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DEFEAT IN THE WEST 

By MILTON SHULMAN 

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With An Introduction By 

Major General Sir Ian Jacob, K.B.E., C.B. 





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E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY, INC. 
New York 1948 


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Copyright 1948, hy Milton Shulman 
All rights reserved. Printed in the U.S.A. 

FIRST EDITION 

*| No part of this book may be reproduced 
in any form without permission in writing 
from the publisher except by a reviewer 
who wishes to quote brief passages in con- 
nection with a review written for inclusion in 
magazine or newspaper or radio broadcast. 


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INTRODUCTION 

By Major General Sir Ian Jacob, K.B.E., C.B. 




The historian of the future will have an unprecedented opportunity. 
Not only will he have very complete documentation of the second 
World War on the Allied side, but he will have the entire political 
and military archives of Germany to study, since these have fallen 
intact into our hands. But the ground to be covered in writing a 
comprehensive history of the war is so extensive that many years must 
elapse before definitive volumes can be presented to the public. In 
the meanwhile the world does not stand still, and it is most desirable 
that interim studies of the great events of the past few years should 
appear and that in this way some of the lessons that are there to be 
learnt should be revealed before it is too late to make use of them. 
This book is just such a study. It describes in admirably lucid fashion 
the German defeat in the West as seen from the losing side; it traces 
the causes of that defeat, and it throws a lurid light on Hitler, on 
the German character and on the strengths and weaknesses of the 
Wehrmacht. There is no doubt about the essential accuracy of the 
picture that emerges. Further research may lead to modification of 
the details, but the main facts and the conclusions that can be drawn 
from them are likely to remain unchallenged. 

Major Shulman was in an excellent position to gather the material 
for this book. It was his duty as a member of the Intelligence Staff 
of the Canadian Army to make a detailed study of the German Army 
before D-Day. He then made close personal contact with it through- 
out the operations in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. Finally 
he was given the task of interrogating a large number of the senior 
Commanders who had fought for Germany against the Allies in the 
West, including such notable figures as von Rundstedt,‘Sepp’ Dietrich 
and Student. Major Shulman has made the most of his opportunities, 
and the result is an absorbing tale of what happened "on the other 
side of the hill.” 

Those of us who were closely concerned with the higher direction 
of the war on the Allied side frequently speculated on the extra- 
ordinary mistakes that were made by the Germans. Why was the 
British Army allowed to escape at Dunkirk? Why did not the enemy 

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vi 

attempt the capture of Malta, the key to the Mediterranean campaign 
and the thorn in Rommel’s flesh, which so tapped his life-blood that 
he was prevented from driving home his victories? Why did the Ger- 
man armies on the various fronts never make strategic retreats? Why 
did they throw good money after bad in Tunisia? These and many 
other questions we asked ourselves. Some of them are directly 
answered by Major Shulman; the answers to others can now be de- 
duced from the evidence that he has assembled. As Shulman says, it is 
at the fateful but clumsy feet of Adolf Hitler that we must lay the 
wreath of German defeat. Hitler, discipline, and ignorance, combined 
to make the immense sacrifices of the Wehrmacht ineffectual. But 
the supreme question that has to be answered is, How did one man 
so master Germany that when he was clearly leading the country to 
total destruction, when he was issuing impossible orders to formations 
hundreds of miles away in the line of battle, and when at all costs 
he should have been overthrown, no force was found with the spirit 
and cohesion to do the job? The answer lies in the state of degradation 
to which a nation, wedded to brute discipline and accustomed to 
military domination, can be reduced by an autocratic regime. Ger- 
many is a country that has never known truly democratic existence. 
The Germans have always responded with alacrity to the call to 
discipline, to self-sacrifice and to war. Autocratic leaders have always 
found it easy to fasten their militaristic chains on the docile and 
patriotic people of the Fatherland. The tradition of the Prussian 
military caste has thus been firmly established for many years, and 
has been gladly accepted by the men and women of German race. Its 
power and luster was in no way diminished by the outcome of the 
first World War. The myth of the “stab in the back” was cultivated 
to make the Germans believe that their army had not been defeated. 
The Wehrmacht, who knew the truth, and saw that Hitler gave 
promise of restoring their military glory, supported him in his rise 
to power. But their discipline and their ignorance made them incap- 
able of withstanding his stupidities or of overthrowing him. There is 
now a real danger that a fresh myth may be built up by the Wehr- 
macht to put the blame for defeat on other shoulders than those of 
the German General Staff. “Hitler’s interference” may take the place 
of “the stab in the back.” Major Shulman’s account shows clearly that 
although Hitler’s intuition was the greatest single factor in Germany’s 
defeat, the Wehrmacht contained in itself fatal weaknesses which led 
to its utter defeat in battle in the West as in the East. 

Future generations of Germans may again be taught to believe that 
the Wehrmacht embodied everything that was glorious in German 


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INTRODUCTION 


vii 

history. It is essential that the truth about its overwhelming defeat, 
along with all the other ghastly details of the Nazi era, should not be 
allowed to disappear, least of all from the consciousness of the Ger- 
man race. Major Shulman performs a valuable service in bringing that 
truth so vividly to light. 

The outstanding lesson that we must learn is that at all costs Ger- 
many must remain disarmed and demilitarized, incapable of selling 
her power to the highest bidder. The effects of militarism ingrained 
for generations, coupled with the debauchery of the last twelve years, 
will not easily be eradicated. Constant vigilance will be needed. The 
urgency of this lesson is apparent when one sees the rapid growth 
of natural sympathy for the German people in their sufferings. We 
must never allow the Germans to profit by this sympathy to build up 
once more the ruthless war machine that so nearly achieved the 
domination of Europe. Another time there might not be a Hitler to 
misdirect the strategy, and the General Staff might eradicate its weak- 
nesses. The really formidable power of a nation of soldiers would 
then be fully developed with fatal results to civilization. 


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CONTENTS 


PACE 

Introduction v 

List of Illustrations ...... x 

Author’s Preface xii 

BOOK ONE 

THE ROAD TO DEFEAT 


PART I 
THE CAUSES 

CHAPTER 

i. Men Make Wars ....... 1 

n. Hitler 3 

in. Discipline ........ 8 

iv. Ignorance 13 


PART 11 
THE BEGINNINGS 

v. The Wehrmacht is Reborn 21 

. Hitler versus the German General Staff . . 25 

. The Phoney War ....... 33 

. Victory — and Defeat 39 


PART 111 
THE MISTAKES 

ix. The Early Mistakes — Gibraltar and Crete . . 54 

x. The Greatest Mistake — Russia .... 60 

xi. The Decisive Mistake — United States ... 74 

xn. The Final Mistake — El Alamein .... 78 


BOOK TWO 

DEFEAT IN THE WEST 

PART IV 
THE INVASION 

xiii. The Atlantic Wall and the Men Behind It . . 88 

xiv, Watching and Watting ..... 95 

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CONTENTS 


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CHAPTER PACE 

xv. The First Days ....... 100 

xvi. The Battle of the Bridgehead .... 109 

xvii. The German Soldier Still Hopes . . . .116 


PART V 

THE DECLINE 


xvra. July Twentieth ....... 122 

xix. Defeat in Normandy ...... 136 

xx. Mortain ........ 145 

xxi. The Hell of Falaise ...... 148 

xxii. Paris and the Seine ...... 162 

xxm. The Retreat 177 

xxrv. The Fortresses ....... 187 

xxv. Manning the Siegfried Line .... 202 


PART VI 
THE COUNTERBLOW 

xxvi. Offensive in the Ardennes ..... 222 

xxvii. The Parachutists and the Saboteurs . . . 235 

xxvrn. Elation and Despair ...... 248 

xxix. The Thunder of Collapse ..... 253 

PART VII 
THE END 


xxx. Defeat West of the Rhine ..... 262 

xxxi. Defeat East of the Rhine 277 

xxxh. Resistance that Never Came .... 286 

xxxra. Defeat ........ 294 

xxxiv. The Vanquished 309 


APPENDIX A 

Senior German Officers interviewed by the Author 320 


APPENDIX B 

Bibliography 321 

Notes ......... 322 

Index ......... 330 


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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS 


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Plate I. Field Marshal Werner von Blomberg with Colonel General 
Hans von Seeckt 

At a ceremony in Berlin in March 1935 are Field Marshal von 
Mackensen, Hitler and Field Marshal von Blomberg, Colonel 
General von Fritsch, Goring and Admiral Raeder 
Inspecting a guard during manoeuvres in August 1938 are Colonel 
General Blaskowitz, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, Field Marshal 
von Brauchitsch and Hitler 

Plate II. Colonel General Franz Haider, Chief-of-Staff of the German 
Army, September 1938 to September 1942 

Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, Commander Army Group ‘B* in 
France (1940) and Army Group South in Russia (1941-42) 
Colonel General Werner von Fritsch, Commander-in-Chief of the 
German Army, February 1934 to February 1938 
Hitler and his field marshals, August 1940: Field Marshal Keitel, 
Field Marshal von Rundstedt, Field Marshal von Bock, Reichs- 
marshal Goring, Adolf Hitler, Field Marshal von Brauchitsch, Field 
Marshal von Leeb, Field Marshal List, Field Marshal von Kluge, 
Field Marshal von Witzleben and Field Marshal von Reichenau 

A STUDY IN VICTORY AND DEFEAT 

Plate III. Victorious Generals: Field Marshal von Rundstedt, Com- 
mander Army Group ‘A’ in France ( 1940), Army Group South in 
Russia (1941), Commander-in-Chief West (1942-45); Field 
Marshal von Leeb, Commander Army Group ‘C’ in France ( 1940), 
Army Group North in Russia (1941); Field Marshal List, Com- 
mander Army Group ‘A’ in the Caucasus (1942) 

Defeated Generals: Field Marshals von Rundstedt, von Leeb and 
List as prisoners-of-war 

Plate IV, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Commander ‘Afrika Korps' 

( 1941-43), Army Group ‘B’ in France ( 1944) 

Colonel General Kurt Student, Commander Army Group ‘H’ 
(1944-45), Commander-in-Chief German Airborne Troops 
(1943-45) 

Adolf Hitler congratulating Admiral Raeder, Field Marshal von 
Brauchitsch, Field Marshal Keitel and S.S. Reichsfiihrer Himmler 
at Berlin in April 1941 

Plate V. S.S. Brigadefiihrer (Major General) Kurt Meyer, Commander 
12 S.S. Panzer Division ‘Hitler Jugend* 

General Gunther Blumentritt, Chief-of-Staff to the Commander- 
in-Chief West (1942-44), Commander Twenty-fifth Army and 
First Parachute Army ( 1945) 

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Field Marshal Rommel in May 1944 inspecting 21 Panzer Division 
led by Lieutenant General Edgar Feuchtinger 

Plate VI. S.S. Oberstgruppenfiihrer (Colonel General) Joseph ‘Sepp’ 
Dietrich, Commander Fifth Panzer Army and Sixth S.S. Panzer 
Army 

Colonel General Heinz Guderian, Commander-in-Chief East 
( 1944 ) , Chief -of-Staff of the German Army, July 1944 to May 1945 
Field Marshal Walter Model, Commander Army Group North and 
Army Group Center in Russia (1944), Army Group ‘B’ in France 
(1944-45) 

Colonel General Ludwig Beck, Chief-of-Staff of the German Army 
(1936-38), and military leader of the 20 July assassination plot 
against Hitler 


Plate VII. Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge, Army Group Center in 
Russia (1943), Commander-in-Chief West (July-August 1944) 
Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, Commander-in-Chief South 
( 1942-43 ) , Commander-in-Chief South-west ( 1944-45 ) , Com- 
mander-in-Chief West (March-May 1945) 

Colonel General Alfred Jodi signing the surrender terms on behalf 
of the German Supreme Command at Rheims on 7 May 1945. 
At the extreme right is Admiral Hans von Friedeburg 

Plate VIII. Wehrmacht (rear view), Nuremberg, September 1936 
Wehrmacht ( front view). The Elbe, May 1945 

( These plates , which are all in one Section, will be found 
following page 144.) 


MAPS 


The Invasion That Never Came 
(September 1940) 

The Normandy Bridgehead 
(29 June 1944) 

The Falaise Pocket 
(19 August 1944) 

The Retreat from France . 

(17 September 1944) 

The Ardennes Offensive 
(24 December 1944) 

The Allied Advance to the Rhine . 

(February-March 1945) 

The Final Collapse 
( April-May 1945) 


PAGE 

45 

117 

159 

181 

227 

273 

285 


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PREFACE 

To write the story of the Allied victory in World War II, while not 
an easy task, is a relatively straightforward one. The documents have 
all been carefully preserved, the official reports are being written, the 
personalities are available to contribute their dispatches and memoirs. 
The historian or reporter needs only to dig amongst the files, find the 
relevant facts, and present his version of them. To write the story 
of the German defeat in World War II, at this early stage, is unfortu- 
nately a little more complicated. Documents have been destroyed, 
lost and hidden. Personalities are dead, disappeared or in prisoner-of- 
war camps. They produce no official reports, no autobiographies, no 
historical publications. Whatever is therefore written about the Wehr- 
macht less than two years after its final defeat must of necessity be 
incomplete. Much is still to be obtained from those Germans alive 
to tell the tale, and much will yet be derived from the mountains 
of documents waiting to be translated, classified and analyzed. It 
will be many more years before a complete history of Germany’s part 
in the last war will be written. 

Having thus sweepingly apologized for what this book does not 
contain, let me hasten to add what it does contain. Ambitiously 
enough this volume was begun with a threefold object — to tell the 
story of the defeat of the German Wehrmacht in the West, to suggest 
some of the causes that brought about that defeat, and finally to 
show how men, both great and small, react to the overwhelming, 
psychological experience of defeat itself. Supplementary to this hydra- 
headed purpose, but seriously influencing the book’s final shape, was 
the desire to present it in terms intelligible to the reader whose 
military vocabulary had been acquired only by the reading of news- 
papers. 

How I have gone about so diverse a task can best be seen by a 
cursory examination of the Table of Contents. The first section of the 
book is concerned primarily with examining the causes of the defeat 
of the Wehrmacht by tracing the story of German militarism from 
Versailles to Stalingrad. The second, and largest, section of the book 
is a relatively detailed account of the battles in the West from the 
invasion of Normandy to the surrender at Rheims. In this latter part 
I have included the letters, diaries, exhortations and propaganda writ- 
ten by men about to lose, in an attempt to depict the suffering, dis- 

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illusionment and despair that must be faced by a modern armed force 
before it goes down to defeat. 

For the student of military affairs some explanation as to my source 
material might be in order. As an intelligence officer serving at the 
headquarters of First Canadian Army it was my responsibility to read 
and collate the intelligence summaries and reports issued by Allied 
formations in Northwest Europe, and from them estimate the strength 
and location of enemy forces opposing the Canadian army. A list of 
these Allied intelligence documents is contained in the bibliography 
at Appendix ‘B.’ The bulk of the German papers quoted in this book 
were derived from this source. 

Following the surrender of the German armed forces I was given 
the task of interviewing senior German officers who had fought in 
Germany and France, with the object of acquiring from them their 
version of what had transpired in the West. This information was to 
be used to supplement the official historical record of Canadian par- 
ticipation in World War II. The names of the German officers with 
whom I have spoken in this regard are listed in Appendix ‘A.’ To fore- 
stall any objections as to the reliability of statements made by cap- 
tured enemy officers, I would like to point out that I have included 
in this volume only such statements as have appeared to me to be 
accurate on the basis of the available documentary evidence and on 
an examination of the attendant military circumstances. 

While it is true that those who have suffered defeat will tend to 
excuse their mistakes by blaming someone else, and German generals 
were no exception to this rule, nevertheless it was possible for me 
to cross-check most of what they told by comparing it with state- 
ments from other German officers, and by the study of contemporary 
documents. As a matter of fact, most senior officers of the Wehr- 
macht were eager to relate the stories of their military careers. There 
were two main reasons for such generous co-operation. In the first 
place, they were anxious to explain their own particular, personal r 61 e 
to posterity. Since it would be a very long time before German his- 
torians would be able to hear their tales, they felt that an Allied 
version of their experiences was, at least, better than no version at all. 
The second reason was undoubtedly the sheer relief from boredom 
afforded by an opportunity to speak to someone other than the regular 
inmates of their own prisoner-of-war camp. 

On the whole I believe it is fair to say that the statements of these 
men were reasonably truthful. Knowing that it was relatively easy 
for their interrogators to verify most of the facts, there was little to 
be gained in lying. Thus they usually told their story as they had 


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seen it, with an occasional coloring of the account so that they per- 
sonally would appear in the most favorable light. If the facts were 
much too damaging from their own particular standpoint they merely 
refrained from discussing them. Whatever juggling that may have 
been done with the truth was done in the form of acts of omission 
rather than those of commission. 

In these pages I have endeavored sedulously to follow the thin, 
middle path of literary effort that appeals to both the serious student 
and the casual layman. The text has been freed, as much as possible, 
of detailed references to military formations or technical strategical 
problems which would be of little interest to the non-specialist reader. 
But for those who are interested in the minutiae of military history, a 
number of notes and references have been appended. 

The folly of war as an instrument for the settlement of national 
disputes is acknowledged by every intelligent man. Just how sense- 
less and futile an expedient it really is can usually best be judged 
by those who have lost rather than by those who have won. There 
were no more fervent worshippers of Mars than the officers of the 
German Wehrmacht. They represented the disciplined, military mind 
carried to its logical, uncurbed end. It would be foolish not to recog- 
nize that similar minds still exist, not only amongst the defeated, but 
amongst the victors as well. 

It is important therefore to realize what pathetic and petty figures 
these men really were who masqueraded behind their gaudy uni- 
forms and strutted before the world as conquerors. It is important 
because we hear today, on all sides, similar narrow and pompous men 
advocating the use of force to resolve all social and political problems. 
Because they have been victors once, they are convinced they will 
be victors always. If moral considerations alone are not capable of 
curbing such views, perhaps the sobering prospect of defeat might. 
For it is sometimes forgotten by those who talk glibly of another war 
that every war entails the risk of defeat. And if there are any who 
are still in doubt as to what defeat in the twentieth century really 
means, the rubble of German cities and the plight of the German 
people should provide a vivid object-lesson. 

That lesson would be more impressive still if it could but be appre- 
ciated that the pain and destruction suffered by the Third Reich in 
the second World War is but a fraction of the pain and destruction 
that awaits both those who win and those who lose a third World War. 


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DEFEAT IN THE WEST 


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BOOK ONE-THE ROAD TO DEFEAT 




Part I / THE CAUSES 

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Chapter I 

MEN MAKE WARS 

This is a story of defeat. It tells of men who fought, who were beaten 
and who fled. As such it is a gray story. There is no pink mist of glory 
to color the deeds of the vanquished such as so often envelops the 
tales of the victors. Defeat brings with it disloyalty, cowardice, brutal- 
ity, inefficiency and death. Sometimes, but not as often, it displays 
courage and faith. Usually it produces truth. The winners can afford 
to conceal their failures; the losers are eager to explain theirs. 

Rarely in history has an armed force been as thoroughly beaten 
as was the German Wehrmacht in the years from 1939 to 1945. The 
record of that defeat has been left in the exhortations, the oaths, the 
orders, the diaries, the letters, the speeches and the confessions of 
the men who suffered it. And it is in these words, from the mouths 
and the pens of German soldiers from private to field marshal, that 
the real account of the military collapse of the Third Reich can be 
found. For they disclose not only the errors and mistakes by which 
Germany blundered to defeat, but they also reveal the reactions of 
a modern armed force to defeat. How men accept victory is a tale 
often told. How they accept failure is less often told for it is seldom 
as heroic or as significant. The story of why Germany lost World 
War II and how it felt to lose it, as it was told and felt by those who 
were a part of the defeated Wehrmacht, is the purpose of this book. 

It is inevitable that the physical and spiritual demands made on 
men who are losing are far more exacting than they are on those who 
are winning. In the same way that we can only be certain of the 
amount of air a rubber balloon can hold by pumping into it sufficient 
air to burst it, a man’s faith and ability can only be truly tested when 
he has been subjected to enough pressure to destroy that faith and 
ability. If this be true then it follows that a defeated Wehrmacht 
should provide a better picture of its real worth than a victorious one 
would have done. For here one should be able to see just how capable 

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2 DEFEAT IN THE WEST 

were the men who made it up, and what sacrifices they were willing 
to make for the cause for which they fought. 

It is obvious that men make wars. The corollary that men lose wars 
is a truism that is often forgotten.The popular tendency at the 
moment is to identify all man’s military achievements with the ma- 
chine. The aeroplane, the tank, the battleship, radar and the atom 
bomb amongst others are all credited by various proponents with 
having been the decisive factor in winning the war for the Allies. It 
seems to be felt, in some quarters, that given enough aeroplanes, or 
enough battleships or enough atom bombs, any power could guar- 
antee for itself ultimate victory in a future war. But the story of Ger- 
many’s defeat in World War II convincingly destroys such theories. 

Germany had sufficient machines to have assured victory for herself 
more than once during this war, yet she failed. This view has been 
expressed over and over again by leading military personalities in 
the Wehrmacht. They propound it every time they talk about Ger- 
many’s greatest military mistakes— and each general suggests a differ- 
ent one. Some say it was allowing the British to escape at Dunkirk, 
others the failure to invade England in 1940, others the refusal to 
invade Spain and seize Gibraltar, others the attack on Russia, others 
the failure to push on and take the Suez when Rommel was at El 
Alamein, others the stupidity at Stalingrad, and still others the dis- 
astrous strategy adopted at Normandy. At each of these decisive 
phases, except perhaps the last, Germany had sufficient material 
strength to have enabled her to defeat her immediate enemy or to 
have prevented that enemy from defeating her. 

Yet why did the superior power of these machines not prevail? 
Because the men who controlled them lacked either the courage or 
the faith or the imagination or the ability to make them prevail. It is 
a fundamental principle of war that to win battles superiority of 
machines and men must be brought to bear at the right time and 
the right place. German strategists failed to carry out this tenet time 
and time again. Why, then, did these men who guided Germany’s 
destiny make blunder after blunder until victory became impossible? 
In the answer to that question, rather than in the quantity and quality 
of machines, is the real reason for the fall of Germany in World War II. 

The causes of the defeat of the Reich were substantially either 
political or military. The evidence and judgment of the Nuremberg 
Tribunal has done much to clarify the political reasons behind Ger- 
many’s collapse. The military reasons, while obviously subordinate 
to political events, have not been given the same searching scrutiny 
and therefore still remain relatively obscure. The discriminating and 


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HITLER 


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scientific study of psychologists, sociologists and soldiers will un- 
doubtedly produce the answers. But what evidence have we now on 
hand to help the historians and students of the future? The men 
of the Wehrmacht themselves. And their evidence is both interesting 
and important. 

If men make wars, what manner of men were these who led the 
armed forces of the Reich to its worst defeat in history? What funda- 
mental causes forced the military leaders of Germany to act as they 
did for five years of war? Why did a group of men with more train- 
ing, more experience and more passion for the art of warfare than 
any other contemporary group of similarly trained men fail to ensure 
the victory that was so often within their reach? It is suggested that 
at least three weaknesses existed in the framework of the Wehrmacht 
which combined to produce a defeated, rather than a victorious, 
Germany. These weaknesses might be summed up in three words — 
Hitler, discipline and ignorance. Let us discuss each in turn. 


Chapter II 
HITLER 

The incredible situation of the political head of a state personally 
directing the tactical moves of an armed force fighting on fronts as 
far removed from each other as France, Italy and Russia was the 
military position revealed in Germany when the curtain of war was 
lifted in Europe. Brooding over a large-scale map in Berlin, Hitler 
had for five years made every important decision taken by the Wehr- 
macht. This fact was both the strength and the weakness of German 
military power. It gave to Germany astonishing victories in the early 
years; it was the prime factor in Germany’s ultimate defeat. It was 
Adolf Hitler’s genius that brought military success to the Wehrmacht. 
But it was from that self-same success that failure in far greater 
measure stemmed. Look which way you will, there is only one ulti- 
mate place to lay the wreath of German defeat — at the fateful but 
clumsy feet of Adolf Hitler. 

How was it possible that a man, whose military career ended at 
the rank of corporal, was nevertheless able to command over 300 
divisions in battle? How was an untrained visionary able to accept 
and reject the advice of field marshals as he alone saw fit? The story 
of the struggle between National Socialism and the German army 
provides the answer. Once the Reichstag had been dissolved and a 


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DEFEAT IN THE WEST 

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fascist dictatorship had become a political reality, the one organiza- 
tion still able to furnish effective opposition to National Socialism 
was the officer corps. Hitler was determined to either convert it or 
break it. He partially, but not completely, achieved the conversion. 
He definitely succeeded in breaking it. But by forcing the German 
General Staff to yield to him, Adolf Hitler subjugated and rendered 
impotent the only body of men capable of shielding and saving him. 
With the National Socialist victory over the traditional military hier- 
archy, Germany’s fate was sealed. For it convinced the Fiihrer that 
he was a soldier. 

Before the war began it is extremely doubtful that Hitler con- 
sidered himself a military leader. But on climbing the ladder to total 
domination of the Reich he was forced to make political decisions 
which involved important military considerations. Up until February 
1938 the General Staff had still to be treated with the caution and 
regard due to a dangerous adversary. But in that month by the dis- 
missal of Field Marshal von Blomberg, the Minister of War, and 
Colonel General von Fritsch, Commander-in-Chief of the German 
army, the officer corps was relegated to the role of a tool, to be wielded 
by Adolf Hitler in the shaping of a National Socialist Germany. By 
this move the Wehrmacht had been purged of the leaders of the 
aristocratic Prussian army who resented Hitler, not so much for his 
ambition, as for his being a crude Austrian paper hanger whose coarse 
methods they could not stomach. 

One of the first political matters before the Fiihrer that contained 
serious military problems was the crisis of the Sudetenland in 1938. 
A number of senior officers were concerned that Hitler’s policy 
towards Czechoslovakia would bring about a war with France. 
Colonel General Ludwig Beck, Chief of the General Staff, along 
with a number of others compiled a report showing that German 
military strength could not possibly stand up to the large French 
armies then in existence, and recommended that the aggressive atti- 
tude of Hitler be modified lest it lead to war. In the summer of 1938 
Beck was dismissed. The Four-Power Conference at Munich thor- 
oughly vindicated Hitler’s view that the Sudetenland affair would 
not set off a major war. Such ‘unjustified’ opposition confirmed in 
Hitler’s mind his opinion that the officer corps was a reactionary 
group that was neither as courageous nor as able as himself. 

Then followed Poland where again a political and a military prob- 
lem were combined. Politically Hitler was completely wrong in his 
assumption that England would not go to war over the Polish Corri- 
dor. But in the military sphere he again confounded his military 


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5 

advisers by a lightning victory over Poland during which the French 
provided no trouble in the West. By now Hitler was prepared to 
rely on his own intuition in military matters, although he still pre- 
tended to listen to the advice of the experts about him. The feasibility 
of launching an attack against Norway was questioned by the Gen- 
eral Staff and once more Hitler proved it could be done. In the plan 
to invade the Low Countries and France, Hitler again insisted that 
the offensive be taken and actually changed the military plan by 
which the forces were to carry out this large operation. There was 
deep resentment amongst senior officers against such brash and reck- 
less behavior, but when France collapsed those who had opposed 
his plan could only shake their heads and admit that he had been right. 

These matters will all be discussed at greater length in a subse- 
quent chapter, but they are reviewed here to explain the stages by 
which Hitler’s domination in military affairs became complete. He 
had proved brilliantly successful in his ability to recognize merit in 
military theories. He adopted Colonel General Guderian’s radical 
new theories on armored warfare and encouraged their adoption in 
the face of a traditional backwardness in regard to technical improve- 
ment on the part of the General Staff. He was able to pick out the 
bold plan and force it to a successful conclusion without the reserve 
and caution of the expert. Staff officers began to admit that it was his 
recklessness and dash which were behind the German strategic 
moves of the time. They even began to believe that he possessed 
some inexplicable intuition which enabled him to guess right when 
the cold logic of the facts seemed to indicate he was wrong. What 
was worse. Hitler began to believe all this himself. A huge propa- 
ganda campaign in the press and radio extolled the Fiihrer as the 
greatest military genius of all time. This thunderous eulogy, besides 
convincing the German public, also convinced Hitler that he was 
another Alexander or Napoleon. From then on he was always right. 
Whenever his senior officers cautioned him against any course of 
action, he always had the perfect answer, “Remember Czechoslovakia! 
Remember France!” 

With the fall of France Hitlers military career had reached its 
zenith. The next five years were all downhill. He made mistake after 
mistake, but like a losing gambler at a gaming-table he kept fran- 
tically tossing the dice hoping that the winning number would turn 
up again. It never did. But he never really believed that his luck 
had left him. The abandonment of the plan to invade England in 
1940, the declaration of war against Russia, the fiasco at Stalingrad, 
the childlike strategy in France, were all the personal decisions of the 


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I I 


Fiihrer. They were often made in the face of the most strenuous 
opposition of the commander on the spot, and were rarely supported 
by any logical military considerations. 

As failure followed failure Hitler became more morose and alone. 
He began to suspect that he was being betrayed by those under him, 
and he came to rely more and more on his own judgment even in the 
most minor matters. On one occasion Hitler, quite oblivious of what 
he was doing, ordered a concentration of armored units in a town in 
Russia. The result was a fantastic number of tanks in a very small 
sector. In the confusion that followed, Hitler ordered the court- 
martial of the corps commander concerned. It was pointed out to the 
Fiihrer that he, himself, had planned the manoeuvre. “Where did you 
read that?” snarled Hitler of the officer who had made the observa- 
tion. “In the war diary,” came the reply. That ended the matter. But 
on the same day the historical section of Hitler’s headquarters was 
told that in future no reference was to be made to Hitler’s operational 
orders in the war diary, nor was his interference in operations ever 
to be referred to even by implication. Six stenographers were hence- 
forth employed to take down all discussions, briefings and orders in 
the operations room and to type out one copy only. This, in the special 
large type designed for Hitler’s farsightedness, was kept locked in his 
own personal safe to which he alone had access. This transcript of 
the conversations held in the operations room often came in useful 
to Hitler when dealing with recalcitrant generals. 1 

From broad, sweeping decisions involving major strategy, Hitler 
was soon delving into detailed tactical matters which concerned 
relatively minor formations and unimportant sectors. His belief in his 
own infallibility was so firm that if an operation like the order to 
capture Moscow failed, his only explanation for the failure was the 
incompetence or the cowardice of the commander conducting the 
operation. It rarely occurred to him that the strategical plan might 
have been impossible in the first place. As a result he not only made 
the big decisions but tried to ensure that the methods by which they 
were carried out conformed with his own views. By the time the 
Allies were ready to invade the Continent every senior German officer 
was so hamstrung with restrictions and threats from Berlin that any 
initiative could only be exercised on the very lowest levels. In Nor- 
mandy this interference reached such a stage that operational orders 
began to arrive from Berlin setting out, not only the units to be in- 
volved in an attack, but the sectors they were to occupy and the 
routes they were to use. By the time the Germans had been forced 
back to the Rhine, Hitler had taken over personal and complete com- 


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mand of all fighting in the West. On the 21 January 1945 Field 
Marshal von Rundstedt issued the following top secret order. 2 

Supreme H.Q. West, G-3 No. 595/45. 21 Jan. 45. 

Top Secret. 

s/v Rundstedt. 

The following order by the Fiihrer is quoted in its original text: 

1. The Commanders of Armies, Corps and Divisions will be personally 
responsible for all of the following types of decisions or intentions reaching 
me early enough to enable me to exercise my influence on such decisions 
and for a possible counter-order to reach the front-line troops in time: 

(i) any decision involving an operational movement, 

(ii) any projected attack of divisional size or larger which is not covered 
by general orders issued by Supreme Headquarters, 

(iii) any offensive action on an inactive front exceeding normal patrol 
activity and apt to draw the enemy’s attention to that sector, 

(iv) any projected movement of withdrawal or retreat, 

(v) any contemplated abandonment of a position, a fortified town or a 
fortress. 

2. The Commanders of Armies, Corps and Divisions, the Chiefs-of- 
Staff and every single General Staff officer or staff officers will be personally 
responsible to me to see to it that any report addressed to me directly or 
through channels will contain nothing but the blunt truth. In the future I 
will drastically punish any attempt at veiling facts, whether done on purpose 
or through negligence. . . . 

/s / ADOLF HITLER. 

To such a pass had come the proud German officer corps. Their 
field marshals and generals virtually could not move their troops 
backwards or forwards without first obtaining the permission of the 
corporal they had despised. Never had military commanders been 
so stripped of authority nor so ruthlessly and contemptuously treated. 
It was the price they had to pay for helping to sabotage the Weimar 
Republic in order to satisfy their ambitions for a nationalist, militant 
Germany. In their eagerness to destroy democracy they spawned 
a child destined to commit parricide. 

It is interesting to speculate on what might have occurred had the 
political head of a democratic state attempted to interfere with or 
override his military leaders. Let us assume that Churchill had in- 
sisted that Field Marshal Montgomery attack at El Alamein two 
months before the latter thought it advisable. In the first place Field 
Marshal Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, would 
probably have approached Churchill on Montgomery’s behalf and 


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suggested that the field commander knew best. If this failed, a meet- 
ing of the Chief-of-Staff Committee representing the heads of all 
the services would have asked Churchill to back down. Meanwhile 
someone might have approached Attlee, as Leader of the Opposition, 
or some other member of the War Cabinet to ask him to use his 
influence in getting the Prime Minister to reverse his decision. By 
that time, Churchill would undoubtedly have seen he was wrong 
and yielded, but probably not before some newspaper had hinted at 
differences of opinion within the War Cabinet and awkward ques- 
tions had been asked in the House. All this would have brought heated 
and eloquent denials of any dissension and the operation would have 
gone on as originally planned. 3 

This would be the cumbersome and irritating process of democracy 
at work. Not so imaginative and dramatic as the bold wave of the 
dictator’s hand galvanizing a nation into disciplined action. But it 
provided those restraints that prevented a single man’s mistakes from 
catapulting a state into disaster. The virtue of the democratic method 
is that judgments reached under the illumination of free discussion 
are usually both comprehensive and sound. There is seldom the need 
to reverse a decision as so often happens when that decision is based 
on intuition alone. True, a democracy will often be slower to act 
than a dictatorship. But in the long run, as most German generals 
will now agree, it is by far the wiser way. 


Chapter III 
DISCIPLINE 

Without discipline an army cannot function. Too much discipline, 
on the other hand, is likely to strangle it. The German army had too 
much discipline. Both its officers and men obeyed blindly and with- 
out question the orders of their superiors. This they continued to do 
even when faith in victory had gone and logic told them their efforts 
were useless. Very rarely did a subordinate revolt against a com- 
mand or refuse to obey a senior officer. Even when circumvention 
of a command was the only sane course to take — particularly towards 
the end of the war when Hitler took over complete control — military 
leaders always managed to obey the letter of the order even though 
they avoided its spirit. So ingrained was the German soldier’s sub- 
mission to authority that any sidestepping of this kind was always 
accompanied by a rationalization in which the officer concerned 


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IfltWfHItllTtWtfftttlTfftWtHltWIB IttliflllfllttlfltttilttlHtllfllWtlillfltlltttHIltHWWttltftHftlttltttfftW 

justified his conduct as having literally conformed to the orders he 
had received. It was only by the knowledge of the fact that he had 
not disobeyed a command that his professional soldier’s conscience 
could be clear. It was of secondary importance that he had acted 
humanely and had thereby saved men’s lives. 

It was this rigid discipline within the Wehrmacht that enabled 
the army to fight on for so long. But it was this same discipline that 
prevented it from taking the necessary steps to overthrow the forces 
driving Germany to destruction. Months before the war was over the 
bulk of senior officers realized that to go on was senseless. Yet so 
powerless had they become, and so incapable were they of opposing 
the political authority, that the best they could produce in the way 
of a real protest was a bungled assassination plot a bare nine months 
before the end of the war. 

Since the Versailles Treaty had restricted the new German army 
to only 100,000 men, its new leaders were determined to make up in 
quality what they lacked in quantity. Setting themselves up as a caste 
apart, they formed a small, select inner circle of military experts with 
a moral and social code of their own. The commander and chief 
designer of this clique, Colonel General Hans von Seeckt, firmly 
believed that an efficient army must be completely divorced from 
politics. This view tended to isolate the professional soldiers from 
contemporary civilian thought. Although bom to protect the Weimar 
Republic, it soon became obvious that the officer corps was in no 
way in accord with the principles of social democracy sponsored by 
the foundling government. In fact most of the officers were con- 
temptuous of such principles as being weak and un-German. The 
army became a vocation and its officers came to owe their allegiance 
to it rather than to the government which it was supposed to serve. 
When Hitler abolished the constitution of the Weimar Republic, the 
German officer corps acquiesced in this political murder by doing 
nothing to prevent it. They believed that their ambition to enlarge 
the army and free themselves from the humiliating bonds of Versailles 
was far more likely to be achieved through Adolf Hitler than through 
the democratic Reichstag. Their loyalty followed their ambition. 

To maintain such allegiance an iron discipline was imposed within 
the officer corps which brooked nothing but subservience to authority. 
Orders of a superior were to be obeyed without question, and any 
break from tradition was seriously frowned upon. Not only was their 
military life strictly supervised, but their personal life was also sub- 
ject to an unrelenting social code. This adherence to a rigid standard 
of customs and morals was used by Hitler with startling results 


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10 

in his struggle to subject the German General Staff to his will. 

The marriage of Field Marshal von Blomberg to a woman of ques- 
tionable reputation created the crisis by which Hitler was able to 
rid himself of both von Blomberg and von Fritsch, both of whom 
had strenuously opposed him. A less publicized instance when Hitler 
took advantage of the officer corps’ impeccable moral code was in 
the case of the divorce of Field Marshal von Brauchitsch. The rule 
was that if an officer was divorced because of his own misconduct 
he would be expelled from the corps. Von Brauchitsch fell in love 
with another woman and he asked his wife to provide the necessary 
grounds so that he could divorce her. She refused. He went to Hitler 
with his problem. The Fiihrer told the wife that it would be advisable 
for her to do as she had been asked, and he also made a financial 
settlement with her. The result was an expensive moral obligation 
which was owed to Hitler by one of the leading members of the 
officer corps. Hitler did not hesitate to remind von Brauchitsch of this 
debt on subsequent occasions. 1 

This high standard of social conduct was demanded even during 
the war. It was always the aim of the German General Staff to create 
all officers in the same mould so that their reactions would be unvaried 
and therefore reliable. Even as late as April 1943 a school for artillery 
officer cadets published an order on behavior in society which con- 
tained items such as these: 2 3 

(1) Paying a Visit. 

Visiting hours 1 1.3 0-13.00 hours on Sundays, 17.00-18.00 hours on 
week-days. Never later and never in the afternoon. . . . 

On entering a room carry hat in left hand. On taking a seat lay 
the hat down. . . . 

Coming and going: Length of visit should be about ten minutes. 
Do not look at your watch. No reason should be given for termina- 
tion of visit. On leaving do not turn your back on the company when 
opening the door. 

(2) Entertainments. 

Wine: White wine to be drunk from tall glasses, red wine from short 
glasses. 

Dances: First dance and quadrilles always with dinner partner. 
Never dance continually with one and the same lady. 

Flowers: To be unwrapped in the hall. Never presented with 

the paper round them. In presenting flowers hold the stalks 
downwards. . . . 

(3) General. 

At races, the officer himself must never approach the totalizator. . . . 


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DISCIPLINE 11 

That these methods succeeded in producing loyalty and discipline 
within the army is undoubted. But these automatic and impersonal 
creatures of the officer corps were so obsessed with the omnipotence 
of authority that they were hypnotized by its very presence. To live 
was to obey. There was no other end in life. To challenge the Supreme 
Commander of the armed forces, Adolf Hitler, was unthinkable. And 
in any event their training prevented them from even knowing how. 

Since it was improbable that opposition to the political authority 
would come from within the officer class of the army, the question 
remains whether some such initiative might not have come from the 
rank and file. The Russian Revolution of 1917, although its initial 
impetus came from civilian sources, showed that modern armies 
may turn against the constituted authority even in defiance of their 
military leaders. It was confidently expected by many military leaders 
that disintegration of the forces in the field would follow in the 
wake of an unsuccessful war. This result was based upon the historic 
examples of Austria in 1918 and Russia in 1917. But it is fair to 
say that although the Wehrmacht suffered a military defeat such as 
has not been equaled in modern history, at no time was there any 
suggestion of an organized revolt amongst the men in the ranks. 
This, despite the fact that they were badly led in a hopeless cause, 
and suffered catastrophic casualties and incredible hardships. The 
combined ingredients of Prussian discipline and Nazi propaganda 
produced this result. The reason that the German soldier did not 
revolt is not to be found in his loyalty. He did not revolt because 
he was bullied, threatened, drugged and duped so intensely and so 
persistently that his powers to resist or object were utterly destroyed. 
It was discipline and ignorance, not loyalty, that kept the German 
soldier in the field until May 1945. 

For this achievement the officer corps must take their due share 
of credit. Being prepared to obey blindly themselves, they also 
demanded obedience of those whom they led. The German, ever 
since the days of Frederick the Great, has feared and respected the 
military class. It was therefore natural that a conscripted German 
soldiery should very easily accept the discipline demantffed by a 
cult of professional soldiers. The philosophy of comolete submission 
to a leader had, indeed, been strengthened by the advent of National 
Socialism and its theory of the ‘Fiihrerprinzip.’ The officer corps 
made a fetish of discipline and therefore killed any latent resistance 
that might have sprung from the ranks of a soldiery raised by universal 
conscription. 

The *Duties of the German Soldier proclaimed by Hindenburg 


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mmmrmmmmmmmmmmmmmimmmmmmmmmmmrmrmmmmmmmmrm 


in 25 May 1934, and re-issued unaltered in 1942, was to be known 
by heart by every soldier. The first four paragraphs of this catechism 
ran as follows: 

(i) The Wehrmacht is the arms-bearer of the German people. It 
protects the German Reich and Fatherland, the people united in 
National Socialism, and its living space. The roots of its strength 
lie in its glorious past, in German nationhood, German soil and 
German labor. Service in the Wehrmacht is honorable service for 
the German people. 

(ii) The soldier’s honor is embodied in the unconditional surrender of 
his person for people and Fatherland even to the sacrifice of his fife. 

(iii) The highest soldierly virtue is martial courage. It demands hardiness 
and determination. Cowardice is disgraceful, hesitation unsoldierly. 

(iv) Obedience is the foundation of the Wehrmacht, confidence the basis 
of obedience. . . . 

The individual is nothing; the state is all. This was the creed to 
which both National Socialism and the German armed forces sub- 
scribed. If obedience was ‘the foundation of the Wehrmacht’ then it 
follows that discipline was the means by which that foundation was 
built. The officer corps ensured that the discipline they cherished so 
much in themselves was also rooted in the men who served under 
them. It was achieved by a rigorous insistence on military form and 
bearing which never relaxed even when the inevitability of defeat 
was all about them. Thus in 1944 in France it was possible for a 
Colonel Gollnitz to issue a German district order, a part of which 
read: 

Again and again I meet soldiers in the department of Eure who, as 
cyclists, do not keep their legs stiff when saluting. This is against orders 
when the bicycle is free-wheeling and the journey is not uphill. 

Or for a Major General Conradi to drive through the streets of 
Krivoi Rog in Russia and force all soldiers who failed to salute him or 
who were improperly dressed to run behind his car. It was said that 
there were always thirty to forty soldiers running after the general’s 
car. After two or three kilometres Conradi would stop, take down 
the names of the defaulters and put them all on a charge. 

Instances of this kind could be cited again and again. But let us 
compare what effect such actions as the two mentioned above would 
have had on a democratic army. In England an incredible clamor was 
raised by press and public when it was discovered that an officer was 
insisting that his men shout “Ho de ho” each time he cried “Hi de hi.” 


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13 


And in America the slapping of a private soldier by General Patton 
created a crisis which almost forced General Eisenhower to fire his 
most successful commander. 

The difference lies, of course, in the fact that while Englishmen 
and Americans are prepared, if necessary, to give up their lives for 
their ideals, they are never ready to give up their dignity as human 
beings. A fascist state like Germany was the perfect breeding ground 
for an army which thrived on discipline. For there was never any 
danger of interference with the army’s methods from an indignant 
civilian population. And National Socialism demanded as much obedi- 
ence as did the Wehrmacht. Once the German soldier had learned 
to obey instinctively and blindly it mattered not who gave the orders. 
The German General Staff, like Frankenstein, had built a monster 
of discipline which later helped destroy its master. They themselves 
could do nothing but follow the commands of their Fiihrer, and the 
soldier they had created in their own image was as helpless as they 
were. There being no opposition from those who led the German 
armies, and none from those who formed them, the Austrian corporal 
was able to play madly at war with the sure knowledge that whatever 
he ordered would always be obeyed. 


Chapter IV 
IGNORANCE 

That even Prussian discipline will disintegrate if sufficiently pum- 
meled was shown by the attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 
1944. Although the active participants in this revolt were relatively 
few in number, it proved that Hitler had not acquired absolute obedi- 
ence from all those who surrounded him. It is less a mystery that 
such a revolt occurred than that so few men took part in it. It is 
doubtful if any other government in modem times could have made 
so many mistakes and still have raised no more overt opposition than 
this ineffectual bomb plot against Hitler. 

Once it is conceded that discipline is not an absolute thing and 
can be broken, then why were there so few generals involved in the 
affair of July 20? For if, as they now assert, they had the interests 
of their country at heart, why did they not oppose Hitler when it 
became obvious that he was leading Germany to destruction? Be- 
cause when it did become obvious to them months before the end, it 


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was then far too late. If discipline and loyalty to an oath prevented 
the German officer from rebellion, it was ignorance that cemented 
that discipline and loyalty so hard that it was almost impossible to 
crack. Rarely in modern warfare has there been a group of com- 
manders so uninformed about both their own troops and those of 
their enemy as were the generals of the Wehrmacht in the second 
World War. It is because this ignorance played so vital a part in 
maintaining the discipline which kept Adolf Hitler in power, that it 
is included here as one of the major causes of the final defeat of 
Germany. 

It is a primary principle of military tactics that a commander, in 
1 order to carry out his plan, must know as much as possible about 
his own troops and as much as is available about the enemy. In the 
Wehrmacht it was a deliberate policy to give a commander as little 
information as possible about his own side, and what was attainable 
about the other side was seldom adequate or seldom accurate. It is 
interesting to consider the circumstances which brought about such 
a state of affairs. 

The war was hardly a few months old when a fortuitous event 
occurred which had far-reaching repercussions on the activities of 
German commanders. On the night of January 9, 1940, a German plane 
lost its way in a thick fog and landed at Mechelen-sur-Meuse in 
Belgium. The plane was on its way to Cologne from the headquarters 
of the Fourth Army in Munster. One of its passengers, a Major Rhein- 
berg of the Luftwaffe, was carrying detailed plans for the invasion 
of the Low Countries. These papers revealed the part that the Ger- 
man air force and German parachutists were to play in the proposed 
attack. When the plane landed, Rheinberg ran behind a hedge and 
desperately tried to set fire to the documents, but a Belgian soldier 
snatched them away. Subsequently when he was being questioned 
at a Belgian headquarters Rheinberg again tried to destroy the papers 
by seizing them from off the commandant’s desk and throwing them 
into a coal stove. But a quick-witted Belgian soldier plunged his hand 
into the red-hot stove and retrieved them before they had been badly 
damaged. From the scorched documents it was possible to piece 
together a fairly complete picture of the entire German plan for the 
invasion of the Low Countries. 1 

As a result of this incident a large-scale revision of the invasion 
plans had to take place. But a much more important result was an 
order which came from Berlin stating that under no circumstances 
was any commander to be informed of any operation which did not 
immediately concern him. 2 As the war progressed the terms of this 


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TWHTHWWTTfTWHWHfWTWTfn HHI' IT THffllllllll WTtTTfTTTTTfWTT WIIIIIIIIIIIIIIliiniinilllllMllil'Illlllllilll 

order were taken more and more literally. A divisional commander 
knew only that which affected his own particular division. He would 
only be informed of what the divisions on his flanks were doing if 
their actions involved his operation. This restriction went all the way 
up the line from division to corps, to army, to army group. And it 
even held true for commanders-in-chief of the various fronts. Thus 
Field Marshal Kesselring in Italy never knew what reserves were 
available to Field Marshal von Rundstedt in France, and neither knew 
what was happening in Russia or how many reinforcements were still 
left in Germany. 

Not only was an officer not to know of what was happening on 
other sectors, but he was to make no attempt to find out. The appalling 
lack of knowledge of the average senior commander of affairs which 
did not affect him operationally is sometimes incredible. No one was 
ever sure of what anyone else was doing and orders were carried 
out with nothing but the tactical information required for the imme- 
diate job. Divisions held fast in Normandy with no knowledge that 
the front on their left had been torn open and that they were being 
encircled; the Luftwaffe carried out sorties without notifying the 
troops over whom they flew, so that the men on the ground spent time 
and ammunition trying to knock down their own planes; officers in 
Italy were shocked to find that the vaunted Atlantic Wall was made 
of tissue paper and that Paris was empty of plentiful reserves. Colonel 
General Student, commander of Army Group ‘H,’ flanking the Ar- 
dennes offensive, knew nothing of the offensive until eight days before 
it occurred, 3 while divisional commanders only heard of it when it 
was announced over the German radio. 

Compare this with Allied methods where Field Marshal Mont- 
gomery told every man under his command of his intentions twenty- 
four hours before the battle of El Alamein. Or try to imagine, if you 
can, General Bradley, commanding Twelfth Army Group in France, 
not being told that Montgomery was to carry out the parachute drops 
at Nijmegen and Arnhem until a few days before the operation was to 
take place. The constant and speedy flow of information between 
commanders about daily operations and future intentions was the 
lifeblood of Allied operations in Northwest Europe. Even relatively 
junior officers were aware of the broad strategical position at all times. 
This curtailment of news about their own troops in the German armies 
is therefore all the more difficult to understand. 

It had two immediate results. It meant that no matter how high 
a rank was held, no officer in the field could approach Hitler and 
suggest a proposed operation was impracticable because of lack of 


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DEFEAT IN THE WEST 


resources. Since no one, other than a small group of Hitler’s imme- 
diate advisers, knew the true overall picture, no officer could produce 
a reasonable argument against a future operation since he would not 
have the required facts or statistics to support his contentions. 

The second result of this policy of officially maintained ignorance 
was that, not having any other information to rely upon, all officers 
turned to Dr. Goebbels for their news. They listened faithfully to 
his assurances that the German armed forces were strong and intact, 
that the Allies were suffering catastrophic losses and that important 
secret weapons were on the way. A man like General Alfred Schlemm, 
commander of First Parachute Army, admits that when he heard 
of the assassination attempt of 20 July he recoiled with indignation 
at the news. Here, he reasoned, was another stab in the back by 
traitors on the home front. What reason was there for such treachery 
when the situation was stabilized in Italy, when the Allies were being 
bled white in Normandy, when the Russians were being held in 
the East and when plentiful reserves were in hand? So thought 
Schlemm. 

“I realize now how ignorant I was of the truth,” Schlemm says 
today. 4 “I see now that all the assurances of Goebbels were nothing 
but lies, and that by July 1944 the war was already well lost. Hitler 
alone knew this and he kept it from us. Had I known then what 
I know now I would have had every sympathy with the assassins.” 

In addition to being kept in ignorance of what was happening on 
their own side of the line, German commanders were woefully mis- 
directed as to what was happening on the enemy’s side. This was 
due more to inherent defects in the training and methods of the 
Wehrmacht than it was to design. It combined with the policy of 
limiting operational information to produce one of the most badly- 
informed groups of generals that ever conducted a major war. For 
one of the most surprising, and at the same time most reassuring, post- 
war revelations has been the fact that German military intelligence 
was astonishingly inaccurate and ineffectual. 

The omnipotence of the Fifth Column and the cunning of the 
German agent have for years been the favorite topic of the adventure 
novelist and the movie thriller. Both before and during the war the 
shadow of a super-spy organization centralizing the work of such 
dreaded agencies as the Gestapo, the Abwehr, the Sicherheitsdienst, 
the Auslands organization, threatened the world with its ramifica- 
tions and power. It should come, therefore, as a pleasant shock to 
discover that seldom has a body of men been so overrated as the 
German Secret Service under Admiral Canaris at Berlin. If it was the 


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ultimate function of the thousands of agents employed by the Nazis 
to provide information which could be used by their military leaders 
to conduct the war, they singularly failed in their purpose. Rarely 
was an armed force so badly served by its intelligence service as 
was the Wehrmacht during World War II. 

The list of blunders is almost as long as the list of decisions that 
had to be made. Even the German victories were won by disregarding 
military intelligence rather than by heeding it. One common denomi- 
nator that characterized almost all German generals was their aston- 
ishing ignorance of the strength and intentions of their enemies dur- 
ing the various campaigns of the war. There was hardly an important 
battle that was not marred by faulty intelligence. The Czechs would 
fight for the Sudetenland; the French were too strong behind the 
Maginot Line; the English were too powerful to attack after Dun- 
kirk; the Russians could not stand up to modern mechanized warfare; 
the defenders of Stalingrad were too weak to stage a counter-offen- 
sive; the Anglo-American invasion of the Continent would come in 
the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy. These are only some of the 
wrong guesses made by the intelligence organization before whose 
reputation the whole world had trembled. 

The failure of German intelligence can be attributed to two main 
factors. The first is the methodical Teutonic mind obsessed with 
detail but never developing the ability to distinguish the true from 
the false. Having successfully used the secret attache case-champagne 
bottle technique of the romantic spy story in their Fifth Column 
activities on the Continent, they carried these methods over into the 
military sphere. Agents by the score, masquerading behind false 
beards and forged passports, worked feverishly in every capital city 
of the world. The information they gathered flooded into Berlin where 
it was tabulated, card-indexed and filed in the most thorough Ger- 
manic manner. But the German never learned to evaluate sources. 
Every item that was received was kept, even if it was originally false, 
until if it was reported often enough, it somehow became true through 
the sheer force of repetition. Volume became more important than 
reliability; the more facts the greater their accuracy. The result was 
a fund of innumerable details neatly catalogued but having little real 
worth because they had never been properly sifted. 

A typical example of this process is the following excerpt from 
an intelligence report sent by Army Group Southwest to the Tenth 
and Fourteenth Armies in Italy . 5 It deals with the interpretation of 
the words ‘Blighty establishment,’ which in this instance was simply 
a soldier’s expression to describe establishments which could be 


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found in formations stationed in England. Here is how German 
intelligence goes about it: 

According to a prisoner’s statement, the support battalion, recently in- 
corporated in the English infantry division, is known in the jargon of the 
soldier as ‘Blighty establishment.’ The meaning of this designation is as yet 
not entirely clear. There are two possible derivations: 

( a ) The Indian word ‘Bilati’ meaning village or home, which during the 
World War turned up in the soldier jargon as ‘Blighty’ and was 
used to designate a wound warranting the return of the injured man 
to England. 

( b ) Blight meaning mildew, poisonous vapor or ‘to blight,’ i.e. destroy. 

Since the transformation of the machine-gun battalion to a support bat- 
talion, the unit has been allotted 106.7 mm - mortars (4.2 inch chemical 
mortars), it seems reasonable to assume that the derivation discussed under 
(b) is applicable. 

It is requested that interrogators determine whether the English designa- 
tion ‘Blighty establishment’ is related to the aforementioned allotment of 
chemical material to the support battalion. 

Here the plethora of facts available to the intelligence staffs pro- 
vided them with so many irrelevant items that the odds were soon 
against their picking out the important and most reliable one. It is 
little wonder that the rigid Teutonic mind dominated by its card- 
indexes and blinded by its catalogues hit upon the wrong answer so 
often, and usually got the right one only by disregarding its intelli- 
gence altogether. 

The second reason for the failure of German intelligence was the 
professional soldier’s distaste for the opinions of those who handled 
the paper war. Having been reared in an atmosphere which held 
nothing but contempt for the civilian and his clerical associations, it 
was natural that the average officer viewed with suspicion any opin- 
ions of the men who did their fighting from behind desks in Berlin. 
As a result the German commander tended to replace intelligence 
appreciations with appreciations of his own. This meant that instead 
of weighing the facts and from them determining what the enemy 
might do, he placed himself on the other side and decided what he 
would do in their place. Since problems which were considered im- 
portant to a German general were probably not nearly so important 
to an Allied one, such guesses as to enemy intentions could at best 
be only half right. 

After the Canaris organization had made some stupid mistakes 


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early in the war it found difficulty afterwards in having its views 
accepted even when it was right. In addition the generals in the 
flush of their first victories began to feel that intelligence could be 
disregarded without seriously affecting the battle. They never got 
into the habit of taking it seriously again, even when they were losing, 
at which time intelligence becomes not merely useful but essential. 

A lieutenant colonel who was head of the German intelligence 
section called ‘Foreign Armies West’ describes this attitude on the 
part of the old-line generals in these words : 

My appreciation (that the Dieppe raid in August 1942 was not the fore- 
runner or part of a serious Allied invasion effort) was not approved by 
General Zeitzler, the Wehrmacht Chief-of-Staff and therefore not pub- 
lished. The reason for this was that General Zeitzler, as former Chief-of- 
Staff in France, had expected a large-scale invasion of France, in spite of 
the appreciations of my department which expressed the opposite view. . . . 
Our appreciation that the British could not mount a large-scale offensive at 
a time when they were deeply committed in North Africa was also ignored. 
The Dieppe landing strengthened both Zeitzler and Keitel in their convic- 
tions. Both in France and in the rear, I was present at conferences in which 
my chief tried to persuade the High Command of the actual object of the 
operation. When my paper was laid before the Chief-of-Staff for approval 
he said, “The Foreign Army West section seems to spend too much time 
producing papers. It should occupy itself with more constructive work.” 

Towards the end of 1943 my chief and I were summoned at least once a 
month to conferences of the Joint General Staff of the Wehrmacht. We 
were always surprised at the completely illogical under-estimation of the 
Anglo-American forces, and the equally illogical over-estimation of the 
potentialities of the German defense force in France, Norway and the 
Balkans. Formations were continually being transferred to other theatres. 
Consequently my chief agreed to step up our estimate of the number of 
British divisions in order to counter this all too optimistic tendency of the 
Joint General Staff. ... 6 

Now to recapitulate briefly what these first few chapters have been 
trying to say. There were many occasions during World War II when 
Germany, had she taken another course, could have been victorious. 
On each of these occasions the German nation was in possession of 
sufficient material resources to win. Yet it failed. The reason for its 
failure lies in the fact that the German military leaders who were 
responsible for conducting the war were unable to use effectively 
their superiority when they had it. There were three fundamental 
weaknesses in German military leadership. First they allowed Hitler 
to become not only the supreme political but the supreme military 


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authority in the land. Secondly, their discipline and personal code 
prevented them from revolting against the head of the state, and 
they impressed this discipline so deeply upon the rank and file that 
they, too, were unable to organize any active opposition to Hitler. 
And thirdly, this discipline was never subjected to any serious strain 
because officers and men were kept so sublimely ignorant of what 
was taking place on both sides of the line that they never knew 
enough to resist. 

In the early years of the war too much ignorance, too much disci- 
pline and too much Hitler were responsible for the mistakes that 
robbed Germany of the victory that she almost, but not quite, 
achieved. In the last year of the war when victory was no longer 
possible, and only the shadow of ultimate defeat remained, these 
same three factors brought to Germany needless destruction, despair 
and death. Because this is a story of defeat, emphasis will naturally 
be placed upon the final year of the war when defeat was no longer 
a prospect but a reality. But before one can fully understand what 
brought about the collapse of the Wehrmacht, it is essential to know 
what the Wehrmacht really was and how it came into being. Having 
done that let us then consider the fatal steps by which Germany 
brought about her own defeat, and finally how a year of defeat was 
suffered by the German armies in the West. 

One other thing must be said before proceeding any farther. The 
furnace in which the defeat of the German armies was forged was 
the vast Russian theatre. There, two-thirds of the total German armed 
strength was constantly engaged and systematically destroyed. Lack 
of space prevents anything more than very sketchy references to these 
great battles. But it can reasonably be said that the story of the 
German defeat in the East does not in any material way differ from 
the story of the German defeat in the West. It may have been more 
extensive and more bitter, but it could hardly have been more final or 
more complete. 


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Chapter V 

THE WEHRMACHT IS REBORN 

The war was over but peace had not come to Germany. It was Novem- 
ber 1918. A disgruntled army officered by men who were sure they 
had not been beaten, but had been stabbed in the back by those at 
home, had just completed an orderly withdrawal in the West while 
still holding on to what they had conquered in the East. A Socialist 
government, partially trying to demobilize a huge, disaffected army, 
found the task too much for it. It called upon Field Marshal von 
Hindenburg, the head of the German armed forces, for help in the 
technical problems of bringing the troops back from the front. Von 
Hindenburg s staff carried out the assignment with the ease born of 
experience and training, and thus averted the chaos which would 
otherwise inevitably have overrun the country. But by this act a new 
government had admitted its reliance upon the officers of the old 
school and had thereby linked the Imperial General Staff with the 
Republic. 

Instead of this association becoming weaker in the ensuing months, 
it became stronger. The shaky Socialist government was being threat- 
ened on all sides, but most persistently by groups of demobilized 
soldiers and sailors led by Communists. To meet this threat, the 
government had two alternatives — either to organize a citizen army 
of its own, officered by men it could trust, or call upon the professional 
soldiers still loyal to the traditions of the old Imperial regime. It chose 
the latter. The reasoning of the government is summed up in the 
following words of Herr Noske, the majority Socialist leader at the 
time. 

“It is our misfortune,” he wrote, “that no leader has risen from 
the ranks of the N.C.O.s or the common soldiers, despite the fact 
that power was everywhere in their hands. I have been obliged to 
fall back on the officers. Certainly many of them are monarchists, but 
when one is faced with reconstruction, one must have recourse to 
professionals. An army without discipline is a monkey’s grimace. 
Between a bad Socialist officer and a good Conservative officer I 
choose the second.” 1 

Thus instead of the liquidation of the old officer corps, it was 
hurriedly revived under the name Free Corps with a mandate by the 
Socialist government to repress all opposition. This it successfully did. 

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The Spartacus Revolt in Berlin in January 1919, led by Liebknecht, 
was suppressed by mortars and flame-throwers. In February working- 
class rebels in Bremen and the Ruhr were overwhelmed. In March 
the Free Corps used tanks and planes against another uprising in 
Berlin. An attempt to set up a Soviet government in Bavaria led to the 
killing of over 1000 civilians in Munich. Quickly joined by unem- 
ployed adventurers and men grown fond of soldiering, the Free 
Corps, all of whom were volunteers, became increasingly more aggres- 
sive and more brutal in their suppression of disorders. And what was 
worse; they developed an esprit de corps of their own and an alle- 
giance to their officers which was completely divorced from any sense 
of loyalty to the government. As a matter of fact, their only political 
faith was contempt and hatred for the Socialist movement which had 
overthrown the German Empire they had served. 

From quelling street riots, the Free Corps soon graduated into full- 
blooded battles against the Russians in the Balkan States and the 
Poles in Poland, who were both trying to seize German territory, so 
that the Peace Conference would be faced with a fait accompli. It was 
from this group of irresponsible, swashbuckling men that the bullying 
gangs of the latter day Hitlerite S.A. and S.S. drew their most promis- 
ing leaders. The influence of the Free Corps on the future of Germany 
may best be judged by listing some of its members: Goring, Hess, 
Roehm, Rommel, von Manstein, von Kiichler, Ramcke, Bormann, 
Frick, Dietl, von Epp — to mention but a handful. It is unquestionable 
that the Free Corps was one of the two important elements that not 
only formed part of, but also helped determine the character of, the 
Wehrmacht of World War II. The other element was the 100,000 
army. 

The immediate post-war future of the armed forces of the German 
Republic was laid down in the regulations contained in Part V of 
the Treaty of Versailles. Under them, general conscription was abol- 
ished and the Imperial army was to be replaced by a force of 100,000 
volunteers, who agreed to serve, if other ranks for twelve years, and 
if officers for twenty-five years. The sole purpose of this army was to 
maintain the internal security of Germany. The navy was reduced to 
an impotent size, and no air force whatever was to be permitted. 
The General Staff was to be dissolved. 

Yet instead of stifline the military ambitions of Germany as was its 
design, the Versailles Treaty encouraged them. For not only did it 
set up a small clique of men whose profession was soldiering, and 
could be nothing else, but by its very restrictions it imbued this group 
with yearnings to put into practice the art which they had so thor- 


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oughly mastered. Anyone, therefore, who promised them aid in free- 
ing them from the bonds of Part V of the Versailles Treaty was bound 
to receive their implied support. 

The Free Coi'ps and the 100,000 army together furnished the 
leaders of a resurgent Wehrmacht. It can be safely said that with 
but few exceptions, every man who attained the rank of a German 
general in World War II, received part of his early military training 
as a junior officer or N.C.O. in one or the other of these two organiza- 
tions. Most of them saw service with both. The better type of men 
were enlisted with the 100,000 army. The bully and the adventurer 
who loved the crude brutality of the Free Corps, later found full 
scope for his ambitions in the ranks of the S.S. and the Brownshirts. 

A very common misconception, which might well be cleared up, is 
the view that the German General Staff was a mystic, military order 
confined to a small clique of master minds. Actually every officer in 
the German army was eligible for membership in the General Staff. 
If his ability warranted it, he was sent on a rigorous two- to three- 
year course dealing with the technical problems of warfare, after 
which he tried a series of competitive examinations. Once accepted 
into the General Staff it meant that he was then capable of perform- 
ing the complicated administrative tasks required at the headquarters 
of various formations. 

Except for the occasional training trips he was obliged to take, a 
series of lectures which he attended one afternoon a year, and the 
scarlet band down his trouser leg, there was nothing to distinguish 
the General Staff officer from the regular officer serving in the field. 
Of course, a man with General Staff training was more likely to get 
ahead because of his more extensive military education, but a large 
proportion of German officers attained general’s rank without ever 
being accepted for the rigorous academic course of the staff college. 

The General Staff influence on the army lay in the strictness and 
aloofness of its traditions. These had been laid down by Colonel Gen- 
eral Hans von Seeckt, who was Chief of the Army Command until 
October 1926. He maintained that the army must be completely 
divorced from politics, and to carry out this principle it was forbidden 
for a soldier to vote, to belong to a political party or to take part in 
political demonstrations. The result of such a policy was that the army 
began to owe its allegiance, not to any civil government which hap- 
pened to be in power, but to itself. When a conflict arose between its 
own immediate interests and those of the government it was serving, it 
was naturally more likely to sacrifice the interests of the government. 
Such a situation presented itself with Hitler’s coming to power. The 


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promise of an unrivaled military force free from the restrictions of 
Versailles was the reward set before the officer corps, for their non- 
intervention during the last days of the German Republic. Having 
no ideological attachment to the government which had nurtured 
them in the post-war years, the officer corps did not find it difficult to 
yield to the temptations offered by National Socialism. They sat by 
and did nothing while the Weimar Republic slowly bled to death. 

It is fair to say that the great bulk of the German General Staff 
participated in Hitler’s rise to power merely as spectators. In a struggle 
between the democratic elements of the Republic and the fascist 
elements of the National Socialists, the conservative Prussian officer 
could find himself sympathetic with neither side. He was not pre- 
pared to lift a finger to help maintain a politically left Reichstag, and 
while the nationalist sentiments of Hitler held a definite appeal, his 
ardor for National Socialism was dampened by the coarseness of 
Nazi leaders and Nazi methods. It was with mingled contempt, indif- 
ference and superiority that the officer corps learned, on 31 January, 
1933, that Adolf Hitler had become the new Chancellor of the German 
Reich. 

Then began the real struggle for power within Germany. The one 
group of men still able to provide effective opposition to National 
Socialism was the officer corps. Hitler knew this well and he was 
resolved either to convert it or break it. First he tried the former 
plan. An intensive propaganda drive, especially designed to meet the 
nationalist and military ambitions of the General Staff, was carried 
out in the army. Lectures by Goebbels, Rosenberg and others were 
delivered to the entire officer body, and all manner of subtle flattery 
was attempted. It had only limited success. 

The first concrete alignment between Hitler and the General Staff 
took place during the blood purge of June 1934. Roehm who was 
the leader of the S.A. or ‘Brownshirts’ had attempted to undermine 
the General Staff by constantly objecting to its lukewarm attitude 
to National Socialism. He had actually accused it of plotting to gain 
political power. Hitler, upon the advice of Himmler, decided to back 
the officers in this dispute, and ordered the murder of Roehm and his 
associates. The army assisted in quelling the riots amongst the Brown- 
shirts, only to find when the shooting was over that some of their 
own number, like Generals von Schleicher and von Bredow, had been 
eliminated as well. 

The uneasy partnership into which the General Staff had entered, 
in order to rid itself of a rival, became more uneasy in the ensuing 
months. The National Socialists refused to absolve the generals mur- 


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dered during the riots of participation in the Roehm conspiracy. Their 
propaganda efforts became even more strident and more crude than 
before. Their interference in economic and military affairs became 
more persistent and more irksome. Then followed a severe blow — 
the death of Hindenburg in August 1934. Twenty-four hours later 
Adolf Hitler was appointed Supreme Commander of the German 
armed forces, and the entire officer corps delivered their oath of 
allegiance to him. 


Chapter VI 

HITLER VERSUS THE GERMAN GENERAL STAFF 

Just over six months had passed when, on 16 March 1935, Hitler 
made official and public what had been going on secretly ever since 
he came to power. With a stroke of the pen he declared Part V 
of the Treaty of Versailles invalid, reinstituted general conscription, 
ordered the army to be increased to over five times its size and 
announced the existence of the German air force. The War Ministry 
was reorganized and the activities of all the armed forces were co- 
ordinated under it. The War Ministry subsequently was renamed the 
Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (O.K.W.) and the service heads 
were called Commanders-in-Chief of the army (O.K.H.), the navy 
(O.K.M.) and the air force (O.K.L.). Hitler was Supreme Com- 
mander of the Wehrmacht, and he appointed Field Marshal von 
Blomberg as his War Minister, while Colonel General von Fritsch 
became the Commander-in-Chief of the army. 

The next few years were busy ones for the officer corps. The re- 
armament programme as laid down by Hitler, outdistanced even the 
most ambitious plans of the military leaders. Hardly had one budget 
been approved when it was replaced by a larger one. More divisions 
were formed, more planes built, more war factories were put into 
production. The German General Staff viewed this trend with con- 
siderable satisfaction, although they were a little perturbed that the 
speed of the program might result in its being inefficiently carried out. 
There was also cause for concern in the growing strength of the 
National Socialists. The old Imperial traditions were being replaced 
by strange Nazi ones, and the pressure to convert the new Wehr- 
macht to the ‘new order’ was greatly increased. Under the leadership 
of their Commander-in-Chief, von Fritsch, the General Staff opposed 
these overtures and continued to remain aloof and superior in their 
relationships with the political upstarts governing the country. The 


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views of the officer corps during these important years are clearly out- 
lined in an attempted defense of the General Staff written by General 
Walter Warlimont, Chief of the Joint Planning Staff of the Wehr- 
macht. 1 As the deputy to Colonel General Alfred Jodi, Hitler’s prin- 
cipal adviser on planning and strategy, Warlimont, perhaps more than 
any other officer, was in a position to witness the struggle between 
the army and the National Socialists. Discussing the reactions of the 
General Staff to these events, Warlimont has this to say: 

“Though it would be entirely wrong to interpret the attitude of 
the General Staff towards rearmament as a consent to preparations 
for war, it certainly should not be denied that every General Staff 
officer was anxious to take leave of the wooden cannon and the paste- 
board tank — a measure of liberation from a shameful imposition. It 
was also the General Staff who asked for aircraft and heavy guns 
as a necessary part of German armament. . . . 

“The substitution of the swastika for the recently regained black, 
white and red flag was a slap in the face, and it meant nothing to us 
that the color scheme remained the same — a fact Hitler used to 
emphasize. We found the swastika strange and un-German. In addi- 
tion, we disavowed the claims that National Socialism was respon- 
sible for the new Wehrmacht, and were openly pleased when Colonel 
General von Fritsch, in a public address (Bremen, 1936), declared 
that it was the 100,000-man army and its officers who alone had kept 
up military spirit and knowledge. 

“We accepted without fully understanding, the consequences of 
the Nuremberg Laws, which entailed the dismissal of capable popular 

officers and their sons Simultaneously, it was learned that National 

Socialist bosses were personally enriching themselves through such 
proceedings, and this widened the breach between the party and the 
new army. Gradually the General Staff officer found it necessary to 
acquire some sort of a stabilizing influence and he began to look 
to Hitler, in contrast to his followers, as the new hope for Germany. 
In addition to the rearmament program, the peaceful reoccupation 
of the Rhineland enhanced Hitler’s personal reputation within the 
officer corps, since this move corresponded to the fundamental policy 
of the army. . . .” 

But despite Warlimont’s protests that all this was not to be inter- 
preted as ‘preparations for war’ there is sufficient evidence to show 
that that was what it undoubtedly was and, also, that the leaders 
of the Wehrmacht were entirely aware of Hitler’s future plans for 
the military machine that was being assembled so feverishly. It is true 
that they protested against some of these plans, but never because 
they were ideologically opposed to war or Hitler’s ambitions. Their 


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advice was always based on strict military principles, rarely on 
humanitarian ones. If they opposed one of Hitler’s decisions it was 
because they thought it impracticable — not because they thought it 
immoral. Warlimont himself unwittingly displays this frame of mind 
in his discussion of Germany’s armed intervention in the Spanish 
Civil War which had begun in July 1936. 

“On returning from Spain in December 1936,” he writes, 2 “I was 
ordered for the first and only time before the war to attend and take 
part in a conference of Hitler’s. I then succeeded — supported by 
von Fritsch and von Blomberg, but opposed by the ambassador to 
Spain, Faupel — in convincing the Fiihrer that it would be unwise 
to send several large units of the German army to Spain. Hitler’s 
explanation at this time was that the German soldier in Spain had 
not been called upon, as he believed, to offer his life in the fight 
against Bolshevism, but rather that, by his interference in Spain, 
German foreign policy would be strengthened for other political 
aims — such as the rearmament program. At that time I considered 
this a smart political move, but I could not help feeling shocked 
that German soldiers who had died in Spain had been so grossly 
deceived. ...” 

But the most concrete evidence that the leaders of the Wehrmacht 
were well aware of Hitler’s aggressive intentions, and that the armed 
forces were not merely being strengthened for a defensive role within 
the borders of the Reich, is contained in a document headed ‘Notes 
of a Conference held in the Reich Chancellery on 5 November 1937.’ 3 
Here at a select meeting, confined to Hitler, the War Minister von 
Blomberg, the three service heads — von Fritsch, von Raeder and 
Goring — the Foreign Minister von Neurath and a Colonel Hoszback, 
the Fiihrer outlined his ideas on future German expansion. His state- 
ments on this occasion were to be regarded as his last will and testa- 
ment in case of his death. 

The fundamental problem facing Germany, Hitler began, was 
Lebeiisraum (living space). Since Germany’s future could not be 
assured by either economic self-sufficiency or by an increased share 
in the world’s commerce and industry, the need for living space was 
imperative. Consequently, “the question for Germany was where the 
greatest possible conquest could be made at the lowest cost.” But 
since both England and France could not tolerate a strong Germany, 
it would only be possible to acquire living space by the use of force. 
And this was “never without risk.” If, however, this was the only 
solution, the only questions to be decided were “when and how” force 
would be used. 

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sive moves could be made with the least risk. The first occasion was 
the period 1943-45. By then the rearming of the army, navy and air 
force would be practically complete; the equipment and material 
of the armed forces would then be modern, but from that time on 
would be increasingly out of date; and it would be difficult to main- 
tain the secrecy of special weapons indefinitely. As other nations 
would have started to rearm by this date, a decrease in relative power 
could be expected. Although the actual situation in 1943-45 could 
not be predicted; nevertheless, Germany would lose more than she 
would gain by waiting any longer and it was therefore the Fiihrer’s 
“irrevocable decision to solve the German space problem no later 
than 1943-45.” 

The second occasion when Germany could act with comparative 
safety was a serious political crisis in France preventing the employ- 
ment of the French army against Germany. That would be the 
moment for action against Czechoslovakia. The third occasion was if 
France became involved in war against “another state,” in which 
case, again, Czechoslovakia could be attacked. 

Hitler then assessed the probable behavior of France, England, 
Poland and Russia in the event of German action against Czecho- 
slovakia and Austria. Britain was far too concerned, said Hitler, with 
her own Empire problems to become involved in a long European 
war, and France would not fight without British support. Poland, 
with Russia in her rear, would not dare engage a victorious Germany. 
Only Russia might act, and if so, then Germany would have to meet 
such a threat by speedy military operations. 

Hitler also felt that the civil war in Spain was to Germany’s advan- 
tage, since it maintained tension in the Mediterranean and might 
even lead to war between Italy, on the one hand, and France and 
Britain on the other. If such a war did develop, then Hitler was 
prepared to exploit this opportunity by lightning action against 
Austria and Czechoslovakia. 

Throughout this entire discourse in which the ruthless, aggressive 
aims of National Socialism were clearly revealed, not a solitary mur- 
mur of a moral protest was heard from any of the military personages 
present. The only matters that worried von Blomberg and von Fritsch 
were strategical ones. They were rather sceptical of Italy’s ability 
to hold the combined forces of France and Britain, and they were 
not as convinced as the Fiihrer, that Britain would not intervene on 
the Continent. But aside from these military considerations they could 
apparently see nothing wrong with the predatory ambitions of Hitler 
so coldly outlined to them. Despite the fact that events enabled Hitler 
to follow a course different from that set out in this remarkable docu- 


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ment, it clearly shows the common knowledge of aggressive aims 
shared by the political and military leaders of the Reich. The minutes 
of this meeting should decisively destroy any future claims by the 
German General Staff that they were simple soldiers merely being 
faithful to their oaths and that they did not realize whither the policy 
of rearmament was leading them. 

The central figure in the next phase of the struggle for power 
between Hitler and the Wehrmacht was Colonel General Werner 
von Fritsch, Commander-in-Chief of the army. A haughty aristocrat, 
stocky and square-faced in appearance, he was Conservative, hard 
and aloof. His conscious arrogance, heightened by an ever-present 
monocle, made of him a perfect model for all those fictionized, heel- 
clicking German officers so loved by romantic novelists. Utterly con- 
temptuous of the Nazis, their leaders and their methods, he did not 
hesitate to show his disdain even towards the Fiihrer himself. He 
personified and epitomized the last ditch stand of the German officer 
corps against complete domination by Hitler. 

He was outspoken in his opposition to many of Hitler’s wishes and, 
on occasions, was tactless and even rude when dealing with theFiihrer. 
Thus when Hitler appeared at Saarbriicken, to receive the homage 
of his people following the successful occupation of the Rhineland, 
the atmosphere of awed respect shown to the Fiihrer by Himmler, 
Hess and others was suddenly broken by the abrupt appearance 
of a high-powered Mercedes in the town square. Out jumped von 
Fritsch, gave Hitler a stiff military salute, obviously ignored the 
proffered hand of greeting, uttered a hasty perfunctory report, saluted 
again, turned on his heels, marched stiffly to the car and drove off. 
Conduct such as this inevitably led him into conflict with the party 
leaders, particularly Himmler. It was the latter who finally succeeded 
in bringing about his downfall. 

The occasion which brought this hidden conflict to the surface 
was the marriage of War Minister von Blomberg to an unknown 
stenographer. Von Fritsch, who had begun to suspect that von Blom- 
berg was coming more and more under Hitler’s influence, decided 
that von Blomberg had outlived his usefulness. He also resented the 
fact that von Blomberg had let down the General Staff by taking 
unto himself a bride of such lowly origin. He collaborated with Him- 
mler in producing a police dossier of the woman’s past which showed 
that not only was the wife of the War Minister of common birth, but 
that she had been a prostitute as well. When Hitler, who had attended 
the wedding as a witness and thus given the affair his blessing, was 
shown this dossier, he flew into a terrible rage and immediately dis- 
missed von Blomberg. To prevent von Fritsch from receiving the 


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War Ministry appointment, Himmler then produced for Hitler evi- 
dence which purported to prove that von Fritsch was a homosexual. 
The proof had been secured from an ex-convict party member and 
had obviously been arranged by Himmler himself. Faced with such 
immoral conduct on the part of his two most senior army officers, 
Hitler’s solution was the removal from office of both von Fritsch and 
von Blomberg. This date, February 4, 1938, marked another turning- 
point in Germany’s pre-war history, for now the chief obstacles to 
the political indoctrination of the army had been removed. Such 
opposition as still remained amongst officers of the German General 
Staff could easily be disposed of. 

The infamy of the methods adopted to remove von Fritsch is re- 
vealed in a series of letters 4 written by him to his sweetheart, Baroness 
von Schutzbar-Milchling, a cousin of Dr. Meissner who was then 
German Secretary of State. When von Blomberg was dismissed, von 
Fritsch seems to have suspected that he was somehow also involved. 
Early in February he wrote: 

... of my own affair I don’t know very much. Only that the resignation of 
von Blomberg has some connection with me. I have the impression that the 
Fiihrer . . . has decided, during my absence, to remove me very shortly. . . . 

The proceedings at his trial for homosexuality were described to 
the Baroness in a letter from Berlin, dated 23 March, 1938: 

. . . the trial I demanded began on the 3rd. Because of the events in Austria 
it was postponed until the 1 7th, and completed on the 1 7th and 1 8th. The 
verdict read: “Proven not guilty as charged, and acquitted.” The judges 
were Goring, Brauchitsch, Raeder and two senior members of the Judge- 
Advocate’s Department. In view of the facts, this verdict was inevitable. 
Finally, which was rather miraculous, they managed to find the fellow 
who had been dragged out to testify against me. Even Goring was forced 
to admit that after the proceedings no one would believe in my guilt. As 
a climax, at the very end, the star witness, on whose testimony everything 
was fabricated, admitted that all his statements were given under duress and 
were pure lies. . . . The background of this whole affair has become quite 
clear to me; but I am powerless to defend myself. . . . 

But despite his acquittal, Colonel General von Fritsch was relieved 
of his command and reduced to the rank of a colonel. 

On 4 September, 1938, he wrote again: 

. . . Dr. Meissner (Secretary of State) has undoubtedly told you about 
it in poignant terms. Perhaps he has also told you that I gave Herr Hitler 
my word of honor that the accusations were untrue. Herr Hitler has lightly 
tossed aside the word of honor of the then Commander-in-Chief of his army, 
in favor of the word of an honorless scoundrel. He has also not found a single 
word of apology for me. It is this, above all that I cannot countenance. . . . 


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Although the latter part of von Fritsch’s story does not fit chrono- 
logically in the narrative, it is worth relating. In August 1939, on the 
eve of war, von Fritsch had this to say to the Baroness: 

. . . For me there is neither in peace nor in war any part in Herr Hitler’s 
Germany. In this war I will accompany my regiment only as a target, 
because I cannot stay at home. . . . 

And shortly afterwards from the Polish front came an intimate 
personal letter to the Baroness which ended “. . . This will be my last 
letter. ...” 

Many accounts of the death of von Fritsch have been told. The 
most common one was that he had been shot in the back by some 
of Himmler’s men. The true story is told by one of von Fritsch’s 
adjutants. 5 He went to Poland as a company commander of the regi- 
ment which bore his name. When the battle outside Warsaw was at 
its height, he walked out with his adjutant far ahead of his troops. 
Things became so hot that the adjutant finally took cover and shouted 
out to Fritsch: “Duck, Colonel, duck.” Von Fritsch refused to stop. 
In a few seconds he was severely hit in the thigh and in a matter 
of minutes bled to death unattended. So died the once Commander- 
in-Chief of the German army. With him died the last formidable and 
active opposition to Hitler’s Reich. He left behind him an officer 
corps, groveling and helpless before the man whom they had, at 
first, disdained, but who had finally broken them. 

A few months later, in June 1938, a final feeble effort to resist Nazi 
domination was made. This foray was led by Colonel General Beck, 
the army Chief-of-Staff, a capable and efficient officer very highly 
regarded in the General Staff. Hitler, at a conference of senior officers, 
had presented a plan for the invasion of Czechoslovakia in the event 
that political negotiations failed to solve the Sudeten crisis. Beck 
took the lead in drafting a warning memorandum opposing Hitler’s 
prospective course of action. Not only was the military plan con- 
sidered unfeasible, but, in addition, it was stated that an act of aggres- 
sion of this kind would bring in against Germany the combined might 
of France, United States and Great Britain. Against such a force Ger- 
many would have no chance. Beck, also, repeated his opinion that 
not earlier than 1943 could Germany be sufficiently rearmed to carry 
out a defensive war against France. 6 Most of the responsible officers 
in the Wehrmacht, including men like Field Marshal von Rundstedt, 
endorsed this memorandum. Hitler’s reaction was violent and decisive. 
He dismissed Beck, issued a call to arms without consulting the Gen- 
eral Staff, and carried on with his plans for Czechoslovakia. Beck did 
not, like von Fritsch, decide that suicide was the only thing left for 


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him. He plotted a more tangible protest and died by his own hand 
only after the assassination attempt of 20 July 1944 had failed. But 
more of that later. 

Now what was the result of this spate of dismissals in the hierarchy 
of the Wehrmacht? Its most important result was the firm entrench- 
ment of Hitler’s position as the dominant force in the state, not only in 
the political but in the military field as well. Hitler found it distress- 
ingly easy to find replacements amongst the General Staff for these 
men he had removed. And because they came on Hitler’s terms, rather 
than their own, their authority was commensurately decreased. Field 
Marshal von Keitel replaced von Blomberg as head of the Wehr- 
macht, but his power was considerably curtailed since Hitler, who 
had formerly been merely the nominal Supreme Commander as the 
political head of the state, now took over the immediate direction 
of military affairs as his own personal responsibility. In other words, 
to adopt again a familiar analogy, he exerted the combined power of 
President Roosevelt and Secretary of War Stimson rolled up into one. 

To succeed von Fritsch as Commander-in-Chief of the army, Hit- 
ler chose Field Marshal von Brauchitsch, an abler and more polite 
man than his predecessor. Although very popular with the General 
Staff, Hitler nevertheless hoped that von Brauchitsch would be more 
amenable to the Fiihrer’s policies. Von Brauchitsch lasted a little over 
three years, when a disagreement over strategy in Russia in December 
1941 resulted in his dismissal. Hitler’s appetite for military power now 
having been thoroughly whetted, he assumed, in addition to all his 
other responsibilities, the post of Commander-in-Chief of the army. 
This unprecedented step gave to Hitler the swollen authority of a 
Supreme Commander, a Minister of War and an army Commander- 
in-Chief, or, to return to our analogy, the combined responsibility 
of Roosevelt, Stimson and General Marshall. Having made of himself 
a martial trinity of such dimensions, Hitler had irrevocably under- 
written his personal responsibility for Germany’s defeat. 

The ease with which Hitler was able to fill the vacancies of his 
higher military establishments is a sad commentary on the idealistic 
pretensions of the German General Staff. On no occasion did they 
present a unified front against the aggressive policies of Hitler which 
they believed were leading their country to disaster. The best they 
could produce were isolated protests by isolated individuals whom 
Hitler was able to handle and destroy one at a time. The bulk of the 
General Staff excused their docile acceptance of these events on two 
grounds. The first was that military obedience, traditional discipline 
and faithfulness to their oath prevented them from rebelling against 


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the political authority and, conversely, bound them to accept the posts 
offered them when their comrades had been dismissed. The second 
ground was that their obligation to the German people and the world 
forced them to remain within the Wehrmacht and attempt to maintain 
the influence of the General Staff. Rashly to have opposed National 
Socialism would only have meant an end on the gallows or in a con- 
centration camp, which would then have left Germany to the mercy 
of stark and undiluted Nazism. It seems never to have occurred to 
them that a strong, united stand on the part of all military leaders, 
opposing the Fiihrer’s aggressive policies, might have effectively 
curbed Hitler’s ambitions, and at the same time made it impossible 
for him to wreak vengeance on them as individuals. 

This failure to combine against Hitler was probably due to a third 
reason, which General Staff officers never volunteer themselves. It is 
that ambition is a most effective solvent of ideals. When it can be 
rationalized as loyalty too many men will be tempted to adopt the 
camouflage in order to achieve their personal desires. To discipline, 
add fear, a pinch of idealism and a generous helping of ambition and 
you will have the recipe that rendered the German officer corps 
impotent and encouraged Hitler to proceed with his mad plans for 
world conquest. 


Chapter VII 

THE PHONEY WAR 

Munich saw the justification of all of Hitler s arguments. Britain and 
France yielded to German pressure and the Sudetenland was returned 
to the Reich. The officers who had shown such alarm about Hitler’s 
strategy were discredited and discomfited. More than a little abashed 
they sat back and watched the next political moves without daring 
to interfere. And by now they were beginning to be much more 
amenable to Hitler’s direction. The Fiihrer’s political victories had 
been more successful in converting the officer corps than all the 
propaganda efforts of Goebbels. General Warlimont puts it this way: 1 

The occupation of Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939 was an almost 
purely political matter — the military part of it being of a more or less routine 
nature. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that those of the General Staff 
who had been against this move now appeared to have been wrong. From a 
psychological viewpoint it was now easier to guide the General Staff in 
preparing for action against Poland. In addition the regaining of Danzig 


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and the reunion with East Prussia was an aim of all Germans, even the 
General Staff, as Foch had foreseen after the Versailles Treaties. The separa- 
tion effected by the corridor, and the intransigent attitude of Poland when 
approached on the subject of the revision of the German eastern border 
placed Germany under a restraint unparalleled in history. 

How easy it had become “to guide the General Staff in preparing 
for action against Poland” was only too evident by subsequent events. 
On 3 April 1939, a directive was issued by the Supreme Command 
to the armed forces, which, after referring to military preparations 
already ordered for the occupation of Danzig, went on to discuss 
‘Fall Weiss,’ the code name for the German invasion of Poland. This 
directive stated that: “The Fiihrer has added the following directions 
to Fall Weiss: (1) Preparations must be made in such a way that 
the operations can be carried out at any time from 1 September 1939 
onwards. (2) The Supreme Command of the armed forces has been 
directed to draw up a precise timetable for Fall Weiss and to arrange 
by conferences the synchronized timings between the three branches 
of the armed forces.” 

But if this were not enough to convince the General Staff that 
Hitler’s course was set for aggressive war, the important conference 
held in the Fiihrer’s study in the Reich Chancellery on 23 May 1939 
should have provided final proof. Like the minutes of the meeting 
of 5 November 1937, when Hitler set forth his current views on the 
action to be taken against Czechoslovakia, the report of this confer- 
ence sets out the Fuhrer’s intentions in regard to Poland. 2 Some fifteen 
representatives of the army, navy and air force were present at this 
conference, including Goring, Raeder, von Brauchitsch, Keitel, Haider 
and Warlimont. After analyzing the political situation Hitler claimed 
that the quarrel with Poland was not over Danzig at all. It was a 
question of acquiring more living space for Germany and of securing 
her food supplies. 

“Poland sees danger in a German victory in the West,” said the 
Fiihrer, “and will attempt to rob us of that victory. There is therefore 
no question of sparing Poland, and we are left with the decision: to 
attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity. We cannot expect a 
repetition of the Czech affair. There will be war. Our task is to isolate 
Poland. The success of the isolation will be decisive. . . . The isolation 
of Poland is a matter of skilful politics. . . .” 

Hitler then went on to consider the possibility of Great Britain 
and France coming to Poland’s assistance. If, therefore, the isolation 
of Poland could not be achieved, Hitler believed that Germany should 
attack Great Britain and France first, or at any rate should concen- 


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THE PHONEY WAR 

II I IIIII II I III I I IIII II IIII II I I II I III IIII I I IUIIIIII II IIIIII I II II H I IIIIHIII I I II I I MHIHII I II I I I I I I II IIIII I I I I II II I 

trate primarily on the war in the West in order to defeat Great Britain 
and France quickly. As to Russia’s actions in the event of an attack 
on Poland, Hitler said, “It is not impossible that Russia will show 
herself to be disinterested in the destruction of Poland.” He con- 
cluded his remarks by emphasizing that a war against the Western 
Powers might well be of “ten to fifteen years duration,” and that plans 
would have to be made accordingly. And as at the Fiihrer’s conference 
on Czechoslovakia, his military advisers listened to all this with not 
a dissenting voice, and finally left the meeting to busy themselves 
with their preparations for the next war. 

But there seems to have been no unanimity of opinion amongst 
senior officers as to Germany’s capacity to conduct a full-scale war in 
the autumn of 1939. Von Brauchitsch, as Commander-in-Chief of the v* 
army, apparently felt that Germany could handle France, Britain 
and Poland. But he warned against adding Russia to the list. The 
danger of a two-front war was conceded by everyone. Hitler accepted 
von Brauchitsch’s view in this instance and did not press his claims 
against Poland to a military decision until he had secured his Russian 
frontier. The result of this reversal in political strategy was the Russo- 
German pact which enabled Hitler to proceed with his plans in the 
West. 

Not all generals were as sanguine about Germany’s ability to hold 
both France and Britain as von Brauchitsch. Amongst those who were 
apprehensive about a lengthy war were such important men as Gen- 
erals von Schweppenburg, Warlimont, von Salmuth, Felmy and von 
Wiihlisch. 3 Hitler realized that this fear existed in the ranks of the 
General Staff and tried to abate it by logical and convincing argu- 
ments proving that France and Britain would not interfere if Germany 
forced Poland to yield. On the 22 August 1939, Hitler announced to 
an assembled meeting of generals and General Staff officers his defin- 
ite decision to make war against Poland. There was much head- 
shaking amongst the officers when the meeting was over, but, bound 
to their military oaths, they all hurried back to their troops to make 
plans for the big day. 

The lightning campaign in Poland fulfilled the most optimistic 
hopes of both Hitler and his generals. The Fvihrer’s interference in 
the preparatory planning was not of any great moment, nor did it 
seriously affect operations which achieved success on every side. 
Not only was victory quick in the East, but it was attained with only 
negligible interference from Germany’s enemies in the West. Oppos- 
ing the Maginot Line the Germans gambled with some twenty -three 
divisions to hold any offensive action on the part of the French. The 


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French did nothing and Poland was overwhelmed. In a story of the 
defeat of Germany the Polish campaign has little place. 

But once Poland had given in, the General Staff seems to have 
returned again to its cautious approach to military operations. A 
memorandum was drawn up by the Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the 
army. General Heinrich von Stiilpnagel, showing that an offensive 
war against France was impossible. General Warlimont was busy 
assembling facts to prove that economically Germany was only cap- 
able of protecting her borders. Even von Brauchitsch, whose original 
advice was optimistic, now strenuously opposed a large-scale offensive 
in the West. The latter’s objections seem to have been based on the 
view that the time was not yet ripe for a grand assault, and that a 
period of proper preparation should expire before the Western Allies 
were tackled. Hitler’s plans were completely different. Attack imme- 
diately, defeat France before winter and quickly end the war — that 
was the way Hitler wanted it done. Hitler’s failure to have his way in 
this regard resulted in the so-called ‘phoney war’ which dragged 
through the winter months of 1939-40. The activities that went on 
behind the German lines during this static period of war while the 
world comfortably settled down in expectation of long, dreary years 
of trench warfare, are related in some detail by General Warlimont. 

“Following the collapse of the Polish armies,” he writes, 4 “the 
Fiihrer returned to Berlin and as early as September 1939 assembled 
in the Reich Chancellery, the Commanders-in-Chief of the army, 
navy and air force and the Chief of the Wehrmacht, together with 
their closest advisers, to announce his decision to attack and crush 
France before the end of autumnn 1939. ( Hitler used slips of paper 
with jottings as reminders, and burned them in the open fireplace 
after the conference. ) The preparations were to be concluded within 
six weeks, by early November. I no longer remember the details of 
Hitler’s operational instructions; they aimed at turning the Maginot 
Line at its strongest-built parts in the north, by repeating the World 
War I advance through Belgium, but this time including the 
Maastricht comer of the Netherlands. No objections were raised. 

“Again the deployment of troops according to these orders had to 
be improvised, since no plans existed. While the troops were moving 
west without any important interference, the army General Staff 
arrived at the conclusion that the first order to cross the Franco- 
German border would have to be given seven days before X-Day. 
General Brauchitsch arrived at the Reich Chancellery and demanded 
to see the Fiihrer in private. It was a Sunday early in November 1939. 
By chance I was present in the Reich Chancellery, representing Gen- 


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eral Jodi, who was ill. Hardly half an hour later Brauchitsch left, and 
Keitel was called in to the Fiihrer. Keitel told me later that Brau- 
chitsch had reported on conversations with his army commanders 
during a trip to the West which he had just concluded; in a written 
reply Brauchitsch attempted to convince the Fiihrer that his intention 
to attack France was impracticable — at least at the time intended, 
the autumn of 1939. 

“However, when he reached the point in his report alleging that 
the aggressive spirit of the German infantry in Poland had lagged 
seriously behind that of World War I, Hitler was deeply offended 
because of his pride in the National Socialist education of German 
youth, rudely interrupted Brauchitsch, and forbade him to continue 
his report. 

“The Fiihrer s indignation over Brauchitsch’s statements was so 
great and enduring that it was forgotten to decide whether the open- 
ing of the campaign should be ordered. After the Fiihrer’s departure 
I asked Keitel about it, pointing out that the order would have to 
be released by one o’clock in the afternoon. Keitel then rushed after 
the Fiihrer, and returned with the decision that the order ought to 
be given at once, presumably setting 12 November as X-Day. When 
I thereupon telephoned the order to Brauchitsch’s headquarters, I 
was asked for a written confirmation, since the order was incompre- 
hensible to them in view of the report which the Commander-in- 
Chief of the army had just rendered to the Fiihrer. . . . 

“When the order to march had to be suspended two days later 
because bad weather was forecast, a period of increased distrust 
began. It is a meteorological fact that weather is always bad during 
this season in Central Europe — especially in the West; the most 
exact and detailed weather reports were submitted daily by the armies 
in the West; they supplemented reports by the air force, which had 
not yet become an object of Hitler’s suspicion; and yet Hitler was 
not satisfied that it really was the weather situation and not the 
opposition openly voiced by Brauchitsch which further delayed the 
opening of operations. The series of intervals of first three then five 
days from one decision to the next led to a lasting restlessness, diverted 
attention and effort from more important problems and steadily 
undermined the small stock of confidence which the General Staff 
had in the Supreme Command. Furthermore, there seemed to be a 
leak which had several times let the enemy know of these decisions. 

“It was about this time that I made an attempt of my own to influ- 
ence the course of events by initiating negotiations with the Western 
Powers through the King of the Belgians. It was not until mid- 


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December when the system of postponing the day of attack every 
few days was finally abandoned, that other operational details could 
be considered. . . 

Thus it was that even in the very earliest days of the war Hitler 
began to influence and direct military operations. In 1939, however, 
he was still susceptible to argument. The opposition of his generals 
and the weather had been sufficient to cause him to reverse his deci- 
sion about attacking before the winter. But as the war grew older 
he began to rely less and less on those who advised him, until finally 
he shut himself off completely from everyone and acted autocrati- 
cally upon his own intuition alone. 

The invasion of Norway was predominantly a naval operation. 
Only a relatively small part of the army was involved. The General 
Staff seemed to have frowned upon the idea as much too risky, but 
Hitler, fearing an attempt by England to set up air and naval bases 
in Norway, insisted that the invasion be launched. Again, in a tale 
of defeat, the brilliant success of the Norwegian campaign can find 
little place. But for the sake of continuity it might be worth while 
to present the German reasons for this assault on 9 April 1940. Ad- 
miral Krancke, who in 1940 commanded the Admiral Sclieer and 
who in 1943 was responsible for organizing the naval defenses of 
Western Europe, had written a short account of the German naval 
point of view. He had this to say about Norway. 5 

“The danger that England would, as in 1918, close the entrance 
routes to the Atlantic, and perhaps settle forces in Norway in order 
to obtain bases there for the air force, led to our decision to counteract 
this measure by occupying Norway and thus gain access to the Atlan- 
tic. It was hoped that we should be able to achieve our military aims 
without any extensive military operations and without making war 
on Norway, and at the same time without encroaching upon her 
political freedom. When we got reports that England had similar 
intentions, and the total disregard for Norwegian territorial waters in 
the case of the Altmark made it quite clear what Norway’s relations 
with England were, the operations for the Norwegian campaign were 
prepared. It is true that this operation required only small land 
forces, but it was possible only with the co-operation of the entire 
German navy and the High Command. The High Command was in 
no doubt about this; but here was a task for the German vessels which 
was strategically worth while. 

“How right this decision was, was proved when, immediately after 
the English mines had been laid in Norwegian territorial waters, a 
similar invasion was undertaken by the English, but was broken off 


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when the German ships were sighted. The orders, captured later in 
Lillehammer, gave full confirmation of this. The success of the Nor- 
wegian campaign, in spite of temporary reverses in Narvik, obviated 
the danger of being hemmed in with mines or threatened from Scan- 
dinavia or Denmark.” 

But the view that the Allies intended to occupy Norway before 
the Germans did has been soundly rebutted by the unanimous verdict 
of the tribunal at Nuremberg. For it is there pointed out that when 
the final orders for the German invasion of Norway were issued, the 
diary of the Naval Operations Staff for 23 March 1940, records that: 
“A mass encroachment by the English into Norwegian territorial 
waters ... is not to be expected at the present time.” And another 
entry by Admiral Assmann on 26 March states “British landing in 
Norway not considered serious.” Summing up its discussion of the 
events that led to the attacks against Norway and Denmark, the 
judgment at Nuremberg concludes: “In the light of all the available 
evidence it is impossible to accept the contention that the invasions 
of Denmark and Norway were defensive, and in the opinion of the 
tribunal they were acts of aggressive war.” 


Chapter VIII 

VICTORY -AND DEFEAT 

With the abandonment of the decision to launch a full-scale attack in 
the West before the winter of 1939, Hitler began to look again at the 
plan which was designed to break the Maginot Line. It had been 
prepared by the General Staff under the direction of von Brauchitsch 
and his Chief-of-Staff, Haider. No fewer than four army groups were 
involved, with Army Group ‘B’ under von Bock on the right wing 
opposite the Low Countries, Army Group ‘A’ under von Rundstedt in 
the center facing the Ardennes and Army Group ‘C’ under von Leeb 
on the left wing opposite the Saar. In reserve was a panzer army group 
led by von Kleist. The whole force totaled some 150 infantry divisions 
and 10 armored divisions. 

The original plan was a modified version of the classic von Schlief- 
fen operation which, itself modified, had almost proved successful in 
the early days of World War I. Under this plan the main assault rdle 
was to be carried out by von Bock’s Army Group on the right wing 
by means of a wide out-flanking movement through the Low Coun- 
tries. But before it could be put into practice an alternative proposal 
had been presented to the Fiihrer. The originator of this new plan 
was General von Manstein, Chief-of-Staff to von Rundstedt of Army 


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Group ‘A.’ It suggested that instead of the decisive blow being struck 
in the north against Belgium, it be shifted to the center of the front 
and be made through the Ardennes. 

Von Manstein presented formidable arguments to back up his 
alternative plan. An attack through the Low Countries would be too 
much like the 1914 operation to achieve surprise; in Belgium the 
Germans would have to fight their main battle against the British 
who would prove more obstinate than the French; the flat land of 
Holland and Belgium was crossed by innumerable canals and rivers 
making difficult the deployment of large armored forces. In favor of 
his own proposal von Manstein contended that the disadvantages of 
using tanks in the hilly and wooded country of the Ardennes would 
be offset by the complete surprise of such a move. Once out of the 
close country and across the Meuse River at Sedan, the rolling farm- 
lands of Northern France would be perfect for the rapid advance 
of the German armor. 

Von Brauchitsch and Haider were both very lukewarm about von 
Manstein’s scheme. Haider was particularly opposed to it, perhaps 
more because he did not get on well with von Manstein than because 
the plan was unfeasible. 1 But the more Hitler studied it, the more 
he liked it. Finally the Fiihrer decided that the original plan was 
to be shelved and von Manstein’s suggestions adopted instead. Natur- 
ally such a decision created resentment amongst the senior officers 
who had devised the first operation, and also amongst the officers 
in von Bock’s Army Group who had been delegated to a secondary 
role while von Rundstedt’s Army Group was given the prima donna 
part. Unable to vent their feelings on Hitler himself, the High Com- 
mand felt it necessary to show their disapproval of von Manstein, 
particularly since he had approached the Fiihrer himself with his 
plan rather than using the normal army channels. They removed him 
as von Rundstedt’s Chief-of-Staff and gave him command of a corps 
which played no part in the scheme he had evolved. It was thus no 
happy and harmonious family of officers that began the offensive in 
the West on the 10 May 1940. 

The military personality that dominated both the first year of the 
war and the last year of the war was undoubtedly that of Field Mar- 
shal Gerd von Rundstedt. To him was given the task of leading the 
German soldier to his most glorious victory and to his most abysmal 
defeat. In him was personified the traditional, Conservative, exclusive, 
aristocratic professional soldier upon which the General Staff liked 
to believe its members were modeled. As such his background is 
worth recording. 

Von Rundstedt has a face that is ageless. A straight firm nose, long 


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thin lips and determined blunt jaw, give the impression of a sculp- 
tured bust, immutable and relentless. The tiny wrinkles and serried 
lines that striate the skin help to create this effect of chiseled rock. The 
eyes, however, bright and restless, reveal the presence of warm blood. 
The occasional limited smile coupled with a dry, restrained wit con- 
firms the fact that this man is human after all. If stone predominates 
in the Field Marshal’s physical appearance, it probably betrays what 
has taken place in the spirit as well. This transformation to granite can 
hardly be wondered at, for only ossification could have withstood the 
buffeting of howling events that assailed him from all directions. 

Born in 1875 of an aristocratic Prussian family steeped in military 
tradition, Gerd von Rundstedt was already sixty years old when the 
second Great War began. By 1932 he had been given the most im- 
portant field command in Germany — commander of Army Group T 
which controlled Berlin and Brandenburg. In this post he was in 
charge of the military forces for whose control political elements 
played a desperate game of murder and intrigue. He obeyed like 
an automaton the orders he was given by the political leaders of 
the day. He questioned neither the contents nor the authority of any 
orders. Thus his troops brought about the forcible dissolution of the 
Social Democratic government of Prussia because von Rundstedt 
was told to do so by Chancellor von Papen; his men stood idly by as 
Hitler took over power, dismissed the Reichstag and destroyed the 
Weimar Republic because President von Hindenburg did not object; 
and he did nothing during the blood purge of June 1934 when Roehm, 
the Storm Troop leader, and General von Schleicher of the Wehr- 
macht were both murdered, because the Fiihrer had so ordered. 
Here was the non-political soldier following his creed. Whether von 
Rundstedt would have obeyed so automatically had the course of 
revolution been reversed and a republic taken over from a monarchy 
or a fascist form of government, no one can say. For while it may be 
true that von Rundstedt despised the manners and aspirations of the 
Nazis, he had never felt any great respect for the Weimar Republic or 
its leaders. To him it was merely choosing a lesser evil. The promise 
of a Germany free of the shackles of Versailles, and the prospects 
of a powerful Wehrmacht, were probably enough to tip the scales in 
favor of Hitler. 

The next few years were happy ones for a general — to increase 
and overhaul the army as quickly as possible. He laid emphasis on 
the modernization and improvement of the weapons and training of 
the infantrymen. He also saw the need for the close co-operation 
between armor and infantry, but always insisted that the latter were 
the most important element in any battle. His theories contributed 


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immeasurably to the efficient war machine that swept all before it in 
the early days of the war. 

The dismissals of von Fritsch and von Blomberg in 1938 created 
the first break in von Rundstedt’s acquiescence in Hitler’s actions. 
He protested to the Fiihrer about the shabby treatment of von Fritsch, 
but received no satisfaction. When Beck presented his criticism of 
the proposed invasion of Czechoslovakia, von Rundstedt was one of 
the men who endorsed the memorandum. Following the occupation 
of the Sudetenland in the autumn of 1938, von Rundstedt, having 
guessed wrong, asked that he be permitted to retire on the grounds 
of old age. This he was enabled to do, but in August 1939, just before 
the war began, he was called back to command an army group on the 
Polish front. Unable to resist the call to arms, and true to what he felt 
was his patriotic duty as a soldier, he donned his field uniform once 
again. 

Brilliantly successful in his operations in Poland, in May 1940 he 
was poised on the edge of the Ardennes ready to carry out the role 
which Hitler’s personal decision had entrusted to him — the leading 
part in the conquest of France. How well he performed that part 
has already been judged by military experts. The breaking of the 
Maginot Line will always remain as a classic example of the use of 
armor and infantry in the offensive. Von Manstein’s plan worked 
exactly as predicted. The Allied forces on the left advanced to meet 
von Bock’s Army Group in Belgium only to find that von Rundstedt’s 
tanks had penetrated the Ardennes and crossed the Meuse at Sedan. 
The French, caught completely unawares in the good tank country 
west of the Meuse, could do nothing to halt the drive of the panzer 
formations to the Channel coast. And as the German armor drove 
forward, its positions were quickly taken over by motorized infantry 
which held the ground captured by the tanks. These tactics revolu- 
tionized military thinking and taught the Allies the principles which 
they subsequently used to defeat their teachers. The Allied left wing, 
comprising the bulk of the British army, was caught against the Chan- 
nel and could not break through the tightly held salient carved out 
by von Rundstedt. The Allied position thus having been cut in two 
and all attempts to pry open the trap having failed, there remained 
only one course open — the evacuation of the British from Dunkirk. 
Up until now victory had tumbled upon victory in breathless profu- 
sion. Now was time for defeat. Hitler suffered his first at Dunkirk. 
And what better authority for this statement than von Rundstedt 
himself. 

“To me,” remarked the Field Marshal rather ruefully, 2 “Dunkirk 
was one of the great turning-points of the war. If I had had my way 
the English would not have got off so lightly at Dunkirk. But my hands 


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were tied by direct orders from Hitler himself . I While the E 

were clambering into the ships off the beaches, I was kept use^ , 

outside the port unable to move.ll recommended to the Supreme 
Command that my five panzer divisions be immediately sent into 
the town and thereby completely destroy the retreating English. fC 
Butjl received definite orders from the Fiihrer that under no circum- 
stances was I to attack, andjl was expressly forbidden to send any 
of my troops closer than ten kilometres from Dunkirk. iThe only weap- 
ons I was permitted to use against the English were my medium guns. 
At this distance 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 gen- 
eralship. The Fiihrer daily received statements of tank losses incurred 
during the campaign, and by a simple process of arithmetic he de- 
duced that there was not sufficient armor available at this time to 
attack the English. He did not realize that many of the tanks reported 
out of action one day could, with a little extra effort on the part 
of the repair squads, be able to fight in a very short time. The second 
reason for Hitler’s decision was the fact that on the map available 
to him at Berlin the ground surrounding the port appeared to be 
flooded and unsuitable for tank warfare. With a shortage of armor 
and the difficult country. Hitler decided that the cost of an attack 
would be too high, when the French armies to the south had not 
yet been destroyed. iHe therefore ordered that my forces be reserved 
so that they could be strong enough to take part in the southern drive 
against the French, designed to capture Paris and destroy all French 
resistance.” 

Hitler’s successes as a strategist were now beginning to bear their 
blighted fruit. Despite the assurance of a man like von Rundstedt 
that he was capable of carrying on against the English at Dunkirk, his 
opinion was tossed aside by the Fiihrer in favor of his own judgment 
and intuition. Thus a little man studying a map hundreds of miles 
away from the battle, by rejecting the advice of his most brilliant 
commander, changed the course of history. The ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ 
seems even more fore-ordained than it ever appeared before. 

Hardly was the ink dry on the armistice documents signed at Com- 
piegne declaring the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of 
France, before the Supreme Command was busy on its most ambitious 
and most important future operation — the invasion of England. 
While the Germans gleefully sang “Wir fahren gegen England” 
(We’re Marching Against England), the planning staffs were not as 
confident as the song writers. The sudden victory had taken them all 


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by surprise. Having prepared themselves for a slow campaign of 
attrition in the West, their speedy success had far outdistanced their 
most optimistic plans. Now they were faced with an entirely new 
problem for which they had no precedents. Being an essentially land- 
bound army the narrow expanse of Channel waters presented a for- 
midable obstacle to which they could not quickly adjust themselves. 
But it was realized that the resistance of England might eventually 
become a serious menace, if not eliminated, and thereby they made 
plans to deal with it. Hitler ordered von Rundstedt to prepare his 
Army Group for the prospective invasion. The operation was given 
the rather transparent code-name of ‘Sea Lion.’ 

The General Staff seems to have been divided about the feasibility 
of a cross-Channel invasion. Some pressed their convictions that it 
should be attempted, but the majority of officers, still conservative, 
felt that the moment was not opportune. Shipping and proper equip- 
ment for a sea-borne invasion would take a long time to assemble. 
The English would bitterly resist any landings, and it was not known 
just how strong their land forces still were. That the Royal Air Force 
and Royal Navy would provide formidable opposition was not for- 
gotten. To be successful the enterprise had to be sure of three condi- 
tions — complete air superiority, favorable weather, and protection 
of the flanks of the invasion zone by mining and naval forces. On the 
assumption that these three conditions would prevail the General 
Staff prepared its plans. These plans only remained consistent in their 
broad outlines; frequent alterations in detail made it impossible to 
describe any one operation as the ‘invasion plan.’ All that can be pro- 
vided is some idea of how the project was to be carried out. 

Colonel General Franz Haider, who replaced Beck as the army 
Chief -of-Staff, and whose final years of the war were spent in a con- 
centration camp for having disagreed with Hitler about operations in 
Russia, has provided a general outline of operation ‘Sea Lion.’ Ex- 
tracts from his account give the following overall scheme : 3 

“It was planned to use three armies for the invasion of England 
and they were stationed along the Channel coast from Le Havre to 
Holland. These three armies were to form the army group led by 
von Rundstedt. A large number of army and navy units were working 
at the time in the estuaries of the Rhine, Meuse and Scheldt, building 
transport craft, landing craft and landing equipment, and preparing 
other measures supplementary to those taken by the engineers on 
the French coast. Special training courses for engineers and armored 
forces were also taking place on the Friesian Islands, as well as special 
courses for the assault troops on the French coast in the areas of the 


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The Invasion That Never Came — September, 1940 , 


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Sixth and Ninth Armies. Even at the time it was hardly possible to 
form a clear picture of all these preparations. 

“The total strength of the German forces to be utilized in ‘Sea Lion’ 
must first of all have been twenty-four to twenty-six divisions, includ- 
ing motorized formations. This number was ample, as it would take 
several weeks for these divisions to complete the crossing. Should 
further forces or staffs be needed during this period, it would have 
been easy to train them, as no military forces were facing the Germans 
on the Continent. The problem was purely that of transport across 
the sea. 

“The intention of von Rundstedt’s Army Group was approximately 
as follows: To land on the English south coast between Dover and 
Portsmouth ( both exclusive ) , to destroy opposing British forces and 
to advance step by step northwards in order to occupy the area be- 
tween the south coast and a line drawn through Midhurst-Guildford- 
North Downs, which area was required as a base for further opera- 
tions. 

“No orders were issued nor could be issued on further intentions, 
because the critical phase of the operation had to be expected in the 
area given above and all further tasks depend on its outcome. An 
additional hindrance to further planning was the fact that operations 
affecting wider areas had to be carried out by strong motorized 
formations, and it was quite uncertain how quickly and in what 
strength these motorized formations could be transported across the 
sea. Their supply lines had also to be firmly secured before further 
strategical tasks could be envisaged. . . . 

“The general outline of further tasks was the occupation of Southern 
England approximately up to the line Gloucester-Oxford-Hertford- 
Maldon. I cannot recollect if these actual names were ever mentioned, 
but I use them only to indicate the area comprising the narrowest 
waist of England between the Thames and Severn estuaries and 
including London. It was this area which was being considered. . . . 

“The limitation of landing areas in east and west was really unde- 
sirable but was inevitable because of lack of means to attack Dover 
and Portsmouth from the sea, or even to neutralize them. Sufficient 
craft were also lacking to stage the first assault on a larger front. The 
original intention of extending the landings to the west up to Lyme 
Bay had therefore to be abandoned. Dover was to be taken by a 
surprise attack from the land immediately after the first landings. 
Portsmouth was also to be taken from the land during the later 
strategic extension of the area of operations. . . . 

“London hardly entered into the discussions, as it was outside the 


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first objective. ... I was of the opinion that our comparatively weak 
forces (relative to the tasks in hand) would allow us only to isolate 
the capital from the remainder of the country. This necessitated the 
surrounding of London from the north as soon as the River Thames 
had been crossed west of the city with sufficiently strong forces. . . . 

“The operation was to be carried out in three phases. Phase I deal- 
ing with the initial crossing was to be done in three waves. The first 
wave was to be formed of fast landing craft, some crossing under 
their own power, others lowered from sea-going ships outside the 
coast defense zone. The second wave was to consist of the main body 
of landing craft, some of which could move slowly under their own 
power, some of which had to be towed. The third wave was to con- 
sist of large sea-going vessels which could carry the bulk of the troops 
as well as their supporting tanks, engineers, signal units, etc. . . . 

“Phase II provided for the crossing of the panzer and motorized 
divisions from the Dutch area and of further infantry divisions from 
the French coast. Phase III provided for the crossing of further 
infantry divisions and of large supplies to form a supply base. The 
details of Phase II and Phase III could be worked out only after it 
had become clear to what extent sea-going vessels would be available 
after the completion of the initial landings.” 

Thus it can be seen that the plan had been worked out in consider- 
able detail. A scheme had even been evolved for the establishment i. 
of a ‘Control Commission’ for civilian administration in Britain. 

On August 1, 1940 Hitler issued the following directive. 

The Fiihrer and Supreme Commander of Armed Forces. 

Fiihrer’s Headquarters, 

/ August 1940. 

Directive No. i~i 

For prosecuting air and sea war against England. 

I have decided to carry on and intensify air and naval warfare against 
England in order to bring about her final defeat. 

For this purpose I am issuing the following orders: 

1 . The German air force with all available forces will destroy the English 
air force as soon as possible. 

The attacks will be directed first against airborne aircraft, their ground 
and supply organization and then against industry, including the manu- 
facture of anti-aircraft equipment. 

2 . After gaining temporary or local air superiority, air attack will be 
continued on harbors, paying special attention to food storage depots and 
particularly food storage depots in London. 

In view of our own intended operations, attacks on harbors on the south 
coast must be kept to a minimum. 


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3. Attacks on warships and on merchant shipping will be of secondary 
importance to those against enemy air power except when specially favor- 
able opportunity targets present themselves, or additional effect may be 
provided within the framework of attacks quoted in para. 2, or where sup- 
plementary training is necessary for air crews. 

4. The intensified air war will be so planned that adequate forces may be 
diverted at any time for favorable opportunity targets. 

Moreover, fighting strength must be maintained at disposal for the 
operation ‘Seelowe’ (Sea Lion). 

5. I am reserving terror attacks as reprisals. 

6. Intensification of the air war can begin on 5 August 1940. It is for the 
air force staff to choose the exact time, in accordance with the completion 
of preparations, and according to weather conditions. The navy will at the 
same time announce the planned intensification of naval war measures. 

HITLER. 

About a month later, on September 3, 1940, an order was sent out by 
Field Marshal Keitel setting the tentative invasion date as 21 Septem- 
ber. It was not a firm date, by any means, and the troops would be 
given ten days’ advance warning — that is on September 11 — if this 
day was subsequently confirmed. 4 

Yet despite the definite character of these activities there seemed 
to be no enthusiasm for the operation. Hitler himself appeared par- 
ticularly hesitant. A great part of the blame for this lukewarm atmos- 
phere can be traced to the estimates of English strength prepared 
by German military intelligence. Von Rundstedt has admitted that 
England at this time was a ‘Sphinx.’ No reliable information was to 
hand and all that was received by the planners were the bad guesses 
of the intelligence staffs. They warned of the strength of the Royal 
Air Force and of the omnipotence of the Royal Navy. Their descrip- 
tion of the British soldier, based on the experience of the battle of 
France, was extremely flattering. In part they described him thus: 

The English soldier was in excellent physical condition. He bore his own 
wounds with stoical calm. The losses of his own troops he discussed with 
complete equanimity. He did not complain of hardships. In battle he was 
tough and dogged. His conviction that England would conquer in the end 
was unshakeable. 

The English soldier has always shown himself to be a fighter of high 
standard. Certainly the territorial divisions are inferior to the regular troops 
in training, but this is compensated for by their morale. In defence the 
Englishman took any punishment that came his way. During the fighting, 
Fourth Army Corps took fewer English prisoners than in the engagements 
with French or Belgians. On the other hand, the losses on both sides were 
bloody and high. 5 


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But if German intelligence was right about the quality of the 
English soldier, it was incredibly wrong about the quantity of them. 
The operation order of von Rundstedt’s Army Group ‘A’ at the begin- 
ning of September 1940 deals with the enemy in the following para- 
graph: 6 

( i ) Enemy: The deployment of the English army as at the beginning of 
September is appreciated as follows: 

(a) Employment of seventeen divisions for coastal defense. Close col- 
laboration of these divisions with the coastal defense, the air force 
and the navy. 

(b) Twenty-two divisions in the London area as a tactical and opera- 
tional reserve. Their task will be to repulse enemy penetration by 
counter-attack. . . . 

With a potential force of thirty-nine enemy divisions against them 
no wonder the General Staff were hesitant about committing a mere 
twenty-six divisions in an invasion across the Channel. The fact that 
no such fantastic force existed in England at the time has already 
been told by Winston Churchill. 7 Barely a hundred tanks and two or 
three equipped divisions was the best England could have mustered 
in those days. Men with pitchforks and stout hearts ready to defend 
their homes, Britain possessed by the millions. But to estimate that 
the troops, who had been forced to leave their equipment on the 
beaches of Dunkirk, still numbered thirty-nine divisions each contain- 
ing 15,000 men possessing adequate weapons to fight, was sheer non- 
sense. The much overrated German intelligence service was begin- 
ning to reveal its true worth. 

One of the most sceptical of all was von Rundstedt himself. Al- 
though ordered to command the operation, he was most unenthusi- 
astic about its prospects. 

“The proposed invasion of England was nonsense,” said von Rund- 
stedt, 8 “because adequate ships were not available. They were chiefly 
barges which had to be brought from Germany and the Netherlands. 
Then they had to be reconstructed so that tanks and other equipment 
could be driven out of the bows. Then the troops had to learn how 
to embark and disembark. 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. 

“Perhaps we might have come over; but how things would have 
gone as regards reinforcements and supplies is another matter. There 
was another difficulty as well. These barges had to be towed, and that 


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could only be done at high tide. If anything had happened en route 
causing me to lose one or two hours, we would have been caught in 
an ebbing tide and then been stranded off the English coast. I was 
always very sceptical about the whole affair. I must admit that serious 
preparations were made, but we only had very few paratroops at the 
time — one airborne division. 

“I have a feeling that the Fiihrer never really wanted to invade 
England. He never had sufficient courage. He used to say: ‘On land 
I am a hero, but on water I am a coward.’ Hitler definitely hoped 
that the English would make peace overtures to him. It was useless 
to attempt an invasion later on, since by then the English had become 
much too strong.” 

The military objections to an invasion of England in the late 
summer of 1940 may or may not have been valid. Had the German 
General Staff known the true strength of the land forces available in 
Britain at the time, it is probable that they might have urged a differ- 
ent course. But such military protestations had rarely interfered with 
Hitler’s decisions before, and they bore little weight in influencing 
him on this occasion. The real reason for Germany’s failure to cross 
the Channel lay in Hitler’s supreme confidence in his ability to come 
to political terms with England. That the English would continue to 
resist after the fall of France was to him unthinkable. All the evidence 
points to this explanation for what would otherwise remain a com- 
pletely illogical and inexplicable series of events. 

Von Rundstedt’s statement that Hitler was waiting for the English 
to make “peace overtures to him” is substantiated by General Gunther 
Blumentritt, who was von Rundstedt’s Chief-of-Staff during the battle 
of Normandy. Completely opposite to von Rundstedt in both appear- 
ance and personality, Blumentritt possessed those qualities which von 
Rundstedt lacked. Where the Chief was taciturn, Blumentritt was 
loquacious; where von Rundstedt was frigid, Blumentritt was genial; 
where von Rundstedt thought in generalities, Blumentritt was patient 
with details. Dark-skinned, broad and expressive, his face contrasted 
sharply with the pale, thin, impassive face of von Rundstedt. Together 
they made an excellent team. Had they been permitted to fight the 
war their own way, it might well have gone on longer. 

In 1940 Blumentritt was senior operations officer on von Rund- 
stedt’s staff and his account of the days following the fall of France 
is most revealing. According to Blumentritt, 9 life at St. Germain, 
where Army Group ‘A’ was located, was a conqueror’s paradise. The 
atmosphere was saturated with the prospects of peace and everyone 
felt that further serious fighting was unlikely. True the Army Group 
was supposed to be planning the invasion of England, but no one took 


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it very seriously. Von Rundstedt himself never attended the head- 
quarters where the planning was being done, nor did he visit the 
areas where invasion equipment was being assembled, nor did he 
inspect the troops being trained for the operation. 

The explanation for this attitude, Blumentritt claims, lay not only 
in the military difficulties surrounding the invasion, but in the political 
background of the days just before and immediately after the fall 
of France. The senior officers felt that Hitler was relying on bluff 
to achieve a great many of his ends. This impression had first been 
created during the events of 1939-40 when the troops in the Rhine- 
land had been alerted for an offensive into France no fewer than 
eleven times. While some of these alerts were undoubtedly due to 
Hitler’s quarrels with the General Staff, already described, Blumen- 
tritt believed that some of them were also designed to keep the Allied 
forces guessing. With deception as one of Hitler’s chief weapons it 
was natural that many of them felt that the invasion preparations 
were merely being used to frighten England into submission. 

“Hitler’s order preventing us from attacking the English at Dunkirk 
convinced many of us that the Fiihrer believed the English would 
come to terms,” said Blumentritt, “I have spoken to some Luftwaffe 
officers and they also say that Hitler forbade them from conducting 
an all-out aerial attack against the shipping at Dunkirk. This attitude 
of the Fiihrer’s was made clear to me at a round-table conference 
he had with a small group of officers following the break-through 
into France. It was at Charleville when Hitler came to visit Army 
Group headquarters. He was in an expansive mood and discussed 
with us his political ideas of the moment. He told us that he was 
exceptionally pleased with the way the offensive was going, and that 
everything had worked out beyond his wildest expectations. Once 
France was defeated there was only England left. 

“Hitler then explained that in his opinion there were two funda- 
mental established institutions which, for the time being, must be 
recognized as essential cornerstones in the framework of Western 
civilization — the Catholic Church and the British Empire. The power 
and strength of these two forces must be accepted as faits accomplis, 
and Germany must see that, for the moment, they be maintained.. 
To achieve this purpose he proposed to make peace with England 
as soon as possible. Hitler was willing to grant England most generous 
terms, and he would even desist from pressing his claims for German 
colonies. Of course, England’s armed forces would have to be dis- 
banded or seriously decreased in size. But in return for such a con- 
cession, Hitler was prepared to station as many as ten German divi- 
sions in England to aid the British government in maintaining the 


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security of the United Kingdom. Having heard these theories of the 
Fiihrer, we can hardly be blamed for believing that the invasion of 
England was never contemplated as a serious operation.” 

If there is still some speculation as to Rudolf Hess’s mission to 
England, this attitude of the Fiihrer’s may shed some light on the 
mystery. Apparently Hitler was not the only one in the Nazi hier- 
archy who believed in England’s readiness to discuss terms with 
Germany. The shortsighted ability of the German to see only what 
he wants to see was never better illustrated than in this fantastic mis- 
appreciation by Hitler and his advisers of what was going on in the 
mind of the average Englishman. It was a miscalculation that shad- 
owed them from the moment they decided to attack Poland to the 
day they signed the armistice terms at Rheims. 

This confidence of Hitler’s in England’s speedy capitulation was 
further demonstrated by a series of decrees issued in the late summer 
of 1940. First Hitler ordered a gigantic victory parade to be held 
in Paris; then all soldiers who had served in World War I were dis- 
missed from the service to help in agriculture and other peacetime 
occupations; then an order was published demobilizing fifty German 
divisions and directing the men back into civilian life; and finally 
there was an extensive planned decrease in the production of the 
materials of war. Coupling these events with the Fiihrer’s frame of 
mind, in regard to England, and the scepticism of the General Staff 
as to the military feasibility of the operation, it cannot be wondered . 
at that when the following order arrived from Berlin on October 12, 
1940, no one was very surprised: 


Fiihrer’s Headquarters, 

12 October 1940 . 

1 . The Fiihrer has decided that from now on until the spring, prepara- 
tions for landing in England will be maintained purely as a military and 
political threat. 

Should the intention of a landing in England in spring or early summer 
1941 be renewed, the necessary state of preparedness will be ordered in 
sufficient time beforehand. Until then the military groundwork for a later 
landing will be further improved. 

2 . All measures concerning the relaxing of the state of readiness for 
attack must be regulated from the following viewpoints: 

(a) The English must retain the impression that from now on we are 
preparing to land on a large scale. 

( b ) At the same time, however, German domestic economy will be 
relieved of a burden. ... 

(Signed) KEITEL, 
C.-in-C. Armed Forces. 


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But, in addition to the decision not to invade England, Hitler made 
another decision in these days which was destined to doom him to 
defeat. According to General Warlimont, 10 Hitler announced at a 
conference called by General Jodi in late summer 1940 that he in- 
tended to invade Russia. Thus, at the height of his greatest victory, 
the Fiihrer prepared the way for his greatest defeat. 

Now what of the General Staff during these triumphant days? 
Hitler spared them no honors. In a speech on July 19 to the Reich- 
stag, he showered so much praise upon his senior officers that they 
were both flattered and grateful. And simultaneously the Goebbels 
propaganda machine turned on all its taps to pour out to the German 
public thousands of words about ‘Hitler the General/ Thus in the 
mind of the average German was built up a picture of an invincible 
group of Teutonic military geniuses over whom floated the guiding 
spirit of the master-genius of them all — Adolf Hitler. Cowed by these 
honors and this propaganda the generals meekly bowed before their 
Supreme Commander. General Warlimont sums up this disintegra- 
tion of the spirit of independence and opposition within the General 
Staff in the following words : 

“Thinking back I cannot therefore help believing even today that 
the fortune and success of the French campaign, together with the 
honors awarded to high-ranking generals combined to silence tempo- 
rarily the opposition in the General Staff — a fact of which Hitler 
may well have been aware when he decided to invade Russia. The 
Commander-in-Chief of the army and his General Staff had for the 
first time let themselves be reduced to mere executive assistants of 
Hitler; now they were kept on that level. The final decline of the 
General Staff had begun. The longer the war went on the more un- 
fortunate became the situation on the fronts, and the more the art 
of strategy degenerated, while the organization of the Supreme Com- 
mand gradually dissolved. In the General Staff, which faced this 
development powerless and without a leader, the unanimous opposi- 
tion of former times made way for the formation of mutually opposing 
and ever more suspicious groups. The Party, however, proceeded to 
extend its power over the Wehrmacht itself, and left it finally to 
its horrible fate, unique in German history.” 

And so ended the first year of war. It had given the German nation 
three glorious victories — Poland, Norway and France. But it had 
also given it three defeats, far from obvious at that time, but far 
more significant — Dunkirk, the failure to invade England and the 
decision to go to war with Russia. Thus even the years of victory 
lay the foundations for ultimate defeat. 


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Chapter IX 

THE EARLY MISTAKES - GIBRALTAR AND CRETE 

Towards the end of World War II it was popular, amongst the 
bombed-out, blacked-out populations of German cities, to whisper 
satirical jokes about their plight. One of the more popular was the 
story of the uneducated German peasant being given his first lesson 
in geography. Standing before a large map of the world, his instructor 
was pointing out the size and location of the various countries of 
the world. 

“These big areas colored pink,” said the teacher, indicating the 
United Kingdom, Canada, India, Australia and the other parts of the 
Empire, “belong to England.” 

“Ja, Ja,” nodded the peasant, “England.” 

“And this large piece of land,” said the instructor pointing to the 
United States, “is America.” 

“America,” repeated the farmer thoughtfully, “Ja, Ja, America.” 

“And this huge territory in the east,” went on the instructor waving 
his stick to show the vast extent of the U.S.S.R., “is Russia.” 

“Hm,” muttered the peasant, “I see. Russia.” 

“Now in the center here,” continued the teacher pointing to Europe, 
“this small bit of land in the middle — that’s Germany.” 

The peasant was silent for a moment while all this knowledge sank 
in. As if to confirm all these facts he walked to the map and pointing 
out each country in turn, repeated what he had just been told. 
“England — America — Russia and this little piece in the center — 
Germany.” 

“Yes, that’s right,” said the teacher. 

Another moment’s silence followed while the peasant concentrated 
on the map. Then looking up he asked in wonderment, “Has anyone 
told the Fiihrer?” 

While the story had its point in 1945, at the end of 1940 it would 
have had none at all. For at that time the Third Reich was dominating 
all of Europe and part of Asia, having conquered France, the Low 
Countries, Norway, Poland, Austria and Czechoslovakia, having as 
allies the signatories to the Tripartite Pact — Italy, Japan, Hungary 

54 


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and Roumania — and having the sympathetic support of the so-called 
neutrals, Finland and Spain. Officially resisting this allegiance of 
might was only the British Empire, represented at that moment by 
a small, untrained, badly-equipped force trying to reassemble itself 
along the southern coast of England. Well might some uninformed 
peasant, looking at a war-map of those days, have asked “Has anyone 
told Churchill?” 

Yet at this peak in their glory, while Germans dined in Paris, goose- 
stepped in Oslo and danced in Vienna, the man who had brought it 
about was busy planning the undoing of it all. And there was no 
one left to utter a word of caution, restraint or advice. The German 
General Staff, mellowed by their victories and subdued by their inter- 
nal defeats, were quite content to follow the Fiihrer wherever he 
now chose to lead them. Having clung to a rocket in its dazzling 
ascent they had to hang on while it plunged to earth as well. 

The early triumphs — political and military — had been achieved 
primarily through following the calls of Hitler’s intuition. Austria, 
Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, France, had been the vindication 
of the Fiihrer ’s personal policy and philosophy. They convinced both 
the German people and their leaders that Adolf Hitler was infallible. 
And, what is more, they also convinced Adolf himself. Having de- 
prived themselves of the right and power to object, because of their 
faith in one man, the German nation could now only sit by and watch 
that one man make mistake after mistake after mistake — until what 
should have been inevitable victory recoiled into inevitable defeat. 

Mistake Number One, as we have already seen, was the failure to 
advance against the British at Dunkirk. This was Hitler’s decision 
alone. Mistake Number Two was the abandonment of the plans to 
invade England. This error was due to bad military judgment on the 
part of German operational and intelligence staffs, and equally bad 
political foresight on Hitler’s part as to the temper and determination 
of the British people. These were only the beginning. From September 
1940 to September 1943 there were far more to come — and bigger 
and better ones. 

Having abandoned the immediate prospect of an invasion of Eng- 
land, the Fiihrer looked about him for an alternative plan for throttl- 
ing the Empire. Although already convinced that war with Russia 
was necessary, he had not yet decided whether it would be wiser 
to hold off this attack until after he had brought England to its knees. 
The chief protagonist of first handling England and then taking on 
Russia was Reichsmarshal Hermann Goring. As early as September 
1940 Ribbentrop had discussed the prospects of Spain’s entry into 


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DEFEAT IN THE WEST 


56 

the war with Serrano Suner, the Spanish Foreign Secretary. Accord- 
ing to minutes of a talk between Ribbentrop and Mussolini at that 
time, the Spaniards wished to invade and conquer Gibraltar by them- 
selves, but in order to make sure of the outcome, Germany had 
promised to provide Franco with special weapons and troops. 1 

On 12 November 1940, Hitler issued an order to the commanders 
of his army, navy and air force, stating that “political steps to bring 
about an early Spanish entry into the war have been taken ( Opera- 
tion Felix). Gibraltar will be taken and the British will be prevented 
from gaining a foothold at another part of the Iberian peninsula or in 
the Atlantic islands.” Officers in plain clothes were to be sent to 
investigate the situation around Gibraltar and prepare to take over 
aerodromes. Hitler assured his commanders of “the secret co-opera- 
tion of the Spaniards” in preventing the British from breaking out 
of the Rock to improve their positions. The Spaniards were also to aid 
in keeping the German plans secret. 2 

All during the winter of 1940 Goring pressed for the adoption of 
his plan to deprive Britain of access to the Mediterranean. But it was 
a far more ambitious scheme than merely sending a few troops to 
aid Franco to capture Gibraltar on his own. Actually the Reichs- 
marshal envisaged a concerted thrust against both the east and west 
entrances to the Mediterranean. Three army groups were to be 
involved in this huge offensive. The first, led by Field Marshal von 
Rundstedt, was to strike through Spain, capture Gibraltar, move into 
Morocco and advance along the African coast to Tunis. The second 
army group, under Field Marshal von Bock, was to move through 
Italy into Tripolitania. The third army group, under Field Marshal 
List was to drive through Greece and the Balkans, capture the 
Dardanelles and Ankara and continue on to the Suez. 3 

“When the encirclement had been successfully completed,” ex- 
plained Goring, “it was proposed to offer Britain the right to resume 
peaceful traffic through the Mediterranean if she came to terms with 
Germany and joined us in a war against Russia.” 

According to Goring the original plan for the move through Spain 
was practically complete. Fifteen infantry and armored divisions had 
been assembled along the Pyrenees, and 600 88-millimetre guns were 
to carry out an intensive bombardment of the Rock. In addition a 
division of paratroops was to be dropped on Gibraltar, should resis- 
tance be greater than expected, and heavy siege guns were to destroy 
the batteries and emplacements on the Rock. 4 

“The attack on Gibraltar had been so fully prepared,” said Goring, 
enthusiastically, “that it could not have failed. We would then have 


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pushed through to Casablanca and Dakar, which would have foiled 
the deployment of American forces in North Africa. Aircraft and U- 
boats from these bases could have harassed the American convoys, 
and with the Mediterranean closed we could have struck across 
Tripoli to Suez, and the long Italian coastline would have been no 
longer endangered.” 

By late 1940 Hitler had not made up his mind which was more 
urgent — the final elimination of Britain or war with Russia. That 
Russia would eventually have to be dealt with was a decision that 
he had already taken. But he was not certain as to whether an offen- 
sive in the East should be attempted while England was still resist- 
ing. Hitler had become suspicious of Russia’s intentions during the 
visit of Molotov to Berlin in November 1940. At that conference, 
claims Goring, Hitler had been disturbed by the Russian Foreign 
Minister’s talk of Russian aims in the Dardanelles and the possibility 
of an attack on Roumania from Bessarabia. The Fiihrer also felt that 
since Britain had not capitulated despite the fact that she was now 
alone, she must have come to some secret agreement with Russia. 
It was therefore necessary, Hitler told Goring, to anticipate a quick 
and sudden stab in the back from the Soviets. 

These fears culminated in a directive which was issued in Decem- 
ber 1940 ordering the commanders of the German armed forces to 
prepare a lightning campaign against Russia to be undertaken before 
England had fallen. Thus, early in 1941 the Wehrmacht was busy 
with two huge planning programs — Goring’s against the British life- 
line in the Mediterranean and Hitler’s against Russia. According to 
Goring, the final decision as to which of these operations would be 
attempted first, was not reached until March, 1941. It was then that 
things finally came to a head. The unilateral invasion of Greece by 
Italy had embarrassed the Supreme Command, particularly since 
the prestige of Germany’s Axis partner was being badly shaken by 
the bitter Greek resistance. When British divisions were sent from 
Africa to Greece, thus threatening to drive Italy back to the Adriatic, 
it brought British troops in dangerous proximity to the Balkans. 

The last straw was the overthrow of the Yugoslav Regent, Prince 
Paul, on 27 March, two days after he had signed the Tripartite Pact. 
This convinced Hitler that Moscow was encouraging Yugoslav resis- 
tance to Axis domination, and the presence of British troops in Greece 
tended to confirm his suspicions of an Anglo-Russian secret arrange- 
ment. 5 He then decided that Germany could not afford to wait any 
longer as far as Russia was concerned. Goring’s plan for a knock- 
out blow against England’s position in the Mediterranean had to be 
abandoned, and all efforts were concentrated on the coming struggle 


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in the East. The invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece on 6 April was 
designed to clear the decks for action against Russia. History has 
decisively shown how disastrous that decision was for Germany. 
Second guessing, after it was all over, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel 
nodded in agreement with history’s verdict. 

“Instead of attacking Russia,” he said, 6 “we should have strangled 
the British Empire by closing the Mediterranean. The first step in 
the operation would have been the conquest of Gibraltar. That was 
another great opportunity we missed.” 

And that was Lost Opportunity or Mistake Number Three. 

The defeat of Greece and Yugoslavia had left an unpleasant after- 
math from the German point of view. The bulk of the British forces had 
succeeded in escaping from the mainland and were now ensconced 
south of the Peloponnesos, on the island of Crete. Before proceeding 
with his offensive against the Russians, Hitler decided that it was 
essential to eliminate this potential base for future British operations 
against the Balkans. At first he had considered it impossible to con- 
quer Crete by an assault from the air. But he was finally convinced 
of its feasibility by Colonel General Kurt Student, the commander-in- 
chief of the German paratroops. Strangely enough, this victory at 
Crete, which was intensely studied by Allied strategists as a model 
of airborne tactics, was considered, by the Germans themselves, to 
be their first serious set-back. 

Colonel General Student, with his dominant forehead, pale face 
and high-pitched voice looked like a prosperous business executive 
rather than the intrepid leader of the daring paratroops. His success- 
ful use of paratroops in Holland and in cracking the Maginot Line at 
Eben Emael had brought him into close proximity to the Fiihrer, 
who admired these exploits. His rise within the Wehrmacht was due 
primarily to his undoubted loyalty and close, personal associations 
with Hitler. Amongst many members of the German General Staff it 
was felt that his position was due more to his party connections than 
to his ability. According to General Eugen Meindl who led the glider 
troops into Crete, “Student had big ideas but not the faintest concep- 
tion as to how they were to be carried out.” 7 

On 20 May a force consisting of a parachute division, a mountain 
division suddenly converted to an airborne role, and a glider forma- 
tion, began the assault in Crete. On the first day the operation went 
very badly. Military intelligence had again blundered in their assess- 
ment of enemy strength by failing to point out to the planners that 
the defenders of Crete possessed about twenty -five tanks. Thus, land- 
ing without any anti-tank weapons, the first wave of paratroops were 


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badly cut up. In addition, the gliders landed in between the first and 
second defense lines, rather than behind them as planned, and rein- 
forcements setting out by sea from Greece were attacked by the 
British fleet and suffered severe casualties. However, the invaders 
managed to hold on to the airport at Maleme and after a bitter ten- 
day struggle succeeded in forcing the English, New Zealand and 
Australian troops to evacuate the island. 

“The Fiihrer was most displeased with the whole affair,” admitted 
Student. 8 “Our losses at Crete were very high for that time. We had 
been lucky so far, as the whole French campaign had not cost us as 
many lives as a single battle in 1870. It was the same with the Balkan 
campaign, excluding Crete. Crete alone cost us 4000 killed and miss- 
ing out of 20,000 men thrown in.” 

In view of the mistakes and losses that were still to come, this rebuff 
at Crete would seem to have been a relatively minor one. However 
it had two significant repercussions. Since the Crete affair had been 
scheduled to take no more than three days, the ten days needed to 
overcome the tenacious resistance of the British had been far too 
long. For it meant that the opening of the offensive against the Rus- 
sians had to be set back another week. In view of the early Russian 
winter of 1941 this delay deprived the Germans of still more good 
campaigning weather just when they needed it most. 

The second, and more serious, result of the battle of Crete was 
the fact that it made Hitler super-cautious and distrustful of all future 
German airborne operations. Student had a number of other plans 
for operations in the Mediterranean. “After Crete I proposed that we 
should make an attack on Cyprus in order to obtain a jumping-off 
ground for an air attack and paratroop attack on the Suez Canal.” 
he said. “But Hitler rejected it because of the losses we had received 
in Crete.” 

Another parachute operation planned by Student was a proposed 
drop on Malta to take place in September 1942. The Fiihrer had at 
first given his approval and all the details were almost completed. 
The attack was to be carried out bv two German parachute divisions, 
an Italian airborne division and an Italian parachute division, rouerhlv 
about 40.000 men. This was to be accompanied by a seaborne landing 
on the island after the paratroops had seized a bridgehead. “In July I 
flew to Berlin for a final conference,” said Student. 9 “When I went in 
to see the Fiihrer he simplv turned it down flat. ‘The affair will go 
wrong and will cost too many lives,’ he said. I also had the impression 
that he didn’t trust the Italians at all.” 

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those early years, it is difficult to say. Had Hitler been prepared to 
throw his men into battle with the same abandon as he was willing 
to do in the subsequent battles in Russia and France, it is likely 
that he would indeed have been successful. The seizure of Malta, 
Crete and Cyprus by 1942 would have seriously affected British activi- 
ties in North Africa and would have undoubtedly delayed Italy’s 
eventual collapse. In a less telling way it might have achieved some- 
thing of the results expected from Goring’s large-scale offensive 
towards the Mediterranean. The decision to abandon further air- 
borne activities in the Mediterranean because of the lessons of Crete, 
although not as serious or as conclusive as the others, might, never- 
theless, well be listed as Mistake Number Four. Bad intelligence, bad 
generalship and bad intuition brought it about. 


Chapter X 

THE GREATEST MISTAKE - RUSSIA 

On 18 December 1940, nine copies of a secret directive were issued 
to the chiefs of the various German services. The document was 
signed by Hitler and initialled by Keitel and Jodi. 1 It began as follows : 

“The German armed forces must be prepared to crush Soviet 
Russia in a quick campaign before the end of the war against England 
( case Barbarossa ) . 

“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. 

“For the Eastern campaign the air force will have to free such 
strong forces for the support of the army that a quick completion 
of the ground operations may be expected and that damage of the 
eastern German territories will be avoided as much as possible. This 
concentration of the main effort in the East is limited by the following 
reservation: That the entire battle and armament area dominated by 
us must remain sufficiently protected against enemy air attacks and 
that the attacks on England and especially the supply for them must 
not be permitted to break down. 

“Concentration of the main effort of the navy remains unequivo- 
cally against England also during an Eastern campaign. 

“If occasion arises I will order the concentration of troops for action 
against Soviet Russia eight weeks before the intended beginning of 
operations. 

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been done — to begin presently and are to be completed by 15 May 
1941. 

“Great caution has to be exercised that the intention of the attack 
will not be recognized. . . .” 

That was Mistake Number Five — and the greatest one of all. 

Actually the planning of the attack on Russia had begun many 
months before the issue of this directive. Field Marshal von Paulus 
has testified at Nuremberg that he was told of the proposed offensive 
on 3 September 1940, when he became Quartermaster-General of the 
General Staff. Colonel General Franz Haider, who was Chief of the 
army General Staff at the time, handed the plan, in so far as it had 
already been prepared, to von Paulus and asked him to examine it. 
The forces required were between 130 and 140 divisions, and use 
of Roumanian territory was envisaged. 

“Objectives of the attack,” said von Paulus, “were first the destruc- 
tion of the Russian army on the western boundary of the Soviet 
Union; second, an advance into Russia of such depth that it would 
not be possible for the Russians to carry out air attacks on the Reich; 
and third, attainment of a line runnning from Archangel to the Volga.” 

These objectives remained unchanged in the order issued on 18 
December 1940. On 3 February 1941, Hitler gave his final approval 
of the Barbarossa plan, but he did not set a definite date for the 
attack. On 28 March, hearing of the uprising in Yugoslavia, the 
Fiihrer told von Paulus of his intention to invade Yugoslavia. “Objec- 
tives were to secure our flank for the operation against Greece,” said 
von Paulus, “secure the Belgrade-Nish railway line, and above all, 
make sure that we had our right shoulder free when we attacked 
Russia.” 2 

The original date for the invasion of Russia had been tentatively 
fixed for mid-May, as this was the earliest possible time, in view of 
the weather, for large-scale operations in Russia. But on 1 April von 
Paulus was told that this date had been set back about five weeks 
until the second half of June. While the Balkans were being cleared 
a huge deception scheme was instituted in Norway and on the French 
coast to create the impression of invasion preparations against 
England. 

On 6 June 1941, D-Day for the attack was finally set as 22 June. 
This order, signed by Keitel, shows that six divisions had been with- 
drawn from the West for the operation, leaving a force of 42 divisions 
facing England. Available for the first phase of the Russian invasion 
on 22 June 1941 were 121 divisions of which 29 were either armored 
or motorized. 3 Before very long this figure had been raised to almost 
200 divisions on the Eastern front. 


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It is beyond the scope of this book to deal comprehensively with 
the Russian campaign. But since defeat in the East was the prelude 
to final defeat it is necessary to analyze the factors that helped bring 
it about. These follow the familiar pattern already seen at work in 
the early mistakes — but on a much larger scale. Military intelligence 
was worse, Hitler was more domineering and the generals were more 
impotent. 

The majority of German senior officers admit that they were hope- 
lessly ill-informed about the strength and ability of the Russian forces 
that they would be meeting. “Information concerning Russia was 
comparatively scanty,” said Colonel General Franz Haider, who as 
von Brauchitsch’s Chief-of-Staff was responsible for most of the de- 
tailed planning of the campaign. 4 “We had in our possession the 
captured archives of Holland, Belgium, Greece, Yugoslavia and even 
of the French General Staff, but none of these countries was any 
better informed about the Russians than we were. The information 
concerning the troops we should first meet on the border was fairly 
correct, but we had no statistical data as to the future potentialities 
of this vast state. Of course, during our first six months’ advance we 
found out a lot more.” 

Just how badly informed the Germans were is best revealed by the 
following excerpts from an intelligence report issued to the 22 In- 
fantry Division on the eve of its taking part in the invasion of Russia. 
The report is dated 8 June 1941 — two weeks before the attack on 
Russia began. To aid in showing the inadequacies of this appreciation, 
some contrasting comments by German generals who fought the 
Russians will follow the relevant extracts. 

Discussing the Russian armored troops the report had this to say: 

“Experiences in Finland showed that Russian tank crews attack 
spiritedly. Battle training, especially co-operation of units with other 
arms, was insufficient. Tank maintenance was completely unsatisfac- 
tory. The numerous breakdowns are an especially difficult problem 
as the majority of troops are not capable of making repairs. 

“In Finland it was only static warfare. The Russian tank troops 
are not capable of coping with the demands of a modern war of 
movement of close formations over great distances. 

“In 1939-40 deficiencies in organization and training have come to 
light and lead to the conclusion that the Red Army, in its present 
state of development, is not fully adapted to modern demands and is 
not capable of standing up to a fast, modern, boldly-led enemy. By 
too larf*e-scale manoeuvres in recent vears, the battle training of the 
individual fighting man and of small units has been neglected. . . .” 


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Now compare this with the opinion of Colonel General Joseph 
‘Sepp’ Dietrich, who was later to lead the Sixth S.S. Panzer Army in 
the Ardennes offensive of December 1944. After commanding 1 S.S. 
Panzer Division in the battle for Rostov, the attempt to relieve Stalin- 
grad, and the recapture of Kharkov, Dietrich had this to say of 
Russian tank troops: 6 

“The Russians completely fooled us in Finland. When we invaded 
we thought they had no tanks and suddenly we were confronted with 
over two thousand T-34s. The T-34 was at that time the best fighting 
tank in existence. It had ample gun-power, was amazingly fast and 
was well-armored. They were skilfully used and efficiently main- 
tained. The mechanical ability of the Russian was astounding ” 

The report then goes on to discuss the merits of Russian officers. 
“After the execution of Tuchatschewski and the purge of summer 
1937 there remained only a few leading commanders. Among these, 
People’s Commissar for Defense Timoshenko undoubtedly belongs. 
Replacements from inexperienced year classes will not be able to 
free themselves from doctrinaire restrictions and will impede the 
execution of bold decisions. . . 

It needs no German general to indicate how incorrect that assess- 
ment turned out to be. One needs only to list the names of Zhukov, 
Koniev, Rokossovsky, Cherniakovsky, Malinovsky and Tolbukhin as 
some of the “inexperienced” commanders who managed to “free 
themselves from doctrinaire restrictions” and who were not impeded 
in their “execution of bold decisions.” The report continues: 

“Corps commanders down to lieutenants show the greatest weak- 
nesses. Extraordinarily young: colonels (35-40 years) lead divisions, 
majors (30-35 years) lead regiments. Company commanders, etc. 
are almost all only lieutenants or second lieutenants. There is a lack 
of experience and initiative. . . .” 

How quickly these green officers learned their trade is indicated 
by the following statement of General Alfred Schlemm who com- 
manded a corps in the battle for Smolensk and Vitebsk, and later 
took over First Parachute Army in the West: 6 
“The Russian ability to manoeuvre large tank forces came as a 
complete surprise. Their operations were well-planned and efficiently 
carried out, and they were not afraid to improvise or experiment. . . .” 
Only when dealing with the Russian private soldier did the report 
come anywhere near the truth. Of these it said: 

“The private soldiers are hard, unpretentious, willing, brave. No 
longer the *brave Muzhik’ as known in the World War. His intelli- 
gence and tutorial adaptability have grown. Modern training can, in 


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the course of time, make him an independent fighter, and give him 
a mastery of technical warfare. ...” 

If one is seeking for a reason for the failure of the Germans in 
Russia this final overall appreciation of the opponent they were to 
meet in two weeks’ time should help provide the answer. Who could 
but fail to be confident when facing an enemy as riddled with 
weaknesses as the one described in this intelligence report? 

“A gradual improvement in the Red Army is to be expected, but not 
for some years yet. Large parts of the army in the provinces will make 
very slow progress. The Russian national characteristics — sluggish, 
unwieldy, doctrinaire, indecisive, lacking in responsibility — have not 
altered. Leaders of all ranks will not be suited, within a measurable 
space of time, to lead large formations competently, and are poorly 
qualified for the operations of a large-scale attack, quick decisions 
and independent action within the framework of the whole. 

“The troops, as a mass, and by virtue of the number of modern 
weapons, will fight bravely. They are not equal to the demands of 
modern attack. The initiative of the individual fighter will frequently 
be found wanting. . . . 

“The weakness of the Red Army lies in the clumsiness of its leaders 
of all ranks, its adherence to the doctrinaire, its training unequal to 
modern demands, its reluctance to assume responsibility and its 
appreciable lack of organization in all its parts. . . .” 

Was there ever more profound twaddle? Here was German mili- 
tary intelligence making the most important assessment of an enemy 
it had ever been called upon to make, and it produced something 
no better than one of Dr. Goebbels’s propaganda efforts. It can, there- 
fore, hardly be wondered at that Hitler undertook the Russian venture 
with a light heart and with an optimistic expectation of a quick and 
easy victory. It is true that all German generals were not so sanguine 
as their Fiihrer about the outcome of a Russian campaign. The con- 
stant fear of another disastrous war on two fronts still dominated 
much of their thinking, and there was, therefore, a tendency to steer 
clear of further entanglements in the East before the situation in the 
West was cleared up. Von Brauchitsch, Haider and von Rundstedt 
were all unenthusiastic, not on any moral grounds, but purely because 
of the military difficulties involved. They did not feel that defeating 
Russia was beyond their capabilities. They only thought that it would 
not be as easy as it looked to Hitler. Von Rundstedt was particularly 
concerned about an early start since he realized what problems a 
Russian winter might give them. 

“I was called away as Commander-in-Chief West at the beginning 


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of April 1941,” said von Rundstedt, 7 “to take over Army Group South 
in Russia. The troops to be involved had begun to move east long 
before this date. The plans for the campaign had been prepared 
during the winter by Haider in Berlin. In January, Haider came to 
me in France and, since my Army Group was to be involved in the 
attack, some members of my staff carried out an exercise based on 
Haider’s views. I said to them at that time ‘Gentlemen, if you are 
going to conduct a war in Russia you must remember that campaign- 
ing weather ends early there. Once winter comes it becomes very 
difficult. One must start operations in Russia as soon as the swampy 
period is over, which is usually in May.’ The Balkans campaign 
brought about a delay and we began at least four weeks after we 
had planned. That was a very costly delay. I was never enthusiastic 
about the Russian campaign, in any case, since I felt we could reach 
an understanding with them. But Hitler was convinced that if we 
did not strike, the Russians would do so before us.” 

General Blumentritt, who had been sent to Warsaw to act as Chief - 
of -Staff of the Fourth Army in November 1940, verified the luke- 
warm attitude of von Rundstedt towards the coming attack and also 
indicated why the Germans were suspicious of Russian intentions 
at the time. “When I first arrived in the East,” said Blumentritt, 8 “our 
divisions were strung thinly along the Russian border with sectors 
from eighty to one hundred kilometres in size. No offensive operation 
seemed likely then. But soon there came reports of a tremendous 
Russian build-up of armed forces in the southern sector. Rumors of 
war were rife during that winter of 1940-41. A Lithuanian colonel, 
planted in the Red Army near Riga by Admiral Canaris, the Wehr- 
macht’s senior intelligence officer, confirmed these stories of growing 
Russian strength. It was no surprise, therefore, when an operation 
order visualizing action against the Russians was received at our 
headquarters in January 1941.” 

The original plan for the Russian campaign was based upon a 
lightning dash into the interior followed by vast encirclements west 
of the Dnieper in which the bulk of the Russian armies would be 
swallowed in one big gulp. “I was told that the war with Russia 
would be over in ten weeks, and long before the winter would affect 
us,” said von Rundstedt. “The Fiihrer based this estimate on the 
belief that once we had reached the Dnieper River all the Russian 
forces opposing us would have been wiped out. He felt that after 
the initial big defeats the Russians would give in.” 9 

But apparently Hitler had been reading his intelligence reports 


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much too carefully. For the Russians were neither as incompetent, 
nor as slow, nor as clumsy as he had been led to believe. Along the 
Minsk-Moscow highway, driving towards the Russian capital, was 
the strongest German army group under Field Marshal von Bock. 
In three and a half weeks it had covered more than 450 miles from 
Byelostok to the outskirts of Smolensk. But while it had made satis- 
factory territorial gains, it had failed in its main object — the destruc- 
tion of the Russian armies. Three times von Bock attempted huge 
encircling movements — at Slonim, at Minsk and at Smolensk — and 
three times the “clumsy” Russians succeeded in escaping the pincers. 
Although it was still only 16 July, the Germans were no longer finding 
the going easy. The country was now dwindling off into dirt roads, 
small bridges and forests and swamps. Torrential rains made the roads 
impassable, and the Russians, recovering from their surprise, were 
offering stiffer and more able resistance. At Smolensk on the Dnieper, 
still some 200 miles west of Moscow, the first serious halt to German 
progress was made. Not until 7 August 1941, after three weeks of 
bitter fighting, was Smolensk finally cleared, and then only at the 
expense of heavy and unexpected German casualties. 

Von Rundstedt’s Southern Army Group was not having the startling 
success of its neighbor to the north. By the first week in August these 
troops had only reached Zhitomir, which was still over eighty miles 
west of Kiev and the Dnieper. Unable to push straight east, von 
Rundstedt diverted a large force southeast where Russian opposition 
was much weaker. Here, after a decisive victory at Uman, the Ger- 
mans poured into the lower valley of the Dnieper and by the end 
of August had captured the industrial region of Dniepropetrovsk 
and were besieging Odessa. But despite these undoubtedly grievous 
blows to the Russian effort, the Germans were still far from having 
eliminated Russian opposition. The ten weeks of campaigning had 
gone by and still substantial Russian forces were fighting along the 
entire front — west of Leningrad, east of Smolensk and west of Kiev. 
Von Rundstedt was now beginning to discover how badly the Russians 
had been underestimated. 

“I realized soon after the attack was begun that everything that 
had been written about Russia was nonsense,” said the Field Mar- 
shal. 10 “The maps we were given were all wrong. The roads that 
were marked nice and red and thick on a map turned out to be tracks, 
and what were tracks on the map became first-class roads. Even rail- 
ways which were to be used by us simply didn’t exist. Or a map would 
indicate that there was nothing in the area, and suddenly we would 
be confronted with an American-type town, with factory buildings 
and all the rest of it." 


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Having failed to destroy the Russian armies west of the Dnieper, 
Hitler decided to postpone his original plan of an advance towards 
Moscow, and instead made another attempt to bag the Russian troops 
west of Kiev. Von Bock’s tanks were to move south and von Rund- 
stedt’s tanks to move north with the two arms of the pincer meeting 
behind Kiev. The manoeuvre was brilliantly successful. Marshal 
Budenny’s force was wiped out, and over 600,000 Russian prisoners 
taken. But Kiev did not fall until 20 September and the Russians were 
still far from beaten. 

Despite the increasing difficulties of maintaining his huge forces 
hundreds of miles from their supply bases, despite the threat of 
( winter, and despite the fact that the Russians had not collapsed west 
of the Dnieper as planned, Hitler decided to push on to Moscow. 
On 2 October, with no fewer than sixty divisions assembled at Smol- 
ensk, this offensive, which Hitler described as “the greatest ever 
known,” moved forward towards Moscow and victory. By 15 October 
advance German spearheads had reached Mozhaisk, about ninety 
miles west of the capital. And then Fate took a hand. Winter arrived 
at least one month ahead of schedule. The snow and frost arriving in 
mid-October instead of mid-November upset all German plans. The 
mud and mire stalled the tired mechanized troops. Fresh Russian 
forces began to appear in front of Moscow. Von Brauchitsch, as 
Commander-in-Chief, saw the dangers involved in pressing on with 
forces improperly equipped for winter warfare, and advised an im- 
mediate withdrawal to a defensive line where the troops could be 
properly sheltered for the winter. Hitler would have none of it. Hav- 
ing staked his reputation on the capture of Moscow he insisted that 
his armies fulfill his promises. On 2 December another lunge was 
directed against the city, but the bitter cold, the long nights, the 
black forests and the skilful stubbornness of the Russian defenders, 
held von Bock’s forces out of Moscow. 

Four days later, on 6 December, the first Russian winter counter- 
offensive began. Here again German military intelligence had failed. 
For as General Blumentritt admitted, this blow by the Russians under 
Zhukov came as a stunning surprise. “The Russians had carried out 
their preparations in the greatest of secrecy,” he said, “and we were 
badly informed as to the resources and reinforcements that were still 
available to the Red Army.” 11 

The failure to capture Moscow brought about another humiliation 
for the General Staff in its struggle with Hitler. Field Marshal von 
Brauchitsch, who had opposed the plan of continuing on to the east 
once winter had come, was dismissed from his post as Commander-in- 


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Chief of the army. To take his place came none other than Hitler 
himself. Having made himself Minister of War in the early days of 
his regime, having taken over command of the Wehrmacht when 
von Blomberg was dismissed, he now completed the martial trinity 
by making himself Commander-in-Chief of the army as well. Never 
was a Supreme Commander more supreme than Hitler in December 
1941. As leader of the state, War Minister, chief of the armed forces 
and head of the army he could now declare war, decide how he was 
going to wage it, make the plans and carry them out all by himself. 
While it undoubtedly shortened the chain of command, it made it 
rather difficult for Hitler the Fiihrer to dismiss Hitler the Wehrmacht 
chief when Hitler the army commander led his forces to disaster. 

But von Brauchitsch was not the only senior officer to disagree 
with Hitlers strategy in Russia in the winter of 1941. Von Rundstedt, 
whose Army Group South had driven as far as Rostov, following the 
victory at Kiev, was also finding the Fiihrer’s strategy more than 
irksome. 

“After accomplishing my first objective,” said von Rundstedt, 12 
“which was the encirclement and destruction of the enemy forces 
west of the Dnieper, I was given my second objective. It was to 
advance eastwards and take Maikop and Stalingrad. We laughed 
aloud when we received these orders, for winter had already come 
and we were almost 700 kilometres away from these cities. Hitler 
thought that with the frost making the roads hard we could advance 
towards Stalingrad very quickly. At the same time I was told to 
advance towards Maikop because oil was urgently needed and 
I was also expected to clean up the Crimea in order to deprive 
the Russians of their airfields in this area. With my forces split in 
these three drives, we nevertheless managed to get a tank force as 
far east as Rostov. This meant that I had a terribly long left flank 
with nothing to protect it. The Russians attacked at Rostov from the 
north and south about the end of November, and realizing that I 
couldn’t hold the city I ordered it to be evacuated. I had previously 
asked for permission to withdraw this extended armored spearhead 
to the Mius River, about 100 kilometres west of Rostov. I was told 
that I could do this and we began to withdraw very slowly, fighting 
all the way. Suddenly an order came to me from the Fiihrer: ‘Remain 
where you are, and retreat no further,’ it said. 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 Fiihrer’s reply arrived: T am 


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acceding to your request/ it read, please give up your command.’ 

I then went home.” 

There is some difference of opinion amongst German senior officers 
as to whether or not Hitler’s decision to stand in front of Moscow 
that winter was the correct one. While von Brauchitsch had favored 
a withdrawal to a safe winter line, von Leeb and von Rundstedt had 
gone even further and suggested that the German forces be with- 
drawn to their original starting line in Poland. However, a number 
of officers like von Bock and von Tippelskirch believed that an 
attempted retreat in mid-winter would have had disastrous reper- 
cussions. With the picture of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow to 
haunt them as a horrible example, these generals felt that a retire- 
ment at this stage might easily have turned into a panic with dis- 
astrous results. But they all agreed that the German plight would 
not have arisen in the first place had Hitler been content with his 
successes west of the Dnieper once it was obvious that winter had 
forestalled his prospects of a quick victory. 

Until now the war had been comparatively easy for the Wehr- 
macht. Defeats had been few and victories inexpensive. The Russian 
winter changed all that. The Fiihrer in his confident dreams of an 
early triumph had neglected to provide for an army stuck in the 
Russian steppes for a whole winter. Sufficient winter clothing had 
not been prepared, and even the clothes that were available could 
not get to the front because of rail and road difficulties. Oils and 
lubricants for winter transport had also been inadequate, causing 
serious damage to mechanized equipment. The result was that frost 
and snow took a terrible toll of men and material. Casualty lists soon 
mounted into the tens of thousands. The Luftwaffe suffered heavy 
losses as well in their attempts to supply the isolated garrisons 
scattered along the huge front. 

During the spring of 1942 the German forces were brought up to 
strength by the intake of fresh recruits from Germany and by the 
replenishment of lost equipment. Some 200-220 German divisions 
were now available in the East although the strength of these new 
formations had been brought down from 12,000-15,000 men to 8,000- 
10,000 men. In addition the satellite divisions of Finland, Roumania, 
Hungary and Italy contributed another sixty-five divisions of ques- 
tionable fighting value. To help the new Army Commander, Adolf 
Hitler, work out his flashes of tactical intuition was von Brauchitsch’s 
Chief-of-Staff, Colonel General Franz Haider. The Fiihrer was not 
happy about his assistant, whom he distrusted and resented. How- 
ever, Haider was an able planner with a brilliant mind, and was, at 
first, indispensable to Hitler in his task of leading troops in the field. 


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While the Fvihrer, completely unperturbed by the losses of the winter, 
made grandiose plans for a summer offensive in 1942, Haider became 
increasingly concerned about the growing strength of the Russian 
forces. 

“During the first six months of the Russian campaign it became 
evident to us how much we had underestimated the resources avail- 
able within Russia,” said Haider. 13 “From statements made by high- 
ranking prisoners-of-war and from other sources of information, we 
began to see, that even if we had destroyed all the Russian forces 
originally mobilized, that the manpower and material potential of 
Russia could still be colossal. When this potential became obvious 
we tried by every means to obtain a clear picture of the situation. 
By combining the information received from Finland, Roumania, 
Turkey and Japan it was conclusively proved to me, in the early 
summer of 1942, that from the end of 1942 onwards we would be 
dealing with much greater forces of Russian manpower and arma- 
ments than we had ever known before. I tried to explain these matters 
to Hitler in June but he flew into a rage. When I presented him with 
the figures of Russian tank production he went off the deep end. He 
was no longer a rational human being. I don’t know whether he didn’t 
want to understand or whether he really didn’t believe it. In any event, 
it was quite impossible to discuss such matters with him. He would 
foam at the mouth, threaten me with his fists and scream at the top 
of his lungs. Any logical discussion was out of the question.” 

In May 1942 the Russian offensive at Kharkov was held and after 
clearing up their right flank by taking Sevastopol and crushing all 
remaining resistance in the Crimea, the Germans began their summer 
offensive towards the Caucasian oilfields. Striking hard along the 
corridor between the Don and Donetz rivers the attack, which began 
in mid-June, made rapid progress. In six weeks one force was well 
beyond Rostov, over 250 miles east of the start line, while another 
force was reaching the region of Stalingrad. But while the Germans 
made sweeping gains of territory, they again failed to trap the elusive 
Russian armies. “Our early advances were due to the fact that the 
Russians did not fight it out in this area,” said Haider. “They evaded 
action and maintained their forces intact. This was something that 
Adolf Hitler could not believe.” 

By the end of August, German spearheads had penetrated 450 miles 
east of Rostov and reached the heart of the Caucasian oilfields. Here 
a break-down of transport left the German armor stalled for three 
weeks without fuel. Then instead of consolidating his gains in this 
region, which had been his prime and initial objective, Hitler began 
to cast longing eyes towards Stalingrad. Withdrawing forces from the 


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Caucasus, he switched them north towards Stalingrad in a feverish 
desire to take the city. The more bitterly the Russians fought in front 
of Stalingrad the more insistent Hitler became. The name of the city 
seemed to have some symbolic significance for him and he so weak- 
ened his Caucasian forces to reinforce the Stalingrad front, that what 
had, at first, been only a subsidiary effort now had grown into the 
main one. 

In mid-September the Sixth Army under Field Marshal Paulus 
began the actual assault against Stalingrad. But it was soon evident 
that the Russian will to resist was as determined as Hitler’s will to 
conquer. After three weeks of house-to-house fighting the Germans 
stopped their costly attacks against the fortified homes and factories 
of Stalingrad and settled down to an uneasy siege of the battered city. 
A few weeks before, however, Haider had recommended that the 
offensive towards Stalingrad be broken off since it was losing momen- 
tum. In a violent interview Haider was told who was running the 
campaign and was then dismissed. To take his place in implementing 
the whims of the Fiihrer came Colonel General Kurt von Zeitzler, 
who managed to hold the thankless job of Hitler’s army Chief -of-Staff 
until 20 July 1944, when the repercussions of the bomb plot against 
the Fiihrer removed him from office. 

The Russian winter offensive of 1942 came as an even greater 
surprise than the offensive of the winter before. Settling in for a long, 
cold siege of Stalingrad the Sixth German Army of Paulus was dumb- 
founded suddenly to find that on 19 November a twenty-mile hole 
had been tom in its northern flank. Although some officers, like 
Haider, had warned Hitler of the steadily increasing Russian strength, 
the bulk of them believed that the successful German summer cam- 
paign had taken the sting out of any immediate Russian effort. In 
any case Hitler refused to consent to a withdrawal of the forces sur- 
rounding Stalingrad, despite the obvious risk entailed in maintaining 
an extended salient hundreds of miles beyond his main line. 

Here again German military intelligence produced the wrong 
answer. They gave no warning to Paulus of the vast Russian forces 
being assembled east of the Volga. In fact they assured him that 
there was no possibility of a serious counter-offensive. So confident 
were these reports that a weak corps consisting of two Roumanian 
divisions and one German division was given a sector on the Don 
near Kalach. It was commonly recognized that the quality of the 
Roumanian formations was low, since they were badly-trained and 
had few anti-tank guns. Nevertheless they were given a vital sector 
to hold as there seemed little to fear from the beaten and tired 
Red Army. 


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The Roumanians broke overnight before the tremendous Russian 
thrust. In two days the Russians had advanced over forty miles in 
the bend of the Don and taken Kalach. South of Stalingrad another 
arm of the encircling movement found equally unprepared and sur- 
prised troops. In a week almost 65,000 prisoners were taken and 1000 
tanks captured or destroyed. By the end of November the gap 
between the Russian pincers had not yet been closed. But Paulus 
made no attempt to escape, for by then the decision had been made 
at Berlin that he was to hold and not withdraw. Instead a relief force 
attempted to break through the Russian ring from the south, but it 
was thrown back with terrible losses. By the end of the year the 
encirclement of the 250,000 men of the Sixth German Army was 
complete. All hope of escape was past. On February 2, 1942, Field 
Marshal Paulus with twenty-three of his generals formally sur- 
rendered his entire force. 

“It was my task to attempt to supply the Sixth German Army by 
air,” said Lieutenant General Wolfgang Pickert, a thin, loquacious 
Luftwaffe officer, 14 “but our resources were far too inadequate. We 
lost over 500 transport planes trying to bring in ammunition and food 
for the quarter of a million men encircled in the city. Food soon 
became so short that the troops had to eat horses that had been frozen 
in the snow for weeks. It was useless to attempt to break out once 
we had been surrounded because there was nothing behind us but 
hundreds of kilometres of open, frozen steppes. In any case we had 
been ordered by the Fiihrer to hold Stalingrad. We always under- 
estimated the Russians, but our intelligence was particularly bad in 
their estimates of Russian strength in the winter of 1942.” 

By April 1943 it was obvious that even Hitler could not win wars 
cheaply. What had been a glorious march to certain victory had 
suddenly been brought to a sobering halt. The six months’ fighting 
in Russia since mid-November 1942 had cost the Wehrmacht almost 
1,250,000 personnel casualities, 5000 aircraft, 9000 tanks and 20,000 
guns. 15 Over a hundred divisions had been destroyed or ceased to 
exist as effective fighting units. Had the Fiihrer’s intuition been work- 
ing properly it would have told him, then, that this was only a portent 
of far worse things yet to come. 

Thus in Russia by the spring of 1943 the forces of self-destruction 
within the Wehrmacht could be seen busily at work. The campaign 
that had opened with every prospect of success was teetering on 
the abyss of failure. Each startling advance had ended up in a cul-de- 
sac; each brilliant plan had brought nothing but frustration. Despite 
victories of classic proportions and textbook perfection, the spectre 
of defeat had not vanished — in fact it had grown clearer and larger 


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and nearer. The exponents of the offensive and the masters of blitz- 
krieg warfare were now talking gloomily of the defensive and of 
holding on to what they had. 

One needed only to study what had happened in Russia to under- 
stand what had brought about this paradoxical state of affairs. The 
intuitive guesses of the corporal who outranked field marshals had 
suddenly gone wrong. The crystal ball that had revealed the way 
to victory over Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, France, had dimmed 
in the frosty atmosphere of a Russian winter. And clairvoyance could 
never be a substitute for sound, strategical reasoning when dealing 
with an enemy as virile and as cunning as the Red Army. Having made 
the blunder of attacking Russia in the first place, Hitler followed it 
up by wasting his strength in a futile attempt to capture Moscow 
and defeat the Russian winter at one and the same time. The next 
year, having failed to learn from experience, he had once more 
driven his armies forward only to be beaten again by Stalingrad and 
another winter. 

The Fiihrer’s faulty and over-optimistic reasoning was abetted all 
along by incredibly bad information supplied to him by his intelli- 
gence service. They consistently underestimated the Russian ability 
to resist, to recover, to produce and to fight. They had predicted 
victory west of the Dnieper, had failed to believe the Russians capable 
of launching an offensive in the winter of ’41, and had been taken 
completely by surprise at Stalingrad in ’42. They had been encour- 
aged in their lighthearted prognostications by a Fiihrer whose wishful 
thinking corresponded to their own. The prospect of instant dismissal 
if one suggested facts different from what Hitler wanted them to be, 
may have also discouraged many an officer from indulging too deeply 
in either pessimism or the truth. 

And finally there was no one left to prevent the Fiihrer from making 
as many and as stupid and as expensive mistakes as he alone saw fit. 
He was now all the important military authorities rolled up into one, 
and there was no man either above him or below him to check his 
mad desires. He had fired those offiecrs who disagreed with him, such 
as von Brauchitsch, Haider and von Rundstedt, and he had replaced 
others like von Leeb, von Bock and List when they failed to carry out 
his impossible orders. Discipline and the chance for rapid promotion 
kept the remainder of the German General Staff clicking their heels 
whenever the Fiihrer barked. And all the while the men up front, 
suffering the real anguish and misery of the cold and the fire and the 
steel, could but wonder and obey, for they were too deluded and 
too ignorant to do anything else. 


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Chapter XI 

THE DECISIVE MISTAKE - UNITED STATES 

If the five mistakes already discussed had not been sufficient in 
themselves to bring about the downfall of Hitler’s Reich, Mistake 
Number Six made it inevitable. This decisive blunder was the decision 
to encourage Japan’s participation in the war even at the risk of 
bringing in the United States on the side of Great Britain. On 27 
September 1940, the signing of the Tripartite Pact between Germany, 
Italy and Japan made official what had been covertly in effect for 
some time. Under the terms of this ten-year military and economic 
alliance the Axis Powers agreed “to stand by and to co-operate with 
one another in regard to their efforts in Greater East Asia and regions 
of Europe respectively, wherein it is their prime purpose to establish 
and maintain a new order of things.” 

Actually, close liaison for subversive ends had been established 
between the Nazi authorities and Japan long before the war began. 
For as early as 31 January 1939, General Oshima, the Japanese Am- 
bassador in Berlin, was plotting with Heinrich Himmler the assassina- 
tion of the head of a so-called friendly state. In a document drawn 
up by Himmler recording a conversation of that date held with the 
Japanese Ambassador, Himmler reported that Oshima was under- 
taking, in collaboration with German subversive agencies, the long- 
range task of “the disintegration of Russia from the Caucasus and 
Ukraine.” In furtherance of that ambitious aim Himmler also wrote 
that “Oshima had succeeded up to now in sending ten Russians with 
bombs across the Caucasian frontier. These Russians had the mission 
to kill Stalin. A number of additional Russians, whom he had also 
sent across, had been shot at the frontier.” 1 

Nevertheless, despite such activities, there seems to have been little 
determined effort made on the part of Germany to seek Japan’s par- 
ticipation in the war during its early phases. But once the decision 
to attack Russia had been made, the need to keep England occupied 
while the Wehrmacht busied itself in the East, made it desirable from 
the German point of view for Japan to take a hand in affairs in the 
Pacific. The steady flow of American goods across the Atlantic and the 
imminence of unlimited Lend-Lease aid to England probably stimu- 
lated the top secret directive issued by Field Marshal Keitel on 5 
March 1941. It stated that “The Fiihrer had ordered instigation of 
Japan’s active participation in the war,” and directed that, “Japan’s 
military power has to be strengthened by the disclosure of German 


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war experiences, and support of a military, economic and technical 
nature has to be given.” The aim of such aid was declared to be 
to crush England quickly, and thereby keep the United States out 
of the war. 2 

During the later stages of the preparations for the attack against 
Russia, Japan was kept constantly informed of German intentions. 
Joachim von Ribbentrop, as Foreign Minister, seems to have carried 
out most of the negotiations designed to lure Japan into the war, but 
the Japanese were not easily convinced that what was best for Ger- 
many was necessarily best for Japan. Aiding von Ribbentrop in his 
encouragement of Japanese cupidity was Adolf Hitler himself. While 
the Flihrer would have preferred to have Japan concentrate her ener- 
gies against Great Britain alone, he realized that any Japanese inter- 
vention in the Pacific might well provoke the United States into 
action. He was, nevertheless, willing to take that risk, feeling con- 
fident that American intervention would not be able to make itself 
felt before it was far too late to help England. This fatal miscalcula- 
tion of Hitler’s is clearly set out in a document captured from the 
files of the German Foreign Office. It consists of notes dated 4 April 
1941 “regarding the discussions between the Fiihrer and the Japanese 
Foreign Minister, Matsuoka, in the presence of the Reich Foreign 
Minister and the Reich Minister of State, Meissner, in Berlin.” 3 In 
part the record of this conference reads: 

“Japan would do her utmost to avoid a war with the United States. 
If Japan should decide to attack Singapore, the Japanese navy, of 
course, had to be prepared for a fight with the United States, because 
in that case America probably would side with Great Britain. He 
(Matsuoka) personally believed that the United States could be 
restrained by diplomatic exertions from entering the war at the side 
of Great Britain. Army and navy had, however, to count on the worst 
situation, that is on war against America. They were of the opinion 
that such a war would extend for five years or longer and would 
take the form of guerilla warfare in the Pacific and would be fought 
out in the south seas. For this reason the German experiences in her 
guerilla warfare were of the greatest value to Japan. It was a question 
how such a war could best be conducted and how all the technical 
improvements of submarines, in all details such as periscopes and 
such like, could best be exploited by Japan. 

“To sum up, Matsuoka requested that the Fiihrer would see to it 
that the proper German authorities would place at the disposal of 
the Japanese those developments and inventions concerning navy 
and army which were needed by the Japanese. 


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“The Fiihrer promised this and pointed out that Germany too 
considered a conflict with the United States undesirable, but that it 
had already made allowances for such a contingency. . . . Germany 
has made her preparations so that no American could land in Europe. 
She would conduct a most energetic fight against America with her 
U-boats and her ‘Luftwaffe’ and due to her superior experience, which 
would still have to be acquired by the United States, she would be 
vastly superior, and that, quite apart from the fact that the German 
soldiers naturally rank high above the Americans. 

“In the further course of the discussion, the Fiihrer pointed out 
that Germany on her part would immediately take the consequences 
if Japan would get involved with the United States. It did not matter 
with whom the United States would first get involved, whether Ger- 
many or Japan. . . . Germany would strike without delay in case of 
a conflict between Japan and America, because the strength of the 
Tripartite Powers lies in their joint action; their weakness would be 
if they would let themselves be beaten individually. . . .” 

Having thus assured Japan of his determination to back any course 
of action she might take, the Fiihrer left Ribbentrop to complete the 
task of bringing Japan into the war. Hitler relied on Ribbentrop’s 
judgment in foreign affairs, despite his failure correctly to assess 
the prevailing mood of England following the fall of France. Goring 
was not so confident of Ribbentrop’s ability. “When I criticized Rib- 
bentrop’s qualifications to handle British problems,” said Goring, 4 
“the Fiihrer pointed out to me that Ribbentrop knew ‘Lord So and 
So’ and ‘Minister So and So.’ To which I had replied ‘Yes, but the 
difficulty is that they know Ribbentrop.’ ” 

Probably the Japanese also “knew Ribbentrop” for, while carrying 
on conversations with him about the progress of the war, they never 
revealed to him their definite intention of striking at the United States. 
As late as 28 November 1941, the Japanese Ambassador in Berlin, 
Oshima, and Ribbentrop were holding discussions about the possi- 
bility of Japan’s entry into the war. 5 

Intercepted diplomatic messages sent by Oshima to Tokyo report- 
ing on these discussions, reveal that Ribbentrop urged Japan not to 
lose a golden opportunity of effecting the new order in Asia. If she 
hesitated then, said the German Foreign Minister, the military might 
of Britain and the United States would be concentrated against her. 
He insisted that Japan must make the decision to fight Britain and 
the United States. Ribbentrop then went on to reveal Germany’s 
future plans. They were first to drive Stalin deep into Siberia by the 
spring of 1942 and after that to wipe out Britain’s influence in the 


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Near East, Africa and the Mediterranean. Oshima then asked whether 
Germany also intended to launch a campaign against the United 
Kingdom itself. “Germany has, of course, made all necessary prepara- 
tions,” was Ribbentrop’s classic answer. “However, she is in receipt 
of information which would seem to indicate that all is not well within 
England. For example, we hear that there is a split within the ranks 
of the Conservatives, that Churchill’s influence is on the wane, and 
that Bevin, the chief of the Labor Party, is advocating revolutionary 
measures.” After such a reply it is small wonder that Oshima thought 
better of revealing to Ribbentrop what Japan had up her sleeve. 6 
Nine days later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. 

“The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came as a complete surprise, 
albeit a gratifying one,” said Goring. “Hitler declared war on the 
United States because he was convinced that such a war was inevit- 
able. The re-election of President Roosevelt was accepted by him 
as conclusive. Up to that time, the Fiihrer had tried to avoid an open 
break with the United States, and the German navy had been ordered 
to allow American ships to move unmolested, although it was known 
that they were fully laden with war materials for England. Since 
Japan was the aggressor we had no treaty obligation to side with 
her, but Hitler felt a sense of gratitude towards the Japanese, and 
he may, therefore, have acted impulsively.” 7 

Only future historians will be able adequately to judge whether 
Hitler’s view of the inevitability of war with the United States was 
the correct one. Had he played his cards differently and attempted 
to restrict Japan’s aggressive activities only to British holdings in the 
Pacific, it is a matter of conjecture whether Congress would have 
immediately gone to war. What President Roosevelt would have done 
had Japan attacked Singapore, Hong Kong and the Dutch East Indies 
on 7 December 1941, and left American possessions alone is a ques- 
tion that will never be answered. But it is fairly certain that such 
a course might well have delayed America’s entry into the conflict 
for many months while Congress debated what to do next. And those 
months at the beginning of 1942 were very vital months indeed. 

The Fiihrer however preferred to believe that the support of a 
fully prepared Japan would far outweigh the opposition of an unpre- 
pared America. The tremendous industrial and military potential 
of the United States did not impress him. Goring had once said, 
“The Americans can’t build planes: only electric iceboxes and razor 
blades.” Hitler, apparently, shared that opinion. He was soon to learn 
otherwise. 


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Chapter XII 

THE FINAL MISTAKE -EL ALAMEIN 

Once Hitler had succeeded in pitting against the Reich the combined 
might of the British Empire, Russia and the United States, it is 
extremely doubtful that Germany could ever have won World War 
II. But had she taken advantage of the opportunities that presented 
themselves after Pearl Harbor, it is certain that she might have pro- 
longed the war for many years to come, or even brought about a 
military stalemate in Europe. The one chance that still remained 
open to her in 1942 was the same chance that she had tossed aside 
in 1940. It was to try again to expel the British from the Mediterranean 
by sealing off both the eastern and western approaches to the sea. In 
July 1942 that opportunity was once more within reach, for a victori- 
ous German force had just reached El Alamein, a desert position 
within striking distance of Alexandria and the Suez Canal. With the 
Suez Canal in their hands innumerable possibilities would be opened 
up for the German Supreme Command. Having driven the British 
from North Africa the Germans could have then taken on Malta, 
Gibraltar and Cyprus to complete the task of clearing the Mediter- 
ranean, or advanced through the Middle East and in a gigantic pincer 
movement joined up with German forces driving through the Cau- 
casus. Either of these moves would have prevented the debacle 
at Stalingrad, would have made impossible the Allied landing in 
North Africa and would have kept Italy in the war. But the glittering 
opportunity of El Alamein, like so many others before it, was not 
grasped. That was Mistake Number Seven. The man who gave the 
Third Reich that one last chance to avert defeat was a German officer 
called Erwin Rommel. 

Few generals in their lifetime have had as many words written 
about them as has Field Marshal Rommel. And seldom has there been 
more controversy about a man’s accomplishments in the military field. 
On the one hand he was hailed as a military genius, and on the 
other he was berated as an incompetent upstart. While it was un- 
doubtedly Hitler himself, supported by Goebbels, who began the 
Rommel legend, it was the Allied press, coupled with the respect 
shown his abilitv by the Eighth Army troops in the desert, that helped 
foster it beyond all reason. Strangely enough, it was the senior officers 
of the German General Staff who did most to discount Rommel’s 
reputation and to ascribe his victories more to good luck than to 
any outstanding ability. 


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There was nothing striking about Rommel’s physical appearance. 
He was of medium height and the only characteristic feature of his 
rather open face was a blunt, determined jaw. In the first World War 
Rommel, as a junior officer, had won the highest German decoration 
for valor, the Pour Le Merite — an award equivalent to the Victoria 
Cross. Yet despite this distinction his academic ability was not con- 
sidered of a high enough calibre to warrant his being trained as a 
General Staff officer. When Hitler came to power, however, Rommel 
was appointed to instruct the Fiihrer’s bodyguard in military tactics. 
This proximity to Hitler Rommel exploited vigorously and in the 
Polish campaign he was given a panzer division to lead. With the 
aid of Goebbels this formation’s part in the French campaign was 
extensively publicized, as Rommel had now become the Fiihrer’s 
favorite general. In March 1941, after the Italians had been smashed 
in the Western Desert and thrown out of Cyrenaica, Rommel arrived 
at Tripoli with his famous Afrika Korps, consisting then of two well- 
equipped armored divisions. 

The seesaw struggle that developed in North Africa in the next 
eighteen months has already been well, and often, told. Rommel’s 
skill in twice driving the British back to the Egyptian frontier, and 
his elusiveness in evading annihilation when the British struck back, 
gained for him his unparalleled fame as a master tactician. Poised 
before El Alamein in July 1942, he boasted that he would be in 
Cairo in “three or four days.” But here his luck ran out. His weary 
troops, far beyond their supply bases, found that General Auchin- 
leck’s defense was not as vulnerable as their commander had believed 
it to be. Checked after two successive attempts, the Afrika Korps 
paused for a rest before trying again. In the meantime Auchinleck 
had been replaced by Field Marshal Montgomery, who, after build- 
ing up an adequate British force, hit out at El Alamein on 23 October 
1942. Ten days later the Afrika Korps, for the last time, was in full 
retreat towards Tripoli. Rommel, who had been in a hospital in 
Germany, was rushed back to his post. But it was then far too late, 
and Germany had lost its final chance to reach the Suez. 

What prevented the Germans from pushing on beyond El Alamein 
in July 1942? The complete inability of the German Supreme Com- 
mand to recognize the significance of what a German victory at El 
Alamein might lead to. Curiously enough on this point Hitler and 
his military advisers seem to have been in complete accord. The 
North African campaign was viewed at Berlin as of secondary im- 
portance and neither the Fiihrer nor the General Staff took it very 
seriously. The presence of German troops in Africa at all was merely 
a political gesture to appease Mussolini. According to General Ritter 


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von Thoma, who succeeded Rommel in the desert, Hitler was quite 
confident as to the ability of the Italians to hold Africa by themselves. 
He, therefore, felt that the presence of one or two German divisions 
would be sufficient to bolster the Italians, and also keep Mussolini 
from changing sides. 

This view was strenuously backed by Colonel General Franz 
Haider, the army Chief-of -Staff, who was against any German forces 
being involved in the Mediterranean. He consistently warned Hitler 
against the dangers of stretching their resources too far. In addition 
Haider had scant respect for Rommel’s generalship and this may 
have influenced his desire to keep German troops out of Africa. 

“As far as I was concerned the North African affair was largely 
a political decision,” said Haider, discussing the reason for the small 
size of the force sent to Africa. 1 “We realized that it was important 
to Italy that the African coastline be prevented from falling into 
enemy hands, but with the English commanding the sea I insisted 
that the utmost we could send, and keep supplied, were three to 
four divisions. With so small a force all we could hope to do was 
to defend Italian territory for as long as possible. Of course if the 
opportunity for offensive action presented itself we would take it. 
But on the whole we regarded the matter as a fight for time. Sooner 
or later things were bound to turn out badly for the Italians, but the 
longer we could postpone that from happening — perhaps for years 
— so much the better. To achieve that purpose, the outlay of three to 
four divisions might not prove too costly. 

“I last talked to Rommel about this subject in the spring of 1942. 
At that time he told me that he would conquer Egypt and the Suez 
Canal, and then he spoke of East Africa. I could not restrain a some- 
what impolite smile and asked him what he would need for the pur- 
pose. He thought he would want another two armored corps. I asked 
him, ‘Even if we had them, how would you supply and feed them?’ 
To this question his reply was, ‘That’s quite immaterial to me; that’s 
your problem.’ As events in Africa grew worse Rommel kept demand- 
ing more and more aid. Where it was to come from didn’t worry him. 
Then the Italians began to complain because they were losing their 
shipping in the process. If history succeeds in unraveling the threads 
of what finally went on in Africa, it will have achieved a miracle, for 
Rommel managed to get things into such an unholy muddle that I 
doubt whether anyone will ever be able to make head or tail of it.” 

As late as 3 October 1942, just a few weeks before Montgomerv’s 
attack at El Alamein, Rommel was still outwardly confident of the 
outcome of the African campaign. For on that day in Berlin he 
boasted to a group of foreign journalists: “Today we stand one 


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hundred kilometres from Alexandria and hold the gateway to Egypt, 
with die full intention of getting there, too. We have not got so 
far with any intention of being flung back either sooner or later. 
You may rely on our holding fast to what we have got. . . 

Whether these words were designed primarily to reassure those 
at home in the Reich or whether Rommel actually believed them is 
difficult to say. According to one of the divisional commanders who 
fought with die Afrika Korps, a Major General Johann Cramer, the 
supply situation at El Alamein was giving Rommel a great deal of 
concern. “El Alamein was lost before it was fought,” said Cramer. 2 
“We had not the petrol. Vast stocks of petrol and material were lying 
around in Italy and the Italians were supposed to bring them over, 
but they could not do it. Rommel for a long time had known that 
the campaign in North Africa was hopeless, not because we lacked 
weapons or reserves, but because of petrol shortage. He appealed 
to Hitler to end the campaign as soon as El Alamein was lost and 
thus save us much greater losses later on — which in fact we suffered 
at Cap Bon in Tunisia.” 

Thus General Cramer in a somewhat oblique manner confirmed 
General Haiders opinion that the North African venture would 
flounder on the problem of supply. While Rommel will undoubtedly 
be regarded by posterity as a brilliant tactician, his obvious weak- 
nesses in the administrative field should deprive him of any lasting 
recognition as a great general. His personal defects in this regard 
were magnified by an unco-operative Supreme Command which 
refused to consider his theatre of operations seriously and therefore 
made little effort to maintain an adequate German force in the desert. 
Looking back at it now, it seems that the diversion of but two or 
three more properly equipped divisions to aid Rommel in July 1942 
might well have paid the Wehrmacht handsome dividends. These 
divisions could easily have been spared from the idle formations in 
France uselessly watching the Channel coast at a period when it 
was obvious that Allied strength was not great enough to venture 
an essay against the Atlantic Wall. Again being wise after the event, 
Field Marshal Keitel acknowledged the mistake of El Alamein in 
these words: 3 

“One of the biggest occasions we passed by was El Alamein. I 
would say that, at that climax of the war, we were nearer to victory 
than any time before or after. Very little was needed then to conquer 
Alexandria and to push forward to Suez and Palestine. But we just 
were not strong enough at that particular point, due to the disposal 
of our forces and primarily the war against Russia.” 

The defeat of the Afrika Korps brought about three important 


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results within a very few months — the expulsion of Axis troops from 
all of Africa, the elimination of a huge German force in Tunisia, and 
the opportunity for the Allies to assault the southern rim of the 
European continent. For, having tried to stand at El Alamein too 
long — Hitler, as usual, having prevented a withdrawal in good time— 
Rommel on 2 November was back-pedaling as hard as he could go in 
the direction of Tripoli. Too weak to attempt to hold any inter- 
mediate defense line in the desert, Rommel conducted a skilful, but 
hasty, retreat to the Mareth Line. This position had been built earlier 
by the French behind the Tunis-Tripoli frontier as protection against 
the Italians. 

While Rommel was making this 1400-mile withdrawal in less than 
three months, the first large-scale Allied amphibious landing was 
successfully made on 8 November 1942 on the beaches of Casa- 
blanca, Rabat, Oran and Algiers in French North Africa. German 
military intelligence, whose ineptitude had already been well demon- 
strated by its misappreciations of British and Russian resources, 
continued its record of blunders in North Africa. Despite the many 
facilities for espionage in a Vichy-controlled French Africa, and 
despite the fact that an armada of 850 warships and merchantmen 
had to sail for many days in the open Atlantic before reaching its 
destination, the Germans nevertheless were taken completely by 
surprise when the landings were reported. Admiral Krancke, who 
was subsequently responsible for organizing the German naval de- 
fense of Western Europe, admitted that the navy was caught badly 
off guard by this Allied move. “Neither the preparations nor the tran- 
sit of the landing barges were known to the German naval staff,” said 
the Admiral. 4 “Consequently, U-boats were not put into operation 
off the African coast.” 

The result of the Allied landings was that the entire Axis force 
in Africa was sandwiched between the Eighth Army under Mont- 
gomery advancing from the east, and the newly-arrived Anglo-Ameri- 
can force under General Eisenhower attacking from the west. In a 
forlorn attempt to retrieve a hopeless situation, Hitler finally under- 
took to do what he had refused to do early in 1942 when it would 
have been of some avail. He sent reinforcements of men and supplies 
to Africa. But whereas such a German force might, indeed, have 
reached the Suez Canal eight months before, in March 1943 it could 
only hold an uneasy bridgehead in North Africa and hope thereby 
to deny the Allies unfettered use of the Mediterranean. Under Rom- 
mel facing east, and Colonel General von Amim facing west, the 
Germans held off the Allies until April 1943, when the Mareth Line 
was broken. Rommel, then, went back to Germany too ill to carry 


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on. He left behind the entire Afrika Korps, now swollen to over 

120.000 men under General von Arnim, to continue the useless 
struggle for another month. No serious attempts to evacuate these 
troops were made, for the Fiihrer had decided that they would not 
withdraw and that they would resist to the last. It was an order that 
had already cost the Wehrmacht much in Russia, and was one that 
was destined to cost them much more before World War II had come 
to its end. On 13 May 1943, the complete Italian and German forces 
in Tunisia, numbering some 250,000 men, surrendered to the Allies. 
The Mediterranean was again an Allied sea, and Europe lay open 
for invasion and freedom. 

For the next fifty-eight days Anglo-American forces made ready 
to strike at the underbelly of Europe. On 10 July 1943, Sicily was 
invaded. Two weeks later at a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council 
the first Axis dictator, Benito Mussolini, was dethroned and placed 
under arrest. These events, virtually ending Italy’s participation in 
the war, were the culmination of a long and steady series of rebuffs, 
defeats and humiliations suffered by the Italian people in their part- 
nership with Nazi Germany. Ever since Italy’s sudden entry into 
the war on 10 June 1940, in an effort to acquire a jackal’s share in 
what appeared to be certain victory, she had been a constant drain 
on Germany’s war effort. Both Keitel and Jodi contend that Italy’s 
help was undesired, but once she was committed she had to be 
supported. Mussolini’s unilateral action in attacking Greece and 
Egypt had resulted in Germany’s being involved in both the Balkan 
and African campaigns when she would have preferred to concen- 
trate her efforts in Europe. But, as we have already seen, instead 
of making a concerted and serious attempt to aid Italy in the Mediter- 
ranean, Hitler and his staff half-heartedly undertook what they felt 
to be a secondary, and irritating, sideshow. As a result the opportu- 
nities to gain a decisive victory in the Mediterranean were lost, and 
German forces were frittered away because they were too weak to 
bolster the numerous, but badly-led, Italian armies. 

By 1943 Italy’s record in World War II was both inglorious and 
pathetic. She had been held and even pushed back by a Greek army 
far inferior in size and equipment; her navy had been hiding in port 
ever since its crippling defeat at Taranto on 11 November 1940; over 

130.000 Italian prisoners had been captured by General Wavell’s tiny 
force when it drove Marshal Graziani’s army out of Egypt and Cyre- 
naica in early 1941; later in 1941 she lost Italian East Africa, including 
Eritrea, Italian Somaliland and Abyssinia; and finally the disaster in 
Tunisia completed the destruction of the Italian African Empire and 
of most of the Italian armed forces. The invasion of Sicily, where 


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Italian divisions merely laid down their arms before the Allied in- 
vaders, showed how unenthusiastic about the war the Italian people 
had become. When Hitler refused to send additional German rein- 
forcements to Mussolini following the Sicilian landings, the Duces 
prestige had fallen so low that nineteen of the twenty-six members 
of the Fascist Grand Council asked him to resign on 24 July 1943. 
To take his place as head of the government came Marshal Badoglio, 
openly pledging support to the Axis, but secretly starting negotiations 
with the Western Allies some three weeks later. 

All this time German military intelligence had completely failed 
to divine either Allied or Italian intentions. The attack against Sicily 
came as a surprise. “We believed the Allies would invade Sardinia 
first,” said Colonel General Student, who was commanding the Ger- 
man paratroops in Italy at the time. 5 The downfall of Mussolini came 
as a surprise. And finally the capitulation of Badoglio, secretly agreed 
to on 3 September but not announced until 8 September 1943, came 
as a surprise. “I did not know of the Italian surrender until I heard it 
announced over the wireless on 8 September,” said Colonel General 
von Vietinghoff, commander of the Tenth German Army in Italy. 6 
“Although we had suspected that something of the sort might happen, 
the actual event came as a great shock.” 

It is to the credit of the German General Staff that despite these 
three successive bad guesses on the part of their intelligence, they, 
nevertheless, managed to adjust themselves with commendable speed 
to each of these surprise blows. In Sicily, by acting quickly, they suc- 
ceeded in delaying the Allied conquest of the island for thirty-eight 
days, which cut down the subsequent campaigning weather for 
operations in Italy. On hearing of Mussolini’s eclipse, they promptly 
sent reinforcements to Italy both for the purpose of protecting the 
German troops already there and to safeguard the southern frontiers 
of the Reich. And finally when the surrender of Badoglio’s govern- 
ment was announced, they ruthlessly took charge of a situation that 
could quite easily have become uncontrollable. German officers 
merely marched in on their neighboring Italian headquarters and 
ordered their ex-allies to lay down their arms. “We had no difficulty 
at all in dealing with the Italians,” said von Vietinghoff. 7 “They were 
just as surprised as we were by the announcement of the surrender 
and they had not the faintest idea of what it was all about. I only 
know of one Italian divisional commander who refused to order his 
troops to disarm. He was shot, by the German escort who came to 
him, when he reached for his pistol. It is still not clear whether the 
Italian commander intended to defy us or merely hand over his 
weapon. This was the only case where there was any trouble.” 


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The German plan, in the event of an Allied invasion of the Italian 
mainland, had been to carry out a slow withdrawal to the Apennines 
and evacuate Italy. Rommel, who was now commanding an army 
group in Northern Italy, had been the chief proponent of giving up 
Southern Italy as soon as possible. He believed that with Allied 
control of the sea, any line too far south would be in grave danger 
of being cut off by Allied landings behind it. But when it was dis- 
covered that there would be no danger from the Italians, who had 
meekly gone off to their homes, and when it was obvious that the 
Allied bridgehead at Salerno was being held, Field Marshal Kessel- 
ring, Commander-in-Chief in Southern Italy, decided not to retire 
just yet, but to hold south of Rome for as long as he could. Thus, 
according to von Vietinghoff, the original scheme to abandon Italy 
was revised and it was decided early in October to build a Winter 
Line based on the Abruzzi Mountains in the center, the Sangro River 
in the east and the Garigliano River in the west. Here, behind formid- 
able geographical barriers, the Germans began their winter-long 
defence of Southern Italy which was to result in the bitter battles 
for Qrtona, Cassino and Anzio before Rome finally was taken on 4 
June 1944. 

The unexpected stabilization of the Italian front was, however, 
the only bright gleam in the increasingly darkening horizon of Ger- 
many’s future. Manpower was fast becoming a pressing problem and 
by mid-1943 boys of fifteen were being used to help man the anti- 
aircraft guns of the Reich. In addition, calls were being made upon 
the Luftwaffe and the navy to give up some of their personnel to help 
meet the terrible losses of the army. With childish petulance Goring 
would only consent to his air force personnel being used as ground 
troops if he still retained control of their activities. Thus there came 
about a series of private armies in the Wehrmacht, each with their 
own chain of command responsible only to the Fiihrer. For, not to be 
outdone by Goring, Himmler also built up his own S.S. divisions, and 
Donitz insisted that naval personnel were answerable only to him and 
not to any army authorities. Since all these independent groups were 
supposed to fight within the general framework of the army, the 
resultant quibbling and petty jealousies amongst them made a unified 
command almost impossible. 

“With the heavy set-backs that started in the fateful month of 
November 1942,” writes General Warlimont, discussing this period, 8 
“the organization of the Supreme Command broke up more and more. 
Rommel retreated from El Alamein on 2 November; the surprise 
Anglo-American landings in French North Africa occurred on 8 
November, and Stalingrad was encircled on 29 November. Goring 


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stirred the fire, interfering with everything without scruple or re- 
sponsibility. The misshapen Luftwaffe field divisions originated at 
that time, because Goring could not expect his air force men to 
change their blue-gray uniform for the field-gray of the army. . . . 
The peculiar position of the S.S. further increased the difficulties of 
command. In spite of their tactical subordination to the army, the 
ever-growing number of S.S. divisions used channels of their own, 
which could be depended upon to supply everything. In their estima- 
tion whoever accused the army, especially the General Staff, was 
right. 

“Thus Hitler alone had an overall view of the whole situation. Now, 
more than ever, he amused himself by shifting divisions and smaller 
units, especially armored units, from one area to another, and trying 
to attend personally to every minute detail. This, naturally, pre- 
vented the timely discovery and consideration of important events 
which were pending — such as the armament of the United States, 
the air war of annihilation, the dangers in the Balkans and the decay 
of Italian power (co-operation with our allies was generally much 
neglected). However, Hitler was at least willing to read reports on 
such developments, but the constant submission of intelligence of the 
ever-growing Russian forces had already become impossible in Hai- 
der’s time. Hitler simply refuted such information and regarded it 
as an expression of the General Staff’s defeatist attitude. The method 
of self-deception was gradually extended to all fields; figures took 
the place of strength; orders were given, but no material existed to 
carry them out. Fanatical clinging to individual localities was sup- 
posed to prevent the loss of whole areas, while the substance of the 
army was wasted at a steadily increasing rate. . . .” 

And thus the stage was set for defeat. Only three years before, in 
September 1940, Hitler, the master of a continent, could brandish 
his fists and mouth his threats at his only remaining enemy — a 
stunned and unprepared England only twenty miles away. Now, in 
September 1943, the ersatz Napoleon could watch his rapidly shrink- 
ing empire being besieged from the north, the south and the east 
by the advancing armies of his many and powerful enemies. For the 
transformation he had chiefly himself to blame. But he was ably 
assisted in bringing about the fall of the Third Reich by the officers 
of the Wehrmacht, who were too blind, too rigid, too disciplined, too 
uninformed, too weak, too frightened and too ambitious to prevent 
both themselves and their countrymen from taking the mad course 
their Fiihrer had set for them. 

Victory, in those early years, was within reach of the Third Reich 
time and time again. Yet on each occasion the wrong step was taken, 


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the stupid decision made. Future generations of German apologists 
will try to explain away their defeat by moaning about the vast 
arsenals, the mighty factories, the immense riches of the powers 
assembled against them. They will neglect to mention that for three 
years Germany had all the might, all the material, all the experience, 
all the triumphs. They will fail to point out that against a continent 
geared for war stood only one island isolated by thousands of miles 
of water from those who wanted to help her. They will hide the fact 
that Germany undertook to go to war with countries that her leaders 
felt were unprepared enough or inexperienced enough to be beaten 
easily. It was men who made those decisions, not machines. It was 
Germans who blundered to defeat, no one else. 

Look back at the mistakes that were committed by the Third Reich 
— at Dunkirk, Russia, El Alamein and elsewhere. Some were Hitler’s 
decisions alone, in others he was supported by his General Staff, and 
in still others he was fooled by his own intelligence service. But even 
when the course adopted was patently absurd, even when the risk 
to be taken involved thousands of German lives, few leaders of the 
Third Reich, either military or political, were honest or brave enough 
to voice their disapproval or dissent. They carried out their orders, 
however stupid or brutal or costly or inhuman, and justified their 
conduct with the excuse that true Germans only obeyed — they did 
not think. Each mistake that led to Germany’s ultimate defeat was 
compounded out of the same elements — a Fiihrer who was guided 
by intuition rather than logic, a group of advisers who consistently 
underestimated and misappreciated the moral and physical capacity 
of their opponents, a military clique that allowed itself to be kept 
in the dark and was too disciplined or too self-seeking to protest even 
when it began to see the light. And again — because it cannot be 
repeated too often — these mistakes were man-made and they were 
made in Germany. 

By the end of 1943 the German nation, as exemplified by its leaders, 
had decisively demonstrated that it possessed neither the wisdom, 
the courage nor the faith to achieve or deserve victory. It only re- 
mained for Time to bring about the inexorable end. In traveling the 
road to defeat Germany had reached the mountain-tops of dizzy suc- 
cess and then, unable to climb any higher, had been forced to make 
the tortuous descent to dismal failure. But before the Third Reich had 
reached the cold shadows of the valley of final defeat, her people 
were destined to suffer agony and despair and pain in far greater 
measure than anything the German nation had ever experienced 
before. For it was now no longer a question of whether Germany 
had lost her second Great War. The only question was: When? 


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Part IV ✓ THE INVASION 

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Chapter XIII 

THE ATLANTIC WALL AND THE MEN BEHIND IT 

With the German failure to capture Moscow late in 1941, a two- 
front war had become an unpleasant reality. The entry of the United 
States into the conflict presented the possibility of an invasion of 
the Continent in the West. No longer was there freedom to take 
on one foe at a time without danger of a threat from behind. The 
eyes of the Supreme Command began to shift apprehensively from 
side to side. They could no longer face resolutely in only one direction. 

Hitler looked about him for a man who could provide him with 
security in the West while his armies were still engaged against the 
Russians. The choice was obvious. The one general who had been 
consistently successful in all he had undertaken was the aloof, pro- 
fessional Field Marshal von Rundstedt. But in early 1942 the Marshal 
was in one of his periodic retirements. His quarrel with the Fiihrer 
over the recommendation that Army Group South be permitted to 
withdraw from its advanced winter positions in the Caucasus had 
brought about von Rundstedt’s resignation. The Field Marshal, how- 
ever, was not destined to remain unemployed for very long. 

Von Rundstedt had never underestimated the potential strength 
of the British. He had consistently warned the Supreme Command 
of the danger in the West. Knowing his interest in this theatre and 
playing upon the old man’s loyalty to duty and the Fatherland, 
Hitler was able to convince von Rundstedt to take up the marshal’s 
baton once again. In March 1942 he arrived at St. Germain, France, 
to take over the post of Commander-in-Chief in the West. 

During 1942 Hitler still believed that victory over Russia was within 
reach. Despite the failure of his efforts to take Moscow, there had 
been cause for elation in the successful drive of the southern armies 
to the Don. He concentrated his main resources hoping to capture 
Stalingrad, only to find that what seemed like victory had suddenly 

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become defeat. With the loss of the Sixth Army under Paulus at 
Stalingrad, the German forces in the East were forced to retire to 
the Dnieper River. 

Preoccupied with the prospects of victory in Russia in 1942, Hitler 
paid scant attention to events in France. After Stalingrad the losses 
in the East had so weakened the Wehrmacht that all possibilities 
of an offensive policy in the West had to be abandoned. From the 
early part of 1943 onwards Germany was limited to a policy of 
strategic defense in Western and Southern Europe. 

General Gunther Blumentritt, who was appointed to act as von 
Rundstedt’s Chief-of-Staff late in 1942, has provided an account of 
some of the problems that faced the Commander-in-Chief West in 
the months preceding the Allied invasion of the Continent. 1 Accord- 
ing to Blumentritt the task of defending Western Europe was com- 
plicated by the formidable area involved. Stretching some thousands 
of kilometres in a vast semi-circle from Norway along the coast of 
Europe and through the Mediterranean to Greece, the possibilities 
of invasion zones were innumerable. With complete superiority of 
air and sea power, the British and Americans could choose the time 
and place not only for a main attack, but for any amount of feints 
as well. The German navy could offer little interference to any such 
operation, while the bringing up of reserves to threatened sectors was 
already hampered by Allied air power and the damaged state of the 
continental railways. Thus in the years 1942-43 the forefinger of High 
Command strategists moved around the map like an uncertain com- 
pass needle trying to point the way to the next Allied move. 

The first area considered vulnerable to Allied attention was Nor- 
way, Denmark and, above all, the North Sea between the Elbe and 
the Ems. It was thought that landings in these northern regions would 
take place independent of a cross-Channel assault. Blumentritt said 
that there was a certain amount of doubt about Sweden’s reliability, 
and it was feared that she might have been prevailed upon to grant 
air bases to the Allies. 

When not casting its gaze northward, von Rundstedt’s headquarters 
was keeping an apprehensive eye southwards. “Two or three times 
during 1943,” said Blumentritt, “our attention was drawn by the 
Supreme Command to the possible threat of an Allied landing in 
Spain or Portugal. Information about Spain was obtained through 
attaches in Madrid and Vichy, and Spanish officers were often guests 
at the headquarters of the German Nineteenth Army in Southern 
France. We considered Lisbon, the northwest tip of Spain, the Bale- 
aric Isles and the Barcelona area as the most likely landing places. 


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“It was considered that such landings might be made in conjunc- 
tion with an attack on the south or west coast of France. Counter- 
measures were prepared by the Commander-in-Chief West in the 
shape of an operation ‘Ilona/ In the event of an Allied landing in 
Spain or Portugal, Ilona would be put into operation if Spain re- 
mained neutral or came in on the German side. . . . Ten divisions were 
concerned, and there were two lines of attack, one against the Bar- 
celona area, and the main one, should there be an Allied landing in 
the west, along the line Valladolid-Salamanca where the decisive 
battle was expected to take place. . . . However, we never did take 
this threat to Spain very seriously at von Rundstedt’s headquarters.” 

In early 1944 the attention of the Commander-in-Chief West was 
diverted again. This time to Southern France. Agents’ reports flooded 
into von Rundstedt warning of imminent landings about to take place 
in the area of the Rh6ne delta and near the French-Spanish frontier. 
It was appreciated that if such an attack did take place, another land- 
ing around the mouth of the Gironde was to be anticipated. A pincer 
movement against Toulouse was to be expected, after which there 
would be an advance along the Canal du Midi to cut off Spain and 
join up with the growing Resistance Movement in the south of France. 

But as the months passed each appreciation was discarded in turn 
and replaced by another until by the end of March 1944, it became 
obvious that the northern coast of France provided the most likely 
and most profitable results for an invasion attempt of the Continent. 
According to Blumentritt, Admiral Canaris’s intelligence branch had 
only six agents in England about this time, but all of them confirmed 
the fact that an invasion was to be launched from Southern England. 2 

The possibility of Allied landings on the French Channel coast 
gave Field Marshal von Rundstedt his greatest concern. To deny a 
foothold to an invading force in this area, unwarranted reliance had 
been placed upon the Atlantic Wall. This line of fortifications girdling 
the coast of France was directly under the Commander-in-Chief West 
but its technical construction had been entrusted to the organization 
Todt. This latter organization was thoroughly National Socialist in its 
conception and had been responsible for the building of the Siegfried 
Line as well. The strongest parts of the Atlantic Wall were in Holland 
and the Pas de Calais, with relatively strong sectors in Normandy 
and Brittany. But on the southern coast of France these static defenses 
hardly existed at all, and faith had to be pinned on earthen field- 
works and the badly-trained divisions available in the region. 


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THE ATLANTIC WALL AND THE MEN BEHIND IT 91 

All along this coastal line like so many buttresses to a wall, a series 
of nodal points had been designated as ‘fortresses/ These places were 
to have the biggest guns, the most cement and the best troops in 
France. They were to be defended “until the last drop of blood,” 
and the fortress commandant was to be personally responsible with 
his head if this was not carried out. The instructions in regard to the 
handling of these bastions came straight from Berlin in a series of 
Fiihrer ’s decrees. Dunkirk, Calais, Boulogne, Le Havre, Cherbourg, 
Brest, La Rochelle, Gironde, Toulon, were some of over a dozen 
fortresses that were named, and they punctuated the coastline of 
France like so many knots in a string. 

But what Hitler, in his mania for fortresses, had forgotten, was 
that while the knots themselves might be strong and not readily 
broken, the weaker cord between could be easily snapped. There- 
fore — and changing the metaphor — while the fortresses formidably 
jutted their blunt jaws menacingly towards the sea, their back- 
sides were vulnerable to a devastating kick. There were neither the 
men nor the materials to build these zones so that they provided all- 
round protection against the land as well as the sea. Thus they 
remained bristling in front and flabby behind. 

Von Rundstedt was most unhappy about both the Atlantic Wall 
and this system of fortresses. “Strategically the value of these fort- 
resses was insignificant,” said the Field Marshal, 3 “because of their 
inability to defend themselves against a land attack. When the 
Fiihrer’s instructions for the defense of the fortresses was sent to 
me, I had the words ‘defend to the last drop of blood’ changed to 
‘defend to the last bullet’ before I sent them forward to the troops. 
We subsequently lost over 120,000 men in these concrete posts when 
we withdrew from France. I always considered this to be a tragic 
waste of useful manpower. 

“As for the Atlantic Wall itself,” continued von Rundstedt, “it had 
to be seen to be believed. It had no depth and little surface. It was 
sheer humbug. At best it might have proved an obstacle for twenty- 
four hours at any one point, but one day’s intensive assault by a deter- 
mined force was all that was needed to break any part of this line. 
Once through the so-called Wall the rest of these fortifications and 
fortresses facing the sea were of no use at all against an attack from 
behind. I reported all this to the Fiihrer in October 1943, but it was 
not favorably received.” 

If von Rundstedt was unhappy about the Atlantic Wall itself, he 
was bitter about the formations available in the W est to man it. When 
he had first arrived in France in 1942 there were only some thirty 


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German divisions in all of France and the Low Countries. As the 
Russian adventure became more and more costly the threat of a 
second front in the West became correspondingly greater. Von Rund- 
stedt was thus able to convince the Supreme Command to send him 
an increasing share of the total resources of the Wehrmacht. By 
June 1944 von Rundstedt had under command a nominal total of 
sixty divisions. 

According to the Field Marshal only a few of these divisions could 
be considered first class. No more than fifteen of these sixty formations 
had either the equipment or the personnel to warrant their being 
classed as a division. Aside from the panzer and parachute divisions, 
which were still being sent the fittest troops and the most modern 
weapons, the bulk of the infantry divisions were miserable skeletons 
of fighting units. Sitting deep in their bunkers in the Atlantic Wall, 
they were equipped with a hodgepodge of foreign artillery, relied 
on horses and bicycles for their mobility, and were formed chiefly 
of personnel from older age groups and convalescents from the 
Russian front. 

France had been turned into a vast training-center, where divisions 
destroyed on other sectors could come for rest, refitting and reor- 
ganization. Thus, many of these divisions were more real on paper 
than they were on the ground. “Often I would be informed that a 
new division was to arrive in France,” said von Rundstedt, 4 “direct 
from Russia or Norway or Central Germany. When it finally made its 
appearance in the West it would consist, in all, of a divisional com- 
mander, a medical officer and five bakers.” 

To reform these shattered divisions which had left the bulk of their 
German personnel in Russian graves or Russian prisoner-of-war 
camps, the Supreme Command drafted so-called volunteers from 
amongst the peoples of the countries they occupied. There not being 
enough able-bodied Germans still capable of keeping a war machine 
and an industrial machine going at the same time, the infantry divi- 
sions in France were largely rebuilt by utilizing the huge reserve of 
non-Germanic manpower in Europe. Using this foreign element 
chiefly for supply and administrative duties, the infantry divisions in 
the West were liberally sprinkled with Poles, Hungarians, Yugoslavs, 
Roumanians, Czechs, Dutchmen, Alsatians, to mention but a few. 
These non-Germans usually made up at least ten per cent of a divi- 
sion’s strength and in some divisions comprised about twenty-five 
per cent of the formation’s personnel. 

But the largest group of foreigners found in the Wehrmacht in 
the West were Russians. So many prisoners had been taken in the 


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early victories in Russia, that it was decided in 1942 to make use 
of these troops rather than continue to feed them or exterminate them. 
Realizing that it might be dangerous to inject so large a foreign 
element into normal German divisions, the Supreme Command de- 
cided to form these Russian troops into separate units of their own 
which would be officered by Germans. With the aid of a Russian 
general, Vlassov, this huge recruiting drive was begun. 

It might be of interest to make a chronological diversion at this 
point in order to describe the methods by which such Eastern or 
Ost battalions were formed. The experiences of an Armenian who 
deserted from 812 Armenian Battalion in Holland provide a typical 
example of what happened to thousands of his countrymen. 6 Having 
been captured on 12 November 1941, he was thrown into a German 
prison cage, where he suffered the kind of treatment made famous 
by the camps of Belsen and Buchenwald. For fifteen days he was 
forced to march towards the rear areas, living on a handful of wheat 
each day as his ration. Prisoners who dropped out of the line to steal 
potatoes from the fields en route were shot. In a camp near Minsk 
they were given verminous quarters, no blankets, and drinking water 
was obtained by scooping snow into a can and waiting for it to melt. 
Twenty to thirty men died every night due to the combination of 
hours of hauling wood, generous lashings with leather whips, and 
bad food. 

Suddenly, in early 1942, there was a revolutionary change. Barracks 
were cleaned, men were deloused and food became more abundant. 
For six weeks they were forced to take exercise so that they could 
get their strength back. This was a gradual and slow process since 
by this time most of them were so weak and sick they could hardly 
walk. In May 1942 they were sent to a new camp in Poland where 
they discovered they were now part of four Armenian battalions 
which were being formed and trained to fight in the German army. 
Supplied with a mixture of German and Russian weapons, each bat- 
talion contained about a thousand men. All company commanders 
were German, but junior officers were Russian, usually of the emigre 
White Russian variety. Early in 1943 two of these Armenian battalions 
were sent to the West and the other two to the East. 

By June 1944 over 75,000 of these Russian troops were stationed in 
France, chiefly employed in rear area duties. But some of the Eastern 
battalions were given operational roles, usually as units in the normal 
German infantry divisions. Their fighting value to the Germans 
proved negligible, while the administrative problems they raised 
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DEFEAT IN THE WEST 


in Normandy gives some indication of the difficulties that plagued 
German staffs. 

Infantry Regiment 987, 

Personnel Branch. 

Subject: Fay books for volunteers in German units. 

In order to issue paybooks to volunteers in German units a nominal roll 
of such volunteers, separated according to their nationality, will be handed 
in to Regimental Headquarters by 1 1 Aug. 44. 

The paybooks will be issued in eight different forms, i.e.: 

(i) For Russians, Ukrainians and White Ruthenians — Russian pay book. 

(ii) For Cossacks — Cossack paybook. 

(iii) For Armenians — Armenian paybook. 

(iv) For Aserbaijans — Aserbaijan paybook. 

(v) For Georgians (including Adschars, South Ossetans and Abschars)— 
Georgian paybook. 

(vi) For Adigis, Karbadins, Karatjers, Balkars, Kherkassians, North 
Ossetans, Ingus, Takjenen, Dagastares (Calmuckes, Awares, Lakes, 
Dargines, etc.) — North Caucasian paybook. 

(vii) For Turkemen, Usbeks, Kazaks, Khirgiz, Karakalpaks, Tadschiks — 
Turkestan paybook. 

(viii) For Volga Tartars (Kazan Tartars), Bashkires, Tartar-speaking 
Tschuwashi, Maris, Merdwiners, Udmuns — Volga Tartar paybook. 

By order, 

[Signature illegible], 

Lt. and Regtl. Adjutant. 

With troops such as these under command it can hardly be won- 
dered at that von Rundstedt was sceptical as to his ability to thwart 
an Allied invasion. “The Russians constituted a menace and a nuisance 
to operations in France,” complained the Field Marshal, 6 “while 
most of our own infantry divisions were filled with second-rate per- 
sonnel. The armored and parachute formations alone contained young 
men, and there were too few of these. In fact there were insufficient 
troops in the West to carry out properly the r61e required of them. 
Once the various divisions were stretched along the huge coastal 
front, there was little left in the interior. So thin were troops on the 
ground that three infantry divisions patrolled the Atlantic coast from 
the Loire to the Pyrenees, a distance of almost 450 kilometres. 

“To make matters worse, orders were constantly received from 
Berlin shifting these divisions about without any apparent justifica- 
tion. Thus one of our best equipped infantry divisions was sent to 
the Channel Islands late in 1941, and they were never returned to 
me during the entire course of the Western Campaign. So long was 


Regimental H.Q., 
9 Aug. 44 . 


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this formation stationed in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney, that rumor 
had it that they were soon to receive arm-bands inscribed with the 
words ‘King’s Own German Grenadiers.’ ” 


Chapter XIV 

WATCHING AND WAITING 


With the fortifications along the Channel so inadequate and with 
manpower strictly limited, measures had to be taken to give the Allies 
the impression that there was a sufficient force on hand to meet an 
invasion should it occur. A huge deception program, which has been 
described by General Blumentritt, 1 was undertaken, designed to build 
up the strength of Germany’s western forces in the minds of her 
enemies. Intensive propaganda about the invincibility of the Atlantic 
Wall was carried on. This was aided by the laying of dummy mine- 
fields and by the circulation of maps and legends showing formidable 
concrete defenses and minefields. These latter were passed to the 
Allies by means of German agents in Paris and Switzerland. 

In addition to inflating the ground defenses it was necessary, as 
well, to show more divisions in France than there actually were. This 
was achieved by various ingenious and complicated means. Local 
French authorities were told a new division was to arrive and orders 
were given for the preparation of billets. Then advance parties would 
reconnoiter the area, buildings would be taken over, and finally exer- 
cises would take place in the area, or reinforcements of another divi- 
sion would pass through the locality. This would give the impres- 
sion of the arrival of a fresh division, which news in due course would 
reach England. Or if a division was being sent to France from the 
East, agents would report that two divisions were coming. So exten- 
sive did these deceptive measures become that it was necessary to 
keep a list of real and false divisions at von Rundstedt’s headquarters 
to prevent the staff from becoming muddled. One column showed the 
facts about a dummy division, its supposed date of arrival and its 
presumed area of occupation, a second column provided the correct 
information. On maps the real divisions were shown in red, while 
fake divisions were marked in blue. Even the Japanese Ambassador 
at Vichy was supplied with some of these false maps designed to 
lull both him and his government into a sense of security as to the 
strength of German forces in the West. 


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Once it had been decided that the northern coast of France was 
to be the scene of the Allied invasion attempt, the next problem was 
to pick the most likely spot. Three areas were actually selected — 
one by Hitler, one by his advisers at Berlin and one by von Rund- 
stedt. Von Rundstedt chose the Pas de Calais. In explaining his choice 
he counted out his reasons with the facility of a man who has argued 
this matter many times before. 

“In the first place,” he said, 2 “an attack from Dover against Calais 
would be using the shortest sea route to the Continent. Secondly, the 
V-l and V-2 sites were located in this area. Thirdly, this was the 
shortest route to the Ruhr and the heart of industrial Germany, and 
once a successful landing had been made it would take only four 
days to reach the Rhine. Fourthly, such an operation would sever the 
forces in Northern France from those along the Mediterranean coast. 
Against the Pas de Calais being chosen was the fact that this area 
had the strongest coastal defenses, and was the only part of the 
Atlantic Wall that even remotely lived up to its reputation. I always 
used to tell my staff that if I was Montgomery I would attack the 
Pas de Calais.” The staff officers at Berlin believed the Allies would 
attack farther west, between the Seine and the Somme, while Hitler 
suddenly decided it would be Normandy. General Warlimont de- 
scribed these differences at Berlin as follows: 

“Up to May 1944 when Hitler first spoke of Normandy,” he said, 3 
“the staff was all prepared for a landing in the Channel zone between 
the Seine and the Somme, by Abbeville and Le Havre. Therefore the 
coastal defenses were mainly built up in that area. We were not 
quite convinced that Hitler was right in expecting the attack in 
Normandy, but he kept insisting on it and demanded more and more 
reinforcements for that sector.” 

With three divergent views as to the possible invasion area, it was 
impossible to concentrate all resources against any one contingency. 
Hitler’s appreciation that the landings would take place in Normandy 
was sent to von Rundstedt approximately six weeks before D-Day, 
although no specific places were cited as potential danger zones. Von 
Rundstedt agreed that an invasion of Normandy might be attempted 
but he considered that it would coincide with a large-scale assault 
on both sides of Calais. The possibility of a diversionary effort on 
the French Mediterranean coast before the invasion in the north was 
also contemplated by the Field Marshal. But he felt that such an 
attack, if it did come, would be primarily designed to draw divisions 
from the Channel coast where the major operation would take place. 

German intelligence seems to have been of little help in deciding 


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either when or where the invasion would come. The few over- 
worked agents in England had nervously been passing on warnings 
of an invasion since early April. When April had come and gone and 
nothing had happened, they picked early May and then late May 
for the attempt. The intelligence staffs having cried ‘wolf so often, 
by June general opinion at von Rundstedt’s headquarters was that 
no invasion was now to be expected until July or August. The actual 
day of the landing therefore came as a surprise. 

From the few intelligence reports that did filter through from 
England it was estimated that between fifty-five and sixty divisions 
were assembled in England to take part in the invasion. This figure 
was relatively accurate. But aside from this information nothing else 
of importance seems to have been forthcoming from intelligence 
channels. General Blumentritt has ruefully admitted 4 that even 
demonstrations put on especially for the benefit of German agents 
were never reported to von Rundstedt’s headquarters. Such an effort 
was the elaborate deception plan carried out by the invading forces 
a few days before D-Day. A large number of ships were loaded with 
troops and equipment as if they were about to sail. Some of them 
actually left the coast. This large-scale manoeuvre was done as obvi- 
ously as possible, with only a paltry attempt at security. It was hoped 
that these movements would be reported to the Germans in France 
and that they would, in turn, set their counter-invasion plans in 
motion. Allied agents in France were all set to report any such man- 
oeuvres of German formations. The Germans did not move a man. 
The Allies were naturally rather disconcerted by this canniness on 
the part of the German Command in the West. But Blumentritt now 
confesses that this failure to react was not due to the cunning of von 
Rundstedt’s staff, but to their sheer ignorance of the whole affair. 

Thus, with little reliable intelligence information to guide them, 
the men responsible for the defense of France had to rely upon their 
military judgment alone in making their appreciations. Normandy 
was discounted as the most likely invasion spot, chiefly because of 
its lack of good harbor facilities. Here again, German intelligence had 
failed them for they knew nothing of the artificial port — Mulberry — 
which was being secretly assembled in England to take care of this 
deficiency. Reports of these large contraptions lying in the Thames 
were made to Berlin, but estimates as to their function ranged any- 
where from floating grain-elevators to substitute piers for use in a 
captured harbour. Thus the only correct guess as to Allied intentions 
was made in direct contradiction to all military reasoning. General 
Warlimont explained it in these words: 6 “We generals calculated 


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along the lines of our regular, military education, but Hitler came 
to his own decision, as he always did, on his intuition alone.” And 
Hitler’s intuition said it would be Normandy. 

Having decided that the main attack would be launched in the 
Pas de Calais with a secondary effort between the Seine and Cher- 
bourg, von Rundstedt attempted to deploy his troops in accordance 
with his appreciation. However, he was constantly pestered by sug- 
gestions from Hitler, and by a difference of opinion with his most 
senior subordinate commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, whose 
background and previous exploits in North Africa have already been 
discussed. 

The sixty divisions in France and the Low Countries on 6 June 
1944 were shared between four army commands. Field Marshal 
Rommel, as commander of Army Group ‘B,’ controlled two of these 
armies, the Seventh and Fifteenth, while Colonel General Blasko- 
witz, as commander of Army Group ‘G,’ directed the remaining two 
armies, the First and Nineteenth. Rommel’s Army Group was respon- 
sible for the defense of the Channel coast and for this task he had 
been allotted well over two-thirds of the divisions in the West. 

There was a serious difference of opinion as to the strategy to be 
adopted against an Allied invasion. This concerned itself with the 
best method of deploying the ten armored divisions which constituted 
von Rundstedt’s mobile reserve. Rommel argued that these tank for- 
mations must be brought forward as close to the threatened coastal 
areas as possible. He fervently believed that landings had to be 
defeated on the beaches themselves, and that once an Allied bridge- 
head had been established it would be impossible to contain it. In 
accordance with this theory he ordered his infantry divisions to con- 
centrate no farther back than five kilometres from the coastline; he 
issued detailed instructions on the building of costly and complicated 
water obstacles and coastal fortifications along the north shores of 
France; and he edged the panzer divisions under his command as 
close to the water-line as he could. 

Von Rundstedt agreed with the principle that an invasion had to 
be smashed before it had secured a firm foothold on the mainland, 
but he was not as eager to commit his reserves into battle too soon. 
Not being too certain that the first landings would necessarily con- 
stitute the main Allied thrust, he preferred to hold his armor in hand 
until Allied intentions were more clear-cut. His plan, therefore, was 
to hold back a strong armored force some fifty to sixty kilometres 
from the coast, and, at the decisive moment, release it in a full-blooded 
counter-attack against the Allied bridgehead. 


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Since von Rundstedt held the senior command in France, normally 
his theory would have prevailed. But because Rommel had so much 
influence with Hitler, he was able to dilute von Rundstedt’s plan 
with his own. The result of these differences was an unhappy strategi- 
cal compromise which had disastrous consequences in the days imme- 
diately following the Allied landings. The infantry divisions were 
deployed thinly along the coast from Holland around to Marseilles 
acting as a sea-wall of manpower to keep out the expected flood. 
The size of the coastline and the shortage of infantry limited the thick- 
ness of this wall, and only in the Pas de Calais did von Rundstedt 
succeed in producing a second layer of infantry divisions. 

The much discussed armored divisions were neither all forward 
nor were they all back. Six of the ten panzer divisions were placed 
north of the Loire, while the other four acted as a scattered reserve 
for the south and the southwest coast of France. Three panzer divi- 
sions were under Rommel’s command, while the others, north of the 
Loire, were under von Rundstedt’s direct command in a reserve for- 
mation called Panzer Group West. 6 This splitting of the mobile 
reserve produced the inevitable result. Rommel stationed his armor 
as close to the coast as he could, while von Rundstedt kept his farther 
back. When the invasion began there was, therefore, neither enough 
armor to push the Allies back off the beaches, in the first few hours, 
nor was there an adequate striking force to act as an armored reserve 
later on. No better design for a successful Allied landing could have 
been achieved than this failure to concentrate the armor in the West 
along one unified and determined course. 

Being pressed by Hitler to be wary of Normandy, von Rundstedt 
had stationed his three strongest panzer divisions in the rectangle 
formed by the Seine and the Loire rivers. They were 21 Panzer Divi- 
sion, 12 S.S. Panzer Division ‘Hitler Jugend’ and Panzer Lehr Divi- 
sion. Together they constituted a striking force of almost 600 tanks. 
They contained the best trained and most fanatical troops in France. 
It was their task to deliver the counterblow which would put an end 
to any invasion attempt in Normandy. A co-ordinated counterblow 
never came. Instead it consisted of a series of isolated, independent 
jabs which the Allies were easily able to ward off. In the combination 
of events which made a strong, armored offensive impossible lies the 
most important reason for the comparative ease with which an Allied 
bridgehead was established and maintained in those early critical 
days. 

One of these divisions, 21 Panzer, was under Rommel’s direct 
command. Its commander, Lieutenant General Feuchtinger, had 


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been given definite instruction, that, in the event of an invasion, he 
was not to make any move until he had been given his orders by 
Army Group ‘B.’ 7 This meant that the moment a landing occurred, 
21 Panzer Division could not be committed by either the corps or 
the army immediately involved in the battle. The other two panzer 
divisions, 12 S.S. ‘Hitler Jugend’ and Panzer Lehr, were to receive 
their orders from a still higher authority than Army Group. They 
were not to move until the Commander-in-Chief West, Field Marshal 
von Rundstedt, had given the word. But as if this were not authority 
enough, von Rundstedt has now revealed that while nominally he 
had the power to commit these two formations, in actual fact he had 
received instructions from Berlin that in the event of an invasion 
neither of these divisions was to be moved until permission from 
Hitler himself had been received! The delay created by this incredible 
chain of command in the first vital hours of the invasion was one of 
the chief reasons for the failure of the expected German counter- 
attack. 

Chapter XV 
THE FIRST DAYS 

Life was relatively serene amongst the German formations in France 
on the evening of 5 June 1944. There had been no warning of any 
untoward manoeuvers on the part of the Allied forces in England and 
all previous alarums of German agents had proved unfounded. The 
invasion seemed weeks away. Rommel was visiting his wife in Stutt- 
gart after a liaison trip to Berlin, and a large number of the divisional 
commanders in Seventh Army, responsible for the defense of Nor- 
mandy, had been called to Rennes to take part in an anti-invasion 
exercise. 

This tranquility was abruptly broken at von Rundstedt’s head- 
quarters with a report that the B.B.C. was broadcasting an unusually 
large number of encoded messages to the French Resistance Move- 
ment. The contents of some of these messages, coupled with the large- 
scale situation map of England kept by the intelligence staff which 
showed only a few units along the southwest shore, but heavy con- 
centrations in the Dover-Folkestone area, seemed to confirm von 
Rundstedt’s appreciation that an assault was imminent in the region 
of the Pas de Calais. At eleven o’clock that night, Fifteenth Army, 
east of the Seine, was given Alarm II which meant that all men were 
to be near their vehicles and ready for any eventuality. Seventh Army 


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in Normandy was allowed to carry on its routine activities undis- 
turbed and was never given any alert of any kind. 

At ten minutes past midnight the Commander-in-Chief West re- 
ceived the first report that the invasion had begun. Symbolically 
enough, it was a false report — that paratroops and gliders had landed 
on the western side of the Cotentin Peninsula. It was not until nearly 
one o’clock in the morning that the news of paratroops near Troam, 
east of the Orne River, was received. There was a determined effort 
to remain calm and objective at von Rundstedt’s headquarters as the 
reports came flooding in. With the memory of Dieppe still on every- 
one’s mind, it was imperative to appreciate whether this was merely 
a feint or the main attack. Von Rundstedt was eager to explain his 
actions during these first hours. 

“I have been criticized because it was said that I delayed too long 
in committing my panzer divisions against the bridgehead,” said the 
Field Marshal. 1 “Although Panzer Lehr and 12 S.S. Panzer Divisions 
were under my command I could not move them until I had received 
permission from Berlin. 

“At four o’clock in the morning, three hours after I received the 
first reports of the invasion, I decided that these landings in Normandy 
had to be dealt with. I asked the Supreme Command in Berlin for 
authority to commit these two divisions into the battle. Berlin replied 
that it was still uncertain as to whether or not these first assaults 
were the main Allied effort or merely a diversion. They hesitated all 
that night and the next morning unable to make up their minds. 
Finally at four o’clock in the afternoon of 6 June, twelve hours after 
I had made my request, I was told I could use these panzer divisions. 
This meant that a counter-attack could not be organized until the 
morning of 7 June. By then the bridgehead was over thirty hours old 
and it was too late.” 

Seventh Army, led by Colonel General Dollman, was in the mean- 
time trying to hold its positions with four weak infantry divisions and 
one armored division. At about five in the afternoon of 6 June the 
intentions of the Supreme Command were finally communicated to 
Dollman. They were reported in the following words in the meticu- 
lously kept telephone journal of the Seventh Army. 2 

16.55 hours. 

Chief -of -Staff of Seventh Army reports to Chief -of -Staff 
Western Command. 

Chief-of-Staff Western Command (von Rundstedt’s headquarters) 
emphasizes the desire of the Supreme Command (Hitler) to have the enemy 
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danger of additional sea- and airborne landings for support. In accordance 
with an order by General Jodi, all units will be diverted to the point of 
penetration in Calvados. The beach-head there must be cleaned up by not 
later than tonight. The Chief-of-Staff declares that such would be im- 
possible. The commander of Army Group ‘B’ (Rommel) states that 11 
Panzer Division must attack immediately regardless of whether reinforce- 
ments arrive or not. The Supreme Command has ordered that the bad 
weather conditions of the night of 6-7 June be utilized for the bringing up 
of reserves. 

And later on, at midnight of 6 June, the journal reports the follow- 
ing conversation of the Chief-of-Staff with the commanders of 21 
Panzer Division and 716 Infantry Division. The latter formation was 
the unfortunate occupant of the coastal sector protecting Caen and 
received the full brunt of the Allied onslaught. It practically dis- 
appeared as a fighting unit within twenty-four hours. 

24.00 hours. 716 Infantry Division is still defending itself at strong- 
points. Communications between division, regimental and battalion head- 
quarters, however, no longer exist, so that nothing is known as to the number 

of strong-points still holding out or of those liquidated The Chief-of-Staff 

of Seventh Army gives the order that the counter-attack of 7 June must 
reach the coast without fail, since the strong-point defenders expect it of us. 

Now with all this going on at the higher levels of the military 
command, what was happening to the divisions that were actually 
fighting the battle? The self-same hesitancy and uncertainty which 
was harassing von Rundstedt was also limiting their activities. The 
infantry divisions in the bunkers along the coast had been able to 
offer little resistance to the combined naval, air and land assault and 
surrendered in their thousands, trembling and exhausted by their 
terrifying experiences. The costly under- water obstacles had been 
largely swept away by the first wave of attacking infantry. The one 
division in immediate reserve capable of affecting the battle was 21 
Panzer Division. It contained about 170 armored vehicles and was 
under the direct command of Rommel’s Army Group ‘B.’ Its head- 
quarters was at St. Pierre-sur-Dives about twenty-four kilometres 
from the coast. Its commander, Lieutenant General Edgar Feucht- 
inger, a tall, wiry, well-built man with a slightly bent nose, which 
gave him the appearance of a somewhat elderly pugilist, had this to 
say: 3 

“I first knew that the invasion had begun with a report that para- 
chutists had been dropped near Troarn a little after midnight on 6 
June. Since I had been told that I was to make no move until I had 
heard from Rommel’s headquarters, I could do nothing immediately 


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but warn my men to be ready. I waited impatiently all that night 
for some instructions. But not a single order from a higher formation 
was received by me. Realizing that my armored division was closest 
to the scene of operations, I finally decided, at six-thirty in the morn- 
ing, that I had to take some action. I ordered my tanks to attack the 
English 6 Airborne Division which had entrenched itself in a bridge- 
head over the Orne. To me this constituted the most immediate threat 
to the German position. 

“Hardly had I made this decision, when at seven o’clock I received 
my first intimation that a higher command did still exist. I was told 
by Army Group ‘B’ that I was now under command of Seventh Army. 
But I received no further orders as to my role. At nine o’clock I was 
informed that I would receive any future orders from 84 Infantry 
Corps, and finally at ten o’clock I was given my first operational 
instructions. I was ordered to stop the move of my tanks against the 
Allied airborne troops, and to turn west and aid the forces protecting 
Caen. 

“Once over the Ome River, I drove north towards the coast. By 
this time the enemy, consisting of 3 British and 3 Canadian Infantry 
Divisions, had made astonishing progress and had already occupied 
a strip of high ground about ten kilometres from the sea. From here 
the excellent anti-tank gun-fire of the Allies knocked out eleven of 
my tanks before I had barely started. However, one battle group 
did manage to by-pass these guns and actually reached the coast at 
Lion-sur-Mer, at about seven in the evening. 

“I now expected that some reinforcements would be forthcoming 
to help me hold my position, but nothing came. Another Allied para- 
chute landing on both sides of the Orne, together with a sharp attack 
by English tanks, forced me to give up my hold on the coast. I retired 
to take up a line just north of Caen. By the end of that first day my 
division had lost almost twenty-five per cent of its tanks.” 

The man chosen to conduct the counter-offensive of 7 June was 
Oberstgruppenfuhrer (Colonel General) Joseph ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, 
commander of 1 S.S. Panzer Corps. Short and squat, with a broad 
dark face dominated by a large, wide nose, Dietrich resembled a 
rather battered bartender in appearance. He was a typical product 
of the Free Corps and the bullying gangs with which Hitler first made 
his advent on the German political stage. The first Great War inter- 
rupted his plans to become a butcher, and after four years of fighting 
he had attained the rank of a sergeant major. He spent the post- 
war years at a series of unsuccessful odd jobs and occupied his spare 
time as an enthusiastic adherent of the Nazi Party. 

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rose to the rank of Brigadefiihrer (Major General) as the Command- 
ing Officer of Hitler’s personal bodyguard. He led the first S.S. divi- 
sion ‘Adolf Hitler’ in the French, Greek and Russian campaigns, and 
boasted that by 1943 only thirty of the original 23,000 men in his 
division were still alive and uncaptured. In Germany the Goebbels 
propaganda machine had made of ‘Sepp’ Dietrich an almost legend- 
ary figure, whose exploits as a fighting man of the people rivaled, if 
not surpassed, those of that other popular National Socialist per- 
sonality, Erwin Rommel. Crude, conceited and garrulous, his meteoric 
career was undoubtedly achieved more by his hard and ruthless 
energy than by his military ability. Von Rundstedt’s description of 
Dietrich is admirable for both its accuracy and brevity, “He is decent, 
but stupid.” 

On D-Day, Dietrich was in Brussels with the headquarters of his 
formation, 1 S.S. Panzer Corps. He was directly under command 
of von Rundstedt and had been immediately summoned to Paris. At 
five o’clock on the afternoon of 6 June the corps was given its first 
task. It would conduct an attack from the vicinity of Caen and drive 
the British into the sea. For this purpose Dietrich was to use 12 S.S. 
Panzer Division ‘Hitler Jugend,’ 21 Panzer Division, already on the 
spot, and Panzer Lehr Division, which was to come up as soon as 
possible. Dietrich immediately sent out his orders to Lieutenant Gen- 
eral Feuchtinger of 21 Panzer Division and Brigadefiihrer (Major 
General) Kurt Meyer of 12 S.S. Panzer Division. These two armored 
formations would co-ordinate an attack to be launched together at 
first light on 7 June. 

Kurt Meyer of 12 S.S. Panzer Division (then only a regimental 
commander) became the youngest divisional commander in the Ger- 
man army at the age of thirty-three. He was the perfect product of 
Nazi fanaticism. Tall, handsome, with penetrating blue eyes, he knew 
only what Hitler had told him, and believed it all. He was prepared 
to die for his faith in National Socialism and he was utterly ruthless 
in forcing others to die for it as well. Tried as a war criminal for 
inciting his troops to murder Canadian prisoners-of-war, he was 
sentenced to life imprisonment. In such a man the Nazi virus will 
always live. It has become part of his lifeblood. 

Meyer had neither the training nor the experience to lead 20,000 
men and over 200 tanks into battle, but he possessed both a keen 
tactical sense and the tenacity of a zealot, which enabled him to 
perform the defensive role required of him at Caen. In the offensive, 
however, he failed badly. Like Dietrich, he owed his position to his 
loyalty and not his ability. 

Feuchtinger, when he received his orders, suggested to Dietrich 


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that two armored divisions were not enough to take on the well- 
entrenched British, and that they ought to wait until Panzer Lehr 
Division had arrived and do the attack with three formations. He 
was told, however, that only the two armored divisions were available 
and to co-ordinate his attack with 12 S.S. Panzer Division that night. 

“About midnight, Kurt Meyer arrived at my headquarters,” said 
Feuchtinger. 4 “He was to take over on my left and we were to carry 
out a combined operation the next morning. I explained the situa- 
tion to Meyer and warned him about the strength of the enemy. 
Meyer studied the map, turned to me with a confident air and said, 
‘Little fish! We’ll throw them back into the sea in the morning.’ 

“We decided to drive towards Douvres and 12 S.S. was to take 
up assembly positions during the night. Artillery fire was so great 
that a proper co-ordination of this attack was impossible. Meyer 
did make a short spurt with some fifty tanks, but was driven back. 
He never reached the start-line from which our combined attack was 
to begin. Allied anti-tank guns prevented him from getting into proper 
position.” 

The vagueness and pettiness that dominated the German generals 
at this time is well illustrated in the discussion that has followed on 
the failure of this counter-attack. Meyer vigorously denied that it 
was anti-tank gun-fire that stopped him from getting forward. “We 
failed to achieve more substantial results on 7 June,” explained 
Meyer, 5 “because in the long drive to the front we had exhausted 
our petrol supply. I tried to replenish it, but it was impossible. I 
could, therefore, only use half my tank strength in the attack.” Feucht- 
inger scoffed at this excuse. “If Meyer was really short of petrol, why 
didn’t he mention it to me,” he said, “I could have given him all he 
wanted if he had asked for it.” Dietrich, the corps commander, when 
asked to choose between these two stories, supported Meyer. “It is 
easy for Feuchtinger now to say that he would have given Meyer 
petrol on 7 June,” he said, 6 “but on that morning his answer to such 
a request would have been ‘I haven’t got any.’ ” 

That such lack of harmony should exist at so vital a time seems 
difficult to imagine. But the explanation probably lies in the deep- 
rooted distrust and resentment of the average, regular army officer, 
like Feuchtinger, towards the political party S.S. officers, like Dietrich 
and Meyer. Whatever the real reason for the failure of this attack 
may be, it left two panting armored divisions on the northern out- 
skirts of Caen, shaken, uncertain and waiting for more help before 
trying again. 

By 8 June the German High Command in France was well aware 
of the immediate intentions of the Allies and also of the number of 


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English and American divisions involved. The circumstances by 
which this information was obtained are revealed in that day’s 
entries in the telephone journal of Seventh Army: 7 

06.40 hours. 

Chief -of -Staff Seventh Army to Army Group ‘B.’ 

An English operational order has been recovered from the water. 
Contents will be transmitted by telegraph. 

08.10 hours. 

Chief -of -Sttrff Group ‘B’ to Seventh Army. 

An urgent demand for information on the situation by order of Field 
Marshal Rommel, since the report telegraphed this morning has not yet 
come through. 

(a) Extracts are given from the operation order of 7 American Corps 
according to which the following units are committed: 

On the right: 7 American Corps with four divisions. 

Mission: To attack northwards from the Carentan-Quineville 
bridgehead and to take Cherbourg from the land side. 

On the left: 5 English Corps with four English divisions and two 
American divisions in the Calvados sector. 

Mission: To take Bayeux and join up with the 7 American 
Corps at Carentan. 

( b ) Our own situation: 

Bayeux in enemy hands. . . . Attack by 1 S.S. Panzer Corps because 
of the situation in the air, was not possible until this morning. 
Direction of the attack: north and northwest of Caen, in the direc- 
tion of the coast. Field Marshal Rommel interrupts and orders 
1 S.S. Panzer Corps to initiate a point of main effort on the left as 
quickly as possible, using all three divisions. 

It, therefore, appears that Rommel on 8 June did not yet know 
that the attack of 1 S.S. Panzer Corps had already proved abortive. 
Dietrich, whose reputation for inaccurate reporting to higher com- 
mands was notorious, had apparently failed to pass on the news of 
what had happened to 21 Panzer and 12 S.S. Panzer Divisions at 
Caen. But where was the third division, Panzer Lehr, all this time? 
Although only some ninety miles south of Caen at LeMans, it had 
not yet arrived seventy-two hours after the landings began! Its com- 
mander, Lieutenant General Fritz Bayerlein, a short, stocky, ener- 
getic man who had been Rommel’s Chief-of-Staff in Africa, has 
given a colorful account of his division’s entrance into the battle of 
Normandy. 


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“At two o’clock in the morning of 6 June, I was alerted,” he said. 8 
“The invasion fleet was coming across the Channel. I was told to 
begin moving north that afternoon at five o’clock. This was too early. 
Air attacks had been severe in daylight and everyone knew every- 
thing that could fly would support the invasion. My request for a 
delay until twilight was refused. We moved as ordered, and imme- 
diately came under an air attack. I lost twenty or thirty vehicles 
by nightfall. . . . 

“We kept on during the night with but three hours’ delay for rest 
and fuelling. At daylight, General Dollman, commander of Seventh 
Army, gave me a direct order to proceed and there was nothing else 
to do. The first air attack came about half -past five that morning, near 
Falaise. By noon it was terrible; my men were calling the main road 
from Vire to Beny-Bocage a fighter-bomber racecourse. . . . 

“Every vehicle was covered with tree branches and moved along 
hedges and the edges of woods. Road junctions were bombed, and 
a bridge knocked out at Conde. This did not stop my tanks, but it 
hampered other vehicles. By the end of the day I had lost forty tank 
trucks carrying fuel, and ninety others. Five of my tanks were knocked 
out, and eighty-four half-tracks, prime-movers and self-propelled 
guns. These were serious losses for a division not yet in action. I was 
just east of Tilly on 6 June and ready to attack. 

“My attack took Ellon, and I could have gone straight to the sea 
down the corridor between the American and British forces, splitting 
them apart. I was ordered to hold at Ellon because units on my 
right flank had been delayed. I was a day behind schedule myself, 
because of air harassment.” 

Thus 9 June arrived and still no co-ordinated armored attack had 
been possible. The Seventh Army telephone journal provides the 
appreciations of the High Command for that day: 9 

17.30 hours. 

Conversation of Field Marshal Rommel with the Commander and 
Chief -of -Staff of Seventh Army at Army Headquarters. 

Field Marshal Rommel . . . orders that the enemy must be prevented 
at all costs from: 

(a) Getting the fortress of Cherbourg, and harbor, in his hands. 

( b ) Establishing the connection between both bridgeheads; that west of 

the Ome and that west of the Vire. 

The Chief-of-Staff of Seventh Army expresses the opinion that the 
enemy, because of the increased resistance south of Montebourg, will 
commit more airborne troops, in order to take possession of Cherbourg 


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rapidly. Field Marshal Rommel does not share this opinion, since the 
Supreme Command expects a large landing on the Channel coast within 
the next few days, and therefore the enemy will not have more airborne 
troops available. . . . 

But it was not until 10 June that bad news in full measure began 
to flood into the headquarters of Seventh Army. The first part of the 
day’s entries records such pessimistic sentences as these: “3 Parachute 
Division must be brought forward piecemeal because of lack of fuel” 
and “The advance units of 17 S.S. Panzer Grenadier Division are 
stuck in the St. Lo area because of lack of fuel.” The first information 
that the counter-attack of Panzer Group West, of which ‘Sepp’ Die- 
trich’s 1 S.S. Panzer Corps was the most important part, had failed, 
was noted in these words: “Panzer Group West has sustained enemy 
attack and is now engaged in local counter-attack. It is evident, from 
reports that Panzer Group West has been prevented from carrying 
out its basic mission.” 

Just how badly that “basic mission” had fared is vividly described 
by Fritz Bayerlein of Panzer Lehr Division. 

“While I waited for support on my right flank, the British counter- 
attacked next day ( 10 June ) . They massed an unbelievable concen- 
tration of heavy artillery and I was glad when we finally were out 
of it. We pulled out of Tilly on 15 June and the British filled the gap. 
My chance to drive to the sea was lost. We pulled back south of 
Aunay, to regroup. We had lost about 100 tanks against the British. 
Half my striking force was gone. . . .” 10 

Recognition that the prospects of eliminating the Allied bridgehead 
were rapidly deteriorating was finally realized at Seventh Army. 
Instead of the usual orders for counter-attacks “to destroy and wipe 
out the enemy” the evening of 10 June saw this entry made: 

The Chief-of-Staff Army Group ‘B’ presents the views of the Supreme 
Commander of the armed forces (Hitler) . . . that there should be neither 
a withdrawal, fighting to the rear, nor a disengagement rearward to a new 
line of resistance, but that every man will fight and fall, where he stands 

With these words vanished the grandiose hopes of a brilliant Ger- 
man offensive and an early victory. The significance of the demand 
to “fight and fall” presaged the hard days ahead. It was the first of 
many similar orders issued in the West. And as defeat followed defeat 
such orders became more urgent and more demanding and more 
desperate. They succeeded in so terrifying the German soldier that 
when at last, he had ceased to fight because it was his duty, he 
continued to fight because he was afraid to do anything else. 


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Thus less than a week after the invasion had begun the German 
forces in Normandy were back on the defensive. Their short-lived 
opportunity to deny the Allies a foothold on the coast of France 
was over. The attempts to crush the landings had already cost them 
over 150 tanks and about 10,000 German prisoners-of-war. They were 
dazed, uncertain and weary. They could do nothing but sit back and 
wait for help to come. When it finally arrived it was far too little and 
much too late. 


Chapter XVI 

THE BATTLE OF THE BRIDGEHEAD 

At this point it might be wise to review briefly Allied invasion 
strategy. A bridgehead was to be established in Normandy between 
the Orne River and the Cherbourg Peninsula. This critical operation 
of cracking the crust of the Atlantic Wall was known as the ‘break- 
in.’ Then was to follow a tenacious holding of this ground by both 
the First U. S. Army and the Second British Army. Periodic thrusts 
forward were to be made in order to provide elbow-room for the 
masses of supplies and men that were to follow. For into this con- 
fined space was to be concentrated as well the additional forces of 
the Third U.S. Army and the First Canadian Army. During this stage 
it was planned to reach Avranches and capture the port of Cher- 
bourg. This second phase of the battle was known as the ‘build-up’ 
and it was predominantly to be a defensive operation. When sufficient 
power had been concentrated to ensure a smashing blow into France, 
the third phase or ‘break-out’ was to be made with the object of reach- 
ing Paris and the Seine. This phase was to be started by an attack 
of General Patton’s Third U.S. Army designed to drive south and 
sweep into Brittany. The original timetable visualized the ‘build-up’ 
period as taking anywhere from four to six weeks. It was planned 
to reach the Seine by D-plus 90 or about the first week in September. 

Allied intelligence had warned that a major counter-attack could 
be expected within four or five days after the landings. By D-plus 20 
it was appreciated that the Germans could have brought between 
twenty-five and thirty divisions against the bridgehead, and by D-plus 
60 or early August that they might have as many as fifty divisions in 
the battle. Allied planning also continued on the assumption that 
once it was clear the Normandy bridgehead could not be contained, 
German strategy would take the form of a slow withdrawal to the 
Seine, using the intervening river lines of the Dives and the Touques 


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as temporary stopping-places. A hard and bitter battle to cross the 
Seine in the fall was then envisaged by the Allied planning staffs. 

How did the Germans comply with this appreciation? In the 
first place the major armored counter-attack fizzled out badly as 
we have already seen. Once it had failed, nothing more could be 
done until more troops had arrived. And here is where Allied air 
power proved decisive. Maintaining a non-stop air cover over the 
complete battle area, they harassed and delayed the movement of 
German reinforcements so effectively that no substantial force could 
make its way to Normandy in time to influence the bridgehead battle. 

Most bridges on the Seine and Loire had been destroyed before 
the invasion began, thus isolating this rectangle of France. Then the 
Luftwaffe was so efficiently shot out of the air that after the first 
few days it only appeared in desultory raids carried out chiefly at 
night. With unhampered freedom of the air, the Allied planes bombed 
and swooped and hovered and pranged and strafed so many bridges, 
railway lines, marshaling yards, roads and rivers that movement in 
France by day became almost impossible. 

The infantry divisions in the immediate area were quickly rushed 
to the scene of the conflagration. Most of these divisions had little 
motorized equipment and they therefore were forced to march hun- 
dreds of miles into battle. It was a common occurrence for these 
troops to cover on foot twenty to twenty-five miles every night for 
a week, and then take over front-line positions without an intervening 
rest of any kind. Some of the luckier formations had managed to beg, 
borrow or steal sufficient bicycles to supply the fighting men with this 
means of transportation to supplement their horse-drawn vehicles. 
Many a German prisoner was taken in these early days still breathless 
from the exertion of miles of vigorous pedaling with full kit and rifle 
on his back. One unit starting out at eleven in the evening of 6 June 
arrived near Caen at noon on 8 June, having madly cycled over sixty- 
five miles with no sleep, no food and no halts en route. Shoved into the 
line an hour later, they hardly had time to press a trigger before they 
turned up as bewildered and exhausted prisoners, just in time to have 
their dinner in Allied lines. 1 

The infantry divisions being so slow in getting to Normandy, it 
was necessary to call upon the panzer divisions outside the Seine- 
Loire area. It was hoped that these divisions, since they traveled on 
tracks and wheels, would make the journey much faster. We have 
already seen what happened to Panzer Lehr Division in its attempts 
to approach the battle zone. Two other panzer divisions trying to 
get to Normandy suffered much the same fate. 


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The tanks of one division left Abbeville by rail on 9 June intending 
to make the trip to the front by way of Paris. The locomotives were 
hit so many times by Allied fighter-bombers that the tanks finally had 
to finish the journey by road. It was not until 18 June that eighty 
of the 120 tanks that originally started, finally limped into the fine 
around Caumont, having taken almost ten days to travel about 300 
miles. 2 Another armored formation, 17 S.S. Panzer Grenadier Division 
needed five days to motor from Thouars, south of the Loire, to Periers 
in the Cherbourg Peninsula, a distance of about 200 miles. A staff 
officer of the division has provided a graphic account of that journey. 

“On 7 June our division received orders to leave the marshaling 
area in Thouars and to move to the invasion front in Normandy. 
Everyone was in a good and eager mood to see action again — happy 
that the pre-invasion spell of uncertainty and waiting was snapped 
at last. 

“Our motorized columns were coiling along the road towards the 
invasion beaches. Then something happened that left us in a daze. 
Spurts of fire flicked along the column and splashes of dust staccatoed 
the road. Everyone was piling out of the vehicles and scuttling for 
the neighboring fields. Several vehicles were already in flames. This 
attack ceased as suddenly as it had crashed upon us fifteen minutes 
before. The men started drifting back to the column again, pale and 
shaky and wondering how they had survived this fiery rain of bullets. 
This had been our first experience with the ‘Jabos’ ( fighter-bombers ) . 
The march column was now completely disrupted and every man 
was on his own, to pull out of this blazing column as best he could. 
And it was none too soon, because an hour later the whole thin g 
started all over again, only much worse this time. When this attack 
was over, the length of the road was strewn with splintered anti- 
tank guns (the pride of our division), flaming motors and charred 
implements of war. 

“The march was called off and all vehicles that were left were 
hidden in the dense bushes or in barns. No one dared show himself 
out in the open any more. Now the men started looking at each other. 
This was different from what we thought it would be like. It had been 
our first experience with our new foe — the American. 

“During the next few days we found out how seriously he was 
going about his business. Although now we only traveled at nights 
and along secondary roads rimmed with hedges and bushes, we 
encountered innumerable wrecks giving toothless testimony that 
some motorist had not benefited from the bitter experience we had 
had. After about five days we moved into our assigned sector east of 
Periers.” 


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But if the mechanized formations were slow in reaching the front, 
they were energetic hares in comparison to the tortoise-like pace of 
the infantry units. Once the immediate battle area had been milked 
of all available infantry, it was necessary to call upon the divisions 
outside the Seine-Loire rectangle. These formations with nothing but 
their horses and their legs to propel them, took an interminable length 
of time to get into battle. One infantry division 3 in Southern France 
started to leave the vicinity of Bayonne on 12 June. The broken rail- 
ways, the destroyed bridges and the French Maquis so delayed them 
that the last elements of the division finally arrived at Hottot in 
Normandy on 4 July. In other words, to make a journey of some 
400 miles, which could normally be completed by rail in seventy- 
two hours, required no less than twenty-two days. The main body 
of the division had to march at least one-third of the distance on 
foot, averaging approximately twenty miles each night. 

Since it was impossible to bring up sufficient infantry to resist the 
mounting pressure of the Allies, it was necessary to use the armored 
divisions in an infantry role. They, being the only troops immediately 
available, were forced to dig into the rich, brown soil of Normandy 
and hold their ground as tenaciously as possible. This, of course, pre- 
vented them from carrying out their proper function which was to 
have been the mounting of a large-scale armored counter-offensive. 

‘Sepp’ Dietrich of 1 S.S. Panzer Corps constantly protested to 
Rommel about this wasteful use of his troops. 4 About a week after 
D-Day he reported that unless reinforcements arrived for his three 
armored divisions, he could not guarantee to hold his position around 
Caen for more than another three weeks. And three days later he 
said to Rommel again: “I am being bled white and I am getting no- 
where.” To which Rommel replied: “You must attack.” Receiving 
this answer Dietrich raised his hands and moaned: “But with what? 
We haven’t enough troops. We need another eight or ten divisions in 
the next day or two or we’re finished.” 

The merit of Dietrich’s observations was well-recognized by the 
Commander-in-Chief West. Ten days after the initial landings the 
Allies had swollen their bridgehead to include almost half a million 
men and 300,000 vehicles. Von Rundstedt realized the necessity of 
immediate action. He planned to pull the armored divisions out of 
the line and reassemble them for a counter-attack. This attack he 
wanted to direct against the Americans north of St. L6, thereby 
splitting the British and American forces. 

“To concentrate enough tanks for a decisive blow,” said von Rund- 
stedt, 5 “it was imperative that infantry be available to replace the 


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armour that had been rushed up to hold the line. I recommended 
to Berlin that the fifteen or twenty infantry divisions in Southern 
France and along the Atlantic coast be pulled back and sent north 
of the Loire. With these divisions I planned to hold a position along 
the Loire and the Orne rivers, relieve the panzer divisions, and with 
them push forward with a counter-offensive. Such a policy, of course, 
meant the abandonment of all of France south of the Loire, and 
this decision was considered politically impossible at Berlin. With 
insufficient infantry at my disposal I was unable to remove the 
armored formations facing the Allied bridgehead.” 

The only other source of infantry in the West was Fifteenth Army 
which controlled some nineteen infantry divisions in Northern France 
and the Low Countries. At first von Rundstedt had been reluctant 
to use these troops which were largely bunched in the Pas de Calais 
opposite the Straits of Dover. He had refrained from thinning out 
this force because he had been informed that still another Anglo- 
American army group was assembled in southeast England awaiting 
embarkation. The view that a second landing at Calais would take 
place died hard. Hitler, von Rundstedt and Rommel all believed it 
was coming. This appreciation was helped along by a huge Allied 
deception plan which filled the harbors of southeast England with 
dummy boats, moved American and Canadian troops into the Dover- 
Folkestone area, transmitted a steady stream of fake wireless mes- 
sages for German intercept units, and maintained a strategical bomb- 
ing program east of the Seine, consistent with invasion intentions in 
that region. This ruse easily tricked the German intelligence staffs, 
who found a ready ear for their unimaginative prognostications 
amongst senior officers who had thought the invasion would come 
there in the first place. 

After two weeks of waiting for these second landings to occur, 
von Rundstedt and his Chief -of-Staff, Blumentritt finally decided that 
the main Allied effort would be concentrated in Normandy, and that 
from an Anglo-American standpoint there was no need to risk another 
landing since the first had proved so successful. With this decision, 
they recommended to Berlin that the bulk of troops east of the Seine 
be moved into Normandy. Permission to do this was not granted. 
If the fear of a second landing died hard at von Rundstedt’s head- 
quarters, it almost attained immortality at Berlin. In rejecting von 
Rundstedt’s request for divisions from Fifteenth Army, the Supreme 
Command said that they expected that main operations were soon 
to begin, even at this late date, in the Pas de Calais. In other words, 
Hitler, who had at first believed Normandy would be the Allied inva- 
sion choice, had now changed his mind and he insisted that the coast- 


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line opposite Dover be strongly manned. It was not until early August 
that Hitler finally abandoned the view that a second landing would 
take place in the Pas de Calais. By then it was too late to release divi- 
sions for action in Normandy, since Seventh Army, at that date, was 
beyond all help. 

Thus, with insufficient infantry to put into the fine, there remained 
little to do but cling desperately to each inch of ground while the 
Allies continued their feverish build-up in the bridgehead. No divi- 
sion could be moved out of position without an explanation being 
sent to Hitler, and every tactical change had to be ratified by Berlin. 
The conduct of the battle was no longer in von Rundstedt’s hands. 
Every decision was made by the Fiihrer himself. “I could have stood 
on my head,” remarked the Field Marshal, 6 “but I would still not 
have been able to budge a division if Hitler disagreed with my judg- 
ment.” As the situation worsened, and as there was no hope of obtain- 
ing assistance from the divisions in Southern France, von Rundstedt 
decided the only advisable course was to swing his forces back and 
take up a fine along the Seine River, as Allied planning staffs had 
predicted he would. 

In mid-June Hitler came to see the situation in France for himself 
by visiting the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief West. At 
Soissons he held a conference with von Rundstedt and Rommel. 
After listening to the opinions of both field commanders that a retire- 
ment to the Seine was the only logical plan, he flatly rejected the 
proposal and ordered that Normandy be held at all costs. As an 
alternative course it was agreed to attempt von Rundstedt’s plan of 
an armored counter-attack designed to drive a wedge between the 
British and American forces. For this purpose it was planned to use 
‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s 1 S.S. Panzer Corps of three or four panzer divisions, 
which was then busy holding its ground at Caen, together with two 
fresh S.S. panzer divisions 7 which were being rushed to Normandy 
from the Russian front. With this force of five or six armored forma- 
tions, having a combined strength of almost 500 tanks, it was hoped 
to make a desperate try at regaining the offensive. 

The fall of Cherbourg on 26 June meant the release of further 
American troops for the southern drive, and it was obvious that the 
stage for an Allied break-out was now set. When the Americans had 
first driven across the Cherbourg Peninsula some six days before, 
Hitler had frantically ordered reinforcements to be sent to the north- 
ern part of the peninsula to defend the port. “Instead of trying to 
pull the troops out of a hopeless trap,” said von Rundstedt, “Hitler 
wanted to send more men into it. Of course, we paid no attention 
to the order.” 8 


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Meanwhile Eisenhower and Montgomery had decided to use the 
American armored troops to break out on the right flank, while the 
British would maintain pressure on the left flank near Caen so that 
the strongest German elements would be attracted and held there. 
Von Rundstedt realized that his forces were relatively weak on his 
western flank but he dared not reduce the number of men defending 
the vital Caen hinge, for if it snapped, the German armies west of 
the Seine were doomed. In fact at the end of June he sent another 
three panzer divisions against the British to supplement the four 
panzer divisions already there. 

This new armored force which had just arrived from Belgium and 
Russia consisted of fresh, full-strength S.S. panzer divisions filled with 
young fanatical troops. It was their task to launch the counter-attack 
arranged between Hitler and von Rundstedt at Soissons. Although it 
had been originally hoped that ‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s armor at Caen would 
also be able to participate in this operation, after three weeks of 
battle they had been so thoroughly weakened that it was decided 
to make the attempt by relying chiefly on the newly-arrived forces, 
with only minor assistance from Dietrich’s tired troops. 

Again the British were chosen to face the armored blow. In the 
neighborhood of Evrecy about 250 tanks and 100 guns were poised 
to try and gain the Caen-Bayeux road. The attack was to take place 
on 29 June under the leadership of Obergruppenfiihrer (General) 
Paul Hausser, commander of 2 S.S. Panzer Corps. The general had 
this to say about that attack. 

“It was scheduled to begin at seven o’clock in the morning, but 
hardly had the tanks assembled when they were attacked by fighter- 
bombers. This disrupted the troops so much that the attack did not 
start again until two-thirty in the afternoon. But even then it could 
not get going. The murderous fire from naval guns in the Channel 
and the terrible British artillery destroyed the bulk of our attacking 
force in its assembly area. The few tanks that did manage to go 
forward were easily stopped by the English anti-tank guns. In my 
opinion the attack was prepared too quickly. I wanted to wait another 
two days, but Hitler insisted that it be launched on 29 June.” 

Thus ended the second of the only two armored offensives made 
by the Germans along the entire Normandy front during the vital 
days of June 1944. Both had been directed at the British part of the 
line, as the Allied strategists had hoped, and both had been thoroughly 
beaten there. And in their being beaten were destroyed the only 
effective fighting troops available to the German High Command in 
the West. For no fewer than seven of the total of nine panzer divi- 


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sions in Normandy had butted their tanks against the iron- wall de- 
fence put up by the British soldier. By the end of June these seven 
armored formations had lost over 350 tanks. 9 Personnel losses amongst 
their fighting troops ranged as high as twenty-five to fifty per cent, 
due to the costly battle of attrition created by the constant pressure 
of the British. The plan of attracting to the eastern side of the line 
the strongest German forces was paying magnificent dividends. In 
less than a month the bulk of von Rundstedt’s armored might lay 
gasping in a semi-circle around Caen, weary and exhausted after 
their exertions and able to do little more than hang on stubbornly 
to the blood-soaked Normandy soil that their Flihrer refused to give 
up. 

And while the British were taking their toll of German armor, the 
Americans were whittling down the strength of the German infantry. 
The break-through at Cherbourg had destroyed at least three in- 
fantry divisions as effective fighting units, and the first large batches 
of German prisoners-of-war were making their disconsolate way 
back to English prison camps. By the end of June well over 50,000 
German prisoners had ceased to take any further active interest in 
the struggles of the Wehrmacht. Most of them had ended their mili- 
tary careers in the concrete bunkers built to protect the port of 
Cherbourg. 


Chapter XVII 

THE GERMAN SOLDIER STILL HOPES 

The reaction of the average German soldier to these disastrous events 
was stunned surprise. Having been assured by Goebbels that the 
Atlantic Wall was impregnable, they now could see how fragile it 
really was; having been told by Goring that American factories could 
only produce electric refrigerators and razor blades, they now faced 
an overwhelming superiority of material strength in planes, guns and 
tanks; having been promised a secret weapon by Hitler himself which 
would destroy the enemy in one swift, catastrophic Armageddon, 
they found instead an enemy growing stronger and bolder as each 
day passed. The one emotion which gripped them all was incredulity. 
They had not yet begun to despair. Having been doped so long by 
propaganda, the effects did not easily wear off. Much more time and 
much more suffering was needed before the German soldier finally 
awoke to the reality of events about him. 


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A first-hand account of what German troops were experiencing in 
Normandy has been written by the paunchy, red-faced, forceful 
member of the German nobility, General Freiherr Heinrich von 
Liittwitz, who was later to gain some rather dubious fame as the 
officer who received the contemptuous reply “Nuts” to his demand 
for the surrender of the American airborne troops at Bastogne in 
the Ardennes. Liittwitz commanded 2 Panzer Division, which had 
been fighting in the vicinity of Caumont since early June until it 
was relieved in mid- July. In a top secret document dated 17 July 
1944, von Liittwitz passed on the following information to the new 
infantry division which was relieving him. 

“. . . The incredibly heavy artillery and mortar fire of the enemy is 
something new, both for the seasoned veterans of the Eastern front 
and the new arrivals from reinforcement units. Whereas the veterans 
get used to it comparatively quickly, the inexperienced reinforce- 
ments require several days to do so, after which they become accli- 
matized. The average rate of fire on the divisional sector is 4000 
artillery rounds and 5000 mortar rounds per day. This is multiplied 
many times before an enemy attack, however small. For instance, on 
one occasion when the British made an attack on a sector of only 
two companies they expended 3500 rounds in two hours. The Allies 
are waging war regardless of expense. In addition to this, the enemy 
have complete mastery of the air. They bomb and strafe every move- 
ment, even single vehicles and individuals. They reconnoitre our area 
constantly and direct their artillery fire. Against all this the Luftwaffe 
is conspicuous by its complete absence. During the last four weeks 
the total number of German aircraft over the divisional area was 
six. . . . 

“Our soldiers enter the battle in low spirits at the thought of the 
enemy’s enormous material superiority. They are always asking: 
“Where is the Luftwaffe?’ The feeling of helplessness against enemy 
aircraft operating without any hindrance has a paralyzing effect, and 
during the barrage this effect on the inexperienced troops is literally 
‘soul-shattering,’ and it must be borne in mind that four-engined 
bombers have not yet taken part in attacking ground troops in this 
division’s area. It is, therefore, essential for troops to be lifted out 
of this state of distress the moment the counter-attack begins. The 
best results have been obtained by the platoon and section com- 
manders’ leaping forward uttering a good old-fashioned Tiurrah’ 
which spurs on the inexperienced troops and carries them along. 
The revival of the practice of sounding a bugle call for the attack 
has been found to answer the purpose, and this has been made a 
divisional order. An attack launched in this manner is an experience 


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which new troops will never forget, and stimulates them into action 
again. . . 

But, contrary to the fond hopes of von Liittwitz, not all junior 
commanders in the West were the ‘hurrahing’ type. It was only their 
discipline and not their faith that kept many of them in the line. 
Thus it was quite common to find German officers surrendering only 
after they had assured themselves that their honor had not been 
compromised. The fact that they had sworn to fight to the last was 
interpreted by many officers as fighting until they found a way to 
stop which was not inconsistent with their oath. 

On one occasion an infantry commander refused to surrender 
unless Allied troops had first thrown some phosphorus grenades into 
his position, as he had no answer to phosphorus. Six grenades were 
therefore produced and thrown, and, after inspecting the results of 
the subsequent explosion, the German officer, his honor apparently 
having been saved, quietly surrendered himself and his whole unit. 
Another instance of this kind of behavior was provided by the com- 
mander of the Cherbourg Arsenal who declined to give himself up 
until a tank was produced. A Sherman tank was accordingly driven 
up to the walls of the Arsenal and the general then considered he 
had been subjected to a tank attack. Not possessing adequate anti- 
tank defense, he now felt that he could surrender honorably and 
without having broken his pledge to defend to the end. 

Realizing that the constant pressure of defeat might eventually 
effect the German soldier’s faith in an ultimate German victory, 
Goebbels began an incredible propaganda campaign with a view to 
counteracting any such tendency. The gleaming hope held up to 
all Germans was the promise of new and more devastating secret 
weapons which would make a Teutonic victory inevitable. Glowing 
tales of the success achieved by the pilotless planes over England 
were followed bv fervent assurances of still better weapons to come. 
The soldier in Normandy caught the occasional glimpse of the 
terrifying, ghost-like buzz-bombs, spouting red flames from their 
tails, and believed all he heard about its awe-inspiring potentialities. 

It is a measure of the extent to which the average German’s mind 
had been deprived of its abilitv to reason that he could believe the 
fantastic lies told to him by Goebbels and his assistants. One prisoner 
assured his interrogator that three more V-weapons were in the 
offing. The V-2, which would be used on or before 18 July against 
Allied fleets in the Channel, would force the invading armies out 
of France. The V-3 had an even more devastating effect, but the 
prisoner knew no details. The V-4 had a single and ambitious purpose. 
It was designed to sink the British Isles. 1 


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Another prisoner captured in early July reported that his company 
commander had given them lurid details of the results of pilotless 
plane activity over England. All Southern England was aflame, he 
solemnly announced, and no fewer than 12,000,000 people had so 
far been killed. 2 And, astonishing as it may now sound, such tales 
were accepted by the vast majority of the rank and file as unassailable 
truth. He wrote letters to his family like the following, written by 
a sergeant in an infantry division. 

“The R.A.F. rules the skies. I have not yet seen a single plane with 
a ‘swastika,’ and despite the material superiority of the enemy we 
Germans hold firm. The front at Caen holds. Every soldier on this 
front is hoping for a miracle and waits for the secret weapons which 
have been discussed so much.” 

There is little doubt that it was this dogged hope in a secret 
weapon, coupled with a mind disciplined to accept authority unques- 
tioningly, that kept the German soldier confident and obedient in 
his fox-hole during the early days in Normandy. 

With the fall of Cherbourg, the failure of the armored counter- 
attack and the growing strength of the Allies in the bridgehead, 
relations between the Commander-in-Chief West and the Supreme 
Command at Berlin, always cool even in the halcyon days, now 
became frigid. Von Rundstedt was fed up with the constant inter- 
ference of Hitler and his staff, while there was a growing suspicion 
at Berlin that either von Rundstedt was not enthusiastic enough or 
that he was getting too old for his job. The Field Marshal was much 
more bitter and resentful towards Keitel and Jodi than he was 
towards Hitler himself. He referred to them as the two ‘yes’ generals 
and resented their failure to oppose Hitler’s more mad military 
ventures. As a result he made a point of not speaking to them person- 
ally over the telephone unless the matter was exceedingly urgent. 
This task he delegated to Blumentritt, his Chief -of-Staff. 

The mounting toll of death and disaster had its effect on the men 
in command. Tempers became badly frayed and disagreements be- 
came more frequent and more violent. On one occasion Keitel was 
complaining bitterly about the trend of events and implying that 
von Rundstedt had failed to do his part. “If you think you can do 
any better,” von Rundstedt finally exclaimed in exasperation, “you 
had better come down here and lead this filth yourself.” 3 

When Cherbourg had been captured and it was obvious that the 
armored attack of 29 June had failed, Keitel called up and in desperate 
tones asked: “What shall we do? What shall we do?” Von Rundstedt 
replied in his cool, impassive voice: “What shall you do? Make peace, 


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you idiots! What else can you do?” and calmly hung up the receiver. 4 
Blumentritt reports that twenty-four hours later, on 2 July, an order 
arrived from Berlin relieving von Rundstedt of his command. To 
take his place came stocky, colorless, sixty-one-year-old Field Marshal 
Gunther von Kluge, who had directed the ill-fated armored offensive* 
in the Kursk salient in Russia a year before. To have replaced von 
Rundstedt, the man who had achieved the most striking offensive 
successes of the war by von Kluge, whose reputation had been chiefly 
attained as the apostle of the Victorious defense’ in the East, was 
an omen of the times. 

It is idle to speculate on what might have happened in Normandy 
had von Rundstedt been allowed to fight the battle his own way. 
His own views on the subject are rather philosophical. “I knew all 
along that the German position in France was hopeless,” he said, 5 
“and that eventually the war would be lost. But if I had been given 
a free hand to conduct operations, I think I could have made the 
Allies pay a fearful price for their victory. I had planned to fight 
a slow retiring action exacting a heavy toll for each bit of ground 
that I gave up. I had hoped that this might have brought about a 
political decision which would have saved Germany from complete 
and utter defeat. But I did not have my way. As Commander-in-Chief 
in the West my only authority was to change the guard in front 
of my gate.” 

It is safe to say that von Rundstedt’s way was a much wiser one 
than Hitler’s. Thousands of American and British lives are undoubt- 
edly owed to the fact that he was unable to carry it out. A corporal 
had overruled the greatest living German soldier. For that the world 
can be truly grateful. 


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Part V / THE DECLINE 

IIIITI Mill Mill Mill II III lllllll llllllllllll WTfWtffTtfWTTf 


Chapter XVIII 
JULY TWENTIETH 


“Providence has preserved me from all harm, so that I may con- 
tinue with the great work of victory.” The words came from the 
familiar voice of Adolf Hitler to a world still reeling from the news 
that an attempt had been made to assassinate the German Fiihrer. 
It was 20 July 1944. The announcement carried with it both hope 
and disappointment for all peoples at war with the German Reich — 
hope that at last the Germans themselves were prepared to rid them- 
selves of the man who had brought them untold death and misery; 
disappointment that this first real manifestation of resistance to 
Nazism had proved such an obvious failure. 

But the curtain was pulled aside for only a brief moment when 
this scene of dissension on the German political stage was revealed. 
In that glimpse the world could catch sight of the scurrying shadows 
of an anti-Nazi movement which they had ceased to believe existed. 
Then the house lights went down and once more the stage was 
dominated and directed by the cunning manipulations of Goebbels. 
By clamping down a rigid, carefully-controlled censorship of the 
circumstances surrounding the plot, by ruthlessly exterminating or 
interning all those even remotely associated with it, and by staging 
a dramatic well-regulated trial of the leading conspirators, the Nazis 
managed to befuddle and blind both Germans and non-Germans 
as to the true nature and significance of the putsch of 20 July. As 
a result, the affair has taken on the rather dubious attributes of an 
unimportant resistance movement, a revolt of disgruntled malcon- 
tents and a badly-managed coup detat of army opportunists. 

In reality it represented a far more important aspect of Nazi Ger- 
many. For in this assassination attempt were combined all those 
elements within Germany which were courageous enough to offer 
even token opposition to the Hitler regime. It was a revolt which 
came from the top, rather than the bottom, of German political life. 
It was made up chiefly of persons whose position in the contemporary 
life of the Reich represented both authority and prestige. Because 

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of the select character of its participants the numbers actively in- 
volved were relatively small, but the breadth of German opinion 
which they represented was far beyond their quantitative strength. 
In nature and form the revolt was completely different from the 
Russian Revolution of 1917, where the impetus sprang from the 
workers and the common soldiers. The whole-hearted support of 
the masses themselves made possible the overthrow of the Czar. The 
plot of 20 July did not stem from the German people. They knew 
nothing of it. Nevertheless, it represented the one genuine, internal 
revolt against Nazi ideals. Its suppression may have had little effect 
on the average German soldier because he had not been taken into 
the confidence of the conspirators. But its repercussions within the 
hierarchy of the army command were significant. The full extent 
of the scope and implications of the conspiracy have only recently 
begun to come to light. There are still many aspects of it which have 
yet to be discovered, but the general outline of its main features has 
been well presented in a detailed report produced by the Strategic 
Services Unit of the United States Forces. 1 From this and other 
documents it is clear that the putsch of 20 July will occupy an increas- 
ingly prominent place in any honest history of the Third Reich. 

The first elements to undertake clandestine opposition to Nazism 
were the members of intellectual and left-wing groups who refused 
to yield to the pressure of fear and ambition. Constantly shadowed 
by one of the most ruthless and vigilant police systems in history, 
this opposition was driven deeper and deeper underground as Na- 
tional Socialism embedded itself more firmly into the life of the 
German nation. And as success after success followed Hitler’s leader- 
ship in both the domestic and foreign fields, these resistance groups 
dwindled in strength and enthusiasm until little remained of them 
but small discussion coteries which concerned themselves chiefly 
with keeping alive a philosophical, rather than a physical, opposition 
to Nazism. It was only after these civilian elements were able to 
enlist the support of the dissident, influential army officers that their 
opposition could take on a more active form. With their help, and 
the potential force they could command, the strength of the private 
S.S. troops surrounding Hitler could, to some extent, be neutralized. 
It was thus possible, for the first time, to formulate plans for an 
act of physical violence designed to overthrow the National Socialist 
regime. 

The conspirators themselves represented a wide range of German 
opposition to Hitler. As the government continued to make enemies 
so did the group continue to grow. The only common policy which 
bound these diverse elements together was a negative rather than 


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a positive, one. They all desired the end of Nazism in its current 
form. And each group within the conspiracy was motivated by differ- 
ent reasons in that desire. Some were intellectually opposed to the 
moral and philosophical program of National Socialism, others wished 
a return to a Conservative Republican form of government, others 
hoped to achieve a left-wing social revolution, others desired to 
salvage the power and prestige of the army. And within each group 
individuals participated for a variety of motives including personal 
ambition, patriotism, idealism, revenge, fear and jealousy. At least 
six distinguishable groups played a prominent part in the con- 
spiracy. These were the civil servants, ex-Nazis, Social Democrats, 
churchmen, intellectuals and army officers. A brief discussion of each 
of these groups in turn will indicate how wide were the ramifications 
of a plot which included such divergent elements. 

The civil servants constituted the most important civilian opposi- 
tion to the Hitler regime. Having either held high government office, 
or being still in possession of it, they constituted a body of trained 
personnel whose talents could be usefully employed both in carrying 
out the mechanics of the revolution and in the establishment of 
the new government that was to follow. The leading figure in this 
group was Dr. Karl Goerdeler, former Lord Mayor of Leipzig and 
Reich Price Control Commissioner when the Nazis came to power. 
His connections were chiefly with industrialists and business men, 
although his opposition to Hitler brought him into contact with both 
military and left-wing circles. By 1938 he was convinced that Hitler’s 
policies would lead Germany to economic disaster and it was this 
motive which dominated his activities. Politically he was Conserva- 
tive, and after the war began he concentrated his efforts in the hope 
that the putsch might succeed in bringing about an occupation of 
Germany by the Western Powers alone. In the government that was 
to be set up following Hitler’s overthrow, Goerdeler was to hold the 
important post of Chancellor. 

Other conspirators from the civil-servant class included Count 
Friedrich von der Schulenberg, former ambassador in Moscow, and 
Ulrich von Hassell, former ambassador in Rome, both of whom had 
been dismissed from the German Foreign Office for disagreeing with 
the Fiihrer’s policies in regard to Russia and Italy; Hans Popitz, 
former Prussian Minister of Finance; the former Wiirttemberg State 
President Eugen Bolz, and many others of a like standing in the 
political life of the Reich. The majority of these men agreed with 
Goerdeler in his Conservative political views. They hoped by destroy- 
ing National Socialism to set up a parliamentary democracy similar 
to Great Britain and the United States, retaining and protecting 


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vested commercial interests, but willing to compromise with those 
Socialist elements which were not too revolutionary in their demands 
for reform. 

The renegade Nazis who decided to abandon the losing cause of 
National Socialism following the first great military defeats were 
included in the plot since they could help undermine Nazi solidarity 
as well as control certain elements of the Berlin police on the day 
of the putsch. These turn-coats had no ideological pretensions in 
shifting their allegiance but were motivated either, by fear for their 
own personal safety or bald political opportunism. Amongst the 
prominent members of this group were Arthur Nebe, Chief of the 
Criminal Department of Himmler’s Security Services, and Professor 
Jens Jessen, an economist of the University of Berlin. 

It was inevitable that the remnants of the left-wing Social Demo- 
crat and Communist parties would maintain some semblance of 
opposition to the Hitler regime. Knowing the enduring quality of 
such opposition the Nazis concentrated their most determined efforts 
on crushing it. By dissolving all left-wing parties, smashing the 
trade unions, prohibiting strikes, imprisoning almost every prominent 
Social Democrat and trade union leader, and constantly keeping 
under Gestapo surveillance all workers’ organizations of any kind, 
they succeeded in reducing left-wing resistance to local and factory 
cells with little regional or national liason between them. Thoroughly 
crushed by these methods, it became impossible to plan any inde- 
pendent action from the Left. There only remained the necessity 
of survival until some other internal or external force had weakened 
the fascist dictatorship sufficiently to permit a renewal of Social 
Democrat and Communist activities. 

The composition and aims of the Conservative military group 
formed by civil servants, ex-Nazis and army officers did not tend to 
encourage recruitment from the Left. But realizing that an iron-clad 
police state like Hitler’s made a revolt amongst the masses almost 
impossible, some of the more conservative elements of the Left de- 
cided to join the conspiracy which, because of its army component, 
seemed to possess the only possible force capable of dealing with the 
private S.S. armies of the Nazis. The Socialist leaders did not actively 
associate themselves with the plot until 1942, when men like Wilhelm 
Leuschner, former Hessian Minister of the Interior, agreed to co- 
operate. 

Many leading Social Democrats opposed active participation in 
the plot since they did not consider it advisable to replace a National 
Socialist government by a Conservative military one. The Commu- 
nists were not ardently encouraged to join the revolt nor did they 


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show any particular enthusiasm for its aspirations. An attempt to 
gain their support in June and July 1944 resulted in the arrest of 
both the Socialist and Communist leaders carrying out the negotia- 
tions. The majority of those left-wing members who knew of the 
plan preferred to remain uncommitted, since they distrusted the 
leaders of the conspiratorial clique almost as much as they detested 
Hitler. Instead they made preparations to enter into the national 
arena and engage in independent political action the moment the 
putsch had accomplished its purpose. 

The church had been in ideological conflict with Nazi totalitarian- 
ism from the very beginning of the New Order. It was therefore 
natural that certain priests and ministers would find their way to 
the inner circle of conspirators plotting the attempt of 20 July. The 
Catholic Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich, and Bishop Preysing of 
Berlin, and the Protestant Bishop Dibelius of Berlin, and Bishop 
Wurm of Stuttgart, had been informed of the projected attempt, and 
had given their tacit consent. 

Intellectual opposition amongst scholars, who refused to accept 
the pseudo-philosophical diatribes of Goebbels and Rosenberg, con- 
tinued to exist in private homes and university circles. Amongst those 
arrested for contributing vigorous anti-Nazi writings to the conspira- 
tors were the historian Gerhard Ritter, and the economists Constantin 
von Dietze and Adolf Lampe, all professors on the faculty of Freiburg 
University in Baden. Like the churchmen, with whom they were in 
close collaboration, these intellectuals represented an ethical and 
moral revolt against the Nazi program which was lacking amongst 
most of the other groups participating in the putsch. 

Another group which does not fit neatly into the opposition cate- 
gories already discussed was the Kreisau Circle which met at the 
estate of Count Hellmuth von Moltke ( great nephew of the German 
military hero of 1871 ) at Kreisau in Silesia. While essentially Socialist 
in its nature this group included a large number of the personalities 
belonging to the more conservative elements of the conspiracy, such 
as the civil servants, the army and the church. Its leaders were 
Dr. Carlo Mierendorff and Dr. Julius Leber, both former Social 
Democrat leaders of the pre-Hitler Reichstag. Amongst its members 
it numbered young aristocrats like Moltke himself, Count Klaus 
Schenk von Stauffenberg, who personally carried out the actual 
assassination attempt. Count Peter Yorck von Wartenburg; civil ser- 
vants like Adam von Trott zu Solz of the German Diplomatic Service; 
the Jesuit Father Alois Delp and the Protestant minister Eugen Ger- 
stenmaier and Socialists like Theodor Haubach and Adolf Reichwein. 


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The subsequent trial of von Moltke failed to establish any concrete 
evidence of participation by the Kreisau Circle, as a group, in the 
actual assassination attempt. But there is little doubt that many of 
its followers were actively involved. In any case they provided a 
nucleus of philosophical opposition which favored an economic revo- 
lution and a strong pro-Russian alliance for any government replacing 
the Nazis. Naturally such an out-and-out Socialist platform did not 
find favor with the Conservative elements led by Goerdeler, whose 
coterie included industrial magnates such as Wilhelm zur Nieden, 
who controlled the Leipzig electrical industry, and large landowners 
like Count Heinrich von Lehndorff-Steiner. The result of this conflict 
was an uneasy compromise between Goerdeler and the left-wing 
elements, by which the latter provisionally accepted Goerdeler as the 
prospective Chancellor, but only on the understanding that a pro- 
gramme of socialization of national wealth and a pro-Eastern orienta- 
tion of the future government would be taken into consideration 
immediately after power had been seized. It was this fundamental 
disunity between the right- and the left-wing parties in the con- 
spiracy which augured ill for the life of the prospective government. 
But despite these deep-rooted differences the desire to destroy the 
National Socialist government of Adolf Hitler contributed the unify- 
ing force which bound the conspirators together. 

But the one resistance group, without which the entire plot would 
have been impossible, came from the officer corps of the German 
army. Since it possessed the only means of achieving a physical 
seizure of power it constituted the most important active element 
concerned with the mechanics of the putsch itself. The steady en- 
croachment of Hitler upon the political independence of the army 
inevitably left scars which even military victories could not heal. The 
dismissal of von Fritsch and von Blomberg, which enabled Hitler to 
assume personal control of the Wehrmacht, was followed by the 
protests of the General Staff against Hitlers plans to occupy Czecho- 
slovakia. This latter incident resulted in the resignation of Colonel 
General Ludwig Beck, Chief-of-Staff of the army, and the almost 
complete subservience of the officer corps to the domination of Hitler. 
But Beck, unlike von Fritsch and von Blomberg, was unwilling to 
accept the degeneration of the army’s independence as a fait accompli. 
It was Beck who, as early as 1938, began to assemble about him the 
military figures discontented enough with the Nazi regime to oppose 
it actively. In him was centered the hope and ambition of the con- 
spirators of 20 July. 

Beck, coming from a family of business men and intellectuals, 
possessed a non-military background which fitted him well for his 


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r61e as a link between the civilian and military elements of the 
conspiracy. Conscientious and tireless in his activities, he had been 
greatly respected by the officer corps during his term as Chief-of- 
Staff, and he was thus able to draw into the plot high-ranking officers 
who trusted his ability and judgment. Beck’s political views were 
Conservative and neither original nor profound. His hostility towards 
the Nazis stemmed chiefly from the feeling that they had damaged 
the prestige and authority of the army and had thereby inflicted upon 
the German nation a serious wrong which would eventually lead it 
to disaster. 

The other senior officers involved in the conspiracy were motivated 
by a variety of special and ideological reasons. Resentment of Hitler’s 
treatment of the Prussian military caste brought in Colonel General 
Baron Kurt von Hammerstein, who was von Fritsch’s predecessor as 
Commander-in-Chief of the army before he resigned in 1934. His 
death in retirement in 1943 undoubtedly saved him from the gallows. 
Personal ambition attracted Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, 
who had retired as Commander-in-Chief of the West in 1942. Ven- 
geance enlisted the aid of Colonel General Erich Hoeppner, who in 
1942 was court-martialed and dishonorably discharged for allowing 
his army to retreat before the Russians against the orders of the 
Fiihrer. Realization of Germany’s hopeless military position stimu- 
lated General Friedrich Olbricht to join the movement. As Chief 
of the Central Army Office of the Home Army, responsible for the 
supply and training of reinforcements, he was in a position to see 
the mounting effects of military defeat on German manpower. He 
received the tacit support of Colonel General Fromm, the Home 
Army commander, in his activities, and the Berlin offices of the Home 
Army were frequently used for meetings by Beck, Witzleben and 
others. 

But few of these generals had committed themselves to the plot 
during the victorious days of 1940 and 1941. It was only after the 
defeats before Moscow, Stalingrad and El Alamein with the attendant 
ruthless and autocratic behavior of Hitler, that any large group of 
officers made known their willingness to help overthrow the regime. 
In other words it was the spectre of impending defeat, not a sudden 
surge of moral antipathy to aggression, that drove these men to 
concrete action against Hitler. 

As defeat became more imminent the number of military recruits 
increased, but they never reached the quantity that one might have 
expected in view of Germany’s helpless position and Hitler’s mad 
determination to stage a Wagnerian Twilight of the Gods. The losses 
in Russia and North Africa brought in General Heinrich von Stiilp- 


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nagel. Military Governor of France, and General Alexander von 
Falkenhausen, Military Governor of Belgium. There is strong, but 
inconclusive evidence that the disastrous strategy in Normandy also 
carried into the opposition two of the most important soldiers in 
the West, Field Marshal Gunther von Kluge, von Rundstedt’s suc- 
cessor as Commander-in-Chief West, 2 and Field Marshal Erwin 
Rommel, commander of Army Group ‘B.’ How far this defection went 
is not yet completely known, but there is little doubt that they were 
aware of the existence of the conspiracy. Von Kluge is believed to 
have made known his willingness to put an end to the war late in 
June 1944, while Rommel’s adherence to the plot was communicated 
to a liaison officer of the conspirators, a Colonel Caesar von Hofbacker 
of Stiilpnagel’s staff in Paris, about a week before the attempt was 
made. Again it was the shadow of inevitable defeat, rather than 
an ideological revulsion, that forced men like von Kluge and Rommel 
finally to revolt. Even then it was only at the last moment, when no 
possible hope of victory still remained, that they found courage or 
disillusionment enough to make such a choice. 

There was one other small military clique whose activities must 
be included in any account of 20 July. This was the Military Intelli- 
gence Division of the Supreme Command, or ‘Abwehr,' led by 
Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. As early as the blood purge in 1934 
Canaris, an extremely talented and clever man, began to intrigue 
against the Hitler program. His attitude towards Nazi policies seems 
to have been dominated by a firm conviction that since Germany 
was not powerful enough to engage in a major war, any such course 
could only lead to disaster. Gathering about him men like Major 
General Hans Oster, Chief of the Central Intelligence Bureau, and 
Colonel Hansen, Head of the Operational Intelligence Bureau, who 
succeeded Canaris when the latter resigned in January 1944, the 
group urged senior army officers to resist Hitler’s political and mili- 
tary plans. Thus in the spring of 1939 they prepared the reports 
designed to prove that an attack on Poland would be certain to lead 
to conflict with England and France. And in the winter of 1939-40 
they were instrumental in establishing contact with Vatican circles in 
order to initiate peace negotiations with the Western Powers should 
a projected coup d’Stat against Hitler succeed. 3 

The German victories of 1940 made further efforts along these 
lines impossible in the immediate future. However, the fiasco at 
Stalingrad produced the occasion for another attempt, under Abwehr 
cover, to stage a military revolt. This plan called for all commanders 
on the Eastern front simultaneously to renounce their allegiance to 
Hitler. At the last minute several commanders, notably von Kluge, 


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von Manstein and Paulus refused to co-operate and the project fell 
through. An investigation started by Himmler into this plot was 
quashed by Field Marshal Keitel, who was convinced Himmler was 
trying to undermine Keitel’s personal position. Abwehr personnel 
thus escaped the repercussions of their activities, but suspicion was 
so great that Oster was forced to resign his position in July 1943. The 
early attempts of Himmler to bring the military intelligence organiza- 
tion under his direct control were now intensified. A constant influx 
of S.S. and pro-Nazi officers tended to undermine the resistance 
character of the Canaris group. Nothing has yet been revealed to 
suggest that this anti-Nazi feeling amongst senior Abwehr officers 
was the explanation for the many stupid blunders committed by 
German military intelligence during World War II. The activities 
of the Canaris group were more concerned with the broad political 
problems created by Hitler’s program rather than a picayune falsifi- 
cation of military intelligence reports. And in any case there were 
enough Nazis within the branch to make any such juggling with 
facts extremely dangerous. It is fairly safe to say that the failure of 
German Military Intelligence was due to the limitations imposed 
by the inflexible Teutonic mind rather than to any deliberate design. 

For the purpose of centralizing the activities of this sprawling 
alliance of conspirators, a small body containing representatives of 
each group met frequently in the Home Army offices at Berlin, at 
various country estates or elsewhere. A provisional cabinet for the 
new government was drawn up, and although it was frequently 
changed it attempted to include all elements of the conspiracy. Thus 
Beck of the army was Chief of State; Goerdeler, the Nationalist, was 
Chancellor; Leuschner, the Social Democrat, was Vice-Chancellor; 
Bolz of the Center Party was Minister for Education; Witzleben of 
the army was Commander of the Armed Forces, and so on. 

This government was to assume power after a three-day period 
of martial law following the assassination, during which time the 
army would have brought the Nazis under control. The future policies 
of the government were left intentionally vague since it was obvious 
that there were no common roots to hold together a coalition of 
Conservatives, industrialists, Socialists and near-Communists. The 
immediate plans of the group were concrete enough. The Nazi leaders 
were to be imprisoned and the party dissolved. A proposal would 
be broadcast to Germany’s enemies offering to lay down arms and 
withdraw to the Reich’s pre-1938 frontier. Germany would make 
restitution for destruction caused by her, and war criminals would 
be punished. The question of the occupation of Germany was to 
be settled by discussion. 


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At first it was hoped to accomplish the overthrow of the Nazi 
regime without assassinating Hitler. But the failure to rally leading 
military personalities to the cause because of the personal oath made 
to their Supreme Commander, convinced the leaders of the con- 
spiracy that only by eliminating the Fiihrer could any measure of 
support for their efforts be obtained. As early as the spring of 1943, 
one of the conspirators, a Colonel von Schlabrendorff, placed an 
incendiary brief-case in Hitler’s plane while he was visiting the Rus- 
sian front. Because of a mechanical failure the bomb failed to explode 
on the return trip to Berlin, but the plot was not detected because 
the unreliable brief-case was retrieved in time. 

The man who was personally responsible for the assassination 
attempt was a comparatively young colonel of the General Staff, 
Count Klaus Schenk von Stauffenberg. A member of the Socialist 
Kreisau Circle, he was a Bavarian Catholic who held strong leftist, 
pro-Russian views which tended to make him unpopular with the 
Conservative wing of the conspiracy. But it was undoubtedly his 
personal courage and his sincerity which gave the plot whatever 
dynamic force it possessed. Baron Gottfried von Cramm, the well- 
known German tennis player, has claimed that von Stauffenberg was 
the real guiding spirit of the putsch, although Beck was given the 
nominal lead because of his prestige and authority. 4 

Von Stauffenberg, having lost an arm in the Tunisian campaign, 
was given a job as a liaison officer between Hitler’s Supreme Head- 
quarters and the Home Army. This had been arranged by the con- 
spirator General Olbricht of the Home Army, and it gave von Stauf- 
fenberg an excuse for visiting the Fiihrer personally every few days. 
Although it would have been preferable to shoot Hitler, von Stauf- 
fenberg’s wooden arm and the possession of only two fingers on the 
other hand made this impossible. The alternative of an explosive 
brief-case was therefore adopted. 

In December 1943, it was again decided to try planting the bomb 
at a proposed conference Hitler was to hold with his generals. At 
the last minute the conference was canceled, without explanation, 
and almost simultaneously London newspapers published reports of 
an imminent revolt in Germany. The increased vigilance of the 
Gestapo made a further postponement advisable and it was then 
decided to withhold any further action until the Allied invasion of 
Europe. 

The successful landings in Normandy, together with vehement 
disagreement by most senior officers with Hitler’s conduct of the 
battle, made the month of July the logical time for another attempt. 
Von Stauffenberg carried his brief-case to meetings with Hitler on 


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the 6, 12 and 16 of July, but on each occasion the assassin felt that 
the conditions were not ideal. After this third essay it became im- 
perative to act regardless of risk. On the 16th military forces had 
actually been set in motion to march on Berlin. When the attempt 
was not made this activity had to be passed off as an exercise. On 20 
July such a manoeuvre could not be tried again without arousing 
suspicion and thus on the fatal day itself troops only started to move 
after the bomb had actually exploded. As a result they did not reach 
the War Ministry offices in time to forestall Nazi counter-measures. 
Another reason for speed was the fact that the Gestapo had on 12 
July arrested Leber and Reichwein, two Socialist conspirators nego- 
tiating for Communist support, and it was clear that something of 
the plot was already known by the Nazi authorities. 

The plans for the day itself were thoroughly Germanic in the detail 
with which they had been worked out. Hitler was reviewing four 
Italian divisions at Rastenberg in East Prussia. Von Stauffenberg 
was to visit the concrete bunker where the Fiihrer’s conference would 
be held, and place the explosive brief-case under the table beside 
Hitler. He would then leave the bunker and wait for the explosion. 
As soon as he was satisfied that all had gone according to plan he 
was to take off for Berlin in the plane which had brought him to 
Rastenberg. On landing he was to telephone to Beck, who was waiting 
in the Home Army offices in the War Ministry, with Generals Olbricht, 
Hoeppner and others. 

Simultaneously with the explosion. General Erich Fellgiebel, of 
the Signal Corps, was to destroy the central information office, includ- 
ing all communication facilities at Rastenberg. This was designed 
to isolate Hitler and his aides, so that they would be unable to contact 
their supporters in Berlin or elsewhere. Thus even if Hitler were not 
killed the conspirators hoped to have the situation under control 
before this fact was made known. 

When von Stauffenberg had reported the successful completion 
of his mission to Beck in Berlin, it was then planned to send out 
orders by teletype to all generals of the Home Army telling them 
that Hitler was dead, that the army was taking over control and 
that all Nazis in their areas be arrested. A similar order in the name 
of Field Marshal von Witzleben was to be sent to all field commanders 
outside Germany. 

Within Berlin itself, General Karl von Hase, the District Com- 
mandant, was to guard the Home Army offices at the War Ministry 
with Berlin troops until the arrival of regular army regiments from 
the infantry school at Doeberitz. Once all Nazi resistance was liqui- 


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dated, Beck and Goerdeler were to install their new government and 
issue their first proclamations. 

A combination of precipitate action on the part of von Stauffenberg, 
nervous incompetence on the part of Fellgiebel and bad luck all 
round dashed to nothing these carefully conceived plans. Instead of 
meeting in the concrete bunker underground as had been expected, 
Hitler held his conference in a light wooden hut above ground. As 
a result the blast, instead of being concentrated in a small space, 
burst through the weak roof, which reduced its effect. Hitler, who 
was reading a wall-map at the time, received severe injuries, which 
resulted in partial deafness and partial paralysis of his left arm and 
leg from which he never recovered. Nevertheless in a few hours he 
was able to carry on with his normal duties and even speak over 
the radio. Four men in the hut, two of them generals, died as a result 
of the explosion, while other officers such as Colonel General Jodi, 
also sustained serious injuries. 

Von Stauffenberg, hearing the bomb explode, did not wait to ascer- 
tain what damage it had caused but immediately took off for Berlin. 
On arriving at the airport he telephoned the War Ministry offices in 
the Bendlerstrasse, where the conspirators were waiting, and re- 
ported that everything was under control and to go ahead. The tele- 
type orders to both field and home commands were sent out as 
planned, and the military forces at Doeberitz ordered to march on 
Berlin. When von Stauffenberg finally reached the conspirators in 
person, he admitted that he was not certain that Hitler was indeed 
dead since he had not waited to find out. To this Beck replied, “For 
us he is dead,” and pressed on with the plans, relying on General 
Fellgiebel at Rastenberg to prevent news of the assassination from 
reaching outside sources. This hope was however dispelled when 
Field Marshal Keitel, not then knowing who was involved in the plot, 
telephoned through to the Home Army offices and informed all mili- 
tary commanders that the teletype orders were fakes and that Hitler 
was still alive. The speed with which the news of the failure of the 
attempt reached Berlin was due to the fact that General Fellgiebel 
lost his nerve at the last moment and failed to destroy the radio 
transmitter and the telephone communication system at Rastenberg. 

In Berlin itself the commander of the Guards Regiment, a Major 
Remer, was ordered by General von Hase to surround the War Office 
and protect it against the S.S. Remer, worried by rumors that Hitler 
was not dead, neglected to obey these orders, and instead went to 
Goebbels’s office and reported that Hitler was dead and that he had 
orders to arrest Goebbels. Goebbels immediately called Hitler at 
Rastenberg, put Remer on the telephone and the Fiihrer personally 


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ordered Remer to arrest all generals in the War Ministry, regardless 
of the contrary orders he had been given by his senior, General von 
Hase. Thus, instead of protecting the War Ministry from the S.S. as 
had been planned, Remer’s regiment had by six o’clock that evening 
arrested all the conspirators in the immediate vicinity who had not 
yet committed suicide. 

The next few days were a mad kaleidoscope of arrests, betrayals, 
suicides and murders. Beck and three other officers with him killed 
themselves before they were arrested by Remer’s troops. Colonel 
General Fritz Fromm, commander of the Home Army, who had 
allowed General Olbricht to use the Home Army offices for further- 
ing the conspirators’ plans, now desperately tried to wipe out all 
witnesses who might implicate him in the plot. He arrested Olbricht, 
von Stauffenberg and two others, and summarily had them shot on 
the evening of the 20th. The attempt to erase his own guilt failed, 
however, for Fromm was executed several weeks later by the S.S. 
Witzleben, Canaris, Oster and others were arrested in the early hours 
of the 21st, while a thorough campaign by the Gestapo managed to 
bring in most of the remaining conspirators in a few weeks. Goerdeler 
managed to evade capture until late August. 

In Paris, General Heinrich von Stiilpnagel had arrested all Nazi 
personnel on the receipt of the first teletype message, but subsequent 
reports forced Field Marshal von Kluge to dismiss him the next morn- 
ing. Stiilpnagel was immediately called to Berlin to explain his actions. 
On the way he attempted to commit suicide, but blinded himself 
instead. He was subsequently executed. Von Kluge himself was, in 
late August, asked to explain references to himself which came out 
during the course of Himmler’s investigation into the conspiracy. His 
reply was to take poison. Men like Rommel paid their debt to Hitler 
much later still. The Nazis, in a wild frenzy, not only exterminated 
those connected with the plot, but used the occasion to rid themselves 
of many who were suspected of animosity towards the regime. No 
complete figures are yet available as to the total number of executions 
carried out in this thorough purge. One estimate based on actual 
names and places puts the death toll at 4980 persons. 

The reaction of the non-participating members of the officer corps 
to this orgy of blood and murder was typical. The plot having failed, 
their first concern was to save their honor. In an attempt to save 
the waning prestige of the officer corps senior generals like von Rund- 
stedt, Keitel, Jodi and Guderian insisted that the army conspirators 
be court-martialed before being turned over to a People’s Court. The 
subsequent theatrics produced by Goebbels at the trial of Witzleben, 
Hoeppner, Hase and five other military defendants, on the 7-8 August 


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are already well known to the world. The gruesome pictures of the 
hanging bodies of the conspirators were shocking reminders of the 
terror Hitler was still capable of organizing. 

The extermination of all resistance was followed by a last-ditch 
grab on the part of the Nazis to get the remaining political and 
military power of the Reich into their hands. On 25 July Hitler 
ordered a total mobilization of the entire country’s manpower and 
industrial resources with Goring and Goebbels as the chief adminis- 
trators. Himmler was appointed to succeed Colonel General Fromm 
as commander of the Home Army, and therefore directly in charge 
of all military training and reinforcements. The final blow to the 
army came with the issue of the following order dated 29 July and 
signed by Colonel General Heinz Guderian, who had only recently 
replaced Colonel General Kurt Zeitzler, as Chief-of-Staff of the army. 5 

Headquarters of Commander-in-Chief, Army. 

29 July 1944. 

To: All General Staff Officers. 

Every General Staff officer must be a National Socialist officer-leader, 
that is not only by his knowledge of tactics and strategy but also by his 
model attitude to political questions and by actively co-operating in the 
political indoctrination of younger commanders in accordance with the 
tenets of the Fiihrer. . . . 

In judging and selecting General Staff officers, superiors should place 
traits of character and spirit above the mind. A rascal may be ever so 
cunning but in the hour of need he will nevertheless fail because he is a 
rascal. 

I expect every General Staff officer immediately to declare himself a 
convert or adherent to my views and to make an announcement to that 
effect in public. Anybody unable to do so should apply for his removal from 
the General Staff. . . . 

By Order, 

GUDERIAN. 

And so had come to pass the final humiliation of the General Staff 
of the German army. It no longer resisted Nazism. It preached it. 
The destiny which its own weakness and ambition had shaped had 
at last overtaken it. It existed only to act as a puppet of the master 
who dangled the strings at Berlin. This final, futile, desperate act 
of rebellion left the officer corps cringing and frightened because 
some of their number had attempted what they all realized was 
necessary. And having been beaten and defeated from within and 
without so often they were now much too weary to do anything but 
play out the rest of the game fatalistically and without protest. 


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Chapter XIX 

DEFEAT IN NORMANDY 

Whether Field Marshal von Kluge was involved in the plot of 20 
July or not, he exercised all the skill and determination he possessed 
to carry out successsfully his rdle as Commander-in-Chief in the 
West. There is no evidence that he failed so miserably in Normandy 
because of any treacherous behavior on his part, although he would 
probably have co-operated with the conspirators had Hitler been 
killed. Von Kluge’s responsibility for the fall of France was com- 
paratively small. The major share of the credit for that event must 
be divided between the excellent generalship of the Allied com- 
manders and the stupid demands of Hitler’s intuition. 

The Allied strategy of holding the bulk of German armor on the 
eastern flank, while the Americans prepared to smash out in the 
west, had succeeded so well in June that it was decided to maintain 
this pressure during July. Successive attacks by the British at Caen 
on 8 July, at Maltot on 10 July, at Evrecy on 12 July and at Bourguebus 
on 18 July kept six panzer divisions constantly in the line trying to 
hold the vital hinge of the German position. 

“Field Marshal von Kluge came to Normandy eager and optimistic,” 
said Blumentritt, who had been retained as Chief-of-Staff despite 
the firing of his boss, von Rundstedt. 1 “He had received orders from 
Berlin that the enemy was to be thrown back into the sea and he 
was determined to do it. He made a thorough inspection of the front 
and worked feverishly to determine what was taking place, and then 
slowly his enthusiasm began to cool. He began to see that it was not 
as easy as it had looked from Berlin. It was essential that a new plan 
be adopted by us. The Field Marshal sent a detailed and extremely 
pessimistic report to Hitler stating that it was impossible to prevent 
the Allied bridgehead from growing stronger, and that either more 
troops be sent to him or a withdrawal take place. For four days we 
waited for a reply from the Fuhrer’s headquarters and then a teletype 
message came through. ‘Hold your ground and stay where you are,’ 
was what it said.” 

The dissatisfaction with Hitler’s policy of clinging to ground 
despite the necessity of a strategical withdrawal had also brought 
him into sharp disagreement with his former favorite, Field Marshal 
Erwin Rommel. By the end of June Rommel had also seen the danger 
of dawdling in Normandy with Allied might in the bridgehead in- 
creasing hourly. He had shared von Rundstedt’s views at the Fuhrer’s 


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conference at Soissons, and recommended either the transfer of some 
of the nineteen idle infantry divisions in the Pas de Calais to Nor- 
mandy, or a retirement to behind the Orne or the Seine River. Both 
suggestions were turned down. Hitlers intuition still convinced him 
that a second landing would be attempted. He was largely governed 
in this opinion by his belief in the devastating effect of the V-weapons 
then being launched against England and the necessity of protecting 
these firing sites scattered along the Channel coast north of the 
Somme River. It was probably this disagreement at Soissons that 
resulted in Rommel being passed over when a successor had to be 
found for von Rundstedt. 

When von Kluge’s report setting out the unhappy German situa- 
tion in Normandy was sent to Berlin, it was accompanied by a 
memorandum of Rommel’s confirming von Kluge’s opinions. This was 
followed by a stormy interview between Hitler and Rommel on 
9 July, following the fall of Caen, in which the Field Marshal again 
demanded permission to withdraw and in which Hitler again refused 
it. It was shortly after this interview that Rommel remarked to some 
of his subordinates that the only hope for Germany now lay in the 
immediate elimination of Hitler. And a few days later he is reliably 
reported to have contacted Colonel von Hofbacker, of von Stiilp- 
nagel’s staff in Paris, and given his support to any action that would 
end the hopeless struggle taking place in France. But three days 
before the assassination attempt, on 17 July, a low-flying Allied plane 
attacked his car near a small Normandy village, ironically enough 
called Sainte Foy de Montgommery. The vehicle capsized throwing 
Rommel out and fracturing his skull. After hospital treatment he was 
sent to his home in Southern Germany where he appeared to be 
rapidly recovering. Suddenly in mid-October it was announced to the 
world that Field Marshal Rommel had died. He was given a state 
funeral and military honors. The Order of the Day issued on 18 
October 1944, by his successor as commander of Army Group ‘B,’ 
Field Marshal Model, read in part: 

Order of the Day. 

Our former Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, holder 
of the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, with Swords, Oakleaves and 
Diamonds, a Knight of the Ordre Pour le Merite, died on 13 October of 
wounds sustained on 17 July. 

In him we have lost a commander with a lightning power of decision, a 
soldier of the greatest bravery and of unexampled dash. . . . Always in the 
front line, he inspired his men to new deeds of heroism by his shining 
example. 


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He led our army group for one year. In the midst of the decisive struggle 
he was called away from his activities for Fiihrer and Fatherland. He will 
go down into history as one of the greatest commanders of our nation. 

Let us, in the face of his death, prove ourselves worthy of him, and 
faithful to his example, stake all for victory. 

Long live the Fiihrer and our Great German Reich, united in National 
Socialism. 

MODEL, 

Field-Marshal. 


Such was the tinsel gaudily displayed to hide the shabby truth. 
The seventeen-year-old son of Field-Marshal Rommel has also issued 
a statement about his father’s death . 2 Much less flamboyant and 
much less stirring than Model’s Order of the Day, it is a sworn and 
attested declaration providing a far drearier account of the final fate 
that had befallen “the greatest commander of our nation.” It reads 
as follows: 

My father, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, died on 14 October 1944 at 
Herrlingen, an unnatural death, received in the following manner at the 
order of the Chancellor of the Reich, Adolf Hitler: 

My father was severely wounded in the head (four skull fractures and 
many splinters in the face), through the explosion of a shell during an 
American low-flying attack on 17 July 1944 in France near Livarot 
(Calvados). The first dressings were made in a hospital near Paris, and 
when he was able to be moved he was transferred in a truck to Herrlingen- 
bei-Ulnv, his home at that time. There was no danger at all of his dying. 
The fracture to his skull could be looked upon as already healed. My 
father was already going out for walks. I myself was then drafted out of 
the home anti-aircraft battery, to which I had been appointed as an assistant, 
to help my father as a reader. My father still suffered from a paralysis of 
the left eye. His treatment was in the hands of Professor Albert and 
Professor Stock, both of Tubingen University. 

On 7 October 1944 I had to return to my battery and came home on 
short leave on 14 October 1944. I arrived on the six a.m. train. My father 
was already up and we breakfasted together, then I went for a walk with 
him till eleven o’clock, during which time he told me that two army generals 
and no doubt General Maisel and General Burgsdorf, both of the Army 
Personnel Bureau, would be coming. 

He said that he did not have much confidence in the meeting and he 
did not know whether the stated object of discussing his further employ- 
ment was not being used as a manoeuvre to get rid of him. 

At twelve o’clock my father received the two generals. My father asked 
me to leave the room. After three-quarters of an hour I met my father 
going out of my mother’s room. He told me that he had taken leave of my 
mother and that he had been given the choice by Adolf Hitler either of 


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poisoning himself or of being sent for public trial. Moreover, Adolf Hitler 
had stated that in the event of suicide nothing would happen to his family, 
but on the contrary, they would be provided for. We observed in the mean- 
time that the house was surrounded by at least four or five armored cars. 
The cars were apparently occupied by armed civilians, so that the eight 
men on duty-watch in the house, who had only two machine-guns, would 
be powerless. After my father had said good-bye to me and the orderly 
officer, he left the house in uniform, wearing a leather cloak and with 
marshal’s baton and cap. We accompanied him to the car where the 
generals saluted him with the ‘Heil Hitler’ greeting. We saw an S.S. man 
at the wheel of the car. My father climbed in first and took a seat in the 
back, then the two generals followed. 

The car went off in the direction of Blaubeuren. Fifteen minutes later we 
received a call from the Reserve Hospital Wagner-Schule in Ulm, to the 
effect that my father had been brought in by the two generals, apparently 
having had a brain stroke. 

In my last conversation with my father he told me the following facts: 

He had been suspected of complicity in the 20 July 1944 affair. His 
former Chief of the General Staff — Lieutenant General Speidel — who had 
been arrested a few weeks previously, had said my father had had a leading 
interest in the 20 July affair and had only been prevented from a direct 
share in it by his injury. General von Stiilpnagel had made the same state- 
ment after his dismissal through Field Marshal von Kluge, and left in the 
direction of Germany. On the way he tried to shoot himself but only lost 
his eyesight. The S.S. found him, and gave him blood transfusions in order 
to restore him to consciousness to extract conclusive statements. Afterwards 
he was hanged. Moreover, my father had been put on the list of Ober- 
biirgermeister Goerdeler as Minister President. 

The Fiihrer did not want my father’s standing before the German people 
to be degraded, and gave him the chance of voluntary death by a poisoned 
pill, which was given to him on the way by one of the generals. This killed 
him within three seconds. In the case of a refusal he would have been 
immediately arrested and put before the High Court of Justice in Berlin. 
My father chose a voluntary death. 

So died Rommel. His career typified the course set and followed 
by those who had risen to power on the tidal wave of National Social- 
ism; a course that rocketed dizzily upwards from obscurity through 
ambition to power and spiraled downwards from disillusionment 
through defeat to disaster. His end provided a fitting postscript to 
the hopes of 20 July and a prophetic warning to those who had 
traveled a similar path but had not yet reached the bend in the road. 

With the Fiihrer’s refusal to withdraw from Normandy, the only 
alternative left to von Kluge was to hold on bitterly until the Allies or 
Hitler forced him to do something else. The Allies acted first. By 


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the third week in July the third phase of operation ‘Overlord’ — the 
break-out — was to begin. The plan evolved by Generals Eisenhower, 
Montgomery and Bradley was to drive forward with a left jab on 
17 July in the Evrecy area, followed by a hard left blow by the 
British south and southeast of Caen. This double punch on the left 
was to keep the German armor off-balance and uncertain. Then on 
19 July a right-hand blow was to lash out from the Americans, in 
a narrow sector west of St. Lo, which would swing westwards to 
Coutances and then south to Avranches. By this latter manoeuvre it 
was hoped to tear open the German positions at the base of the Cher- 
bourg Peninsula and allow General Bradley’s armor to break into 
Brittany and capture the much-needed ports of Western France. 
Both of these attacks were to be preceded by an overwhelming con- 
centration of Allied air power laying down the heaviest bombing 
carpets ever employed in support of ground troops. 

Trying to meet this series of successive attacks the tired German 
armor was shifted from sector to sector like restless London fire- 
men during an incendiary air raid. Each time a new conflagration 
flared up along the line a panzer division had to be shifted or split or 
brought up from a rest area it had only just reached. Thus the first 
feint of 17 July in the Evrecy area pulled into battle against it 9 S.S. 
Panzer Division which had been trying to recuperate south of Caen, 
while about forty tanks from 1 S.S. Panzer Division, holding east 
of the Orne, were detached and rushed west over the river. 

Then the main British assault broke east of Caen on 18 July. The 
two German divisions positioned to meet it, 16 Luftwaffe Field and 
21 Panzer, had already been thoroughly weakened in the fighting for 
Caen on 8 July and could not stand up to the Allied blow. Again 
1 S.S. Panzer Division had to gallop to the rescue by detaching its 
remaining eighty odd tanks and sending them off to help hold the 
advancing British armor. This time the fire brigade really helped 
put out the fire. Brigadefiihrer (Major General) Theodor Wisch, 
commander of 1 S.S. Panzer Division ‘Adolf Hitler,’ another youthful 
fanatical S.S. general who attained his rank because of his early asso- 
ciations with Hitler’s personal bodyguard, has described his forma- 
tion’s part in stopping this British assault. 3 

“When the British attacked south of Caen my division was imme- 
diately sent into battle once more. My Panther tanks became heavily 
involved around Frenouville, while my lighter tanks had not yet 
advanced past Roquancourt. I was on a reconnaissance trip on the 
evening of 18 July when one of those things happened, which occurs 
to a soldier only once in a lifetime. Approximately 100 British tanks, 


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having completed their job for the day, had chosen an exposed part 
of the countryside in which to camp for the night. This mass of 
armor was lying only a stone’s throw from where my own tanks were 
assembled. I immediately ordered my Panthers to attack from the 
east and my light tanks to attack from the west. The range was perfect. 
From my point of view, the manoeuvre was highly successful. With 
my own eyes I saw forty tanks go up in flames during the evening 
engagement. At dawn of the next morning we w r ent into action again 
and we must have destroyed another forty tanks. My own losses were 
twelve Panthers and one light tank.” 4 

This blunting of the British armored attack might not have created 
more than a momentary delay in the advance, since Allied tank 
replacements were plentiful and speedily available had not the 
weather conspired against it. A persistent and heavy downpour of 
rain turned the roads and fields into quagmires effectively preventing 
any further tank operations. The rain also delayed the start of the 
American offensive at St. L6, scheduled for 19 July, since it washed 
out the planned program of air support by grounding Allied planes. 
It was not until six days later, on 25 July, that the weather turned 
fair enough again to enable General Bradley’s impatient troops to 
leave the start-line. 

This delay may actually have been a blessing in disguise, for it 
resulted in 2 Panzer Division, with about 100 tanks at its disposal, 
being moved from the sector adjoining the coming American attacks 
to a reserve role south of Caen. For on 20 July this formation defend- 
ing the line at Caumont, less than fifteen miles from St. L6, was 
relieved by 326 Infantry Division, one of the first infantry divisions 
permitted to leave the Pas de Calais. It was the vanguard of the 
huge stream of infantry that was to follow in the next few weeks, 
when Hitler had finally decided a second cross-Channel invasion 
would not take place. The shifting of this strong armored division 
from in front of the American attack was due to another of the many 
bad appreciations made by German commanders. The commander 
of 2 Panzer Division, General Heinrich von Liittwitz, whose red face, 
fat body, peaked nose and horn-rimmed glasses belie the forceful 
energetic personality beneath, had the following to say of his division’s 
movements at this time: 5 

“When 2 Panzer Division was finally relieved in the Caumont 
sector on 20 July, after having been steadily in the line since 12 June, 
it did not mean that we were to be given a rest. The British having 
been stopped in the Caen area on 19 July, it was expected that they 
would soon start again. To meet this attack my division was moved 


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to Brettville on 24 July, while 116 Panzer Division, newly arrived 
from the Pas de Calais, was sent to Rouvres. There we waited in 
reserve, some five miles behind our front line south of Caen, for 
another attack to begin. The two divisions, 2 Panzer and 116 Panzer, 
possessed between them about 200 tanks and were comparatively 
strong. But instead of the offensive coming from the British, it sud- 
denly broke loose on 25 July on the American sector near St. L6 
where I had just come from. We had been fooled as to your inten- 
tions. By placing this large armored reserve south of Caen we com- 
pletely wasted it and weakened our front west of the Ome River. 
Highly chagrined, the High Command quickly moved us back to 
the St. Lo area on 26 July, but by that time it was too late to prevent 
the break-through of the Americans.” 

This bad guessing on the part of the German commanders had 
provided just the opening that General Bradley needed. It meant 
that on the day the push at St. Lo began no fewer than seven of the 
ten German armored formations in Normandy were clustered in 
a semi-circle south of Caen, waiting for a British attack which did 
not come. 6 It enabled the Americans to cross the Periers-St. Lo road 
and swing east as planned with none too severe opposition from 
the German infantry. By the time 2 Panzer and 116 Panzer Divisions 
were able to enter the fray, after their wild-goose chase to Caen, it 
was 28 July, and Coutances had already been taken, sealing off three 
infantry and two armored divisions north of the town. Some of these 
managed to escape, but by 31 July Avranches had been captured, 
over 8000 prisoners had been taken and the moment for General 
Patton’s Third Army dash into Brittany had arrived. 

The resulting chaos and concern created by these events has been 
vividly preserved in the records of the telephone conversations held 
by Field Marshal von Kluge on 31 July 1944. No one had yet replaced 
the wounded Rommel as commander of Army Group ‘B.’ His Chief- 
of-Staff, Lieutenant General Speidel, who had not yet been arrested 
for his part in the 20 July affair, was carrying out the direct orders 
of von Kluge. Seventh Army, now sharing the Normandy front with 
Panzer Group West, was rapidly disintegrating before the mounting 
American pressure. 

At one o’clock on the morning of 31 July Speidel rang von Kluge 
to report “the left flank has collapsed.” Forty-five minutes later Gen- 
eral Farmbacher, commanding a corps in Brittany, stated that he 
was having difficulty in obtaining the co-operation of the naval and 
air force units stationed in the ports and airfields of Brittany. This 
independence of command of the three services had always been a 


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persistent headache to senior commanders. Since the Luftwaffe was 
responsible only to Goring, and the navy obeyed only Donitz, no 
army officer could force the other service to carry out his orders, no 
matter how critical the situation. This individuality was jealously 
guarded by all three services, as well as the S.S., who had their direct 
channels to Himmler, so that generals like von Rundstedt and von 
Kluge had constantly to obtain Hitler’s personal consent to any order 
they issued to any personnel other than the army. 7 A typical example 
of die problems created by this rigid, parallel system of independent 
commands was Farmbacher’s inability to have the large forces of 
the navy and air force help him in his efforts against the advancing 
Americans. 

At nine o’clock in the morning Speidel reported a further deteri- 
oration in the situation. He claimed that while the Seventh Army 
position was absolutely unclear,’ part of the responsibility for the 
crisis was due to Seventh Army’s decision to break through towards 
Avranches instead of holding on to their positions to the north of 
the town. Speidel apparently believed that by holding their line, 
despite the fact that they had been encircled by the fall of Avranches, 
Seventh Army would be in a more favorable position to restore the 
situation. Von Kluge shared this appreciation and countermanded 
Seventh Army’s orders to break-out. This faith in an ability to counter- 
act an Allied tactical fait accompli by staying put characterized 
much of German operational thinking in Normandy, not only on 
Hitler’s part, but on the part of some of his subordinates as well. It 
was based on a thorough misconception of Allied strength and 
ability to ensure the success of a bold manoeuvre, such as the dash 
to Avranches, once it had been undertaken. 

On 31 July von Kluge, having spoken to all his field commanders, 
telephoned through to Supreme Headquarters where he spoke to 
General Walter Warlimont, who took the call as Hitler’s representa- 
tive. The report of that conversation graphically presents the effects 
of the American break-through at St.Lo on the German Seventh Army. 

10.45 hours. 

Conversation of Field Marshal von Kluge with General Warlimont. 

The Commander-in-Chief West . . . reports that the enemy is in 
Avranches and may be also in Villedieu. These key positions for future 
operations must be held at all costs. . . . All available forces from St. Malo 
were brought up. The idle forces of the navy and air force which are 
absolutely needed for the decisive fight, the price of which is the future 


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or the end of the situation in the bridgehead, are . . . not obtainable. General 
Warlimont agrees to refer this question to the Fiihrer. Commander-in- 
Chief West describes the seriousness of the situation with impressive 
eloquence. Whether the enemy can be stopped at this point is still question- 
able. The enemy air superiority is terrific, and smothers almost every one 
of our movements. Every movement of the enemy, however, is prepared and 
protected by its air force. Losses in men and equipment are extraordinary. 
The morale of the troops has suffered very heavily under constant murder- 
ous enemy fire, especially, since all infantry units consist only of haphazard 
groups which do not form a strongly co-ordinated force any longer. In the 
rear areas of the front, terrorists, feeling the end approaching, grow 
steadily bolder. This fact and the loss of numerous signal installations makes 
an orderly command extremely difficult. . . . Part of the responsibility for 
the present situation rests with the order of Seventh Army for the northern 
front to break through towards the south and the southeast. Commander- 
in-Chief West has, as soon as he was informed thereof, changed this order 
to reconstitute the front with the forces at hand. Fresh troops must be 
brought up from the Fifteenth Army or from somewhere else. Commander- 
in-Chief West recalls herewith the World War I example, in which 
Parisian buses were used to bring up troops to the Allied front. Now, as 
then, all available means must be exhausted. It is, however, still impossible 
to determine whether it would be possible to stop the enemy. 

And to add emphasis to this dismal report von Kluge might also 
have pointed out that of about 700,000 Germans committed to battle 
almost 80,000 of them had become prisoners-of-war since the Allied 
landings and personnel casualties in dead and wounded were about 
that much again. Of a total of almost 1400 tanks thrown in against 
the bridgehead he had already lost some 750. It may be relevant to 
examine this latter figure because of recent carping criticism about 
the conduct of the battle of Caen. Against the British on the left 
side of the Allied front 1 S.S., 9 S.S., 10 S.S., 12 S.S. and 21 Panzer 
Division were in constant action. Two armored formations, 2 S.S. 
and 17 S.S. were always used against the Americans. Two others — 
2 Panzer and Panzer Lehr — had shifted their attentions between 
the British and American sectors. The newcomer, 116 Panzer Divi- 
sion, had hardly been committed at all by the end of July. By corre- 
lating the statements of German commanders of these divisions and 
captured documents, it is safe to say that at least 550 of the 750 tanks 
destroyed in Normandy by this date, met their fate on the Caen 
front. What better justification for the strategy adopted by Allied 
planners to attract to the anvil of Caen the bulk of German armor 
and there methodically hammer it to bits! 


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Chapter XX 

MORTAIN 

The gloomy report sent by von Kluge to Hitler on 30 July had one 
important result — the Fiihrer decided to send along his own personal 
liaison officer to check up on what von Kluge had told him. He chose 
General Walter Warlimont for the job, and on 31 July Warlimont left 
Berchtesgaden for Normandy. But before leaving, Hitler warned his 
representative not to encourage von Kluge in the belief that a with- 
drawal might be permitted. “If von Kluge questioned me about 
defense lines,” Warlimont said, 1 “I was to reply that Supreme Head- 
quarters would take care of building up any necessary lines in the 
rear to which the army might have to fall back. Hitler ended his 
instructions with the acid comment, ‘Whenever a line of defense is 
built behind the front line, my generals think of nothing but going 
back to that line.’ ” 

However, Hitler did make one concession to his Commander-in- 
Chief in the West. He gave him permission to start thinning out his 
infantry divisions in the Pas de Calais and bring them into Normandy. 
At last, almost seven weeks after the invasion. Hitler’s intuition 
assured him that there was little danger of a second Allied invasion 
across the Straits of Dover. It had taken the Fiihrer four weeks longer 
to reach this obvious deduction than was needed by every other 
responsible German commander on the spot. By the end of July 
about two infantry divisions had already left their comfortable 
bunkers in the Pas de Calais and taken up positions in Normandy. 
More were on the way. But Hitler had no intention of resting these 
panzer divisions which for the first time since D-Day he was able 
to pull out of the line. For theFiihrer now wanted an armored counter- 
attack. 

To Hitler at Berlin the dash of General Patton’s armor into Brittany 
seemed to provide a golden opportunity. If he assembled all the 
available German armor at Mortain it would be possible to smash 
the thinly held flank protecting the American tanks speeding to the 
east and to the south. Once the sea was reached at Avranches the 
American forces that had broken out of the bridgehead would be 
cut off. The plan was obvious and simple. Early in August he ordered 
von Kluge to execute it. 

“The plan came to us at the headquarters of the Commander-in- 
Chief West in the most minute detail,” said General Blumentritt. 2 “It 
set out the specific divisions that were to be used and they were to 


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be pulled out of the line as quickly as possible for this purpose. The 
sector in which the attack was to take place was specifically identified, 
and the very roads and villages through which the assaulting forces 
were to advance were all included. All this planning had been done 
in Berlin from large-scale maps and the advice of the generals in 
France was not asked for, nor was it encouraged.” 

Von Kluge on receiving these instructions realized it would be 
impossible to carry them out. For in addition to launching a counter- 
offensive Hitler had also ordered that the German line from Avranches 
to St. L6 be restored. The object of this attempt to restore the left 
wing of the German position was to prevent any additional reinforce- 
ments or supplies going to the Americans in Brittany and already 
approaching Le Mans. There were not enough troops available to 
accomplish this twofold object and von Kluge gave this as his opinion 
to General Warlimont who was conducting his inspection tour on 
behalf of the Fiihrer. Nevertheless since withdrawal was forbidden it 
remained the only course of action left, and the Commander-in-Chief 
West began to prepare his offensive. It meant a considerable reorgani- 
zation of the chain of command in Normandy, but German staffs 
were adept at hasty regrouping of forces. The armored offensive 
would be conducted by six panzer divisions grouped together in a 
formation called Panzer Group ‘Eberbach’ after its commander Gen- 
eral Hans Eberbach. On its right flank at Vire carrying out a con- 
forming and protecting attack was to be Seventh Army under Colonel- 
General Paul Hausser, the first S.S. man ever to be given command 
of a formation of army size. Holding the Caen front was to be the 
newly-constituted Fifth Panzer Army under Colonel General ‘Sepp’ 
Dietrich, another S.S. favorite of Hitler’s. In other words, the two 
armies in Normandy were now led by tired Nazis who earned their 
promotions in the S.S. Hitler had stopped trusting the German 
General Staff. 

The first and most formidable problem facing von Kluge was how 
to get these armored divisions without dangerously weakening his 
front. He approached ‘Sepp’ Dietrich south of Caen, and told him 
that in order to carry out the counter-attack, and still protect the 
right flank of the operation against the British, he would need at 
least three panzer divisions from the Caen-Falaise sector. Dietrich 
claimed that he was horrified at the suggestion. 

“I protested with von Kluge for over an hour,” said Dietrich, with 
much feeling, 3 “about the impracticability of such an operation. I 
used every argument in the book. There was not sufficient petrol for 
such an attack; if three armored divisions were sent west it would 
be impossible to hold Falaise; it was impossible to concentrate so 


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many tanks without inviting disaster from the air; there wasn’t suffi- 
cient space to deploy so large an armored force; the Americans were 
far too strong in the south and such an attack was only wedging one’s 
way tighter into a trap rather than safely getting out. To each of 
my arguments von Kluge had only one reply, ‘It is Hitler’s orders,’ 
and there was nothing more that could be done. I gave him what 
he wanted.” 

Once the armor had been collected there remained the choosing 
of the appropriate day for the beginning of the offensive. Although 
Hitler had originally ordered von Kluge to hurry the attack, he had 
now changed his mind. Watching the Americans pouring south 
through the Avranches gap, he decided to catch as many of them 
as he could by holding off his counter-attack. He was so confident that 
his plan would succeed that he ordered von Kluge to carry out his 
preparations for the offensive to the last detail before jumping off. 
Hitler envisaged that the attack would start on 8 August. But von 
Kluge apprehensively observing the flood of American infantry and 
armor swirling into Brittany and southern Normandy told General 
Warlimont that he could delay no longer without risking the danger 
of encirclement. Thus contrary to the Fiihrer’s wishes von Kluge 
ordered the offensive to begin twenty-four hours before the intuition 
of Hitler had ordained it. Even then it was too late. 

Assembling six panzer divisions, with a total of about 400 tanks, 
near the small town of Mortain, and using two others to help Seventh 
Army carry out its covering operation on the right flank of the main 
thrust, the first serious German armored offensive in Normandy was 
finally launched early on the morning of 7 August. 4 General Paul 
Hausser, commander of Seventh Army, dramatically expressed the 
hope of the German Supreme Command in the following order 
announcing the offensive: 

The Fiihrer has ordered the execution of a break-through to the coast 
in order to create the basis for the decisive operation against the Allied 
invasion front. For this purpose further forces are being brought up to the 
army. 

On the successful execution of the operation the Fiihrer has ordered 
depends the decision of the war in the West and with it perhaps the 
decision of the war itself. Commander of all ranks must be absolutely clear 
as to the enormous significance of this fact. I expect all corps and divisional 
commanders to take good care that all officers are aware of the unique 
significance of the whole situation. 

Only one thing counts, unceasing effort and determined will to victory. 

For Fiihrer, Volk and Reich, 

HAUSSER. 


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But inspiring words were not enough. General Bradley, appreciat- 
ing just such a German move had deployed his troops to meet it. The 
only German division that attained even limited success in its attempts 
to reach the sea was 2 Panzer Division. Its commander, General von 
Liittwitz, gave this account of his formation’s part in the battle of 
Mortain. 5 

“We made a swift advance of about ten miles and suffered only 
three tank losses. 116 Panzer Division, our left-hand neighbor, made 
only limited progress. The morning of 7 August had dawned bright 
and clear. It was a perfect flying day. Suddenly the Allied fighter- 
bombers swooped out of the sky. They came down in hundreds firing 
their rockets at the concentrated tanks and vehicles. We could do 
nothing against them, and we could make no further progress. The 
next day the planes came down again. We were forced to give up 
the ground we had gained, and by 9 August the division was back 
where it started from north of Mortain, having lost thirty tanks and 
800 men.” 

The helpful telephone journal of Seventh Army indicates that the 
experience of Liittwitz was being shared by the other formations in 
the offensive. At ten minutes to ten on the night of 7 August von 
Kluge ’phoned through to Hausser. “How is the situation in your 
sector tonight?” asked the Field Marshal. To which the Seventh Army 
commander replied, “No essential changes. Terrific fighter-bomber 
attacks and considerable tank losses. . . .” And after discussing the 
future employment of one of the panzer divisions, von Kluge con- 
tinued. “. . . every commanding officer is aware of the importance 
of this operation. Each man must give his very best. If we have not 
advanced considerably by this evening or tomorrow morning, the 
operation will have been a failure.” 


Chapter XXI 

THE HELL OF FALAISE 

Meanwhile in the Caen sector ‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s warning that it was 
dangerous to weaken the line protecting Falaise was becoming all 
too evident. With the withdrawal of most of the German armor to 
carry out the offensive towards Avranches and to contain the newly- 
won British bridgehead across the Orne near Thury-Harcourt, there 
was nothing left to guard this vital hinge of the German position but 
an inexperienced infantry division fresh from Norway 1 backed by 
the weakened remnants of the once mighty 12 S.S. Panzer Division 


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‘Hitler Jugend.’ This latter formation, after having been in the line 
since D-Day, had about forty tanks left of an original 214. Using 
some 1500 heavy bombers to announce their first important offensive 
operation in Normandy, the First Canadian Army with two infantry 
and two armored divisions broke through the German defenses south 
of Caen, which were manned by the fresh troops of 89 Infantry Divi- 
sion. Major General Kurt Meyer, the fanatical young leader of 12 
S.S. Panzer Division, hurriedly drove forward to the front-line posi- 
tions in the early morning of 8 August to see what effect this Canadian 
attack was having. What he saw was not reassuring. Discounting his 
tendency to over-dramatize his own activities and to over-emphasize 
the importance of his own division, Kurt Meyer has given an inter- 
esting description of his reactions on the Caen-Falaise road as he 
watched the results of this latest offensive. 

“I got out of my car,” said Meyer, 2 “and my knees were trembling, 
the sweat was pouring down my face, and my clothes were soaked 
with perspiration. It was not that I was particularly anxious about 
myself, because my experiences of the past five years had accustomed 
me to the fear of death. I was afraid because I realized that if I failed 
now and if I did not deploy my division correctly, the Allies would 
be through to Falaise, and the German armies in the West would 
be completely trapped. I knew how weak my division was and the 
task which confronted me gave me at that time some of the worst 
moments I have ever had in my life. Before me, making their way 
down the Caen-Falaise road in a disorderly rabble, were the panic- 
stricken troops of 89 Infantry Division. I realized that something 
had to be done to send these men back into the line and fight. I lit 
a cigar, stood in the middle of the road and in a loud voice asked them 
if they were going to leave me alone to cope with the enemy. Hearing 
a divisional commander address them in this way they stopped, hesi- 
tated and then returned to their positions.” 

By the evening of 8 August Field Marshal von Kluge realized 
that the Canadian attack on Caen constituted a serious threat to 
his rear. At the same time it was obvious that the Mortain offensive 
had failed dismally, and that with the American capture of Le Mans 
desperate measures had to be taken. Speaking to Hausser of Seventh 
Army that evening von Kluge said: 3 ‘We have to risk everything. 
A break-through has occurred near Caen the like of which we have 
never seen. . . . Preparations to reorganize the attack will have to 
be made first thing tomorrow. Therefore, we shall not continue the 
attack tomorrow but make preparations to attack on the following 
day (10 August).” 


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But the threat to Caen was not as imminent as it had first appeared. 
The fanatical fighting of the S.S. who, according to their commander, 
Kurt Meyer, did not hesitate to leap on Allied tanks with explosives 
tied about their bodies, and the unexpected appearance of a large 
quantity of 88-millimetre guns, brought the dashing charge of the 
new Polish and Canadian armored divisions to an abrupt halt on 
the edge of the valley of the Liaison River. The presence of these 
devastating weapons in the Caen sector was explained by tall, young- 
looking Major General Herman Plocher, of the parachutists, who 
was Chief -of -Staff of the German air forces in the West. 

“Immediately after the landings in Normandy,” he said, 4 “we sent 
about ninety-six heavy anti-aircraft guns to the battle area from 
east of the Seine River. At the beginning of August we sent another 
forty of these 88-millimetre guns to Colonel General ‘Sepp’ Dietrich 
of Fifth Panzer Army. However, since these guns belonged to the 
Luftwaffe they were to be controlled by an air force officer, Lieuten- 
ant General Pickert, rather than an army officer. We had insisted 
on these guns being controlled by Luftwaffe officers because the 
army did not know how to handle such equipment. There was always 
a great deal of argument about who was to deploy the 88’s, but Field 
Marshal von Rundstedt finally allowed us to choose our own localities. 
This was necessary in order to prevent the army from squandering 
both men and equipment. We used to say that the German infantry- 
man would always fight until the last anti-aircraft man.” 

The other side of the story was feelingly expressed by ‘Sepp’ 
Dietrich who said, 5 “I constantly ordered these guns to stay forward 
and act in an anti-tank role against Allied armor. My orders were 
just as often countermanded by Pickert, who moved them back into 
the rear areas to protect administrative sites. I asked time and time 
again that these guns be put under my command, but I was always 
told by the High Command that it was impossible.” 

Despite this unhappy chain of command, these long-range power- 
ful 88’s did effective work on 8 and 9 August. Well camouflaged and 
offered excellent targets by the advancing Allied tanks they opened 
up with devastating results. In less than forty-eight hours the hulks 
of over 150 Sherman tanks dotted the rolling wheatfields north of 
the Liaison River. It succeeded in breaking the momentum of the 
Canadian attack after an advance of about fifteen miles. A pause 
until tank reinforcements arrived was now necessary. This pause 
proved fatal to the Germans west of the Orne, for it allayed the fears 
of von Kluee that he might be encircled. Instead of thinking of retiring 
he decided to press on with another attack towards Avranches. At 
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THE HELL OF FALAISE 

of Seventh Army records von Kluge’s words to the Army’s Chief-of- 
Staff: 

“I have just had a decisive conference with the Supreme Com- 
mand. The situation south of Caen having been re-established and 
not having had the much feared effects, I propose to retain the idea 
of an attack. Now, however, the attack must be prepared and executed 
to plan and must not be rushed. The panzer units led by General 
Eberbach are under your command. . . . Whatever we can get hold 
of will be thrown in. I consider it improbable that the operation 
can be initiated before the day after tomorrow. . . .” 

And on the morning of 10 August von Kluge is again reported 
as saying to the Chief-of-Staff of Seventh Army: 

“According to instructions from Supreme Headquarters, prepara- 
tions for an attack do not have to be rushed. It is impossible to set 
a date now as further reinforcements are to be brought up. ... I will 
give you further details when I visit you tomorrow noon. . . .” 

Thus we have the incredible situation of a large military force of 
almost twenty divisions blissfully planning an attack while far behind 
it an enemy is busily forming a noose with which to strangle it. When 
it became clear to General Eisenhower that von Kluge did not intend 
to retire despite the fact that American armor had already, on 9 
August, captured Le Mans, some fifty miles east of the German posi- 
tion, the next step was obvious. Instead of continuing on towards 
the Seine, General Bradley’s troops were ordered to move north 
towards Argentan, where by linking up with the Canadians pushing 
south from Falaise they would completely encircle the dallying Ger- 
mans. The danger of just such an Allied move had not been over- 
looked by most of the senior German commanders. When von Kluge 
told ‘Sepp’ Dietrich of Fifth Panzer Army on 10 August, that the 
attack towards Avranches was to be continued, Dietrich vehemently 
protested against the decision. 

“I warned the Field Marshal,” said Dietrich, 6 “that the Canadians 
had only been stopped on the Liaison River for a short period. Once 
they resumed the attack Falaise could not be held more than one or 
two days. Both Hausser of Seventh Army and Eberbach of the Panzer 
Group had also urged von Kluge to call the attack off and withdraw. 
But the Field Marshal had received a new order from Berlin insisting 
that he go ahead. There was only one person to blame for this stupid, 
impossible operation. That madman Adolf Hitler. It was a Fiihrer’s 
order. What else could we do?” 

But instead of the Germans attacking, the Allies did. The Seventh 
Army telephone journal of 11 and 12 August was black with news 
of retreats and enemy infiltrations. Items such as “Enemy attacked 


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along entire front . . . our forces are too weak . . . enemy has penetrated 
in force . . . enemy has broken through,” announced a collapse of the 
German line all along the front. General Warlimont, who had seen 
the failure of the first attacks, had returned to Hitler’s headquarters, 
now in East Prussia, to report the dismal tidings. 

“Hitler listened to me for almost an hour,” Warlimont said. 7 “After 
I had tried to point out the striving by everyone to make it succeed, 
he only said, ‘Von Kluge did that deliberately. He did it to show 
me that my orders were incapable of being performed!’ ” 

On 13 August permission was finally given for the German forces 
in Normandy to retire behind the Seine River. It was much too late. 
The Canadians resumed their attack towards Falaise on 14 August 
and the Americans had already reached the outskirts of Argentan. 
Some twenty-five miles separated the jaws of the closing trap. And 
the Germans had about thirty-five miles to withdraw before they 
were out. The race was on. 

But von Kluge had not been forgiven for his defeat. In the midst 
of his desperate efforts to extricate his troops from the Falaise pocket. 
Field Marshal Model arrived from Russia on 17 August, to relieve 
von Kluge of his command. Model thus became the third Commander- 
in-Chief West in just over three months after the first landings in 
Normandy. The nervous strain of fighting both Eisenhower and 
Hitler, and the humiliation of this new blow were too much for 
von Kluge. The suspicion that he was being sent back to Berlin to 
be questioned about the plot of 20 July may also have influenced him 
in his decision to do away with himself. When the plane carrying him 
back to Germany arrived at Metz, Field Marshal von Kluge was dead. 
On 18 August he had written a letter explaining the reasons for his 
suicide. In that document is reflected the fatalism, the helplessness, 
the pettiness, the confusion, the fear and the discipline that domi- 
nated the mind of a typical product of the German officer corps. 
The letter reads: 8 

My Fuhrer, 

Your decision handed to me yesterday by Field Marshal Model relieves 
me of the command of the High Command West and Army Group ‘B.’ 
The obvious reason for this is the failure of the panzer thrust to Avranches 
which made it impossible to close the gap up to the sea. My ‘guilt’ as the 
responsible commander is thereby confirmed. 

Allow me, my Fuhrer, with all respect, to state my point of view. When 
you receive these lines, which I am sending you by Oberstgruppen-fiihrer 
(Colonel General) ‘Sepp’ Dietrich whom I have come to know and appre- 
ciate as a brave, incorruptible man in these difficult weeks, I shall be no 
more. I cannot bear the reproach that I have sealed the fate of the West 


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through faulty strategy, and I have no means of defending myself. I draw a 
conclusion from that, and am dispatching myself where thousands of my 
comrades already are. I have never feared death. Life has no more meaning 
for me and I also figure on the list of war criminals who are to be delivered 
up. 

As regards the question of guilt may I say the following: 

( 1 ) The panzer formations were in themselves far too weak in striking 
power owing to the previous battles, to guarantee success. Even if I had 
succeeded through cleverer strategy in increasing their striking power, 
they would never have got to the sea, despite certain initial successes gained 
by them. The only division which could be described as more or less normal 
in its striking power was z Panzer Division. Its successes cannot, however, 
be taken as a yardstick in the judgment of the other panzer divisions. 

( 2 ) Even if one assumes that Avranches could have been reached, then 
the gap could certainly have been closed, but the danger to the Army 
Group would certainly not have been averted — at the most, delayed for 
a time. A further penetration of our panzer divisions to the north as ordered, 
a joining up of our other forces in the attack in order to influence the total 
position, was completely out of the question. Everyone who knew the 
actual state of our own troops, particularly of the infantry divisions would, 
without hesitation, agree that I am right. Your order assumed, therefore, a 
position which did not exist. When I read this decisive order I immediately 
had the impression that here something was being demanded which would 
go down in history as a magnificent operation of the utmost daring, but 
which unfortunately was in practice impossible to carry out, and which 
would lay the blame conclusively on the responsible army commander. 

I did my utmost to carry out your command. I also admit that it would 
have been better to have waited another day to begin the attack. But that 
would have altered nothing fundamentally. That is my unshakeable con- 
viction, which I am taking to the grave with me, for the position had 
developed much too far for anything to have been able to change it. There 
were already too strong forces on the southern flank of the Army Group 
which, even if the Avranches gap had been closed, could have been quite 
easily supplied by air, and have received further support from the forces 
which had been poured into Brittany. Our own actual line of defense had 
already been so weakened that it was no longer to be expected that it could 
hold out for any length of time, especially as now the stream of new 
Anglo-American formations was thrown directly against it and no longer 
flowed through the Avranches gap, to the south. When I agreed with the 
proposal of the panzer commander and of the Seventh Army that they 
should strike quickly despite my better judgment, it was because we all 
knew exactly the holding power of the northern front of this army and no 
longer trusted it very much, even without taking into account the enemy’s 
enveloping movement in the south. It was therefore a question of acting 


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quickly, as the position in the air also demanded quick action. With regard 
to the position in the air, which almost completely ruled out a daylight 
battle, the prospects of the hoped-for success were likewise quite small. 
And the barometer remained high until today. 

By reason of these facts I stick to my assertion that there were no 
chances of success; on the contrary, the attacks ordered were bound to 
make the all-round position of the Army Group decisively worse. And 
that is what happened. 

The army in the West was in the end almost isolated from a personnel 
and material point of view. The desperate position in the East forced that. 
The rapid drop in numbers of tanks, however, and of anti-tank weapons, and 
the insufficient supply of mortars to the so-called static divisions, produced 
the situation (made extremely more desperate by the losses in the so-called 
cauldron), which must be recognized today. 

Owing to my strained relations with the new Chief of the General Staff 
(Colonel General Guderian), who considers me his enemy, I could not 
approach him, and so there was no possibility of my receiving panzer 
support for the West which was necessary. All that was decisive for the 
development of the overall position. 

My Fiihrer, I think I may claim for myself that I did everything within 
my power to be equal to the situation. In my covering letter to Field Marshal 
Rommel’s memorandum which I sent you, I already pointed out the 
possible outcome of the situation. Both Rommel and I and probably all the 
other commanders here in the West, with experience of battle against the 
Anglo-Americans, with their preponderance of material, foresaw the 
present development. We were not listened to. Our appreciations were 
NOT dictated by pessimism, but from the sober knowledge of the facts. 
I do not know whether Field Marshal Model, who has been proved in 
every sphere, will still master the situation. From my heart I hope so. 
Should it not be so, however, and your new, greatly desired weapons, 
especially of the air force, not succeed, then, my Fiihrer, make up your 
mind to end the war. The German people have borne such untold suffering 
that it is time to put an end to this frightfulness. 

There must be ways to attain this end and above all prevent the Reich 
from falling under the Bolshevist heel. The actions of some of the officers 
taken prisoner in the East have always been an enigma to me. My Fiihrer, 
I have always admired your greatness, your conduct in the gigantic struggle 
and your iron will to maintain yourself and National Socialism. If fate is 
stronger than your will and your genius so is Providence. You have fought 
an honorable and great fight. History will prove that for you. Show yourself 
now also great enough to put an end to a hopeless struggle when necessary. 

I depart from you, my Fiihrer, as one who stood nearer to you than you 
perhaps realized in the consciousness that I did my duty to the utmost. 

Heil, my Fiihrer, 

' (Signed) VON KLUGE. 

1 8 August 1944. Field Marshal. 


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The most curious aspect of this lengthy letter is the fact that it was 
written by a man who was about to die. As death would have put him 
well beyond the vengeance of even Adolf Hitler, there seems to have 
been little need for such elaborate and detailed explanations — partic- 
ularly since von Kluge was not defending any cause or any group, 
but merely himself. Why this squabbling about whether the closing 
of the gap at Avranches would or would not have helped matters? 
Why this petty quibbling about whether or not it would have been 
better to attack a day later? Why the repetition of the well-known 
facts that the divisions in the West were dangerously weak? Why 
the childish reference to a personal quarrel with Guderian? Why this 
pathetic submission to the man who had brought it all about? Was 
the letter written merely to explain von Kluge’s military position to 
the historians of the future? Was von Kluge really so loyal to his 
Fiihrer that he was willing to absolve Hitler of all blame and assume 
it all himself? Or was there some other reason? 

It is suggested that there might have been. These lengthy excuses, 
protestations of good faith, and feverish words of devotion to Adolf 
Hitler may have been written to counteract the discovery of evidence 
connecting von Kluge with the conspiracy of 20 July. While the Field 
Marshal himself would be beyond the reach of the Nazi executioner 
by his suicide, his family would not. He knew that proof of his associa- 
tion with the plot would bring down fearful reprisals on all those 
closely related to him, and by this letter he probably hoped to avert 
these consequences. Rommel, when offered the lives of his family for 
his own, did not hesitate in making his choice. Von Kluge may have 
seen the same alternative and taken it even though it had not been 
officially offered to him. It was the one explanation that provides some 
reason to an otherwise inconsistent and illogical course of action. 

The senior officers of the German army in the West were not the 
only ones who were depressed by the outcome of events in Normandy. 
This rot in the core of their confidence in an ultimate German victory 
had also begun to set in amongst the men. As new secret weapons 
failed to live up to the promises that had been made for them, as still 
newer and more devastating secret weapons failed to materialize, and 
as the news of recent retreats in both the East and the West reached 
the front line troops, doubts as to the invincibility of a National Social- 
ist Germany began to assail the German soldier. It was still too early 
for any mass feeling of defeatism. But the events of 20 July, the 
reality of the growing strength of the Allies, and the realization that 
a German victory was becoming more and more dependent upon a 


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technical or spiritual miracle, were beginning to undermine the faith 
Goebbels had taken so long to build up. When it became evident, in 
early August, that Allied forces could no longer be contained within 
the limited confines of the Normandy bridgehead, defeatist rumors, 
that bane of all armies, started to circulate madly amongst the troops 
in France. Initially begun by the physical reality of defeat, these wild 
tales of disaster were fanned by French Resistance groups and clever 
Allied propaganda. Sweeping, with the speed of a forest fire, amongst 
men weary and exhausted after weeks of fruitless fighting, they seared 
the first scars of doubt into the disciplined mind of the German 
soldier. The demoralizing effect of these rumors was quickly recog- 
nized by the High Command and a series of orders and warnings 
began to emanate from formation headquarters following the Allied 
break-through. 

Thus on 5 August the men of 276 Infantry Division holding a sector 
in the region of Villers-Bocage read the following paragraph in an 
order issued by their commander, Lieutenant General Kurt Badinski: 

Latrine rumors circulate in an alarming manner, especially in the rear 
among the supply columns and services behind the lines. I condemn this 
irresponsible chatter as sabotage of the worst sort. It is punishable by death. 
I wish the responsible authorities to investigate every rumor which comes 
to their notice and to identify the originator or the rumor-monger, as the 
case may be. I must protect the forward troops fighting the enemy against 
such traitors and alarmists. . . . 

With the collapse of the offensive at Mortain and the subsequent 
retreat, the panic became more widespread. Even first class troops 
were falling prey to these tales. Thus a formation like 3 Parachute 
Division, one of the best in Normandy and containing some of the 
youngest and most fanatical German troops, was apparently not 
immune. Having been forced to give up St. L 6 after weeks of tena- 
cious fighting, and then to start their trek towards the Seine, its com- 
mander, the garrulous fat Lieutenant General Richard Schimpf found 
it necessary to issue the following stimulating order: 

Commander, 

3 Parachute Division. 14 August 1944. 

To all men of the 3rd Parachute Division. 

Foul rumors are the same as bad odors, both originate from the rear. 
I have occasion to point out that contrary to rumors which are brought up 
to the fighting troops from the rear, there is no reason for concern about 


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the situation. It is rumored that the division is encircled by the enemy. 
Although I cannot go into details I want to state that all rumors of this 
kind are false. They are to be classed as enemy propaganda which is 
designed to discourage our paratroops in battle. 

The army, British or American, which can encircle or capture our 
division does not exist. Even if the enemy should succeed in interrupting 
our communications for a short time, that is no reason for paratroops, who 
are trained to jump into the midst of the enemy, to lose heart. . . . 

It is certain that we will finish this war victoriously. And it is just as 
certain that the glorious 3rd Parachute Division will never cease to fight 
and will do its duty unvanquished to the end of the war. 

Whosoever thinks or speaks differently will be slapped across the face. 

SCHIMPF. 

But despite the vigorous words of Schimpf, 3 Parachute Division 
was indeed encircled. And not only it, but the bulk of the Fifth Panzer 
Army, the Seventh Army and Panzer Group Eberbach as well. The 
Germans had definitely lost their race to safety, for on 17 August the 
Canadians had captured Falaise and the Americans were in Argentan. 
Less than fifteen miles separated the two Allied armies, but to the 
west of the gap the remnants of fourteen German divisions, almost 
80,000 men, had still failed to make good their escape. 

Up until 18 August the withdrawal had been comparatively orderly 
although casualties from artillery and air bombardment had been 
colossal. But it had been much too slow. On that day General Paul 
Hausser issued an order announcing that he had been “entrusted with 
sole command of the withdrawal of the forces of Fifth Panzer Army, 
Seventh Army and Panzer Group Eberbach, at present lying in the 
salient formed by the Orne, to a position behind the line of the Dives.” 
However, the order pointed out, a deep penetration into the area 
northwest of the small town of Trun on die Dives River, made it im- 
perative that this territory be retaken by counter-attack. Once this 
had been done, the intention was to hold a line southeast of Falaise 
and northeast of Argentan and then “to withdraw the formations 
lying southwest of the Dives behind the river in two to three nights.” 
The counter-attack against the northern end of the line was to be 
carried out by two S.S. panzer divisions that had managed to get out 
of the pocket, while at the same time the trapped Germans would 
squeeze their way through the narrow opening which would be kept 
open for them during the next few days. 

But the gap was not kept open. The counter-attack failed to do 
more than alleviate the situation for several hours, and soon nothing 


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remained of the escape route but a thin corridor less than five miles 
in width, through the three tiny villages of Trun, St. Lambert-sur- 
Dives and Chambois. Here in the wooded, hilly and close country of 
the Dives valley the Germans suffered a defeat in blood, men and 
material equaling in significance such other German defeats as Stalin- 
grad, Moscow and El Alamein. 

The carnage and chaos that reigned in the Falaise pocket from 19 
August to 22 August can best be described by the men who were in it. 
The orderly withdrawal that began on the night of 19 August turned 
into a helpless rout by the morning of 20 August. Each man looked out 
only for himself, and small tiny groups of tanks and men made 
individual efforts to break through the curtain of fire laid down by 
Allied artillery. General Heinrich von Luttwitz, whose 2 Panzer 
Division was deep in the middle of the pocket, has given a relatively 
sober account of his efforts to escape the cauldron. 

“On the evening of 19 August,” he said, 9 “large numbers of our 
troops were crowded together in the restricted area of Fourches- 
Trun-Chambois-Montabord. Some of them had already made 
repeated attempts to escape to the northwest with vehicles and horse- 
drawn columns. Quite apart from attacks from the air, the entire ter- 
rain was being swept by enemy artillery fire and our casualties in- 
creased from hour to hour. On the route leading into St. Lambert- 
sur-Dives from Bailleul where my division was collected, a colossal 
number of shot-up horses and vehicles lay mixed together with dead 
soldiers in large heaps which hourly grew higher and higher. That 
evening the order was given to force a break-through near St. Lam- 
bert. I ordered all my remaining tanks ( there were fifteen left of the 
120 with which I arrived in Normandy) and other armored vehicles 
to form a vanguard behind which we intended to break through from 
Bailleul to St. Lambert, a distance of less than ten kilometres. But 
ground reconnaissance had established the fact that driving would be 
impossible in total darkness owing to the large numbers of destroyed 
vehicles that were lying about. Thus we were only able to start leav- 
ing the Bailleul area at four in the morning when there would be 
more light. 

“I had expected that this route would be under such a raking fire 
that it would be hardly possible to extricate any considerable num- 
bers from the pocket. But for some unknown reason enemy artillery 
fire had practically ceased on the evening of 19 August and remained 
quiet until the next morning. In this lull we began to move in the early 
morning mist of 20 August. As a narrow lane near St. Lambert was 
known still to provide an escape route across the Dives River, columns 


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of all the encircled units were streaming towards it, some of them 
driving in rows of eight vehicles abreast. Suddenly at seven o’clock in 
the morning the artillery fire which had been so silent, now broke out 
into a storm such as I had never before experienced. Alongside the 
Dives the numerous trains of vehicles ran into direct enemy fire of 
every description, turned back, and in some cases drove round in a 
circle until they were shot-up and blocked the roads. Towering pillars 
of smoke rose incessantly from petrol tanks as they were hit, ammu- 
nition exploded, riderless horses stampeded, some of them badly 
wounded. Organized direction was no longer possible, and only a 
few of my tanks and infantry got through to St. Lambert. At ten in 
the morning these elements reported to me that they had cleared an 
escape route and were providing cover south and north of it at Trun 
and Chambois. 

“By noon I had managed to reach St. Lambert myself, and from 
the church in the town I directed the evacuation of my men. The 
crossing of the bridge over the Dives was a particularly ghastly affair. 
Men, horses, vehicles and other equipment that had been shot-up 
while making the crossing had crashed from the bridge into the deep 
ravine of the Dives and lay there jumbled together in gruesome heaps. 
Throughout the whole afternoon enemy tanks tried to break through 
again into St. Lambert from Trun, while other tanks kept the road 
leading northeast from St. Lambert under constant fire. I formed 
separate small groups of my men, placed them under energetic officers 
and ordered them to march northeast. At nine in the evening of 20 
August I broke out myself, but enemy infantry had by this time 
entered St. Lambert and the Falaise gap was closed.” 

The letters and diaries of men written inside the pocket itself con- 
firm the picture presented by General von Liittwitz. These simple 
statements of little men reveal with adequate eloquence the reactions 
of those caught in the inferno at Falaise. The diary of a medical 
sergeant reads: 10 

17 Aug. 44. We have not seen a German fighter for weeks. ... I am 
wondering how the war will end. Nobody believes in a turn for the better. 
No rest or sleep by day or night, only a lot of work. 

20 Aug. 44. For several days now we have been inside the pocket. 
We are supposed to fight our way out. Two divisions made an attempt, but 
three kilometres in front of our objective we find ourselves between British 
tanks. Our comrades of the infantry fall like flies. There is no leadership 
left. I don’t want to fight anyone, it is so useless. God grant that we get 
out of this alive. I wonder what my wife is doing now. 


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And another diary belonging to a corporal reports even more 
tersely: 11 

15 Aug. 44. We had to retreat again. All roads are choked with vehicles. 

It looks as if they are trying to pull the motorized columns out of the 
pocket first. 

16 Aug. 44. The British have landed at Toulon. They say that our new 
turbine-operated fighter planes (Dusenjagers) have brought down 400 
enemy aircraft the very first day. 

18 Aug. 44. Nothing to eat for two days. . . . 

19 Aug. 44. Today we moved east under fire. A lot of equipment has 
been left behind everywhere. The roads are still choked with transport. 
Only one road out of the pocket is left. The Allies are less than fifty kilo- 
metres from Paris. 

The letters sent back home expressed much the same sentiments 
although they were usually more guarded in their tone. A prisoner 
writing to his parents said: 

On 13 August I lost everything but my life and the rags on my back. 
That night whoever was left of the unit marched back. Marching may not 
be the proper word for our type of retreat. Two days later we were 
pocketed. I lived exclusively on raw turnips. Most of my old buddies did 
not get out of the pocket. 

A corporal in a letter dated 18 August wrote to his wife: 12 

. . . We had to retreat in a great hurry. All the other units pulled out 
without firing a shot and we were left to cover them. ... I wonder what 
will become of us. The pocket is nearly closed, and the enemy is already ’ 
at Rouen. I don’t think I shall ever see my home again. However we are 
fighting for Germany and our children, and what happens to us matters not. 

I close with the hope that a miracle will happen soon and that I shall see 
my home again. 

Another letter dated 18 August, and written inside the pocket, 
included much more defeatism than the average German soldier 
dared reveal in a letter destined for Germany: 

. . . Our future looks hopeless, and I think it is only right that I write you 
that most likely we will be taken prisoner. I know it will be hard on you 
but I can’t help it. At least I have let you know how things are and when 
you get the notification that I am missing you will know that I am a 
prisoner, because I don’t think I shall be wounded. . . . 

The punishing Allied fire made no distinction between rank. Gen- 
erals and privates ran the same gauntlet of death in their attempts to 
reach safety. Amongst the prisoners-of-war were a corps commander 
and two divisional commanders — Generals Elfeldt, Menny and 


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Badinski. Severely wounded were Colonel General Hausser, com- 
mander of Seventh Army, Major General Wisch, commander of 1 S.S. 
Panzer Division and Major General Dettling of 363 Infantry Division. 
The dead included Lieutenant General Drabich Waechter of 326 
Infantry Division. On foot and in small groups of armored vehicles 
they desperately sought their way out of this man-made hell. Some 
managed to escape unscathed. Most did not. When the Falaise 
pocket was finally eliminated it had yielded up no fewer than 45,000 
Germans to swell the bursting Allied prison cages. The total number 
of German dead and wounded that reddened the green countryside 
of the Dives Valley with their blood will never be known. The esti- 
mated figure is between 10,000 and 15,000. 

The fleeing, disorganized remnants of the Seventh and Fifth Ger- 
man Armies were all that now remained of the force that had so 
confidently advanced against the Allied invasion of the Continent. 
For disaster in such overwhelming measures, the German soldier 
could proffer his thanks to the intuitive genius of his Fiihrer. And 
to share the blame with Adolf Hitler were the arrogant, confident, 
disciplined products of the German officer corps whose conceit and 
blindness deluded them into believing that they could successfully 
carry out the demands of a madman. Normandy proved that they 
could not. 


Chapter XXII 

PARIS AND THE SEINE 

The disaster in the Falaise pocket was not the only price the Wehr- 
macht was to pay for its stupidity in Normandy. It had still to con- 
tribute thousands of more German dead and thousands of more 
German prisoners before it had atoned for its mistakes. Broken and 
disorganized, the remnants of the fourteen divisions that had suc- 
ceeded in escaping through the Falaise gap could not hope to do 
more than continue their headlong rush to the safety of the eastern 
bank of the Seine. Clogging the roads with their variegated transport 
they offered Allied air forces the most obvious and most profitable 
targets since the start of the invasion. 

Only on the right wing of the German front was there any sem- 
blance of an organized withdrawal. Here the three infantry divisions 1 
which had been located north of Falaise, were still relatively healthy. 
All the British and Canadian effort had been directed southeast of 


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PARIS AND THE SEINE 163 

Caen so that there had been little intense fighting along the Channel 
coast itself. Following the debacle at Falaise, these three formations, 
thanking their stars that they had not been sucked into the whirlpool, 
stealthily picked up their arms and began to tiptoe back towards the 
Seine as unobtrusively as possible. 

According to Lieutenant General Diestel, the podgy-faced, unin- 
spiring but efficient commander of 346 Infantry Division — one of 
the three formations concerned — their withdrawal, begun on 18 
August, was based upon the rivers Dives, Touques and Risle, which 
were to be held in turn until the Seine was reached. But, while it 
was hoped to hold these river lines for a respectable period of time, 
actually it was impossible to utilize them for a defensive stand of 
more than two or three days each. “As soon as we were safely lodged 
behind a river,” said Diestel, 2 “we would find that our left flank had 
disintegrated and that we were in danger of being encircled. We 
would then move back again. We were never hurried in these move- 
ments because of the systematic and thoroughly organized tactics 
of the Allies. When we had been thrown back during the day, we 
always knew that there would be a pause at night when the enemy 
would regroup for the next day’s operations. It was these hours of 
darkness that enabled us to retire without suffering many casualties. 
Had it not been for the position on our left we would have been able 
to hold these river lines much longer than we did.” 

The left wing of the German front, following the defeat at Falaise, 
had been shattered. General Patton’s Third U.S. Army speeding along 
the southern edge of the German position had in a breath-taking 
dash captured Mantes-Gassicourt on the Seine on 19 August — the 
very day the bulk of Seventh Army was trying to break out of the 
Falaise pocket some seventy miles to the west. It was imperative that 
something be done to fill this yawning hole on the German left. But 
where were the needed troops to come from? The bulk of Seventh 
and Fifth Panzer Armies had been rendered impotent in the Falaise 
trap. The First and Nineteenth Armies in Southern France had been 
steadily milked of their divisions by the demands of Normandy dur- 
ing June and July. When the French and American invasion forces 
landed between Toulon and Cannes early on 15 August, there were 
available to meet this fresh threat only seven of the fourteen divisions 
originally designated to guard the Mediterranean coast. This left the 
Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais as the only source of ready rein- 
forcements with which to attempt another stand in France. 

But the Fifteenth Army was no longer the mighty formation it had 
been on D-Day. Once Hitler had made up his mind that a second 
landing from across the Straits of Dover was unlikely, the infantry 


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164 DEFEAT IN THE WEST 

which had been uselessly twiddling its thumbs east of the Seine had 
been sent in a constant flow to aid the forces in Normandy. But this 
decision had been delayed much too long. Not until late July did 
any large number of divisions abandon their watching brief in the 
Pas de Calais and begin to move to the battle zone. The Allied planes, 
waiting for this exodus to take place, pounced upon the roads and 
railway lines carrying fresh troops to Normandy, with results similar 
to those achieved in delaying infantry from reaching the Seine-Loire 
rectangle in the early days of the invasion. 

The short, stocky, red-faced General Eugen-Felix Schwalbe, com- 
mander of 344 Infantry Division, has given an account of his forma- 
tion’s experiences in trying to get to Normandy in August 1944. In 
loud, booming tones, probably due to a serious deafness in one ear, 
the general explained the reason for his division’s tardiness in reach- 
ing the front. It was typical of what was happening to most of the 
divisions attempting to make the relatively short journey to the 
western side of the Seine. 

“On 3 August my division of about 8000 men was finally told to 
move to Normandy, after having waited just north of the Somme 
for a second landing since the day the invasion began,” shouted 
Schwalbe. 3 “Our destination was Falaise. I decided that, since speed 
was essential, my fighting troops would travel from Amiens to Rouen 
by train, while my supply troops would make a three-day journey on 
foot by road. I expected that the fighting element of the division 
would reach Rouen, about 120 kilometres away, in about twenty-four 
hours. I went off to Rouen in advance to^ make preparations for my 
division’s arrival, only to find that three days later my butchers and 
bakers and hygiene men arrived on schedule but my infantry was 
nowhere to be found. It seems that the first of the twenty-eight trains 
carrying my division was derailed south of Amiens, and as a result 
the men were sent by a long circuitous route to Rouen. They were 
shunted around France for days on end, and it took them no less 
than nine days to make this 120-kilometre journey by rail. By the 
time they arrived and were ready to move off again, the battle for 
Falaise was lost and the retreat of Seventh Army had begun.” 

It was now clear that no useful purpose could be served in sending 
the remaining infantry of Fifteenth Army as far west as Falaise. 
Instead it was decided to use these fresh troops to act as a covering 
force for the withdrawal of Seventh Army across the Seine. Three 
new infantry divisions were to provide this protective screen north of 
Paris, while four other untried divisions of Fifteenth Army were 
sent south of Paris. 4 But so confused was the entire German position 
across the river that Schwalbe admitted that he never knew exactly 


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what his division was expected to do on the west side of the Seine 
until it was explained to him in a prisoner-of-war camp four months 
after the war was over. 

“All I was told at the time,” said Schwalbe, “was that the three 
divisions, 331, 344, and 17 Luftwaffe Field were to take up defensive 
positions about ten miles south of Evreux. I never knew, until I was 
shown a captured order by an Allied interrogator, that our task was 
to cover the withdrawal of Seventh Army to the Seine. 

“It would not have mattered in any event, whether I knew this or 
not, since the life of my division was so short. In trying to cross the 
Seine, air attacks were so bad that it was only possible to move my 
formation piece by piece over the river. As a result I was never able 
to have my complete division together. Nor were we ever properly 
dug in for a defensive fight. No sooner had we reached our intended 
positions when we discovered the Allies were already there. We 
attempted to withdraw but we were new, and chaos resulted instead. 
The vehicles jammed every road in all directions and planes attacked 
us constantly. In one of these attacks my own vehicle was destroyed. 
It was no longer healthy to drive about these roads in a motor car. 
I therefore was forced to travel between my units with the only safe 
vehicle I still had — a bicycle. My corps commander was so anxious 
about Allied air attacks in this area that he used to have two men 
sitting on the hood of his car and one on the rear bumper to act as 
aircraft spotters. 

“In a little over a week my division ceased to exist as a fighting 
formation. I lost three-fifths of my men, and two-thirds of the weapons 
of the formation had to be abandoned. The other two divisions who 
went over the Seine with me suffered much the same fate. So weak 
were we all that it was decided to merge the three divisions into one 
under one headquarters staff, and with this force guard the ap- 
proaches to the Rouen ferries. I do not know whose plan it was 
to throw good divisions after bad into the cauldron west of the Seine. 
These 30,000 to 35,000 men might have performed a useful function 
organizing the defense of the Seine River itself instead of being dis- 
sipated in a few days in a hopeless situation. I had untried troops 
under my command and my orders were vague and impossible. I 
never knew exactly where my division was, what its task was sup- 
posed to be and what was taking place all about me. Disastrous results 
under such circumstances were inevitable.” 

With the collapse of resistance on the west bank of the Seine, the 
glittering prize of Paris was now within reach of Allied hands. By 19 
August American troops had reached Melun to the south of the 
city and Mantes-Gassicourt to the north of the city, while a frontal 


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attack from Versailles threatened the German garrison from the west 
as well. The fact that Paris was spared the ravages of a full-scale 
assault and battle was due to a series of fortuitous circumstances. 
The happiest of these was the coincidence which placed in the capital 
of France a group of German officers whose opposition to Hitler had 
been sincere enough to involve them in the affair of 20 July. One 
of the most active members of the conspiratorial clique was General 
Heinrich von Stiilpnagel, Military Governor of France, who had under 
him as commandant of Greater Paris the German nobleman, Lieuten- 
ant General Wilhelm von Boineburg-Lengsfeld, whose contempt for 
Hitler was no less than that of Stiilpnagel’s. Between them these two 
men managed to staff the garrison of Paris with a large group of hand- 
picked anti-Nazis. Most of these officers were members of the German 
aristocracy, and von Boineburg-Lengsfeld, who took over the Paris 
post after Stalingrad, was often asked by the Supreme Command to 
account for the number of noblemen in his staff. 

The thin, wiry, bemonocled Thuringian Junker, von Boineburg- 
Lengsfeld, must have been born with a horseshoe in his mouth and 
four-leaf clovers clutched in each tiny paw. Incredible luck alone 
enabled him to live through experiences which brought many of his 
less fortunate colleagues to their graves. In Russia he had been run 
over by a tank which broke almost every bone in his body. He 
survived it. On 20 July 1944 he arrested all the members of Himmler’s 
Security Police and of the Gestapo in Paris. He was not hanged. Four 
weeks before the end of the war he was brought before a military 
court inquiring into the surrender of Paris without a fight. The trial 
was postponed long enough to enable him to travel to Erfurt so 
that he would be captured by the advancing Americans. The luck 
of Lieutenant General von Boineburg-Lengsfeld was shared by the 
Parisians he was charged to command. There were hundreds of other 
German officers who would have carried out the destruction of the 
cultural landmarks of Paris without hesitation or regret. But Fate 
had conspired against the barbarians and Paris was saved. 

“After Stalingrad I was deeply depressed,” said von Boineburg- 
Lengsfeld, 5 “I did not relish my new post as commandant of Paris 
because it would inevitably place me in the limelight which I was 
attempting to avoid. But I soon learned to love Paris and the Parisians, 
and eventually the French. I was determined to prevent the destruc- 
tion of the city if I possibly could. It is true that I designed the so- 
called ‘Boineburg Line’ which was to be used in the defense of Paris, 
but it was an imaginary line that existed only on paper.' It was my 
life insurance since it convinced Berlin that I was actually planning 
the city’s defense. 


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“On 20 July I was ‘ordered’ by General von Stiilpnagel to arrest 
General Oberg of the S.S. and the entire Gestapo and Security Police 
in Paris.” The general smiled when he used the word ‘order.’ “The 
pretext under which they were arrested was that they had partici- 
pated in a conspiracy against Hitler. When it was obvious, however, 
that the putsch had failed, General von Stiilpnagel attempted suicide 
and I was forced to free Oberg and his men. I was saved from any 
immediate reprisals because of the ridiculous ‘order’ which I had 
received from von Stiilpnagel. 

“Early in August 1944 1 received orders direct from Hitler to defend 
Paris to the last and above all to destroy the bridges over the Seine. 
I informed my staff that I could not carry out these orders since the 
troops at my disposal were police forces only and not capable of 
defending the city against the Americans. The destruction of the 
Seine bridges, I claimed, was utter military nonsense, since the Seine 
was not a military obstacle. About ten days before the Allies entered 
Paris I was relieved of my command because of my activities on and 
after 20 July. When my successor. Lieutenant General Dietrich von 
Choltitz arrived, nothing had been prepared for the defense of Paris 
nor for the destruction of the Seine bridges. I implored von Choltitz 
to save the city, and since it was much too late to organize a proper 
defense he agreed to cooperate. Von Choltitz had come straight from 
the Fiihrer’s headquarters when he relieved me. He told me that the 
rage of the Fiihrer, as a result of the events of 20 July, was inhuman. 
Said von Choltitz: ‘When the Fiihrer told me how he hates generals, 
a sadistic hatred I can never forget was in his eyes.’ ” 

Von Choltitz kept his word and made no effort to destroy either 
the Seine bridges or other installations in the city. By mid-August 
the activities and attacks of the French Resistance Movement became 
so widespread that the Germans planned a co-ordinated operation 
against it. But on 19 August General von Choltitz issued a sudden 
order prohibiting such an attack. About the same time negotiations 
began between the Germans and the underground forces through 
the medium of the Swedish Legation. A strange truce was agreed 
upon whereby certain parts of Paris, such as the Hotel de Ville, the 
Palais de Justice, the Palais de Luxembourg, were to be regarded 
as the territory of the Maquis and all members of the Resistance in 
this area were to be regarded and treated as soldiers. The other 
sections of Paris were to be free for German use. The two parties 
were not to interfere with each other. But the agreement was not 
observed as no one really knew the exact boundaries, and the clashes 
continued. Barricades appeared in the streets and rifle shots punctu- 
ated the life of the capital in an eerie atmosphere that was neither 


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war nor peace. A German war correspondent, Dr. Toni Scheelkopf, 
gave the following description of Paris on 22 August to his listeners 
on the German radio. 

“As the front drew steadily nearer to Paris at the beginning of 
this week, and when we heard the news that conditions in the city 
itself had considerably deteriorated, we went in again on Tuesday 
(22 August) to get an idea of the situation. We knew that the garri- 
sons of the strong-points remaining behind in Paris had to fight in 
every part of the town in ceaseless skirmishes against the followers 
of de Gaulle on the one hand, and against the Bolshevist-controlled 
Resistance on the other. We saw barricades in the side-streets, sand- 
bags piled high, vehicles driven into one another, pieces of furniture 
heaped together to form barriers . . . somewhere a machine-gun 
chattered from time to time . . . but we came through unchallenged 
to the well-defended German strong-points and reached the Champs- 
Elysees. Here the change which had come over this city was even 
more noticeable. It was a little after midday. But this street, usually 
crowded at this time of day with people and vehicles, was empty. 
On the way from the obelisk to the Arc de Triomphe we counted just 
over fifty people. . . .” 

These sporadic skirmishes continued throughout the city for over 
a week. Von Choltitz, unable to organize an effective defense because 
he had neither the time, the troops nor the inclination, and unable 
to retire because of Hitlers order demanding that the city be de- 
fended, ended up by neither fighting nor withdrawing. Locking 
themselves up in the hotels and public buildings of Paris, they offered 
token resistance to the French underground forces. But when on 25 
August the tanks of the French 2 Armored Division led by General 
Leclerc entered the capital in strength, von Choltitz surrendered 
the garrison of 10,000 Germans that had been uselessly left behind 
to carry out Hitler s mad desire to hold or destroy the city he had 
entered as a conqueror some four years before. 

The failure of von Choltitz to carry out the Fiihrer s demands 
was not forgotten or forgiven in Berlin. General von Boineburg- 
Lengsfeld reports that in early April 1945 he was called to Torgau 
as a witness in the court-martial proceedings against von Choltitz. 
The charge was treason for having surrendered Paris without a fight. 
Although von Choltitz was safely out of harm’s way, being a prisoner- 
of-war in Allied hands, the trial was being held to establish von 
Choltitz’s guilt. If he were declared a traitor the general’s family 
would have had to pay the penalty on his behalf, since Hitler had 
decreed that the relatives of a soldier were to be punished for deser- 


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tion or other treacherous conduct. Fortunately for both von Boine- 
burg-Lengsfeld and the family of von Choltitz, one of the generals 
acting as a judge at the court-martial was a good friend of von 
Boineburg-Lengsfeld. The main witness conveniently could not be 
found. Proceedings therefore had to be postponed. The war was over 
before they could be resumed. 

By the time Paris had fallen nothing German remained west of 
the Seine other than a few isolated pockets of resistance, the be- 
leaguered garrisons of the Brittany fortresses and the thousands of 
disconsolate prisoners-of-war. The defeat of the German armies in 
Western France was overwhelming and complete. The debit side of 
their ledger sheet was thick red with blood and destruction. Two 
armies, Seventh and Fifth Panzer, had been reduced to scattered 
remnants of fleeing units. Two other armies, First and Fifteenth, had 
been drained of the bulk of their fighting strength and had been 
dissipated at Falaise and the Seine River in fruitless efforts to retrieve 
an irretrievable situation. 

About fifty divisions of the Wehrmacht had been committed to 
battle in Normandy — well over a million men. Fewer than ten of 
these divisions could still be classed as reasonable fighting formations 
after the Seine River had been crossed. Of a total of about 2200 tanks 
and assault guns used in Normandy, almost 1800 of them remained 
as burnt-out hulks in the rolling fields west of the Seine. About 210,000 
Germans had become prisoners-of-war since the invasion, and another 
240,000 had been either killed or wounded. In other words almost 
half of the total number of German troops engaged in the battle of 
Normandy had appeared on a Wehrmacht casualty list in one category 
or another. 

The losses amongst senior commanders were commensurately as 
high as those suffered by the men. For in addition to the normal 
hazards of the battlefields, German generals were also subjected to 
the tantrums and intuitions of their Fiihrer. Hitler succeeded in dis- 
missing his senior officers almost as quickly as the Allies managed 
to kill, wound or capture them. By 25 August three field marshals 
had been eliminated — von Rundstedt had been dismissed, von Kluge 
had taken poison and Rommel had been wounded. Amongst army 
commanders, Dollman of Seventh Army had died, his successor 
Hausser had been severely wounded in the Falaise Gap, Geyr von 
Schweppenburg of Panzer Group West had been recalled to Berlin, 
and von Salmuth of Fifteenth Army had been replaced by von 
Zangen. And farther down the military hierarchy no fewer than three 
corps commanders and twenty divisional commanders had been 
killed, captured or wounded. The battle of Normandy had cost the 


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German Wehrmacht in three months almost twice as many men as 
they had lost at Stalingrad where 250,000 troops had surrendered 
to the Russians. And as additional satisfaction to Allied commanders, 
the Seine had been reached two weeks ahead of schedule and the 
broad strategical battle had been fought exactly as planned. 

Retreat had been well learnt by the Wehrmacht in Russia. In fact, 
by the end of August 1944, it had almost become a habit. Once the 
German General Staff was given complete freedom to carry out a 
straight, administrative task it usually did it well. Having once de- 
cided to withdraw behind the Seine, the fact that no bridges existed 
over the river below Paris constituted a relatively minor problem. 
Crossing rivers while going backwards was a specialty of staff officers 
who had been chased back over the Volga, the Don and the Dnieper. 
With the destruction of the Seine bridges it had been necessary early 
in the campaign to organize a system of ferries and pontoons for 
the sending of supplies and reinforcements to Normandy. These well- 
camouflaged crossing places now did yeomen service in the reverse 
r61e of transporting the broken units to the comparative safety of 
the east bank. Harassed by a vigilant Allied air force, almost 300 
barges were destroyed or damaged in the seven days preceding 23 
August when the exodus was at its height. Although the west bank 
of the Seine was choked with abandoned vehicles, knocked-out guns 
and tanks, and frightened horses, thousands of German troops suc- 
ceeded in crossing the Seine at Rouen, Elbeuf, Caudebec and Duclair. 

But once on the other side the protection of the wide expanse of 
the Seine proved more illusory than real. With an Allied bridgehead 
established over the river as early as 20 August and with the bridges 
of Paris intact in Allied hands by 25 August, the Seine no longer 
constituted a defensive barrier. Field Marshal Walter Model, who 
had replaced von Kluge in the twin job of Commander-in-Chief West 
and commander of Army Group ‘B,’ was at his wits’ end trying to 
bring order out of the chaos that stemmed from the defeat in 
Normandy. 

The square-jawed, square-built, short Walter Model was closer to 
Hitler in allegiance and background than most senior members of the 
officer corps. At fifty-four he had attained a field marshal’s baton at a 
much younger age than most of his contemporaries. Like Rommel, he 
owed his rapid climb to the highest rung in the military ladder to 
a ruthless energy and an intimate relationship with the Nazi Party. 
Unlike Rommel, his loyalty to the Fiihrer survived the 20th of July, 
and his message of faith in the regime, following the assassination 
attempt, was the first to be received at Berlin from an officer on the 
Eastern front. 


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Model’s leadership of a panzer division in the early campaigns, and 
his command of an army in Russia, displayed an impulsive dash and 
unyielding determination to carry out orders, at whatever cost, which 
marked him as the kind of officer Hitler wanted. In 1944 he was 
given an army group in the East and after he had managed to check 
the Russian summer offensive on the Vistula he was called to France. 
Model belonged to that growing group of commanders — Rommel, 
Dietrich, Student, Hausser were others — who might truly be called 
‘Hitler’s generals,’ in that they had achieved prominence by winning 
the confidence of the Fiihrer rather than that of the officer corps. It 
was natural, therefore, that he was disliked and resented by the 
average General Staff officer. His comparatively lowly birth and his 
coarse manner of speech made him no more dear to them. 

Yet this tough exterior, while it repelled the polished products 
of the officer corps, appealed to many of the men who worked under 
him. An incident described by his admiring chauffeur, who had been 
with him for two years, will illustrate this. 6 On 2 January 1945, the 
Field Marshal’s car was held up during a snowstorm in the Ardennes. 
Several cars were stalled ahead of his, and officers in them sat snugly 
in their vehicles while a group of other ranks cleared the road for 
traffic. Suddenly Model, losing patience, became furious and bel- 
lowed “Goddammit, what would happen now if Allied fighters were 
to strafe this road?” He dismounted and began to shovel the snow 
alongside the men. Just as the first vehicle was cleared, an indignant- 
looking captain appeared and, not seeing Model, demanded to know 
what the trouble was. Immediately the Field Marshal snapped at 
him, “And where have you been while the shovelling was going on?” 
The captain was forced to reply that he had been sitting in his vehicle. 
“So,” replied Model, “you would let a field marshal clear the road 
for you while you sit comfortably in your automobile — as from today, 
Kamerad, you are a private,” and with these words Model stripped 
the officer of his insignia of rank. 

These bursts of temperament, coupled with his unbending alle- 
giance, gave to his military career an uneven quality of performance 
that alternated between brilliant competence and muddled ineffi- 
ciency. He demanded of his men that all of Hitler’s orders be carried 
out to the last detail. Since these chiefly insisted on positions being 
held to the last man, many unpleasant complications developed. 
Although brutal in his insistence on a literal compliance with the 
Fiihrer’s orders, he did not hesitate to object to instructions which 
did not agree with his own judgment. In this way he did, to some 
extent, manage to retain some freedom of action. His administrative 


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capacity was not respected by his junior officers, and amongst them 
the expression ‘to Model’ was sarcastically used to describe a state 
of hopeless confusion, while ‘to de-Model’ was to sort things out again. 

By the end of August affairs were properly ‘Modeled’ east of the 
Seine. The Allied troops were moving so quickly that conditions were 
never stable enough for long enough to enable an order to be carried 
out. Each intention was out-dated before it could be put on paper. 
General Gunther Blumentritt, who was now acting as Chief-of-Staff 
for his third Commander-in-Chief West since the invasion of France, 
mournfully described those unhappy days for the Wehrmacht. 

“There was no plan available at this stage for an orderly fighting 
withdrawal,” said Blumentritt. 7 “At first it was hoped to fall behind 
the Seine, but with the Americans already on the outskirts of Paris 
this had to be abandoned. It was then decided to use the Seine as a 
midway position to delay the enemy and give the retreating troops 
sufficient time to build a line on the Somme. The Seine was expected 
to hold for at least seven days and then defensive positions were to 
have been taken up on the so-called Kitzinger Line which was to have 
been built by General Kitzinger across France through Abbeville- 
Amiens - Soissons - Epernay - Chalons - St. Dizier - Chaumont - Langres - 
Gray-Besan 9 on to the Swiss border. These defensive positions had 
been designated as far back as 1943, but the line had only been com- 
pleted on the right flank between Abbeville and Amiens. Even though 
this line existed in theory only, nevertheless we had been ordered to 
hold it. But there were no troops available to man either the Seine or 
the Somme, and the Allies cut through France with little opposition.” 

As early as 28 August 1944 Model had already issued detailed 
instructions for the defense of the Somme. Seventh Army was ordered 
to take over the front of Fifth Panzer Army on the line Neufchatel- 
Beauvais-Compiegne at noon on 31 August. The Army’s “first priority 
task was the construction of the Somme-Oise position ... in the 
shortest possible time and to make it capable of defense.” It was 
hoped to hold this intermediate position between the Seine and the 
Somme until the Kitzinger Line based on the Somme was manned 
and ready. But the intention showed a complete misappreciation of 
the strength of the Allied bridgeheads over the Seine, and of the utter 
weakness of both the Seventh and Fifth Panzer Armies. The capture 
of Beauvais on 30 August rendered this halfway line impotent a day 
before Seventh Army was supposed to take it over. The only remain- 
ing geographical barrier in France was now the Somme. On 31 August, 
with the capture of Amiens, this impressive river line was crossed 


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and the liberation of all France ensured. The sudden collapse of the 
Somme position was due to muddled and inept planning on the part 
of the German senior commanders. They underestimated the enemy’s 
strength and overestimated their own — a fatal combination. 

Even when it was obvious that the Seine could no longer be held, 
the Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais was still sitting on the Channel 
coast with its eyes glued on the English ports. True, by this time it 
awaited a second invasion with only six divisions 8 instead of the 
original nineteen it had owned on 6 June, but the possibility of further 
landings was still a serious consideration in the minds of German 
strategists. This fact was revealed by General Gustav von Zangen, 
who had been called from Italy to replace Colonel General Hans von 
Salmuth as commander of Fifteenth Army. Von Zangen, who had 
been a member of the German Police Force for fifteen years after 
World War I, still retained the stolid, unimaginative appearance so 
peculiar to those of his profession. Handsome in a dull sort of way 
and rather stocky in build, von Zangen was one of those ‘reliable’ 
generals whom Hitler was now sending to the West to replace those 
who had not shown themselves keen enough about National Socialism. 

“When I arrived in France on 25 August,” said von Zangen, 9 “I 
found that my army consisted of six divisions. My r61e was to protect 
the Channel coast in the event of another landing. At first I thought 
I would have to defend the Seine, but this task was given to Fifth 
Panzer Army under Colonel General ‘Sepp’ Dietrich. About 28 August 
I was told to abandon the territory west of the Somme, except for the 
fortresses and take up a defensive position on the Somme between 
Abbeville and Amiens. On my left flank and to include the defense 
of Amiens, was to be Seventh Army under General Hans Eberbach. 
My army reached its designated sector along the Somme, but Seventh 
Army never arrived on my left. Eberbach and most of the Seventh 
Army staff were surprised and captured at Amiens. This left all the 
troops on my flank without any organized leadership. When the 
news of this disaster reached Field Marshal Model he hurriedly 
ordered ‘Sepp’ Dietrich of Fifth Panzer Army to take over this open 
front. But Model did not realize how weak ‘Sepp’ Dietrich was at the 
time, and how little there remained of his army. In the resulting con- 
fusion no one ever did arrive on my left flank. With no opposition 
against them the British took Amiens on 31 August and crossed the 
river in force the next day. With an open flank it was useless for me 
to hold my ground northwest of Amiens and I gave up my positions 
on the Somme.” 

With the breaching of the Kitzinger Line, not even a theoretical 


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defense line existed to protect the remnants of the Wehrmacht in 
France. The symphony of collapse was reaching a thundering cres- 
cendo of despair. All through France Germans were fleeing, hiding 
or dying. In wild panic they took to the roads and fields and in dis- 
organized confusion hurried eastwards as fast as they could go. 
During those early days in September 1944, the vaunted discipline of 
the Wehrmacht was not enough to hold together a force that had 
been shattered into isolated, scattered fragments. Where local com- 
manders were firm and able, some manner of organized resistance 
was possible, but, on the whole, the withdrawal from France con- 
sisted of separated formations ignorant of the whereabouts and in- 
tentions of both their own and Allied troops. 

"During all this chaos,” moaned General Blumentritt, 10 who, as 
Model’s Chief-of-Staff, had the unenviable task of piecing together 
this broken jig-saw puzzle, “the only instructions that came from 
Berlin were ‘Hold! Hold! Hold!’ Since it was impossible to carry out 
this order, we advised units to report any retreat they were forced 
to make in the following words, ‘Thrown back or fought back. 
Countersteps are being taken.’ These were the only terms that would 
satisfy Berlin that a withdrawal had been necessary and thus save 
the commander involved from severe punishment for having dis- 
obeyed orders.” 

Cutting through these soft, bewildered remnants. Allied armored 
columns weaved a pattern of iron and fire amongst the slow-moving 
marching and horse-driven units. The cities and towns of France and 
Belgium toppled into the hands of their liberators with the ease and 
eagerness of long-separated lovers. Names of places that had filled 
the histories of the first World War flashed across the headlines of 
the world in quick-changing profusion. Dieppe, Abbeville, Amiens, 
Albert, Bapaume, Arras, Toumai, Lille, Soissons, Chateau -Thierry, 
Charleroi, Mons, Cambrai, Valenciennes, St. Quentin, Sedan, Rheims, 
Verdun, St. Mihiel — all were tasting freedom again before the first 
week in September was out. And with each locality there was yielded 
up a complement of Wehrmacht personnel who had been either too 
weak, too slow, too stubborn, too fanatical or too disillusioned to 
make good their escape to the German frontier. 

The mounting intake of prisoners was embarrassing the Allied ad- 
ministrative facilities prepared to handle them. In the towns of the 
Pas de Calais and the Somme valley, exclusive of the Channel for- 
tresses, over 40,000 Germans had been left behind to be picked up by 
British and Canadian infantry. In a pocket extending from Mons to 
the forest of Comptegne, where some misguided commanders chose 


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to resist, some 25,000 prisoners were taken in three days by First U.S. 
Army. On the east bank of the Meuse from Namur to Mezieres, 
twenty-four hours produced another 11,000 exhausted German war- 
riors. General Patch’s Seventh Army driving up from the Mediter- 
ranean had taken Lyons by 4 September and could already boast of 
over 50,000 prisoners in its newly-built cages. Thus in less than two 
weeks after the fall of Paris the total number of prisoners-of-war taken 
in the West had swollen from 210,000 to the staggering total of well 
over 350,000. This was still part of the price being paid for the defeat 
in Normandy. 

Morale was degenerating quickly amongst the men of the fleeing 
Wehrmacht. Their letters to those back home contained the same 
overtones of resignation and helplessness that characterized the 
messages written in the pocket at Falaise. 11 
«&*»■. 

We have no vehicles or guns left, and whoever is still alive will have to 
fight as an infantryman. But I won’t stay with them very long. I really don’t 
know what we are still fighting for. Very soon I shall run over to the 
Tommies if I am not killed before I get there. . . . 

wrote an artilleryman. 

And a soldier fighting the Americans described his experiences thus : 

We reached Sedan again in a very hasty retreat — much faster than our 
advances four years ago — but there is only one-fifth of our regiment left. 
The rest of the men and vehicles do not exist any longer. It is impossible 
to describe what happened to us during the last five days. 

While a German with an ironic sense of humor wrote home: 

My total estate now fits into my little bag as I have lost everything else. 
The words “hot meal” sound like a foreign language. We are gaining 
ground rapidly but in the wrong direction. 

Recognizing the seriousness of this deterioration in the spirit and 
confidence of the men under his command, Field Marshal Model 
delivered the following message on 3 September, which for frankness 
and bold talk is probably a model of its kind: 

To the Soldiers of the Western Army. 

With the enemy advance and the withdrawal of our front, a great stream 
of troops has been set in motion. Several hundred thousand soldiers are 
moving backwards, army, air force and tank units, troops which must 
reassemble and form new strong-points or lines according to a plan and 
the orders they receive. 


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Among them there stream along, together with headquarters now 
superfluous, columns which have been routed, which have broken out from 
the front and which for the moment have no firm destination and could 
receive no clear orders. . . . So, while closely packed columns turn off the 
road to get themselves sorted out, the stream of the others pushes on. With 
their vehicles travel idle talk, rumors, haste, inconsiderateness, unneces- 
sary disorder and shortsighted selfishness. They may bring a feeling into 
the rear areas and into the fully intact bodies of fighting troops which must 
be prevented, at this moment of extreme tension, with the severest measures. 

As your new Commander-in-Chief I direct this call to your honor as 
soldiers. We have lost a battle but I tell you, we will win this war! I cannot 
say more now, although I know that there are many questions burning on 
the lips of the troops. Despite everything that has happened, do not allow 
your firm, confident faith in Germany’s future to be shaken one whit. 

I must however make known to you the gravity of this day and hour. 
This moment will and should separate the weaklings from the real men. 
Every single man carries now the same responsibilty: when his com- 
mander falls out, he must take his place and carry on. . . . [There follows 
here a series of instructions in which the German soldier is exhorted to 
report to his nearest headquarters, to stop feeling depressed, to maintain a 
flawless discipline and a correct outward appearance, to disbelieve “pessi- 
mistic rumor and idle talk,” and to stop the useless and over-hasty abandon- 
ment of weapons, equipment and fortifications. The message ends]: 

Take thought then that at this moment everything adds up to the necessity 
to gain the time which the Fuhrer needs to bring into operation new troops 
and new weapons. They will come. 

Soldiers, we must gain this time for the Fuhrer! 

MODEL, 

Field Marshal. 

But by this time it was obvious to even the most obtuse observer 
that Model was not of the stuff of which commanders-in-chief are 
made. The task of defending the Fatherland itself from invasion 
needed a more experienced and more acute mind than Model 
possessed. Looking about him to discover the proper man for this 
unenvied responsibility, Hitler found his available stock of senior 
officers sadly depleted. Those that had talent couldn’t be trusted, 
and those that could be trusted hadn’t the talent. There remained 
only one exit from this vicious circle — find the man with talent who 
could be distrusted least. The choice to be made was now plain. 
Swallowing his pride, Hitler asked von Rundstedt to come back to 
the West. The old man, having proved his loyalty to the regime by his 
complete ignorance of, and detachment from, the events of 20 July, 
wearily agreed. He had sat on the Court of Honor which had tried 


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the military conspirators, because, in his own words, “it had to be 
done in the best interests of the army.” It is likely that his return to 
the wars was motivated by a somewhat similar reason. Discussing the 
reappearance of von Rundstedt, the Intelligence Review of Field 
Marshal Montgomerys Twenty-first Army Group, written at the tim e, 
made a shrewd and witty analysis of these events. 

“Just as von Rundstedt has never been strong enough utterly to 
disregard the party,” it said, “so has his ability (or his reputation) 
been too convenient for the politicos to ignore. If his own health has 
improved, the state of his armies has deteriorated in his absence. To 
bring back the Old Guard implies that the situation is desperate, and 
since little can be done about it, it may mean that the Old Guard is 
to take the blame. The return of von Rundstedt is reminiscent of the 
description of the role of cavalry in modern war: ‘to add distinction 
to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl.’ The reappointment is 
interesting as exhibiting muddle and desperation; but (unlike the 
cavalry) it doesn’t really make much difference. The task of Com- 
mander-in-Chief in any German theatre has degenerated into that of 
local Chief-of-Staff to Hitler and liable to dismissal as much for 
carrying out quaint orders as for protesting against them. Only Model, 
it is said, has found the solution: neither to implement nor to criticize, 
but to promise.” 


Chapter XXIII 
THE RETREAT 

The most spectacular and most significant advance, once the Seine 
had been crossed, was made by Second British Army in their break- 
out from their bridgehead at Vernon. In less than four days their 
armor dashed about 250 miles to capture Amiens, Arras, Tournai, 
Brussels, Louvain and Antwerp. The sudden fall of Antwerp, on 4 
September, with its harbor facilities intact and undamaged, took both 
Allied and German commanders by surprise. That this huge port 
with its enormous shipping capacity should fall, like a rich, ripe 
plum, into Allied hands was beyond the dreams of the most optimistic 
of planners. Yet, the panic-stricken troops garrisoning the port, 
frightened and unnerved by the tales of what had happened in France, 
had hurriedly packed their suit-cases and disappeared, without 
bothering to blow up this most important prize of the campaign. 

The capture of Antwerp presaged an early easing of the Allied 
supply problem, which was becoming increasingly acute as the dis- 


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tance widened between the front line and the Normandy supply bases 
at Cherbourg and the Arromanches Mulberry. It achieved a second 
significant result as well — it had bottled up against the Channel 
coast the slow-moving units of von Zangen’s Fifteenth Army. As has 
already been explained, the Fifteenth Army’s task of defending the 
right wing of the Somme position had been abandoned when Amiens 
fell. Its fall had been largely due to a confused understanding of 
the forces and staffs available in the area on the part of Field Marshal 
Model, who had still believed that Fifth Panzer Army was capable 
of undertaking an operational task. In fact it had completely dis- 
integrated after the Seine was crossed, and on Fifteenth Army’s left 
flank was the gaping hole through which British armor had sped in 
their race to Antwerp. 

The original six divisions which von Zangen had received when he 
had taken over Fifteenth Army on 25 August had been joined, in 
early September, by the remnants of five divisions escaping from 
Normandy. Now with the sea to the west and north of them, and 
with Allied troops south and east of them, this force of almost 100,000 
men began a cautious withdrawal movement towards the northeast. 

“When we retired from the Somme about 1 September,” said von 
Zangen, 1 “I planned slowly to fight my way back to Brussels and 
Antwerp and then take up a line in Holland. I had no fear that 
Antwerp would be taken since it was far behind the front line, and 
there was a special staff organized to defend it. When I heard on 

4 September that it had been captured it came as a stunning surprise. 
The reason for the fall of Antwerp was the failure of the High Com- 
mand to appreciate how badly beaten Fifth Panzer Army really was. 
Instead of an army on my left flank there was an empty gap. It was 
not yet realized how weak our forces had become. 

“My own forces were neither strong enough nor fast enough to get 
back to Antwerp in time to defend it. We had no motorized equip- 
ment and we were constantly being attacked by armored columns. 
It was only by the greatest of efforts that we succeeded in withdraw- 
ing at all. One of my divisions marched ninety kilometres in one day 
during this retreat. With Antwerp in enemy hands there remained 
only two courses of action open to me — evacuation by sea or a 
break-through to the northeast. I decided on the latter course and on 

5 September I ordered my troops to assemble in the neighborhood of 
Audenarde with the object of attacking in the direction of Brussels. 
However, before this operation could get properly under way I 
received word from the Commander-in-Chief West on 6 September 
to abandon this break-through attempt since the enemy line was 
already much too strong in the area between Brussels and Antwerp. 


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Instead I was told to make preparations for the evacuation of my 
army across the Scheldt to the islands of Walcheren and South 
Beveland.” 

In this decision to hazard an evacuation by sea, in face of Allied 
air power, could be seen the tidy, steady hand of the newly -installed 
Commander-in-Chief West, von Rundstedt. It was a chance that 
had to be taken if any order was to emerge from the confusion 
reigning amongst the troops in Belgium and Holland. The plan in its 
broadest terms was to use Fifteenth Army to deprive the Allies of 
any more supply bases in France and Belgium, and at the same time 
occupy the attention of as many enemy troops as possible while the 
fortifications of the Siegfried Line were prepared for the coming 
battles for Germany. The method by which this was to be done was 
to hold tenaciously to the Channel fortress of Le Havre, Boulogne, 
Calais and Dunkirk and simultaneously by manning the north and 
south shores of the Scheldt Estuary, deny access to the port of 
Antwerp. While this was in process the balance of Fifteenth Army, 
not needed for these priority tasks, would be evacuated through 
Breskens south of the Scheldt, to the port of Flushing north of the 
Scheldt. Once safely on Walcheren Island the rescued troops would 
then march eastwards along this narrow chain of islands until they 
reached the mainland north of Antwerp. Here a line would be taken 
up along one of the numerous canals and rivers that striate this part 
of South Holland. So long as the road through Walcheren and South 
Beveland to the mainland remained in German hands the plan was 
feasible. If it fell they would have to think again. 

Von Zangen took to his new task with energy and vigor. One 
division was immediately sent off to Dunkirk to end its days in that 
unhappy fortress, while other units were designated to remain behind 
in Le Havre, Boulogne and Calais. He ordered a line to be built along 
the canal running between Bruges and Ghent, behind which prepara- 
tions for the crossing of the Scheldt were begun. North of Antwerp 
itself, to safeguard the strip of land upon which the success of the 
whole operation depended, he brought down 719 Infantry Division 
from Northern Holland and all the odd units that could be assembled 
in the immediate vicinity. The actual responsibility for directing the 
evacuation of F ifteenth Army across the Scheldt, von Zangen delegated 
to the serious-minded, deaf General Eugen-Felix Schwalbe. Schwalbe, 
who had lost his division in the senseless attempt to cover the retreat 
of the Seventh Army across the Seine, had been unemployed ever 
since. Now he was given a task which he proudly recalls as one of the 
most satisfactory achievements of his military career. 


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“When I was told what my new job was to be,” said Schwalbe, 2 “I 
immediately set up my headquarters in Breskens, from where I could 
control the situation. Gathering about me as many officers as I could 
find I sent them along the roads leading to Breskens, where they set 
up collecting posts for the assembling of the retreating units. They 
would telephone to me telling me what formation had arrived and 
was ready to cross, and I would allot it a specific hour when it was 
to be evacuated. Until that hour it was to remain well-camouflaged 
and hidden along the roads. 

“For the task of crossing the Scheldt I had assembled two large 
Dutch civilian ships, three large rafts capable of holding eighteen 
vehicles each, and sixteen small Rhine boats with a capacity of about 
250 men each. The trips were made chiefly at night, although, since 
time was pressing, some crossings had to be made during the day. 
Allied planes constantly harried the ships and a number of them, 
laden with troops, received direct hits. However, in sixteen days we 
managed to evacuate the remnants of nine shattered infantry divi- 
sions - 59, 70, 245, 331, 344, 17 Luftwaffe Field, 346, 711 and 712. 
We left one division in Dunkirk to defend the approaches to Antwerp. 
In terms of men and equipment we brought to safety by this opera- 
tion some 65,000 men, 225 guns, 750 trucks and wagons, and 1000 
horses. By 21 September my task was completed and the bulk of 
Fifteenth Army had been rescued from encirclement. 

“I was in constant fear that the Allies would cut off the Beveland 
Isthmus by an advance north of Antwerp and thereby trap such troops 
as were in the process of moving out. If this had happened our 
alternative plan was to evacuate the troops by sea through the Dutch 
islands to Dordrecht and Rotterdam. But such a journey would have 
been slow and dangerous. It would have meant a twelve-hour voyage 
by sea rather than the three-quarters of an hour needed to cross from 
Breskens to Flushing. We could not have hoped to rescue anything 
but the troops themselves had it been necessary to adopt this course.” 

If there be one criticism to make of Allied tactics at this stage of 
the campaign, it was this failure to push on beyond Antwerp shortly 
after the port had been taken. From 4 September to 21 September no 
serious effort was made to cover this stretch of twenty miles from 
Antwerp to the base of the Beveland Isthmus, thereby depriving 
Fifteenth Army of their only reasonable escape route. True the small 
British armored spearheads that reached Antwerp were tired after 
their headlong dash from the Seine, and the long supply haul from 
Normandy had gravely affected the availability of petrol, food and 
ammunition for any large-scale operation. Nevertheless with little to 


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The Retreat from France — 17fh September, 1944. 


182 


DEFEAT IN THE WEST 


oppose them but the hastily assembled infantry troops in Holland, a 
gamble of this kind might well have paid handsome dividends. Had 
the Allies bottled up these 65,000 Germans on Walcheren Island or 
even forced them to take the hazardous sea voyage to Rotterdam, 
there could never have been an effective German position south of 
the Maas River. And had this position not existed there might well 
have been a different outcome to the airborne operation at Arnhem. 
The fact that no determined effort was made to seal off the escape 
route of Fifteenth Army is probably a measure of the surprise with 
which the Allied Supreme Command received the news that 
Antwerp had been taken. 

By the successful evacuation of Fifteenth Army, the establishment 
of a line north of Antwerp, the holding of the Channel fortresses and 
the securing of the approaches to the port of Antwerp, the German 
plan of a continued denial of supply bases to the Allies had been 
accomplished. The next move was up to the Allies. General 
Eisenhower in his report to the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff has out- 
lined what that move was to be and the reasons for it. 

“It was our plan to attack northeastward in the greatest strength 
possible,” writes the Allied Supreme Commander. 3 “This direction 
had been chosen for a variety of reasons. First, the great bulk of the 
German army was located there. Secondly, there was the great 
desirability of capturing the flying-bomb area, not only to remove 
this menace to England, but also to deny to the enemy the propaganda 
which he enjoyed on the home front and in the army from the attacks 
on London and talk of new weapons which would decide the war. 
A third reason for the northeastward attack was our imperative need 
for the large port of Antwerp, absolutely essential to us logistically 
before any deep penetration in strength could be made into Germany. 
Fourthly, we wanted the airfields in Belgium. Finally and most im- 
portant, I felt that during the late summer and early autumn months 
the Lower Rhine offered the best avenue of advance into Germany, 
and it seemed probable that through rapidity of exploitation both 
the Siegfried Line and the Rhine River might be crossed and strong 
bridgeheads established before the enemy could recover sufficiently 
to make a definite stand in the Arnhem area.” 

These aims had only been partly achieved by the end of the first 
week in September. On the accomplished side were the destruction 
of a large part of the German forces in the West, the elimination of 
the flying-bomb sites in Northwestern France and the acquisition of 
the airfields in Belgium. Yet to be accomplished was the freeing of 
the approaches to Antwerp, and the establishment of bridgeheads 


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over the Rhine. Not having sufficient forces or supplies to take on 
both these tasks simultaneously, General Eisenhower decided to give 
the crossing of the Lower Rhine first priority. In his own words, “The 
attractive possibility of quickly turning the German north flank led 
me to approve the temporary delay in freeing the vital port of 
Antwerp, the seaward approaches to which were still in German 
hands.” To carry out this intention the airborne operation designed 
to capture the bridges over the Maas, the Waal and the Lower Rhine 
at Grave, Nijmegen and Arnhem was prepared. 

Meanwhile the intelligence staff at the headquarters of the 
Commander-in-Chief West was attempting to appreciate just what 
the Allied intention would be once the Seine had been crossed. By 
making two guesses it got it half right and half wrong. A report 
written in late August assessed the most likely Allied course to be an 
American thrust through Trier to Mannheim and Darmstadt. The 
heavy bombings of cities in the path of such a push, such as Frankfurt- 
am-Main, Ludwigshafen and Mainz, together with the fact that 
Southern Germany was to be occupied by American troops, were the 
reasons for this appreciation. 4 

But simultaneously with this drive into Southern Germany an 
airborne landing in the Oldenburg area was predicted. With their 
usual tendency to overrate Allied resources, this opinion was based 
upon an assessment of five or six airborne divisions believed to be 
ready in Britain for such an operation. To meet this possibility troops 
had been sent to the threatened area, and they were thus available 
when the drop at Arnhem took place. 

Having hit upon the correct answer by guessing twice, von Rund- 
stedt’s intelligence staff then proceeded to ensure themselves of 
infallibility by venturing to suggest a third alternative which the Allies 
might take — a push north of Cologne to effect an encirclement of the 
Ruhr. 5 On 17 September the Allied airborne troops were dropped at 
Eindhoven, Nijmegen and Arnhem to prove that if an intelligence staff 
provides enough courses of action it is bound to produce the right one. 

There they were confronted by the unexpected divisions of 2 S.S. 
Panzer Corps — 9 S.S. and 10 S.S. Panzer Divisions — carrying out 
the twofold task of reorganizing their badly beaten units and, at the 
same time, standing guard on the Lower Rhine. These experienced 
troops, together with a hastily assembled collection of all the avail- 
able German manpower in Eastern Holland, formed the force which 
foiled General Eisenhower’s prospects of a speedy advance into the 
north German plains. Utilizing the tanks they had managed to 
salvage from Normandy and fighting an efficient tactical action, the 


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Germans finally forced the First British Airborne Division to abandon 
the northern bank of the Lower Rhine after eight days of the most 
bitter and intensive fighting yet experienced by any Allied troops in 
the West. From the German point of view the battle of Arnhem was 
the only gleam of light, since the invasion of France, to break through 
the rapidly darkening clouds of impending defeat. They tried to make 
the most of it. The propaganda merchants shouted themselves hoarse 
using Arnhem to prove that Germany was still far from beaten. The 
following extracts from an account of the battle of Arnhem by a 
German war reporter, Erwin Kirchof, give a reasonable description 
of what took place, if one discounts the obvious coloring of many of 
the facts. 

It was early on the Sunday afternoon of 17 September [the story begins]. 
The cinemas in the small Dutch towns were slowly filling up, and the streets 
and highways, along the canals and small streams, were crowded with 
young people on bicycles. And then out of the blue sky roared several 
hundred enemy fighter-bombers. Their aim was to attack the German 
defensive positions and locate the flak positions. Barely had they disap- 
peared beyond the horizon when, coming from the west across the flooded 
coastal areas, appeared the planes and gliders carrying regiments and 
brigades of the enemy’s airborne army. . . . The first parachute landings 
were made on a front of about 70 kilometres and approximately 100 kilo- 
metres behind our lines. The troops bailed out from a very low altitude, 
sometimes as low as 60 metres. Immediately after that the several hundred 
gliders started to land. In those first few minutes it looked as if the down- 
coming masses would suffocate every single life on the ground. . . . 

Shortly after the landings of the British and American divisions, our 
reconnaissance troops went into action. By searching the countless forests 
and large parks in that area, cut by numerous small streams, they had to 
ascertain where the enemy intended to concentrate his forces; only then 
could a basis for our counter-attacks be established. The telephone lines 
were cut. The reconnaissance cars could move forward only slowly. Some 
of the enemy dug themselves in near their landing places and brought 
weapons into position. Others moved up to the houses and barricaded 
themselves, using the furniture inside the buildings, From there they tried 
to dominate the bridges and beat back our counter-attacks. Elements of the 
Dutch population assisted the enemy in their task. . . . 

The area in which the landing of the First Airborne Division occurred 
had a width of 10 kilometres and a depth of 12 kilometres. In the cold and 
rainy night the town of Arnhem was entirely cut off, particularly from the 
northwest. On the morning of 18 September the S.S. units arrived from the 
north to reinforce the northwestern part of the pocket. . . . 


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On the right flank, between the railroad tracks and the Rhine, in the 
residential suburbs of Oosterbeek, the struggle for each building continued 
for hours. In the narrow streets, hand grenades were thrown from one side 
of the street to the other. Further down the northern bank of the Rhine the 
fight for buildings from which the enemy dominated the bridge with his 
guns, had continued since dawn. Hand-to-hand fighting raged on each floor 
of the houses. In the power station on the Oost Straat men of the Luftwaffe 
mounted to the first floor and exchanged hand grenades with the British on 
the floor above. 

In the evening a British radio message was intercepted in which a bat- 
talion commander, barricaded with four hundred of his paratroopers in the 
buildings along the Rhine bridge, asked for the dropping of masonry tools 
and cement. He intended to build a defensive wall around his positions. 

The battles continued deep into the raining night. 

19 September. The British airborne division was now encircled in an 
area of only a few square kilometres, between the railroad line and the 
Rhine. . . . Artillery and mortar batteries hammered the pocket. Around 
noon, two British envoys asked for a one-hour armistice to take more than 
600 casualties into German hospitals. Their proposal was accepted. A doctor 
of the Waffen S.S. and a British doctor supervised the transport. Afterwards 
there were further heavy attacks by the enemy. The number of prisoners 
rose to 904. Among them was the divisional commander. . . . 

20 September. The period of bad weather kept up. Between the railroad 
track and the Rhine heavy house-to-house fighting continued. . . . 

2 1 September. The British division again received several hundred rein- 
forcements and attempted in desperation to break the ring of iron; but 
despite this, we compressed the pocket still further. The size of the pocket 
was now an area of 1200 metres by 750 metres. Mortars, artillery and flak 
fired into the forests and into the positions in the streets. . . . The number 
of dead was now extremely high. Our light and medium flak was forced to 
destroy every single building on the southern bank of the Rhine. . . . 

The last hours. In the following days Eisenhower continued to send new 
parachute battalions and glider units to the encircled remnants of the British 
division. On the south side of the Lower Rhine, between Nijmegen and 
Arnhem, a Polish parachute brigade landed with the task of breaking open 
the ring. Their attack failed. ... In London they spoke of the crisis of the 
Lower Rhine, but it was hoped that Dempsey would succeed in saving the 
remnants of the division. During the night of the 25-26 September, the First 
British Airborne Division, now only about 400 men strong, attempted to 
break through from Oosterbeek under cover of American fire and cross the 
Rhine. The British wrapped rags around their feet and crept upon the 
asphalt roads to the Rhine bank. Suddenly German mortars caught them. 
Three, perhaps four, assault boats succeeded in reaching the opposite 
bank. . . . 


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Through the Goebbelesque haze of this account, with its obvious 
distortion of Allied losses, one can nevertheless discern a certain 
grudging admiration for the fight carried on by the men of the First 
British Airborne Division. However, that the cost of Arnhem had 
been high to the Allies is verified by General Eisenhower’s own 
report. According to it, 2163 men of the division managed to escape 
or withdraw back across the river, while casualties in killed, wounded 
and missing in this single operation were “some 7000 men.” 

Officially the German explanation for the Allied defeat at Arnhem 
is contained in a Luftwaffe intelligence report entitled ‘Air Landings 
in Holland’ which was written at the end of October 1944. 6 It recog- 
nizes the merit of the plan to seize the principal crossing of the Maas, 
Waal and Lower Rhine rivers, by asserting that had it succeeded, 
the Germans would have found it extremely difficult to prevent the 
Allies from breaking out into the north German plain. It then goes 
on to give four chief reasons for the failure at Arnhem. In the first 
place the landings were not concentrated enough: since they were 
spread out over a period of three days the Germans never faced the 
entire strength of the British division at one time. Secondly, Allied 
intelligence was not aware of the location of the 2 S.S. Panzer Corps 
which was refitting north of Arnhem. Or, if the Allies were aware of 
this force, they did not make proper dispositions to meet it. The 
former view, the report believed, was the more likely one. Thirdly, 
Arnhem was too far from the front; the airborne troops could not hold 
out long enough for the Allies to break through from the south to 
link up with them. And fourthly, the bad flying weather following the 
landings prevented effective re-supplv from the air. It also prevented 
the necessary ‘isolation of the battlefield’ and direct support of ground 
operations. If German supply and transport units could have been 
effectively broken, the Allied force might have been successful. 

Yet despite the inabilitv of the Allied troops to take Arnhem, the 
airborne operation had achieved some useful results. It had driven a 
wedge into the German northern position, thereby isolating the 
Fifteenth Armv north of Antwerp from the First Parachute Armv on 
the eastern side of the bulge. This segregation from the rest of the 
German front complicated the supplv problem of Fifteenth Army, 
which was now forced to relv on the inferior crossings over the Maas 
and the Waal rivers west of the Allied penetration. The capture of 
these bridgeheads across the Maas and Waal also served as an im- 
portant base for subsequent operations against the Germans on the 
Rhine. “The loss of the bridges at Grave and Nijmegen was a great 
embarrassment to us,” said General von Zangen of Fifteenth Army. 7 


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“By capturing them the Allies forced us to remain on the defensive 
in this area in order to prevent this bulge from growing. We were 
never able to assemble enough troops for a serious counter-attack to 
retake Antwerp.” 


Chapter XXIV 

THE FORTRESSES 

Simultaneously with the decision to drop the Allied airborne troops 
in Holland, preparations were begun for the clearing of the French 
ports in Brittany and along the Channel coast. Although the parachute 
operation had delayed the opening of the port of Antwerp as a main 
supply base, it had not seriously impeded the plans for the freeing of 
the subsidiary ports in Northern France. As has already been 
described, these ports had been designated, long before the invasion, 
as ‘fortresses,’ Technically such a term would have been applied only 
to isolated areas having sufficient concrete, weapons, supplies and 
men to conduct an all-round defense for a considerable period of time. 
In practice it came to mean any piece of land which Hitler wanted 
to be defended “until the last.” Few of these ports in France had been 
properly prepared for their role. While strong enough in cement and 
guns facing the sea, they contained little but hastily-built field 
defenses to safeguard them from attack from the landward side. And, 
since it was against their flabbily-protected rear that the Allies con- 
centrated their assaults, the eventual fate of these fortresses was set- 
tled with the break-out of the Allied forces from the bridgehead in 
Normandy. 

But the most interesting feature of the battles for the fortresses 
in France was the reaction of the officers and men locked up within 
them. With the rapid advance of the Allied columns through France, 
and the unexpected collapse of all German resistance on the Seine and 
the Somme rivers, there had been left behind in the ports of St. Nazaire, 
Lorient, Brest, St. Malo, Le Havre, Boulogne, Calais, Dunkirk and 
the approaches to Antwerp over 140,000 German troops with no other 
future but death or a prisoner-of-war camp. In each of these fortresses 
the commandant had taken an oath, usually in writing, to fight on 
“until the end.” But what ‘the end’ meant varied with the personality 
of the commander. To some it meant the end of food, ammunition or 
adequate weapons with which to fight, to others it meant the end 
of hope, to still others it meant the end of military logic. To none of 


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them did it mean the end of life itself, even though these very words 
were used by some of the commanders in the pledges they demanded 
of the officers under them. At Boulogne, for example, every officer of 
the garrison signed the following oath before the fortress commander 
Lieutenant General Ferdinand Heim: 


H.Q. Boulogne, 

2 September 1944. 

On 2 September I undertook in the presence of Lieutenant General Heim, 
commander of the fortress of Boulogne, to hold and defend the strong-point 
or sector under my command to the end of my life and that of the last man 
under me. 

I am conscious of the great responsibility of my task and of my com- 
mitment and I swear to hold and defend the strong-point or sector under my 
command to the end of my life and that of the last man under me. 

Yet despite the twice-repeated vow to die in Boulogne practically 
every officer whose name appeared on this document turned up hale 
and hearty in an Allied prison camp — invariably with his personal 
belongings neatly packed in a conveniently ready suit-case! Along 
with themselves they brought over 9000 of the men who they had 
guaranteed were going to die under them. 

Whatever aspect of World War II future German historians may 
attempt to glorify as master feats of arms, the defense of the French 
ports is not likely to be one of them. The account of the forlorn troops 
expected to die in the fortresses of Europe displayed none of the 
heroism, determination and idealism with which Dr. Goebbels tried 
so hard to clothe it. Rather the story is of lost garrisons fighting a 
losing cause, and realizing it only too well, and what is more im- 
portant, not relishing the role of martyrs and defenders of the faith 
which had been suddenly thrust upon them. These men burned with 
no fierce National Socialist zeal or patriotic Teutonic fervor; they 
were merely unfortunate troops chosen for this job because they 
happened to be there. Unable to think for themselves, and capable 
only of obeying, the quality of their resistance depended chiefly on 
the ability and fanaticism of the men who led them. Since com- 
mandants for lost fortresses were either chosen because they were 
accidentally in the neighborhood, or someone at Berlin wanted to be 
rid of them or they could easily be spared, the brand of leadership was 
not likely to be high. It is in the personality of these men picked to 
die for the Fiihrer and Germany that some explanation can be found 
for the uneven quality of the resistance encountered in these so-called 
fortresses. Let us examine them each in turn. 


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The fiercest and most stubborn fortress defence was offered by the 
garrisons of St. Malo and Brest. Assaulted shortly after the break-out 
from Normandy, the 7000-man garrison of St. Malo had little oppor- 
tunity to feel itself isolated and besieged. When it was attacked on 
14 August substantial German forces were still within rescue distance 
of the port, for the disaster at Falaise was still a week away. In other 
words hope had not had time to die, and to continue the fight was 
therefore natural. The commandant of St. Malo buttressed that hope 
with orders such as these. 

9 August 1944. 

To all Soldiers of the Garrison. 

From this moment there will be only three types of punishment: 

( 1 ) Whoever leaves the corridors of his billets not clean, whoever does 
not use the W.C. properly, whoever does not take care of his arms, will 
receive ten to twenty-five strokes on his behind. 

( 2 ) Anyone found lacking in interest or showing reluctance in his work, 
and anyone exhibiting pessimism, will be punished in the following way: 

The individual will be chased in broad daylight, without weapons, in 
the direction of the enemy. 

(3) Disobedience and cowardice will be punished by death. 

F. AULOCK. 

The energetic Colonel Aulock turned out to be much less formid- 
able in a prison camp than he had been in his orders. A tall, be- 
monocled man with a distinctly Semitic appearance, he persisted in 
playing the clown amongst his fellow-prisoners, and seemed to find 
the war and his future prospects an incredibly funny joke. It may 
well be said that the grim four-day defense of St. Malo, from 14 
August to 17 August, was offered in spite of, rather than because of, 
the activities of the ‘mad colonel of St. Malo,’ as his men were wont 
to call him. 

The story of Brest was, however, quite different. The Allied assault 
begun in the last week of August found the going heavy and pro- 
longed. The largest garrison of all the ports, some 30,000 men, was 
inspired in its stand by the parachute general, Herman Bernhard 
Ramcke. Like all senior officers in the parachute arm of the service, 
he was a capable tactician and thoroughly loyal to his Fiihrer. With 
an exceptional record for bravery, having won the highest award for 
heroism in the last war, the Pour le Merite, and done the same again 
in this one by receiving the Oak Leaves with Swords and Diamonds, 
Ramcke whipped his men into a frenzy of resistance. His square- 
jawed, pugnacious face revealed a character that was not loathe to 


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rely on brutality to achieve its ends. It was not until 18 September, 
after three weeks of house-to-house fighting in the streets of Brest, 
that the Allies finally gained possession of the port. But the harbor 
facilities of the city had been so thoroughly destroyed that the Allied 
plans for its use as a major port had to be abandoned. But even to a 
man as determined and fanatical as Ramcke, his oath to fight to the 
end did not really mean to the end of his life. Along with most of the 
30,000 men in the garrison, the fortress commandant wended his way 
to the cold sanctuary of a prisoner-of-war cage. In fact so indifferent 
was Ramcke to the very letter of his vow that he turned up in Allied 
hands completely equipped with everything he felt necessary to make 
his life thoroughly comfortable as a prisoner-of-war. Obviously hav- 
ing been prepared days before the actual capitulation, Ramcke 
brought along with him into captivity eight large well-packed suit- 
cases, a complete set of delicate china, an elaborate box of expensive 
fishing tackle together with four long rods, and a thoroughbred setter 
dog. Hardly the trappings of a man who had resolved to die for his 
country. To the realistic Ramcke ‘the end’ was a long way this side of 
death itself. It probably ranged somewhere between the end of mili- 
tary reason and the end of personal satisfaction. 

Before the Seine had been crossed there still remained some visible 
hope that relief might come to the garrisons of the fortresses of 
France. But once the front line had been pushed back to the borders 
of the Reich the possibility of a resurgence of German troops into 
France, within a reasonable period of time, all but disappeared from 
the minds of those left behind. Thus morale amongst the troops of 
Le Havre, Boulogne and Calais, who for the most part had been 
chased back into their concrete bunkers after experiencing the power 
of the advancing Allies, was much lower than it had been amongst 
the men of St. Malo and Brest. The commandants who had been 
chosen to die with their men in these ports east of the Seine, were 
not, either by disposition or training, likely to raise that depressed 
morale. 

If you had placed a bowler hat on his head, covered his long thin 
legs with pin-striped trousers and put a rolled umbrella in his hand. 
Colonel Eberhard Wildermuth, commandant of Le Havre, would 
have been indistinguishable from the thousands of bankers, brokers 
or business men that dailv crowd Threadneedle Street. This fifty- 
five-vear-old, tall, skeletal, balding man was primarily a civilian and 
tvpified the civilian both in temperament and appearance. Not even 
the form-fitting, disciplined cut of the German gray-green uniform 
could make him look like anything else. Between wars, while he had 


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remained an officer on the reserve list, he devoted his activities to a 
life of business and by 1939 was on the board of directors of one of 
Berlin’s largest banks. After the usual spell of duty on both the Eastern 
and Western fronts, in which he saw heavy fighting in France, Russia 
and Italy, he was given a harmless coastal sector to defend in the 
neighborhood of Venice, Italy. Suddenly on 4 August, for no reason 
that he knows of, other than the fact that he had been a Social 
Democrat before the war or had been given four months’ leave to * 
recover from battle fatigue and was therefore not considered to be 
of much further use, he was sent to France for employment as a 
fortress commandant. On 14 August, hardly two weeks before the 
city was invested, Wildermuth took over the defense of the bastion 
of Le Havre. 

If the Supreme Command was looking for a fanatical, zealous, 
feverish young Nazi to inspire German troops to fight to the end, 
it could have chosen no one less likely to fit the role than Colonel 
Eberhard Wildermuth. He was not young, he was not inspired, he 
was not a soldier, and what was most important, he was not a Nazi. 
Nevertheless, the polite, tired, efficient bank director was suddenly 
shunted from Italy to this fortress in France, and ordered to perform 
a fight-to-the-death task for the glory of the Fatherland. Small wonder 
the martyr’s crown rested uneasily on his head, and so readily slipped 
off when events hemmed him in. 

A two-divisional British assault, following the dropping of some 
11,000 tons of bombs in Le Havre, was launched on 10 September. 

By noon on 12 September, forty-eight hours later, the port had 
capitulated and 11,300 German troops had laid down their arms. 
This, despite the fact that the defenses available were amongst the 
strongest in Europe, that ammunition was plentiful for the 115 guns 
in Le Havre, and that sufficient food was on hand to keep 14,000 
soldiers for eighty-nine more days. The explanation for this speedy 
collapse lies in the commandant’s personal conception of what ‘the 
end’ really meant. “In my opinion it was futile to fight tanks with 
bare hands,” said Colonel Wildermuth. 1 “As early as 9 September I 
had given orders to all my officers that Allied infantry attacks were 
to be opposed everywhere, even with the side arms only. But in the 
event of an attack by tanks, resistance nests which no longer had 
any anti-tank weapons were then at liberty to surrender.” 

Thus the Colonel had transformed the Supreme Command’s pre- 
cept of fight to the last man to his own concept of fight to the last 
anti-tank gun. The difference was fundamental. It marked the civilian 
from the soldier. For Wildermuth, with his banker’s mind, was a 
soldier only so long as it was reasonable to remain one. Once the cost 


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in blood and pain was too much, he felt it was time to become a 
civilian again. He was an efficient, able man who carried efficiency 
and ability into battle with him in much the same way as he would 
have used them to draw up a balance-sheet. He was not mentally 
prepared to sacrifice the lives of his men for a philosophy in which 
he only half-heartedly believed. It is in the personality of the leader 
of the garrison of Le Havre that lies much of the explanation for the 
fall of this formidable fortress in less than forty-eight hours. 

Having freed Le Havre, the First Canadian Army, which had been 
given the task of clearing the northern coast of France of these stub- 
born centers of German resistance, next turned its attention to the 
port of Boulogne. Here again the garrison was pledged to fight until 
the last man. Their inspiration in this stand was the professional 
General Staff officer, Lieutenant General Ferdinand Heim, who at 
the age of fifty could well be taken for a man ten years younger. 
With this thin, pinched face and prominent blue eyes he resembled 
a somewhat larger version of Goebbels. 

The presence of a high-ranking officer like Heim in the forlorn job 
of a fortress commandant illustrates the method by which Hitler 
disposed of men who had become an embarrassment to him. Heim 
was first and foremost a careful, methodical staff officer who at the 
height of his power was undoubtedly a cold and efficient machine. 
As Chief-of-Staff to General von Reichenau he played an important 
part in drafting the plan for the invasion of Russia. Having led a 
panzer division with distinction in the battles for Kharkov and Rostov, 
Heim, on 1 November 1942, was promoted to the command of 48 
Panzer Corps which formed part of the Sixth German Army of Field 
Marshal Paulus, then besieging Stalingrad. 

A few days later the corps was taken from Paulus and attached to 
the Third Roumanian Army, which was given a sector to defend in 
the neighbourhood of Kalatz on the Don River. To carry out this 
task Heim was given two Roumanian divisions and one German 
division. The Roumanian formations were hopelessly equipped with 
outmoded weapons and little ammunition. They were particularly 
weak in anti-tank guns with which to stop the Russian armor, and 
as a result the Russians broke through Heim’s sector and by sweep- 
ing south succeeded in encircling the complete German Sixth Army 
investing Stalingrad. From this military disaster the Wehrmacht 
never recovered, and the magnitude of the fiasco made it essential 
that some scapegoat be found to shoulder the blame. Heim was 
arrested in January 1943 and sent to an Investigation Prison where 
he spent five months. 


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“During this period,” said the general, 2 “I never saw any formal 
indictment against me, nor was a sentence ever promulgated, nor an 
inquiry held, nor an explanation given to me for my being imprisoned. 
The only document I ever saw was the Fiihrer’s order for my in- 
carceration, and the reason for it I only learned subsequently as a 
result of conversations with high-ranking friends. Apparently, Anton- 
escu, the chief of the Roumanian state, had warned Hitler, prior to 
Stalingrad, about the inefficiency of the Roumanian divisions and the 
danger of placing them in a vulnerable spot. After the catastrophe, 
Hitler felt that some gesture had to be made to Antonescu involving 
a senior German officer, who could be blamed for the blunder. This 
would also act as a deterrent to failure in the future. Since the divi- 
sional commanders involved were Roumanians their heads could not 
roll. Since efficient army and army group commanders were becom- 
ing scarce, the Supreme Command could not afford the luxury of 
throwing one of these men into jail. The only person left was the 
corps commander, and that was me.” 

Following his five months’ internment, the general was suddenly 
released, still without any explanation, and sent to Ulm where as a 
comparatively young man he lived the life of a retired officer, draw- 
ing all the while the pension of a lieutenant general. Here he remained 
from May 1943 until August 1944, when he was rudely jolted out 
of this quiet existence and told to take over command of the fortress 
of Boulogne. Since this was understood to be a ‘defend to the last’ 
task, it was obvious that someone at Berlin had not forgotten 
Ferdinand Heim. 

When Heim arrived at Boulogne in late August, like Wildermuth 
only a few weeks before the post was cut off and surrounded, he 
found that little had been done to prepare the fortress for defense 
against a land attack. He had received instructions from Fifteenth 
Army to build a defensive zone to a depth of ten kilometres around 
the town. In this area all bridges were to be blown, buildings torn 
down and mines laid. So vast a job required hundreds of trained 
engineers, which Heim did not have. “I merely put a big red circle 
on my map,” he remarked cynically, “to show that the demolitions 
theoretically had been carried out.” 

The feelings of the men bottled up in these cement posts can best 
be described as resigned. Many of them felt they were being use- 
lessly squandered when the same long-term results could have been 
achieved by effectively destroying the harbor installations. But 
although they felt embittered and hopeless they were incapable of 
any form of resistance to their fate other than the muttering of com- 
plaints to one another and the writing of depressing letters and 


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personal diaries. The following extracts from a diary written by a 
German officer during the siege of Boulogne graphically portrays 
this atmosphere of despondency and stolid fatalism: 3 

7 September 44. Encircled in Boulogne. For days I knew that there was 
no getting out of it for us. It is very hard to get used to the thought of having 
one’s span of life nearly finished, and not to see one’s wife and children 
again. If Fate is favorable I may become a prisoner-of-war. . . . 

9 September 44. Last night was comparatively quiet. Yesterday, late in 
the afternoon, enemy bombers attacked the forward defensive positions of 
Boulogne. My God, how long will it be until the town itself will be the 
target? Can anyone survive after a carpet of bombs has fallen? Sometimes 
one can despair of everything if one is at the mercy of the R.A.F. without 
any protection. It seems as if all fighting is useless and all sacrifices in 
vain. . . . 

1 1 September 44. We have lovely weather again today with a brilliant 
sun in a cloudless sky. How wonderful life could be for humanity if there 
wasn’t a war. Will there ever be peace again? All day long artillery fire in 
our outlying strong-points and, in between, attacks by fighter-bombers. 
The outskirts are being evacuated by the French. I wonder if that means 
that the real show will start tonight? The morale of the troops is bad, and 
no wonder. They are mostly old married men and the situation is quite 
hopeless. . . . 

1 2 September 44. Dear diary, I am glad to have you. It quietens me to 
put down my thoughts, which usually go out to family and country. The 
inexorable enemy stands on the borders of the Fatherland. Will it be possible 
to hold him there? Woe to my country should we lose this war. Life will 
not be worth living then. What will become of our children? 

13 September 44. Alcohol is the only thing which can comfort anyone 
in our position. . . . This afternoon more heavy air attacks on the outer 
defenses of Boulogne. Most of the civilians have wandered off with bits of 
their belongings. What a tragic spectacle. When will tormented humanity 
have peace again. . . ? 

14 September 44. At the harbor command everyone is desperately gay 
and tries to drown all worries in alcohol. And these filthy jokes which aren’t 
even funny! I’ll be glad to get away from there. . . . 

15 September 44. I wonder how my family is. No mail from home now 
for six weeks. That is the hardest of all to take. . . . 

16 September 44. Last night I visited Lt. Hauptman with whom I had 
bunked for so long. He is in the same state of mind as I am — very 
depressed. . . . 

1 7 September 44. It is nine months today since I last went on leave. What 
a good time I had. And today what a contrast. I was just ready to go to 
breakfast when we had to run for shelter and we have been there ever since. 
The bombardment by bombers and artillery was terrific. It is four o’clock 
in the afternoon now. I am looking at your pictures, my loved ones. I am 


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quiet now and resigned to my fate whatever it may be. Farewell, my dear 
ones, I pray to God that He may protect and guide you. . . . All afternoon 
a heavy artillery barrage fell on our positions. We could not move. Then 
we heard tanks approaching and had to surrender. It is a wonder that we 
are still alive. . . . 

This then was the mood and experience of one of the valiant 
defenders of Boulogne who had taken an oath before General Heim 
to hold his strong-point “to the end of my life and that of the last 
man under me.” Nowhere in the document is there that determination 
and will to fight to the death that Hitler had demanded of his fol- 
lowers. Rather it sighs an uneasy hope that fate be kind and preserve 
the writer for the security of an Allied prisoner-of-war camp. With 
this pessimism and lack of enthusiasm permeating the garrison of 
Boulogne, it is understandable that when the fortress capitulated on 
23 September, after a six-day assault by the Canadians, over 9500 
German soldiers had decided that life as a prisoner was better than 
death as a martyr. And this decision was arrived at even though the 
defending forces had suffered very few dead and wounded, and 
when, according to General Heim himself, the total casualties had 
been “astonishingly light.” Heim vigorously denied that ‘defend to 
the end’ meant to him to defend ‘to the last man,’ but rather ‘to 
the last bullet.’ This despite the vow he had forced the men under 
him to take where the words ‘end of my life’ were used. When I 
decided that the situation was hopeless from a military standpoint,” 
said the commandant of Boulogne, “I felt I could lay down my charge 
with a clear conscience.” Heim also forgot to mention that his per- 
sonal experiences with National Socialism had made it most unlikely 
that he would be burning with any fervent desire to die for that 
ideology. 

Heim had thought often about this inconsistency between his 
oath to die fighting and his decision to live instead. “It is difficult 
for us Western people to sacrifice our lives when the situation is hope- 
less,” he said, “and that is the main reason for my troops surrendering 
rather than dying in their bunkers. The farther east you go the less 
important death becomes. The Japanese have no fear of death at 
all, and the Russians have almost none. In England and America life 
is very precious, and everything is done in wartime to preserve it 
and prevent its needless waste. We Germans stand in the middle.” 4 

The next hole to be smoked out along the Channel coast was the 
port of Calais. This fortress with its huge 21-centimetre and 38-centi- 
metre naval guns had made itself a particular nuisance to the inhabi- 
tants of Southern England. Ever since the fall of France these monster 
weapons had pestered Allied shipping passing through the narrow 


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Straits of Dover, and had punctuated life in the city of Dover with 
the unpleasant sound of whistling shells, haphazard explosions and 
interminable alerts. Now its turn had also come. The Canadians 
methodically taking on each port in turn, and thoroughly preparing 
each assault, were becoming expert at the technique of digging out 
the reluctant German occupants of these concrete bunkers. To face 
them at Calais and the neighboring strong-point of Cap Gris Nez 
were some 9000 members of the Wehrmacht led by Lieutenant 
Colonel Ludwig Schroeder. 

If the presence of Lieutenant General Heim symbolized the 
defense of Boulogne as a lost cause, the personality of the command- 
ant of Calais presaged a useless one. For it cannot be assumed that 
much importance was attached to the defense of Calais when so 
mediocre and accidental a leader as Ludwig Schroeder was desig- 
nated to hold it. Not only was his rank comparatively low for a large- 
scale, ideological stand, but he was assigned the role merely because 
he happened to be around and not because he was endowed with 
any special abilities for it. At forty-three his rather large, long-jawed 
face was both tired and resigned. After an unimpressive military 
career in the East he was posted to the 59 Infantry Division in the 
Pas de Calais. When this division evacuated Calais on 30 August 
1944, Schroeder was left behind to carry out the last-ditch defense 
of the port. 

The story of Calais is almost a replica of that of Boulogne and 
Le Havre. A bag of mail written by the beleaguered troops in Calais 
was captured on its way to Germany. The letters therein reflect the 
same mood of apathy and resignation already seen in the other 
fortresses. The following letter written by a corporal to his parents 
was indicative of the general tone of these last messages. 

4 September 44. I am still alive. Perhaps this is my last letter to all of 
you. We are in the port of Calais and expect to be encircled very soon. The 
ring will soon be getting smaller. How we shall all end I don’t know — death 
or imprisonment. Our strong-points have been left in a panic, hence no ink. 
Demolitions are going on day and night and the town looks like Stalingrad. 
Yes! the Atlantic Wall is no more. The average soldier is not to blame for 
this mess. I never thought that things would turn out this way. I would not 
like to see all those who have been killed. I have seen scenes which can 
hardly be described. ... 

Thus, when the Canadians launched their assault against Calais 
on 25 September they met a foe as unwilling to die for the Fatherland 
as the defenders of Boulogne. A five-day battle and 9100 sound, 
healthy, somewhat shaken Germans languished behind the barbed 
wire of a field prisoner-of-war cage. 


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Like the commandants of Le Havre and Boulogne, Schroeder had 
not taken his oath ‘to fight to the end’ literally. “Although it was 
probably understood that I was to resist to the last man,” said 
Schroeder, 5 trying to hide behind a technicality, “I never actually 
saw a written order to this effect. I admit that my action in surrender- 
ing the port after having suffered so few casualties would likely have 
rendered me liable to a court-martial for disobeying orders. But I 
had little ammunition with which to continue firing my guns, and 
the standard of my troops was too low to have maintained any pro- 
longed resistance.” The commandant of Calais neglected to mention, 
however, that Lieutenant Colonel Ludwig Schroeder was hardly the 
kind of leader to inspire his men to those heights of sacrifice and valor 
he so bitterly resented their not having attained. 

With the fall of Calais there remained only four surviving outposts 
of coastal resistance in France — Lorient, St. Nazaire, Quiberon Bay 
and Dunkirk. The bitter opposition at Brest and the thoroughly 
demolished state of its harbor facilities when it was taken had 
deterred General Eisenhower from wasting men, material and time in 
an effort to reduce the remaining Brittany ports. Although letters 
and prisoners indicated a somewhat similar state of morale amongst 
the 12,000 troops in Dunkirk as had been found in the other Channel 
ports, the Allied Supreme Commander did not feel that more forces 
should be diverted to acquire another small harbor on the northern 
coast of France. Instead these remaining remnants of Hitler’s ambi- 
tious fortress plan were surrounded with sufficient troops to keep 
them within the confines of their bunkers, thereby locking up another 
50,000 men of the Reich almost as effectively as if they had been in 
Allied hands. They spent the balance of the war listening to their 
commandants exhorting them not to desert, reading Allied propa- 
ganda on how nice it was to desert, sheltering themselves from 
constant air and artillery bombardment, carrying out sporadic raids 
to supplement their dwindling food supply, and apprehensively 
awaiting a large-scale Allied assault. On the whole they would have 
been much happier in a prisoner-of-war camp. 

But the acquisition of a series of small ports, so badly demolished 
that they would require weeks of repair before they could be put 
to any use, did not solve the formidable supply problem facing the 
Allies in late September 1944. The only harbor large enough to 
sustain adequately a fighting force of over two million men was that 
at Antwerp. Depending upon rail and road traffic to bring up the 
food, ammunition and petrol from the bases at Cherbourg and the 
Normandy beaches was already beginning to slow down the speed 
of the wide-spread Allied armies. The decision to launch the air- 


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borne operation in Holland had already resulted in a delay in the 
opening of Antwerp, and now General Eisenhower instructed the 
Northern Group of Armies to undertake such an operation “as a 
matter of first priority.” 

Although the German High Command in the West had been 
thoroughly surprised by the sudden capture of the city of Antwerp 
with its harbor installations practically intact, they had managed 
to recover quickly. Taking advantage of the opportunity given them 
to allow Fifteenth Army to escape across the Scheldt Estuary, the 
Germans had left behind two infantry divisions to hold the north 
and south shores of this sea-lane leading into the port itself. With 
his usual mania for having men die where they stood, Hitler had 
designated these two areas protecting the approaches to Antwerp 
as fortresses. This meant, of course, that everyone from the divisional 
commander down had to swear to defend his position to the last. 
As a matter of fact the oath taken on Walcheren Island, north of 
the Scheldt, was even more specific and detailed than usual, with its 
opening paragraph containing the following words: “I am pledged 
to hold this fortified sector to the last, even to sacrifice my own life. 
Even if the enemy should already have broken through on my right 
and left, I am not empowered to give up this sector or to negotiate 
with the enemy.” It was thus becoming more and more difficult to 
rationalize about the meaning of the phrase ‘to the end.’ 

This formidable task of rooting out the defenders of the approaches 
to Antwerp was again allotted to the First Canadian Army. It was 
a much more severe test than the Channel ports had been, for the 
ground was criss-crossed with innumerable canals and streams, mak- 
ing the deployment of armor extremely difficult. In addition, exten- 
sive flooding was carried on by both sides whenever the tactical 
situation required it. South of the Scheldt this land, which had been 
reclaimed from the sea, was inundated by the Germans blowing 
the dykes, while north of the Scheldt, on Walcheren Island, the 
Allies breached the dykes by an intensive air bombing program. 
These flooding operations, designed on the part of the Allies to flush 
the Germans out of the dangerous coastal bunkers they so securely 
occupied, resulted in a battle that raged for days in fields almost 
waist-high with water. 

The importance of Antwerp to future Allied operations was not 
lost upon the German Command. On 7 October 1944, a day after 
the start of the Canadian attempt to clear the south shore of the 
Scheldt, General von Zangen of Fifteenth Army issued an order 
frankly explaining to his troops the significance of the port of Ant- 


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werp. The fact that such a message as the following be necessary 
at all is a measure of the defeatist talk then current amongst the 
troops given this unhappy assignment. 


Commander-in-chief Fifteenth Army. 

Army Headquarters, 

7 October 1944. 

ORDERS. 

The defense of the approaches to Antwerp represents a task which is 
decisive for the further conduct of the war. Therefore, every last man in 
the fortification is to know why he must devote himself to this task with 
the utmost strength. I have confirmed that so-called ‘experts’ among the 
local population are attempting to confuse the German soldiers in this 
battle task ordered by the Fiihrer. 

Whether know-it-alls in some headquarters are participating in such 
nonsense, which then quickly reaches the troops, I do not know. This, I 
have reason, however, to fear. Therefore, I order commanders, as well as 
the National Socialist indoctrination officers, to instruct the troops in the 
clearest and most factual manner on the following points: Next to Hamburg, 
Antwerp is the largest port in Europe. . . . 

After overrunning the Scheldt fortifications, the English would finally 
be in a position to land great masses of material in a large and completely 
protected harbor. With this material they might deliver a death blow to 
the north German plateau and to Berlin before the onset of winter. 

In order to pretend that the battle of Antwerp is unimportant and to shake 
the morale of its defenders, enemy propaganda maintains that the Anglo- 
American forces already possess sufficient ports which are intact, with the 
result that they are not at all dependent on Antwerp. That is a known lie. 
In particular, the port of Ostend, of which the enemy radio speaks frequent- 
ly, is completely destroyed. Current delays in the enemy’s conduct of the 
war are attributable in great measure to the fact that he still must bring all 
his supplies through the improvised facilities of Cherbourg. As a result, he 
has even had to lay a temporary oil pipe-line from these to the interior of 
France. . . . 

In his last speech, Churchill said again, “before the storms of winter we 
must bring in the harvest in Europe.” The enemy knows that he must 
assault the European fortress as speedily as possible before its inner lines 
of resistance are built up and occupied by new divisions. For this reason 
he needs the Antwerp harbor. And for this reason, we must hold the Scheldt 
fortifications to the end. The German people is watching us. In this hour, the 
fortifications along the Scheldt occupy a role which is decisive for the future 
of our people. Each additional day that you deny the port of Antwerp to 
the enemy and to the resources that he has at his disposal, will be vital. 

(Signed) VON ZANGEN, 
General of the Infantry. 


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Inspired by this reasoning and being led by an efficient, ruthless 
officer, Lieutenant General Eberding, the forces south of the Scheldt 
desperately resisted Canadian efforts to push them back into the sea. 
The men who staged this admirable piece of defensive fighting were 
of a much different calibre to the troops locked in the Channel 
fortresses. They belonged to the newly -constituted 64 Infantry Divi- 
sion, which was one of a group of formations hastily assembled in 
Germany and rushed to France to help patch the deteriorating 
Western front following the break-through in Normandy. It was 
known as a leave’ division since the bulk of its members were 
veterans of the Russian, Italian or Norwegian theatres who were 
home on leave during the latter part of July 1944. Utilizing their 
experience to the full they took advantage of the flooded terrain in 
which they fought and forced the Canadians to rely on the narrow 
roads and dykes for their forward movement. The morale of the 
defenders heightened with each day that they continued to resist, 
and General Eberding succeeded in instilling in his troops that will 
to fight which had been lacking in the Channel ports. He had not, 
of course, managed to carry out his oath to the very letter, for 13,000 
German prisoners were taken in this long, drawn-out battle, but 
he had imposed a considerable delay on the Allied plans for the 
use of Antwerp, and had inflicted considerable casualties on the 
attackers. This was all that any reasonable man could ask, but 
reasonableness no longer mattered to theGermanSupremeCommand. 

North of the Scheldt, on the islands of Walcheren and South 
Beveland, one of the most curious collections of men ever assembled 
together to represent a fighting unit stood ready to meet the Allied 
shortage that such a formation as 70 Infantry Division should 
have been given an important role to play in the defense of the 
most significant military prize in the West. For of the 10,000 men 
which constituted this division almost all suffered from stomach ail- 
ments of one form or another. After five years of nervous tension, 
bad food, and hard living conditions, the Wehrmacht found itself 
swamped with soldiers complaining of internal gastric trouble. Some 
of these were real, others were feigned. It was difficult to check. 

As defeat became more and more imminent and life at the front 
more dangerous and more uncomfortable, the rise in the number 
of men reporting themselves as chronic stomach sufferers became 
alarming. With the staggering losses in Russia and France, it was 
no longer possible to discharge this huge flood of groaning man- 
power from military service. On the other hand their presence in a 
unit of healthy men was a constant source of dissatisfaction and 


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unrest, for they required special food, constantly asked to be sent 
on leave, continually reported themselves to the doctor, and grumbled 
unceasingly about their plight. It was thus decided by the Supreme 
Command to concentrate all these unfortunates into special Stomach 
(Magen) battalions where their food could be supervised and their 
tasks made lighter. It was originally intended to use these troops for 
rear-area duties only, but as the need for additional men became 
increasingly critical these units were sent forward for front-line duty 
as well. 

On Walcheren Island, following the Allied invasion, it was decided 
to replace the previous normal infantry division with a complete 
division formed from these Stomach battalions. By the beginning 
of August 1944, the transformation was complete. Occupying the 
bunkers of the polderland of Walcheren Island and pledged to carry 
on to the very end were stomachs with chronic ulcers, stomachs with 
acute ulcers, wounded stomachs, nervous stomachs, sensitive stom- 
achs, dyspeptic stomachs, inflamed stomachs — in fact the whole 
gamut of gastric ailments. Here in the rich garden country of Holland, 
where white bread, fresh vegetables, eggs and milk abounded, these 
men of 70 Infantry Division, soon nicknamed the ‘White Bread Divi- 
sion,’ awaited the impending Allied attack with their attention 
nervously divided between the threat of enemy action and the reality 
of their own internal disorders. 

The man chosen to lead this formation of convalescents through 
their travail was the mild-looking, elderly Lieutenant General Wil- 
helm Daser. His small, peaked nose, his horn-rimmed glasses and 
his pink, bald head effectively hid his military identity. Only a firm, 
loud voice accustomed to giving orders betrayed it. Like the other 
fortress commanders he was chosen for his final military role because 
he could easily be spared, not because he had any particular qualifica- 
tions for the task. The tremendous wastage of senior officers incurred 
by the Wehrmacht in Russia and North Africa was the prime reason 
for Daser’s being called out of semi-retirement in February 1944, to 
take over a static coastal division in Holland. His last active field 
command had been in 1941 when he had been sent back to Germany 
because of heart trouble. The years between had been spent as a 
military administrator of civilians in occupied territory. Now, at sixty 
years of age, he had neither the enthusiasm, the zeal nor the ability 
to make of Walcheren a memorable epic of German arms — but 
neither had most generals of the Wehrmacht in the declining months 
of 1944. 

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Walcheren dykes, with synchronized attacks by land along the Beve- 
land Isthmus and by sea at Flushing and Westkapelle, and with the 
rumblings of their own uneasy stomachs, the men of the ‘White Bread 
Division hung on to their favorable defensive positions from 24 
October to 9 November. Had they been better troops and had they 
been more inspiringly led it is beyond doubt that these islands, ideally 
designed for defense, with their only approaches either by sea or 
through narrow defiles of flooded land, would have presented a much 
more serious obstacle to the Allied amphibious forces engaged. As it 
was, the land batteries of the island inflicted heavy casualties on 
the landing craft of the assaulting British commandos and marines, 
while the many German strongpoints on both Walcheren and Beve- 
land swept the flat land in front of them with severe and raking fire. 
When the two-week battle was over another 10,000 German prisoners 
were making their way back to Allied prison cages and a finish to their 
diet of noodles, white bread and milk. 

Thus ended the major struggle for the fortresses of Belgium and 
France. On 26 November, after the Scheldt Estuary had been cleared 
of mines, the first Allied ships began to unload their cargoes on the 
docks of Antwerp. A steady flow of supplies to the Allied armies 
for the balance of the campaign in Northwest Europe was now 
assured. To prevent those supplies from reaching France, the Ger- 
man Supreme Command had sacrificed over 165,000 men, if one 
includes the 25,000 Germans left behind in the Channel Islands. In 
return they had managed to inflict about a two-months delay on 
Allied operations in the West. The question remains — was it worth 
it? Men like von Rundstedt, Blumentritt, Heim think the same results 
could have been achieved much more cheaply by thoroughly destroy- 
ing the harbor facilities of the minor ports, evacuating their garrisons 
and concentrating on the defense of Antwerp alone. It is difficult 
not to agree with them. 


Chapter XXV 

MANNING THE SIEGFRIED LINE 

But whether or not the price in manpower had been too high, there 
is no doubt that by the end of September the German Command in 
the West had succeeded in effectively checking the headlong rush of 
the Allied armies. In the north the luckily salvaged Fifteenth Army 
and the newly-formed First Parachute Army constituted a tight girdle 
around the Allied bulge created by the airborne operations in Holland, 


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and prevented any further expansion by British and Canadian troops 
either to the north or to the east. In the center. Seventh Army, which 
had been speedily reorganized from the new forces acquired in 
Germany by the latest total mobilization effort of the Nazis, re- 
occupied the long-vacant bunkers of the Siegfried Line and held 
the First U.S. Army, which had crossed the German border in the 
area of Trier on 11 September and near Aachen on 12 September. 
In the southern sector the improvised forces of the German First 
and Nineteenth Armies, by using the Moselle River and the Vosges 
Mountains as delaying barriers, had managed to establish a line 
ranging from thirty to sixty miles west of the German frontier. Here, 
although they were early forced to give up the line of the Moselle 
River south of Metz, these German formations contrived to stop 
the eastward advance of the Third U.S., Seventh U.S. and French 
First Armies, which had linked forces in strength on 21 September in 
the area west of Epinal. 

From a German standpoint the situation was more tidy than it 
had been since the American break-through at St. Lo in July. But 
to achieve this stabilized front the German armies in the West had 
lost in prisoners alone, and in the single month of September, the 
incredible sum of 345,000 men, or an average of almost 11,500 
soldiers *- a good-sized division — for every day of that month. This 
brought the total number of prisoners-of-war taken since D-Day to 
well over the half-million mark. Add to this figure the dead and 
wounded suffered in France, and Hitler’s intuitive strategy had cost 
the German Reich approximately one million able-bodied men in 
less than four months. 

That the German armies in the West were able to recover their 
balance after coming so close to toppling over completely, was due 
to a variety of factors. The first, and foremost, was undoubtedly 
the difficult Allied supply problem which had not yet been eased 
by the capture of the port of Antwerp. Instead of being able to main- 
tain a simultaneous offensive of all the mechanized forces of the 
Allies that stretched from the Swiss to the Dutch borders, it was 
only possible to ration petrol and ammunition to one group of armies 
at a time. Thus the Allied forward movement during September and 
October took on the aspect of a series of alternating, jerking jabs up 
and down the front, wherever sufficient material had been assembled 
to ensure a reasonable tactical advance. Using the well-known fire- 
brigade tactics of Normandy days, the German Command rushed 
their available reserves to each of these conflagrations in turn, and 
thereby prevented them from achieving more than limited success. 


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The second factor that was instrumental in saving the German 
armies in the West in the fall of 1944 was the Siegfried Line. The 
construction of this well-publicized system of fortifications had begun 
in 1936 immediately after the reoccupation of the demilitarized 
Rhineland, and had been feverishly worked upon until the fall of 
France in 1940. Closely following the 1939 German frontier, the 
line extended approximately 350 miles from the Swiss border opposite 
Basle to the junction of the Belgian, Dutch and German borders at 
Miinchen-Gladbach. From there north to Cleve little had been accom- 
plished in the way of deep concrete shelters, and at this end the line 
rather tapered off into a series of isolated bunkers and field fortifica- 
tions. 

The Siegfried Line varied in depth, strength and effectiveness from 
place to place along its entire length. Thus, in the area of the Saar 
where it was at its strongest, it achieved a depth of nearly three miles. 
Forts were scattered in profusion in this sector attaining a density 
of about forty forts per 1000 square yards. In contrast to this, the line 
along the Rhine from Karlsruhe to Basle was only about a half-mile 
deep and contained only two rows of forts. In the area of Aachen, 
where the Allies had first reached this belt of fortifications, the Sieg- 
fried Line consisted of two thin strings of forts with little density or 
depth. 

The forts themselves were of different designs, but they were 
usually manned by either machine-gun or anti-tank gun crews, and 
sited to produce a closely interlocked zone of fire. The roofs and 
walls were built of cement some five feet thick, and their average size 
was about thirty-five feet by forty-five feet. The normal complement 
of men for such forts was about ten, and they lived a damp and 
cold existence in them. When a battle was at its height, it was con- 
sidered suicide to vacate one of these bunkers, because Allied artillery 
and mortar fire was centered on the entrances. Not daring to leave 
their shelters, even for the purpose of relieving themselves, unbear- 
able sanitary conditions were soon added to the other discomforts 
of the inmates. 

Although no new work had been done on the Siegfried Line after 
May 1940, and a large amount of the wire had been removed and 
the mines lifted in the intervening years, this system of fortifications 
still presented a formidable barrier in the fall of 1944. When the 
Allies crossed the Seine, engineers and construction troops were 
rushed to the German frontier in a feverish effort to renovate and 
improve the long-disused fortifications. From the Fatherland every 
able-bodied man was hurried forward to be ensconced in the cement 
bunkers and there they were exhorted to stem the impending invasion 


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of the Reich. The Siegfried Line was now Germany’s last hope. On 
15 September Field Marshal von Rundstedt issued the following 
concise order: 

1. The Siegfried Line is of decisive importance in the battle for Germany. 

2 . I order: 

The Siegfried Line and each of its defensive fortresses will be held to the 
last round and until completely destroyed. 

3 . This order will be communicated forthwith to all headquarters, mili- 
tary formations, battle commanders and troops. 

Note the wording of this order— “to the last man” had been replaced 
by the more practical “to the last round.” And from behind their 
hastily-occupied concrete forts these new troops fighting well on their 
own soil managed to check an immediate invasion of the Fatherland. 
But it is extremely unlikely that their efforts would have been of 
much avail had Allied supplies been able to keep up with Allied 
armored columns. 

The third factor, along with the Allied supply problem and the 
Siegfried Line, that contributed to Germany’s ability to drag the war 
in the West into another winter, was the fine methodical hand of 
von Rundstedt. Having been given carte blanche to withdraw his 
forces to the borders of the Reich, the old man set about his task with 
the coolness and efficiency of a man who knew what he was about. 
Deciding that the Maas River in the north, the Siegfried Line in the 
center, and the Moselle and the Vosges Mountains in the south offered 
the most effective geographical barriers, he ordered his armies to 
take up sectors along these lines as quickly as they could. Immediately 
behind these positions he set to work filling up and reorganizing the 
shattered remnants of the divisions beaten in Normandy. As soon as 
a unit was even a semblance of its former self, it was shoved into the 
West Wall where it completed its training and reformation. By the 
end of September his front line looked neat enough to pass an ex- 
amination of the General Staff College. 

The Field Marshal himself, however, had no illusions as to the 
ability of this improvised line to do more than temporarily stabilize 
the situation. “I realized that when I took over again in September 
the situation was very serious indeed,” said von Rundstedt . 1 “I told 
those about me that if I was not interfered with and that if I were 
given the necessary forces I believed I could hold the enemy outside 
the frontier of the Reich for a while. I knew that a war of position was 
impossible for any length of time, and that with your superiority in 
material and manpower you could effect a break-through at any 


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point where you chose to concentrate your forces. I knew there was 
not a chance of winning the war, but I hoped that if I held out as long 
as possible some political turn of events might have prevented a com- 
plete German collapse. A military victory was out of the question.” 

Von Rundstedt was equally frank in his estimate of the conduct of 
Allied operations following the break-through in Normandy. In view 
of the many post-war criticisms of Allied strategy during this stage of 
the campaign, his remarks are of considerable interest. 

“Any suggestion that the Allies could have advanced faster than 
they did in September is nonsense,” he said. 2 “On the contrary they 
went much faster than was actually expected. I certainly did not 
expect you to push into the Reich as early as September or October. 
There is only one possibility by which things might have been speeded 
up and that would have been a second landing in the north rather 
than in the Mediterranean. As far as I was concerned the war was 
ended in September.” 

But the question might well be asked where were the new German 
soldiers coming from to replace those that had been lost? The Russian 
summer offensive, begun two weeks after the invasion of France, 
on 23 June, had advanced over 300 miles from Vitebsk to the out- 
skirts of Warsaw by early August. Having paused for breath, the 
Russian armies had renewed their forward thrust in October, although 
this time confining their operations to the Finnish and Balkan sectors. 
These events, in addition to driving the Germans back to within 
striking distance of their own eastern frontier, had also brought about 
the defection of three former satellites: Finland, Roumania and 
Bulgaria. In the process almost fifty German divisions were destroyed. 

The Italian theatre offered little more consolation to the Supreme 
Command. Having abandoned Rome on 4 June, Field Marshal Kes- 
selring had been extremely busy trying to pull his forces back to his 
next defensive position — the Gothic Line — north of Florence. 
Florence itself fell on 22 August and in early October Kesselring was 
using all his ready troops to meet a threatening Allied bulge towards 
Bologna. He had managed to send along two or three divisions to 
von Rundstedt in September but anything more would have been 
likely to have seriously weakened his position. 

Thus with both the Russian and Italian campaigns demanding not 
fewer, but more, German soldiers, the desperate need for men to hold 
the Siegfried Line had to be met from within the manpower pool still 
available in the Fatherland itself. Curiously enough this was still 
relatively large. The new mobilization efforts announced by Goebbels 
on 24 August 1944 showed that large sections of the population had 


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still been allowed to carry on non-essential activities even though the 
Reich was desperately fighting for its life. Women, for example, had 
never been asked to make anything like the effort demanded of them 
in Great Britain. Some extracts from this announcement show what 
new funds of manpower Germany was still able to tap. 

“The whole of Germany’s cultural life has been maintained, even in 
the fifth year of war, to an extent which the other belligerents did 
not reach even in times of peace,” Goebbels began. “The total war 
effort of the German people now necessitates far-reaching restrictions 
in this field as in others. . . . All theatres, music halls, cabaret shows 
and schools of acting are to be closed by 1 September. All schools of 
music, academies, art colleges and art exhibitions will be closed down. 
Only scientific and technical literature, armament and school books, 
as well as certain standard political works will be published: all other 
types of literature will be suspended. . . . 

“Trade schools of no direct war importance, e.g. domestic and 
commercial colleges, will be closed. At the universities male and 
female students who are studying subjects which are not of direct 
importance to the war will be available for employment in the arma- 
ment industry. These measures will make available a total of several 
hundred thousand persons. . . . 

“In order fully to utilize all labor, working hours in public admin- 
istration and offices in industry and trade have been fixed uniformly 
at a minimum of sixty hours per week. . . . 

“In order to bring civilians in line with the soldiers, a universal 
temporary ban on holidays is ordered with immediate effect. Women 
who will be 50 and men who will be 65 or over on 31 December are 
exempt from this ban. . . .” 

As a result of this thorough comb-out it was hoped not only to 
rebuild the divisions destroyed on the Eastern and Western fronts, 
but also to form between twenty and twenty-five new divisions rather 
wishfully called Volksgrenadier (People’s infantry) divisions. These 
Volksgrenadier divisions, containing about 8000 men and therefore 
about half the size of a pre-war infantry division, were formed out of 
the non-essential factory workers, the small shop-keepers, the petty 
officials who had been finally forced to take their place in the Wehr- 
macht after managing for five years to convince the Nazi authorities 
of their indispensability elsewhere. After a few weeks of elementary 
training these green formations were sent to fill the bunkers of the 
Siegfried Line. As fighting material such troops were unlikely to 
reassure the hard-pressed commanders at the front attempting to 
stave off the coming invasion of Germany. 


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As well as forming these new Volksgrenadier divisions, frantic 
efforts were made to reorganize and rent the divisions that had suc- 
ceeded in escaping to the German frontier. Some 800,000 men had 
been salvaged from the holocaust in France, but the bulk of them 
had made their way back in isolated groups completely cut off from 
their parent formations. Now it was necessary to reassemble them into 
proper formations so that some semblance of control could be exer- 
cised over this aimless mass of men. Divisional staffs, having been sent 
to a reforming area, were given complete authority to recruit to their 
formations any unattached German soldier found in their areas. A 
staff officer of 17 S.S. Panzer Grenadier Division has given an excellent 
account of how this was done. Having arrived in Normandy only a 
few days after the Allied invasion, this division had experienced both 
the early defeats and the final retreat. After being chased across 
France from St. L6 to Metz, 17 S.S. Panzer Grenadier Division was 
ordered to proceed to Merzig in the Saar, where it was to be 
reformed. 

“Only a few bedraggled remnants arrived in Merzig,” wrote this 
officer. 3 “No human account could ever describe the hardship, the 
sacrifice, the misery the men of this division alone experienced. No 
one who finished this retreat still alive will ever forget this Geth- 
semane, because each village, each road, even each bush has seared 
into his brain the memories of terrible hours, insufferable misery, of 
cowardice, despair and destruction. ... In the reforming area all 
means were employed to get the division back on its feet. Every avail- 
able officer of the divisional staff, including the divisional commander, 
went out cruising in the Metz area with instructions to gather troops. 
The officers would stand at road crossings and shanghai every passing 
soldier who did not have a ready answer to an inquiry after his 
destination. In one instance I was directing traffic into the divisional 
area. The army men, not quite satisfied about the prospect of being 
impressed into an S.S. unit, circled the area until they hit another 
road, only to run into me at the road junction again. I redirected 
the men into the divisional area, rather amused at the merry-go-round. 
When anti-tank guns were needed, an officer with a few prime-movers 
at hand would set up shop at a road crossing and wait for passing guns 
the crews of which were not quite certain about their destination or 
attachment. The horses would be unhitched, the crews piled into 
the waiting prime-movers, and the caravan then proceeded into the 
reforming area. ...” 

Still another source that was called upon to make heavy contribu- 
tions to the sadly weakened German army was the much-maligned 
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of its patron saint, Reichsmarshal Hermann Goring, to prevent any 
depletion of its ranks, the desperate state of the army finally forced 
the Luftwaffe to yield up some of the thousands of able-bodied, eager 
young men it had been retaining for the day when German planes 
would be available again. In one huge convulsion the bulk of the 
Luftwaffe training schools in Germany were emptied of their poten- 
tial pilots, observers, navigators, signalers, and sent west to save the 
Fatherland. Arriving either as complete units, or organized into im- 
provised battle groups with an army officer in command, they entered 
into the fray with the enthusiasm and will of the young. Although 
completely untrained for their new role — one battalion of 400 men 
had gone into battle after doing one infantry exercise during which 
their commanding officer was killed — they nevertheless fought tena- 
ciously and well, making up for their inexperience by their courage 
and zeal. This collection of fresh youth, picked from amongst the 
best manpower in Germany, had not yet suffered the disillusionment 
and carnage of the ordinary infantry soldier. Until they did, they were 
to prove a formidable opponent whose presence in the line played 
a significant part in slowing down the Allied advance from a gallop 
to a slow walk. 

The German navy was also called upon to make its contribution, 
and this it had done by providing a large percentage of the personnel 
constituting the garrisons of the Channel ports. By utilizing these 
marines as infantry and artillerymen, it was possible to spare regular 
army divisions for other tasks. In addition to those comprising these 
coastal garrisons, the navy had been milked to provide manpower 
for the Volksgrenadier divisions and, like the Luftwaffe, to stand in 
the line as battle groups and hold until army divisions were ready 
again to take over. 

To supplement the Volksgrenadier divisions and the new recruits 
from the German air force and navy, the Supreme Command ordered 
into the front fine every other military and semi-military unit it could 
lay its hand upon. These formations, organized to handle rear-area 
duties or to carry out essential civilian services, had only one thing in 
common — they all wore some kind of uniform. They constituted the 
final scrapings from the German manpower barrel, being either too 
young, too old or too sick to have been assigned any duties in a battle 
zone. Now the Supreme Command could no longer afford such lux- 
uries. Into the melting pot went these bodies as well, to help form the 
human wall necessary to protect the Reich from invasion. 

The variety of this final category of German personnel was almost 
infinite. A few examples should suffice. Stomach or Magen battalions, 
similar to those that constituted the White Bread Division on 


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Walcheren Island, also took their disconsolate place in the Siegfried 
Line. They were not the only convalescents, however, that the Wehr- 
macht had pulled out of their beds. There were Ear (or Ohren) 
battalions as well. To qualify for admission into these exclusive units 
a recruit had to prove that either he was deaf, had one or both ears 
missing, had one or both ears badly damaged, or had one ear slightly 
impaired, together with some minor damage to another physical 
member, such as a missing finger or stiff joints. 

The problems that beset such a formation were practically insur- 
mountable. Verbal orders could only be given by a frantic series of 
gestures. Inspecting the guard at night was a nerve-racking and 
hazardous task since the men on duty could not hear anyone 
approach. Thus when suddenly confronted in the dark they fired 
first and attempted to find out who it was later. In one Ear battalion, 
two sergeants of the guard had been killed this way shortly after the 
unit went into action. Casualties from artillery fire were also in- 
ordinately high because the men could not hear the sound of 
approaching shells and therefore took to shelter much too late. 

Amongst the semi-military units that were shoved into the line, 
could also be found those that comprised men too aged or too youth- 
ful to have been used before. The civilian police, composed chiefly 
of men in their early forties, were given a few weeks’ training and 
put into action wherever possible. The Air Raid Precaution Services 
were utilized as well, and of a group of forty of these men taken in 
September, the youngest was 48 and few were under 60. The German 
Labor Service units, normally employed in road and building con- 
struction duties, and composed of youths of 17 and under, were also 
issued rifles and cartridges and put into the front fine. 

That a force composed of elements like these had succeeded in 
holding the Allies on the German border, was a striking testimony to 
the recuperative power of the German General Staff, as well as to the 
strength that comes from fighting on the frontier of one’s homeland. 
But there is also little doubt that this stand could never have taken 
place had it not been decisively aided by the difficult Allied supply 
problem, the forts of the Siegfried Line and weather conditions which, 
in the words of General Eisenhower, “created flood conditions along 
our whole front, reducing the lesser roads to quagmires, and impeding 
tank operations and vehicular movement.” 4 

It must also not be forgotten that to acquire even these troops, 
the German Supreme Command had to abandon an already largely 
abandoned German navy, it had to give up all hope for the revival of 


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a mighty Luftwaffe and, finally, it had to sacrifice a large part of its 
dwindling resources of industrial manpower. When these were gone 
there would be little else to draw upon, only still older and still 
younger age groups and still more essential skilled workers. 

It was inevitable that this sudden influx of medically unfit and 
badly trained personnel would bring about a serious deterioration in 
the morale of the German forces in the West. Although no organized 
mass opposition to conditions could be expected to develop — disci- 
pline was still too ingrained for that — there was nevertheless a 
growing sentiment of depression, resentment and hopelessness which 
increased as the outlook for Germany became bleaker and bleaker. 
For, while the stabilization of the Western front had slowed down 
the Allied advance, it had not stopped it. Everywhere along the front, 
Allied armies were carrying out limited thrusts designed to better 
their own local, tactical position and to keep the weary German 
troops in the line and thus deprive them of a chance to rest or regroup. 

A diary of a sergeant of 712 Infantry Division opposing the British 
in Holland indicates something of what some German soldiers were 
going through at this relatively static period of the campaign. 

13 September 44. Near Bath a convoy has been shot up by fighter- 
bombers. We bandage the wounded and send them back. We have to leave 
the dead lying in the street, for with fighter-bombers overhead any un- 
necessary movement may be fatal. Some of the dead are so mutilated as to 
be unrecognizable. One of our mates commits suicide by hanging. During 
the night British aircraft drop flares and attack with fighter-bombers. We 
are in a hell of a fine place. . . . 

25 September 44. We march about forty-five kilometres. Everybody 
is dead tired. 

26 September 44. There is not a dry thread on us. The battalion 
slummocks along the road. 

27 September 44. The men are done. They are all old chaps. Unneces- 
sary marching and counter-marching is making them discontented. We 
have now been two days without food. Three companies attacked Hees. 
Only a few stragglers came back. . . . Poor Germany. Everybody is under 
the impression that he is selling his life cheaply. 

28 September 44. We are again fighting tanks with rifles. ... We 
report to the commanding officer. A fresh attack is to be mounted — 
Murder! ... I go back to my fox-hole. 

29 September 44. Our battalion is now two kilometres back and is to 
cover the retirement of the division. . . . Yesterday, before we started off 
we got canteen supplies: two tubes of toothpaste (not one of us poor swine 
has a toothbrush on him), one tin of shoe cream (who is still polishing his 
boots? ) ... I get the order to take an anti-tank section to the road and act 


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as a covering party. It is a suicide order from the start. About five o’clock 
we hear the noise of tanks coming towards us. One of the monsters comes 
up behind us. I take up my anti-tank bazooka (Panzerfaust) but the distance 
is too great. There is nothing left now but to surrender. The Britishers, 
however, are not taking any prisoners, but open fire on us. Four men are 
mown down at once. Now another tank rolls up on our left. We run along 
a ditch. Both tanks are firing all their guns. Running forward quickly in 
order to get out of the zone of fire, I reach a sheltered spot and lie there 
exhausted. The tanks pass by. ... I don’t know how long all this lasted. 
I am only surprised at my calmness. We must await nightfall, when the 
tanks will move away. We are constantly pressing ourselves against the 
side of the ditch. Now the tanks have reached the company. There will 
not be much left of our battalion. Who can fight tanks with rifles? . . . 

And another diary shows the reactions of a twenty-four-year-old 
soldier to the personnel newly recruited to the army: 

To-day I was transferred to the 42 Machine-Gun Fortress Battalion, as 
a messenger. Destination West Wall. This battalion is composed of Home 
Guard soldiers, half crippled — I found many among them quite obviously 
off mentally. Some had their arms amputated, others had one leg short, etc.— 
a sad sight. ‘V-2, V-3’ they jokingly call themselves. A bunch of fools. 

Despite the best efforts of the Goebbels propaganda machine, 
which loudly proclaimed the hastily assembled Volksgrenadier divi- 
sions as the ultimate saviors of the Fatherland, morale amongst these 
formations was rapidly degenerating. Having been hurried into action 
much too quickly, these recently recruited industrial workers, con- 
valescents and disillusioned veterans were a constant concern to their 
commanders. The following extracts from an order of Major General 
Gerhard Franz, commanding 256 Volksgrenadier Division in Holland, 
reveals some of the conditions prevalent in these ‘divisions of the 
people.’ 

256 Volksgrenadier Division. Headquarters, 

Commander. 11 October 1944. 

Certain events among units have impelled me to point out that discipline 
and esprit de corps among the troops must be raised in the shortest possible 
time. For this, all formation commanders, in particular company com- 
manders, will be held personally responsible to me. . . . 

It cannot be tolerated that a formation commander should get drunk, 
then wander about the woods at night shouting and firing his pistol at the 
sentry. ... 

It shows little discipline in a company when members of the company 
call each other ‘cheats’ during a discussion about captured loot. . . . 


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A unit shows little esprit de corps if a soldier can declare that owing to 
difficulty in walking he can no longer serve with the artillery since he 
could not escape quickly enough if the Tommy arrived. Such a statement is 
a basis for defeatism and this case should be dealt with by courts-martial. 

It shows lamentable carelessness if one soldier while cleaning his arms 
injures four comrades by sheer negligence and in such a way that they will 
be unable to do any duty. Before cleaning weapons, in particular new 
weapons, sufficient instruction must be given in stripping and assembling 
so that everyone who may have to use these weapons is fully conversant 
with their use. . . . 

During the last eight days no less than eleven desertions have been 
reported, seven of whom went over into enemy lines. . . . Reports about 
desertions are lamentable and generally arrive too late. In one particular 
case a soldier deserted his unit on 29 September 1944, and the official report 
was not made until 10 October 1944. . . . 

FRANZ. 

And that a somewhat similar state of morale existed all along the 
German front is shown by the following paragraph from a confidential 
report made by war reporter Lieutenant Franz Freckman in Novem- 
ber 1944. The document is entitled ‘Observations Made in the Sectors 
of 159 Infantry Division, 161 Infantry Division and 21 Panzer Divi- 
sion,’ which formations were at that time located at the southern 
extremity of the German line in the region of the Vosges Mountains 
and Belfort Gap. 

For the most part our troops are very much fatigued owing to their 
continuous front-line employment since D-Day [Freckman begins]. 
Already a motley crew through the constant addition of replacements, the 
soldiers are to a large extent physically unable to cope with the difficulties 
of mountain warfare. . . . Generally speaking our troops suffer under the 
impression that we will not be able to compete with the strong enemy 
superiority. It is often necessary for company commanders, and particularly 
for battalion commanders, to muster all their patience and their untiring 
determination in order to get their obstinately indifferent men to go to work 
at the front or to undertake any activity whatsoever. Patrols often lack the 
courage necessary for the accomplishment of their mission. They approach 
enemy lines, lie low for ten minutes, and then return to their units. . . . 

The overwhelming weight of defeat in the West and the East was 
thus finally beginning to bend the iron-hard discipline of the German 
soldier. It had not yet broken, but it was being sorely strained. The 
months of September, October and November 1944 undoubtedly 
revealed the first serious signs of wear and tear on a machine that had 
kept going chiefly because it did not know how to stop. All through 
Normandy the German soldier had loyally suffered a beating the 
magnitude of which has rarely been surpassed in the annals of war. 


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He had taken it all because he believed what was being told him, and 
because he knew nothing else. During the retreat through France, 
however, his personal experience had slowly opened his eyes to facts 
that Goebbels had tried so long to hide. With the first glimmerings 
of truth came doubt, and with doubt came desertion. 

The causes that will lead a man to desert are many. But at the 
basis of them all is loss of faith in what one has been fighting for. 
It sometimes takes more courage to desert than it does to remain in 
the line. For a deserter voluntarily accepts the risk of death if he 
should fail, and the hatred and opprobrium of his countrymen if he 
should succeed. And when he has succeeded his only reward is the 
soul-destroying existence of a prisoner-of-war camp. Yet in World 
War II Germans frequently walked through unfamiliar minefields, 
swam wide rivers, traveled hundreds of miles on forged passes, and 
even killed their own sentries to enable them to desert. 

The non-German element in the Wehrmacht provided the largest 
category of deserters. These Poles, Czechs, Russians, Alsatians and 
others were constantly on the look-out for an opportunity to cross 
over to Allied fines. But since they had little, or no, faith in the 
German cause their actions were understandable. With the Germans 
themselves, however, the circumstances leading to desertion were 
far more complex. They varied with the individual and his experi- 
ences. Inability to put up with conditions in the field, recognition of 
the fact that Germany had lost the war, dissatisfaction with their 
officers, ‘horror at finding their unit under S.S. command, long periods 
of unbroken fighting without rest, inadequate equipment, lack of 
news from home, personal resentment at some unfair treatment, were 
some of the long fist of explanations advanced for the defection of 
Germans in the fall of 1944. Few deserters claimed that an ideological 
disagreement with Nazism had brought about their state of mind, 
and hardly any blamed Hitler personally, although, the S.S., the party 
and the Wehrmacht came in for their share of condemnation. 

So frequently were desertions now taking place, in an army that 
had been relatively free from them heretofore, that items such as 
these could frequently be found in unit orders: 

“By 16.00 hours, 20 October 1944, the number of desertions, Gen- 
eral Courts-Martial, Regimental Courts-Martial ,and a fist of those 
shot through the head for cowardice since 13 September 1944 is to be 
forwarded. N.C.O.s and other ranks by number, officers by name.” 

To prevent this rot in the framework of the Wehrmacht from 
developing to disastrous proportions, drastic and immediate steps 
were taken. In an endeavor to prevent the potential deserter from 


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making good his escape, unit commanders employed the most ingeni- 
ous devices. Nazi party members liberally scattered among front-line 
companies, with the responsibility of reporting any subversive activ- 
ity. A more ambitious attempt was reported by a German prisoner 
who claimed that in his unit all twelve sentries were connected by a 
wire tied to their left wrists at night. The wire was given a jerk when 
sentries changed, thereby informing the sergeant that all was well. 
The purpose of the wire was to keep sentries from deserting, for if a 
sentry untied the wire and slipped away without jerking it and 
arousing the sergeant, it would be obvious that he had deserted and 
had not been carried off by an Allied patrol. In another unit in Holland 
all personnel were searched for white handkerchiefs before going 
into the line, to prevent them from signalling a willingness to 
surrender. 

But these direct means of preventing desertion were not enough. 
The Supreme Command relied on more wide-sweeping measures 
to bring about their desired results. With unyielding intensity they 
beat upon the mind of the German soldier such a merciless tattoo of 
fear and patriotism that only the very few could fail to be deterred 
from thoughts of desertion. This was accomplished by three chief 
means: exhortations, propaganda and threats. 

The exhortations came from the officers whom the men might still 
trust. Orders of the day followed orders of the day pleading, com- 
manding, reasoning, promising, flattering, threatening, the German 
soldier in the West. Listen to von Rundstedt: 

Commander-in-Chief West. Headquarters, 

i October 1944. 

SOLDIERS OF THE WESTERN FRONT! 

You have brought the enemy to a halt at the gates of the Reich. But he 
will shortly go over to new super attacks. 

I expect you to defend Germany’s sacred soil with all your strength and 
to the very last. The homeland will thank you through untiring efforts and 
will be proud of you. 

New soldiers will arrive at the Western front. Instil into them your will to 
victory and your battle experience. All officers and N.C.O.s are responsible 
for all troops being at all times conscious of their great responsibility as 
defenders of the Western approaches. Soldiers of the Western Front! 

Every attempt of the enemy to break into our Fatherland will fail because 
of your unshakeable bearing. 

Heil the Fiihrer! 

VON RUNDSTEDT, 

Field-Marshal. 


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And now listen to some of Model. Somewhat shriller but still on 
the same theme. 


14 October 1944. 

ORDER OF THE DAY. 

Soldiers of the Army Group! 

The battle in the West has reached its peak. On widely separated fronts 
we must defend the soil of our German homeland. Now we must shield the 
sacred soil of the Fatherland with tenacity and doggedness. . . . The Com- 
mandment of the hour is: None of us gives up a square foot of German soil 
while still alive. 

Every bunker, every block of houses in a German town, every German 
village must become a fortress which shatters the enemy. That’s what the 
Fiihrer, the people and our dead comrades expect from us. The enemy shall 
know that there is no road into the heart of the Reich except over our dead 
bodies. . . . 

Egotism, neglect of duty, defeatism and especially cowardice must not be 
allowed room in our hearts. Whoever retreats without giving battle is a 
traitor to his people 

Soldiers! Our homeland, the lives of our wives and children are at stake! 

Our Fiihrer and our loved ones have confidence in their soldiers! We will 
show ourselves worthy of their confidence. 

Long live our Germany and our beloved Fiihrer! 

MODEL, 
Field Marshal. 

And when the commanders had paused for breath, Goebbels and 
his propaganda boys stepped in to continue pumping into the dazed 
and weary body of the German soldier the synthetic stimulants of 
fear and faith which alone could keep him resisting. But the propa- 
ganda line had undergone a change since the early days of the 
invasion. Then the emphasis had been on hope — die promise of 
secret weapons and secret armies which would suddenly appear to 
crush the Allies in one violent cataclysm. The secret weapons had 
come and gone and yet the shadow of defeat was closer and darker 
than it had ever been before. The promise of secret weapons now 
had to be soft-pedaled. The emphasis was now on fear — fear of 
the destruction of Germany, of the rape of its womanhood, of the 
vengeance of the Russian Bolsheviks. Hammering on these themes 
like some mad musician at an organ, Goebbels pulled out all the 
stops, reaching a Wagnerian crescendo of frenzied hysteria. One 
typical example of the propaganda efforts used to frighten or shame 


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the German soldier into staying in the line was a leaflet entitled 
‘The Watch on the Rhine/ 5 Over the picture of a medieval German 
warrior, complete with flowing cloak, chain-armor and enormous 
sword, standing guard on the Rhine, the following words, amongst 
others, were written: 

Comrade, the enemy means to outflank the West Wall at the very point 
where we are and to cross the Rhine into Germany! 

Shall our people, shall our families, have suffered five years in vain? 

Shall they suffer misery and starvation amid the ruins of our cities in a 
conquered Germany? 

Do you wish to go to Siberia to work as a slave? 

What do you say about it ? 

Never shall this happen. 

Never shall the heroic sacrifices of our people prove in vain! 

Therefore, everything depends now on your courage! The struggle 
against an enemy who at the moment is still superior is tremendously hard. 
But for all of us there is no other way out than to fight on with knives if 
need be. 

It is better to die than to accept dishonor and slavery! 

It is better to be dead than a slave! 

Therefore — keep the watch on the Rhine steadfastly and loyally. 

Or take this less flamboyant, but somewhat similar, illustration of 
the propagandist at work. This document is called: ‘Enemy War 
Aims’ 6 and attempts to present its views in a seemingly logical and 
detached manner: 

In May 1944 [it reads] the Soviet Union offered a plan to her Allies, 
whereby all members of the German forces would be made prisoners-of- 
war and organized into labor battalions for forced labor in the Soviet Union. 
The U.S.A. as well as England agreed to the proposal without restrictions. 

On top of that, the U.S.A. demanded that the geographical unity of 
Germany be dissolved by running corridors through it, which would be 
inhabited by non-Germans. They intend to distribute these sectors to 
“a population with more peaceful tendencies” while making Germany 
defenseless and enslaved. 

To destroy German national pride, a complete understanding exists 
between Moscow, London and Washington. 

(a) They will not make peace with Germany, but will continuously 
occupy the country. 

(b) They intend to intermarry German women with members of the 
occupying forces. 

(c) German children will be educated after separation from their 
parents. . . . 


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The will to destroy is not directed against National Socialism but, with- 
out any doubt, against the entire German nation. 

Whoever does not fulfil his duty to the utmost during the conning weeks 
and months is helping to make these war aims of the enemy a terrible reality. 

But pleas and propaganda were alone not enough to discourage 
the German soldier from abandoning a cause he was beginning to 
realize was hopeless. A more concrete deterrent was needed. It came 
in the form of a message from that incredible purveyor of mass death, 
Heinrich Himmler, who had taken over command of the Home Army 
following the assassination attempt of the 20 July. The message was 
brief and to the point: 7 

Reichsfiihrer S.S. io September 1944. 

Certain unreliable elements seem to believe that the war will be over for 
them as soon as they surrender to the enemy. 

Against this belief it must be pointed out that every deserter will be 
prosecuted and will find his just punishment. Furthermore, his ignominious 
behavior will entail the most severe consequences for his family. Upon 
examination of the circumstances they will be summarily shot. 

(Signed) HIMMLER. 

It is safe to say that this single order did more to keep the German 
soldier in the line than any conceivable plea to his patriotism and 
duty. For while a man may risk his own life and reputation in attempt- 
ing to desert, very few will take that risk with the lives of those he 
has left behind. The realistic Himmler knew that terror would be 
much more effective than reason. Having cowed a continent of non- 
Germans with it, he did not hesitate to use it against his own people 
as well. And it achieved results. What had threatened to become an 
uncontrollable situation soon simmered down to manageable pro- 
portions. The man with a family and a home gave up his plans for 
crossing over to the enemy and settled down to a stolid acceptance 
of a fate that had become too inexorable to resist. But in the later 
days of the war he eagerly listened to news of the Allied advances 
and, when he heard that his home town was safely in the hands of 
the enemy, he packed his bag and awaited the earliest opportunity 
to desert. 

But that even a measure as ruthless as Himmler’s had not altogether 
stamped out desertion, was soon obvious. It discouraged it. It did not 
stop it. Non-Germans and single men with few family ties in the 
Riech still did not hesitate to take the step. And if conditions became 
unbearable enough even married men went over. With what increas- 
ing violence the problem of desertion was treated can be seen by 


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the following proclamation read to all personnel of the 18 Volks- 
grenadier Division fighting in the Eifel against the Americans: 

Headquarters, 

1 8 Volksgrenadier Division, 
November 1944 


Volksgrenadier ! 

Traitors from our ranks have deserted to the enemy. Their names are: 
Volksgefreiter (Corporal) Geiger, Eugen 
Volksgrenadier Essmann, Johann 
Volksgrenadier Walczkiewitz, Anton 
Volksgrenadier Gronalewski, Vincent 
Volksgrenadier Kobiela, Paul 
Volksgrenadier Wolf, Kasimir. 

These bastards have given away important military secrets. The result is 
that for the past few days the Americans have been laying accurate artillery 
fire on your positions, your bunkers, your company and platoon head- 
quarters, your field kitchens and your messenger routes. Deceitful Jewish 
mud-slingers taunt you with their pamphlets and try to entice you into 
becoming bastards also. Let them spew their poison! 

We stand watch over Germany’s frontier. Death and destruction to all 
enemies who tread on German soil. 

As for the contemptible traitors who have forgotten their honor, rest 
assured the division will see that they never see home and loved ones again. 
Their families will have to atone for their treason. The destiny of a people 
has never depended on traitors and bastards. The true German soldier was 
and is the best in the world. Unwavering behind him is the Fatherland. 

And at the end is our Victory. 

Long live Germany! Heil the Fiihrer ! 

(Signed) HOFFMANN-SCHONFORN, 

Colonel. 

By these means then was the Siegfried Line manned and held in 
the months following the defeat in France. But it did not hold every- 
where, nor could all the threats and all the promises of all the 
Himmlers and all the Goebbelses prevail against the overwhelming 
might of Allied military power. On 21 October 1944 the Americans 
forced the surrender of Aachen, the first large German city to fall to 
the Allies, after an assault of eight days ’duration. Located within the 
belt of the Siegfried fortifications themselves, Hitler had demanded 
that the city be held until the last. But like its predecessors on the 
coast of France, this fortress fell when the commandant of Aachen 
felt he had had enough. In a speech given to his men at the formal 
surrender, the emotional commandant of the city, Colonel Gerhard 


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Wilck, revealed his own personal conception of what ‘fighting to the 
last’ meant, in the following words: 8 

Dear German Soldiers, 

This is a painful occasion on which I must speak to you. I have been 
forced to surrender, as ammunition, food, and water are exhausted. I have 
seen that further fighting would be useless. I have acted against my orders 
which directed that I would fight to the last man. ... I wish you all the 
best of health and a quick return to our Fatherland when hostilities have 
ceased so that you may help in the rebuilding of Germany. The American 
commander has told me that I cannot give you the ‘Sieg Heil’ or ‘Heil 
Hitler’ but we can still do it in our hearts. 

The firm resistance now being offered all along the Western front 
made inevitable a grueling winter campaign. General Eisenhower’s 
plan, adjusted to meet this situation, was to edge up to the Rhine 
itself and take hold of its west bank “from its mouth to Dusseldorf 
at least, if not to Bonn or Frankfurt,” before any large-scale penetra- 
tion beyond the river into Germany was attempted. In accordance 
with this plan First Canadian Army and Second British Army in the 
north pinched out all enemy resistance south of the Maas by 9 
November and west of that river by 4 December. 

The First and Ninth U.S. Armies engaged in a bitter campaign east 
of Aachen in the regions of Geilenkirchen, Eschweiler and the 
Hiirtgen Forest. The atrocious weather, the improved defense works 
of the Siegfried Line and the German soldier fighting on the frontier 
of his Fatherland, made the advance both costly and slow. The offen- 
sive launched on 16 November did not reach the Roer River until 3 
December, and there was still some twenty-five miles of muddy 
country to cross before the Rhine was reached. An additional com- 
plication impeding a further Allied advance was the Schmidt Dams, 
which were capable of flooding the Roer valley and still remained 
in German hands. An assault across the Roer under such circum- 
stances would give the Germans a golden opportunity to trap the 
forces that had crossed the river, by releasing the flood waters and 
cutting them off from the west. Adopting the more cautious course, 
First U.S. Army launched an attack on 13 December to capture these 
dams, but before it had completed this operation it was busy else- 
where warding off the German counter-offensive in the Ardennes. 

Farther south the other Allied armies were attempting to conform 
with General Eisenhower’s intentions of reaching the west bank of 
the Rhine. Third U.S. army, overcoming the fanatical resistance of 
a German officer cadet school, had finally succeeded in taking the 


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city of Metz on 22 November. Now, in the region of Saarlautern, 
they had bumped into the toughest point of the Siegfried Line, and 
the going through the maze of bunkers and forts was exceedingly 
difficult and painfully slow. In the region of the Vosges Mountains 
the Allied troops of Sixth Army Group achieved notable success in 
their drive to the Rhine. The Seventh U.S. Army hit the Rhine itself 
on 23 November by capturing the city of Strasbourg, while the First 
French Army repeated the trick by breaking through the Relfort Gap 
and reaching the river on 20 November. Once on die Rhine, Seventh 
U.S. Army moved south along the river and First French Army 
advanced north along it, with the object of squeezing out the German 
forces still resisting west of the Rhine. By mid-December they had 
managed to eliminate all resistance in the area, except for a rather 
large bridgehead in the area of Colmar, which was later to prove an 
embarrassing thorn in Allied flesh before it was finally removed. 

Throughout all these slogging, non-spectacular battles, the German 
forces in the West had but one object — to hold. “Deny the enemy 
German soil and gain time” was the slogan. But though the line had 
held throughout the months of October and November it had not 
been without cost. Another 175,000 German prisoners had entered 
Allied cages during the two months — bringing the total taken in 
the West since D-Day to the bulging figure of 750,000. Attrition of 
this kind, amounting to some 6000 to 7000 casualties every single day, 
could not be borne without disastrous effects on morale that had 
already been worn dangerously thin. Armies cannot feed on defeats 
alone. They must sometimes be offered a victory — or what looks like 
a victory. The Supreme Command realized this full well, and under 
the shadowy protection of November and December cloudy days, 
furtive, but prodigious, efforts were being carried on apace to provide 
the German people with just such a victory for Christmas. On 16 
December 1944 the German offensive in the Ardennes was launched. 


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Chapter XXVI 

OFFENSIVE IN THE ARDENNES 

Orders of the day are reserved for momentous occasions. When they 
follow each other like so many rolls on a drum something significant 
has happened or is about to happen. “Soldiers of the Western Front, 
your great hour has struck,” trumpeted Field Marshal von Rundstedt, 
Commander-in-Chief in the West. “At this moment the veil which 
has been hiding so many preparations has been lifted at last.” And 
simultaneously Field Marshal Model, commander of Army Group 
‘B,’ was shouting, “We will not disappoint the Fiihrer and the Father- 
land, who created the sword of retribution. . . . No soldier in the 
world must be better than we soldiers of the Eifel and of Aachen.” 
While, at the same time, General von Manteuffel, the new commander 
of Fifth Panzer Army was crying: “Forward, march, march! In re- 
membrance of our dead comrades, and therefore on their orders, and 
in remembrance of the tradition of our proud Wehrmacht!” What 
did it all mean? 

The four American divisions stretched thin in the Eifel- Ardennes 
sector on that grim morning of 16 December 1944 could provide part 
of the answer. Suddenly the cold stillness of the wooded Ardennes 
had been broken by the rumble of guns, the clatter of tracks and 
engines, the roar of battle. Out of the heavy mist crept hundreds of 
tanks and thousands of men. Westwards they moved with such un- 
precedented power that they quickly shattered the cohesive front 
line of the astounded American forces. Sweeping past the stubborn 
knots of American resistance that had refused to yield, the tank 
columns charged along the narrow, crusted roads, and in less than 
forty-eight hours had made extensive penetrations, some of them 
from ten to fifteen miles deep, along a front which extended from 
south of Aachen to north of Trier, a distance of about fifty-five miles. 

At the headquarters of the Allied Supreme Command the first 
reports presented an incredible picture of vagueness and confusion. 
Villages that had felt the initial force of the attack were being held 
while others, far behind, were in German hands; tanks were weaving 

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westwards unchecked and by the hundred; saboteurs in American 
uniforms and American jeeps were scurrying ahead of the oncoming 
Germans spreading terror and confusion, parachutists were being 
picked up in the most incredible places. One fact was clear, however. 
The Wehrmacht had launched a counter-offensive of stunning pro- 
portions and were backing their gamble with heavy stakes. For by 
midnight of 16 December, Allied intelligence staffs had already 
identified and charted ten infantry, five panzer and one parachute 
division on their battle maps. 1 

That something was going on behind the screen of the Siegfried 
Line had been evident for some time. Air reconnaissance had shown 
marked rail and road activity along the Rhine valley all the previous 
week; unoccupied artillery positions were being manned; a German 
resident of Bitburg in the Eifel reported that she had seen an un- 
usually large number of pontoons and small boats moving westwards 
and also that new troops had arrived from Italy on 10 December; 
morale amongst freshly captured German prisoners was abnormally 
high and many of them spoke of a coming attack between the 17 and 
25 of December and of the “recapture of Aachen as a Christmas 
present for the Fiihrer.” In addition to these bits of information it 
was known that the Sixth S.S. Panzer Army, which included 1 S.S., 
2 S.S., 9 S.S., 10 S.S. and 12 S.S. Panzer Divisions, had been reforming 
and reorganizing since the retreat from France, and that most of these 
formations had been concentrated during the first weeks in December 
in the area between the Roer and the Rhine rivers. Reports had also 
been received of other infantry and armored formations, last heard 
of in Normandy, reappearing behind the Siegfried Line. In fact so 
ominous had all these portents become that in a report issued by the 
intelligence staff of First U.S. Army a few days before the actual 
offensive began, it was appreciated that an all-out counter-attack was 
being prepared by the Germans. It was predicted that the operation 
would include large armored formations, that it would take place 
between the Roer and the Erft rivers, and that the enemy would 
support it by “every weapon he can bring to bear.” The scope and 
character of the Ardennes offensive was thus estimated accurately 
enough. The place, however, was too far north. 

Thus, on the whole, the Allied Command was caught napping, 
not so much by the possibility that such an attack might occur, but 
by the fact that the German Supreme Command should be rash 
enough to launch it in country that was so conspicuously unfavorable 
for large-scale armored manoeuvres. This close, wooded country with 
its narrow, tortuous roads, thickly covered with snow and mud, 


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offered perfect conditions for anti-tank defense. For a single tank 
stuck in the unyielding mire or knocked out by an opposing gun, 
created an effective road-block. To venture on to the soft ground of 
the adjoining fields with an armored vehicle was to court certain 
trouble. And if speed was to be an essential element of any German 
counter-offensive, the Ardennes in winter would hardly be the ideal 
place to expect to achieve it. 

Allied reasoning in this regard is clearly set out by General Eisen- 
hower in his report. “My headquarters and Twelfth Army Group 
had felt for some time that a counter-attack through the Ardennes 
was a possibility,” records the Allied Supreme Commander, 2 “since 
American forces were stretched very thinly there in order to provide 
troops for attack elsewhere and because Field Marshal von Rund- 
stedt had gradually placed in this quiet sector six infantry divisions, 
a larger number than he required for reasonable security. However, 
we did not consider it highly probable that von Rundstedt would, 
in winter, try to use that region in which to stage a counter-offensive 
on a large scale, feeling certain that we could deal with any such 
effort, and that the result would ultimately be disastrous to Germany.” 
As we shall see. General Eisenhowers opinion did not lack support — 
either Allied or German. 

For the Ardennes offensive was not the brain child of any of the 
senior commanders in the West — von Rundstedt or Model or ‘Sepp’ 
Dietrich. On the contrary they had all protested that it was as un- 
feasible as Allied strategists had believed it was. But their opinions 
were not asked for nor were they favorably received — they were 
simply told and they obeyed. For this plan was born of intuition. And 
in such a conception the cold logic of military reasoning can play 
no part. As Goring has said, 3 “The Fiihrer planned it all himself. His 
alone was the plan and the idea.” 

It was late in September, when the German armies had just reached 
the comparative safety of the West Wall, that Adolf Hitler had called 
Colonel General Jodi to him and outlined his idea for a counter- 
offensive through the Ardennes designed to capture Antwerp. The 
Fiihrer had conceived of the plan while recovering from an attack of 
jaundice. Students of symbolism may find some significance in this 
juxtaposition of events. Jodi thought the idea a sound one, and went 
ahead with the task of working out the details. As the plan finally 
emerged, it was to consist of an armored dash through the difficult 
country of the Ardennes with the object of capturing the bridges on 
the Meuse River between Namur and Liege. Once this spurt of over 
fifty miles had been completed, and bridgeheads on the west bank 


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of the Meuse secured, the panzer divisions would continue their 
advance in a northwesterly direction and seize the cities of Brussels 
and Antwerp. By this bold manoeuvre it was hoped to deprive the 
Allies of their chief supply base at Antwerp, and, at the same time, 
trap the entire British and Canadian forces of Field Marshal Mont- 
gomery’s Twenty-first Army Group, then lining the banks of the 
Maas. The success of the operation depended upon complete and 
overwhelming surprise. It was believed that the shock would paralyze 
American resistance long enough to enable the tank vanguards to 
reach the Meuse by the end of the second day. 

No less than twenty-four divisions were to be used in this ambitious 
counterblow, of which at least ten were armored. The bulk of the 
infantry divisions belonged to the Volksgrenadier class and most of 
their personnel were seeing action for the first time. In fact almost 
every unit involved had either been refitted and reformed after being 
thoroughly thrashed in France, or had been organized from the 
second-rate manpower thrown up by the latest total mobilization 
effort. The result was a group of inadequately trained divisions en- 
tirely unsuited for the difficult task they had been ordered to perform. 

Operationally the German order of battle looked like a contest 
between the S.S. and the army. On the northern half of the sector 
was to be the recently constituted Sixth S.S. Panzer Army, having 
under command all the S.S. panzer divisions which had fought in 
Normandy, together with a parachute division and a number of 
Volksgrenadier divisions. This army was to be led by Oberstgruppen- 
fiihrer (Colonel General) ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, together with an entire 
staff of S.S. officers. Dietrich had been busy rebuilding this army ever 
since he had been pulled out of France after failing to hold the fronts 
at Caen, the Seine and the Somme. 

The southern half of the sector was to be the responsibility of the 
reconstituted Fifth Panzer Army which, like its partner, was com- 
posed of five of the panzer divisions that had been reformed after 
being destroyed in France. It, also, was thickened up with Volks- 
grenadier divisions whose role was to take over the ground by-passed 
by the armor. This army was led by General Hasso-Eccard von 
Manteuffel, a lean, sad-looking man whose long, thin face gave him 
the appearance of a thoughtful priest. 

Following along after Fifth Panzer Army, and acting somewhat 
like a closing zipper fastener, was Seventh Army which was to seal 
the southern edge of the break-through with infantry divisions, and 
thus protect the salient from any efforts of General Patton’s Third 
U.S. Army to push north. To help gain vital crossroads, seize im- 
portant bridges and create confusion in the rear of the Allied line, 


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parachutists were to be dropped, and a special panzer brigade com- 
posed of expert saboteurs and English-speaking Germans wearing 
American uniforms was to be employed. More will be said about these 
special units later in this part. And, finally, the Luftwaffe was to come 
out of hibernation at last and give active and vigorous support to the 
ground forces. 

The bulk of the striking power was to be concentrated behind Sixth 
S.S. Panzer Army, which was to be the first to reach the Meuse and 
cross the river between Huy and Liege. From there it was to push 
on to its final destination — Antwerp. This desire to give the S.S. Army 
the prima donna role played a major part in the failure of the com- 
plete operation. According to von Rundstedt, the basis of the plan 
was to execute a turning movement from the south in the direction 
of Liege and Antwerp. Since Fifth Panzer Army, being the southern 
army, was on the far side of the wheel it should have been specially 
strengthened. But since Hitler had more faith in his S.S. troops than 
in the regular army officers, and since he was anxious that whatever 
success the offensive attained should redound to the credit of those 
faithful to the regime, he insisted that the main resources be sent to 
Dietrich’s Sixth S.S. Panzer Army. Not only did the Fiihrer demand 
that this be carried out at the beginning of the offensive, but even 
later on when the S.S. divisions were hopelessly bogged down, and 
the only glimmer of success lay with reinforcing Fifth Panzer Army, 
Hitler ordered the sending of reserves to Dietrich’s aid. In von 
Rundstedt’s own words this was a “fundamental error which im- 
balanced the whole offensive.” 4 

In conception and sweep this plan of Hitler’s to catch the Ameri- 
cans off guard in the Ardennes and thereby capture Antwerp was 
both daring and imaginative. The only thing wrong with it was that 
by the end of 1944 there was neither enough equipment, enough 
supplies nor enough trained German troops to carry it out. But the 
steady drain on German manpower during the battles of October 
and November had made it evident that to remain on the defensive 
was not enough. Something had to be done. But what and when? 
Hitler’s ideas had appealed to those Wehrmacht officers who sur- 
rounded him in Berlin. 

“I fully agreed with Hitler that the Antwerp undertaking was an 
operation of the most extreme daring,” said Colonel General Jodi, 
in explaining his acceptance of the plan. 5 “But we were in a desperate 
situation, and the only way to ease it was by a desperate decision. 
By remaining on the defense, we could not expect to escape the evil 
fate hanging over us. By fighting, rather than waiting, we might save 
something.” 


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But those officers at the front, who had been informed of the 
proposed offensive in October and who were expected to carry it 
out, were not as sanguine as Hitler and Jodi. Although agreeing with 
the general principle that an offensive had to be undertaken before 
the spring, they felt that the scheme put forward by the Supreme 
Command was far too ambitious for the forces available to them. 

“I strongly object to the fact that this stupid operation in the 
Ardennes is sometimes called the ‘Rundstedt offensive,’” said the 
Commander-in-Chief West . 6 “That is a complete misnomer. I had 
nothing to do with it. It came to me as an order complete to the 
last detail. As a matter of fact, once we had retired to the West Wall 
I had begun preparing a limited offensive of my own. It seemed 
to me that the American bulge which had been driven towards 
Cologne in the region of Aachen might well be nipped off by a 
combined attack from the north and the south. Such a limited offen- 
sive, if successful, would have depleted American strength, retaken 
Aachen and probably offset any Allied plans for a winter offensive. 
When this had been accomplished we would then think again. I 
believed that we had sufficient forces for such an operation, and 
I had even asked my staff to produce a plan along these lines. But 
this operation was not to be, since Hitler had other ideas. 

“When I was first told about the proposed offensive in the 
Ardennes, I protested against it as vigorously as I could. The forces 
at our disposal were much, much too weak for such far-reaching 
objectives. I suggested that my plan against the Aachen salient be 
used instead, but the suggestion was turned down, as were all my 
other objections. It was only up to me to obey. It was a nonsensical 
operation, and the most stupid part of it was the setting of Antwerp 
as the target. If we reached the Meuse we should have got down 
on our knees and thanked God — let alone try to reach Antwerp.” 
Von Rundstedt’s views were strongly supported by Field Marshal 
Model, who, as commander-in-chief of Army Group ‘B,’ was to 
supervise the activities of the three assaulting armies. “Model thought 
Antwerp too far to reach, and beyond our means,” Jodi has admitted . 7 
“He thought the troops around Aachen would be a danger to our 
advance unless they were wiped out first. Hitler and I believed we 
could not wipe out the very strong and well-armed Allied forces 
around Aachen. We thought our only chance was an operation of 
surprise which would cut the life-line of the Allied forces at Aachen 
and in that way alone neutralize them.” 

But the most eloquent protest of all came from Oberstgruppen- 
fiihrer ‘Sepp’ Dietrich \s$io, in the midst of re-equipping and reform- 


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ing his broken S.S. panzer divisions, was told what his next job 
was to be. His new army was to attack through the Ardennes, form 
bridgeheads over the Meuse between Liege and Huy, and then 
advance in a northwesterly direction along the line St. Trond- 
Herschot-Antwerp. “I grew so big with these plans,” commented 
Dietrich bitterly, 8 flinging out his arms and puffing out his cheeks 
to show just how big. “All I had to do was to cross a river, capture 
Brussels and then go on and take the port of Antwerp. And all this in 
December, January and February, the worst three months of the 
year; through the Ardennes where snow was waist deep and there 
wasn’t room to deploy four tanks abreast, let alone six armored divi- 
sions; when it didn’t get light until eight in the morning and was 
dark again at four in the afternoon and my tanks can’t fight at night; . 
with divisions that had just been reformed and were composed 
chiefly of raw untrained recruits; and at Christmas time.” The crack 
in Dietrich’s voice when he reached this last obstacle made it sound 
like the most heartbreaking one of all. 

Dietrich went with his complaints to Hitler’s headquarters, where 
he saw the army Chief-of-Staff, Field Marshal Guderian and Colonel 
General Jodi. “I can’t do this,” Dietrich told them. “It’s impossible.” 
But both men shrugged their shoulders and gave him the same reply, 
“It’s the Fiihrer’s orders,” they said, and that was the end of that. 

Once it had been decided that the operation would proceed as 
originally conceived by Hitler, it was essential that every possible 
security measure be taken to keep it secret, since its success depended 
so much on absolute surprise. Every officer involved in the planning 
stages of the operation was forced to sign a document in which he 
agreed to accept court-martial if he should, either intentionally or 
unwittingly, disclose any part of the plan. And to reduce the possi- 
bilities of leakage to a minimum, only those immediately concerned 
with the early preparations were informed of the coming offensive. 
This mania for security went to such ridiculous lengths that even 
so senior an officer as Colonel General Kurt Student, commander 
of Army Group ‘H’ north of the Ruhr, was not told about it until 
8 December, merely eight days before it was to be launched. General 
Alfred Schlemm, whose First Parachute Army stretched as far south 
as Miinchen-Gladbach, was not given any information until onlv two 
days before the offensive, despite the fact that he had been ordered, 
a week before, to supply Field Marshal Model with all the experienced 
parachute iumpers he could find. 

While these steps succeeded in denying to the Allies any fore- 
warning of the offensive, they also entailed certain unpleasant conse- 


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quences from a German standpoint. Parachutists were only briefed 
about the operation a few hours before they jumped, and even then 
no names of towns were mentioned. As a result many of them had 
no idea as to where they were or what their mission really was. Front- 
line officers were notified of their r61e on 15 December, which was 
insufficient time to acquaint themselves with the ground and to 
provide their men with a proper understanding of their task. As a 
result the first day’s attack was a masterpiece of confusion and muddle. 
No one knew when or where the Luftwaffe would appear, since 
ground troops were apparently not affected by their activities, so 
that many of Goring’s carefully husbanded planes were shot out 
of the sky by keen German anti-aircraft gunners, who had come to 
assume that anything in the air was naturally Allied. 

There was no dearth of conferences during these days. The head- 
quarters of the Commander-in-Chief West, which was now at Ziegen- 
berg, was the scene of much poring over maps as von Rundstedt 
and Jodi and Model discussed the plans which had been worked 
out for them, to the last detail, at Berlin. Since the only hope of 
success depended upon weather bad enough to prevent the Allied air 
forces from getting off the ground, the offensive was first scheduled 
to begin at the end of November, when flying weather was expected 
to be at its worst. However, it was soon plain that the reforming 
panzer and infantry divisions would not be ready by then, and the 
starting date was postponed to mid-December, when meteorologists 
assured Hitler of four or five days of thick fog. 

On 12 December divisional, corps and army commanders who 
were to take part in the operation were summoned to von Rund- 
stedt’s headquarters at Ziegenberg. This weird conference has been 
well described by Lieutenant General Fritz Bayerlein, whose re- 
equipped Panzer Lehr Division was later assigned the task of captur- 
ing Bastogne. 

“It was at Ziegenberg that I found out about the offensive for the 
first time,” said Bayerlein. 9 “After dinner we were told to attend 
a special briefing. We were all stripped of our weapons and brief- 
cases, loaded into buses and then driven about the countryside for 
about half an hour. Finally we were led into a large room which was 
surrounded with S.S. guards who watched our every move. Then 
Hitler arrived accompanied by Field Marshal Keitel and General Jodi. 

“Hitler looked sick and broken, and began to read from a long 
m-epared manuscript. The speech lasted for two hours, during which 
I felt most uneasy. The suspicious looks of the S.S. guards made me 
afraid even to reach into my pocket for a handkerchief. Hitler started 


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off this briefing as if he were delivering one of his birthday speeches. 
For about an hour he told us what he and the Nazi party had done 
for Germany during the past twelve years. 

“He then went into the details of the Ardennes offensive, telling us 
what formations were involved and what they were to do. The object 
of the attack was to capture Antwerp in fourteen days and at the 
same time trap Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group in Holland. 
The loss of so large a force would cause Canada to withdraw from 
the war, and thoroughly discourage the United States about continu- 
ing the struggle. Hitler also impressed us with the fact that if this 
offensive did not succeed, things would then be extremely difficult 
for Germany. At this statement, Keitel and Jodi, who were sitting 
at the front table, nodded their heads approvingly. The Fiihrer also 
promised us sufficient petrol, and a fighter support of 3000 planes 
which would keep the Allies out of the sky. When Hitler had finished, 
von Rundstedt expressed his loyalty to the Fiihrer on behalf of the 
generals, and assured him that this time they would not fail him.” 

But despite the assurances of von Rundstedt the attack did not 
live up to Hitler’s optimistic expectations. Although isolated tank 
spearheads managed to dart forward in the first few days, the bulk 
of the forces engaged found the going slow and heavy. Instead of 
capturing the two vital communication centers of St. Vith and Bas- 
togne on the first day as had been planned, stubborn American resis- 
tance held them out of these towns. Instead of Sixth S.S. Panzer Army 
easily breaking through to Verviers, on the road to Liege, and thus 
opening up a hole through which a special armored brigade of 
saboteurs in American uniform and tanks would dash to the Meuse, it 
became bogged down by its own traffic and by American opposition 
at St. Vith. Fifth Panzer Army, although having more initial success 
than its northern neighbor, was still far from having reached the 
Meuse after forty-eight hours — as had been expected of it. 

Nevertheless the Germans had, through sheer weight of numbers, 
made considerable progress, particularly in the direction of Bastogne, 
some twenty miles west of the start-line. Recognizing the importance 
of this road center to any offensive operation in this region of the 
Ardennes, General Eisenhower had ordered the immediate despatch 
of 101 U.S. Airborne Division to Bastogne. Refitting at the time near 
Rheims, about 100 miles from their destination, this division started 
out at half -past eight on the evening of 17 December and arrived 
at Bastogne early on the morning of 19 December. Their arrival was 
none too soon for they had, unknowingly, been competing with 
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Actually the Germans had known that an airborne division had 
been set in motion to proceed to the Ardennes. General Heinrich 
von Liittwitz, who was commanding 47 Panzer Corps responsible 
for the capture of Bastogne, had found an important message waiting 
on his desk on the afternoon of 17 December. His signals officer had 
intercepted an American wireless message which reported that 
American airborne divisions, near Rheims, had been ordered to the 
battle area. 

“I reasoned that these divisions would be sent to Bastogne,” said 
von Liittwitz. 10 “But this message also told me much more. Ever 
since the Arnhem operation our Command had feared another attack 
by airborne forces. When the message came in, we knew not only 
that there would be no such attack but that the American army must 
be extremely short of reserves in the immediate vicinity. Otherwise, it 
would not commit airborne divisions of such high standing to the 
battle.” 

But this information did not make him change his plan, for his 
own panzer divisions were proceeding to Bastogne as fast as they 
could, and from the map it appeared that they would easily arrive 
there before the Americans. Von Liittwitz had early recognized 
the importance of Bastogne and when outlining his plan to the divi- 
sional commanders of 2 Panzer Division, Panzer Lehr Division and 
26 Volksgrenadier Division, which were to form his corps, this large, 
red-faced general had declared, 11 “Bastogne must be taken. Other- 
wise it will remain an abscess on our lines of communication. We 
must clean out Bastogne and then march on.” And in furtherance 
of these intentions, his instructions were that if the town was lightly 
held the panzer divisions were to attack it at once, if it were defended 
frontally the tanks were to envelop and attack it from the rear, and 
if both these courses failed, the panzer divisions were to continue 
on to the river and leave the task of reducing Bastogne to the 26 
Volksgrenadier Division. 

Thus, when von Liittwitz heard that reinforcements were being 
sent to meet his advance, there was little need to alter his plan for 
both Panzer Lehr and 2 Panzer Division had reached position less 
than three miles from Bastogne by the evening of 18 December. 
Panzer Lehr Division actually started out to reach the town that 
night, but a series of rumors and bad luck prevented them from 
covering this short distance before the 101 U.S. Airborne Division 
arrived. 

“We started out at ten in the evening for Bastogne,” explained 
Lieutenant General Bayerlein of Panzer Lehr Division, “but we were 


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misled about the conditions of the road which we took. It was 
narrow, and deep in mud, and it took us almost three hours to travel 
less than a kilometre. My forces consisted of a battalion of infantry, 
fifteen tanks and some guns. When we reached a village about two 
kilometres from Bastogne a Belgian civilian told me that he had 
seen an American group of fifty tanks and forty other armored vehicles 
going east about midnight. It was then two in the morning, and the 
possibility of so large an enemy force in my rear made me rather 
uneasy about going on in the night. I therefore took time to protect 
my rear and did not start off again until five-thirty in the morning. 
Then my head tank hit a mine and there was another delay of about 
an hour to clear the road of mines. We started forward again and 
were almost in sight of Bastogne when enemy fire prevented my 
infantry from going forward. In the skirmish that followed I lost 
about eighty men, dead and wounded. I decided to postpone any 
further attack until I had assembled a larger force.” 

It was thus that the advancing panzer division made its first contact 
with a forward element of the 101 U.S. Airborne Division sent out 
on a reconnaissance mission to find out where the enemy was. The 
Americans had thus beaten the Germans to Bastogne by a matter 
of hours. By winning that race, although it did not know it at the 
time, this crack American formation had done much to thwart Hitler’s 
soaring ambitions for a mighty German offensive. Actually the Bel- 
gian civilian had, either intentionally or unwittingly, exaggerated 
the size of the American force going east, which was in reality 
merely a few tanks and some armored carriers. But the information 
had been sufficient to make Bayerlein more cautious and eventually 
to cause him to recommend that the taking of Bastogne be under- 
taken by all three divisions in the corps. The corps commander, von 
Liittwitz, actually recommended such an attack by his complete force 
on 17 December, but this request was denied by Fifth Panzer Army. 
As a result, 2 Panzer Division by-passed Bastogne and proceeded 
on towards the Meuse with all speed. The remaining divisions. Panzer 
Lehr and 26 Volksgrenadier, tried on the 20 and 21 December to 
take Bastogne but by now the 101 Airborne Division was firmly 
entrenched in the town and prepared to sit it out. 

At eleven-thirty on the morning of 22 December the American 
defenders saw coming towards them a group of four Germans carry- 
ing a large white flag. They turned out to be a major, a captain and 
two other ranks carrying with them a demand for the surrender 
of the American force in Bastogne. It had been written by General 
von Liittwitz, the commander of 47 Panzer Corps. The tone of the 


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demand was what the Germans like to think of as ‘very correct/ 
It read as follows: 


22 December 1944 . 

To the U.S.A. commander of the encircled town of Bastogne. 

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near 
Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More 
German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have 
taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Homores- 
Sibret-Tillet. Librimont is in German hands. 

There is only one possibility of saving the encircled U.S.A. troops from 
total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. 
In order to think it over, a period of two hours will be granted beginning 
with the presentation of this note. 

If this proposal should be rejected, one German artillery corps and six 
heavy anti-aircraft battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in 
and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after 
this two-hour period. 

All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not 
correspond with the well-known American humanity. 

/s/ THE GERMAN COMMANDER. 

The reply of Brigadier General Anthony McCauliffe, the acting 
commander of the 101 Airborne Division, was simple, terse, undig- 
nified, but immortal. It was the one comprehensive word — “Nuts!” 

On the northern flank of the attack, Sixth S.S. Panzer Army was 
faring even worse than von Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army. It had 
failed to capture St. Vith on the first day, as had been scheduled, and 
when it finally did fall on 22 December the Americans had already 
taken the necessary precautions to reinforce the Monschau area along 
the northern edge of the German penetration. In those first few days 
the remnants of the badly-hit American divisions clung tenaciously 
to their ground and completely upset the blitzkrieg plan of the 
Supreme Command. According to von Rundstedt it was not the 
American resistance alone that stalled the drive of Sixth S.S. Panzer 
Army to the Meuse. “The bad leadership of the S.S., the difficult 
terrain and the shortage of fuel also prevented the northern army 
from making satisfactory progress,” said von Rundstedt . 12 

The untried troops and the party officers of the S.S. had not proved 
up to an offensive operation of this kind. 1 S.S. Panzer Division dashed 
ahead and soon had its spearheads cut off, surrounded and eliminated. 
12 S.S. Panzer Division floundered hopelessly after an advance of 
only a few kilometers and then had to start battering its way slowly 


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forward. The problem that now beset von Rundstedt was whether 
the reserves should be shoved in behind Sixth S.S. Panzer Army, as 
originally planned, or whether they should be directed south to von 
Manteuffel’s army, which was at least making some progress. 

But Hitler would not consider committing the waiting 2 S.S. Panzer 
Corps, with its two S.S. panzer divisions, anywhere but with the 
S.S. army. Thus, instead of being used to reinforce the limited success 
achieved by Fifth Panzer Army, these two divisions were kept idly 
by while they waited for the assaulting 1 S.S. Panzer Corps to break 
the American positions in the Malmedy-Stavelot sector. This had not 
been achieved by 22 December. Then, instead of giving up these 
useless efforts in the north, Hitler threw in 2 S.S. Panzer Corps next 
to 1 S.S. Panzer Corps in a vain attempt to reach Liege by reinforcing 
failure. But by this date the Allies were no longer surprised. The 
shoulders of the penetration — the Monschau area in the north and 
the Bastogne area on the south — had been well-cemented with 
American troops. The Germans were now being channeled westwards 
whether they liked it or not. And on 22 December another significant 
event occurred. For the first day since the start of the Ardennes 
offensive, the thick heavy mist which had kept the Allied planes on 
the ground began to lift. The fighter-bombers took to the air and 
by taking on the road centers, dumps, bridges and moving vehicles 
in the battle area, struck a final blow at any lingering hopes of victory 
that might still have warmed the hearts of the German commanders 
in the West. On 24 December von Rundstedt recognized that the 
Ardennes offensive was a wash-out. He wanted to withdraw his 
forward troops, take up a line from Houffalize to east of Bastogne, 
and go over to the defensive. Hitler, however, was not discouraged so 
easily. The attack went on. 


Chapter XXVII 

THE PARACHUTISTS AND THE SABOTEURS 

The infantry and panzer divisions were not the only formations 
having trouble in accomplishing their mission. The supplementary 
troops assigned to the operation for the purpose of striking behind 
the American front line, were also experiencing their own difficulties. 
These troops consisted chiefly of two elements — a battalion of 
parachutists and a brigade of specially-trained saboteurs and tank- 
men. Both of these units were given a twofold task. They were to 
seize certain vital localities well to the rear of the American fore- 


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Ill ll l I ll II I II I II I IITTmTTTTWTWTTTWTTTTTTTffTmm 

most positions, such as bridge and road junctions, and hold them 
until the advancing divisions of the Sixth S.S. Panzer Army had 
relieved them. And secondly, they were to spread confusion, terror 
and fear behind the American line. They failed miserably in both 
these objects. 

On 8 December, eight days before the offensive, Colonel General 
Student, commander-in-chief of Army Group ‘H’ and of all the Ger- 
man parachutists, was finally told the secret of the pending operation. 
The theory that only those directly involved in an operation were 
to be told about it, had now been carried to such a ridiculous length 
that an officer holding one of the most senior commands in the West 
was kept in the dark, until almost the last moment, about so vital 
an event. And, even at this late date, Student had only been informed 
because he was to supply a battalion of trained parachutists for the 
offensive. 

The parachute arm of the service was a far cry, in December 1944, 
from the famed and feared units that had jumped at Rotterdam, 
Eben Emael and Crete in the early years of the war. For, in addition 
to the staggering losses incurred in Russia and Italy, the parachutists 
had suffered from the lack of planes. With the dwindling of Goring’s 
Luftwaffe had come about a commensurate shrinkage in the need 
for parachutists. But, realizing the value of the parachute tradition, 
the Supreme Command had organized these youthful, daring men 
into so-called parachute divisions whose only connection with air- 
borne troops was the Luftwaffe uniform they wore. Actually the 
parachute divisions, after five years of war, were nothing more or 
less than infantry troops trying to live up to a reputation that had been 
established for them when Germany ruled the air. Their fighting 
quality was convincingly proved at Cassino, Ortona and St. L6, and 
was to make itself felt yet again before the war was finally ended. 

But while they had quickly learned the business of fighting on 
the ground, years of disuse had affected their quality as real para- 
chutists. Thus, although General Student had a nominal four para- 
chute divisions in his army group, it was not too easy to find amongst 
them even one paltry battalion of men who had actually jumped 
before. He finally managed to assemble a group of about 1200 men, 
most of them with jumping experience, to carry out the job required 
in the Ardennes. In command of this unit he placed Lieutenant 
Colonel von der Heydte, one of his most experienced junior 
commanders. 

Von der Heydte belonged to that soft-spoken, extremely intelligent 
class of Germans whose protestations of innocence of everything 


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’ItiWltftfltftfTtttltlftttfHflTItttlWtl l lllllll l lllll l lllliffttttttlttlttfiHftTtfttitftlHtlitlHIIItllHItltWItlttff 

National Socialist, almost bit off the tongue they held firmly wedged 
in their cheek. For even while he was disclaiming his connections 
with the party, he managed to introduce a subtle stream of Nazi 
propaganda into his talk. Having been awarded, in 1930, a lucrative 
endowment by the Carnegie Institute to study international law, he 
professed a natural affinity for the Americans. He was one of the 
very few German officers whose knowledge of the English language 
was more than monosyllabic. He had fought with the parachutists 
in Russia, Crete, Africa and laterly in Normandy and north of 
Antwerp. In all of these engagements he had displayed both ability 
and courage, and, by December 1944, von der Heydte was a much- 
decorated fellow. 

On 12 December, von der Heydte visited ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, whose 
Sixth S.S. Panzer Army he was to support. The interview was most 
unsatisfactory from the parachutist’s point of view as Dietrich was 
most vague as to just how von der Heydte’s battalion was to be used. 
After giving the colonel rather vague instructions about cutting the 
main north-south road in the neighborhood of Eupen, and thus pre- 
venting Allied supplies and reinforcements using this route, von der 
Heydte was assured that his force would be relieved by Dietrich’s 
panzer spearheads by five o’clock on the afternoon of 17 December. 1 
Everything went wrong with this operation that could possibly go 
wrong. Since security regulations had been so stringent, it had been 
impossible to brief the men about their r61e. Few of them had seen 
a map before the jump, and they vaguely knew that they were to 
be dropped some fifty kilometres behind die front and there occupy 
the crossroads in the vicinity. They had been told that they would 
get further instructions from their section leaders when on the ground, 
but even the section leaders only received the bare outlines of what 
they were to do. Of the 106 aircraft that set out on the night of 16 
December only thirty -five reached the correct dropping area. A strong 
wind helped to scatter the already scattered force, and weapons, 
supply containers and men were dumped over a wide area. Many of 
the jumpers incurred broken legs and smashed collar-bones on hitting 
the snow-covered, pine-wood country of the Ardennes, and died a 
slow death of starvation, exposure and exhaustion. Confusion as to 
their whereabouts, their objectives and the location of their own 
troops, resulted in most of these men being picked up by the 
Americans before they had fired a shot. 

17 December had come and gone and ‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s promised 
relief had still not arrived. Actually his vaunted S.S. panzer units 
were then ten to fifteen miles away, battling against the dogged 


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American defenders in the region of St. Vith. By 19 December the 
remnants of von der Heydte’s force, approximately 300 strong, were 
still in position east of the main Eupen-Malm6dy road, and patiently 
waiting for the expected armored spearheads which were now two 
days late. The men were hungry, having had no food for two days, 
and cold, since their blankets had been lost when they had been 
dropped. To make matters still worse they had not found any of the 
radios which had been taken along, and as a result knew nothing of 
what was going on anywhere about them. When on 20 December 
Dietrich’s tanks had not yet appeared, this small group began to make 
its painful way eastwards in an attempt to link up with the advancing 
Germans. In the process most of them including the daring von der 
Heydte, were captured. Thus ended the last important airborne 
venture of the German parachutists whose dash had once struck cold 
fear into the heart of an unprepared world. 

Another lieutenant colonel, Otto Skorzeny by name, was having 
almost as difficult a time as von der Heydte. Skorzeny, Viennese by 
birth, well over six feet in height, his exploits as Himmler’s chief 
organizer of German sabotage units were already well known to 
Allied intelligence staffs. Having been trained as an engineer, he 
joined the S.S. in 1934 and served the early part of the war in France 
and Russia. His resourcefulness and daring were soon recognized, 
and he became an important figure in the counter-intelligence 
services of the S.S. He was instrumental in organizing the German 
penetration of local resistance movements in the Balkans, and thereby 
counteracting the efforts of men like Tito in Yugoslavia. Skorzeny 
led the small body of parachutists that carried out the rescue of 
Mussolini, following the capitulation of Italy in September 1943. For 
this feat he was decorated with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, 
which is one above the Iron Cross, First Class, on the Wehrmacht 
ladder of awards. There followed a period of sabotage-espionage 
activity in Southern France and a special job involving the kidnap- 
ping of Admiral Horthy of Hungary, and then he was called to 
Hitler’s headquarters in October 1944 and given one of the most 
vital roles in the coming Ardennes offensive. 

Skorzeny ’s new assignment was to organize a specially trained 
panzer brigade, whose job it would be to streak ahead of the Sixth 
S.S. Panzer Army and seize the bridges on the Meuse River. This 
unit, containing some 2000 men, was to be equipped with tanks, 
armored cars and jeeps, most of which were to be American or 
disguised to look like American vehicles. In addition the men were 
to be dressed in American uniforms, and as many English-speaking 


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IIMlimir iT TI HHIIII tf llllllllllll fTTTTTTWTTTTTfTTf lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllHimiimillllllllllimilllllll 

Germans as possible were to be recruited into the brigade. On 30 
October 1944 the following order was issued to the formations 
engaged in holding the Siegfried Line: 2 

The Fiihrer has ordered the formation of a special unit of a strength of 
about two battalions for employment on reconnaissance and special tasks 
on the Western front. The personnel will be assembled from volunteers 
of all arms of the army and Waffen S.S., who must fulfil the following 
requirements: 

(a) Physically A.i, suitable for special tasks, mentally keen, strong 
personality. 

( b ) Fully trained in single combat. 

(c) Knowledge of the English language and also the American dialect. 
Especially important is a knowledge of military technical terms. 

This order is to be made known immediately to all units and head- 
quarters. Volunteers may not be retained on military grounds but are to be 
sent immediately to Friedenthal near Oranienburg (Headquarters 
Skorzeny) for a test of suitability, but a value will be put on his fighting 
spirit and temperament. 

Captured U.S. clothing, equipment, weapons and vehicles are to be 
collected and reported for the equipment of the above special troops. Per- 
sonal wishes of the troops to make use of this kind of captured equipment 
must take second priority. Details will be notified later. . . . 

Under this order about 2000 men were chosen and organized into 
a unit called 150 Panzer Brigade. The recruits represented every 
branch of the service but were chiefly parachutists, tank men, 
signalers and linguists. About 150 soldiers who could speak English, 
preferably with an American accent, were chosen for special training. 
The experiences of twenty-four-year-old Corporal Wilhelm Schmidt 
were typical of what happened to most of the men who took part in 
this flagrant breach of the generally accepted rules of warfare. 

“Early in November 1944 1 reported to an S.S. camp at Friedenthal,” 
said Schmidt, 3 “where I was examined as to my linguistic ability by a 
board consisting of an S.S., a Luftwaffe and a naval officer. I passed 
this test but was ordered to refresh my English. For this purpose I 
spent three weeks at prisoner-of-war camps in Kustrin and Limburg, 
where large numbers of American troops were being held. I was then 
sent to Grafenwohr where the training of 150 Panzer Brigade was 
being carried on. The linguists, of whom forty were officers, were then 
organized into a separate unit and given a special course. 

“Our training consisted of studying the organization of the Ameri- 
can army, identification of American insignia, American drill and 
linguistic exercises. We were given courses in demolitions and radio 


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i l ll lllll ll l ll l ll llllllllll l l llll llllll ll l lll lllll ll l l ll l il l llllll ll ll l l l iill l ll l lll l l l l l lllllll lll l l lll l lll l ll ll ll llll ll 

technique. Then our unit was divided up into an engineer group, a 
communications destroyer group and a radio group. The task of the 
engineers was to destroy headquarters and headquarters personnel, 
the communication destroyers were to eliminate message centers, 
radio stations and communication routes, and the radio group was 
to reconnoitre behind the American lines and keep the advancing 
Germans informed of Allied intentions and dispositions. 

“At the beginning of December the first weapons and uniforms 
arrived together with about thirty American jeeps. This was our 
first indication of what our job was to be. To my knowledge none 
of the men protested. On 12 December we arrived at Miinstereifel, 
east of Monschau, where we were all given American uniforms, 
drivers licenses and paybooks. I was told a number of details about 
the 5 U.S. Armored Division which I was to use in answering ques- 
tions. The mission of 150 Panzer Brigade was to create confusion 
and disorder in the American rear areas, thereby aiding the advance 
of the main German forces. 

“Our jeep, which only contained three men instead of the normal 
four since one of the crew had gone sick at the last moment, was 
given the task of infiltrating through the American lines and report- 
ing the condition of the Meuse bridges and of the roads leading to 
these bridges. We were to make our reports by radio, and to remain 
near the Meuse until German troops had arrived. We had no difficulty 
penetrating the American line and reached the bridge at Aywaille, 
about twenty-five miles behind the front, in just over half an hour. 
Here we were stopped by an American military policeman who 
asked us for the password. Not knowing it, we were arrested.” 

All along the front similar groups of English-speaking Germans 
were being picked up by the fast-recuperating Americans. Approx- 
imately seventy tanks of the panzer brigade which were to exploit 
the break-through created by ‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s forward elements 
never got started, because no real hole in the American line was 
made in the north during the first two days. And the attempts to 
create panic amongst the Americans failed as badly as did the more 
orthodox armored tactics. Many ingenious devices for causing con- 
fusion had been planned. One was to have the American-clad 
Germans start surrendering in wild disorder at the climax of a battle. 
Another was to ‘retreat’ along the vital routes and then by turning 
around or simulating breakdowns block all traffic on the narrow roads. 
Another was to spread wild stories of the strength of the advancing 
Germans, by fleeing westwards and shouting all the while to Ameri- 
can troops that the Germans were only a few thousand yards behind. 

But these tactics only prevailed for the first few hours. For the 


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quick-witted Americans soon found answers to this novel type of 
warfare. It was evident that the members of the panzer brigade would 
be using special signals to identify each other, and these were soon 
discovered and passed to all American troops in the area. Thus any 
G.I.s wearing pink or blue scarfs, jackets open at the second button, 
flashing blue or red flashlights at night, or knocking twice on their 
helmet, usually turned out to be members of Skorzeny’s band. In 
addition to passwords, American troops were told to ask any suspi- 
cious soldiers simple questions which only the indigenous American 
could possibly answer correctly. Thus the Ardennes was filled with 
thousands of Americans inquiring of each other the capital of then- 
home state, who won the World Series, who had the best football 
team in the U.S.A., what was Dewey’s first name, and what was the 
name of the ‘Windy City.’ These methods soon resulted in the capture 
or death of most of this group of carefully trained saboteurs. 

According to a number of prisoners taken from Skorzeny’s unit, 
the object of 150 Panzer Brigade was not confined to the Ardennes 
alone. It included an ambitious plan to reach Paris, whence a small 
group of men, headed by Skorzeny himself, were to set out to find 
and assassinate General Eisenhower, Field Marshal Montgomery 
and whatever other high-ranking Allied officers they might find on 
the way. 4 This story has been strenuously denied by Skorzeny him- 
self, but the fact that a number of these pseudo-G.I.s were found in 
Paris and that the same account came from a variety of different 
sources, probably indicates that it would have been tried had things 
gone differently. In any event the threat alone was enough to provide 
Allied security officers with some exceedingly anxious hours during 
those uneasy days. 

By the end of the first few days of fighting in the Ardennes it was 
evident that Skorzeny’s panzer brigade had failed in its mission. 
But so had almost everyone else associated with the abortive offen- 
sive. Faced with the inevitable consequences of their flagrant dis- 
regard of the rules of warfare, the unhappy Germans sentenced to 
death for wearing the uniform of the enemy were not so defiant 
and faithful as their Fiihrer would probably have wanted them to be. 
The following appeal for reprieve, made by seven Germans captured 
in American uniforms, was addressed to the Commanding General 
of the First U.S. Army early in January 1945. It provides an apt 
epilogue to the Skorzeny episode of the Ardennes offensive! 

This morning [it reads ] 5 the undersigned were notified of their death 
sentence for having entered the American zone of operations in American 
uniforms in contravention of the Geneva convention. The undersigned 


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immiimmiimmimmimmiim 


beg to be allowed to present this appeal for reprieve to the Commanding 
General with the request for mercy and a re-examination of the motives 
for the act. It may be repeated that the act was not voluntarily committed 
but was done because of orders from above, and that the undersigned, in 
the truest sense of the word, were driven into certain death. The personal 
ambition of a single man is responsible for this criminal action. We were 
taken out of our old units because we knew English and with the under- 
standing that we would be interpreters, which is an honorable assignment. 
Only shortly before our commitment were we informed of the crim- 
inal background of the whole enterprise. One of our comrades who 
refused to obey the order was court-martialed and undoubtedly sentenced 
to death. Therefore we could no longer escape death. We were captured 
by American troops without having fired a shot, because we did not want 
to become murderers. We were sentenced to death and are now dying for 
some criminals who have not only us, but also — and that is worse — our 
families on their conscience. Therefore, we beg mercy of the Commanding 
General: we have not been unjustly sentenced, but we are de facto 
innocent. 


Meanwhile all along the Ardennes front the German position was 
becoming more and more grim. Not only had there been a failure 
to make any spectacular progress, but Allied resistance had now 
hardened into an impenetrable wall. Allied planes were in the air 
again, making large-scale German movement on the ground im- 
possible, and General Patton’s drive from the Arlon-Luxembourg 
area to relieve the defenders of Bastogne, begun on 22 December, 
was rapidly making significant progress. Only one element of the 
entire three German armies had come to within even striking distance 
of the Meuse. This was a lone armored battalion of 2 Panzer Division, 
which, having by-passed Bastogne, had lunged ahead of its support 
and reached Celles, only four miles from the river, by 24 December. 
This was destined to be the closest that any German unit came to 
achieving the hopes expected of them. For at Celles, while they 
waited for their supplies to catch up with them, an entire tank bat- 
talion ran out of petrol. Here they waited for another forty-eight 
hours but no supplies were able to get through. Finally they were 
ordered to abandon and blow up their vehicles, and make their way 
back, rather ingloriously, on foot. 

Previous to the decision to forsake this spearhead of 2 Panzer 
Division it had been decided to make one more attempt at capturing 
Bastogne. Reinforcements had been sent to von Manteuffel’s Fifth 
Panzer Army for the purpose, and on Christmas morning another 
concerted attack was made to dislodge the stubborn American air- 
borne troops. But the combined efforts of the newly arrived 15 Panzer 
Grenadier Division, the badly shaken 26 Volksgrenadier Division, 


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and elements of the Panzer Lehr Division were of no avail. After a 
morning of intensive fighting by charging tanks loaded with German 
infantrymen, the attackers reeled back bloody and broken. At noon, 
the world was sitting down to its Christmas dinner. General Heinz 
Kokott, leading this attack against Bastogne, asked for permission 
to stop the slaughter and to retire to lick his wounds. He was ordered 
to go on. This he did, but Bastogne was impregnable. On 26 Decem- 
ber armored forces of General Patton’s Third U.S. Army burst through 
from the south and the gallant defenders of Bastogne had been 
relieved. 

In the northern part of the Ardennes sector the forward armored 
columns of Sixth S.S. Panzer Army were also finding themselves 
well beyond the main mass of their army still struggling to reach them. 
Getting forward much slower than von M ant euff el’s Fifth Panzer 
Army to the south, one battle group of 1 S.S. Panzer Division had 
nevertheless reached La Gleize, about twenty miles west of their 
start line, on 19 December. On 23 December this group, of regimental 
size, was still there, having been unable to push either north or west. 
The commander of this force, the handsome, twenty-nine-year-old 
S.S. officer, Lieutenant Colonel Feodor Pieper, then received his 
orders to abandon his forward position and retire eastwards and 
rejoin the main German forces. The story of that retreat has been 
vividly told by an American officer, Major H. D. McCown, who had 
been captured by Pieper’s troops on 21 December. McCown’s account 
realistically describes what these forward German spearheads had 
to experience once their first sharp attacks were blunted, and prom- 
ised reinforcements failed to materialize. 

“Late in the afternoon of 23 December I was called once more to 
Colonel Pieper’s headquarters,” writes McCown. 6 “He told me that 
he had received orders from the commanding general to give up 
his position and withdraw to the east to the nearest German troops. 
He said that he knew it would be impossible to save any of his 
vehicles — that it would be a foot withdrawal. . . . All during the 
night of 23-24 December plans were laid for the evacuation of 
La Gleize. About three o’clock in the morning the foot columns 
began to move . . . Colonel Pieper told me that he had 800 men to 
evacuate . . . and this number was correct according to my estimate. 

“We crossed the L’Ambleve River near La Gleize on a small high- 
way bridge immediately underneath the railway bridge and moved 
generally south, climbing higher and higher on the ridge line. At 
five o’clock in the morning we heard the first tank blow up and 


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inside of thirty minutes the entire area formerly occupied by Colonel 
Pieper ’s command was a sea of fiercely burning vehicles, the work of 
the small detachment he had left behind to complete the destruction 
of all of his equipment. . . . 

“Colonel Pieper, his staff and myself with my two guards spent 
all day of the 24th reconnoitring for a route to rejoin other German 
forces. No food was available at any time after we left La Gleize; 
the only subsistence I received was four small pieces of dried biscuit 
and two swallows of cognac which one of the junior officers gave 
me. ... At five in the afternoon, just before dark, the column started 
moving again on the selected route; we pushed down into a valley 
in single column with a heavily armed point out ahead. The noise 
made by the entire 800-man group was so little that I believe we 
could have passed within 200 yards of an outpost without detection. 
As the point neared the base of the hill I could hear quite clearly 
an American voice call out ‘Halt! Who is there?' The challenge was 
repeated three times, then the American sentry fired three shots. A 
moment later the order came along the column to turn around and 
move back up the hill. The entire column was halfway back up the 
hillside in a very few minutes. A German passed by me limping, who 
was undoubtedly leading the point as he had just received a bullet 
through the leg. The colonel spoke briefly to him but would not 
permit the medicos to put on a dressing; he fell in the column and 
continued moving along without first aid. The point moved along 
the side of the hill for a distance of a half-mile, then again turned 
down into the valley, this time passing undetected through the 
valley and the paved road which ran along the base. ... I could tell 
that Colonel Pieper was basing his direction of movement on the 
explosion of American artillery fire as the probable location of his 
friendly forces. His information as to the present front lines of both 
sides was as meager as my own as he had no radio and no other 
outside contact. He continually consulted his map, thus proving that 
he was thoroughly lost. We continued moving from that time on 
continuously up and down the rugged hills, crossing small streams, 
pushing through thick undergrowth and staying off and away from 
roads and villages. ... All of the officers were constantly exhorting 
the men to greater effort and to laugh at weakness. I was not carry- 
ing anything except my canteen, which was empty, but knew from 
my own physical reaction how tired the men with a heavy weapons 
load must have been. 

“I heard repeated again and again the warning that if any man fell 
behind the tail of the column he would be shot. I saw some men 
crawling on hands and knees. I saw others who were wounded but 


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who were being supported by comrades on either side up the steep 
slopes; there were fully two dozen wounded in the column, the 
majority of whom were going along quite well by themselves. There 
was one captain who was severely wounded, the colonel had told me, 
who moved along supported by another officer and a medical N.C.O. 
and was still with the unit the last I saw of him. 

“We approached very close to where artillery fire was landing and 
the point pushed into American lines three times and turned back. . . . 
I was firmly convinced this time that they did not know where they 
were on the map as there were continuous arguments from among 
the junior officers as they held their conferences. At around mid- 
night of the 24-25 December the condition of the men was such that 
a halt would have to be given, as well as warmth and food 
provided. . . . 

“Suddenly tracer bullets flashed all around us and we could hear 
the machine-gun bullets cutting the trees very close over us. . . . 
Mortar fire fell all around on the German position. ... I could hear 
commands being shouted in both German and English with the latter 
predominating. . . . After some time I rose cautiously and began to 
move at right angles from the direction of the American attack, 
watching carefully to my rear to see if anyone was covering me or 
following me. After moving approximately 100 yards I turned and 
moved directly towards the direction from which the American 
attack had come. I can remember that I whistled some American tune 
but I have forgotten which one it was. I had not gone over 200 yards 
before I was challenged by an American outpost of the 82 U.S. 
Airborne Division.” 

Thus instead of a resounding victory to put before the German 
people on Christmas Day, Hitler could only offer them promises and 
propaganda of better things yet to come. But the commanders on 
the spot were not so sanguine. They had already seen their forces 
stalled and wallowing in the snow and mud of the Ardennes. They 
had already lost about 10,000 men as prisoners -of -war and at least 
that much again in dead and wounded. They had by this time com- 
mitted almost all of their reserves and were still unable to break 
the hardening crust of American resistance. They had begun to feel 
the overpowering weight of Allied air power and the pressure of 
General Patton’s army driving towards Bastogne. 

To von Rundstedt the next course was already very clear — take 
up a line from Houffalize to east of Bastogne and attempt to hold 
on to what had been won. Von Manteuffel of Fifth Panzer Army 
was a little more optimistic. The retention of Bastogne having blocked 
the flow of reinforcements to his forward troops trying to reach 


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the Meuse, von Manteuffel also realized it would be impracticable 
to carry on with the original scheme of a drive to Antwerp. But he 
had one alternative plan. 

“About 25 December I saw that it would now be impossible for 
us to attempt a crossing of the Meuse,” said von Manteuffel. 7 “I felt 
however that we could still carry out a limited operation east of 
the river. I recommended that my army be turned in the direction 
of Liege, instead of carrying straight on to Namur, thus using the 
Meuse to cover my left flank. A battle east of the Meuse would 
thus have developed for which I believe our forces were strong 
enough. Such a thrust of Fifth Panzer Army in a northwesterly direc- 
tion might have opened up other possibilities. We felt that if we 
labeled the project a move ‘to help 6 S.S. Panzer Army forward’ it 
would be favorably looked upon by the Supreme Command. But the 
Fiihrer refused to accept any change from the original plan.” 

Another week of dogged fighting took place with the twenty-four 
German divisions wedged tight into a salient that was forty-five 
miles wide at its base, from Echternach to Monschau, and which 
reached westwards almost sixty miles to a thin tip at Celles just four 
miles from the Meuse. But try as they might, the jammed German 
forces could neither widen nor deepen this penetration. By the turn 
of the year von Manteuffel had abandoned any hopes for even his 
own limited plan. He now agreed with von Rundstedt that it was 
necessary to get back to a more favorable defensive position as soon 
as possible. On 2 January von Rundstedt asked for permission to 
abandon the attack, and recommended, as essential, a withdrawal 
of his forces to the German frontier. In reply the usual ‘stand and 
fight’ order was received from the Fiihrer, and more men and tanks 
and guns were wasted in a senseless attempt to hold this vulnerable 
position. 

On 3 January General Hodges’s First U.S. Army opened its own 
offensive on the northern side of the salient directed towards Houf- 
falize, while on 9 January General Patton’s forces reopened their 
push from the Bastogne area also aimed at Houffalize. It was only 
then that Hitler finally gave his reluctant consent to the withdrawal 
of the German troops to their original start-line. The withdrawal, 
considering the circumstances, was relatively successful. The armored 
elements formed the rearguards, while the infantry divisions slowly 
took up a new line of resistance each day. Owing to lack of fuel 
a huge mass of tanks and motor vehicles of all types had to be left 
behind. By 16 January, a month after the vaunted Ardennes offensive 
had begun, the First U.S. Army and the Third U.S. Army had joined 
forces at Houffalize. The last violent convulsion of the dying Wehr- 


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macht had passed. It was still to suffer other spasms before it died, 
but none so dangerous as this one. 

Future military historians, both German and Allied, will undoubt- 
edly spend much time endeavoring to determine just why the final 
offensive effort of the Wehrmacht was such a dismal failure. To 
help them in their task, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, who had 
undertaken the operation with the deepest of misgivings, has sug- 
gested no fewer than nine factors that contributed to the thwarting 
of Hitler’s ambitions for a march to Antwerp. According to von Rund- 
stedt 8 the Germans lost the battle of the Ardennes because, in the 
first place, the forces were incorrectly employed by the Supreme 
Command; second, too few divisions were made available for the 
task in hand; three, the Germans lacked sufficient fuel and the fuel 
that was available did not come up in time; four, the complete air 
superiority of the Allies; five, the failure to capture Bastogne; six, 
the strength of Allied reserves, their motorization and their abun- 
dance of fuel and ammunition; seven, German transport facilities 
lacked the tractors and motor vehicles needed for fighting in the 
difficult country of the Ardennes; eight, German panzer units had 
not been sufficiently well trained for armored warfare in close, 
wooded country; and, finally, the newly organized Volksgrenadier 
divisions were badly trained and of small fighting value. 

“It must be remembered,” concluded the Field Marshal, summing 
up his views of this colossal German failure, “that the Ardennes 
offensive was planned in all its details, including formations in- 
volved, time schedules, objectives and so on, by the Fiihrer and his 
staff. All counter-proposals were rejected. Under such circumstances, 
there could be little faith in its success. Even during the attack the 
Supreme Command conducted the operations by means of liaison 
officers and direct wireless orders to the armies involved. I received 
few reports from ‘Sepp’ Dietrich of the Sixth S.S. Panzer Army, and 
what I did receive was generally a pack of lies. If the S.S. had any 
problems they reported them directly to the Fiihrer, who would 
then make them known to Model. The execution of the operation 
was also made much more difficult by the strict order from above 
that every place, including sectors that had been cut off, was to be 
held. And even towards the end, when Fifth Panzer Army was being 
attacked by superior enemy forces from both the north and south, 
any and every proposal made by me for a timely withdrawal to a 
defense line was flatly turned down.” 


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Chapter XXVIII 

ELATION AND DESPAIR 

The cost in German blood of the fiasco in the Ardennes had been 
terrific. The allies had taken about 50,000 prisoners-of-war in this 
month-long battle, and the total serious casualties suffered by the 
Wehrmacht in the Ardennes was in the neighborhood of 120,000 
men. In addition almost 600 tanks and assault guns were destroyed 
and countless motor vehicles abandoned. Another crippling blow was 
the loss of over 1600 planes. It was the price the Luftwaffe had to pay 
for daring to challenge Allied air supremacy. And it was also the 
final humiliation and defeat of the German air force. For it never 
seriously appeared in the sky again. 

To offset these losses the Wehrmacht had little to show. They 
had gained no ground at all, being back to where they had started 
from by the end of January 1945. They had inflicted about 50,000 
total casualties on the Allied forces in the Ardennes, but had paid 
twice as much in manpower to do it. Their only real achievement 
was the fact that they had checked the pending Allied operations 
against the Ruhr and the Saar, and set them back almost six weeks. 
But it is safe to say that by depriving themselves of the resources 
in men and material consumed in the Ardennes, the Wehrmacht had 
so weakened themselves for the battles both east and west of the 
Rhine that, in the long run, they had shortened the eventual duration 
of the war by many months. 

Another loss suffered by the Wehrmacht through the collapse of 
the counter-offensive — a much more intangible, but, nevertheless, 
a very real loss — was the deep disillusionment which now gripped 
the average soldier in the West. His faith, strained to the breaking 
point by what it had been through in Normandy and the slogging 
battles of the Siegfried Line, had been called upon to believe in a 
new set of promises and to hope for a new series of miracles. But 
when these hopes and these promises proved as illusorv as the rest, 
when the familiar sensation of defeat all too soon replaced the one 
fleeting moment of victorv, then despair in full measure flooded in 
upon the German armies in the West. 

This reaction could be seen in the letters and diaries written bv 
the soldiers in the Ardennes. The dizzv sensation of advancing instead 
of retreating, the satisfaction of seeing the enemv dying and in 
captivity, the thrill of feeling victory in the air, had brought morale 


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amongst the attacking troops to a pitch of eager expectation un- 
equalled since the early triumphant years. 

Yes, you are surprised that we are again in Belgium [wrote a soldier 
on 24 December 1944], 1 but we advance every day. Well, what does 
father say to that? I had a conversation with him last time about the war 
and he was not very convinced then that we should be able to do such a 
thing. And what do you yourselves say to that? What do you think our 
morale is like? Everyone is enthusiastic as never before. 

And a Lieutenant Rockhammer, writing to his wife, on 22 Decem- 
ber, really let himself go. 

This time we are a thousand times better off than you at home [said 
Rockhammer]. 2 You cannot imagine what glorious hours and days we 
are experiencing now. It looks as if the Americans cannot withstand our 
important push. Today we overtook a fleeing column and finished it. We 
overtook it by taking a back road through the woods to the retreat lane 
of the American vehicles; then, just like on manoeuvres, we pulled up 
along the road with sixty Panthers. And then came the endless convoy 
driving in two columns, side by side, hub on hub, filled to the brim with 
soldiers. And then a concentrated fire from sixty guns and one hundred 
and twenty machine guns. It was a glorious bloodbath, vengeance for our 
destroyed homeland. Our soldiers still have the old zip. Always advancing 
and smashing everything. The snow must turn red with American blood. 
Victory was never as close as it is now. The decision will soon be reached. 
We will throw them into the ocean, the arrogant, big-mouthed apes from 
the New World. They will not get into Germany. We will protect our 
wives and children from all enemy domination. 

If we are to preserve all tender and beautiful aspects of our lives, we 
cannot be too brutal in the deciding moments of this struggle. . . . 

Another letter written on 24 December, although less bloodthirsty 
than Rockhammer’s, still exudes optimism. 

We shall probably not have another Christmas here at the front [wrote 
this soldier], 3 since it is absolutely certain that the American is going to 
get something he did not under any circumstances reckon with. For the 
‘Ami’ as we call him, expected that he would celebrate Christmas in Berlin, 
as I gather from his letters. Even I. as a poor private, can easily tell that it 
won’t take much longer until the Ami will throw away his weapons. For 
if he sees that everybody is retreating he runs away and cannot be stopped 
any more. He is also war-weary, as I myself learned from prisoners. 

But by Christmas this unanimous mood of exultation had begun 
to ebb. Some still were confident, but others were far less sure. 


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Thus on 25 December a German soldier wrote to his wife: 4 

We have been on our way through Belgium from the 1 1 to 24 December 
without a break. No rest or sleep at all. My Christmas presents, after 
twelve days, consisted of washing, shaving and five hours sleep, but we 
are on our way again. The main thing is that the Americans are on the 
run. ... We cleared an enemy supply dump. Everybody took things he 
wanted most. I took only chocolate. I have all my pockets full of it. I eat 
chocolate all the time, in order to sweeten somewhat this wretched life. . . . 
Don’t worry about me. The worst is behind me. Now this is just a hunt. 
The Americans hardly get to fire a round and the American prisoners 
say that they are war-weary, and don’t want to hear anything more about 
the war. Things might move very quickly in the West. . . . 

That all Germans in the Ardennes were not faring so well on 
Christmas day, however, is evident from the following entry, in a 
captured German diary, made on 25 December. 

Slept last night in a barn [it reads]. 5 At eleven in the morning enemy 
attacked with planes and tanks. It can hardly be worse in hell. At five in 
the afternoon we moved out again. Our driver burned to death in his car. 
The Lord saved me. We are in a village encircled by the enemy. Hundreds 
of people have had to lose their lives today. I can hardly understand how 
it was possible for me to escape from the barrage. . . . 

And as the power of the Allies grew with each passing day pound- 
ing a steadily increasing torrent of fire and death into the ranks 
of the stalled German armies, and as the snow fell thicker, and the 
nights grew longer and colder, the mirage of victory faded farther 
and farther into the bleak forests of the Ardennes. By the New Year, 
the glowing promises and the renewed hopes had died. All that 
remained was empty disillusion. The letters from the Ardennes now 
struck quite a different note from what they had reached only two 
weeks before. 6 

If you actually saw me you would lift your hands in dismay [wrote 
one German to his wife on 2 January 1945]. I am ragged and filthy. I have 
had the same underwear on for five weeks. If one doesn’t get lice it’s a 
miracle. If only the war were over soon; it has lasted long enough already. 

On 5 January another soldier in the Ardennes wrote to his family: 

I have already got my present. I have frozen both my legs. I am in very 
great pain and I can’t sleep at night. ... I know well what it means to 
be frozen. Many are learning to pray here, if they could not already. 
One should not forget dear God; he will not forget us. 

Another letter from the Ardennes, dated 6 January, reads: 

I’m still getting along very well. Only my feet worry me. Two of my 
comrades had to go to the hospital because of second-degree freezing. 


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Besides my platoon leader, whose right hand I am, told me that I keep 
quivering every night. I suppose it’s nerves, strained by overwork. 

The process that transformed the eager hope of victory to the 
somber reality of defeat can be seen in the following extracts from 
the diary of an artillery lieutenant of 18 Volksgrenadier Division. 7 
It illustrates how the German soldier was carried from exultation to 
wonder, to doubt, to frustration, to apathy and finally to despair in 
just one month. 

1 6 December. First day of attack. The sky was lit up along the whole 
front. By noon reports of the first successes came in. The population of 
Duppeln is very enthusiastic. 

17 December. Our fighter planes still control the air in the morning 
and afternoon. 

1 8 December. The infantry is before St. Vith. The men hear the wildest 
rumors of successes. . . . 

19 December. Endless columns of prisoners pass; at first, about a 
hundred, half of them negroes, later another thousand. Field Marshal 
Model himself directs traffic. He’s a little, undistinguished-looking man 
with a monocle. Now the thing is going. The roads are littered with 
destroyed American vehicles, cars and tanks. 

20 December. . . . The American soldiers have shown little spirit for 
fighting. Most of them often said, “What do we want here? At home we 
can have everything much better.” That was the spirit of the common 
soldier. If the officers thought that way ...??? A rumor has been 
started that Eisenhower was taken prisoner. It will probably prove to be 
only a rumor. 

21 December. Roads still clogged, but traffic continues. Vehicles are 
almost exclusively captured American equipment. It was a tremendous 
haul. St. Vith has fallen. . . . 

24 December. Dive-bombers attack and hit a house in front of me. 
Two metres more and it would have been me. We take our car and race 
towards St. Vith. Here dive-bombers attack again and strafe all the roads. 
During the night more bombs fall. 

25 December. On the road to Hinderhausen a dive-bomber starts for 
us. We are able to stop the lorry in time to get off the road as the bullets 
start flying about us. Nothing is to be seen of our airforce. Where is it ... ? 
Our anti-aircraft guns knock down two bombers. The pilots parachute 
down but the dogs are lucky and the wind drives them toward the west. 
They actually regain enemy territory. If they had landed in our lines we’d 
slay them; in the evening we see the fires in St. Vith. I could cry from 
rage and tear the prisoners apart. 

26 December. During the afternoon we undergo the second large-scale 
attack on St. Vith. . . . The house shakes, and the windows break! The 
terrorized family seeks refuge in the cellar. Babies cry but the bombers 
keep coming. . . . There’s nothing left of St. Vith. . . . 


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10-13 January. Our position is under continuous artillery fire. On the 
1 2th at eight o’clock, the Americans laid down a heavy concentration 
of fire. Then the enemy infantry attacked. . . . 

14 January. Almost every house in the village has been hit. The barrage 
lasts all morning. . . . 

16 January. Four weeks ago, our attack started. How quickly every- 
thing has changed! Now everything looks hopeless. . . . 

It was natural that this immersion into the cold waters of defeat, 
after having been brought to a fever-pitch of triumphant expecta- 
tion, would bring about a reaction that might have a disastrous effect 
on the morale of the German armies in the West. When the offensive 
was going well the Goebbels boys had almost blown themselves 
purple puffing up this latest propaganda balloon. The operation was 
hailed as a triumphant vindication of Hitler’s leadership, a demon- 
stration of the strength that was still Germany’s, a justification of 
the ideals of National Socialism, and a manifestation of the fighting 
spirit of the Third Reich. The press and the radio blared out a series 
of promises of Aachen for Christmas, Antwerp by New Year, the 
destruction of Montgomery’s armies in the north, and a final victory 
before the end of 1945. 

By mid-January this effervescence had simmered down consider- 
ably. Now the Ardennes operation was described as “an offensive 
defensive” designed primarily to disrupt Allied plans for a winter 
offensive; that its purpose was to drive home to the Allies, Germany’s 
determination not to capitulate at any price; and that Allied losses 
had been so great that the threat to the western frontier of the 
Reich had been averted. The following pamphlet, 8 entitled “Western 
Warriors, This is Your Achievement,” is an admirable example of 
this new propaganda line adopted to explain away the defeat in the 
Ardennes. 

When Germany opened its offensive on 16 December 1944 [it begins], 
only a few of you knew what was occurring. Today you are informed. 
The Americans and the British were preparing to launch their final great 
drive. They intended to break through Aachen and Cologne into the Ruhr, 
and to smash through Strasbourg into Southern Germany. There they 
expected to force a decision. 

At the critical moment our offensive hit them. The surprise was perfect. 
The enemy armies were forced to fall back and go on the defensive. The 
danger to the Fatherland was averted. This, Western Warriors, was your 
achievement. You have transcended all difficulties of terrain and weather 
to prove that you are tougher than the enemy. Your leaders and your 
country know that they can place their faith in you. . . . 


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Casualties suffered by American troops in Belgium and in Alsace- 
Lorraine between 16 December and 15 January were: 
over 160,000 dead. 

50.000 wounded. 

35.000 prisoners-of-war. 

2,000 tanks. 

460 heavy and medium artillery pieces, a countless number of 
anti-tank, anti-aircraft guns, mortars and other infantry 
weapons. 

The enemy was forced to commit all his reserves. Sixty-five per cent, 
of all enemy forces on the Continent were rushed to the salient. After 
the airborne divisions had been smashed, the intended American assault 
towards Cologne and the Ruhr was impossible. 

The danger of a Western offensive co-ordinated with the huge Bol- 
shevist drive was averted. 

But even this 500 per cent exaggeration of Allied losses could offer 
little consolation to the weary, dreary German soldier back in the cold 
comfort of his bunker in the Siegfried Line. He needed no Goebbels 
to tell him what had happened. He had seen it himself. Having been 
lifted to the heights he knew how it felt to be dropped with a vigorous 
thud. The old familiar sensation of hopelessness and despair was 
more burning and more bitter for having tasted, if only for a moment, 
the sweetness of victory. Like a sensitive violin string that had been 
pulled too tight and snapped under the pressure of a heavy bow, so 
had German morale, raveled and worn by events, broken under the 
weight of this latest defeat. What little faith the German soldier 
might still have had, before the battle of the Ardennes, he now had 
lost. But nothing had come to take its place — neither hate, nor 
resentment, nor lust for revenge. Whereas other men might have 
turned upon their leaders and demanded a halt to the senseless 
slaughter, the men of the Wehrmacht were too ignorant, too disci- 
plined and too terrified to generate anything more than apathy. 
From now on the German soldier merely waited and waited. He no 
longer waited for victory. He only waited for an end. 

Chapter XXIX 

THE THUNDER OF COLLAPSE 

But while all this excitement was transpiring on the central sector 
of the Western front, it did not mean that the northern and southern 
sectors were sitting quietly by and watching. To prepare for the 
Ardennes offensive a considerable amount of shuffling amongst 


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German higher commands had been necessary. In November this 
shifting had begun, and when it was finished it found the German 
defense fine neatly divided into three army groups. The most north- 
ern one, Army Group ‘H’ under Colonel General Kurt Student, con- 
sisted of the newly-constituted Twenty-Fifth Army and First Para- 
chute Army. Student, who combined his operational r61e with his 
other task of organizing and training all the German parachutists, 
was responsible for the defense of Holland and the Maas River as 
far south as Roermond. 

Field Marshal Model, commanding Army Group ‘B,’ was given 
the central sector from Roermond to the area of Luxembourg. To 
enable him to carry out the offensive in the Ardennes and protect 
the flanks of that operation as well, he had under command Fifteenth 
Army, Sixth S.S. Panzer Army, Fifth Panzer Army and Seventh Army. 
In the extreme south was Army Group ‘G,’ under Colonel General 
Blaskowitz, responsible for the protection of the Saar and the land 
of the Vosges Mountains. For this task Blaskowitz had two armies, 
the First and the Nineteenth. When the offensive was at its height 
the nominal total of German divisions in the West was approximately 
eighty. But since few of the divisions were over 8000 men in size and 
since few were properly equipped, it was estimated by Allied intel- 
ligence staffs that the actual strength of this force was roughly equiv- 
alent to some fifty normal divisions. By the time the battle in the 
Ardennes was over this strength had been still further reduced. 

When Colonel General Kurt Student was finally let in on the secret 
of the coming Ardennes offensive, the attack was only eight days 
away. Student was not one to be left out of a party of such propor- 
tions. Having led the paratroopers in Holland and Crete and Russia, 
he felt that his own First Parachute Army should have been given 
some r61e in so vital and daring an operation. But since he had not 
been included, other than by being asked to supply a single battalion 
of jumpers under Lieutenant Colonel von der Heydte, he decided 
that he must take some steps not to be left out. Student therefore 
suggested to the Supreme Command that if the goal of the offensive 
was Antwerp, his forces sitting north of the Maas River were the 
most likely troops to use since they were only some fifty miles away 
from the port. This was a far shorter route than the proposed one of 
over 120 miles through the Ardennes. 

“I asked that I be given ten infantry divisions and four panzer 
divisions, and I would guarantee the seizure of Antwerp from the 
north,” Student said. 1 “I counted on the poor weather to cover my 
preparations and also to protect me from serious attacks from the air. 


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But the plan for the Ardennes offensive was well under way by this 
time, and my scheme was turned down.” 

This rebuff, however, did not completely discourage Student. The 
prospects of a rapid push to Antwerp by German forces in Holland 
seemed particularly bright to him because of the fact that only one 
Allied formation, the Polish Armored Division, was then patrolling 
almost twenty miles of the southern bank of the Maas River. Student 
pressed so eagerly for such an attack that finally on 17 December 
he was told to organize an offensive operation to be directed against 
Antwerp. The immediate object of the attack was to split Allied 
strength by holding Canadian and British troops in the north while 
‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s Sixth S.S. Panzer Army isolated them by driving 
to die sea from the Ardennes. 

“For this operation I was allotted three infantry divisions, two 
parachute divisions and 150 armored vehicles,” said Student. 2 “The 
infantry divisions were to make the initial assault and establishbridge- 
heads over the Maas, and then the parachute divisions would be used 
to follow through. The armor was to be ferried across the river on 
special tank ferries, since no bridges were available in the area east 
of Dordrecht. I was also going to use a parachute battalion of about 
1000 men who were to be dropped in the woods north of Tilburg, 
and thereby neutralize the Canadian artillery position which was 
assembled there. I had hoped to start this assault on 24 December, 
but since preparations would not be ready in time, it was postponed 
until 27 December. But the exact date was largely dependent upon 
the success of Model’s offensive in the Ardennes. My troops were 
scheduled to cross the Maas the moment that either one of Dietrich’s 
or Manteuffel’s armies reached the Meuse River in the Ardennes. 
Since this was not reached by the New Year I was forced to abandon 
my plans.” 

The responsibility of carrying out this offensive was given to 
General Eugen-Felix Schwalbe, who had been brought up from 
Alsace for the purpose. Schwalbe, who had been peacefully com- 
manding a division up to 23 December 1944, was suddenly ordered 
to proceed to Holland and take over 88 Corps. He arrived at the 
headquarters of General Student and, before he had time to catch 
his breath, was told that he would be leading an assault across the 
Maas in three days’ time. 

“Although the divisions to be used were already assembled along 
the river south of Gorinchem,” said Schwalbe, 3 “I was not told how 
these troops were to be supplied once they had reached the south 
bank of the Maas. General Student was very vague about 'such details, 
and he seemed to think it could be done by means of ferries which 


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were just then being built. A great deal of reliance was also placed 
on continuing bad weather which would keep Allied planes from 
interfering with the crossing-places. Our chief hope of success lay 
in the absolute surprise with which we could launch the attack. But 
the difficulties involved in such an operation were so great, in view 
of Allied air superiority and artillery power, that I could hardly 
believe it was seriously being undertaken. When I awoke the day 
after I had been told of the plan, I had to ask myself: Are we really 
going to cross the Maas or did I dream it alll” 

But if Student’s hopes for a lightning drive to Antwerp were based 
on the surprise which he could achieve, the operation was doomed 
to failure. For the intelligence staff at First Canadian Army had 
assessed Student’s plans down to the actual crossing-places he was 
going to use. With the help of hundreds of reports from Dutch agents 
and civilians, the concentration of the German divisions north of 
the Maas had been carefully watched since the start of the Ardennes 
offensive. On Christmas Eve the Canadians quietly deployed their 
tanks and guns south of the river so that had Student come across 
on 27 December, as he had planned, he would have lost a great 
deal more than just surprise. 

To celebrate the New Year the southern German armies in the 
Saar also decided to go over to the offensive. Driving south from 
the region of Saarbriicken, with the apparent design of pinching 
off the Allied salient which was lodged between the Vosges Moun- 
tains and the Rhine River, were some six Volksgrenadier divisions 
and two S.S. divisions. 4 This attack, begun on 1 January, was fol- 
lowed six days later by the establishment of a German bridgehead 
on the west bank of the Rhine, a few miles north of Strasbourg. 
Simultaneously another push north was attempted by the German 
formations in the Colmar pocket, which was to be, but had not been, 
eliminated in November. All in all some fourteen to sixteen divisions 
were involved in this series of attacks, but since they were all far 
below strength and relatively new in the line, the small amount 
of ground that they gained was only made at a disproportionate cost 
in German blood. 

Actually General Eisenhower had realized that the German 
Supreme Command might attempt an operation of this kind in the 
Saar, since he had weakened his position there when he had trans- 
ferred a number of divisions to take part in General Patton’s southern 
drive against the Ardennes salient. Unwilling to take such a risk the 
Allied Supreme Commander had actually ordered a general with- 
drawal to the line of the Vosges Mountains. This move would have 


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necessitated the abandonment of Strasbourg, which the French, for 
political reasons, were unwilling to allow. “As I studied the French 
views,” said General Eisenhower in his report, 5 “it became evident 
that the execution of the original plans for withdrawal might have 
such grave consequences in France that all our lines of communica- 
tion and our vast rear areas might become seriously affected through 
interference with the tasks of the service troops and through civil 
unrest generally. Clearly, the prevention of such a contingency 
became a matter of military as well as of political necessity.” 

But this offensive in the south was as unprofitable as had been its 
parent offensive in the Ardennes. Standartenfiihrer (Colonel) Hans 
Lingner, who was given command of 17 S.S. Panzer Grenadier Divi- 
sion in the Saar at the extremely youthful age of twenty-nine, ad- 
mitted that this operation failed chiefly because the Wehrmacht was 
far too weak to carry on simultaneously two offensives in the West. 

“When the break-through in the Ardennes had been stopped by 
the Allies,” said Lingner, 6 “it was realized that several Allied divisions 
had been sent north to aid the Americans in their defense. It was 
therefore decided to launch an attack against what we felt was sure 
to be a weak position. This offensive was only given very limited 
objectives and I believe it was undertaken on the theory that an 
attack was the best means of defense. We apparently miscalculated 
Allied strength in the Saar for we were very surprised by the number 
of divisions still opposing us. As a result the operation only achieved 
very limited success.” 

With the abandonment of Student’s proposed assault across the 
Maas, with the withdrawal of the Ardennes salient back to its startline, 
with Strasbourg still safely in Allied hands in the south, and with the 
elimination of the Colmar pocket west of the Rhine by the end 
of January, it was obvious that the German offensive plans for the 
winter of 1944-45 had been thoroughly thwarted. Their efforts in 
December and January had cost them 110,000 men in prisoners-of-war 
alone, bringing this single casualty item to the soaring figure of well 
over 800,000 Germans captured since D-Day. Adding the killed and 
seriously wounded to this total meant that the Wehrmacht had 
already lost over 1,500,000 men in the West in less than eight months. 

But defeat in such generous helpings had not been confined to 
the West alone. The Russians could also boast of having inflicted 
at least another 1,500,000 casualties upon the German armies in the 
East. This meant that in one year the Third Reich had lost well over 
3,000,000 men. 

The first weeks of the new year promised little surcease from this 
debilitating drain on German manpower. Not only was the aftermath 


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of the abortive Ardennes offensive taking a daily toll of thousands, 
but on 12 January 1945 the Russians crashed forward with one of 
their mighty, carefully prepared offensives. In Poland and East Prussia 
a series of synchronized attacks by Marshals Koniev, Zhukov and 
Rokossovsky tore through the 150 weak German divisions standing 
guard in the East, and in less than a week had broken through along 
250 miles of the German front. In Poland, Radom, Warsaw, Lodz and 
Cracow fell in less than a week, while the traditional East Prussian 
fortresses of Tilsit, Insterburg and Tannenberg gave in by 21 January. 
By the end of the month the momentum of the Russian drive had 
carried them to the east bank of the Oder near Breslau. The capture 
of Gleiwitz and Katowice by 28 January meant that the coal, steel 
and oil resources of Upper Silesia were no longer available to help 
maintain the creaking German war machine. Only the shattered 
industries of the Ruhr now remained to supply the needs of Hitler’s 
dying armies. They were not enough. 

But Germany’s losses in the East were not merely geographical 
and industrial. The casualty lists were staggering. By 24 January the 
Russians announced that their twelve-day-old offensive had already 
accounted for 200,000 killed and 75,000 prisoners-of-war. It is inter- 
esting to note that whereas in the West prisoner figures were always 
twice or three times as high as the number of Germans dead and 
seriously wounded, in the East the ‘killed’ totals were invariably at 
least double the number of those taken alive. The explanation for 
this difference undoubtedly lies in the more personal and more bitter 
nature of the fighting on the Russian front. It produced a German 
soldier more determined to resist, and a Russian soldier less likely 
to be bothered with the niceties of taking prisoners. 

Early in the year an event occurred which sent Allied intelligence 
staffs scurrying to their commanders. The second-rate 711 Infantry 
Division, last located in Holland, had been reported in action against 
the Russians in Hungary. The news was of vital significance for it 
meant that, for the first time since the Allied landings in Normandy, 
a divisional formation had been shifted from the West to the East. 
That it was unlikely to go alone was immediately realized, and sure 
enough by the end of the first week in February no fewer than seven 
armored and three infantry divisions were making their way from 
the frying pan of the West to the fire of the East. Included in this 
caravan were the S.S. panzer divisions of ‘Sepp’ Dietrich’s Sixth S.S. 
Panzer Army sent from the Ardennes to stand guard at the approaches 
to Vienna. 

More significant even than the fact that this exodus reduced the 


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number of nominal divisions available to hold the Rhine from eighty 
to seventy, was the fact that it revealed how bankrupt German man- 
power resources had become. For now it was clearly evident that 
no central pool of reserve German divisions existed in the Reich 
itself and that the Supreme Command was resorting to a frantic 
switching of formations from theatre to theatre wherever the need 
was greatest. As Goring subsequently admitted, there was at this 
stage no overall plan for the shifting of divisions between the Eastern 
and Western fronts. “The troops were sent wherever there was a 
fire,” said the Reichsmarshal. 7 “For instance, if the Eastern Command 
wanted troops for an anticipated action and the West desired troops 
to check an attack already in progress, the troops were usually sent 
west. But it was the same principle as a fire department. Hitler, of 
course, made the final decisions.” 

With the threat of the Russian offensive looming darker each day 
and with the forces in the West being stripped of their reserves to 
meet it, there remained nothing for von Rundstedt to do but fall 
back on the defensive. His command, now down to seventy weak 
divisions with barely the strength of forty normal divisions between 
them, could hardly hope to withstand an Allied force three to four 
times as large in personnel alone. And there was little left within 
Germany itself to replenish the urgent manpower needs of both the 
Eastern and Western fronts. 

We have already seen what steps were taken to fill the empty 
bunkers of the Siegfried Line after the Allied break-through in France. 
The navy and air force were sucked dry of their best troops, and 
industries were combed out to produce every non-essential worker 
for the war fronts. But it was realized that even these stratagems 
would not be enough. Therefore, on 18 October 1944, Hitler an- 
nounced a gigantic levde en masse of the entire German people 
designed to bring every able-bodied man to the defense of the 
Fatherland. 

The proclamation declared that in every district of the greater 
Reich, a German Volkssturm would be set up comprising every man 
between the ages of sixteen and sixty capable of bearing arms. These 
units would be led by the most capable organizers and leaders of 
“the well-proven bodies of the party, the S.A., the S.S., the National 
Socialist Motorized Corps and the Hitler Youth.” Although the Volks- 
sturm would not wear uniforms, but merely arm-bands with the 
words ‘Deutscher Volkssturm,’ they were nevertheless soldiers within 
the meaning of the army code. Service in the Volkssturm was to have 
priority over duty in any other organization, and the formation, train- 


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ing and equipment of the Volkssturm was to be the responsibility 
of the S.S. Reichsfiihrer Heinrich Himmler. “The Volkssturm will be 
sent into the field according to my instructions by the Reichsfiihrer,” 
ordered Hitler. 

“Every mile that our enemies advance into Germany /’said Himmler 
in a speech accompanying this proclamation, “will cost them rivers 
of blood. Every house, every farm, every ditch, every tree and every 
bush will be defended by men, women and children. . . . Never and 
nowhere must or may a man of the Volkssturm capitulate. . . .” 

Brave words, however, were not enough to turn this untrained 
citizenry into soldiers overnight. It takes training, weapons and time 
to make a soldier. The Volkssturm could be given very little of each. 
By the turn of the year its members were still only civilians with arm- 
bands. The following letter dated 11 January 1945, written by an 
oldster to his son in the army, might well have been written by one 
of Britain’s Home Guard after Dunkirk: 

“Every German male up to the age of sixty is liable for service, 
as is well known. Those who are unfit for military service and those 
who have been discharged from the Forces are included, if they 
are fit for office or similar work. Uncle Kurt has to do duty as company 
clerk in spite of being a hunchback. ... As we have no equipment or 
weapons, training presents considerable difficulties, especially during 
the present weather. Last Sunday week, as we were practicing descrip- 
tion of terrain, judging distances and deployment in extended order 
beside and behind the water-tower (with the high tank), our men 
suffered very much from the cold. Another point is that the drill is 
new even for the old soldiers of the last war, whilst many of our 
men have never been soldiers before. There is need, therefore, for a 
considerable amount of patience, skill, and above all, time, in order 
to achieve definite results. Last Sunday we had an army-training 
demonstration team here, to give our men their first glimpse of the 
present-day infantry weapons and to explain them in general terms. 
Much water will have to flow down the Lengenfeld Brook before we 
receive our own fire-arms and are allowed to take them home.” 

But time was the one thing that both the Volkssturm and von 
Rundstedt did not have. For the coming battle of the Rhine the 
Volkssturm could not possibly be of any use. Von Rundstedt knew 
that the Allies were already girding their loins to carry out the 
offensive they had been forced to postpone because of the adventure 
in the Ardennes. Standing west of the Rhine, the Commander-in-Chief 
West awaited apprehensively the next Allied move. He could no 
longer retire behind the river itself since the loss of Silesia made it 


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essential to cling for as long as possible to the industrial resources 
of the Saar and the Ruhr. With the destruction of the German railway 
system in the interior of the Reich, the Rhine was also becoming 
increasingly important as the one available transportation route for 
shipping the coal of the Ruhr to the North German ports of Ham- 
burg, Kiel and Bremen. On 13 February 1945, von Rundstedt issued 
the following order of the day to the German armies in the West: 

Soldiers of the Western Front. 

The enemy is on the march for a general attack on the Rhine and the 
Ruhr. He is going to try with all the means in his power to break into 
the Reich in the west and gain control of the Ruhr industry. You know 
what that signifies so soon after the loss of Upper Silesia. The Wehrmacht 
would be without weapons, and the home country without coal. 

Soldiers, you have beaten the enemy in the great battles of the autumn 
and the winter. Protect now your German homeland which has worked 
faithfully for you, for our wives and our children in face of the threat of 
foreign tyranny. Keep off the menace to the rear of the struggling Eastern 
front, so that it can break the Bolshevist onslaught and liberate again the 
German territory in the East. 

My valiant fellow-combatants. The coming battles are going to be very 
hard but they demand that we stake our utmost. Through your persever- 
ance the general attack of the enemy must be shattered. With unshakeable 
confidence we gather round the Fiihrer to guard our people and our state 
from a destiny of horror. 

/ s/ VON RUNDSTEDT, 
Field Marshal. 

Having spoken his piece, there was nothing left for von Rundstedt 
to do but to emulate his soldiers and wait for an end. In his own 
case he did not have long to wait. 


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Chapter XXX 

DEFEAT WEST OF THE RHINE 


In the early hours of 8 February 1945, General Alfred Schlemm, 
commander of the First Parachute Army, was awakened by the 
ominous rumbling of artillery in the Reichswald Forest. The sound 
was much too intense to be normal. He had only heard its like before 
during the mighty battles on the Russian front. The first reports from 
his forward troops confirmed his worst suspicions. They indicated 
over 1000 Allied guns firing into his position at the northern extremity 
of the Siegfried Line. “I smell the big offensive,” reported General 
Schlemm to Army Group ‘H,’ his next senior formation. 1 

And Schlemm’s olfactory sense had not betrayed him. It was, in- 
deed, the big offensive. Or, at least, the start of it. Having allowed 
the German armies in the West to dominate the Christmas season 
with their intentions, the Allies were now in a position to resume 
their own. These intentions embodied nothing less than the complete 
and utter destruction of Germany’s military power by the summer 
of 1945. In the words of General Eisenhower this was to be done in 
three distinct phases: “first, the destruction of the enemy forces west 
of the Rhine and closing to that river; second, the seizure of bridge- 
heads over the Rhine from which to develop operations into Ger- 
many; and third, the destruction of the remaining enemy east of 
the Rhine and the advance into the heart of the Reich.” 2 Since it 
was also realized how vital a part the industries of the Ruhr played in 
the maintenance of the German war economy, it was decided that 
the main Allied effort should be designed to eliminate this industrial 
region. This was to be achieved by concentrating the maximum effort 
for the crossing of the Rhine against the favorable terrain north of 
the Ruhr. A supplementary operation from the Mainz-Karlsruhe area 
was to accompany the strong northern thrust with the object of 
achieving a gigantic double envelopment of the entire Ruhr area 
and the troops that would undoubtedly be left there to defend it. 

The initial phase of this strategic plan, the closing up to the Rhine 

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in order to seize suitable crossing places north of the Ruhr, was to 
be done in three steps. The first step was an advance to the Rhine 
as far south as Diisseldorf. This was to be accomplished by an attack 
of the First Canadian Army, with divisions of the Second British 
Army under command, in a southeasterly direction through the 
Reichswald Forest, combined with an assault of the Ninth U.S. Army 
across the Roer River towards Neuss on the Rhine. 

Then like a series of fire-crackers on a string the next two steps 
of phase one were to follow in rapid succession. The First U.S. Army 
would attack across the Erft River towards Cologne and clear the 
west bank of the Rhine north of its confluence with the Moselle River. 
And finally the Third U.S. Army, Seventh U.S. Army and First French 
Army would start their movement eastwards so as to complete the 
task of reaching the Rhine along the entire length of its left bank. 

What General Schlemm heard on the morning of 8 February 1945, 
were the opening salvos of this strategic plan. General Crerar’s First 
Canadian Army, with seven infantry and four armored divisions under 
command, was striking at the one German infantry division 3 holding 
the northern edge of the Reichswald Forest between the Rhine and 
the Maas rivers. It was hoped that if the ground were dry enough 
the armored columns would swiftly smash the thinly-held sector 
north of the forest and quickly be in a position to disrupt the German 
rear areas. 

But the ground was anything but dry. “. . . the weather conditions 
could hardly have been more unfavorable,” reads General Eisen- 
hower’s report; 4 “J anuar y had been exceptionally severe, with snow 
lying on the ground through the month, and when the thaw set in 
at the beginning of February, the ground became extremely soft 
and water-logged, while floods spread far and wide in the area over 
which our advance had been planned to take place. The difficulties 
thus imposed were immense, and the men had sometimes to fight 
waist-deep in water. . . . Under such conditions it was inevitable that 
our hopes for a rapid break-through should be disappointed, and 
the fighting soon developed into a bitter slogging match in which 
the enemy had to be forced back yard by yard.” But in addition 
to the trying weather conditions, the rapid exploitation of this attack 
was prevented by two other factors — the fanaticism and tenacity 
of the German parachutists, and the skill of General Alfred Schlemm, 
commander of the First Parachute Army. 

Nazi race-purists would have had an embarrassing few moments 
attempting to explain the presence of Alfred Schlemm on an Aryan 
General Staff. For with his rather short body, his broad Slavic face, 


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his large, bulbous nose and his dark, almost chocolate skin, he looked 
the antithesis of what Hitler and Rosenberg would have us believe 
was the true German type. He had been General Student’s Chief-of- 
Staff at Crete, had led a corps at Smolensk and Vitebsk in 1943, and 
had been responsible for containing the Allied bridgehead at Anzio 
in Italy in January 1944. His record, coupled with an orderly mind 
and a keen grasp of tactical problems, placed him amongst the more 
able generals still available in the Wehrmacht. The contrast between 
his non-Teutonic physical appearance and his undoubted military 
ability may not be very significant, but it is interesting. 

Early in November 1944, Schlemm was transferred from Italy 
to take over the First Parachute Army, which was then holding a 
sector of the Western front from the junction of the Rhine and the 
Maas rivers to Roermond with four divisions. Following the collapse 
of the Ardennes offensive, it was obvious that a major Allied attack 
would soon be forthcoming. For, despite the propaganda pap being 
fed to the German civilian and soldier about the inability of the 
Allies to launch an offensive after their terrible losses in the Ardennes, 
every responsible senior German commander realized that Allied 
ability to carry on with their plans had been little affected by the 
fighting in December. 

There now began a period of speculation amongst German staffs 
as to how, when and where the next Allied move would take place. 
German military intelligence, already long discredited by its many 
strategic blunders, was barely existent by early 1945. With no aerial 
reconnaissance to provide them with evidence of Allied movements, 
with few trained agents to garner them reports and with wide rivers 
preventing extensive patrolling, intelligence officers could offer little 
in the way of an accurate estimate of enemy intentions. Left to their 
own devices, each senior commander based his appreciation on what 
he himself would have done had he been in Allied shoes. Since clair- 
voyance of this kind can at best be only fifty per cent correct, some 
got it right and others got it wrong. The result was a rather sensitive 
hesitation all along the front, with reserves being spread thin to meet 
all emergencies and rarely being committed boldly if the Allied opera- 
tion did not correspond with the commander’s appreciation of what 
he expected it to be. 

Thus while most generals thought the first Allied move would be 
north of the Ruhr, there was wide disagreement as to just how it 
would be done. Schlemm’s personal view was that the big blow would 
come southeast through the Reichswald Forest as it eventually did. 
But this was opposed by Colonel General Johannes Blaskowitz, who 


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had in January 1945 taken over from Colonel General Student as 
commander of Army Group ‘B.’ Blaskowitz — and he was supported 
by von Rundstedt in this appreciation — believed that the Allied offen- 
sive would begin by an American assault south of Roermond fol- 
lowed in a few days by an attack by Second British Army from the 
neighborhood of Venlo. 5 

As a result the two divisions, 15 Panzer Grenadier and 116 Panzer, 
which constituted the armored reserve of Army Group ‘H,’ were 
kept opposite Roermond, while the infantry reserve division, 7 Para- 
chute, was sited across from Venlo. But despite his failure to con- 
vince both von Rundstedt and Blaskowitz of the impending threat 
to the Reichswald, Schlemm ordered his troops to build a series of 
defensive lines facing northwest to meet any attack from that direc- 
tion. Thus when, on 8 February, the First Canadian Army launched 
its offensive, there was little opposition encountered for the first forty- 
eight hours. But the two main roads leading through the Reichswald 
soon became such a nightmare of water, ice, mud and holes, that it 
effectively delayed an immediate Allied exploitation of the surprise 
that had been achieved. In the interval Schlemm had been able to 
convince his superiors that this attack was the real thing, and that 
he should be given all available reserves to deal with it. 

Thus although the town of Cleve fell on 12 February and the 
Reichswald Forest itself was cleared by the 13th, the defense lines 
constructed under Schlemm’s orders were now fully manned. Repeat- 
ing the tactics he had used at Anzio in Italy, where he had built up a 
force from nothing to eight divisions in a few weeks, Schlemm began 
to bring up division after division as the pressure from the Canadian 
and British troops grew more and more severe. By 19 February, fol- 
lowing the fall of Goch, a town some fifteen miles southeast of the 
Allied start-line, Schlemm had increased his force to nine divisions, 
three of which were infantry, three parachute and three armored. 6 
These formations, holding a front about twenty miles from the Maas 
to the Rhine rivers, forced the British to engage in what General 
Eisenhower has described as “some of the fiercest fighting of the 
whole war.” 

Schlemm’s orders were simple — to hold. “Once the battle was 
joined,” said the general, “it was obvious that I no longer had a 
free hand in the conduct of the defense. My orders were that under 
no circumstances was any land between the Maas and the Rhine to 
be given up without the permission of the Commander-in-Chief 
West, von Rundstedt, who in turn first had to ask Hitler. For every 
withdrawal that I was forced to make due to an Allied attack, I had 
to send back a detailed explanation.” 


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But it was not Schlemm’s foresight or the horrible ground condi- 
tions alone that stalled the British drive. The resistance of the para- 
chute divisions was as grim and relentless as anything yet seen in 
the West. In these young, indoctrinated Nazis, fresh from a Luft- 
waffe that had ceased to exist, the faith in their Fiihrer and in their 
own cause had not yet died. As has already been explained, they 
had been rushed into the role of infantry troops following the Allied 
victory in Normandy. Not having personally felt the sickening impact 
of defeat, they had not yet given way to the despair and hopelessness 
that by now had gripped most of the Germans fighting in the Siegfried 
Line. 

The parachutists in the Reichswald were that in name only. They 
had never been taught to jump from an aeroplane. The bulk of them 
had received no more than three months’ infantry training. But they 
possessed two other compensating virtues — youth and faith. Over 
seventy-five per cent of them were under twenty-five years of age, 
and together with the S.S. the parachutists contained the best remain- 
ing products of young German manhood. And they were nurtured on 
the deeds of their predecessors — the men who had landed at Crete, 
broken the Maginot Line at Sedan, and held Cassino. They developed 
an esprit de corps which the regular army divisions had long since lost. 
When they took their places in these new parachute divisions, hastily 
being formed to take advantage of this spirit, they were given 
speeches such as this, delivered by Lieutenant Colonel von der 
Heydte to the men who had just been sent to his regiment: 7 

“I demand of every soldier the renunciation of all personal wishes. 
Whoever swears on the Prussian flag has no right to personal pos- 
sessions! From the moment he enlists in the paratroops and comes 
to my regiment, every soldier enters the new order of humanity and 
gives up everything he possessed before and which is outside the 
new order. There is only one law henceforth for him — the law of 
our unit. He must abjure every weaker facet of his own character, all 
personal ambition, every personal desire. From the renunciation of 
the individual, the true personality of the soldier arises. Every mem- 
ber of the regiment must know what he is fighting for. 

"He must be quite convinced that this struggle is a struggle for 
the existence of the whole German nation and that no other ending 
of this battle is possible than that of the victory of German arms. . . . 
He must learn to believe in victory even when at certain moments 
logical thinking scarcely makes a German victory seem possible. . . . 
Only the soldier who is schooled in philosophy and believes in his 
political faith implicitly can fight as this war demands that he shall 


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fight. This is the secret of the success of the Waffen S.S. and of the 
Red Army — and lack of this faith is the reason why so many German 
infantry divisions have been destroyed.” 

This call for faith in a National Socialist Germany did not go un- 
answered amongst the young recruits of the new parachute divisions. 
Aided by the flooded fields, die broken roads and a narrow battlefield 
hemmed in by two flanking rivers, Schlemm’s troops fought skilfully 
and tenaciously from forest to forest and from defense line to defense 
line. By 23 February Schlemm could well survey his position south 
of the Reichswald Forest with some satisfaction. He had stabilized 
his front and, although his losses had been heavy, he had done what 
had been expected of him. He had held. But on that day the second 
part of the operation to reach the Rhine north of the Ruhr was 
begun by Ninth and First U.S. Armies. This was an attack across the 
Roer River between Julich and Diiren with the Ninth U.S. Army 
heading for Neuss on the Rhine, and then advancing north to meet 
the British troops pushing south. 

General Eisenhower’s original plan had been to have Ninth U.S. 
Army cross the Ruhr on 10 February, two days after the First 
Canadian Army attack. However, the dams which controlled the 
height of the Roer had been opened by the retreating Germans on 
that day, causing a four-foot rise in the water level. This had forced 
a postponement of the crossing until 23 February, when, aided by a 
moonlight night, the assault elements of General Simpson’s Army 
struck the four weak infantry divisions of the German Fifteenth 
Army patrolling the river. 8 The two weeks’ delay in launching this 
assault had resulted in a weakening of the whole German position 
along the Roer. For as the demands of the battle in the Reichswald 
grew heavier, the reserve formations that had been kept back pending 
just such an attack had been forced to move north to help General 
Schlemm’s hard-pressed troops. 

By 26 February the American bridgeheads over the Roer had 
erupted and armored columns were streaking east. To meet this new 
threat to his rear Schlemm sent south two armored divisions and one 
infantry division 9 which did nothing to relieve the broken Fifteenth 
Army and severely weakened his own front facing the British. By 2 
March Miinchen-Gladbach, Roermond, Venlo and Dulken had all 
fallen, while the Rhine had been reached at Neuss. This meant that 
Schlemm’s First Parachute Army was completely encircled and that 
the only way out was a withdrawal over the Rhine. Hitler’s voice was 
again heard from Berlin. There was to be no withdrawal! Instead 
Schlemm was ordered to build a bridgehead west of the Rhine, from 
Krefeld to Wesel, and to hold it at all costs. 


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“It was explained to me,” said Schlemm, 10 “that this bridgehead 
was needed to maintain shipping traffic along the Rhine. This particu- 
lar area was vital for the passage of coal from the mines of the Ruhr, 
since it was shipped along the river to the Lippe Canal, south of 
Wesel, and from there it was sent up the Dortmund-Emms Canal 
to the northern ports of Hamburg, Bremen and Wilhelmshaven. I 
could see the need for protecting this route, since it was the life-line 
upon which the German navy relied to carry on its U-boat warfare 
against the Allies.” 

Despite Schlemm’s frantic efforts to defend this area the armored 
power of the Americans was irresistible and Krefeld fell on 2 March. 
This meant a further contraction of the bridgehead which was now 
less than twenty miles long along the Rhine. In this area ten divi- 
sions attempted to stave off the constant attacks from the north and 
the south. 

It was at this stage, while he was trying desperately to carry out 
the impossible role that had been assigned to him, that Schlemm was 
sent a series of utterly stupid and incomprehensible orders. These 
decrees radiating straight from the Fiihrer himself succeeded in so 
hamstringing and bewildering Schlemm that he was forced to com- 
mand an army with men and equipment he did not want, and with 
the constant fear of a court-martial and a death penalty hovering 
over his head. 

The first of these orders came to the commander of the First 
Parachute Army following the fall of Krefeld. Under no circum- 
stances was any bridge over the Rhine to fall into Allied hands. If a 
bridge was captured intact, he Schlemm, was to answer with his head. 
No excuses or explanations of any kind would be accepted. But to 
complicate the matter still further, bridges were only to be blown 
at the very last moment. This was to ensure supplies and reinforce- 
ments reaching the troops in the bridgehead and also to enable as 
much industrial machinery as possible to be evacuated to the east 
bank of the Rhine. “Since I had nine bridges in my army sector,” 
said Schlemm, “I could see my hopes for a long life rapidly 
dwindling.” He moved his headquarters to Rheinberg, where he 
established wireless communications with each of the bridges in his 
area. He thus hoped to be able to give the order for the destruction 
of the bridges, whenever he felt that they were imminently 
threatened. 

One of the first bridges to be menaced, following the fall of Krefeld, 
was the road bridge at Homberg. Schlemm waited until he thought 
the Americans were close enough, and then, by wireless, ordered the 
bridge to be blown. After waiting about ten minutes he called back 


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to ask if his instructions had been carried out. “No, sir,” came the 
reply, “there is a colonel here who has forbidden us to blow the 
bridge.” Schlemm shouted into the mouthpiece, “Who the devil is a 
colonel to countermand my orders? I am an army commander and I 
order you to blow the bridge immediately.” There was a moment’s 
pause, and then the voice came back. “The colonel claims that he is 
not under your command, sir, but that he is under Field Marshal 
Model. He therefore insists that the bridge is not to be destroyed.” 
At this answer, Schlemm claims, he completely lost his temper. He 
yelled down the speaker as loudly and deliberately as he could that 
the blowing of the bridge was the Fiihrer’s order and that if it was 
not destroyed forthwith, Schlemm himself would personally come 
down to the bridge and not only shoot the colonel, but anyone near 
the bridge. They then blew the bridge . 11 

The second order that restricted Schlemm’s freedom of command 
was the insistence of Hitler that not a single man or a single piece of 
equipment was to be evacuated across the Rhine without the army 
commander first obtaining the special permission of the Fiihrer 
himself. With the fall of Krefeld and Homberg the original purpose 
for the maintenance of the bridgehead had lost its significance, since 
shipping on the Rhine was now dominated by American artillery on 
the western bank. This latest decree from Berlin meant that the 
contracting bridgehead was cluttered up with all the abandoned 
junk and useless personnel of an army that had just been through a 
heavy, losing action. There were damaged tanks that could no longer 
run, car-parks jammed with fuelless transport, artillery without am- 
munition and supply personnel of both First Parachute Army and 
Fifteenth Army with no jobs to do in so confined a space. This heap 
of twisted metal, broken horse-carts and purposeless personnel had 
to be pushed off the roads into hiding, where it rested as a futile 
gesture to a stupid order. 

“By the beginning of March,” said Schlemm, “this rubbish had so 
increased in volume that it seriously handicapped operations in the 
bridgehead. I reported to General Blaskowitz that unless I was per- 
mitted to get rid of some of this useless material I could not be 
responsible for what was likely to happen. Blaskowitz finally received 
Hitler’s consent to evacuate a specific limited list of personnel and 
equipment west of the Rhine. This list included vehicles which were 
damaged or had no petrol, guns without ammunition and supply 
personnel who were physically unfit to carry on fighting. To make 
sure that no man still capable of bearing arms was sent east of the 
Rhine, each commander had to sign a certificate stating that the men 
they were sending back were too weak to continue fighting.” 


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Plagued by this third nonsensical restriction, Schlemm was forced 
to contract his bridgehead under the mounting pressure of the 
British and American forces surrounding him. By 8 March the bridge- 
head at Wesel quivered rather uncomfortably in an area a little more 
than fifteen square miles in size. In this postage-stamp sector, because 
of Hitlers mad refusal to permit the withdrawal of any fit men, there 
were jammed no less than nine divisions, three corps headquarters 
and an army headquarters. So crowded were these staffs that one 
sugar refinery alone housed the headquarters of three divisions. Here 
these troops, who had fought an exhausting battle for a full month 
without a rest, were pounded relentlessly from the air and from the 
massed guns of the tireless Allied artillery. 

“It was only sheer luck that the bridge at Wesel had not yet been 
hit well enough to destroy it,” said Schlemm. “I told General Blasko- 
witz that if the bridge were destroyed there would be no other escape 
route for my men trapped on the west bank of the Rhine. I also 
pointed out that if this force of fighting men was lost there would 
be no experienced troops left in this area to prevent an Allied cross- 
ing of the Rhine itself. I urged Blaskowitz to tell the Supreme Com- 
mand at Berlin that if they did not believe my reports, the least 
they could do was to send a representative to Wesel and see the 
situation for themselves.” 

This latter plea worked, and on the morning of 9 March a lieutenant 
colonel from the Flihrer s headquarters came to see what was happen- 
ing. Schlemm described this observer as a dapper officer, all fresh 
and crinkly in his best new uniform. “I made him get down on the 
ground,” said Schlemm, “and crawl forward with me to our further- 
most positions, amidst one of your intensive bombardments. After he 
had had his fill of shells, and had got himself nice and dirty, he agreed 
that the position was hopeless and the bridgehead should be with- 
drawn. He sent this recommendation back to Berlin, and permission 
to send my troops east of the Rhine was finally granted. On the night 
of 10 March I pulled back my last remaining infantry and blew 
the bridge at Wesel.” 12 

Once again the German casualty list represented a staggering 
waste of manpower. The Allies had taken another 50,000 prisoners 
from 8 February to 10 March, and the total German losses, in this 
bitterly contested struggle, were between 90,000 and 100,000 men. 
But this was onlv part of what the Wehrmacht was yet to lose before 
it had been pushed back over the Rhine. For while the battle north 
of the Ruhr was reaching its closing stages, the second phase of 
General Eisenhower’s plan to clear the western bank of the Rhine had 
begun. The First U.S. Army, which had crossed the Roer at Diiren 


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on 23 February, was making rapid progress to Cologne, and entered 
the city on 7 March. Third U.S. Army, forming the southern arm 
of this pincer movement designed to squeeze out all German opposi- 
tion north of the Moselle, began their drive to the Rhine on 4 March 
with two spearheads aimed at Andernach and just north of Coblenz. 
Less than a week later these objectives, almost sixty miles from the 
start-line, had been reached. By 11 March the left bank of the Rhine, 
north of the Moselle, had been freed of German forces and another 
50,000 German prisoners-of-war had trooped into Allied cages. 

The speed with which this second phase of the Allied plan to reach 
the Rhine was accomplished, indicates how weak German opposition 
had now become. It had taken over a month of intensive punishing 
battle to clear the Reichswald, but in that month the Wehrmacht 
had lost the only troops it still possessed capable of offering the Allies 
anything more than token resistance. The defeat of First Parachute 
Army and Fifteenth Army, north of the Ruhr, had meant the end 
of anything resembling reserves in the West. For, in a situation re- 
markably analogous to the battle of Caen in Normandy, the cream 
of von Rundstedt’s forces had been sucked northwards to the Reichs- 
wald to meet Montgomery’s British troops where — to continue the 
metaphor — it had been thoroughly whipped. This had deprived the 
divisions defending the Cologne plain of the bulk of their armored 
reserves, and the American armies found the remaining infantry 
divisions relatively soft pickings. 

In effecting this second push to the Rhine the Allies had succeeded 
in mauling another twenty-five German divisions, chiefly belonging 
to the Fifth Panzer and Seventh Armies, which had been responsible 
for the sector from Cologne to the Moselle River. Their orders had 
been the same as Schlemm’s — to hold and under no circumstances 
to withdraw. But not having the spirit of the men in the First Para- 
chute Army, and not having a narrow, restricted sector to defend, 
they collapsed much more readily than their comrades north of the 
Ruhr. 

As had occurred in the Reichswald, permission to retire to the Rhine 
had been received much too late. The result was a badly disorganized 
front once the American armored columns had broken through. The 
story of 5 Parachute Division, as told by its commander, Major Gen- 
eral Ludwig Heilmann, was typical of what had happened north of 
the Moselle. 

“My final order from corps was to form a main defensive line about 
thirty kilometres west of Coblenz,” said Heilmann. 13 “But because of 
the rapid Allied advances from the south it was impossible to carry 
this out. An alternative line was chosen but everything was too dis- 


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organized to allow another move to take place. Eventually each sub- 
ordinate unit had to make its own way to the Rhine. By the time 
my first troops reached the river the ferries had been destroyed and 
the small assault boats still operating were of little use. Most of the 
roads to the Rhine were now blocked, and finally I tried to make 
my way east on foot. Utterly exhausted I tried to rest in a local farm- 
house but was captured by an American patrol. I do not believe that 
more than 500 of my fighting men ever reached the east bank of the 
Rhine.” 

Another senior officer taken in this operation was the talkative, 
fat Lieutenant General Richard Schimpf, who fell into American 
hands west of Bonn. Schimpf was particularly bitter about his last 
days with the Wehrmacht. “I had ample time to cross the Rhine if I 
had wanted to,” he declared after being captured, 14 “but I remained 
behind because I had orders to that effect from General Piichler, my 
corps commander. Piichler insisted that I stay behind with my division 
so that other units could be saved. If the Wehrmacht thinks that 
they have sufficient experienced generals and General Staff officers, 
it is all right with me. Piichler and Model messed this thing up 
anyway — they are amateurs.” 

Because men make wars and because men are human no strategist 
can guarantee the infallibility of his predictions. Fate or luck or, if 
you will, the unreliability of man often takes a hand to upset the best 
calculations of the most scientific of planners. On 7 March fate inter- 
fered in the battle of Germany. A small armored spearhead of the 
9 U.S. Armored Division reaching the crest of a hill overlooking 
Remagen, was astonished to see below it, still standing and appar- 
ently undamaged, the Ludendorff railway bridge spanning the Rhine. 
With the dash and courage of men who make history, an American 
platoon charged into the town and made its way to the bridge. Hardly 
had they reached it when two of the demolition charges exploded 
damaging the easternmost span of the bridge but leaving the roadway 
intact. Despite these warnings the American infantry continued on 
over the bridge, while engineers quickly cut the wires controlling 
the remaining charges. At four o’clock that afternoon First U.S. Army 
had crossed the Rhine! 

The story of the German defenders delegated to destroy the 
Ludendorff railway bridge combines the elements of incompetence, 
confusion and bewilderment which characterized most German 
operations in the closing months of the war. Under pain of death, 
a special engineer regiment had been made responsible for seeing 
that the bridge was blown up before the Americans theatened it. 


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The Allied Advance to the Rhine — February-March, 1945. 




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But, as in the case of General Schlemm in the Reichswald, no bridge 
was to be demolished too soon since fleeing German units would 
otherwise be cut off from their final escape route. At Cologne a bridge 
prepared for demolition had been prematurely blown up by bombs 
falling in the neighborhood, and as a result a large German force had 
been trapped and captured west of the river. It had therefore been 
ordered that no charge was to be placed on a bridge until the very 
last moment. 

On 7 March the senior officer responsible for the bridge was away, 
and his place had been taken by a Major Schoeller. When it was 
finally decided that the bridge should be prepared for demolition, it 
was suddenly discovered that the proper charges were not in hand. 
Frantic efforts were made to improvise effective charges but the 
final product was entirely inadequate. 

Even when Schoeller heard the sound of small arms fire in Rem- 
agen, he still considered it too early to blow the bridge. Although it 
was expected that American infantry might soon reach the western 
bank, it was not anticipated that tanks would also appear — since the 
approaches to the bridge had been well mined and blocked. When, 
however, Sherman tanks unexpectedly turned up sweeping the oppo- 
site bank with fire, the situation was beyond remedy. The fire cut 
some of the ignition cables and pinned down the defending troops 
on the other side. The last-minute demolitions were not enough 
seriously to affect the bridge, since the charges were too weak. Sur- 
prised and dumbfounded the Germans watched the Americans pour- 
ing across the Rhine too helpless to do anything but gape. 15 

When the news of the capture of the Ludendorff bridge reached 
the Allied Supreme Commander he did not hesitate in deciding to 
exploit it. “The Remagen bridge was not in a sector from which it 
had been intended to launch a major thrust eastward,” reads General 
Eisenhower’s report, 16 “but I at once determined, at the expense of 
modifying details of the plan of campaign, to seize the golden oppor- 
tunity offered to us. ... I ordered General Bradley, when he tele- 
phoned me to report the occurrence, to put not less than five divisions 
on to the far bank.” 

The German reaction was much slower. The only troops available 
on the east bank were some local anti-aircraft units and the engineer 
regiment of about ■ 1000 men. None of these units were equipped 
to carry out an effective counter-attack, and they possessed no anti- 
tank guns of any kind. The regular infantry divisions that had been 
passing over the bridge for three days had headed into the wooded 
country east of Remagen for the purpose of reorganizing and refitting. 
Communications on the right bank of the Rhine were also extremely 


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poor, and news of this disaster did not at once reach the proper 
authorities. As a result opposition on the 7th and during the daylight 
hours of the 8th was provided by a wide variety of units scraped 
together from the surrounding countryside. It was not until after 
dark on 8 March, almost thirty-two hours after the crossing had been 
made, that the Americans identified 11 Panzer Division, rushed south 
after having itself withdrawn over the Rhine near Cologne. But by 
then it was much, much too late. 

In the race to Remagen the Germans were far behind. In contrast 
to the speedy build-up of the Allies, which went on so quickly that 
even the ultimate collapse of the Ludendorff bridge on 17 March 
did not affect it, the Germans arrived in the piece-meal fashion now 
so much a part of their tactics. Although within ten days the elements 
of almost ten divisions, including three panzer divisions, had been 
thrown against the expanding bridgehead, the total force was still 
much too weak in men and equipment to do more than annoy the 
determined Americans. This stripping of personnel from the defenses 
along the river, north and south of Remagen, in a fruitless effort to 
meet this threat, had a disastrous effect on the eventual battle for the 
Rhine itself. “It made a long Rhine defense impossible,” said Goring, 17 
“and upset our entire defense scheme along the river. The Rhine was 
badly protected between Mainz and Mannheim as a result of bringing 
reserves to the Remagen bridgehead. All this was very hard on 
Hitler.” 

But things were soon to become much harder still. The third phase 
of the Allied plan to clear the left bank of the Rhine began on 15 
March. Like its predecessors this manoeuvre was a co-ordinated 
drive by the Third U.S. Army attacking south from bridgeheads over 
the Moselle and the Seventh U.S. Army pushing north from the Saar 
between Saarbriicken and Hagenau. To meet this attack were the 
Seventh and First German Armies lying in a wide semi-circle along 
the Moselle and Saar rivers. They contained about twenty-six divi- 
sions, two of which were armored, while the others were chiefly the 
recently formed Volksgrenadier divisions. Using the bunkers of the 
Siegfried Line to protect them these formations hoped to carry out 
Hitler’s edict to hold the left bank of the Rhine. But in a battle that 
was as swift, as astounding and as catastrophic as anything yet seen 
in the West, this huge mass of German soldiery fell into Allied hands 
as if it had been eagerly waiting for the opportunitv. Having assumed 
that the Third U.S. Army would continue across the Rhine at Rem- 
agen and break out from the bridgehead there, the sudden assault 
of Patton’s armor from the north caught Seventh Army completely off- 
guard. With nothing but isolated bits of resistance to restrain them 
Allied columns cut through the untrained, surprised Volksgrenadiers, 


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and by 25 March, ten days after the operation had started, the west 
bank of the Rhine, along its entire length, was cleared of German 
troops. And in the process General Patton’s men had also made 
another crossing of the Rhine south of Mainz to further complicate 
the Supreme Command’s future plans for the defense of the river. 

During the course of these battles to edge up to the Rhine, German 
resistance had grown progressively worse in each succeeding phase. 
North of the Ruhr the First Parachute Army had fought tenaciously 
and well and had withdrawn in good order despite all the efforts 
of Hitler to prevent it. Between the Ruhr and the Moselle, opposi- 
tion had been less fierce, but some modicum of system still existed 
during the retreat across the river. But between the Moselle and the 
Saar there had been neither resistance nor order — only chaos. In 
less than two weeks almost 120,000 prisoners-of-war were taken and 
over 4000 square miles of German territory captured. The fighting 
element of thirteen of the twenty-six divisions engaged surrendered 
almost to a man with hardly a gesture of defiance. No wonder Goring 
moaned. 18 “We could not believe that these fortifications had been 
penetrated. That break-through and the capture of the Remagen 
bridge were two great catastrophes for the German cause.” 

March was not yet out and von Rundstedt now faced the coming 
struggle for the Rhine with almost half a million men fewer than he 
had at the beginning of February. The vast bulk of these troops had 
found life as a prisoner-of-war more attractive than death as a fanatic 
fighting for a lost cause, for almost 350,000 Germans had raised their 
hands in defeat in the battles west of the Rhine. The total German 
losses since the Allied landings in Normandy had thus risen to the 
staggering figure of 2,000,000 men. 

The decision to risk these troops on the wrong side of the Rhine 
had been made by Hitler alone. He had been warned by his com- 
manders in the field of what might happen, but he had listened only 
to his intuition. “Field Marshal Model asked the Fiihrer time and 
time again to rescind the order that the Siegfried Line be held at all 
costs,” said Model’s senior intelligence officer, 19 “but these requests 
bore no fruit. Model then recommended that at least twenty divisions 
be sent back to prepare the defense of the Rhine and to act as a 
rallying-point in case of a withdrawal, but this was also refused. At 
this time the staff at Hitler’s headquarters gave the impression of 
being completely at sea, and of having lost all control of the situation.” 

Model was not the only general whose advice was being refused. 
Von Rundstedt, completelv fed-up with his r61e as a receptacle for 
the Fiihrer’s incomprehensible demands, was rapidly becoming a 


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figurehead who held his job merely to remind the German people 
of the Wehrmacht that used-to-be. Since Hitler was making all 
strategical and tactical decisions, and since the details were being 
worked out by von Rundstedt’s new Chief-of-StaflF, the efficient 
Lieutenant General Siegfried Westphal, there remained little for the 
old man to do. In any case he was too disgusted and too weary to 
want to do very much. If someone was still going to save the Third 
Reich, it was painfully evident that von Rundstedt was no longer 
the man. In mid-March, for the third and last time, the Field Marshal 
was asked to give up his command. To take his place came Field 
Marshal Albert Kesselring, the former Commander-in-Chief South- 
west. As von Rundstedt made his dignified, but halting, exit from 
the military stage he might well have found some consolation in the 
fact that, though he had failed to halt the Allies in the West, he had 
at least done better than anyone else. And for a man of seventy there 
must have been some satisfaction in the knowledge that an end had 
come at long last. 


Chapter XXXI 

DEFEAT EAST OF THE RHINE 

The ultimate disintegration of the German forces in the West had 
been inevitable since the collapse of the Ardennes offensive. That 
defeat was now staring the Third Reich full in the face was plain 
for everyone to see. The one man, however, who kept his senses 
tightly shut against this verdict of history was Adolf Hitler. And 
since he was the only man in the Third Reich who mattered, the 
Germans kept on fighting — automatically, fitfully and hopelessly. It 
required no diaries or letters of soldiers at the front to reveal the 
state of morale of the troops defending the Rhine. One needed merely 
to study the parades of German prisoners steadily filing into the Allied 
cages to see how badly shattered the German spirit really was. In 
March over 10,000 prisoners had been taken every single day which, 
in terms of manpower, was an even greater disaster than the losses 
incurred in the month of September in France. Few armies could 
stand two such bleedings in so short a time. The Wehrmacht, after 
five years of war, obviously could not. 

Of the new troops that had been scraped together by the levie en 
masse of the autumn of 1944, only the young parachutists succeeded 
in living up to the glowing promises proclaimed for them. The Volks- 


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grenadier divisions, untrained and unenthusiastic, had collapsed 
under pressure with little more than a dismal sigh. South of the 
Moselle, sixteen of these divisions had provided the most desultory 
and feeble opposition yet encountered in the West. The Volkssturm, 
that other standard-bearer of Teutonic steadfastness, just faded 
away. These old and sick men, the Home Guard of Germany, with 
their only uniform a white arm-band, hardly appeared at all in the 
fighting west of the Rhine. The commanding officer of the 41 Volks- 
sturm Battalion described what occurred when his formation was 
sent into battle early in March. His story was representative of what 
was happening to these last-ditch units all along the front. 

“I had 400 men in my battalion,” he said, “and we were ordered 
to go into the line in our civilian clothes. I told the local Party Leader 
that I could not accept the responsibility of leading men into battle 
without uniforms. Just before commitment the unit was given 180 
Danish rifles, but there was no ammunition. We also had four ma- 
chine-guns and 100 anti-tank bazookas ( Panzerfaust ) . None of the 
men had received any training in firing a machine-gun, and they 
were all afraid of handling the anti-tank weapon. Although my men 
were quite ready to help their country, they refused to go into battle 
without uniforms and without training. What can a Volkssturm man 
do with a rifle without ammunition! The men went home. That was 
the only thing they could do.” 

Again the Wehrmacht adopted all sorts of stratagems to keep the 
troops fighting. One device was to issue a flood of military awards 
designed to bolster this rapidly flagging morale. In addition to a 
lavish distribution of Iron Crosses of all classes, the Fiihrer offered 
a brand new decoration to all soldiers who had fought their way 
out of enemy encirclement. This award, which had been first an- 
nounced in October 1944, was now available to almost every member 
of the German forces in the West. For in the words of the order itself 
it was to be given to all “troops who have fought their way back 
to their own front after having been encircled by the enemy or after 
their units have been smashed during withdrawal actions, whether 
they arrive singly or in small groups. . . .” By April 1945 the only 
German soldiers who could not fall into that category were either 
dead or in an Allied prisoner-of-war camp. 

Then another curious reward for skill and courage in battle was 
the offer of pin-up photographs of Field Marshal von Rundstedt. A 
diplomatic, but somewhat peevish, letter written by the commander 
of 47 Volksgrenadier Division to his corps commander on 4 February 
1945, rather pointedly expresses what the men thought of awards 
of this type: 1 


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“The Division reports that so far it has had no experience with 
the awarding of autographed pictures of Field Marshal von Rund- 
stedt to individual infantry fighters. No requests for this award have 
been submitted. 

“At the present time the Division does not expect an award of this 
type to promote infantry shooting. The troops can only be induced 
to shoot better by the creation of more equal fighting conditions. . . . 
In the opinion of the Divisional Commander the choice of the type 
of award is an unfortunate one. The soldiers cannot carry the picture 
of the Field Marshal into the line. . . .” 

Obviously such inducements were having small effect on the morale 
of the German soldier, and the Nazi chiefs resorted to harsher and 
more terrifying methods as the end loomed nearer and nearer. 
Fear was still the weapon that was most effective in cowing the 
masses, and Goebbels wielded it with abandon. The bogy of Bolshe- 
vism was raised every where to frighten the nation into submission. 
On 16 March 1945 the following directive was issued to the National 
Socialist indoctrination officers of Twenty-fifth Army in Holland. 
These officers performed a similar function in German units to the 
role carried out by Communist commissars in Russian units, but with 
far less success. This document illustrated the propaganda line to be 
adopted in talks to the men and consisted of a series of warnings of 
catastrophes that would befall the German people “in the event of 
capitulation.” 

“As a natural consequence of the reparations demanded by the 
Reparations Commission in Moscow,” it reads, “the whole German 
agricultural potential is to be at the disposal of Moscow, and hunger, 
calculatingly produced, will be applied as a means of oppression, at 
any time. 

“German labor will be used as ‘reparations production’; as a natural 
consequence Moscow will deport German slave-labor to Siberia by 
the million. German industry will then profit only Germany’s enemies. 

“Moscow will tear asunder all families by deportation, slave-labor, 
etc., for ever, with the full intention of destroying the family as the 
basis of the life of the race. . . . 

“The German women will be raped by beasts in human guise, 
dishonored and murdered. . . . 

“German children will be tom from their parents by force, deported 
and brought up as Bolsheviks. 

“The German people as an organic community will be literally 
murdered. Germany will become a vast graveyard. Whoever survives 
has nothing more to hope for in this life. . . . 

“The want and suffering of the present war situation are nothing 


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compared to the aims of extermination by our enemies. These will be 
carried out in the event of capitulation. The entire German people 
has risen against this fate and fights as a single armed Nazi army.” 

But the greatest deterrent of all was still the threat of death. What 
had begun as a severe punishment for the most heinous of crimes was 
becoming a blanket punishment for the most trivial of misdemeanors. 
Death, in flaming capital letters, appeared in each succeeding order, 
in each succeeding exhortation. It was the last despairing measure 
to save a cause that was well beyond all saving. 

There was death for neglecting to blow a bridge on time, for being 
related to a deserter, for withdrawing without orders, for failing to 
fight until the end. On 12 February 1945 Field Marshal Keitel decreed 
death for forging passes: 2 

In the name of the Fiihrer the following is ordered: 

. . . Any officer who aids a subordinate to leave the combat zone un- 
lawfully, by carelessly issuing him a pass or other leave papers, citing a 
simulated reason, is to be considered a saboteur and will suffer death. 

Any subordinate who deceitfully obtains leave papers, or who travels 
with false papers, will as a matter of principle be punished by death. . . . 

/s/ KEITEL, 
Field Marshal. 

And on 5 March 1945, Colonel General Blaskowitz of Army Group 
‘H’ doled out death for stragglers: 3 

As from midday io March, all soldiers in all branches of the Wehrmacht 
who may be encountered away from their units on roads or in villages, 
in supply columns or among groups of civilian refugees, or in dressing- 
stations when not wounded, and who announce that they are stragglers 
looking for their units, will be summarily tried and shot. . . . 

/s/ BLASKOWITZ, 
Colonel General. 

And on 12 April 1945, Heinrich Himmler announced that the 
penalty for failing to hold a town was still more death. 4 

“Towns, which are usually important communications centers,” 
decreed Himmler, “must be defended at any price. The battle com- 
manders appointed for each town are personally held responsible 
for compliance with this order. Neglect of this duty on the part of 
the battle commander, or the attempt on the part of any civil servant 
to induce such neglect, is punishable by death.” 

But no conceivable number of threats could save the German 
nation from its inevitable fate. Standing on the left bank of the Rhine 


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with a force of 4,000,000 men was a triumphant Anglo-American- 
French force pawing restlessly at the ground for the final lunge into 
Germany. To make things still easier for the Allies two bridgeheads 
over the Rhine had already been seized and by the last week in 
March these were swollen with expectant American troops. 

The unenviable task of stemming this mounting tide was given to 
Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, whose blunt jaw and stocky figure 
bespoke a stubborn and resolute man. Kesselring had gained his 
reputation as a defensive military genius by his expert handling of 
the German armies in Italy. There, behind the Hitler and Gothic 
Lines, he had conducted a magnificent delaying action which had 
cost the Allies much blood and much time. Now he was expected to 
achieve the same results along the Rhine. But where von Rundstedt 
had failed Kesselring was hardly likely to succeed. His one order was 
to hold, and for the purpose he had a nominal sixty-five divisions with 
a real strength of less than half that number. 

On 23 March 1945 he must have realized full well that the order 
would be impossible to obey. For on that day the second phase of 
the great strategic plan for the defeat of Germany was set in motion. 
General Dempsey’s Second British Army and General Simpson’s 
Ninth U.S. Army crossed the Rhine in force north of the Ruhr. At 
Wesel, Rees and south of the Lippe Canal Allied bridgeheads were 
formed, and landings by two airborne divisions took place in the 
region of Wesel. 

Ready to meet this new assault was the First Parachute Army, 
not yet recovered from the losses it had sustained in the Reichswald, 
but by far the most effective fighting force still available on the 
Rhine. But the nine to ten divisions lining the river north of the 
Ruhr were no match for the masses of flesh and steel thrown against 
them. The left wing of the army was torn free from its flanking 
formation, Fifteenth Army in the Ruhr, and with a completely open 
left flank the First Parachute Army began retiring in a north-easterly 
direction towards the German ports of Hamburg and Bremen. On 
27 March 1945 General Gunther Blumentritt, von Rundstedt’s former 
Chief -of-Staff and now the commander of Twenty-fifth Army in Hol- 
land, was ordered to take over the leadership of First Parachute Army. 
The matter was urgent, he was told, since General Schlemm had 
been wounded and was unable to continue directing the affairs of 
the Parachute Army. 

“I reported to Colonel General Blaskowitz at Army Group ‘H,’ ” 
reports Blumentritt, 5 “and he and his Chief-of-Staff both agreed that 
once the Rhine had been crossed the situation, with the forces at 


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our disposal, was past repair. But since orders from above were to 
continue resisting I was to do the best that I could. When I took over 
my new command on 28 March I found that there were great gaps 
in my front, that I had no reserves, that my artillery was weak, that I 
had no air support whatever and hardly any tanks. My communica- 
tion and signal facilities were entirely inadequate and there was one 
corps under my command that I was never able to contact. The 
reinforcements that still came to me were hastily trained and badly 
equipped, and I never used them so that I could save needless 
casualties. 

“Nevertheless, orders from the Supreme Command were still 
couched in the most rigorous terms enjoining us to ‘hold’ and ‘fight’ 
under threats of court-martial. But I no longer insisted on these 
orders being carried out. It was a nerve-racking time we experienced 
— outwardly putting a bold face on the matter in order to do one’s 
duty as one had sworn to do — while we secretly allowed things to 
go their own way. On my own responsibility I gave orders for fines 
to be prepared in the rear ready for a retreat. By 1 April I had decided 
to direct the fighting in such a way that the army could be withdrawn 
in a more or less orderly manner and without suffering any great 
casualties, first on both sides of Munster and then behind the Ems 
Canal and finally to the Teutoburger Forest.” 

A week after their crossing, the Allied armies north of the Ruhr 
had already picked up another 30,000 prisoners-of-war. But this 
was as nothing compared to the rewards awaiting them still farther 
south. From these two bridgeheads at Remagen and Oppenheim, 
south of Mainz, the Americans had driven into the Frankfort Cor- 
ridor, collecting thousands of prisoners all the way. Having secured 
a base of operations which stretched from the Neckar River in the 
south to the Sieg River in the north, and eastward for a depth of 
about fifty miles, the grand double envelopment of the Ruhr was to 
be undertaken. By 29 March this lodgment area had been seized. 
With Ninth U.S. Army charging east from their bridgehead at Wesel, 
and with First U.S. Army striking northwest from Marburg, the 
two American armies joined hands at Lippstadt on 1 April to effect 
the “largest double envelopment in history.” 6 

Here in the heart of industrial Germany amidst the coal mines and 
steel factories and ammunition works of Essen and Diisseldorf and 
Dortmund and Wuppertal, lay the complete force of Field Marshal 
Model’s Army Group ‘B.’ In a circle about eighty miles in diameter 
two armies, the Fifteenth and the Fifth Panzer, were trapped, con- 
taining between them some twenty-one divisions. Model had realized 
all the while what was happening, said his senior intelligence officer, 


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but his requests to evacuate the Ruhr had been quashed. 7 Model had 
then taken steps to blunt the attack of First U.S. Army advancing 
along the southern edge of the Ruhr, but had been unsuccessful. 

“I differed with Field Marshal Model in the way he tried to stop 
this rapid advance south of the Ruhr,” said Kesselring. 8 “In my per- 
sonal opinion he should have started his attack farther to the east, 
thereby cutting off the relatively weak points of your advance and 
restoring a north-south line, rather than allowing his flank to be 
turned as it was. By attacking too far west, Model ran into a much 
thicker column and was unsuccessful. It is the point at which you 
strike that makes the difference. One battalion striking at the right 
point can do far more than a division at the wrong point.” 

Once it was clear that the encirclement was complete, Model made 
desperate efforts to break out at Hamm in the north and Siegen in the 
south. Hardly had these been thrown back when Hitler took charge 
of matters. The Ruhr was to be held as a fortress, he ordered, and no 
withdrawal was to take place. “The troops in the Ruhr were given 
instructions not to surrender under any circumstances,” said Goring. 

And to make doubly sure that nothing of any value fell into Allied 
hands should the Ruhr be taken, Hitler also ordered the complete 
destruction of this entire industrial center. This demand was in 
furtherance of the scorched-earth policy already laid down on 19 
March 1945. At that time Hitler had ordered that “all things of value — 
military installations, transport, communications, industrial and food 
supply installations within the Reich, which could be of any imme- 
diate or future use to the enemy for the continuation of his fight, will 
be demolished.” But this futile gesture Model refused to carry out. 
Again according to his intelligence officer, he had been persuaded by 
Speer, the Reich Minister for Armament and Munitions, that such 
destruction would be useless and a crime against future German 
generations. He therefore only ordered a partial destruction of vital 
installations and prohibited the local Nazi party leaders from carry- 
ing out Hitler’s orders to the letter. 9 

At Berlin Hitler was already preparing new areas of resistance. 
Having made the Ruhr into a fortress, he assumed it would hold out 
long enough to enable him to think up something else. According to 
Goring, the Fiihrer thought the Ruhr would occupy twenty Allied 
divisions and thus prevent them from moving on elsewhere. 

General Eisenhower, however, had no intention of launching an 
all-out attack against the complex, built-up area inside the pocket. 


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Rather the plan was slowly to compress the trapped formations into 
a smaller and smaller area until lack of ammunition and food forced 
them to surrender. And to carry out this operation only a limited 
number of Allied divisions would be used, while the rest pressed 
eastwards. Inside the Ruhr conditions worsened steadily. Trapped 
along with Model’s Army Group were the millions of civilian in- 
habitants of these industrial cities. Attacked and strafed regularly 
by Allied planes, the communication facilities inside the pocket soon 
broke down. It became impossible to send ammunition where it was 
needed, and food was soon a problem in many districts. But despite 
these difficulties the German forces in the trap might well have made 
of the bricks and walls and factories of the Ruhr another Stalingrad. 
Had they had the spirit and will to resist they might have created here 
a burning pyre to their Fiihrer and their faith. But this they did not 
have. They were beaten and finished, and to most of them being en- 
circled by American troops was the easiest and quickest way of 
getting out of the war. 

“The continuation of resistance in the Ruhr pocket was a crime,” 
said General Friedrich Kochling, the commander of 81 Corps, one 
of the encircled formations. 10 “It was Model’s duty to surrender the 
pocket since he was an independent commander once his Army 
Group had been cut off. Only the danger of reprisals against my 
family prevented me from taking this step myself. My staff listened 
eagerly for news of American advances, and we congratulated each 
other when we learned that the Americans had occupied another 
town where members of our families were living. You see, the 
occupation of these towns made men, free men, of us again.” 

Lieutenant General Fritz Bayerlein, commanding 53 Corps in the 
Ruhr, was more practical than Kochling. Instead of merely moaning 
about his fate he decided to do something about it. Getting together 
with one of his divisional commanders, Major General Waldenburg 
of 116 Panzer Division, they began negotiations with 7 U.S. Armored 
Division for the surrender of the complete corps of four divisions. 
The matter had to be very delicately handled since two of the divi- 
sional commanders, Hammer and Klosterkemper, wanted to con- 
tinue fighting. Bayerlein managed it by ordering his two stubborn 
generals to report to his headquarters. While they were on the way 
to him he sent out orders to die divisional staffs to assemble their 
units in preparation for surrender. When the two officers arrived at 
corps headquarters, they were confronted with a fait accompli , and 
shortly afterwards were whisked off to an American prison-camp. 
Thus Bayerlein in mid-April 1945 became one of the very few German 


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The Final Collapse — April-May, 1945. 


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DEFEAT IN THE WEST 

senior officers in the West with enough personal courage to risk the 
vengeance of Hitler, by daring to organize the surrender of his com- 
mand when it was obvious that further resistance could only lead to 
useless and wasteful bloodshed. 

With this kind of morale amongst those on top, it was inevitable 
that opposition in the Ruhr would not last long. By 13 April prisoners 
began to turn up in such quantities that Allied facilities for handling 
them were taxed to the limit. On 14 April the capture of Hagen split 
the pocket in two. According to Jodi, when this occurred, Berlin 
ordered the troops to reassemble into small groups and hold out 
individually as long as possible. If this was impossible, then they 
were to get out as best they could, reorganize and attack the rear of 
the Allied lines! How far removed the Supreme Command was from 
the realities of the fighting front is best revealed by this statement 
of Jodi’s. 

On 16 April 80,000 Germans gave themselves up within twenty- 
four hours. Two days later the final collapse came — eighteen days 
after the Ruhr had first been encircled. Even to Allied staffs accus- 
tomed to handling vast quantities of captured Germans, this latest 
haul was staggering. No less than 325,000 troops, including thirty 
generals, crawled out from under the rocks of the Ruhr when the 
count was taken. They represented two complete German armies, 
the Fifteenth and the Fifth Panzer, seven corps, twenty-one divisions, 
and an innumerable amount of independent artillery, engineer, sup- 
ply and replacement units. The one person, however, who did not turn 
up was Field Marshal Walter Model. 

“On 21 April 1945 Field Marshal Model shot himself in my presence 
in a wood near Duisberg,” said the senior intelligence officer at Army 
Group ‘B,’ 11 “I buried him, and I am, as far as I know, the only 
person who knows where his grave is. He chose death, because he 
had been accused of being a war criminal by the Russians. In the 
course of conversations I had had with him over a period of days, I 
expressed my opinion that the Western Powers would hand him over 
to the Russians — and it was this which decided him.” 

Chapter XXXII 

RESISTANCE THAT NEVER CAME 

While the process of reducing the garrison of the Ruhr was in 
progress, the remaining Allied forces were anything but idle. Once 
the Ruhr had been encircled, the third and final phase of General 
Eisenhower’s strategic plan for the defeat of Germany was under- 


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taken. This was to consist of a major thrust by the First, Third and 
Ninth U.S. Armies through Central Germany towards Leipzig and 
Dresden. Simultaneously Field Marshal Montgomery’s Army Group 
was to strike in a north easterly direction towards Bremen, Hamburg 
and the Elbe, while General Dever’s Army Group in the south was 
to push on to Nuremberg and Austria, and prevent any concentration 
of German resistance in the mountainous terrain of the Austrian Alps. 
By this combined operation it was hoped to cut Germany first into 
two longitudinal slices, after which each half would be dealt with 
separately. 

But whereas the Allies knew exactly where they were going and 
how they were going to get there, the Germans knew neither. After 
the collapse of the Ruhr, Jodi admitted, the Supreme Command had 
no overall plan. “From that time,” he said, 1 “we could no longer talk 
of a general conduct of the war. We had no reserves and could exert 
no control over the situation.” And the intelligence staff at SHAEF 
headquarters echoed these sentiments when, on 8 April, they wrote, 
“And so the enemy faces disaster but seems unwilling to face the 
fact. Assaulted by armies everywhere in men and material ten times 
as effective as his own, he fights on. National surrender seems out of 
the question, but individual surrender increases. The first five days 
of April disgorged 146,000 prisoners. Only the German High Com- 
mand knows what it is doing. No one else does. Presumably a miracle 
is expected. But what: a secret weapon more potent than Kesselring. 
That is the only conclusion one can draw. With present aids there 
can be no hope. . . .” 

It needed no military genius to assess the German position as 
desperate. One had only to look at a map. By the end of the first week 
in April the First Parachute Army had been pushed back to the Weser 
River at Minden and the Twenty-fifth Army was about to be trapped 
west of the Ijssel River and securely locked in the newly-designated 
“Fortress of Holland.” The disappearance of Fifteenth and Fifth 
Panzer Armies into the rubble of the Ruhr left a gaping hole in the 
German center between Hanover and Kassel, with American armored 
columns already east of this latter city. In the south Seventh and 
First Armies had been thrown back to the Main River and they 
possessed nothing but the remains of the divisions broken in the 
Saar-Moselle debacle to save them from being pushed back still 
farther. Only Nineteenth Army still hugged the right bank of the 
Rhine, south of Karlsruhe, and that was because no one had yet 
attempted to dislodge it. 

The prisoner total rose like a sensitive barometer. By the middle 
of the month over 50,000 Germans were surrendering daily, and 


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well over 500,000 had fallen into the Allied net in the first fortnight 
of April alone. Generals followed their men behind the barbed wire 
of a prison cage, but none could provide a clue as to when it was 
all going to end. Strategically the situation was lost, tactically it was 
hopeless, spiritually it was broken. “We are little men,” explained the 
captured senior officers. “We do not know what is happening. 
Although everything is hopeless, we must obey. To a soldier a com- 
mand is holy.” And from above came neither leadership nor inspira- 
tion. The only command was still the same — continue to fight. “We 
did not discuss a general surrender until after Hitler s death,” said 
Jodi. 

Thus, baffled, disorganized, lost, the scattered remnants of the 
Wehrmacht hid in the woods until they were overrun, fought until 
they were overwhelmed, or waited until they were overtaken, 
depending upon the ability, fanaticism or common sense of their 
officers. While in the one place that mattered, a man turned mad 
wildly tried to keep the smashed bits of his armies together. But like 
blobs of mercury, they shattered at each succeeding touch, and 
tumbled farther and farther apart. The wind that the Fuhrer, ignor- 
ance and discipline had sown continued to produce its whirlwind. 
“Hold on till the end,” ordered the Fuhrer, and there was only one 
course open — to obey. Or try or pretend to obey. 

And thus it was that at this anti-climactic stage of the war two final 
gestures of resistance were attempted. The first was the organiza- 
tion of the Werewolves and the second was the preparation of 
defenses in the National Redoubt. 

Sinister and weird is much of German mythology. Replete with 
mysterious and magic symbols, these legends have always appealed 
to the deep-rooted fascination for the supernatural which grips the 
German mind. The neo-pagan religions with their worship of the 
swastika and their revival of the rites and festivals for old German 
gods had their foundations in these myths of the ancient Teutonic 
tribes. The Werewolf movement was also designed to exploit this 
German love of mysticism. A werewolf was a human being which on 
occasions changed its appearance into that of a wolf. And along with 
the idea came all the trappings of the legend. The movement could 
use as its symbol the ‘wolfsangel’ or wolf hook and the convenient 
superstition that a house with such a sign marked on it would be 
immune from the haunting of werewolves. 

When it became apparent that the final battles of World War II 
would be fought on German soil, it was decided that civilian resis- 
tance groups behind the fighting fronts in both the East and West 
would be needed. The Werewolf movement, organized by the S.S. 


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for that role, first began to function in Upper Silesia against the Rus- 
sians. The Hitler Youth were given an important part in the enter- 
prise, and as early as 22 February 1945, Wehrmacht personnel were 
also being assigned for Werewolf activities. In an order of that date, 
divisions in the East were told “to select a number of men whose 
homes are in territories now occupied by the enemy. These men must 
be of outstanding ability, experience and courage, and must be suit- 
able to become leaders of Werewolf troops.” 

It was not until 1 April 1945 that the Werewolves made their official 
appearance in the West. A radio message proclaimed its aims and 
methods in a rather frenzied opening announcement: “The Were- 
wolf is an organization born of the spirit of National Socialism,” it 
ranted. “It does not heed the restrictions which are imposed upon 
combatants in our regular forces. Any means is good enough to harm 
the enemy. The Werewolf has its own jurisdiction which decides 
over life and death of our enemies as well as of traitors to our nation, 
and which also has the necessary power to ensure the execution of 
its verdicts. Every Bolshevik, every Briton and every American on 
German soil is fair game for our movement. Wherever we have an 
opportunity to extinguish their lives we shall seize it gladly without 
regard for our own lives. Any German, whatever his station and occu- 
pation, who offers his cooperation to the enemy will know our 
revenge.” 

With studied German thoroughness a series of schools was set up 
by Himmler to teach the most effective technique for carrying out 
guerrilla warfare. The many years of suppressing resistance move- 
ments in Occupied Europe had undoubtedly shown them the best 
methods to use, now that they had to form a resistance movement of 
their own. How far these investigations had gone, and an insight 
into the means that the Werewolves planned to adopt in carrying 
out their aims, can be seen in the following letter written on 23 
February 1945 by a Dr. Widmann to S.S. Colonel Panzinger. 2 The 
subject is the employment of poisons. 

“During my stay in Danzig,” it reads, “S.S. Major Goertz received 
among other things a delivery of poisons to be employed by the 
Werewolf organization. I objected to the delivery of arsenic powder 
because Goertz told me that, according to instructions he had 
received, the arsenic was supposed to be used to poison alcohol. 
Arsenic is insoluble in pure alcohol and dissolves only slowly in dilute 
alcohol. Arsenic is suitable for poisoning food such as bread, cake, etc., 
but not for poisoning alcohol as was planned in this case. 

“Suicide tablets were also delivered in Danzig. Goertz informed 
me that they contained veronal. My opinion in this matter is the 
following: the lethal dose for veronal amounts to about five to eight 


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grams. It is often quite difficult to swallow such an amount in the 
form of tablets. This difficulty can hardly be overcome by instructions 
to let the tablets crumble in the mouth and to swallow them only in 
case of emergency. The deadly effect of veronal tablets is relatively 
slow, so that there is a possibility of calling a man back to life by 
pumping out his stomach. It must be assumed that the enemy will 
make use of such methods. A man who has been recalled to con- 
sciousness after severe narcotic poisoning is weakened to such an 
extent that he can easily be interrogated and will give all the desired 
information. It is therefore not a satisfactory suicide tablet. . . 

But the Werewolf movement turned out to be all preparation and 
propaganda. A few isolated bands built underground dugouts in the 
forests and sallied forth to blow up small Allied food and petrol 
dumps. Groups of Hitler youths caused some annoyance by stretching 
wire across country roads and scattering glass and nails on busy 
highways. An occasional German was shot for collaborating with 
the Allies. Nothing else happened. No spontaneous uprising, no 
bitter underground campaign, no serious sabotage, no hard knots of 
fanatical resistance. Passively and with a kind of sullen relief, the 
German watched the Allied columns taking possession of his Father- 
land. Everyone was sick of war. No one wanted to be a werewolf. 
A resistance movement presupposes a faith worth fighting for. One 
month before the end of the war the German people no longer 
possessed that faith. The vaunted howls of the Werewolf finally 
emerged as bleats from a sheep in werewolf clothing. 

The story of the National Redoubt is even less heroic than that of 
the Werewolves. Since late 1944 a steady stream of reports from 
erratic agents, prisoners and a few air photographs seemed to indicate 
that large-scale defensive preparations were in progress for a last- 
ditch stand amongst the mountains of the Bavarian Alps. Here, in an 
area some 240 miles long and eighty miles deep bordering on the 
Swiss and Italian frontiers, it was expected that a final ideological 
demonstration of National Socialist resistance would be made. As 
the Allies drove deeper and deeper into Central Germany, this view 
gained credence amongst Allied intelligence staffs since, whether by 
coincidence or design, the remaining S.S. divisions had drawn back 
to the edge of the Redoubt in their defense of Vienna, and since the 
bulk of the German jet fighter planes were located in the south. 
Coupled with its unlimited facilities for natural defense amongst the 
narrow, winding roads and the icy, mountain crags, was the fact that 
Hitler’s very own retreat at Berchtesgaden was centered in the area. 
The prospect of an up-to-date version of Brunhilde riding her horse 


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into a blazing pyre would probably have appealed to a man of Hitler’s 
mentality. In any case it appealed to Allied intelligence officers, and 
the possibility of its taking place was too dangerous to risk. It was 
partly to ensure the speedy elimination of any centers of resistance in 
this difficult terrain that prompted General Eisenhower to press 
forward into Western Austria as quickly as possible and destroy this 
potential Nazi haven. 

If Hitler indeed planned to carry out such a last act of defiance, 
he kept the secret well. As late as January 1945 Jodi in a letter to 
Himmler opposed the idea of fortifying an area of the Swiss frontier, 
and made no mention of the Redoubt. Most of the Wehrmacht gen- 
erals had never heard of the Redoubt, and those that had heard 
rumors could only shake their heads and agree that nothing was 
beyond Himmler and Hitler. In any case, they asserted, if such a plan 
was to be put in force, the army divisions would have been expected 
to carry out delaying actions while the S.S. divisions hurried to the 
safety of their Alpine defenses. Lieutenant General Kurt Dittmar, the 
official spokesman of the Wehrmacht, claimed that although some 
preparations had been made, the idea was mainly confined to paper. 

By mid-April most of the key ministries from Berlin had been 
moved to the Berchtesgaden area, taking their documents and ad- 
ministrators with them. All but a small part of the staff of the Supreme 
Command had also been transferred to the Redoubt area. But the 
one man who might have made such a stand possible did not come. 
Whatever plans Hitler might have had for an impressive Gotterdam- 
merung had, by mid-April, been outstripped by the Allies. Hardly 
had the Ruhr collapsed when the Russians were already biting into 
the rim of the Redoubt in the east, and American armored columns 
were charging towards Munich in the west. By April 20 Hitler had 
decided to remain in Berlin and defend it to the last. With that deci- 
sion the National Redoubt, like the Werewolves, disappeared into 
the limbo of forgotten last stands. 

In the West a front line no longer could be said to exist. The third 
week in April saw Allied spearheads 200 miles east of the Rhine and 
careering through Germany almost at will. While German battle- 
maps still indicated over sixty divisions opposing the American, 
British and French thrusts, the remnants of these hollow formations 
constituted hardly a third of this strength. The number of prisoners 
taken in twenty-one days had swollen from 500,000 to well over one 
million, including forty generals, and there was no indication that this 
rate of collapse was likely to decrease. New ‘shadow’ divisions were 
formed from the convalescents, the Volkssturm, the stragglers, the 


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feeble and the very young. With no training, few weapons and little 
spirit these make-shift formations were flung helter-skelter wherever 
the need seemed most pressing. And to make up for this lack of ex- 
perience and material the ‘shadow’ divisions were given brave, color- 
ful names instead of ordinary prosaic numbers. Potsdam, Clausewitz, 
Schamhorst, von Hutten, Jiiterbog, Nibelungen, Hamburg were the 
banners under which these new formations made their way into 
battle, but the ghosts of Frederick the Great, Wagner and Bismarck 
shouting in unison could not have inspired these sad imitations of 
fighting units to further resistance. 

To fill the great gap in the line created by the encirclement of the 
Fifth Panzer and Fifteenth Armies in the Ruhr, the Supreme Com- 
mand was creating a new army, the Eleventh, under General Walter 
Wenck. Amidst the pine forests of the Harz Mountains about five 
divisions were frantically being assembled to help bolster the tom 
front. This was the bottom of the barrel after it had been scraped 
clean. There was nothing more. “We had a few engineer and cyclist 
units,” said Jodi. 3 “Improvised forces, all these, to use in localized 
operations under the defense commands. Wenck’s was the only real 
force.” 

It was at first hoped that the Eleventh Army would be used in a 
counter-attack westward with the object of relieving Army Group 
‘B’ in the Ruhr pocket, but General Bradley’s troops had moved much 
too quickly for such an effort. Utterly unaware of the speed and 
strength of the American advance columns, the Supreme Command 
ordered Wenck to attack towards the Thuringian Forest near Eisen- 
ach. Before this move could be made the Eleventh Army was well 
pocketed in the Harz Mountains. Ninth U.S. Army forming the north- 
ern arm of the pincer had taken Magdeburg on the Elbe on 18 April 
after three days of unexpected opposition from the new ‘shadow’ 
divisions. The southern arm of the pincer, formed by First U.S. Army, 
south of the Harz, had little difficulty in reaching Dessau on 14 April, 
which left a narrow gap between the two American armies through 
which Wenck’s 10,000 trapped men tried to escape. For four days the 
Germans sought to hold these relentless jaws apart, but on 18 April 
they snapped together and Hitler’s final army had met its inevitable 
fate — in a pocket. 

One last attempt was made to relieve Wenck. In the region of 
Soltau, over sixty miles to the north, the recently assembled von 
Clausewitz Panzer Division was being put together out of the remains 
of two panzer divisions and a panzer brigade destroyed on the Eastern 
front. With Wenck’s troops surrounded, the Supreme Command 


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ordered the von Clausewitz Division to go to the rescue. As the last 
serious offensive effort of the dying Wehrmacht in the West, the story 
of this formation’s dash to the Harz Mountains is of some interest. 

“The von Clausewitz Panzer Division was hurriedly organized from 
various units and contained between 5000 and 6000 men and about 
eighty tanks and assault guns,” said its commander. Lieutenant 
General Martin Unrein, 4 a sharp-faced keen fellow of about forty. 
“My task was to push down to die Harz Mountains and relieve the 
troops under command of General Wenck. At the same time as I 
proceeded south I was to harass and attack the rear of the American 
divisions advancing on Magdeburg. I divided my division up into 
two battle groups and, striking where I assumed the boundary be- 
tween British and American troops would be, I made very rapid 
progress. Meeting first British and then American forces I succeeded 
in destroying over 150 Allied vehicles of all kinds. I had little difficulty 
getting as far south as Brunswick, some sixty kilometres from where 
I began, and I even rode on the highways at night with all the lights 
of my convoy burning. I met the balance of my division in some 
woods south of Brunswick, and here we were found by American 
forces. After a severe artillery bombardment which caused heavy 
casualties, and a loud-speaker address warning us to surrender, most 
of my men gave in. I personally left the woods in a small car which I 
abandoned later and made my way east on foot. By pulling off the 
buttons of my coat and slipping on a pair of civilian trousers I 
attempted to pose as a French worker, but I was soon caught. 

“Although my division did not reach the Harz Mountains as it was 
hoped, it did cause the enemy considerable damage and I believe 
that it drew two or three American armored divisions away from the 
Magdeburg area. My command of the von Clausewitz Panzer Divi- 
sion, at such a time, I considered a special honor, for with the 
complete German army in full retreat I was the one division that was 
able to attack.” 

The failure of this spectacular attempt to reach the Eleventh Army 
meant that most of the encircled troops, along with their would-be 
rescuers, were swept into the bursting Allied prisoner bag. Wenck 
himself managed to escape, and was hardly out when he was given a 
new task. He was to command another hastily assembled army, this 
one called the Twelfth, and take up a sector on the Elbe, between 
the Blumentritt Army on his right, also just formed, and Seventh 
Army on his left. But while his two neighboring armies faced west to 
meet the Anglo-American forces, Wenck’s Army was to face east 
and attack in the direction of Potsdam. In other words the two fronts 
had now been pushed back to back so that they had been merged 


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into one. And in the center, between Lauenberg and Stendal, where 
the fusion had taken place, the Supreme Command had decided to 
concentrate against the Russians. Thus, like a Siamese twin looking 
apprehensively in opposite directions at once, the Wehrmacht spent 
its final horns waiting for Hitler or Destiny to make up its mind. 

And on 25 April 1945, at four-forty in the afternoon, at Torgau on 
the Elbe, the Siamese twin was severed in two when forward elements 
of the American 69th Infantry Division and the Russian 58th Guards 
Division met and shook hands before the press photographers of the 
Allied world. There was little that still remained of Hitler’s Third 
Reich. Cities that had echoed to the full-throated roars of massed 
Nazis, that had proclaimed the victorious goose-step of the conquer- 
ing Wehrmacht, that had toiled and sweated and smoked to produce 
the tools of war, were now shattered and still. Amidst the dust of 
their factories, the rubble of their homes and the stench of their dead, 
the Germans of Bremen and Hanover and Magdeburg and Leipzig 
and Stuttgart and Nuremberg heiled and marched no more. 


Chapter XXX III 
DEFEAT 

Developments along the Eastern front had been just as sweeping. 
In Prussia Konigsberg had fallen and in Austria Vienna had been 
abandoned. Danzig, Stettin, Potsdam, Kustrin were no more. Only 
Berlin remained, encircled and besieged, to carry out the vow of 
a fight to the very end. Within the charred and skeletal remains of 
the capital a heterogeneous force of tired battle groups, fanatical 
S.S., inexperienced Volkssturm, numbering some 250,000 strong, pre- 
pared to carry out the dictates of their Fiihrer. While in his bunker 
beneath the Reich Chancellery, Adolf Hitler feverishly continued to 
plan the resurrection of an empire that already lay crumbled at his 
feet. On 23 April the Russians reached the outer suburbs of Berlin 
and the Fiihrer’s last stand had begun. 

From a military standpoint Germany had been well defeated weeks 
before. The leaders of the Wehrmacht, however, had been so cowed 
and frightened by the twin shadows of Hitler and Himmler that they 
were incapable of organizing any independent action of their own 
to bring about an armistice. Only the few faithfuls surrounding the 
Fiihrer himself still believed that some miracle might avert the im- 
pending collapse. And, as we shall see, the corroding influence of 


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constant defeat was even beginning to undermine the allegiance of 
those that had remained loyal until now. 

For once Hitler had decided to end his days in Berlin, the question 
of who was to don his fallen mantle began to trouble his most 
likely successors — Goring, Himmler and Bormann. Strangely enough 
there still seems to have been some earnest rivalry for the unattractive 
and thankless job of Fiihrer of a fallen Third Reich. The only possible 
explanation for such keenness appears to be the potential bargaining 
power for personal immunity that might accrue to the man who 
finally brought about a formal surrender of Germany. Although Gor- 
ing had been designated as Hitler s successor as leader of the state, 
Martin Bormann, Reichsleiter and the Fiihrer’s secretary, was to take 
over Hitler’s other job as head of the National Socialist Party. Between 
Bormann and Goring existed a deep hatred which only Hitler’s pres- 
ence prevented from breaking out into open warfare. 

According to Colonel Werner Grothmann, Himmler’s personal 
adjutant, 1 this question of succession was further complicated by 
Hitler’s decision to appoint a deputy Fiihrer in the event of Ger- 
many’s being split in two by the Americans. The responsibility of 
the deputy Fiihrer was to be primarily military. Thus if Hitler were 
isolated in the north by the American drive, Kesselring would depu- 
tize for him in the south, and if he were cut off in the south then 
Gross-Admiral Donitz would carry on the struggle in the north. But 
the appreciation was not complete enough. The third possibility, 
that Berlin might be surrounded and that Hitler might thus be 
unable to control either North or South Germany, was not even con- 
templated. It was unthinkable that the Russians would ever take 
Berlin. Hitler would see to that. It was this confident arrangement, 
coupled with the death or defection of the other three most likely 
Nazi princes, that resulted in Hitler’s battered crown finally being 
plunked upon the balding head of Karl Donitz. 

Goring was the first of the heirs-designate to be renounced by the 
Fiihrer. According to his own story 2 Goring left Berlin for Southern 
Germany on 21 April, having been informed that Hitler had decided 
to stay and die in Berlin. On 23 April, at three o’clock in the afternoon, 
Goring sent a telegram to the Chancellery announcing that in view 
of his position as Hitler’s successor he would take over the duties 
of Reichsfiihrer unless he received orders to the contrary by ten 
o’clock that night. Goring claims that he was encouraged in this action 
by a remark attributed to Hitler: “I shall never negotiate with the 
Allies, Goring can do it much better.” But the Fiihrer’s reaction was 
quite different from what the Reichsmarshal had expected it to be. 
Goring suspects that Bormann, who received the telegram, inter- 


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preted it to Hitler as an act of treachery on Goring’s part. In any 
case, before the ultimatum had expired Goring had been arrested by 
S.S. troops. Another telegram from Hitler then arrived asking the 
Reichsmarshal to resign all his offices. Goring, construing the wording 
literally, assumed that this order only applied to his titles as Prime 
Minister of Prussia, President of the State Council, President of the 
Reichstag and a half-a-dozen others — but not to his position as 
F iihrer-designate. Still another telegram that came much later sen- 
tenced Goring and his family to death. This message the Reichs- 
marshal considers to have been posthumous and he asserts that the 
signature should have read “Bormann” and not “Fiihrer.” Goring’s 
sentiments towards Bormann were no less vindictive. “Everybody 
knew my first move would have been to liquidate Bormann,” said 
the Reichsmarshal. 

The account of Goring’s rescue from this plight unfolds like the 
final reel of a Hollywood thriller when the United States marines 
arrive to save the hero just in the nick of time. As he stood surrounded 
by the S.S. troops, who had arrested him on 23 April, part of a Luft- 
waffe signals regiment passed by. The Luftwaffe easily outnumbered 
the S.S., and Goring, thinking quickly, ordered his troops to rescue 
him. The airmen charged and the S.S., being in no mood to argue, 
willingly gave up their prisoner. Recalling the occasion, the Reichs- 
marshal still glowed with satisfaction. “It was one of the most beauti- 
ful moments of my life,” he said, 3 “to stand there in front of my troops 
and see them present arms to their Commander-in-Chief.” 

The retirement from Berlin of the Wehrmacht chiefs, Keitel and 
Jodi, did not have as dramatic a sequel as Goring’s departure. On 23 
April Jodi was told to make his way north and attempt to carry out 
the Fiihrer’s last tactical orders. These still spoke grandly of armies 
that existed nowhere else but on Hitler’s battle-maps. Wenck’s 
Twelfth Army was to attack east towards Potsdam, the Ninth Army 
surrounded north of Kottbus was to break out and drive north 
towards Berlin to join Wenck, while parts of Army Group Vistula 
were to attack south from Oranienburg to Spandau. Thus was the 
encirclement of Berlin to be broken, and its garrison relieved. Keitel 
was to be in charge of this Herculean effort. 

Jodi set off for Flensburg in Schleswig-Holstein, where he hoped 
to organize further resistance. After a harrowing journey, chiefly at 
night, in which he was constantly evading first Russian and then 
British troops, Jodi reached his destination. But with no communica- 
tion facilities at his command he could not assemble any forces. In 
constant touch with Hitler by high-frequency radio, Jodi received 


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his last message from the Fiihrer on the night of 29-30 April. Hitler 
was still juggling his imaginary formations, “How is the attack going 
at Oranienburg?” asked Hitler. 4 “Where is Wenck’s advance column? 
What is the situation of the Ninth Army? . . .” Jodi’s answers offered 
small consolation to those still trapped in the capital of the Reich. 

Deep in the shelter of his bunker beneath the Chancellery at 
Berlin, Hitler was playing out the final scene of his r61e as a doomed 
dictator. The best report of those last days of the German Fiihrer 
has been given by Hanna Reitsch, the well-known test pilot and 
aeronautical research expert. Her account, which is considered to be 
reliable, was published in the 19 November 1945 issue of Interim, 
the Intelligence Review of the British army of the Rhine. The extracts 
reproduced here are from that account. 5 It is a fascinating story 
by one of the last persons to get out of the shelter alive. Its straight- 
forward reporting throws a revealing light on the personalities that 
had ruled and ravaged a continent for so long. 

On 24 April Colonel General Ritter von Greim in Munich received 
a telegram ordering him to report to the Reich Chancellery. Taking 
along Hanna Reitsch, his personal pilot, they arrived in Hitler’s 
bunker on the evening of 26 April after an exciting trip, during which 
they had twice been forced down by Russian fighters and in which 
von Greim’s right leg had been shattered by Russian fire. While von 
Greim was having his leg tended by Hitler’s personal physician, the 
Fiihrer came into the sick-room. 

“Do you know why I have called you?” said Hitler to von Greim. 

“No, mein Fiihrer,” said von Greim. 

“Because Hermann Goring has betrayed and deserted both me and 
his Fatherland,” said Hitler. “Behind my back he has established 
connections with the enemy. His action was a mark of cowardice. 
And against my orders he has gone to save himself at Berchtesgaden. 
From there he sent me a disrespectful telegram. He said that I had 
once named him as my successor and that now, as I was no longer 
able to rule from Berlin, he was prepared to rule from Berchtesgaden 
in my place. He closes the wire by stating that if he had no answer 
from me by nine-thirty on the date of the wire he would assume 
my answer to be in the affirmative.” 

With eyes hard and half-closed and in a voice unusually low he 
went on: “I immediatelv had Goring arrested as a traitor to the 
Reich, took from him all his offices, and removed him from all organi- 
zations. That is why I have called you to me. I hereby declare you 
Goring’s successor as Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe. In the 
name of the German people I give you my hand.” 


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Later that first evening Hitler called Reitsch to him in his room. 
She remembers that his face was deeply lined and that there was 
a constant film of moisture in his eyes. In a very small voice he said: 
“Hanna, you belong to those who will die with me. Each of us has 
a phial of poison such as this,” with which he handed her one for 
herself and one for von Greim. “I do not wish that one of us falls 
to the Russians alive, nor do I wish our bodies to be found by them. 
Each person is responsible for destroying his body so that nothing 
recognizable remains. Eva and I will have our bodies burned. You 
will devise your own method. Will you please inform von Greim?” 
Reitsch sank to a chair in tears, not, she claims, over the certainty 
of her own end, but because for the first time she knew that the 
Fiihrer saw the cause as lost. Through the sobs she said, “Mein 
Fiihrer, why do you stay? Why do you deprive Germany of your life? 
When the news was released that you would remain in Berlin to 
the last, the people were amazed with horror. ‘The Fiihrer must live 
so that Germany can live,’ the people said. Save yourself, mein 
Fiihrer, that is the will of every German.” 

“No, Hanna; if I die it is for the ‘honor of our country; it is because 
as a soldier I must obey my own command that I would defend Berlin 
to the last. My dear girl, I did not intend it so. I believed firmly 
that Berlin would be saved at the banks of the Oder. Everything 
we had was moved to hold that position. You may believe that when 
our best efforts failed I was the most horror-struck of all. Then when 
the encirclement of the city began the knowledge that there were 
3,000,000 of my countrymen still in Berlin made it necessary that I 
stay to defend them. By staying I believed that all my troops of the 
land would take example through my act and come to the rescue of 
the city. I hoped that they would rise to superhuman efforts to save 
me and thereby save my 3,000,000 countrymen. But, my Hanna, I 
still have hope. The army of General Wenck is moving up from the 
south. He must and will drive the Russians back long enough to save 
our people. Then we will fall back to hold again.” 

It appeared almost as if he believed this himself and as the con- 
versation closed he was walking about the room with quick, stumbling 
strides, his hands clasped behind him and his head bobbing up and 
down as he walked. Although his words spoke of hope, Hanna claims 
that his face showed that the war was over. 

The next morning Hanna Reitsch was introduced to the other 
occupants in the elaborate shelter. On 27 April they numbered Goeb- 
bels and his wife with their six children; State-Secretary Neumann; 
Hitler’s right hand, Reichsleiter Martin Bormann; Eva Braun; S.S. 


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Obergruppenfiihrer (General) Fegelein as liaison between Himmler 
and Hitler and the husband of Eva Braun’s sister; Dr. Lorenz, of 
the German press; one or two officers representing each of the armed 
services; Hevel, from Ribbentrop’s office; Hitler’s personal pilot, two 
of his female secretaries and his personal physician; and various S.S. 
orderlies and messengers. Reitsch claims that these comprised the 
entire assembly. 

Late in the afternoon of the 27th Obergruppenfiihrer Fegelein 
disappeared. Shortly thereafter it was reported that he had been 
captured on the outskirts of Berlin disguised in civilian clothes, claim- 
ing to be a refugee. The news of his capture was immediately brought 
to Hitler, who instantly ordered him to be shot. The rest of the 
evening Fegelein’s betrayal weighed heavily on the Fiihrer and in 
conversation he indicated a half-way doubt as to Himmler’s position, 
fearing Fegelein’s desertion might have been known and even con- 
doned by the S.S. leader. 

Reitsch describes Goebbels as being insanely incensed over Gor- 
ing’s treachery. He strode about his small, luxurious quarters like 
an animal, muttering vile accusations concerning the Luftwaffe leader 
and what he had done. The precarious military situation of the 
moment was Goring’s fault. Their present plight was Goring’s fault. 
Should the war be lost, as it certainly now seemed it would be, that, 
too, would be Goring’s fault. 

One of the last things Reitsch remembers hearing from the lips 
of the propaganda master was: “We shall go down for the glory 
of the Reich, so that the name of Germany will live for ever.” Even 
Reitsch was moved to conclude that the Goebbels display, in spite 
of the tenseness of the situation, was a bit overdrawn and out-and-out 
theatrical. She claims that in her opinion Goebbels, then as he always 
did, performed as if he were speaking to a legion of historians who 
were avidly awaiting and recording every word. After listening to 
these tirades she and von Greim often asked each other with a sad, 
head-shaking attitude: “Are these the people who ruled our country?” 

Frau Goebbels, as described by Reitsch, was a very brave woman 
who represented the epitome of Nazi indoctrination. Desperately 
concerned about the fate of her children in the event of a collapse, 
Frau Goebbels said to' Reitsch: “My dear Hanna, when the end comes 
you must help me if I become weak about the children. You must 
assist me to help them out of this life. They belong to the Third Reich 
and to the Fiihrer, and if those two things cease to exist there can 
be no further place for them. But you must help me. My greatest 
fear is that at the last moment I shall be too weak.” 

It is Hanna’s belief that in the last moment she was not weak. 


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The Goebbels children numbered six. Their names and approxi- 
mate ages were: Hela, twelve; Hilda, eleven; Helmut, nine; Holde, 
seven; Hedda, five; Heide, three. They were the one bright spot of 
relief in the stark death-shadowed life of the bunker. Reitsch taught 
them songs, which they sang for the Fiihrer and for the injured von 
Greim. Their talk was full of being in ‘the cave’ with their ‘Uncle 
Fiihrer,’ and in spite of the fact that there were bombs outside, noth- 
ing could really harm them as long as they were with him. And 
anyway, ‘Uncle Fiihrer’ had said that soon the soldiers would come 
and drive the Russians away and then tomorrow they would all go 
back to play in their garden. Everyone in the bunker entered into the 
game of making the time as pleasant as possible for them. 

It seemed to Reitsch that Hitler’s girl friend, Eva Braun, remained 
studiously true to her position as the ‘show-piece’ in the Fiihrer’s 
circle. Most of her time was occupied in finger-nail polishing, chang- 
ing of clothes for each hour of the day, and all the other little feminine 
tasks of grooming, combing and polishing. She seemed to take the 
prospects of dying with the Fiihrer as quite matter of fact, with an 
attitude that seemed to say “. . . Had not the relationship been of 
twelve years’ duration and had she not seriously threatened suicide 
when Hitler once wanted to be rid of her. This would be a much 
easier way to die and much more proper. . . .” Her constant remark 
was: “Poor, poor Adolf, deserted by everyone, betrayed by all. Better 
that 10,000 others die than that he be lost to Germany.” 

In Hitler’s presence Eva Braun was always charming, and thought- 
ful of his every comfort. But only while she was with him was she 
completely in character, for the moment he was out of earshot she 
would rave about all the ungrateful swine who had deserted the 
Fiihrer and that each of them should be destroyed. All her remarks 
had an adolescent tinge and it appeared that the only ‘good’ Germans 
at that time were those who were caught in the bunker and that all 
the others were traitors because they were not there to die with him. 
The reasons for her willingness to die with the rest were similar to 
those of Frau Goebbels. She was simply convinced that whatever 
followed the Third Reich would not be fit to live in for a true German. 

Martin Bormann moved about very little, but kept instead very 
close to his writing-desk. He was “recording the momentous events in 
the bunker for posterity.” Every word, every action went down on 
his paper. Often he would visit this person or that to scowlingly 
demand what the exact remark had been that passed between the 
Fiihrer and the person he had just had an audience with. Things 


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that passed between other occupants of the bunker were also care- 
fully recorded. This document was to be spirited out of the bunker 
at the very last moment so that, according to the modest Bormann, it 
could “take its place among the greatest chapters of German history.” 

Throughout Hanna’s stay in the bunker Hitler’s manner and physi- 
cal condition sank to lower and lower depths. At first he seemed 
to be playing the proper part of leading the defense of Germany 
and Berlin. And at first this was in some manner possible as com- 
munications were still quite reliable. Messages were telephoned to 
a flak-tower and from there were radioed out by means of a portable, 
balloon-suspended aerial. But each day this was more and more 
difficult, until late on the afternoon of the 28th and all day on the 
29th communications were almost impossible. 

Occasionally Hitler still seemed to hold to the hope of General 
Wenck’s success in breaking through from the south. He talked of 
little else, and all day on the 28th and 29th he was mentally planning 
the tactics that Wenck might use in freeing Berlin. He would stride 
about the shelter, waving a road map that was fast disintegrating 
from the sweat of his hands and planned Wenck’s campaign with 
anyone who happened to be listening. When he became over-excited 
he would snatch the map from where it lay, pace with a quick nervous 
stride about the room, and loudly ‘direct’ the city’s defense with 
armies that no longer existed. 

But despite Reitsch’s evident high esteem of the Fiihrer, she was 
shocked by the apparent mismanagement she observed and learned 
about in the bunker. For instance, Berlin had been depleted of arms 
to hold the Oder. When that line fell it appeared that no coherent 
defense plan of Berlin had been prepared, certainly adequate arrange- 
ments had not been made to direct the defence from the bunker. 
There was no other communication equipment available than the 
telephone that led only to the flak-tower. It appears that only in 
the last moment had he decided to direct the battle from the shelter 
and then did not have the first tools with which to operate. No maps. 
No battle plans. No radio. Only a hastily prepared messenger service 
and the one telephone were available. The fact that, unknown to 
Hitler, the Wenck army had been destroyed some days before was 
only one example of the inadequacies. All of which resulted in the 
Fiihrer of Germany sitting helplessly in the cellar impotently playing 
at his table-top war. 

On the night of the 27th to the 28th the Russian bombardment 
of the Chancellery reached the highest pitch it had yet attained. As 
this indicated that the Russian ground troops would overrun the 


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area at any moment, another suicide council was called by the 
Fiihrer. All plans as to the destruction of the bodies of everyone in 
the shelter were gone over again. The decision was that as soon as 
the Russians reached the Chancellery grounds the mass suicide would 
begin. Last instructions were given as to the use of the poison phial. 

The group was as hypnotized with the suicide rehearsal and a 
general discussion was entered into to determine in which manner the 
most thorough destruction of the human body could be performed. 
Then everyone made little speeches swearing allegiance again and 
again to the Fiihrer and to Germany. Yet, through it all, still ran the 
faint hope that Wenck might get in and hold long enough to effect 
an evacuation. But even on the 27th, Reitsch claims, the others paid 
lip-service to the Wenck hope only to follow the lead of the Fiihrer. 
Almost everyone had given up all thoughts of being saved, and said 
so to each other whenever Hitler was not present. 

Then, on the 29th, fell the greatest blow of all. A telegram arrived 
which indicated that the staunch and trusted Himmler had joined 
Goring on the traitor list. It was like a death-blow to the entire 
assembly. Reitsch claims that men and women alike cried and 
screamed with rage, fear and desperation, all mixed into one emo- 
tional spasm. Himmler, the protector of the Reich, now a traitor 
was impossible. The telegram message was that Himmler had con- 
tacted the British and American authorities through Sweden to pro- 
pose a capitulation to the San Francisco conference. Hitler had raged 
as a madman. His color rose to a heated red and his face was virtually 
unrecognizable. 

Later came the anti-climactic news that the Russians would make 
a full-force bid to overrun the Chancellery on the morning of the 
30th. Even then small-arms fire was beginning to sprinkle the area 
above the shelter. Reitsch claims that everyone again saw to their 
poison. 

At one-thirty on the morning of 30 April, Hitler, with chalk-white 
face, came to von Greim’s room and slumped down on the edge 
of the bed. “Our only hope is Wenck,” he said, “and to make his 
entry possible we must call up every available aircraft to cover his 
approaches.” Hitler then claimed that he had been informed that 
Wenck’s guns were alreadv shelling the Russians in Potsdamer Platz. 

“Every available plane,” Hitler said, “must be called up by day- 
light; therefore, it is my order to you to return to Rechlin and muster 
your planes from there. It is the task of your aircraft to destroy the 
positions from which the Russians will launch their attack on the 
Chancellery. With Luftwaffe help Wenck may get through. That is 


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the first reason why you must leave the shelter. The second is that 
Himmler must be stopped,” and immediately he mentioned the S.S. 
Fiihrer his voice became more unsteady and both his lips and hands 
trembled. The order to von Greim was that if Himmler had actually 
made the reported contact and could be found he should immediately 
be arrested. 1 

Both von Greim and Reitsch protested vehemently that the attempt 
would be futile and that they preferred to die in the shelter, but 
Hitler was adamant. “This is the only chance of success that remains,” 
he said. “It is your duty and mine to take it.” 

Preparations were quickly made. Everyone gave the departing pair 
some token, something to take back into the world. Everyone wrote 
quick, last-minute letters for them to take along. Thirty minutes after 
Hitler had given the order they left the shelter. 

A small armored vehicle took them through the flaming city to 
where an Arado 96 was hidden near Brandenburger Tor. Reitsch 
claims that she is certain this was the last craft available. The possi- 
bility of another plane having come in and out again with Hitler 
as passenger she dismisses as highly unlikely, as von Greim would 
certainly have been informed. In addition Russian fire was much too 
intense. 

After a harrowing trip through Russian anti-aircraft bombardments 
and Russian fighters, they landed at Rechlin where von Greim ordered 
all available aircraft to the aid of Berlin. They then flew to Donitz 
and there they met Himmler, who confirmed the truth of the report 
Hitler had received. Moreover, Keitel told them that Wenck’s army 
had long ago been destroyed or captured, and that he (Keitel) had 
sent word of this to Hitler the day before (30 April). A few hours 
later the announcement of Hitler’s death was received. On 24 May, 
von Greim, after being captured, committed suicide, using his phial 
of poison. Reitsch decided to remain alive for one reason only. “To 
tell the truth,” she said. “To tell the German people the truth about 
the dangers of the form of government that the Third Reich gave 
them.” 

And thus ends the story of Hanna Reitsch. The tailpiece was told 
at Nuremberg when Erich Kempka, Hitler’s chauffeur, filled in the 
missing details. Hitler had died, swore Kempka, at two or three 
o’clock in the afternoon of 30 April after shooting himself through 
the back of the mouth. He admitted that he had not seen the entire 
body itself, but that he had seen Hitler’s legs protruding from the 
blanket in which the body had been rolled. But this glimpse of 
Hitler’s boots had been sufficient to enable Kempka to declare “that 
Hitler is dead is something I can say with certainty.” His evidence 
of the death of Eva Braun, whom Hitler had married in the bunker, 


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was more direct and conclusive. Kempka testified that he had him- 
self carried her body into the grounds of the Reich Chancellery and 
there doused it in petrol and burned it. 6 

Martin Bormann's death did not occur until 2 May, said Kempka. 
It had taken place a few yards in front of him when both men were 
walking beside a tank fighting its way out of Berlin near the Fried- 
richstrasse and the Weidendamm Bridge. Between two and three 
o’clock in the morning anti-tank gunfire had blown up the tank, 
temporarily blinding Kempka. Before he lost consciousness, how- 
ever, he had seen Bormann collapse in the flames about the tank. 

On 1 May, at Flensburg, the surviving leaders of the German Reich 
received the news of Hitler’s death in a radio message from Bormann. 
The first message addressed to Grand Admiral Donitz read: “Fiihrer 
died 3.30 p.m. yesterday.” It was shortly followed by another mes- 
sage, again sent to Donitz, which, according to Jodi, read: “Hitler 
provided for you to be President, Goebbels Chancellor, Seyss-Inquart 
Foreign Minister, Bormann Interior Minister. Leave it to you to 
tell the people. Will try to get to you.” It was signed jointly by 
Goebbels and Bormann. 7 

At thirty-seven minutes past ten o’clock on the night of 1 May 
Donitz broke the news to the German nation by the following 
announcement over Radio Hamburg: 

German Wehrmacht! My comrades! The Fiihrer has fallen. Faithful 
to the great idea of preserving the peoples of Europe from Bolshevism 
he had consecrated his life, and died a hero’s death. One of the greatest 
heroes in German history has passed away. We lower our flags in proud 
reverence and sorrow. The Fiihrer had appointed me to succeed him as 
Head of the State and Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht. I take 
over the command of all branches of the German Wehrmacht in the 
determination to continue the struggle against Bolshevism until the fighting 
troops and the hundreds of thousands of families in Eastern Germany 
have been preserved from enslavement or destruction. I must continue to 
wage war on the British and Americans in so far and for so long as they 
hinder me in the prosecution of the fight against Bolshevism. The situation 
demands of you, who have already accomplished such great historical feats 
and now long for the end of the war, further unconditional service. I 
demand discipline and obedience. Only by the unquestioning execution 
of my orders can chaos and the downfall of Germany be avoided. He who 
now shirks his duty, thus bringing death and enslavement upon German 
women and children, is a coward and a traitor. The oath pledged by you 
to the Fiihrer now applies for each one of you to me as the successor 
appointed by the Fiihrer. 

German soldiers! Do your duty! The life of our nation is at stake! 

DONITZ. 


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But German generals were not having anything more to do with 
oaths. They had had enough of being tied to a vow and now that they 
had finally been released they were going to do what fear and disci- 
pline had prevented them from doing for many months. They were 
going to surrender — Donitz or no Donitz. The first mass capitulation 
took place in Italy. Curiously enough, here, where the front had 
been most stable, negotiations for surrender had begun as far back as 
mid-February 1945. Then Obergruppenfiihrer (General) Karl Wolff, 
the chief S.S. officer in Northern Italy, had begun overtures for a 
capitulation of all German troops in the Mediterranean theatre. Since 
Wolff was bargaining for terms and the Allies would accept only 
unconditional surrender, no progress was made. 

According to Colonel General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, who had 
taken over command of all German forces in Italy when Kesselring 
was sent to replace von Rundstedt, the later stages of these negotia- 
tions were carried on with Vietinghoff’s full consent. “When I last 
saw Hitler in mid-March 1945,” said von Vietinghoff, 8 “I realized how 
mad the man had become. His statements to me were all lies and 
made no sense. He told me that he intended to kill himself but that 
nevertheless he expected us to keep on fighting to the end. In mid- 
April Oberstgruppenfiihrer Wolff sent some envoys to Field Marshal 
Alexander, but they were told that all negotiations would have to 
be carried on with General Eisenhower.” 

By that time, however, the Allied offensive to break the Gothic 
Line was in full swing. On 21 April Bologna fell, on the 23rd the Po 
was reached, on the 26th Milan was taken by partisans. In the process 
almost 150,000 prisoners had been taken in less than three weeks, 
which was an unprecedented figure for this theatre. These prods 
served to stimulate the Germans into renewed approaches for sur- 
render. This time there were no more arguments. On 29 April the 
Germans agreed to the unconditional surrender of all the forces in 
Italy — close to 1,000,000 men — and to the cessation of all hostilities 
on 2 May. By signing these terms, von Vietinghoff became the first 
German theatre commander to risk surrendering his forces while 
Hitler was still alive. Even though he only managed it by one day, 
this act of common sense was, nevertheless, somewhat of a feat for 
a Wehrmacht general, the vast bulk of whom were still either too 
filled with fear, too blinded by ignorance, or too corroded by disci- 
pline to act on their own. 

On Hitler’s death the front — it could no longer be divided up 
into eastern and western halves — consisted roughly of four large but 
rapidly dwindling pockets. In Holland the Twenty-fifth Army under 
Colonel General Johannes Blaskowitz sat behind the Grebbe Line, 


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east of Utrecht, waiting for the next Allied move. From Emden to 
just west of Stettin, in an elongated strip which contained the North 
German ports and all of Denmark, was another pocket containing the 
remnants of First Parachute Army and Army Blumentritt, linked 
together in an army group under Field Marshal Ernst Busch, west of 
the Elbe. East of the Elbe, in the same northern pocket, were what 
was left of the Heinrici’s Army Group Vistula and the bits of 
Schorner’s Army Group Centre that had escaped north. A third pocket 
formed in Czechoslovakia held most of Army Group Center and part 
of Rendulic’s Army Group South. The fourth and final pocket being 
shaped south of the Danube in Austria and Northern Yugoslavia was 
accumulating in it all the flotsam and jetsam that was being pushed 
into it by the Americans from the north and west, the Russians from 
the east and the Yugoslav partisans from the south. It contained what 
was left over of Army Group South from Russia, Army Group ‘G’ from 
Germany and Army Group ‘E’ from the Balkans. 

Resistance amongst all these broken forces existed in name only. 
During the thirty days of April the Western powers had taken over 
1,650,000 prisoners. Included in the collection were those who had 
risen with the Wehrmacht to its pinnacle of power, and fallen with 
it to its present depth — Field Marshal von Kleist, von Leeb, Weichs, 
List, and finally von Rundstedt himself. 

This brought the total number of prisoners taken in the West since 
the Allies first landed on the beaches of Normandy to the astronomical 
figure of almost 3,000,000 men. To those who are interested in such 
things, this meant that an average of 9000 Germans had surrendered 
to the Allies for each day of these eleven months. And all this while 
their Fiihrer was still alive. To anyone who claims that Germany was 
not defeated in World War II such statistics should provide the 
perfect answer. 

Sporadic negotiations for surrender were taking place all along 
the front dining the last days in April, but these were usually con- 
ducted on a divisional or lower level. Except for those that had been 
forced to surrender in the Ruhr, no officer commanding an army or 
an army group was yet prepared to follow von Vietinghoff’s example. 
Typical of this stubborn, unthinking, automatic adherence to a code 
was the behavior of Colonel General Blaskowitz in Holland. A man 
of sixty-two years with a flattened frog-like jaw, broad nostrils and 
thinning hair, Blaskowitz was a sterling product of the German Gen- 
eral Staff. His forces in Holland had been pushed back to the Grebbe 
Line by the Canadians and were obviously incapable of resisting 
much longer. However Blaskowitz, and his superior civilian author- 
ity, Arthur von Seyss-Inquart, still held one trump-card in their hands. 


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They controlled the dykes protecting the Netherlands from the waters 
of the North Sea and the Zuider Zee. Should the Canadians continue 
their advance, it was quite simple for the Germans to open the dykes 
and flood the countryside with salt water. Such an action would have 
been an incalculable disaster, for the fertility of the swamped land 
would have been destroyed for years to come. 

In an attempt to prevent the Germans from carrying this out, and 
also to arrange for the sending of food and supplies to the starving 
populations of Western Holland, General Eisenhower sent his Chief - 
of-Staff, Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, to talk to Seyss-Inquart 
and Blaskowitz on 30 April. After some quibbling the Germans agreed 
to the delivery of Allied food to the Dutch, but when it came to the 
question of the surrender of the Twenty-fifth Army in Holland both 
men refused to shoulder the responsibility. Although realizing that 
their plight was a hopeless one, that the military situation was beyond 
repair, and that further resistance could only mean the needless suf- 
fering of millions of Dutch civilians, neither Seyss-Inquart nor 
Blaskowitz would yield. The Nazi commissioner shifted the burden 
neatly to Blaskowitz by stating that such a decision was one for the 
military commander alone, and Blaskowitz shrugged it off by answer- 
ing that he could not consider capitulation so long as any further 
resistance continued in Germany. The mechanical doll that had been 
built only to obey could do nothing else even though its spring was 
fast unwinding and it found itself goose-stepping off the table. 

But once the news of Hitler’s death reached the front, the senior 
commanders, like children just released from school, tumbled over 
each other in their eagerness to make an end. The experiences of 
General Blumentritt, whose army was defending a sector between 
Bremen and Hamburg, reveals how the preliminary negotiations for 
a final armistice were brought about. 

“On 1 May I was summoned to Field Marshal Busch,” said 
Blumentritt, 9 “and told that the Fiihrer was dead, that Grand Admiral 
Donitz was his successor, and that my oath of allegiance was to be 
transferred to him. I objected to this and told the Field Marshal that 
I would not take the oath nor would I allow my troops to do so. 
Following this interview I was contacted by Lieutenant General 
Dempsey of Second British Army to discuss matters. I was anxious to 
do so and informed Field Marshal Busch to this effect. The Field 
Marshal got in touch with Donitz who informed him that no negotia- 
tions were to be conducted by me since Donitz himself intended to 
contact Field Marshal Montgomery. 

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Hamburg. I immediately drove back to Busch’s headquarters and 
pointed out to the Field Marshal the madness of attempting to carry 
out such an order. I told him that it could only cause senseless 
slaughter and ruin what was left of Hamburg. The Field Marshal 
telephoned to Donitz again and after some deliberation it was decided 
to declare Hamburg an open city. 

“I at once left for Hamburg and on my arrival I heard that Donitz 
was wavering again, and had apparently changed his mind about 
giving up Hamburg. I, however, refused to let this interfere with 
my decision. At noon on 2 May the British were contacted and the 
arrangements for the evacuation of the city agreed upon. At the same 
time I informed Field Marshal Busch by telegram that I now con- 
sidered it necessary to bring the war to a conclusion, and that I was 
acting with the full concurrence of all my generals in this request. 
My answer was that Donitz was already preparing to send a deputa- 
tion to Field Marshal Montgomery.” 

Thus, with Hitler’s death, the tottering structure of the Third Reich 
quickly began to collapse. In each of the remaining pockets independ- 
ent negotiations for surrender were started. Frightened by their own 
propaganda and by their own conscience, those who held nominal 
command over the remnants of the Wehrmacht made frantic but 
unsuccessful efforts to drive a wedge between the Russians and the 
Anglo-American forces by offering to surrender only to the Western 
Powers. Himmler had already tried this ruse through the Swedish 
Government. On being rebuffed he had no other solution to offer. He 
waited aimlessly and uselessly for the end. A fortnight after the war 
was over he was dead having committed suicide by biting a poison 
capsule. Donitz and Keitel, however, had not yet given up the attempt 
to split the Allies. 

When Admiral Hans von Friedeburg, representing the Supreme 
Command, arrived at Field Marshal Montgomery’s headquarters he 
asked to be allowed to surrender three German armies facing east, 
so as to avoid surrendering them to the Russians. This was turned 
down. During an interval in the discussion von Friedeburg was asked 
if he knew what the military situation was. He replied that he was 
fairly well in the picture, but could not claim to be strictly up to date. 
When shown the true situation he burst into tears. Von Friedeburg 
was now so anxious to get back and make his report to Donitz, that 
he became very agitated at a slight delay in the preparations to send 
him back. Finally he beckoned to an officer and said in English, 
“Hurry up, hurry up — time is money.” The next day von Friedeburg 
returned with the necessary authority to surrender all the German 
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Holland, Schleswig-Holstein and Denmark. It was signed at twenty 
minutes past six on the evening of 4 May. 

Another bit of the Wehrmacht to surrender before the official end 
was Army Group ‘G’ under General Schultz, whose First and Nine- 
teenth Armies laid down their arms in the Austrian Alps. On 5 May 
Admiral von Friedeburg, becoming an expert by now, arrived at 
General Eisenhowers headquarters in Rheims. Again he attempted 
to surrender only the forces facing the Western Powers. But it was 
obvious that the Admiral was now merely playing for time. The 
longer the negotiations could be dragged out the more German 
forces would be saved from becoming prisoners of the Russians. Again 
von Friedeburg was shown how helpless the German situation was, 
again he burst into tears, and again he made his report to Donitz. 
This time he was told General Jodi would be arriving to help him out. 

Jodi arrived on the evening of 6 May and promptly entered into 
von Friedeburg’s game. He was willing to surrender to the Western 
Allies but not to the Russians. When this was refused he asked for a 
forty-eight hours’ adjournment before signing, on the pretext that 
the time was needed to get the order down to outlying units. General 
Eisenhower was now fed up with these tactics. He bluntly told Jodi 
that unless the Germans agreed to his terms, the Allied front would 
be sealed off in forty-eight hours and further westward movement 
by German civilians or soldiers would be prevented, by force if 
necessary. This convinced Jodi that the end had come and he wired 
Donitz to that effect. The necessary acceptance of Allied terms finally 
arrived from Donitz, and at forty-one minutes past two on the morn- 
ing of 7 May Jodi, on behalf of the German Supreme Command, 
signed the act of surrender. At midnight of the 8-9 May 1945, Europe 
was once more officially at peace. 

Chapter XXXIV 

THE VANQUISHED 

There remains only to assess what is left. In Germany it is very little. 
Physically and spiritually the Reich is a broken land. Its wounds are 
so deep and grievous that they cannot possibly be healed within a 
generation of time. To compare the Germany of 1918 with the Ger- 
many of 1945 is nonsense. No basis for comparison exists. For then, 
even after the demands of Versailles, Germany still remained one of 
the strongest industrial countries in Europe. With the factories of 
Silesia undamaged and the coal mines of the Ruhr intact the German 
people held within their grasp the tools with which to forge their 


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weapons of revenge. They needed only a leader and a cause to busy 
them at converting this economic wealth to the production of the 
machines of war. 

Today what still remains in Germany is barely sufficient to feed 
her scattered millions, let alone clothe and house them. Beneath the 
mountains of rubble that were once Berlin, Cologne, Diisseldorf, 
Nuremberg, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Essen, Munich lie the 
power and strength of what was once the Third Beich. Until it is 
rebuilt Germany will remain a poverty-stricken liability to those that 
conquered her. Under the most favorable conditions the task of 
reconstruction alone can be measured in decades. In a world anaemic 
from the losses of six years of destruction, and in which Germany’s 
requirements will undoubtedly be given last priority in any distribu- 
tion of capital goods, it is reasonably safe to predict that Germany’s 
war -producing potential has been emasculated for a period of time 
far beyond the foreseeable future. 

This, of course, is not to say that Germany’s ability to constitute a 
threat to world peace no longer exists. There are too many Nazi 
industrialists, administrators and officers still at large, too many 
fanatical youths poisoned forever with the virus of Hitlerism, to 
warrant such an optimistic assumption. But the Reich alone, purely 
on the basis of its physical incapacity to rebuild its shattered economy, 
cannot play a dominant r61e in another major world conflict for 
many years to come. However, even though the German nation will 
not be fit enough to undertake the prima donna r61e in a future war, 
she can very profitably become a valuable military assistant to what- 
ever country succeeds in enlisting her aid. It is in this role of a pawn, 
available to the highest and most attractive bidder, that constitutes 
Germany’s greatest menace. To be on the winning side, even as a 
junior partner, is better than constantly losing by one’s self. Those 
Germans that still burn for revenge realize that within their lifetime 
this fact constitutes their one remaining trump-card. Even now they 
are beginning to play it for all it is worth. 

What part in a political game of this kind can the German military 
caste have? If they are allowed to, quite an important one. For while 
they are now a dismembered group of broken and embittered in- 
dividuals, it needs little encouragement to get them back to the 
planning table where they can once more practice the art they know 
and love so well. Organize them into a Free Corps or a 100, 000 army 
and you have the nucleus of another Wehrmacht. To plant the tiniest 
seed of militarism in German soil is to grow the inevitable weeds of 
war. 


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This does not mean that all Germans are incurable militarists. 
A nation that has produced a Goethe, a Beethoven and a Thomas 
Mann is capable of leading the world upwards as well as down. But 
before the present generation of Germanic people can be cleansed 
of the iron that has settled in their soul through the teachings of 
Frederick the Great, Bismarck, Nietzsche and Hitler, they must be 
isolated for at least a generation or two from the germ of Teutonic 
domination that has been nurtured within them for so long. Disband 
all military organizations, forbid the production of weapons, ban the 
teaching of military science, prevent the wearing of uniforms, and 
you have gone most of the way towards eliminating German militar- 
ism. To claim that belligerence is inherent within the German is flying 
in the face of all anthropological and sociological evidence to the 
contrary. It is as spurious and unscientific a contention as the blood 
theories of the Nazis themselves. But one other step must be taken 
before a new German generation will be relatively free of infection. 
The worst-contaminated of the lot, the men whose lives have been 
corroded with the rot of militarism, hate and revenge, must be either 
cured or segregated from the rest of their countrymen. Those diseased 
by Nazism, of course, belong to this class of problem men. The other 
large group needing special attention is the German officer class. 

The only striking feature of German generals as a group is their 
normality. They look like anyone else. The bemonocled, bescarred, 
bullet-headed prototype of a Prussian officer belongs to Hollywood 
and the popular magazines. In reality these men, who represent the 
final stage in the evolution of a caste, look and act like any other 
representative group of middle-aged bankers, brokers, clerks, 
teachers, tradesmen that one might find in England, United States, 
Russia or France. They are blond and swarthy, tall and small, thin and 
fat, stupid and clever, stolid and energetic, eager and listless, polite 
and rude, good and bad. They are loyal, treacherous, vain, petty, 
humble, courageous, officious, domineering, weak, strong and any 
other adjective that might be used to describe the average man. 

A story told to me by an American colonel in charge of one of the 
early prisoner-of-war camps for senior officers — appropriately 
enough called ‘Ashcan’ — may illustrate this point. The plumbing 
facilities at ‘Ashcan’ were not lavish, and in the prisoners’ wing only 
one bathtub existed for a number of generals, colonel generals and 
field marshals. This hygienic prize, however, was awkwardly situated, 
since it adjoined the largest bedroom in the house which, because 
he was the highest-ranking officer at the camp, had been assigned 
to Field Marshal Keitel. There had been no love lost between Keitel 


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and many of those generals to whom he had sent impossible orders 
from the Fuhrer’s headquarters during the war. To most of the Gen- 
eral Staff he was contemptuously referred to as ‘nick-Keitel’ because 
he always ‘nodded’ like a yes-man at everything the Fiihrer said. 

Since the only way to reach the bathroom was through Keitel’s 
room it meant that a constant stream of officers would have to invade 
the Field Marshal’s privacy to have a bath. Keitel, standing on his 
dignity and his seniority, forbade any of the officers from entering 
his room and thus deprived them all of their one opportunity to 
bathe. Like docile children, the others accepted this ruling, even 
though they resented it bitterly. Realizing that to openly break 
Keitel’s authority in such a matter would only worsen, rather than 
alleviate, the situation, the Allied camp authorities devised an in- 
genious solution to the problem of keeping their wards clean. They 
brought to ‘Ashcan’ Field Marshal von Rundstedt, who not only 
keenly disliked Keitel but was one of the few officers in the Wehr- 
macht senior to him as well. It was therefore logical that von Rund- 
stedt should be given the best room in the camp, which included the 
troublesome bathroom, and Keitel be sent to occupy one of the less 
pretentious quarters. Taking over his new quarters von Rundstedt 
immediately laid down a new set of rules. All officers were free to 
pass through his chamber to the bathroom whenever they liked — 
with one exception. The exception was Field Marshal Keitel. 

While the tale may have gathered some flourishes in the re-telling, 
human pettiness of this kind was just as prevalent amongst the 
German Generals of the Wehrmacht as it might have been amongst 
the lowliest clerks in an insurance company. Only in their unbend- 
ing adherence to the discipline of their caste — even as prisoners-of- 
war — and in their attendant loss of a ready sense of humor, did they 
differ on the surface from those who had captured them. It is im- 
portant to realize this, I feel, in order to discount the notion that 
German officers were somehow ‘different’ from normal men. For it 
was because of this presupposed difference in their make-up that 
the world was ready to credit them with a reputation of military 
omnipotence which had little basis in actual fact. 

German propaganda, and it was inadvertently helped by the press 
of the world in this regard, succeeded in building up the German 
officer as a superhuman military machine towering above all others 
in his profession, both in ability and performance. Many Germans 
will attempt to perpetuate this myth in the coming years by offering 
varied excuses for the defeat of the Wehrmacht. They will blame it 
on Hitler’s interference, on the overpowering strength of Allied 


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material, on the stupidity of Nazi politicians, on dozens of other 
reasons some of which did and some of which did not contribute to 
the downfall of the Third Reich. But one reason that they will rarely 
or never offer for their defeat was the fact that, in addition to these 
other weaknesses in their national effort, they were also beaten on 
the battlefield. The Russians did it time and time again; the Western 
Powers did it time and time again. If this book has proved anything, 
I trust that it has proved that as well as making strategical blunders 
of the first magnitude in the early years of the war, the German 
generals also made far-reaching mistakes of their own design in the 
battles of the West. 

These mistakes, some made with Hitler’s help and a large number 
made without it, undoubtedly brought about Germany’s military 
defeat. The German General Staff will attempt to duck and squirm 
out of taking their share of responsibility for the military collapse of 
the Third Reich. Having done it after World War I they will try it 
again after World War II. But the facts are irrefutable. Despite their 
longer study of, their fuller experience in, and their greater passion 
for the art of war than any of their opponents, they nevertheless 
managed to lead their country to the most overwhelming defeat in 
modem times. That alone should be enough to tear away the martial 
halo from above their brows. 

But if that were not enough, the sight of these martinets stripped 
of their uniforms and their authority would complete the disillusion- 
ing process. For they are not all hard, calculating, learned, keen 
men — these generals of the Wehrmacht. A few — a very exceptional 
few — are. The bulk are so ordinary that I was constantly amazed 
that anyone should ever have been in awe or fear of them. There was 
Straube, a wizened, wrinkled corps commander who was the picture 
of dejection and self-pity; there was Schack, who couldn’t remember 
the numbers of the three regiments in his division; there was Dietrich, 
who had studied to be a butcher and who could not get beyond ser- 
geant’s rank before Hitler came on the scene; there was Fiebig, who 
looked and talked like a Park Lane playboy, and many others who 
would have lived out their lives as mediocrities and unknowns had 
not Hitler and war puffed them up to look like giants and geniuses. 

As a group post-war generals fall into three categories — the 
fanatics, the disillusioned and the converts. No one better represents 
the fanatics than Brigadefuhrer (Major General) Kurt Meyer. Now 
serving a sentence of life imprisonment for having incited his men 
to shoot Canadian prisoners-of-war, Meyer is typical of the kind of 
German it would be most dangerous to let loose in Germany once 


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again. A devoted disciple of Nazism and all that it stands for, his 
mind is so distorted by pseudo-philosophy, military jingoism and 
bald lies that no possible experience could ever purify it of its beliefs. 
Along with my fellow-interrogator I visited this thirty-four-year-old 
ex-commander of the 12 S.S. Hitler Jugend Division about three 
months after the war had ended. It was a time when most senior 
officers were letting their hair down about the treatment and degrada- 
tion they had undergone under National Socialism. His first words to 
us were, “You will hear a lot against Adolf Hitler in this camp, but 
you will never hear it from me. As far as I am concerned he was and 
still is the greatest thing that ever happened to Germany.” 

During a two-day discussion with Meyer about the activities of his 
division in Normandy, I had an opportunity of seeing what went on 
in the mind of this representative product of Hitlerism. At first Meyer 
scrupulously refrained from talking about anything other than the 
military problems of his formation. But once he felt assured that our 
visit was concerned only with historical facts, and had nothing to do 
with the war crimes with which he was charged, Meyer became 
more expansive in his speech. When he began to wander into the 
political and philosophical field, it might have been the reincarnation 
of Hitler and Goebbels voicing their cant. 

“Germany fought this war for the preservation of Western culture 
and civilization,” Meyer assured us. “The menace of the East was 
always appreciated by the Fiihrer, and his one object was to save 
Europe from the menace of Bolshevism. We had no quarrel with the 
English or French, but these countries, unfortunately, had no idea of 
the Russian system of life and its people. The peoples of the East 
want to sweep away all of Western culture as we know it, and set up 
in its place their own half-developed, animal-like existence. This 
Germany tried unsuccessfully to prevent.” 

According to Meyer this Eastern threat was not confined to Russia 
alone. It was a question of the European peoples attempting to stem 
the advance of the barbaric Asiatic peoples. “So seriously do I believe 
in this menace,” continued Meyer, “that I have spoken to many of 
my young S.S. officers who are in this camp with me.” (The camp 
was classified as a ‘black’ camp containing the most dangerous Nazis 
amongst German prisoners-of-war. ) “They have all agreed with me 
that this Eastern danger must be dealt with first, and this in my 
opinion includes Japan as well as Russia. I am therefore prepared to 
offer to the Allied authorities my services, and those of the other S.S. 
officers in Allied hands, in helping them fight the Japanese.” (The 
war with Japan was not yet over at the date of this discussion.) “My 


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proposition is that I be given permission to recruit one S.S. division 
of about 23,000 men from amongst the German prisoners-of-war. This 
formation will be named the ‘S.S. Division Europa,’ and it is to be 
equipped with German weapons and equipment. I will have no 
difficulty in raising the men for such a unit to take part in the struggle 
against the East. We will then show you how Germans can fight.” 
That talk of this kind should come from a German divisional 
commander a few months after the end of the war shows how success- 
ful Nazi propaganda had been in deluding a generation of Germans 
as to what the non-Germanic world was thinking. To Meyers dis- 
torted mind it seemed perfectly logical for British and American 
troops to welcome as allies an S.S. division which represented every- 
thing that they had been fighting against for so long. Perhaps better 
than the hundreds of books that have been written on the subject, 
this one speech of Meyers reveals how difficult, and perhaps even 
hopeless, the task of re-educating this brand of young Nazis will be. 

The fanatics are not only confined to the young. There are a number 
of the older officers who still cling to their faith in National Socialism. 
But they are usually more cautious in expressing their views than 
was Meyer. Thus one day Colonel General Kurt Student, Commander- 
in-Chief of the German parachutists and confidant of the Fiihrer’s, 
was sitting with some fellow-prisoners and a British officer in one 
of the prison camps. To pass the time away, a mock local government 
under the democratic system was instituted and Student impatiently 
assumed the rdle of Biirgermeister. His irritation at the discussions 
was evident, and at last, unable to control himself any longer, he 
burst out: “Enough of this democratic twaddle!” There was a fright- 
ened silence, but with a hasty glance at the British officer, he added, 
“I mean, of course, German democratic twaddle.” 1 

The second category of German senior officers, and by far the 
largest one, are the disillusioned members of the Wehrmacht. These 
are chiefly the older men who have been through two wars and know 
how it feels to lose twice. Because of their age and because of their 
experience, a large number of them are fed up with soldiering, and 
from behind the barbed wire of their prison camps express a longing 
to begin fresh careers in the peaceful pursuits of farming or business 
or art. Since the bulk of these men are well over fifty their yearning 
for a life of quiet is understandable. But to presume from such senti- 
ments that they would be willing to renounce the profession to which 
their whole life had been devoted, should the opportunity ever arise 
to practice it again, is a wishful and dangerous deduction. The ma- 
jority of German generals still believe that there was nothing wrong 
in why Germany fought World War II, but only in how she fought 


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it. To them the Fiihrer’s great crime was not that he waged an aggres- 
sive and immoral war, but that he lost it. For that sin, both National 
Socialism and Adolf Hitler will never be forgiven by the German 
General Staff. 

Further salt was rubbed into the grievous wound of defeat by the 
callous, brutal and contemptuous manner with which Hitler handled 
his military leaders. This ruthless trampling upon the dignity and 
pride of his senior officers even managed to alienate from the Fiihrer 
the loyalty and respect of some of those men who had been closest 
to him. One of these was Oberstgruppenfvihrer (Colonel General) 
‘Sepp’ Dietrich, who rose from a crude, uneducated butcher to become 
the most popular military figure in the Waffen S.S. But although 
Dietrich owed his entire fame to the Fiihrer’s patronage, the bitter 
and chastening experiences of his last days as one of Hitler’s generals 
thoroughly dampened his fanaticism. It was at Vienna in the final 
days of World War II that Dietrich met his disillusionment. 

The S.S. divisions that had been destroyed in Normandy and then 
rebuilt only to be badly pommeled again in the Ardennes, had been 
sent off to Hungary at the end of January 1945, to hold back the 
rapidly-advancing Russians. Dietrich, as Commander-in-Chief of the 
Sixth S.S. Panzer Army, soon found that battles in the East were 
just as difficult to win as they had been in the West. Slowly retiring 
before the Russians, Dietrich, in March, was ordered by Berlin to 
stand in front of Vienna and under no circumstances was he to with- 
draw into the city. “But there were almost sixty Russian divisions 
against us,” said Dietrich, “and we finally had to fall back into Vienna 
itself.” As a result of this failure to carry out orders a wireless message 
from the Supreme Command was sent to Dietrich on 27 March. 
“The Fiihrer believes that the troops have not fought as the situation 
demanded,” it read, “and it is ordered that the divisions 1 S.S. ‘Adolf 
Hitler,’ 2 S.S. ‘Das Reich,’ 4 S.S. Totenkopf and 9 S.S. ‘Hohenstauffen’ 
be stripped of their arm-bands.” Furthermore, the message went on, 
all promotions in the Sixth S.S. Panzer Army, which were to be 
announced on Hitler’s birthday, were canceled. 

The arm-bands to which the order referred had always been the 
proud emblem of these elite Nazi divisions. They bore the name 
of the division of the wearer, and these names, such as Adolf Hitler, 
Hohenstauffen, Frundsberg, Gotz von Berlichingen, identified the 
formation with some great patriotic figure of Germany’s past or 
present. To deprive these divisions of the names with which they 
had been associated all through the war was equivalent to divesting 
a British Guards regiment of its title ‘Guards.’ 

Dietrich’s reaction to this order was violent. He first got drunk and 


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then went to sleep for three hours. “When I awoke,” he said, “I asked 
myself, ‘Am I crazy or are they crazy? But I’m not crazy, therefore 
they must be!’ ” He summoned the four S.S. commanders to his head- 
quarters, and throwing the message on the table, said, “There’s your 
reward for all that you’ve done these past five years.” He told his 
commanders not to take down their arm-bands, and wrote a flaming 
message to the Fiihrer’s headquarters in which he announced that 
rather than carry out this order he would shoot himself. Dietrich 
waited for about a week, and when no reply had come, he bundled 
up all his decorations, from the Iron Cross to the Oak Leaves with 
Swords and Diamonds, and sent them back to Adolf Hitler. Before 
any repercussions to such defiance could be felt Hitler was dead and 
the war was over. 

The disillusioning process experienced by Dietrich was felt in a 
greater or less degree by almost every senior officer who had come 
into contact with the tantrums and temperament of the Fiihrer. Some 
of them, like Beck, von Witzleben, Rommel, von Kluge, had paid 
with their lives for trying to take some effective action, even though 
late, to rid Germany of their mad leader. Others, like von Brauchitsch, 
Haider, von Rundstedt, had thrown up their hands in disgust at the 
course of events, and as a result ended the war either in retirement or 
in a concentration camp. But most of them, like Keitel, Jodi, Warli- 
mont, Blumentritt, continued to obey their Fiihrer until the very 
end, even though that obedience led them to sanction crimes and 
horrors that have shamed Germany in the eyes of the world for 
decades to come. 

The third category of generals, and this is by far the smallest group, 
are the truly converted. While many of these officers profess to believe 
in democracy, a few moments’ conversation with them soon reveals 
that these protestations are but lip-service to a philosophy they cannot 
possibly comprehend. However, there have been some who have 
genuinely come to understand the concept of freedom of thought and 
speech, and who are sincerely anxious to help lead the German people 
back to some sane and dignified system of government. Allowed to 
return to their Fatherland, and encouraged to express their views, 
these men, discouragingly few in number as they are, might well find 
a useful function in the shaping of a new and enlightened Germany. 

If then the converted are sent back to Germany, and the fanatics 
are kept out of Germany, the problem of the future of the vast bulk 
of the others remains unsolved. The judgment at Nuremberg, by 
refusing to declare the German High Command and the German 
General Staff criminal organizations, has thereby implied that those 
members of these organizations who are free from war crimes are 


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entitled to their liberty on the same basis as any other prisoner-of-war. 
Will it be dangerous, then, to return these ex-officers to their Father- 
land once more? The answer is an unsatisfactory yes and no. Yes, if 
there is any semblance of a military organization left within die 
Reich. No, if all military institutions in Germany are effectively 
disbanded, and kept disbanded, for their lifetime at least. 

Since Germany’s threat to world peace lies not in her own capacity 
to wage an independent war within the next quarter of a century, but 
in her value as a partner in any future world conflict, it is important 
that her bargaining power as such a partner be kept to a minim um 
The complete demilitarization of Germany is an essential prerequisite 
in any such policy. For once any form of militarism is permitted to 
function in the Reich then beware of the ex-officers of the Wehr- 
macht. They will flock to any organization that allows them to wear 
a uniform, as they flocked to the Free Corps and the 100,000 army 
after World War I. And in uniform these men are dangerous — first, 
because they know only the art of warfare; secondly, because they 
fear, distrust and hate, primarily, Russia, and to a lesser extent the 
Western Powers; and thirdly, because their minds are disciplined to 
obey blindly whatever demagogue is next allowed to dominate and 
lead the German people. 

It is reasonable that men should want to do what they know best, 
and not only do the ex-members of the German General Staff know 
the business of making war best, but they know nothing else. Deprive 
them of weapons to play with, maps to mark, men to command and 
orders to be obeyed and they may become useful and peaceful mem- 
bers of society. Convince them that they are not, and never were, 
supermen superior in blood and race to those about them and they 
may lose their insensate fear of Russia and their unreasonable con- 
tempt for the Western Powers. Teach them disobedience, as Gertrude 
Stein once said, or more constructively teach them how to think for 
themselves, and they may then be able to distinguish right from 
wrong on the evidence of their own conscience, and not only on 
the orders of a Fiihrer. 

But, conversely, give them an army, no matter how small, encour- 
age their suspicions of the Russians or their disrespect for Western 
parliamentary institutions, or prevent them from ridding themselves 
of a disciplined mentality that will only accept democracy if it is 
‘ordered’ to do so, and the German High Command and the German 
General Staff and the entire German Wehrmacht, by whatever name 
they are then called, will be neck-deep in another world war, whether 
they are fighting with the West against the East because they are 
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ambitious. And should another generation of German officers steeped 
in the Prussian military tradition of Frederick the Great, Bismarck 
and Hitler, be brought before another international tribunal to be 
tried for their crimes in a third world war, then there is little doubt 
but that the judgment of that tribunal will contain similar words and 
findings to those delivered in the verdict at Nuremberg. 

“They (the officers of the German General Staff and the High 
Command) have been responsible in large measure for the miseries 
and suffering that have fallen on millions of men, women and children. 
They have been a disgrace to the honorable profession of arms. 
Without their military guidance the aggressive ambitions of Hitler 
and his fellow-Nazis would have been academic and sterile. Although 
they were not a group falling within the words of the Charter, they 
were certainly a ruthless military caste. The contemporary German 
militarism flourished briefly with its recent ally, National Socialism, 
as well as, or better than, it had in the generations of the past. 

“Many of these men have made a mockery of the soldiers' oath 
of obedience to military orders. When it suits their defense they say 
they had to obey; when confronted with Hitlers brutal crimes, which 
are shown to have been within their general knowledge, they say they 
disobeyed. The truth is they actively participated in all these crimes, 
or sat silent and acquiescent, witnessing the commission of crimes 
on a scale larger and more shocking than the world has ever had 
the misfortune to know. This must be said.” 


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SENIOR GERMAN OFFICERS INTERVIEWED 
BY THE AUTHOR 

(All appointments are those held in Northwest Europe and Italy ) 

Field Marshal Karl Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander-in-Chief West. 
Colonel General Joseph ‘Sepp’ Dietrich, Commander i S.S. Panzer Corps, 
Fifth Panzer Army, Sixth S.S. Panzer Army. 

Colonel General Kurt Student, Commander German Airborne Troops, 
Army Group ‘H,’ First Parachute Army. 

Colonel General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, Commander Army Group ‘C,’ 
Tenth Army. 

General Gunther Blumentritt, Chief-of-Staff to Commander-in-Chief 
West, Commander Twenty-fifth Army, First Parachute Army. 
General Hans Eberbach, Commander Seventh Army, Panzer Group 
‘Eberbach.’ 

General Richard Heidrich, Commander i Parachute Corps, i Parachute 
Division. 

General Heinrich von Liittwitz, Commander 47 Panzer Corps, 2 Panzer 
Division. 

General Eugen Meindl, Commander 2 Parachute Corps. 

General Alfred Schlemm, Commander First Parachute Army. 

General Eugen-Felix Schwalbe, Commander 88 Corps, 719 Infantry Divi- 
sion, 344 Infantry Division. 

General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg, Commander Panzer Group West. 
General Otto Sponheimer, Commander 67 Corps. 

General Erich Straube, Commander 86 Corps. 

General Gustav von Zangen, Commander Fifteenth Army, 87 Corps. 
Lieutenant General Wilhelm Daser, Commander 70 Infantry Division. 
Lieutenant General Erich Diestel, Commander 346 Infantry Division. 
Lieutenant General Edgar Feuchtinger, Commander 21 Panzer Division. 
Lieutenant General Ferdinand Heim, Commandant ‘Fortress Boulogne.’ 
Lieutenant General Wolfgang Pickert, Commander 3 Flak Corps. 
Lieutenant General Hermann Plocher, Commander 6 Parachute Division. 
Lieutenant General Erwin Sander, Commander 245 Infantry Division. 
Major General Kurt Meyer, Commander 12 S.S. Panzer Division. 

Major General Theodor Wisch, Commander 1 S.S. Panzer Division. 

Colonel Eberhard Wildermuth, Commandant ‘Fortress Le Havre.’ 
Lieutenant Colonel Ludwig Schroeder, Commandant ‘Fortress Calais.’ 


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NOTES 

PART I - THE CAUSES 


Chapter II — Hitler 

1 This incident is reported by a lieutenant colonel of the historical section of the 
OKW who was responsible for keeping the war diary at the Fiihrer’s headquarters, 
First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 1 May 1945. 

2 SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary, 1 April 1945. 

3 This speculation is not meant to imply, of course, that the political head of a 
democratic state could never have overruled his military leaders. Churchill often 
did, or tried to, particularly in the early desert campaigns undertaken by Field 
Marshal Wavell. But it is contended that there was much more give-and-take 
between Allied political and military personalities than could have been possible 
in a dictatorship. A striking illustration of this ability of a military leader to insist 
on his course of action being taken despite the pressure of political opposition is 
reported in Captain Butcher’s book. Three Years with Eisenhower. He there 
records that on 5 August 1944, Prime Minister Churchill spent a complete after- 
noon attempting to convince General Eisenhower to cancel the impending invasion 
of Southern France. “Ike said no/’ writes Butcher, “continued saying no all 
afternoon, and ended saying no in every form of the English language at his 
command.” The Allied Supreme Commander was supported in his stand by 
Admirals Ramsay and Tennant. In Hitler’s Germany such opposition to the 
Fiihrer’s views would have meant instant dismissal. 

Chapter III — Discipline 

1 First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 1 May 1945. 

2 12 British Corps Intelligence Summary, No. 6. 

Chapter TV — Ignorance 

1 La Lanterne , Brussels, November 1945. 

2 Personal interview, General Schlemm, October 1945. 

3 Personal interview. Colonel General Student, October 1945. 

4 Personal interview, General Schlemm, October 1945. 

5 Fifth U.S. Army G-2 Report, No. 274. 

6 Tile on Colonel M,’ Interim, British Army of the Rhine Intelligence Review. 

PART II — THE BEGINNINGS 

Chapter V — The Wehrmacht is Reborn 

1 Quoted by Benoist Mechin, Histoire de Varmee Allemande, vol. i, p. 131. 

Chapter VI — Hitler versus the German General Staff 
— i The Officers and the Corporal,’ Interim, British Army of the Rhine Intel- 
ligence Review. 

2 Ibid. 

3 The Trial of German Major War Criminals.’ Proceedings of the International 
Military Tribunal Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany. Part I, London, 1946, p. 156 
et seq. 

3 ^ 


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4 Reproduced from a SHAEF report in First Canadian Army Intelligence 
Summary, 30 April 1945. 

5 Ibid . # 

6 ‘The Officers and the Corporal/ supra. 

Chapter VII — The Phoney War 

1 ‘The Officers and the Corporal/ supra. 

2 ‘The Trial of German Major War Criminals/ op. cit., p. 166 et seq. 

3 ‘The Officers and the Corporal/ supra. 

4 Ibid. 

— 6 ‘German Naval Preparations in the West/ Interim, British Army of the Rhine 
Intelligence Review. 

Chapter VIII — Victory — and Defeat 

1 ‘The Officers and the Corporal/ supra. 

2 Personal interview, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, October 1945. 

3 War Office Interrogation, Colonel General Haider, September 1945. 

4 War Office Intelligence Review, November 1945. 

‘Wir Fahren Gegen England/ Interim, British Army of the Rhine Intelligence 
Review. 

6 Ibid. 

7 On 23 April 1942, Prime Minister Churchill said: “Moreover in 1940 an 
invading force of perhaps 150,000 picked men might have created mortal havoc 
in our midst.” ‘Secret Session Speeches/ London, 1946, p. 52. 

8 War Office Intelligence Review, November 1945. 

9 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

10 ‘The Officers and the Corporal/ supra. 

PART III - THE MISTAKES 

Chapter IX — The Early Mistakes — Gibraltar and Crete 

1 Report, Nuremberg Trial, The Times, London, 10 January 1946. 

2 Report, Nuremberg Trial, The Times , London, 8 December 1945. 

3 Report by Ossian Goulding, Daily Telegraph, London, 15 October 1945. 

4 Seventh U. S. Army Report of Interrogation of Reichsmarshal Hermann 
Goring, 19 May 1945. 

5 Report, Nuremberg Trial, The Times, London, 16 March 1946. 

6 Interview, Field Marshal Keitel, Daily Graphic, London, 17 September 1946. 

7 Personal interview, General Meindl, February 1946. 

8 Interrogation of Colonel General Student, War Office Intelligence Review 
November 1945. 

9 Ibid. 

Chapter X — The Greatest Mistake — Russia 

1 ‘The Trial of German Major War Criminals/ op. cit., p. 176. 

2 Report, Nuremberg Trial, The Times, London, 12 February 1946. 

3 Report, Nuremberg Trial, The Times, London, 11 December 1945. 

4 War Office Interrogation, Colonel General Haider, September 1945. 

5 Personal interview, Colonel General Dietrich, September 1945. 

6 Personal interview, General Schlemm, October 1945. 

7 War Office Interrogation, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, July 1945. 

8 Personal interview. General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

9 War Office Interrogation, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, July 1945. 


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10 Ibid. 

11 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

12 War Office Interrogation, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, July 1945. 

13 War Office Interrogation, Colonel General Haider, September 1945. 

14 Personal interview. Lieutenant General Pickert, July 1946. 

15 W. E. D. Allen and Paul Muratoff, The Russian Campaigns of 1941-43, 
London, 1944, p. 132. 

Chapter XI — The Decisive Mistake — United States 

1 ‘The Trial of German Major War Criminals/ op. cit., p. 73. 

2 Ibid. 

3 ‘The Trial of German Major War Criminals/ op. cit., p. 178. 

4 War Office Intelligence Review, December 1945. 

6 Report, Nuremberg Trial, The Times, London, 10 January 1946. 

6 According to Ciano’s diary, produced at Nuremberg, the Japanese Ambas- 
sador in Rome saw Mussolini on 3 December 1941, and informed him that 
Japanese- American relations were at a dead-end. He asked for, and received, 
complete assurance that Italy would declare war on the United States immediately 
after the outbreak of hostilities. Ciano also records the fact that Berlin’s reaction 
before the event was extremely cautious. This would seem to contradict Goring's 
assertion that the attack on Pearl Harbor came as a complete surprise. Yet Jodi, 
at Nuremberg, also agreed with Goring that the attack was unexpected. Jodi 
testified that Hitler himself was genuinely surprised the night of Pearl Harbor 
for he had come into Jodi’s map-room in the middle of the night to inform Keitel 
and himself of the news. The answer would seem to be that while the Germans 
expected Japan to take action against the United States, they had not been 
informed of either the manner in which, or the time when, such hostilities would 
begin. 

7 War Office Intelligence Review, December 1945. 

Chapter XII — The Final Mistake — El Alamein 

1 War Office Interrogation, Colonel General Haider, September 1945. 

2 Interview with General Cramer, The Times, London, 26 October 1945. 

3 Interview with Field Marshal Keitel, Daily Graphic, London, 17 September 
1946. 

4 ‘German Naval Preparations in the West/ Interim, British Army of the Rhine 
Intelligence Review. 

5 Personal interview. Colonel General Student, October 1945. 

6 Personal interview, Colonel General von Vietinghoff, August 1946. 

7 Ibid. 

8 ‘The Officers and the Corporal/ Interim, British Army of the Rhine Intel- 
ligence Review. 


PART IV - THE INVASION 

Chapter XIII — The Atlantic Wall and the Men Behind It 

1 War Office Interrogation, General Blumentritt, September 1945. 

2 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

3 Personal interview, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, October 1945. 

4 Ibid. 

5 First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 24 November 1944. 

6 Personal interview, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, October 1945. 


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Chapter XIV — Watching and Waiting 

1 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

2 Personal interview, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, October 1945. 

3 Quoted by Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, Sunday Express , 
London, 9 June 1946. 

4 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

5 Quoted by Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, supra . 

6 The six armored divisions north of the Loire were 1 S.S., 12 S.S., 2, 21, 116 
and Panzer Lehr Divisions. South of the Loire were 2 S.S., 9 and 11 Panzer 
Divisions and 17 S.S. Panzer Grenadier Divisions. Under Rommel’s direct com- 
mand were 2, 21 and 116 Panzer Divisions. 

7 Personal interview. Lieutenant General Feuchtinger, August 1945. 

Chapter XV — The First Days 

1 Personal interview, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, October 1945. 

2 Telephone Journal of Seventh Army, First Canadian Army Intelligence Sum- 
maries, 27 August, 22 and 28 September, 27 October 1944. 

3 Personal interview. Lieutenant General Feuchtinger, August 1945. 

4 Ibid. 

5 Personal interview, Brigadefiihrer Meyer, August 1945. 

6 Personal interview, Colonel General Dietrich, September 1945. 

7 Telephone Journal of Seventh Army, supra. 

8 ‘As a German General Saw It/ Saturday Evening Post , 20 October 1945. 

9 Telephone Journal of Seventh Army, supra. 

10 ‘As a German General Saw It/ supra. 

Chapter XVI — The Battle of the Bridgehead 

1 858 Grenadier Regiment of 346 Infantry Division. 

2 Account of 2 Panzer Division as told by General von Liittwitz in personal 
interview. 

3 276 Infantry Division. 

4 Personal interview, Colonel General Dietrich, September 1945. 

5 Personal interview, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, October 1945. 

6 Ibid . 

7 9 S.S. and 10 S.S. Panzer Divisions. 

8 Field Marshal von Rundstedt, supra. 

9 These seven formations were: 1 S.S., 9 S.S., 10 S.S., 12 S.S., Panzer Lehr, 
2 and 21 Panzer Divisions. 

Chapter XVII — The German Soldier Still Hopes 

1 Second British Army Intelligence Summary, 11 July 1944. 

2 Second British Army Intelligence Summary, 7 July 1944. 

3 Personal interview. General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

4 Ibid. 

6 Personal interview. Field Marshal von Rundstedt, October 1946. 

PART V - THE DECLINE 

Chapter XVIII — July Twentieth 

1 ‘Political Implications of the 20th of July/ Interim , British Army of the Rhine 
Intelligence Review. 

2 Amongst senior German officers opinion seems to be divided as to whether 
or not von Kluge was in the plot. General Geyr von Schweppenburg, who was 


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himself approached to take part, asserts definitely that von Kluge had agreed to 
co-operate with the plotters. 

3 ‘The German Intelligence Branch and 20 July/ by Franz Maria Liedig of the 
Naval Intelligence Branch of the Abwehr, Interim , British Army of the Riling 
Intelligence Review. 

4 Interrogation of von Cramm, 13 U.S. Corps G-2 Report. 

6 SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary, 23 September 1944. 

Chapter XIX — Defeat in Normandy 

1 Personal interview. General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

2 War Office Intelligence Review, August 1945. 

3 Personal interview, Brigadefiihrer Wisch, August 1945. 

4 A short account of this action from the Allied viewpoint is contained in 
Canada’s Battle in Normandy, by Colonel C. P. Stacey. In part it reads: “The 8th 
British Corps, composed of three armored divisions, had crossed the Orne low 
down, where, thanks to the airborne troops, both its banks had been in our hands 
from the beginning. The armor now lunged southward, hoping for a break- 
through. In the first instance things went well; but on the edge of the higher ground 
about Bourguebus, some four miles south-east of Caen, and on the plain to the 
east, a formidable screen of anti-tank guns put an abrupt period to the advance.” 
Apparently it was Wisch’s tanks rather than ‘anti-tank guns’ that did the damage. 

5 Personal interview, General von Liittwitz, April 1946. 

6 The seven armored divisions were 1 S.S., 9 S.S., 10 S.S., 12 S.S., 2, 21 and 
116 Panzer Divisions. Opposing the Americans on 25 July 1944 were 2 S.S. 
Panzer, Panzer Lehr and 17 S.S. Panzer Grenadier Divisions. 

7 These private armies of the individual services were one of von Rundstedt’s 
pet peeves. While all German manpower in France was ostensibly under von 
Rundstedt’s command, Goring, Himmler and Donitz insisted on their right to 
reject any operation they did not like. “This arrangement not only made a unified 
command impossible,” von Rundstedt told me, “but it seriously affected the 
morale of the ordinary Reichswehr divisions. For while the army formations were 
constantly told that equipment and reserves were scarce, the S.S. units received 
the latest weapons and best clothing, the Luftwaffe Field and parachute divisions 
were supplied with constant reinforcements, and the navy was stocked with 
better rations. This created resentment and suspicion amongst the men who had 
suffered the brunt of the fighting in France and Russia, and did not make the 
problem of command any more simple or harmonious.” 

Chapter XX — Mortain 

1 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, Saturday Evening Post , 15 June 
1946. 

2 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

3 Personal interview, Colonel General Dietrich, September 1945. 

4 The six armored divisions in the attack were: 1 S.S., 2 S.S., 10 S.S., 2, 9 and 
116 Panzer. The two armored divisions helping protect the right flank of the 
offensive were 9 S.S. and 21 Panzer. 

5 Personal interview, General von Liittwitz, April 1946. 

Chapter XXI — The Hell of Falaise 

1 89 Infantry Division. 

2 Personal interview, Brigadefiihrer Meyer, August 1945. 

3 Telephone Journal of Seventh Army, supra . 

4 Personal interview, Major General Plocher, April 1946. 


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5 Personal interview. Colonel General Dietrich, September 1945. 

6 Ibid. 

7 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, Saturday Evening Post , 15 June 
1946. 

8 ‘Von Kluge's Last Letter,' Interim, British Army of the Rhine Intelligence 
Review. 

9 Personal interview, General von Liittwitz, April 1946. 

10 First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 23 August 1944. 

11 Ibid. 

12 Ibid. 

Chapter XXII — Paris and the Seine 

1 272, 346 and 711 Infantry Divisions. 

2 Personal interview, Lieutenant General Diestel, September 1945. 

3 Personal interview, General Schwalbe, September 1945. 

4 The three divisions north of Paris were 331, 344 Infantry and 17 Luftwaffe 
Field, while the four divisions south of Paris were 47, 48, 348 Infantry and 18 
Luftwaffe Field. 

5 Interrogation, von Boineburg-Lengsfeld, First U.S. Army Report, April 1945. 

6 Interrogation, Herbert Sauer, Model's chauffeur, Ninth U.S. Army Report, 
April 1945. 

7 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

8 The six divisions in Fifteenth Army at this time were 59, 64, 70, 226, 245 
and 712 Infantry Divisions. 

9 Personal interview. General von Zangen, July 1946. 

10 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

11 First U.S. Army G-2 Report, September 1944. 

Chapter XXIII — The Retreat 

1 Personal interview, General von Zangen, July 1946. 

2 Personal interview, General Schwalbe, September 1945. 

3 ‘Allied Supreme Commander's Report to the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff on 
the Operations in Europe of the Allied Expeditionary Force,' London, 1946, p. 77. 

4 Interrogation of member of intelligence section of Commander-in-Chief West, 
SHAEF Intelligence Notes, 7 April 1945. 

5 Ibid. 

6 First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 26 February 1945. 

7 Personal interview, General von Zangen, July 1946. 

Chapter XXIV — The Fortresses 

1 Personal interview, Colonel Wildermuth, December 1945. 

2 Personal interview, Lieutenant General Heim, December 1945. 

3 First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 21 September 1944. 

4 Personal interview. Lieutenant General Heim, December 1945. 

5 Personal interview. Lieutenant Colonel Schroeder, December 1945. 

Chapter XXV — Manning the Siegfried Line 

1 War Office Interrogation, July 1945. 

2 Ibid. 

3 Third U.S. Army Interrogation Report, November 1944. 

4 Allied Supreme Commander's Report, supra , p. 86. 

5 Second Army Intelligence Summary, 4 October 1944* 

6 First U.S. Army G-2 Report, September 1944. 


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7 Third U.S. Army G-2 Report, December 1944. i 

8 First U.S. Infantry Division G-2 Report, No. 124. 

PART VI — THE COUNTERBLOW 

Chapter XXVI — Offensive in the Ardennes 

1 Infantry and Volksgrenadier divisions were 12, 18, 26, 62, 272, 276, 277, 

326, 352 and 560. Armored divisions were 1 S.S., 12 S.S., 2, 116 and Panzer Lehr. 
Parachute division was 3. 

2 Allied Supreme Commander's Report, supra, p. 92. 

3 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, Saturday Evening Post, 22 June 
1946. 

4 War Office Interrogation, September 1945. 

5 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, supra. 

6 Personal interview, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, October 1945. 

7 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, supra. 

8 Personal interview, Colonel General Dietrich, September 1945. 

9 First U.S. Army Interrogation Report, April 1945. 

10 Colonel S. L. A. Marshall, Bastogne, Washington, 1946, p. 179. 

11 Ibid., p. 177. 

1 2 War Office Interrogation, September 1945. i 

Chapter XXVII — The Parachutists and the Saboteurs 

1 First U.S. Army G-2 Report, December 1944. 

2 First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 30 November 1944. 

3 First U.S. Army G-2 Report, December 1944. 

4 Ibid. 

5 12 Army Group G-2 Report, January 1945. 

6 First U.S. Army G-2 Report, December 1944. 

7 War Office Interrogation, General von Manteuffel, September 1945. 

8 War Office Interrogation, Field Marshal von Rundstedt, September 1945. 

Chapter XXVIII — Elation and Despair 

1 Twenty-first Army Group Psychological Warfare Summary, January 1945. 

2 101 U.S. Airborne Division G-2 Report, January 1945. 

3 Twenty-first Army Group Psychological Warfare Summary, January 1945. 

4 First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 20 January 1945. 

5 Ibid. i 

6 Twenty-first Army Group Psychological Warfare Summary, January 1945. 

7 First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 30 January 1945. 

8 2 U.S. Infantry Division G-2 Report, February 1945. 

Chapter XXIX — The Thunder of Collapse 

1 Personal interview, Colonel General Student, October 1945. 

2 Personal interview, Colonel General Student, October 1945. The divisions to 
be used in this proposed offensive were 346, 711 and 712 Infantry Divisions, and 
6 and 7 Parachute Divisions. 

3 Personal interview, General Schwalbe, September 1945. 

4 The S.S. divisions were 17 S.S. Panzer Grenadier and 6 S.S. Mountain. The 
Volksgrenadier divisions were 36, 245, 256, 257, 361 and 559. 

5 Allied Supreme Commander’s Report, supra, p. 99. 

6 Seventh U.S. Army Interrogation Report, January 1945. 

7 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, Saturday Evening Post , 29 
June 1946. 


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PART VII - THE END 

Chapter XXX — Defeat West of the Rhine 

1 Personal interview. General Schlemm, October 1945. 

2 Allied Supreme Commander’s Report, supra, p. 100. 

3 84 Infantry Division. 

4 Allied Supreme Commander’s Report, supra, p. 107. 

5 Personal interview, General Schlemm, October 1945. 

6 These were 84, 180, and 190 Infantry Divisions, Panzer Lehr, 15 Panzer 
Grenadier and 116 Panzer Divisions, 6, 7 and 8 Parachute Divisions. 

7 30 British Corps Intelligence Summary, September 1944. 

8 59, 176, 183 and 406 Infantry Divisions. 

9 15 Panzer Grenadier, Panzer Lehr and 84 Infantry Divisions. 

10 Personal interview, General Schlemm, October 1945. 

11 Ibid. 

12 Ibid. 

13 First U.S. Army Interrogation Report, March 1945. 

14 Ibid. 

15 Interrogation Report, Captain Friesenhahn of 12 Landes Engineer Regiment, 
First U.S. Army, March 1945. 

16 Allied Supreme Commander’s Report, p. 111. 

17 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, Saturday Evening Post, 29 June 
1946. 

is Ibid. 

19 ‘File on Colonel M,’ Interim, British Army of the Rhine Intelligence Review. 

Chapter XXXI — Defeat East of the Rhine 

1 SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary, 14 April 1945. 

2 Ninth U.S. Army G-2 Report, March 1945. 

3 30 British Corps Intelligence Summary, March 1945. 

4 First Canadian Army Intelligence Summary, 14 April 1945. 

5 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

6 Allied Supreme Commander’s Report, supra, p. 128. 

7 ‘File on Colonel M,’ Interim, British Army of the Rhine Intelligence Review. 

8 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, Saturday Evening Post, 6 July 
1946. 

9 ‘File on Colonel M,’ supra. 

10 First U.S. Army Interrogation Report, April 1945. 

11 ‘File on Colonel M,’ supra. 

Chapter XXXII — Resistance that Never Came 

1 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, Saturday Evening Post, 6 July 
1946. 

2 First Canadian Anny Intelligence Periodical, May — June 1945. 

3 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, Saturday Evening Post, 13 
July 1946. 

4 12 British Corps, April 1945. 

Chapter XXXIII — Defeat 

1 ‘Twelfth-Hour Politics,’ Interim, British Army of the Rhine Intelligence 
Review. 

2 Ibid. 


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3 Ibid. 

4 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, Saturday Evening Post, 13 
July 1946. 

6 These extracts from the Reitsch account in Interim are reproduced verbatim. 

6 Report, Nuremberg Trial, The Times, London, 4 July 1946. 

7 Quoted by Lieutenant General Bedell Smith, supra. 

8 Personal interview, Colonel General von Vietinghoff, August 1946. 

9 Personal interview, General Blumentritt, February 1946. 

Chapter XXXIV — The Vanquished 

1 ‘Democratic Twaddle/ Interim, British Army of the Rhine Intelligence 
Review. 


INDEX OF PERSONAL NAMES 


Alanbrooke, Field Marshal, 7 Braun, Eva, 298-300 


Albert, Professor, 138 
Alexander, Field Marshal, 305 
Altmark, 38 

Antonescu, Prime Minister, 193 
Amim, Col. Gen. von, 82 
Assmann, Admiral, 39 
Attlee, Clement, 8 
Auchinleck, General, 79 
Aulock, Colonel, 189 

Badinsla, Lieut. Gen., 156, 162 
Badoglio, Marshal, 84 
Bayerlein, Lieut. Gen., 106-8, 230-3,284 
B.B.C., 100 

Beck, Col. Gen., 4, 31, 127-34 
Bedell Smith, Lieut. Gen., 307 
Bevin, Ernest, 77 

Blaskowitz, Col. Gen., 98, 254, 265, 
269-70, 280-1, 305-7 
Blomberg, Field Marshal von, 4, 10, 
25, 27, 29-30, 42, 127 
Blumentritt, General, 50-1, 65, 67, 89, 
97, 120, 136, 145, 172, 174, 202, 
281, 307 

Bock, Field Marshal von, 39-40, 42, 
56, 66, 67, 69, 73 

Boineburg-Lengsfeld, Lieut. Gen. von, 
166-9 

Bolz, Herr, 124, 130 
Bormann, Martin, 22, 295 et seq. 
Bradley, General, 15, 140, 142, 148, 151 
Brauchitsch, Field Marshal von, 30, 
32, 34-9, 62, 64, 67, 69 


Bredow, General von, 24 
Budenny, Marshal, 67 
Burgsdorf, General, 138 
Busch, Field Marshal, 306-8 
Butcher, Captain, 322 

Canaris, Admiral, 16, 18, 65, 90, 129, 
134 

Choltitz, Lieut. Gen. von, 167-8 
Churchill, Winston, 7-8, 49, 77, 199, 
322, 323 

Ciano, Count, 324 
Conradi, Maj. Gen., 12 
Cramer, Maj. Gen., 81 
Cramm, Baron von, 131 
Crerar, General, 263 

Daser, Lieut. Gen., 201 
Delp, Father, 126 
Dempsey, General, 185, 307 
Dettling, Maj. Gen., 162 
Dever, General, 287 
Dibelius, Bishop, 126 
Diestel, Lieut. Gen., 163 
Dietl, Col. Gen., 22 

Dietrich, Col. Gen., 63, 103-6, 112, 
114-15, 146, 150-2, 173, 224-9, 
237-8, 255, 258, 313, 316-17 
Dietze, Herr von, 126 
Dittmar, Lieut. Gen., 291 
Dollman, Col. Gen., 101, 107, 169 
Donitz, Gross Admiral, 85, 143, 295, 
303-5 307-9 


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Eberbach, General, 146, 151, 173 
Eberding, Lieut. Gen., 200 
Eisenhower, General, 13, 82, 115, 140, 
151, 182-3, 185-6, 197-8, 210, 220, 
223-4, 231, 241, 256-7, 262-5, 274, 
283, 305, 309, 322 
Elfeldt, General, 161 
Epp, General von, 22 

Falkenhausen, General von, 129 
Farmbacher, General, 142 
Faulhaber, Cardinal, 126 
Faupel, Herr, 27 
Fegelein, General, 299 
Fellgiebel, General, 132-4 
Felmy, General, 35 
Feuchtinger, Lieut. Gen., 99, 102-5 
Fiebig, Maj. Gen., 313 
Foch, Field Marshal, 34 
Franco, General, 56 
Franz, Maj. Gen., 212-13 
Freckman, Lieut., 213 
Frick, Walter, 22 
Friedeburg, Admiral von, 308-9 
Fritsch, Col. Gen. von, 4, 25, 27-32, 42, 
127 

Fromm, Col. Gen., 128, 134 

Gerstenmaier, Dr., 126 
Goebbels, Dr., 16, 24, 119, 135, 206-7, 
216, 252-3, 279, 298, 304 
Goebbels (family), 299-300 
Goerdeler, Dr., 124, 127, 130, 134, 139 
Goertz, Major, 289 
Gollnitz, Colonel, 12 
Goring, Reichsmarshal, 22, 27, 30, 34, 
55-7, 76-7, 85, 135, 143, 209, 224, 
236, 259, 275-6, 283, 295-9, 324 
Graziani, Marshal, 83 
Greim, Col. Gen. von. 297 et seq. 
Grothmann, Colonel, 295 
Guderian, Col. Gen., 5, 134-5, 154-5, 
229 

Haider, Col. Gen., 34, 39, 44, 61-5, 
69-71, 80-1 

Hammer, Maj. Gen., 284 
Hammerstein, Col. Gen. von. 128 
Hansen, Colonel, 129 
Hase, General von, 132-4 
Hassell, Herr von, 124 
Haubach, Herr, 126 


Hausser, General, 115, 146-9, 151, 
157, 162, 169 
Heilmann, Maj. Gen., 271 
Heim, Lieut. Gen., 188, 192-5, 202 
Heinrici, Col. Gen., 306 
Hess, Rudolf, 22, 52 
Hevel, Herr, 299 

Heydte, Lieut. Col. von der, 236-8, 266 
Himmler, Heinrich, 29-31, 74, 85, 130, 
218, 260, 280, 291, 295, 302-3, 308 
Hindenburg, Field Marshal von, 11, 
21, 25, 41 

Hitler, Adolf, 3-8 (general discussion), 
24 (comes to power), 24 (Roehm 
purge), 25-33 (and General Staff), 
34-5 (Poland), 36-8 (France and 
Low Countries ) , 38 ( Norway ) , 60-73 
( Russian— In vasion ) , 75-7 ( J apan’s 
attack on U.S.A. ), 91 (Channel 
fortresses), 100-1, 113-16 (tactics 
in Normandy), 122-35 (assassina- 
tion plot ) , 138 ( and Rommel ) , 145-8 
(battle of Mortain), 167-8 (and 
Paris), 226-48 (Ardennes), 265-70 
(Reichswald battle), 276 (Siegfried 
Line), 283-6 (Ruhr), 291 (National 
Redoubt), 296-304 (last days), 304 
( successors ) 

Hodges, General, 246 
Hoeppner, Col. Gen., 128, 132 
Hofbacker, Colonel von, 129, 137 
Hoffmann-Schonfom, Colonel, 219 
Horthy, Admiral, 238 
Hoszback, Colonel, 27 

Jessen, Professor, 125 
Jodi, Col. Gen., 26, 60, 102, 120, 133-4, 
226, 228-30, 286-8, 292, 296-7, 309, 
324 

Keitel, Field Marshal, 19, 32, 34, 37, 
48, 52, 58, 60-1, 74, 81, 120, 133-4, 
230, 280, 296, 303, 308, 311-12, 324 
Kempka, Herr, 303-4 
Kesselring, Field Marshal, 15, 85, 206, 
277, 281-3, 295 
Kirchof, Herr, 184 
Kitzinger, General, 172 
Kleist, Field Marshal von, 39, 306 
Klosterkemper, Maj. Gen., 284 
Kluge, Field Marshal von, 121, 129, 
134, 136-9, 169, 326 
Kochling, General, 284 


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Kokott, Maj. Gen., 243 
Koniev, Marshal, 258 
Krancke, Admiral, 38, 82 
Kiichler, Field Marshal von, 22 

Lampe, Professor, 126 

Leber, Dr., 126, 132 

Leclerc, General, 168 

Leeb, Field Marshal von, 39, 69, 73, 306 

Lehndorff-Steiner, Count von, 127 

Leopold, King, 37 

Leuschner, Herr, 125, 130 

Liebknecht, Karl, 22 

Lingner, Colonel, 257 

List von, Field Marshal, 56, 73, 306 

Lorenz, Dr., 299 

Liittwitz, General von, 118, 141, 148, 
158-60, 232-3 

McCauliffe, Brig, Gen., 234 
McCown, Major, 243-5 
Maisel, Lieut. Gen., 138 
Manstein, Field Marshal von, 22, 
39-40, 130 

Manteuffel, General von, 222, 225, 
234-5, 245-6 
Marshal, General, 32 
Matsuoka, Japanese Foreign Minister, 
75 

Meindl, General, 58 
Meissner, Dr., 30, 75 
Menny, Lieut. Gen., 161 
Meyer, Maj. Gen., 104-5, 149-50, 313-15 
Mierendorff, Dr., 126 
Model, Field Marshal, 137-8, 152, 154, 
170-8, 216, 222, 228, 230, 255-6, 269, 
276, 282-6 

Molotov, Russian Foreign Minister, 57 
Moltke, Count von, 126-7 
Montgomery, Field Marshal, 7, 15, 
79-80, 82, 96, 115, 140, 177, 225,241, 
307-8 

Mussolini, Benito, 79-80, 83-4, 238 

Nebe, Herr, 125 
Neurath, Herr von, 27 
Nieden, Herr, 127 
Noske, Herr, 21 

Oberg, General, 167 
Olbricht, General, 128, 131, 132, 134 
Oshima, General, 74, 76, 77 
Oster, Maj. Gen., 129, 130, 134 


Panzinger, Colonel, 289 
Papen, Franz von, 41 
Patch, General, 175 
Patton, General, 13, 109, 142, 145, 163, 
242, 246 
Paul, Prince, 57 

Paulus, Field Marshal, 61, 71-2, 130, 
192 

Pickert, Lieut. Gen., 72, 150 
Pieper, Lieut. Col., 243-5 
Plocher, Maj. Gen., 150 
Popitz, Herr, 124 
Preysing, Bishop, 126 
Piichler, General, 272 

Raeder, Gross Admiral, 27, 30, 34 
Ramcke, Lieut. Gen., 22, 189-90 
Ramsay, Admiral, 322 
Reichenau, Field Marshal von, 192 
Reichwein, Herr, 126, 132 
Reitsch, Hanna, 297 et seq. 

Remer, Major, 133-4 
Rendulic, Col. Gen., 306 
Rheinberg, Major, 14 
Ribbentrop, Joachim von, 55-6, 75-7 
Ritter, Herr, 126 
Rockhammer, Lieut., 249 
Roehm, Ernst, 22, 24, 41 
Rokossovsky, Marshal, 258 
Rommel, Field Marshal, 22, 78-82, 85, 
98, 100-8, 112-14, 129, 136-9, 154-5, 
169 

Roosevelt, President, 32, 77 
Rosenberg, Alfred, 24 
Rundstedt, Field Marshal von, 7, 15, 
31, 39-46, 49-51, 56, 64-9, 88-104, 
112-16, 120-1, 134-6, 150, 169, 
176-9, 202, 205-6, 215, 222, 224, 
228 et seq., 245-7, 260-1, 265, 276-9, 
306, 312, 326 

Salmuth, General von, 35, 169, 173 
Schack, Lieut. Gen., 313 
Scheelkopf, Dr. 168 
Schimpf, Lieut. Gen., 156-7, 272 
Schlabrendorff, Colonel von, 131 
Schleicher, General von, 24, 41 
Schlemm, General, 16, 63, 229, 262- 
270 

Schoeller, Major, 274 
Schomer, Col. Gen.,306 
Schroeder, Lieut. Col., 196-7 
Schulenberg, Count von der, 124 


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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 


INDEX OF PERSONAL NAMES 333 

immrmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmrmmm 


Schultz, General, 309 
Schutzbar-Milchling, Baroness von, 30 
Schwalbe, General, 164, 179-80, 255-6 
Schweppenburg, General von, 35, 169, 
326 

Seeckt, Col. Gen. von, 23 
Seyss-Inquart, Dr., 304, 306-7 
Simpson, General, 267 
Skorzeny, Lieut. Col., 238-41 
Speer, Alfred, 283 
Speidel, Lieut. Gen., 139, 142-3 
Stalin, Joseph, 74 

Stauffenberg, Count von, 126-7, 131-4 
Stimson, U.S. Secretary of War, 32 
Stock, Professor, 138 
Straube, General, 313 
Student, Col. Gen., 15, 58-9, 84, 229, 
236, 254-6, 315 

Stiilpnagel, General von, 36, 128, 134, 
139, 166-7 
Suner, Serrano, 56 

Tennant, Admiral, 322 
Thoma, General von, 79 
Timoshenko, Marshal, 63 
Tippelslarch, General von, 69 
Tito, Marshal, 238 
Todt (Organization), 90 
Trott zu Solz, Herr von, 126 


Tuchatschewski, General, 63 
Unrein, Lieut. Gen., 293 

Vietinghoff, Col. Gen. von, 84, 305 
Vlassov, General, 93 
Volkssturm, 259-60, 278 

Waechter, Lieut. Gen., 162 
Waldenburg, Maj. Gen., 284 
Warlimont, General, 26-7, 33-8, 53, 
85, 96-7, 143-7, 152 
Wartenburg, Count von, 126 
Wavell, Field Marshal, 83, 322 
Weichs, Field Marshal von, 306 
Wenck, General, 292-4, 297 et seq. 
Werewolves, 288-90 
Westphal, Lieut. Gen., 277 
Widmann, Dr., 289 
Wilck, Colonel, 219 
Wildermuth, Colonel, 190, 192 
Wisch, Maj. Gen., 140, 162 
Witzleben, Field Marshal von, 128, 
130, 132, 134 
Wolff, General, 305 
Wiihlisch, General von, 35 
Wurm, Bishop, 126 

Zangen, General von, 173, 178-80, 
198-9 

Zeitzler, Col. Gen. von, 19, 71, 135 
Zhukov, Marshal, 67, 258 


INDEX OF GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES 

WTWTTWWTWfWWTTWTfTTfTWTfW TIIIIIIIIIIIIlIhllllllllllilllilllll ffITfTTTTTTWTTWWfWfTfWTfHTHTTfWWWfTffT 


Aachen, 203, 219-20, 222-3, 252 

Abbeville, 111, 173 

Abruzzi Mountains, 85 

Abyssinia, 83 

Africa (North), 19, 78-83 

Alamein (El), 7, 15, 78-82 

Alexandria, 80 

Alsace (personnel), 92, 214 

Alsace-Lorraine, 253 

Amiens, 173-4 

Andernach, 271 

Antwerp, 177-83, 187, 197 et seq ., 
225 et seq., 254-6 
Ankara, 56 
Anzio, 85 
Apennines, 85 


Ardennes, 15, 40, 222 et seq. 
Argentan, 152, 157 
Armenia (personnel), 93 
Arnhem, 15, 182 et seq . 

Arras, 177 

Atlantic Wall, 89-94 
Audenarde, 178 
Australia, 59 
Austria, 11, 28 

Avranches, 109, 142, 146-8, 153 

Bailleul, 158 
Balkan States, 22, 61 
Basle, 204 

Bastogne, 118, 231 et seq., 242-3 
Bavaria (Revolt), 22 


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334 


DEFEAT IN THE WEST 




Bayeux, 106 

Beauvais, 172 

Belfort Gap, 213, 221 

Belgium. See Low Countries 

Berchtesgaden, 291, 297 

Berlin, 22 ( Spartacus Revolt ) ,294 et seq. 

Bessarabia, 57 

Beveland (South), 179-82, 200-2 
Bologna, 206, 305 
Bon (Cap), 81 

Boulogne, 179, 188, 192 et seq . 
Bourguebus, 136 
Bremen (Revolt), 22 
Breskens, 180 
Brest, 187, 189, 190 
Brettville, 142 
British Empire, 51, 55 
Brittany, 109, 187 
Brussels, 177-9, 225 et seq . 

Bulgaria, 206 

Caen, 103-0, 110, 112-10,120, 130-7, 
140-4, 148-51 
Cairo, 79 

Calais, 179, 187, 195 et seq . 

Calais (Pas de), See Pas de Calais 
Canada (Army), 113, 149-52, 192 et 
seq., 220, 255-6, 263, 265, 307 
Cap Bon, 81 
Cap Gris Nez, 196 
Casablanca, 82 
Cassino, 85 
Caucasus, 70-1, 78 
Caudebec, 170 
Caumont, 111 
Celles, 242, 246 
Chambois, 158 
Channel Islands, 94 
Charleville, 51 

Cherbourg, 91, 106-7, 109, 116, 119, 178 

Cleve, 204, 265 

Colmar, 221, 256-7 

Cologne, 183, 252-3, 271 

Compicgne, 43, 174 

Cotentin Peninsula, 101 

Coutances, 142 

Crete, 58-60 

Crimea, 68, 70 

Cyprus, 59-60, 78 

Czechoslovakia, 4-5, 28, 31, 33, 34, 92 
(personnel), 214 (personnel), 306 

Danube River, 306 
Danzig, 34 


Dardanelles, 56-7 
Denmark, 39, 306 
Dieppe, 19, 101 
Dives River, 109, 157-60, 163 
Dnieper River, 65-8, 73 
Dnepropetrovsk, 66 
Don, River, 70-2 
Dordrecht, 180, 255 
Dortmund-Ems Canal, 268 
Douvres, 105 
Dover, 96, 100, 196 
Duclair, 170 
Dulken, 267 

Dunkirk, 42-3, 55, 179-80, 187, 197 

Diiren, 267 

Diisseldorf, 263 

Dutch East Indies, 77 

East Indies (Dutch), 77 

East Prussia, 258 

Eben Emael, 58 

Echtemach, 246 

Egypt, 79-80 

Eifel, 222 et seq. 

Eindhoven, 183 
El Alamein, 7, 15, 78-82 
Elbe, River, 292-4 
Elbeuf, 170 
Ellon, 107 
Emden, 306 

England, 43-53 (invasion), 48 (morale 
of troops), 217 
English Channel, 44-9 
Erft, River, 223, 263 
Eschweiler, 220 
Eupen, 238 
Eure (Dept.), 12 
Evrecy, 115, 136, 140 
Falaise, 107, 152, 157, 162 
Finland, 55, 62-3, 70, 206 
Flensburg, 296, 304 
Florence, 206 
Flushing, 179-80, 202 
Folkestone, 100 

France, 4-5, 19 (invasion), 36-8 

( invasion ) , 90 ( invasion of South ) , 97 
(Allied agents in), 100 (resistance), 
112 (resistance), 167-8 (resistance) 
Frankfurt-am-Main, 183 
Friedenthal, 239 
Garigliano, 85 
Geilenkirchen, 220 
Gibraltar, 56-8, 78 


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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 


INDEX OF GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES 335 


Gironde, 91 
Gleize (La), 243 
Goch, 265 
Gorinchem, 255 
Gothic Line, 206, 305 
Grave, 183, 186 
Grebbe Line, 305-6 
Greece, 56-8, 83 
Gris Nez (Cap), 196 

Hagen, 286 
Hamburg, 308 
Hamm, 283 

Hartz Mountains, 292-3 
Havre (Le), 179, 190 et seq. 
Homberg, 268 
Hong Kong, 77 
Houffalize, 235, 245-6 
Hungary, 54 
Hiirtgen Forest, 220 
Huy, 226 

Ijssel, River, 287 

Italian Somaliland, 83 

Italy, 17, 28, 59, 80, 83-7, 305 

Japan, 54, 70, 74-7 (attack on U.S.A.), 
95 (Ambassador to Vichy), 195 
Jugoslavia, 57-8, 61 
Juhch, 267 

Kalach, 71-2 
Karlsruhe, 204 
Kharkov, 70 
Kiev, 66-7 
Krefeld, 267-9 
Kreisau Circle, 126-7, 131 
Krivoi Rog, 12 

La Gleize, 243 
La Rochelle, 91 
Le Havre, 179, 190 et seq. 

Leningrad, 66 

Liaison River, 150-1 

Liege, 224, 226, 246 

Lillehammer, 39 

Lion-sur-Mer, 103 

Lippe Canal, 268 

Lippstadt, 282 

Loire, River, 110, 112-13 

London, 47 (invasion of England) 

Lorient, 187, 197 

Low Countries, 4-5, 14, 36-8, 92 ( per- 
sonnel), 186, 211, 253 et seq . 305-7 
Luxembourg, 242 
Lyons, 175 


Maas River, 182 et seq., 205, 254 et 
seq., 263 et seq. 

Magdeburg, 292-3 
Maginot Line, 35-6, 39-40, 42 
Maikop, 68 
Malmedy, 235, 238 
Malta, 59-60, 78 
Maltot, 136 

Mantes-Gassicourt, 163 
Marburg, 282 
Mareth Line, 82 
Mechelen-sur-Meuse, 14 
Mediterranean, 56-60, 77-83, 206 
Melun, 165 
Metz, 208, 221 

Meuse River, 175, 224 et seq., 245-6 

Milan, 305 

Minsk, 66 

Mius River, 68 

Mons, 174 

Monschau, 234-5 

Montebourg, 107 

Morocco, 56 

Mortain, 145 et seq. 

Moscow, 6, 69, 88 

Moselle River, 203, 205, 271, 275-6 
Mozhaisk, 67 
"Mulberry/ 97, 178 
Miinchen-Gladbach, 204, 267 
Munich, 33 

Namur, 224, 246 
National Redoubt, 290-1 
Near East, 77 

Netherlands. See Low Countries 
New Zealand, 59 
Nijmegen, 15, 183-5 
Normandy, 96-121, 136-44, 169, 213 
Norway, 5, 38-9 (invasion) 

Nuremberg, 26, 39 ( trial ) , 318-19 ( trial ) 

Odessa, 66 
Oppenheim, 282 
Oran, 82 

Orne River, 101, 103, 107, 109, 113 

Ortona, 85 

Ost Battalions, 93 

Ostend, 199 

Palestine, 81 
Paris, 52, 165 et seq . 

Pas de Calais, 96, 113, 114, 163 et seq. 
173-4 

Pearl Harbor, 77-8 


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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 


336 DEFEAT IN THE WEST 


W1IIH I I11I I II III IIIIMI 1 IIIH I IIUIIIHHMUHHHHHH 

Poland, 4, 22, 31, 34-6 (invasion), 92 
(personnel), 214 (personnel), 258 
Portugal, 89-90 
Prussia (East), 258 
Quiberon, 197 
Rastenberg, 132-3 
Rechlin, 303 

Reichswald Forest, 262 et seq . 
Remagen, 272-5, 282 
Rennes, 100 
Rheims, 231, 309 

Rhine River, 6, 182 et seq . (Lower 
Rhine), 221, 260 et seq. 

Rhineland, 26, 51 
Rhone Delta, 90 
Risle River, 163 
Rochelle (La), 91 
Roer River, 220, 223, 263, 267 
Roermond, 254, 267 
Rome, 85 
Rostov, 68, 70 
Rouen, 164-5, 170 
Roumania, 55, 57, 70-2, 192-3, 206 
Ruhr, 96, 252-3, 262, 282-6 
Russia, 5-6, 11 (Revolution), 53, 60-73 
(invasion of), 92-4 (personnel in 
German army), 123 (Revolution), 
192-3, 195, 206, 214 (personnel), 
217, 257-9, 294, 301-2 

Saar, 204, 256-7 
Saar River, 275-6 
Saarbriicken, 256 
St. Germain, 50, 88 
St. Lambert-sur-Dives, 158-60 
St. Lo, 108,112, 140-3, 156 
St. Malo, 143-4, 187, 189, 190 
St. Nazaire, 187, 197 
St. Pierre-sur-Dives, 102 
St. Vith, 231 et seq., 251 
Salerno River, 85 
Sangro River, 85 
Sardinia, 84 

Scheldt Estuary, 179-80, 198-202 
Schmidt Dams, 220 
Sedan, 40 

Seine River, 109-13, 137, 162 et seq., 
169 et seq. 

Sevastopol, 70 
Siberia, 217 
Sicily, 83-4 
Siegen, 283 

Siegfried Line, 202 et seq., 223 


Digitized by Google 


w nTi'iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimimiiiiii 

Silesia (Upper), 258 
Singapore, 77 
Slonim, 66 
Smolensk, 66-7 
Soissons, 114 
Somaliland (Italian), 83 
Somme River, 172 et ceq. 

South Beveland, 179-82, 200-2 
Spain, 27-8 (Civil War), 55-6 89-90 
Spandau, 296 

Stalingrad, 68, 70-2, 88-9, 129, 192-3 
Stavelot, 235 
Stettin, 306 

Strasbourg, 221, 252, 256-7 
Sudetenland, 4 
Suez, 56-7, 78-80 
Sweden, 89, 308 

Taranto, 83 

Teutoburger Forest, 282 
Thames River, 46-7 
Tilburg, 255 
Torgau, 294 
Toulon, 91 
Toulouse, 90 
Touques River, 109, 163 
Triers, 183, 203 
Tripolitania, 56 
Troam, 101 
Tran, 157-60 
Tunisia, 81-2 
Turkey, 70 
Uman, 66 

United States, 74-7 (Japanese attack), 
217 

Vatican, 129 
Venlo, 265, 267 

Versailles (Treaty), 9, 22-5, 41 

Vichy, 82 

Vienna, 294, 316 

Vire, 107 

Vitebsk, 206 

Volga, 71 

Vosges Mountains, 203, 205, 213, 221, 
256 

Waal River, 183 et seq. 

Walcheren, 179-82, 200-2, 210 
Warsaw, 206 

Weimar (Republic), 7, 9, 24 
Wesel River, 267-70, 281 
Westkapelle, 202 
Zhitomir, 66 
Ziegenberg, 230 


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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 


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M544678 


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