany should ever weaken, Japan would find itself confronted by a world coalition within a short time. We were all in the same boat. The fate of both countries was being determined now for centuries to come ... A defeat of Germany would also mean the end of the Japanese imperialist idea. [2]

To acquaint his military commanders and the top men in the Foreign Office with his new Japanese policy, Hitler issued on March 5, 1941, a top-secret directive entitled "Basic Order No. 24 Regarding Collaboration with Japan." [3]

It must be the aim of the collaboration based on the Three-Power Pact to induce Japan as soon as possible to take active measures in the Far East. Strong British forces will thereby be tied down, and the center of gravity of the interests of the United States will be diverted to the Pacific ...

The common aim of the conduct of war is to be stressed as forcing England to her knees quickly and thereby keeping the United States out of the war.

The seizure of Singapore as the key British position in the Far East would mean a decisive success for the entire conduct of war of the Three Powers. [i]

Hitler also urged the Japanese seizure of other British naval bases and even American bases "if the entry of the United States into the war cannot be prevented." He concluded by ordering that "the Japanese must not be given any intimation of the Barbarossa operation." The Japanese ally, like the Italian ally, was to be used to further German ambitions, but neither government would be taken into the Fuehrer's confidence regarding his intention to attack Russia.

A fortnight later, on March 18, at a conference with Hitler, Keitel and JodI, Admiral Raeder strongly urged that Japan be pressed to attack Singapore. The opportunity would never again be so favorable, Raeder explained, what with "the whole English fleet contained, the unpreparedness of the U.S.A. for war against Japan and the inferiority of the U.S. fleet compared to the Japanese." The capture of Singapore, the Admiral said, would "solve all the other Asiatic questions regarding the U.S.A. and England" and would of course enable Japan to avoid war with America, if she wished. There was only one hitch, the Admiral opined, and mention of it must have made Hitler frown. According to naval intelligence, Raeder warned, Japan would move against the British in Southeast Asia only "if Germany proceeds to land in England." There is no record in the Navy minutes of this meeting indicating what reply Hitler made to this remark. Raeder certainly knew that the Supreme Commander had neither plans nor hopes for a landing in England this year. Raeder said something else that the Fuehrer did not respond to. He "recommended" that Matsuoka "be advised regarding the designs on Russia." [4]

The Japanese Foreign Minister was now on his way to Berlin via Siberia and Moscow, uttering bellicose pro-Axis statements, as Secretary of State Hull put it, [ii] along the route. His arrival in the German capital on March 26 came at an awkward moment for Hitler, for that night the pro-German Yugoslav government was overthrown in the Belgrade coup and the Fuehrer was so busy improvising plans to crush the obstreperous Balkan country that he had to postpone seeing the Japanese visitor until the afternoon of the twenty-seventh.

Ribbentrop saw him in the morning, playing over, so to speak, the old gramophone records reserved for such guests on such occasions, though managing to be even more fatuous than usual and not allowing the dapper little Matsuoka to get in a word. The lengthy confidential minutes drawn up by Dr. Schmidt (and now among the captured Foreign Office papers) leave no doubt of that. [5] "The war has already been definitely won by the Axis," Ribbentrop announced, "and it is only a question of time before England admits it." In the next breath he was urging a "quick attack upon Singapore" because it would be "a very decisive factor in the speedy overthrow of England." In the face of such a contradiction the diminutive Japanese visitor did not bat an eye. "He sat there inscrutably," Schmidt later remembered, "in no way revealing how these curious remarks impressed him." [6]

As to America --

There was no doubt [Ribbentrop said] that the British would long since have abandoned the war if Roosevelt had not always given Churchill new hope. The Three-Power Pact had above all had the goal of frightening America, and of keeping it out of the war ... America had to be prevented by all possible means from taking an active part in the war and from making its aid to England too effective ... The capture of Singapore would perhaps be most likely to keep America out of the war because the United States could scarcely risk sending its fleet into Japanese waters ... Roosevelt would be in a very difficult position ...

Though Hitler had laid it down that Matsuoka must not be told about the impending German attack on Russia -- a necessary precaution to keep the news from leaking out, but nevertheless, as we shall see, one that would have disastrous consequences for Germany -- Ribbentrop did drop several broad hints. Relations with the Soviet Union, he told his visitor, were correct but not very friendly. Moreover, should Russia threaten Germany, "the Fuehrer would crush Russia." The Fuehrer was convinced, he added, that if it came to war "there would be in a few months no more Russia."

Matsuoka, says Schmidt, blinked at this and looked alarmed, whereupon Ribbentrop hastened to assure him that he did not believe that "Stalin would pursue an unwise policy." At this juncture, says Schmidt, Ribbentrop was called away by Hitler to discuss the Yugoslav crisis and failed even to return for the official lunch which he was supposed to tender the distinguished visitor.

In the afternoon Hitler, having determined to smash another country (Yugoslavia), worked on the Japanese Foreign Minister. "England has already lost the war," he began. "It is only a matter of having the intelligence to admit it." Still, the British were grasping at two straws: Russia and America. Toward the Soviet Union Hitler was more circumspect than Ribbentrop had been. He did not believe, he said, that the danger of a war with Russia would arise. After all, Germany had some 160 to 170 divisions "for defense against Russia." As to the United States:

America was confronted by three possibilities: she could arm herself, she could assist England, or she could wage war on another front. If she helped England she could not arm herself. If she abandoned England the latter would be destroyed and America would then find herself fighting the powers of the Three-Power Pact alone. In no case, however, could America wage war on another front.

Therefore, the Fuehrer concluded, "never in the human imagination" could there be a better opportunity for the Japanese to strike in the Pacific than now. "Such a moment," he said, laying it on as thickly as he could, "would never return. It was unique in history." Matsuoka agreed, but reminded Hitler that unfortunately he "did not control Japan. At the moment he could make no pledge on behalf of the Japanese Empire that it would take action."

But Hitler, being absolute dictator, could make a pledge and he made it to Japan -- quite casually and without being asked to -- on April 4, after Matsuoka had returned to Berlin from seeing Mussolini. [iii] This second meeting took place on the eve of the Nazi attack on two more innocent countries, Yugoslavia and Greece, and the Fuehrer, thirsting for further easy conquests and for revenge on Belgrade, was in one of his warlike moods. While he considered war with the United States "undesirable," he said, he had "already included it in his calculations." But he did not think much of America's military power. [iv]

Germany had made her preparations so that no American could land in Europe. Germany would wage a vigorous war against America with U-boats and the Luftwaffe, and with her greater experience ... would be more than a match for America, entirely apart from the fact that German soldiers were, obviously, far superior to the Americans.

This boast led him to make the fateful pledge. Schmidt recorded it in his minutes:

If Japan got into a conflict with the United States, Germany on her part would take the necessary steps at once.

From Schmidt's notes it is evident that Matsuoka did not quite grasp the significance of what the Fuehrer was promising, so Hitler said it again.

Germany, as he had said, would promptly take part in case of a conflict between Japan and America. [v]

Hitler paid dearly not only for this assurance, so casually given, but for his deceit in not telling the Japanese about his intention to attack Russia as soon as the Balkans were occupied. Somewhat coyly Matsuoka had asked Ribbentrop during a talk on March 28 whether on his return trip he "should remain in Moscow in order to negotiate with the Russians on the Nonaggression Pact or the Treaty of Neutrality." The dull-witted Nazi Foreign Minister had replied smugly that Matsuoka "if possible should not bring up the question in Moscow since it probably would not altogether fit into the framework of the present situation." He did not quite grasp the significance of what was up. But by the next day it had penetrated his wooden mind and he began the conversations that day by referring to it. First of all he threw in, as casually as Hitler would do on April 4, a German guarantee that if Russia attacked Japan "Germany would strike immediately." He wanted to give this assurance, he said, "so that Japan could push southward toward Singapore without fear of any complications with Russia." When Matsuoka finally admitted that while in Moscow on his way to Berlin he himself had proposed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union and hinted that the Russians were favorably inclined toward it, Ribbentrop's mind again became somewhat of a blank. He merely advised that Matsuoka handle the problem in a "superficial way."

But as soon as the Nipponese Foreign Minister was back in Moscow on his trip home, he signed a treaty of neutrality with Stalin which, as Ambassador von der Schulenburg, who foresaw its consequences, wired Berlin, provided for each country to remain neutral in case the other got involved in the war. This was one treaty-it was signed on April 13 -- which Japan honored to the very last despite subsequent German exhortations that she disregard it. For before the summer of 1941 was out the Nazis would be begging the Japanese to attack not Singapore or Manila but Vladivostok!

At first, however, Hitler did not grasp the significance of the Russo-Japanese Neutrality Pact. On April 20 he told Admiral Raeder, who inquired about it, that it had been made "with Germany's acquiescence" and that he welcomed it "because Japan is now restrained from taking action against Vladivostok and should be induced to attack Singapore instead." [vi] [7] At this stage Hitler was confident Germany could destroy Russia during the summer. He did not want Japan to share in this mighty feat any more than he had desired that Italy should share in the conquest of France. And he was absolutely confident that Japanese help would not be needed. Ribbentrop, echoing his master's thoughts, had told Matsuoka on March 29 that if Russia forced Germany "to strike" he would "consider it proper if the Japanese Army were prevented from attacking Russia."

But the views of Hitler and Ribbentrop on this matter changed very suddenly and quite drastically scarcely three months later. Six days after the Nazi armies were flung into Russia, on June 28, 1941, Ribbentrop was cabling the German ambassador in Tokyo, General Eugen Ott, to do everything he could to get the Japanese to promptly attack Soviet Russia in the rear. Ott was advised to appeal to the Japanese appetite for spoils and also to argue that this was the best way of keeping America neutral.

It may be expected [Ribbentrop explained] that the rapid defeat of Soviet Russia -- -- especially should Japan take action in the East -- will prove the best argument to convince the United States of the utter futility of entering the war on the side of a Great Britain entirely isolated and confronted by the most powerful alliance in the world. [8]

Matsuoka was in favor of immediately turning on Russia, but his views were not accepted by the government in Tokyo, whose attitude seemed to be that if the Germans were rapidly defeating the Russians, as they claimed, they needed no help from the 1apanese. However, Tokyo was not so sure about a lightning Nazi victory and this was the real reason for its stand.

But Ribbentrop persisted. On July 10, when the German offensive in Russia was really beginning to roll and even Halder, as we have seen, thought that victory already had been won, the Nazi Foreign Minister got off from his special train on the Eastern front a new and stronger cable to his ambassador in Tokyo.

Since Russia, as reported by the Japanese ambassador in Moscow, is in effect close to collapse ... it is simply impossible that Japan does not solve the matter of Vladivostok and the Siberian area as soon as her military preparations are completed ...

I ask you to employ all available means in further insisting upon Japan's entry into the war against Russia at the soonest possible date ... The sooner this entry is effected, the better it is. The natural objective still remains that we and Japan join hands on the Trans-Siberian railroad before winter starts. [9]

Such a giddy prospect did not turn the head of even the militaristic Japanese government. Four days later Ambassador Ott replied that he was doing his best to persuade the Japanese to attack Russia as soon as possible, that Matsuoka was all for it, but that he, Ott, had to fight against "great obstacles" in the Tokyo cabinet. [10] As a matter of fact the fire-eating Matsuoka was soon forced out of the cabinet. With his departure, Germany lost, for the time being, its best friend, and though, as we shall see, closer relations were later restored between Berlin and Tokyo they never became close enough to convince the Japanese of the wisdom of helping Germany in the war against Russia. Once more Hitler had been bested at his own game by a wily ally. [vii]


With Japan stubbornly refusing to help pull Hitler's chestnuts out of the fire in Russia -- the Japanese had their own chestnuts roasting -- it became all the more important to Germany that the United States be kept out of the war until the Soviet Union had been conquered, as the Fuehrer was confident that summer of 1941 it would be before winter came.

The German Navy had long chafed under the restraints which Hitler had imposed on its efforts to curtail American shipments to Britain and to cope with the increasing belligerency of U.S. warships toward German U-boats and surface craft operating in the Atlantic. The Nazi admirals, looking further afield than Hitler's landlocked mind was capable of doing, had almost from the first regarded America's entry into the war as inevitable and they had urged the Supreme Commander to prepare for it. Immediately after the fall of France in June 1940, Admiral Raeder, backed by Goering, had urged Hitler to seize not only French West Africa but, more important, the Atlantic islands, including Iceland, the Azores and the Canaries, to prevent the United States from occupying them. Hitler had expressed interest, but he first wanted to invade England and conquer Russia. Then the upstart Americans, their position rendered hopeless, would be taken care of. A top-secret memorandum of Major Freiherr von Falkenstein, of the General Staff, discloses Hitler's views at the end of the summer in 1940.

The Fuehrer is at present occupied with the question of the occupation of the Atlantic Islands with a view to the prosecution of war against America at a later date. Deliberations on this subject are being embarked on here. [13]

It was not a question, then, of whether or not Hitler intended to go to war against the United States but of the date he would choose to embark on it. By the following spring the date was beginning to sprout in the Fuehrer's mind. On May 22, 1941, Admiral Raeder conferred with the Supreme Commander and reported ruefully that the Navy "must reject the idea of occupying the Azores." It simply didn't have the strength. But by this time Hitler had warmed to the project and, according to Raeder's confidential notes, [14] replied:

The Fuehrer is still in favor of occupying the Azores in order to be able to operate long-range bombers from there against the U.S.A. The occasion for this may arise by autumn. [viii]

After the fall of the Soviet Union, that is. The turn of the United States would come then. He put this clearly to Raeder when the Admiral saw him just two months later, on July 25, when the offensive in Russia was in full swing. "After the Eastern campaign," Raeder notes him as saying, "he reserves the right to take severe action against the U.S.A." [15] But until then, Hitler emphasized to his Navy chief, he wanted "to avoid having the U.S.A. declare war ... out of consideration for the Army, which is involved in heavy combat."

Raeder was not satisfied with this stand. In fact, his diary accounts of his meetings with Hitler, which one can now peruse in the captured documents, show his growing impatience at the wraps which the Fuehrer had placed on the German Navy. At every interview he sought to change the Leader's mind.

Early that year, on February 4, Raeder submitted a memorandum to Hitler in which the Navy expressed strong doubts about the value of continued American neutrality, as it was working out, to Germany. In fact the admirals argued that America's entry into the war might even prove "advantageous for the German war effort" if Japan thereby became a belligerent on the side of the Axis. [16] But the Nazi dictator was not impressed by the argument.

Raeder was greatly discouraged. The Battle of the Atlantic was at its height and Germany was not winning it. American supplies under the Lend-Lease agreement were pouring into Britain. The Pan-American Neutrality Patrol was making it more and more difficult for the U-boats to be effective. All this Raeder pointed out to Hitler, but without much effect. He saw the Leader again on March 18 and reported that U.S. warships were escorting American convoys bound for Britain as far as Iceland. He demanded authority to attack them without warning. He asked that something be done to prevent the U.S.A. from gaining a foothold in French West Africa. This possibility, he said, "was most dangerous." Hitler listened and said he would discuss these matters with the Foreign Office (of all places!), which was one way of putting the admirals off. [17]

All through the spring and early summer he continued to put them off. On April 20 he refused to listen to Raeder's pleas "for warfare against merchant ships of the U.S.A., according to prize regulations." [18] The first recorded clash between American and German war vessels had occurred on April 10 when the U.S. destroyer Niblack dropped depth charges on a German U-boat which showed signs of attacking. On May 22 Raeder was back at the Berghof with a long memorandum suggesting countermeasures to President Roosevelt's unfriendly acts, but he could not move his Supreme Commander.

The Fuehrer [the Admiral noted] considers the attitude of the President of the United States still undecided. Under no circumstances does he wish to cause incidents which would result in U.S. entry into the war. [19]

There was all the more reason to avoid such incidents when the campaign in Russia began, and on June 21, the day before the attack commenced, Hitler emphasized this to Raeder. The Grand Admiral had given him a glowing account of bow the U-253, spotting the U.S. battleship Texas and an accompanying destroyer within the blockade zone in the North Atlantic proclaimed by Germany, had "chased and attempted to attack them" and had added that "where the U.S.A. is concerned firm measures are always more effective than apparent yielding." The Fuehrer agreed with the principle but not with the specific action and once more he admonished the Navy.

The Fuehrer declares in detail that until Operation Barbarossa is well under way he wishes to avoid any incident with the U.S.A. After a few weeks the situation will become clearer, and can be expected to have a favorable effect on the U.S.A. and Japan. America will have less inclination to enter the war due to the threat from Japan which will then increase. If possible, therefore, in the next weeks all attacks on naval vessels in the closed area should cease.

When Raeder attempted to argue that at night it was difficult to distinguish enemy from neutral warships Hitler cut him short by instructing him to issue new orders to avoid incidents with America. As a result the Navy chief sent out orders the same night calling off attacks on any naval vessels "inside or outside the closed area" unless they were definitely identified as British. A similar order was given the Luftwaffe. [20]

On July 9, President Roosevelt announced that American forces were taking over the occupation of Iceland from the British. The reaction in Berlin was immediate and violent. Ribbentrop cabled Tokyo that "this intrusion of American military forces in support of England into a territory which has been officially proclaimed by us to be a combat area is in itself an aggression against Germany and Europe." [21]

Raeder hurried to Wolfsschanze, from where the Fuehrer was directing his armies in Russia. He wanted a decision, he said, on "whether the occupation of Iceland by the U.S.A. is to be considered as an entry into the war, or as an act of provocation which should be ignored." As for the German Navy, it considered the American landings in Iceland an act of war and in a two-page memorandum it reminded the Fuehrer of all the other acts of "aggression" against Germany committed by the Roosevelt government. Moreover, the Navy demanded the right to sink American freighters in the convoy area and to attack U.S. warships if the occasion required it. [ix] Hitler refused.

The Fuehrer explains in detail [Raeder's report on the meeting declares] that he is most anxious to postpone the United States' entry into the war for another one or two months. On the one hand the Eastern campaign must be carried on with the entire Air Force ... which he does not wish to divert even in part; on the other hand, a victorious campaign on the Eastern front will have a tremendous effect on the whole situation and probably on the attitude of the U.S.A. Therefore for the time being he does not wish the existing instructions changed, but rather wants to be sure that incidents will be avoided.

When Raeder argued that his naval commanders could not be held responsible for "a mistake" if American ships were hit, Hitler retorted that at least in regard to war vessels the Navy had better "definitely establish" that they were enemy craft before attacking. To make sure that the admirals understood him correctly the Fuehrer issued a specific order on July 19 stipulating that "in the extended zone of operations U.S. merchant ships, whether single or sailing in English or American convoys and if recognized as such before resort to arms, are not to be attacked." Within the blockade area, which was also recognized by the United States as being out of bounds, American vessels could be attacked, but Hitler specifically laid it down in this order that this war zone "did not include the U.S.A. -- Iceland sea route." The underlining was Hitler's. [22]

But "mistakes," as Raeder said, were bound to occur. On May 21 a U-boat had sunk the American freighter Robin Moor en route to South Africa and at a place well outside the German blockade zone. Two more American merchant vessels were torpedoed toward the end of the summer. On September 4 a German submarine fired two torpedoes at the U.S. destroyer Greer, both missing. A week later, on September 11, Roosevelt reacted to this attack in a speech in which he announced that he had given orders to the Navy to "shoot on sight" and warned that Axis warships entering the American defense zone did so "at their peril."

The speech incensed Berlin. In the Nazi press Roosevelt was attacked as "Warmonger Number One." Ribbentrop recalled at Nuremberg that Hitler "was greatly excited." However, by the time Admiral Raeder arrived at the Wolfsschanze headquarters on the Eastern front on the afternoon of September 17 to urge a drastic retaliation to the "shoot-on-sight" order, the Fuehrer had calmed down. To the Admiral's plea that the German Navy at last be released from the restrictions against attacking American ships the Supreme Commander again gave a firm No.

[Since] it appears that the end of September will bring the great decision in the Russian campaign [Raeder's record of the conversation declares], the Fuehrer requests that care be taken to avoid any incidents in the war on merchant shipping before about the middle of October.

"Therefore," Raeder noted sadly, "the Commander in Chief, Navy, and the Commanding Admiral, Submarines [Doenitz], withdraw their suggestions. The submarines are to be informed of the reason for temporarily keeping to the old orders." [23] In view of the circumstances, Hitler was certainly behaving with unaccustomed restraint. But admittedly it was more difficult for the young U-boat commanders, operating in the stormy waters of the North Atlantic and constantly harassed by increasingly effective British antisubmarine measures in which U.S. war vessels sometimes joined, to restrain themselves. Hitler had told Raeder in July that he would never call a submarine skipper to account if he sank an American ship "by mistake." On November 9, in his annual address to the Nazi Old Guard at the familiar beer cellar in Munich, he answered Roosevelt's speech.

President Roosevelt has ordered his ships to shoot the moment they sight German ships. I have ordered German ships not to shoot when they sight American vessels, but to defend themselves when attacked. I will have any German officer court-martialed who fails to defend himself.

And on November 13 he issued a new directive ordering that while engagements with American warships were to be avoided as far as possible German submarines must defend themselves against attack. [24]

They had, of course, already done that. On the night of October 16-17, the U.S. destroyer Kearny, coming to the aid of a convoy which was being attacked by German submarines, dropped depth charges on one of them, which retaliated by torpedoing it. Eleven men of the crew were killed. These were the first American casualties in the undeclared war with Germany. [x] More were to quickly follow. On October 31, the U.S. destroyer Reuben lames was torpedoed and sunk while on convoy duty, with the loss of 100 men of 145 in its crew, including all its seven officers. Thus, long before the final formalities of declaring war, a shooting war had begun.


Japan, as we have seen, had been assigned by Hitler the role not of bringing the United States into the war but of keeping her, at least for the time being, out of it. He knew that if the Japanese took Singapore and threatened India this would not only be a severe blow to the British but would divert America's attention -- and some of her energies -- from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Even after he began begging the Japanese to attack Vladivostok he saw in this a means not only to help him bring Russia down but to further pressure the United States into remaining neutral. Strangely enough, it never seems to have occurred to him or to anyone else in Germany until very late that Japan had her own fish to fry and that the Japanese might be fearful of embarking on a grand offensive in Southeast Asia against the British and Dutch, not to mention attacking Russia in the rear, until they had secured their own rear by destroying the United States Pacific Fleet. True, the Nazi conqueror had promised Matsuoka that Germany would go to war with America if Japan did, but Matsuoka was no longer in the government, and, besides, Hitler had constantly nagged the Japanese to avoid a direct conflict with America and concentrate on Britain and the Soviet Union, whose resistance was preventing him from winning the war. It did not dawn on the Nazi rulers that Japan might give first priority to a direct challenge to the United States.

Not that Berlin wanted the Japanese and Americans to reach an understanding. That would defeat the main purpose of the Tripartite Pact, which was to frighten the Americans into staying out of the war. For once Ribbentrop probably gave an honest and accurate appraisal of the Fuehrer's thoughts on this when he told an interrogator at Nuremberg:

He [Hitler] was afraid that if an arrangement were made between the United States and Japan this would mean, so to speak, the back free for America, and the unexpected attack or entry into the war by the United States would come quicker ... He was worried about an agreement because there were certain groups in Japan who wanted to come to an arrangement with America. [25]

One member of such a group was Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura, who arrived in Washington in February 1941 as the new Japanese ambassador and whose series of confidential conversations with Cordell Hull which began in March, with the aim of settling peacefully the differences between the two countries, and which continued right up to the end, gave considerable worry to Berlin. [xi]

In fact, the Germans did their best to sabotage the Washington talks. As early as May 15, 1941, Weizsaecker submitted a memorandum to Ribbentrop pointing out that "any political treaty between Japan and the United States is undesirable at the present" and arguing that unless it were prevented Japan might be lost to the Axis. [26] General Ott, the Nazi ambassador in Tokyo, called frequently at the Foreign Office, to warn against the Hull-Nomura negotiations. When, in spite of this, they continued, the Germans switched to a new maneuver of trying to induce the Japanese to make as a condition for their continuation that the United States abandon its aid to Britain and its hostile policies toward Germany. [27]

That was in May. The summer brought a change. In July Hitler was concerned mainly with badgering Japan into attacking the Soviet Union, and that month Secretary Hull broke off the talks with Nomura because the Japanese had invaded French Indochina. They were resumed toward the middle of August when the Japanese government proposed a personal meeting between Premier Prince Konoye and President Roosevelt for the purpose of arriving at a peaceful settlement. This did not please Berlin at all and the indefatigable Ott was soon at the Tokyo Foreign Office expressing Nazi displeasure with this turn of events. Both Foreign Minister Admiral Toyoda and Vice-Minister Amau told him blandly that the proposed Konoye-Roosevelt talks would merely advance the purpose of the Tripartite Pact, which they reminded him was "to prevent American participation in the war." [28]

In the autumn, as the Hull-Nomura talks continued, the Wilhelmstrasse switched back to the old tactics of the spring. It insisted in Tokyo that Nomura be instructed to warn the United States that if it continued its unfriendly acts toward the European Axis Germany and Italy might have to declare war, and that in this case Japan, under the terms of the Tripartite Pact, would have to join them. Hitler still did not want America in the war; the move was made, in fact, to bluff Washington into staying out while at the same time affording some relief from American belligerency in the Atlantic.

Secretary Hull learned immediately of this new German pressure, thanks to "Magic," as it was called, which since the end of 1940 had enabled the American government to decode intercepted Japanese cable and wireless messages in Tokyo's most secret ciphers -- not only those sent to and from Washington but those to and from Berlin and other capitals. The German demand was cabled by Toyoda to Nomura on October 16, 1941, along with instructions to present a watered-down version to Hull. [29]

That day the Konoye government fell and was replaced by a military cabinet headed by the hotheaded, belligerent General Hideki Tojo. In Berlin General Oshima, a warrior of similar cast, hastened to the Wilhelmstrasse to explain the good news to the German government. Tojo's appearance at the post as Premier meant, the ambassador said, that Japan would draw closer to its Axis partners and that the talks in Washington would cease. Whether on purpose or not, he neglected to tell his Nazi friends what the consequences of the cessation of those talks must be, and that Tojo's appointment therefore meant a good deal more than they suspected: namely, that his new government was determined to go to war with the United States unless the Washington negotiations swiftly ended with President Roosevelt accepting the Japanese terms for a free hand -- not to attack Russia but to occupy Southeast Asia. This course had never entered the minds of Ribbentrop and Hitler, who still envisaged Japan as useful and helpful to German interests only if she attacked Siberia and Singapore and frightened Washington into worrying about the Pacific and staying out of the war. The Fuehrer and, of course, his doltish Foreign Minister had never understood that the failure of the Nomura-Hull negotiations in Washington, which they so greatly desired, would bring the very result they had been trying to avoid until the time was ripe: America's entry into the world conflict. [xii]

The sands were now rapidly running out.

On November 15 Saburo Kurusu arrived in Washington as a special ambassador to aid Nomura in the negotiations, but Secretary Hull soon sensed that the diplomat, who as the Japanese envoy in Berlin had signed the Tripartite Pact and was somewhat pro-German, had brought no fresh proposals with him. His purpose, Hull thought, was to try to persuade Washington to accept the Japanese terms at once or, if that failed, to lull the American government with talk until Japan was ready to strike a heavy surprise blow. [30] On November 19 came the ominous "Winds" message to Nomura from Tokyo, which Hull's cryptographers promptly deciphered. If the Japanese newscaster on the short-wave Tokyo broadcast, which the Embassy picked up daily, inserted the words "East wind, rain," that would mean that the Japanese government had decided on war with America. Nomura was instructed, on receipt of the "Winds" warning, to destroy all his codes and confidential papers.

Now Berlin awoke to what was up. The day before the "Winds" message, on November 18, Ribbentrop was somewhat surprised to receive a request from Tokyo asking Germany to sign a treaty in which the two nations would agree not to conclude a separate peace with common enemies. Just which enemies the Japanese meant was not clear, but the Nazi Foreign Minister obviously hoped that Russia was the first of them. He agreed "in principle" to the proposal, apparently in the comforting belief that Japan at last was about to honor its vague promises to hit the Soviet Union in Siberia. This was most welcome and timely, for the resistance of the Red Army on the broad front was becoming formidable and the Russian winter was setting in -- much earlier than had been anticipated. A Japanese attack on Vladivostok and the Pacific maritime provinces might provide that extra ounce of pressure which would bring a Soviet collapse.

Ribbentrop was swiftly disillusioned. On November 23 Ambassador Ott wired him from Tokyo that all indications were that the Japanese were moving south with the intention of occupying Thailand and the Dutch-held Borneo oil fields, and that the Japanese government wanted to know if Germany would make common cause with her if she were to start a war. This information plainly meant that Japan would not strike against Russia but was contemplating "starting a war" with the Netherlands and Britain in the South Pacific which well might embroil her in an armed conflict with the United States. But Ribbentrop and Ott did not grasp the last point. Their exchanges of telegrams during these days show that though they now realized, to their disappointment, that Japan would not attack Russia they believed that her move southward would be against the possessions of the Dutch and British and not those of the United States. Uncle Sam, as Hitler desired, would be kept on the sidelines until his time came. [31]

Nazi misapprehensions were due in large part to the failure at this juncture of the Japanese to take the German government into their confidence as to their fateful decisions regarding America. Secretary Hull, thanks to the "Magic" code breaker, was much better informed. As early as November 5 he knew that the new Foreign Minister, Shigenori Togo, had wired Nomura setting a deadline of November 25 for the signing of an agreement -- on Japan's terms -- with the American government. The final Japanese proposals were delivered in Washington on November 20. Hull and Roosevelt knew they were final because two days later "Magic" decoded for them a message from Togo to Nomura and Kurusu which said so, while extending the deadline to November 29.

There are reasons beyond your ability to guess [Togo wired his ambassadors] why we wanted to settle Japanese-American relations by the 25th. But if the signing can be completed by the 29th ... we have decided to wait until that date. This time we mean it, that the deadline absolutely cannot be changed. After that things are automatically going to happen. [32]

November 25, 1941, is a crucial date.
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