Military history

Chapter 4
 
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IT WAS ALMOST SIX when the weary Heinrici reached his headquarters at Birkenhain, near Prenzlau. During the two-and-a-half-hour drive from Zossen, he had remained silent. At one point Von Bila tried to open a conversation by asking the General if he had seen the map. Von Bila assumed that Guderian had shown a separate copy to Heinrici and explained its contents. Heinrici, in fact, knew nothing about it, and Von Bila got no answer. The General simply sat tight-lipped and worried. Von Bila had never seen him so dejected.

Heinrici’s first glimpse of his new headquarters depressed him even more. The Army Group Vistula command post consisted of a large, imposing mansion flanked on either side by wooden barracks. The main building was an architectural monstrosity—a massive, ornate affair with a row of oversized columns along its front. Years before, Himmler had built the place as his own personal refuge. On a nearby siding stood his luxuriously appointed private train, the “Steiermark.”

Like Zossen, this headquarters was hidden in the woods, but there the comparison ended. There was none of the military bustle Heinrici had come to expect of an active army group headquarters. Except for an SS corporal in the foyer of the main building, the place seemed deserted. The corporal asked their names, ushered them to a hard bench and disappeared.

Some minutes passed, then a tall, immaculately dressed SS lieutenant general appeared. He introduced himself as Himmler’s Chief of Staff, Heinz Lammerding, and smoothly explained that the Reichsführer was “engaged in a most important discussion” and “could not be disturbed right now.” Polite but cool, Lammerding did not invite Heinrici to wait in his office, nor did zhe make any of the usual gestures of hospitality. Turning on his heel, he left Heinrici and Von Bila to wait in the foyer. In all his years as a senior officer Heinrici had never been treated in such a cavalier fashion.

He waited patiently for fifteen minutes, then spoke quietly to Von Bila. “Go tell that Lammerding,” he said, “that I have no intention of sitting out here one minute longer. I demand to see Himmler immediately.” Seconds later Heinrici was escorted down a corridor and into Himmler’s office.

Himmler was standing by the side of his desk. He was of medium build, his torso longer than his legs—which one of Heinrici’s staff remembers as being like “the hind legs of a bull.” He had a narrow face, a receding chin, squinting eyes behind plain wire spectacles, a small moustache and a thin mouth. His hands were small, soft and effeminate, the fingers long. Heinrici noted the texture of his skin, which was “pale, sagging and somewhat spongy.”

Himmler came forward, exchanged greetings, and immediately launched into a long explanation. “You must understand,” he said, taking Heinrici’s arm, “that it is a most difficult decision for me to leave the Army Group Vistula.” Still talking, he showed Heinrici to a chair. “But as you must know, I have so many posts, so much work to do—and also, I’m not in very good health.”

Seating himself behind the desk, Himmler leaned back and said: “Now, I’m going to tell you all that has happened. I’ve asked for all the maps, all the reports.” Two SS men came into the room; one was a stenographer, the other carried a large stack of maps. Behind them came two staff officers. Heinrici was happy to see that the officers wore Wehrmacht, not SS, uniforms. One of them was Lieutenant General Eberhard Kinzel, the Deputy Chief of Staff; the other, Colonel Hans Georg Eismann, the Chief of Operations. Heinrici was particularly glad to see Eismann, whom he knew as an exceptionally efficient staff officer. Lammerding was not present.

Himmler waited until all had taken seats. Then he launched into a dramatic speech of personal justification. It seemed afterward to Heinrici that “he began with Adam and Eve,” and then went into such laborious explanatory details that “nothing he said made sense.”

Both Kinzel and Eismann knew that Himmler could talk like this for hours. Kinzel after a few minutes took his leave because of “pressing business.” Eismann sat watching Himmler and Heinrici, mentally comparing them. He saw Heinrici, a “persevering, graying old soldier—a serious, silent, taut little man for whom courtesy was a thing taken for granted,” being subjected to the flamboyant ranting of an unsoldierly upstart “who could not read the scale on a map.” Looking at the wildly gesturing Himmler “repeating over and over the most unimportant facts in a theatrical tirade,” he knew that Heinrici must be both shocked and disgusted.

Eismann waited as long as he could, then he, too, asked to be excused because “there was much to do.” A few minutes later, Heinrici noticed that the stenographer, unable to keep abreast of Himmler’s verbal torrent, had put down his pencil. Heinrici, bored beyond belief, sat silently, letting the words flow over him.

Suddenly the phone on Himmler’s desk rang. Himmler picked it up and listened for a moment. He looked startled. He handed the phone to Heinrici. “You’re the new commander,” he said. “You’d better take this call.”

Heinrici picked up the phone. He said: “Heinrici here, who is this?”

It was General Busse, commander of the Ninth Army. Heinrici froze as he listened. Disaster had already befallen his new command. The Russians had spotted Busse’s preparations for the Küstrin attack. The 25th Panzer Division, one of Busse’s best, which for months had held the corridor open between the Russian bridgeheads on either side of Küstrin, had been quietly pulling out of its positions in preparation for the offensive. Another division, the 20th Panzer, had been moving into the 25th’s positions. The Russians had seen the exchange and attacked from the north and south. The pincers had snapped shut, just as Guderian had feared. The 20th Panzer Division was cut off, Küstrin was isolated—and the Russians now had a major bridgehead for the assault on Berlin.

Heinrici cupped the phone and grimly told Himmler the news. The Reichsführer looked nervous and shrugged his shoulders. “Well,” he said, “you are commander of Army Group Vistula.”

Heinrici stared. “Now look here,” he said sharply. “I don’t know a damn thing about the army group. I don’t even know what soldiers I have, or who’s supposed to be where.”

Himmler looked blankly at Heinrici and Heinrici saw that he could expect no help. He turned back to the phone and immediately authorized Busse to counterattack, at the same time promising the Ninth Army commander that he would get to the front as soon as possible. As he replaced the receiver, Himmler began his rambling discourse again as though nothing had happened.

But Heinrici was now thoroughly exasperated. Bluntly he interrupted. It was necessary, he told Himmler, that he get the Reichsführer’s considered opinion of the overall situation as far as Germany and her future were concerned. The question, he later remembered, “was visibly disagreeable” to Himmler. The Reichsführer rose from his chair, came around the desk and, taking Heinrici’s arm, ushered him across to a sofa on the far side of the room, out of earshot of the stenographer. Then in a quiet voice Himmler dropped a bombshell. “Through a neutral country,” he confided, “I have taken the necessary steps to start negotiations with the West.” He paused, and added: “I’m telling you this in absolute confidence, you understand.”

There was a long silence. Himmler looked at Heinrici expectantly—presumably awaiting some comment. Heinrici was stunned. This was treason—betrayal of Germany, its armies and its leaders. He struggled to control his thoughts. Was Himmler telling thetruth? Or was it a ruse to trick him into an indiscretion? The ambitious Himmler, Heinrici believed, was capable of anything—even of treason in order to grab power for himself. The experienced front-line General sat speechless, revolted by Himmler’s very presence.

Suddenly the door opened and an SS officer appeared. Himmler seemed relieved at the interruption. “Herr Reichsführer,” the officer announced, “the staff has assembled to say good-bye.” Himmler rose and, without uttering another word, left the room.

By 8 P.M. Himmler, his SS officers and bodyguard were gone. They took everything with them, including, as Balzen, Heinrici’s batman, soon discovered, the mansion’s flatware, plates, even cups and saucers. Their departure was so complete that it was almost as though Himmler had never set foot inside the headquarters. Aboard his luxurious private train, Himmler headed swiftly into the night away from the Oder front, toward the west.

Behind him he left a furious Heinrici. The new commander’s anger and disgust mounted as he looked about his headquarters; one of his officers remembers that “Heinrici’s temper rose several degrees” as he examined the effeminate decor of Himmler’s mansion. The enormous office and everything in it was white. The bedroom was decorated in soft green—drapes, carpeting, upholstery, even the quilts and coverlets. Heinrici acidly remarked that the place was more “appropriate for an elegant woman than a soldier trying to direct an army.”

Later that night Heinrici telephoned his former Chief of Staff in Silesia, as he had promised, and told him what had occurred. He had regained control of his emotions, and could think of the encounter more coolly. Himmler’s disclosures, he had decided, were too fantastic to believe. Heinrici decided to forget about it. On the phone to his old colleague in Silesia, Heinrici said, “Himmler was only too happy to leave. He couldn’t get out of here fast enough. He didn’t want to be in charge when the collapse comes. No. He wanted just a simple general for that—and I’m the goat.”

In the room assigned him, Heinrici’s aide, Captain Heinrich von Bila, paced restlessly up and down. He was unable to get his mind off the map he had seen at Guderian’s headquarters at Zossen. It was odd, he thought, that no one had objected when he studied it—yet the map was obviously a confidential command document. Guderian must have shown it to him, but Heinrici had made no comment. Was it possible therefore that the map was less important than he believed? Maybe it had even been prepared at Guderian’s headquarters—as a German estimate of Allied intentions. Still, Von Bila found that hard to accept—why print it in English, not German? There was only one other explanation: that it was an Allied map, captured somehow by German Intelligence. Where else could it have come from? If this was true—and Von Bila could think of no other answer—then somehow he had to warn his wife and three children. According to that map, if Germany was defeated, his home in Bernberg would lie in the zone controlled by the Russians. For unless Von Bila was imagining things, he had actually seen a top-secret plan showing how the Allies proposed to occupy and partition Germany.

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FIFTY MILES AWAY, the original of the map and its supporting papers lay in a safe at Auf dem Grat 1, Dahlem, Berlin—the emergency headquarters of Colonel General Alfred Jodl, Chief of Operations of OKW (Armed Forces High Command). And of all the fantastic secrets that had come into the hands of German Intelligence during the war, this red-covered dossier was the most brutally revealing document Jodl had ever read.

The file contained a letter and a seventy-page background memorandum; stitched into the back cover were two pull-out maps, each approximately twenty by eighteen inches and drawn to a scale of one inch to twenty-nine miles. Jodl wondered if the Allies had yet discovered that a copy of the preamble to one of their top-secret war directives was missing. It had been captured from the British in late January, in the closing days of the Ardennes offensive.

The Allied plan was considered so explosive by Hitler that only a few at OKW headquarters were permitted to see it. In the first week of February, the Führer, after spending one entire evening studying the dossier, classified the papers as “State Top Secret.” His military advisers and their staffs could study the plan, but no one else. Not even the members of his own cabinet were informed. But, despite these restrictions, one civilian saw the documents and maps: Frau Luise Jodl, the General’s bride of only a few weeks.

One evening, just before their marriage, General Jodl decided to show the papers to his fiancée. She was, after all, the recipient of many military secrets: she had been a confidential secretary to the German High Command. Placing the entire file in his briefcase. General Jodl took it to her apartment, a block away from his headquarters. Almost as soon as the front door was safely closed behind him, he produced the papers and said to his fiancée: “That’s what the Allies intend to do with Germany.”

Luise took the red-covered file over to a table and began looking through the pages. She had long ago learned to read military documents and maps, but in this instance that ability was hardly necessary—the papers were crystal clear. Her heart sank. What she held in her hands was the Allied blueprint for the occupation of the Fatherland after Germany’s defeat. Someone at Eisenhower’s headquarters, she thought, had a vindictive bent in choosing code words. Across the cover of the file was the chilling title, “Operation Eclipse.”

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Jodl’s actual headquarters translation of the original British copy of Operation Eclipse. This picture shows the covering letter, signed by Montgomery’s Chief of Staff, Sir Francis de Guingand. It was on Jodl’s desk less than three months after it had been circulated to only the highest officers of the Allied Armies, and one month before it was even ratified at Yalta, in February, 1945. At left is the cover of one of SHAEF’s copies of Eclipse. Note the date.

Taking the dossier from her, General Jodl unfolded the maps and spread them flat on the table. “Look,” he said bitterly, “look at the frontiers.”

In silence Luise studied the heavy boundary lines drawn across the face of the map. The north and northwest area bore the inch-high initials “U.K.” The southern, Bavarian zone carried the letters “U.S.A.,” and the remainder of the Reich, roughly the entire central region and from there due east, was labeled “U.S.S.R.” Even Berlin, she noted with dismay, was sliced up among the “Big Three.” Lying in the center of the Russian zone, it was circled separately and trisected among the Allies: the Americans had the south; the British part of the north and all of the northwest; and the Soviets the northeast and east. So this was to be the price of defeat, she thought. Luise looked at her future husband. “It’s like a nightmare,” she said.

Even though she knew the map must be genuine, Luise found the evidence difficult to accept. Where, she asked, had the Eclipse file come from? Although she had known General Jodl for years, she knew that about some things he could be very closemouthed. She had always thought Alfred “withdrawn, hiding behind a mask, even from me.” Now his answer was evasive. Although confirming that the maps and documents were genuine, he did not reveal how they were obtained, except to remark that “we got them from a British headquarters.”

It was only much later, after Jodl had returned to his headquarters, that another fearful aspect of Operation Eclipse occurred to Luise. If Germany was defeated, her relatives in the Harz Mountains would be living in the Russian-occupied zone. Although she loved Alfred Jodl and was completely loyal to her country, Luise made a very human decision. On this occasion she would disregard his warnings never to reveal anything she saw, read or heard. She could not allow her sister-in-law and four small children to fall into Russian hands.

Luise decided to take a chance. She knew the General’s priority telephone code number. Picking up the phone, she spoke to the operator and called her relatives. Within minutes she got through. After a brief and innocuous conversation with her surprised sister-in-law, Luise casually remarked in closing, “You know the east wind is very strong these days. I really think you and the children should move west beyond the river.”

Slowly she put down the receiver—hoping that her clumsily coded message had been understood. At the other end of the line, her sister-in-law heard the click as the receiver was replaced. She wondered why Luise had called so late at night. It was good to hear from her, but she had no idea what Luise was talking about. She thought no more about it.

The General and Luise were married on March 6. Since then Frau Jodl had worried that somehow her husband might find out about the call. She need not have been concerned. The overburdened General had more pressing problems.

By now Jodl and his staff officers had studied and analyzed Operation Eclipse so thoroughly that they knew every paragraph almost by heart. Although it was not a strategic document—that is, it did not warn of imminent enemy moves that called for corresponding German countermoves—the Eclipse plan was almost as important. For one thing, it helped answer a series of questions that had bedeviled Jodl and the OKW for years: How strong, they had wondered, was the alliance between the Western Powers and the Soviet Union? Would it fall asunder when they sat down to divide the spoils? Now that Russian forces held most of Central Europe, did the “unconditional surrender” declaration made by Churchill and Roosevelt after the 1943 Casablanca Conference still stand? And did the Allies seriously intend to impose such terms on a defeated Germany? As Jodl and the German High Command studied the Eclipse file, all such questions about Allied intentions disappeared. The Allied document spelled out the answers in unmistakable terms.

Not until the second week in February, however, did Jodl realize the full importance of the file—in particular, of its maps. On February 9 and for the next three days, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met in secret conclave at Yalta. In spite of intelligence efforts to find out exactly what had transpired at the meeting, about all Jodl learned was contained in the official communiqué issued to the world’s press on February 12—but that was enough Vague and guarded as the announcement was, it left no doubt that the Eclipse papers and maps were the key to the announced Allied intentions.

One paragraph in the official communiqué stated: “We have agreed on common policies and plans for enforcing the unconditional surrender terms which we shall impose together … These terms will not be made known until the final defeat of Germany. … Under the agreed plan, the forces of the Three Powers will each occupy a separate zone of Germany….” It was not necessary for the Allies to state the “terms”—Jodl had already read them in the Eclipse file. And though the Yalta communiqué did not reveal the proposed zones of occupation, Jodl knew them, too. The position and precise boundaries of each zone were shown on the Eclipse maps.

There were many other conclusions that could be deduced, but one was particularly bitter for Jodl. It was clear that whatever else had occurred at Yalta, the Allied plans for Germany had been merely ratified at the meeting of the Big Three. While the Yalta communiqué gave the impression that the partitioning and occupation blueprint had originated at the meeting, the dates on the Eclipse documents and maps proved beyond doubt that the basic decisions had been reached months before. The covering letter attached to the Eclipse background memorandum was signed in January. The maps had been prepared before that: they had been printed in late ’44 and carried a November date. Plainly, Operation Eclipse, which was defined as “planning and operations for the occupation of Germany,” could never have been produced at all unless there was complete unity among the Allies—a sobering fact that withered one of Germany’s last hopes.

From the moment the Red Army crossed the Reich’s eastern frontiers, Hitler and his military advisers had waited for the first cracks of disunity to appear among the Allies. It would surely happen, they believed, because the West would never allow Soviet Russia to dominate Central Europe. Jodl shared these views. He was banking especially on the British, for he felt that they would never tolerate such a situation.* But that was before he set eyes on Operation Eclipse. Eclipse indicated clearly that the alliance was still intact and Yalta had confirmed it.

Beyond that, the very first paragraph of the covering letter—a foreword to the entire file—showed the complete agreement among the Allies. It read: “In order to carry out the surrender terms imposed on Germany, the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom (the latter also in the name of the Dominions) have agreed that Germany is to be occupied by the Armed Forces of the three powers.* † And there was no disputing the authority of the letter. It had been signed in January, 1945, at the British Twenty-first Army Group Headquarters, then in Belgium, by no less a personage than Major General Sir Francis de Guingand, Field Marshal Montgomery’s Chief of Staff.

The most crushing blow of all for Jodl was the repeated emphasis on unconditional surrender; it was mentioned again and again. From the beginning the Germans had felt sure the unconditional surrender declaration had been intended much as morale-building propaganda for the Allied home fronts. Now they knew better: the Allies had obviously meant every word of it. “The only possible answer to the trumpets of total war,” Eclipse said, “is total defeat and total occupation…. It must be made clear that the Germans will not be able to negotiate in our sense of that word.”

The Allied intent promised no hope, no future for Germany. It was clear that even if the Reich wished to capitulate, there was no way she could do so short of unconditional surrender. To Jodl, this meant that there was nothing left for Germany but to fight to the bitter end.*

It was during the last week of March—the exact day no one could later remember—that General Reinhard Gehlen, Guderian’s Chief of Intelligence, drove to Prenzlau for a meeting with the new commander of Army Group Vistula. In his briefcase was a copy of Operation Eclipse. Gehlen outlined for Heinrici the latest known dispositions of the Russian troops on the Oder, then he produced the Eclipse file and explained what it was. Heinrici slowly looked through the pages. Then he pored over the maps. For a long time he studied them. Finally, Heinrici looked at Gehlen and in one line summarized what everyone in the High Command really knew the document to mean. “Das ist ein Todesurteil”—This is a death sentence—he said.

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THE DEFENDERS
 
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THE GENERAL

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Colonel General Gotthard Heinrici, commander of Army Group Vistula.

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Heinrici in his sheep-skin coat;

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Heinrici today, with the author.

BERLIN

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Heinrici’s Chief of Staff, Major General von Trotha.

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General Max Pemsel, the fortifications expert who found Berlin’s defenses “utterly futile.”

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Major General Hellmuth Reymann, Military Commander of Berlin, examining an Italian rifle.

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Colonel Hans Refior (right), Reymann’s Chief of Staff.

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Frau Jodl, in 1945;

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As she is today.

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Colonel General Alfred Jodl and his wife on their wedding day, March 7, 1945.

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Major General Reinhard Gehlen, Guderian’s Chief of Intelligence; now head of the West Germany Intelligence Service. This is the only picture known to exist of him.

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Colonel General Heinz Guderian, Chief of the General Staff in 1945. “The mess we’re in is fantastic.” This photograph was taken in May, 1940, when Guderian commanded the spearhead of the German panzer thrust to the Channel.

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General Walther Wenck, in whose hurriedly organized Twelfth Army Hitler placed his last hopes.

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He is shown in 1945, above, today.

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SS General Felix Steiner, commander of “Group Steiner” (photographed today), whose orders were to save Berlin and free the Führer.

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Colonel Theodor von Dufving, in 1945 and today.

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Von Dufving was Chief of Staff to General Karl Weidling, commander of the 56th Panzer Corps, whom Hitler first ordered shot, then appointed Commandant of Berlin. Weidling and Von Dufving surrendered the city to Chuikov on May 2, 1945. The Russian photograph below purports to show Weidling after the capitulation, but it is probably a posed shot, since the actual surrender took place in a house in Tempelhof, rather than in a bunker.

THE COMMANDERS

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General Theodor Busse, commander of the Ninth Army, at left, in 1945; at right, today.

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General Hasso von Manteuffel, commander of the Third Panzer Army. “We have an army of ghosts.”

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Colonel Hans Oscar Wöhlermann, artillery commander, 56th Panzer Corps. “Everywhere,” he said, were soldiers, “running away like madmen.”

THE COMMANDERS

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Colonel Günther Reichhelm, Twelfth Army Chief of Staff, in 1945 and today.

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Lieutenant General Wolf Hagermann, Ninth Army.

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Captain Hellmuth Lang (shown standing behind Rommel, 1944) joined Heinrici in the closing hours of the war with a message of warning.

THE HITLER YOUTH

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“The dream was gone….” Willy Feldheim, who fought as a Hitler Youth in Berlin. The top photograph shows him at the age of 15, in 1945. The middle photograph shows him after his release by the Russians from two years in a POW camp; the bottom photograph shows him today.

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The “soldiers” of the Berlin defense, aged between 12 and 15, photographed after capture. This picture was released to the author by the Russians.

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The Volkssturm Home Guard, some in their seventies.

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A rare view toward the Brandenburg Gate, showing one of the enormous camouflage canopies that were hung umbrella-like over various parts of the city as protection against air-raid reconnaissance aircraft.

THE CITY BEFORE THE ATTACK

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The Tiergarten, littered with wreckage; in the background, the Reichstag.

A few days later—on Palm Sunday, March 25—Colonel General Jodl examined the Eclipse maps again. He had good reason to do so. Units of General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army had crossed the Rhine on Thursday night at the farming village of Oppenheim, near Mainz, and were now heading for Frankfurt. The following day, in the north, Field Marshal Montgomery’s forces swept across the river in a massive assault on a 25-mile front. Despite everything, the Rhine line was crumbling—and the Western Allies were driving fast. Now Jodl, anxiously reexamining the Eclipse maps, wondered how deeply the Allies intended to drive into Germany. That was one question the Eclipse background memorandum did not answer. Jodl wished he had the other sections of the plan—particularly the part covering military operations.

Still, the maps provided a clue. He had even mentioned the matter to his wife. It was only a hunch, but Jodl thought he was right. The maps showed that the line of demarcation between the Anglo-Americans and the Russians ran roughly along the river Elbe from Lübeck to Wittenberge, and from there coiled south to the vicinity of Eisenach, then swung due east to the Czech border. Was that line, besides being a zonal boundary, also the terminating point of the Anglo-American advance? Jodl was nearly certain that it was. He told his wife he did not think the Americans and British were driving for Berlin; he believed they had decided to leave the capture of the capital to the Red Army. Unless the Eclipse maps had been changed, it looked to Jodl as though Eisenhower’s forces would grind to a halt on the Eclipse boundary line.

*At his conference on January 27, 1945, Hitler asked Goering and Jodl: “Do you think that deep down inside, the English are enthusiastic over all the Russian developments?” Jodl answered without hesitation. “Certainly not,” he replied. “Their plans were quite different … later … the full realization will come.” Goering was also confident. “They certainly didn’t plan that we hold them off while the Russians conquer all of Germany,” he said. “They had not counted on us … holding them off in the West like madmen, while the Russians drive deeper and deeper into Germany.” Jodl fully agreed, pointing out that the British “have always regarded the Russians with suspicion.” Goering was so certain that the British would attempt some sort of compromise with the Reich, rather than see the heart of Europe fall into the Communist orbit, that he said: “If this goes on we will get a telegram [from the British] in a few days.”

*There may be some slight variations between this translation and the original document. When Eclipse was captured, it was translated into German and then photographed. The version given above is a translation of the captured document back into English.

*At Jodl’s trial in Nuremberg in 1946, he was asked why he had not advised Hitler to capitulate early in 1945. Jodl said: “The reasons against it were primarily … unconditional surrender … and even if we had any doubt as to what faced us, it was completely removed by the fact that we captured the English Eclipse.” At this point in his testimony, Jodl looked at the British officers present and said with a half-smile, “The gentlemen of the British delegation will know what that is.” The fact is that the remark was lost on the Britishers at the trial: Eclipse had been kept so secret that they knew nothing about it. It was this mysterious reference, plus several interviews with Frau Jodl, that led the author to Operation Eclipse and its contents, revealed here for the first time.

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