THE RAID took Berlin’s defenders completely by surprise. Shortly before 11 A.M. on Wednesday, March 28, the first planes appeared. Immediately, batteries all over the city crashed into action, belching shells into the sky. The racket of the guns, coupled with the belated wailing of air raid sirens, was earsplitting. These planes were not American. U.S. raids were almost predictable: they usually occurred at 9 A.M. and then again at midday. This attack was different. It came from the east, and both the timing and tactics were new. Screaming in at rooftop level, scores of Russian fighters emptied their guns into the streets.
In Potsdamer Platz, people ran in all directions. Along the Kurfürstendamm, shoppers dived for doorways, ran for subway entrances, or headed for the protective ruins of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church. But some Berliners, who had been standing for hours in long queues waiting to buy their weekly rations, refused to budge. In Wilmersdorf, 36-year-old Nurse Charlotte Winckler was determined to get food for her two children, Ekkehart, six, and Barbara, nine months old. In Adolf-Hitler-Platz, Gertrud Ketzler and Inge Rühling, long-time friends, waited calmly with others before a grocery store. Some time ago both had decided to commit suicide if the Russians ever reached Berlin, but they weren’t thinking about that now. They intended to bake an Easter cake, and for days had been shopping and storing the items they would require. Over in Köpenick, plump 40-year-old Hanna Schultze was hoping to get some extra flour for a holiday marble cake. During the day’s shopping, Hanna also hoped to find something else: a pair of suspenders for her husband, Robert. His last remaining pair was almost beyond saving.
During air raids Erna Saenger always worried about “Papa,” as she called her husband Konrad. He obstinately refused to go into a Zehlendorf shelter and, as usual, he was out. Konrad was trudging toward his favorite restaurant, the Alte Krug, on Königin-Luise Strasse. No air raid yet had ever stopped the 78-year-old veteran from meeting with his World War I comrades every Wednesday, He wouldn’t be stopped today, either.
One Berliner was actually enjoying every minute of the attack. Wearing an old army helmet, young Rudolf Reschke ran back and forth between the door of his Dahlem home and the center of the street, deliberately taunting the low-flying planes. Each time Rudolf waved to the pilots. One of them, apparently seeing his antics, dived right for him. As Rudolf ran, a burst of fire ripped across the sidewalk behind him. It was just part of the game for Rudolf. As far as he was concerned, the war was the greatest thing that had ever happened in his fourteen years of life.
Wave after wave of planes hit the city. As fast as squadrons exhausted their ammunition, they peeled off to the east, to be replaced by others swarming in to the attack. The surprise Russian raid added a new dimension of terror to life in Berlin. Casualties were heavy. Many civilians were hit not by enemy bullets, but by the returning fire from the city’s defenders. To get the low-flying planes in their sights, anti-aircraft crews had to depress their gun barrels almost to tree-top level. As a result, the city was sprayed with red-hot shrapnel. The shell fragments came mainly from the six great flak towers that rose above the city at Humboldthain, Friedrichshain, and from the grounds of the Berlin Zoo. These massive bombproof forts had been built in 1941-42 after the first Allied attacks on the city. Each was huge, but the largest was the anti-aircraft complex built, incongruously, near the bird sanctuary in the zoo. It had twin towers. The smaller, called L Tower, was a communications control center, bristling with radar antennae. Next to it, guns now erupting with flame, stood G Tower.
G Tower was immense. It covered almost the area of a city block and stood 132 feet high—equivalent to a 13-story building. The reinforced concrete walls were more than 8 feet thick, and deep-cut apertures, shuttered by 3- to 4-inch steel plates, lined its sides. On the roof a battery of eight 5-inch guns was firing continuously, and in each of the four turreted corners multiple-barreled, quick-firing “pom pom” cannons pumped shells into the sky.
Inside the fort the noise was almost intolerable. Added to the firing of the batteries was the constant rattling of automatic shell elevators, which carried ammunition in an endless stream from a ground floor arsenal to each gun. G Tower was designed not only as a gun platform but as a huge five-story warehouse, hospital and air raid shelter. The top floor, directly underneath the batteries, housed the 100-man military garrison. Beneath that was a 95-bed Luftwaffe hospital, complete with X-ray rooms and two fully equipped operating theaters. It was staffed by six doctors, twenty nurses and some thirty orderlies. The next floor down, the third, was a treasure trove. Its storerooms contained the prize exhibits of Berlin’s top museums. Housed here were the famous Pergamon sculptures, parts of the huge sacrificial altar built by King Eumenes II of the Hellenes around 180 B.C.; various other Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities, including statues, reliefs, vessels and vases; “The Gold Treasure of Priam,” a huge collection of gold and silver bracelets, necklaces, earrings, amulets, ornaments and jewels, excavated by the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in 1872 on the site of the ancient city of Troy. There were priceless Gobelin tapestries, a vast quantity of paintings—among them the fine portraits of the 19th-century German artist Wilhelm Leibl—and the enormous Kaiser Wilhelm coin collection. The two lower floors of the tower were mammoth air raid shelters, with large kitchens, food storerooms and emergency quarters for the German broadcasting station, Deutschlandsender.
Entirely self-contained, G Tower had its own water and power, and easily accommodated fifteen thousand people during air raids. The complex was so well stocked with supplies and ammunition that the military garrison believed that, no matter what happened to the rest of Berlin, the zoo tower could hold out for a year if need be.
As suddenly as it had begun, the raid was over. The guns atop G Tower stuttered to a stop. Here and there over Berlin black smoke curled up from fires started by incendiary bullets. The raid had lasted slightly longer than twenty minutes. As quickly as they had emptied, the Berlin streets filled again. Outside the markets and shops, those who had left the queues now angrily tried to regain their former places from others who just as stubbornly refused to give them up.
In the zoo itself, one man hurried outside as soon as the guns of G Tower stopped firing. Anxious as always after a raid, 63-year-old Heinrich Schwarz headed for the bird sanctuary, carrying with him a small pail of horse meat. “Abu, Abu,” he called. A strange clapping sound came from the edge of a pond. Then the weird-looking bird from the Nile, with the blue-gray plumage and the huge beak resembling an up-ended Dutch clog, stepped daintily out of the water on thin stilt-like legs and came toward the man. Schwarz felt an immense relief. The rare Abu Markub stork was still safe.
Even without the raids, the daily encounter with the bird was becoming more and more of an ordeal for Schwarz. He held out the horse meat. “I have to give you this,” he said. “What can I do? I have no fish. Do you want it or not?” The bird closed its eyes. Schwarz sadly shook his head. The Abu Markub made the same refusal every day. If its stubbornness persisted, the stork would surely die. Yet there was nothing Schwarz could do. The last of the tinned tuna was gone and fresh fish was nowhere to be found in Berlin—at least not for the Berlin Zoo.
Of the birds still remaining, the Abu Markub was the real pet of head bird-keeper Schwarz. His other favorites had long since gone—“Arra,” the 75-year-old parrot which Schwarz had taught to say “Papa,” had been shipped to the Saar for safety two years ago. All the German “Trappen” ostriches had died from concussion or shock during the air raids. Only Abu was left—and he was slowly dying of starvation. Schwarz was desperate with worry. “He is getting thinner and thinner,” he told his wife Anna. “His joints are beginning to swell. Yet each time I try to feed him, he looks at me as though to say, ‘Surely you have made a mistake. This is not for me.’”
Of the fourteen thousand animals, birds, reptiles and fish which had populated the zoo in 1939, there were now only sixteen hundred of all species left. In the six years of the war, the sprawling zoological gardens—which included an aquarium, insectarium, elephant and reptile houses, restaurants, movie theaters, ballrooms and administration buildings—had been hit by more than a hundred high-explosive bombs. The worst raid had been in November, 1943, when scores of animals had been killed. Soon after, many of those remaining had been evacuated to other zoos in Germany. Finding supplies for the remaining sixteen hundred animals and birds was becoming daily more difficult in food-rationed Berlin. The zoo’s requirements, even for its reduced menagerie, were staggering: not only large quantities of horse meat and fish, but thirty-six different kinds of other food, ranging from noodles, rice and cracked wheat to canned fruit, marmalade and ant larvae. There was plenty of hay, straw, clover and raw vegetables, but nearly everything else had become almost unobtainable. Although ersatz food was being used, every bird or animal was on less than half-rations—and looked it.
Of the zoo’s nine elephants, only one now remained. Siam, his skin hanging in great gray folds, had become so bad-tempered that keepers were afraid to enter his cage. Rosa, the big hippo, was miserable, her skin dry and crusted, but her 2-year-old baby, Knautschke, everybody’s favorite, still maintained his youthful jauntiness. Pongo, the usually good-natured 530-pound gorilla, had lost more than 50 pounds and sat in his cage, sometimes motionless for hours, glowering morosely at everyone. The five lions (two of them cubs), the bears, zebras, hartebeests, monkeys and the rare wild horses, all were showing effects of diet deficiencies.
There was a third threat to the existence of the zoo creatures. Every now and then, Keeper Walter Wendt reported the disappearance of some of his rare cattle. There was only one possible conclusion: some Berliners were stealing and slaughtering the animals to supplement their own meager rations.
Zoo Director Lutz Heck was faced with a dilemma—a dilemma that not even the friendship of his hunting companion, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering, or anyone else for that matter, could alleviate. In the event of a prolonged siege, the birds and animals would surely die from starvation. Worse, the dangerous animals—the lions, bears, foxes, hyenas, Tibetan cats and the zoo’s prize baboon, one of a rare species which Heck had personally brought back from the Cameroons—might escape during the battle. How soon, wondered Heck, should he destroy the baboon and the five lions he loved so much?
Gustav Riedel, the lion-keeper, who had bottle-fed the g-month-old lion cubs, Sultan and Bussy, had made up his mind about one thing: despite any orders, he intended to save the little lions. Riedel was not alone in his feeling. Almost every keeper had plans for the survival of his favorite. Dr. Katherina Heinroth, wife of the 74-year-old director of the bombed-out aquarium, was already caring for a small monkey, Pia, in her apartment. Keeper Robert Eberhard was obsessed with protecting the rare horses and the zebras entrusted to his care. Walter Wendt’s greatest concern were the ten wisent—near cousins of the American bison. They were his pride and joy. He had spent the best part of thirty years in scientific breeding to produce them. They were unique and worth well over one million marks—roughly a quarter of a million dollars.
As for Heinrich Schwarz, the bird-keeper, he could no longer stand the suffering of the Abu Markub. He stood by the pond and called the great bird once more. When it came, Schwarz bent over and tenderly lifted it into his arms. From now on the bird would live—or die—in the Schwarz family bathroom.
In the baroque red and gold Beethoven Hall, the sharp rapping of the baton brought a sudden hush. Conductor Robert Heger raised his right arm and stood poised. Outside, somewhere in the devastated city, the sound of a fire engine’s wailing siren faded slowly away. For a moment longer Heger held the pose. Then his baton dropped and, heralded by four muffled drumbeats, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto welled softly out from the huge Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.
As the woodwinds began their quiet dialogue with the drums, soloist Gerhard Taschner waited, his eyes on the conductor. Most of the audience that crowded the undamaged concert hall on Köthenerstrasse had come to hear the brilliant 23-year-old violinist, and as the bell-clear notes of his violin suddenly soared, faded away and soared again, they listened, rapt. Witnesses present at this afternoon concert in the last week of March recall that some Berliners were so overcome by Taschner’s playing that they quietly wept.
All during the war the 105-man Philharmonic had offered Berliners a rare and welcome release from fear and despair. The orchestra came under Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry, and its members had been exempted from military service, since the Nazis considered the Philharmonic good for morale. With this, Berliners completely agreed. For music lovers the orchestra was like a tranquilizer transporting them away from the war and its terrors for a little while.
One man who was always deeply moved by the orchestra was Reichsminister Albert Speer, Hitler’s Armament and War Production chief, now sitting in his usual seat in the middle of the orchestra section. Speer, the most cultured member of the Nazi hierarchy, rarely missed a performance. Music, more than anything else, helped him shed his anxieties—and he had never needed its help more than he did now.
Reichsminister Speer was facing the greatest problem of his career. All through the war, despite every conceivable kind of setback, he had kept the Reich’s industrial might producing. But long ago his statistics and projections had spelled out the inevitable: the Third Reich’s days were numbered. As the Allies penetrated ever deeper into Germany the realistic Speer was the only cabinet minister who dared tell Hitler the truth. “The war is lost,” he wrote the Führer on March 15, 1945. “If the war is lost,” Hitler snapped back, “then the nation will also perish.” On March 19, Hitler issued a monstrous directive: Germany was to be totally destroyed. Everything was to be blown up or burned—power plants, water and gas works, dams and locks, ports and waterways, industrial complexes and electrical networks, all shipping and bridges, all railroad rolling stock and communications installations, all vehicles and stores of whatever kind, even the country’s highways.
The incredulous Speer appealed to Hitler. He had a special. personal stake in getting this policy reversed. If Hitler succeeded in eliminating German industry, commerce and architecture, he would be destroying many of Speer’s own creations—his bridges, his broad highways, his buildings. The man who, more than anyone else, was responsible for forging the terrible tools of Hitler’s total war could not face their total destruction. But there was another, more important consideration as well. No matter what happens to the regime, Speer told Hitler, “we must do everything to maintain, even if only in a primitive manner, a basis for the existence of the nation…. We have no right to carry out demolitions which might affect the life of the people….”
Hitler was unmoved. “There is no need to consider the basis of even a most primitive existence any longer,” he replied. “On the contrary, it is better to destroy even that, and to destroy it ourselves. The nation has proved itself weak….” With these words Hitler wrote off the German people. As he explained to Speer, “those who remain after the battle are of little value, for the good have fallen.”
Speer was horrified. The people who had fought so hard for their leader apparently now meant less than nothing to the Führer. For years Speer had closed his eyes to the more brutal side of the Nazis’ operations, believing himself to be intellectually above it all. Now, belatedly, he came to a realization which he had refused to face for months. As he put it to General Alfred Jodl, “Hitler is totally mad … he must be stopped.”
Between March 19 and 23 a stream of “scorched earth” orders flashed out from Hitler’s headquarters to gauleiters and military commanders all over Germany. Those who were slow to comply were threatened with execution. Speer immediately went into action. Fully aware that he was placing his own life in jeopardy, he set out to stop Hitler’s plan, aided by a small coterie of high-ranking military friends. Speer telephoned industrialists, flew to military garrisons, visited provincial officials, everywhere insisting, even to the most die-hard Nazis, that Hitler’s plan spelled the end of Germany forever.
Considering the serious purpose of the Reichsminister’s campaign, his presence at the Philharmonic concert might have seemed frivolous—were it not for one fact: high on the list of German resources Speer was fighting to preserve was the Philharmonic itself. A few weeks earlier, Dr. Gerhart von Westermann, the orchestra manager, had asked violinist Taschner, a favorite of Speer’s, to seek the Reichsminister’s help in keeping the Philharmonic intact. Technically, the musicians were exempt from military service. But with the battle for Berlin approaching, Von Westermann feared that any day now the entire orchestra might be ordered into the Volkssturm, the Home Guard. Although the orchestra’s affairs were supposed to be administered by Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry, Von Westermann knew there was no hope of assistance from that quarter. He told the violinist, “You’ve got to help us. Goebbels has forgotten us … go to Speer and ask him for help … we’ll all be on our knees to you.”
Taschner was extremely reluctant: any talk of shirking or flight was considered treasonable and could lead to disgrace or imprisonment. But at last he agreed.
At his meeting with Speer, Taschner began hesitantly. “Mr. Minister,” he said, “I would like to speak with you about a rather delicate matter. I hope you will not misunderstand … but nowadays some things are difficult to talk about….” Looking at him sharply, Speer quickly put him at his ease and, encouraged, Taschner poured out the story of the orchestra’s plight. The Reichsminister listened intently. Then Speer told Taschner that Von Westermann was not to worry. He had thought of a plan to do much more than keep the musicians out of the Volkssturm. At the very last moment he intended secretly to evacuate the entire 105-man orchestra.
Speer had now carried out the first part of the plan. The 105 men seated on the stage of Beethoven Hall were wearing dark business suits instead of the usual tuxedos, but of all the audience, only Speer knew the reason. The tuxedos—along with the orchestra’s fine pianos, harps, famous Wagner tubas and musical scores—had been removed quietly from the city by truck convoy three weeks before. The bulk of the precious cargo was cached at Plassenburg near Kulmbach, 240 miles southwest of Berlin—conveniently in the path of the advancing Americans.
The second part of Speer’s plan—saving the men—was more complicated. Despite the intensity of the air raids, and the proximity of the invading armies, the Propaganda Ministry had never suggested cutting short the Philharmonic’s schedule. Concerts were scheduled at the rate of three or four a week, in between air raids, right through to the end of April, when the season would officially end. Any evacuation of the musicians before that time was out of the question: Goebbels undoubtedly would charge the musicians with desertion. Speer was determined to evacuate the orchestra to the west; he had absolutely no intention of allowing the men to fall into Russian hands. But his scheme was entirely dependent on the speed of the Western Allies’ advance: he was counting on the Anglo-Americans to beat the Russians to Berlin.
Speer did not intend to wait until the Western Allies entered the city. As soon as they were close enough to be reached by an overnight bus trip, he would give the order to evacuate. The crux of the plan lay in the signal to leave. The musicians would all have to leave at once, and after dark. That meant the flight must start right after the concert. To avoid a breach of security, word of the move would have to be withheld as long as possible. Speer had come up with an ingenious method of alerting the musicians: at the very last minute the orchestra conductor would announce a change in the program and the Philharmonic would then play a specific selection which Speer had chosen. That would be the musicians’ cue; immediately after the performance they would board a convoy of buses waiting in the darkness outside Beethoven Hall.
In Von Westermann’s possession was the music Speer had requested as the signal. When it was delivered by Speer’s cultural affairs specialist, Von Westermann had been unable to hide his surprise. He queried Speer’s assistant. “Of course you are familiar with the music of the last scenes,” he said. “You know they picture the death of the gods, the destruction of Valhalla and the end of the world. Are you sure this is what the Minister ordered?” There was no mistake. For the Berlin Philharmonic’s last concert, Speer had requested music from Wagner’s Die Götterdämmerung—The Twilight of the Gods.
In this choice, if Von Westermann had known it, lay a clue to Speer’s final and most ambitious project. The Reichsminister, determined to save as much of Germany as he could, had decided that there was just one way to do it. For weeks now, perfectionist Albert Speer had been trying to find just the right way to murder Adolf Hitler.
The Allied high commanders meet. Left to right, Marshal Sokolovskii, Robert Murphy, Field Marshal Montgomery, Marshal Zhukov, General Eisenhower, General Koenig of France.
Lieutenant General William Simpson, commander U.S. Ninth Army, talks with Field Marshal Montgomery. To the left of Montgomery, in background, is General Omar Bradley, commander of the U.S. 12th Army Group; behind Montgomery is Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial Green Staff.
General George S. Patton, commander of the U.S. Third Army
General Courtney Hodges, commander of the U.S. First Army.
Lieutenant General Henry D. Crerar, commander of the Canadian First Army, with Montgomery.
Major General James M. Gavin (right), the 38-year-old commander of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, ordered to drop on Berlin, discusses his plans with Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey of the British Second Army.
General Jacob Devers, commander of the 6th Army Group.
Major General Raymond S. McLain, 19th Corps commander, who expected to reach Berlin “six days after crossing the Elbe.”
Major General Isaac D. White, 2nd Armored Division. “No damned infantry division is going to beat my outfit to the Elbe.”
Major General Robert C. Macon, commander 83rd Infantry Division. “The Rag-Tag Circus.”
Colonel Paul A. Disney, commander 67th Armored Regiment. “What’s the objective?” “Berlin!”
Major General Alexander R. Boiling, commander 84th Infantry Division. “Alex, keep going … and don’t let anybody stop you.”
Brigadier General Sidney R. Hinds, commander of the 2nd’s Combat Command B, receives the French Légion d’Honneur in March of 1945. “We’re on the Elbe.”
Major James Hollingsworth, 67th Armored Regiment, receives the Silver Star from General Isaac White. “He lined up 34 tanks and gave a command rarely heard in modern warfare: ‘Charge!’”
The Big Three at Teheran.
Left, U.S. Ambassador John G. Winant, with Winston Churchill.
Above, Lieutenant General Frederick E. Morgan, planner of Rankin C—“… it won’t work, of course, but you must bloody well make it!”
Above, Ambassador to the U.S.S.R. W. Averell Harriman, who often warned the President of Stalin’s ruthless territorial ambitions.
Right, Fedor T. Gusev, Soviet Ambassador to the United Kingdom. “A hard bargainer, already known for his obstinacy.”
George F. Kennan, Ambassador Winant’s political advisor. Like Harriman he warned again and again of his distrust of Soviet intentions.
Professor Philip E. Mosley, Acting Chairman of the Working Security Committee, charged with working out American policy in postwar Europe in December, 1943. He contended that provision had to be made “for free and direct territorial access to Berlin from the west.”
Marshal Ivan S. Koniev, commander of the 1st Ukranian Front (at left), in 1945.
Koniev with the author, during a four-hour discussion of his part in the capture of Berlin. This is one of the rare occasions on which he has permitted himself to be photographed.
Marshal Konstantin K. Rokossovskii, commander of the 2nd Belorussian Front (at right), in 1945, with Montgomery.
Marshal Georgi Zhukov, commander of the 1st Belorussian Front, Koniev’s rival, photographed in 1945.
Marshal Vasili I. Chuikov today. In 1945, he was a Colonel General commanding the 8th Guards Army in the attack on Berlin.
Marshall Vasili Sokoiovskii with the author In 1945 he was appointed Deputy Commander to Zhukov the day before the attack on Berlin.
Lieutenant (now Colonel) Konstantin Y. Samsonov. In 1945 he was battalion commander of the 171st Rifle Division, which captured the Reichstag.
Major General (now General) Ivan I. Yushchuk, commander of the 11th Tank Corps.
The Americans and the Russians meet, April, 1945.
An American MP and a Russian military policewoman guard a bridge on the Elbe.
American soldiers hold a makeshift flag made from a bedsheet painted with watercolors with which they identified themselves to the Russians. Second from the right is Pfc. Paul Staub.
American troops cross the Elbe to meet the Russians (waving, at right) in a captured racing eight!
Lieutenant Duane Francies (right), pilot of the unarmed Piper Cub scout plane Miss Me, stands beside his kill.
R.A.F. Warrant Officer James “Dixie” Deans (fifth from left, with left hand showing at waist and R.A.F. pilot’s wings) with German officers of Stalag 357.
Brigadier Hugh Glyn Hughes, Senior Medical Officer, British Second Army. “No description could bring home the horrors I saw.”
All along the eastern front the great Russian armies were massing, but they were still far from ready to open the Berlin offensive. The Soviet commanders chafed at the delay. The Oder was a formidable barrier and the spring thaw late: the river was still partly covered with ice. Beyond it lay the German defenses—the bunkers, minefields, anti-tank ditches and dug-in artillery positions. Each day now the Germans grew stronger, and this fact worried the Red Army generals.
No one was more anxious to get started than the 45-year-old Colonel General Vasili Ivanovich Chuikov, commander of the crack Eighth Guards Army, who had earned great renown in the Soviet Union as the defender of Stalingrad. Chuikov blamed the holdup on the Western Allies. After the surprise German attack in the Ardennes in December, the British and Americans had asked Stalin to ease the pressure by speeding up the Red Army’s drive from the east. Stalin had agreed and had launched the Russian offensive in Poland sooner than planned. Chuikov believed, as he was later to say, that “if our lines of communications had not been so spread out and strained in the rear, we could have struck out for Berlin itself in February.” But so fast was the Soviet advance out of Poland that when the armies reached the Oder they found that they had outrun their supplies and communications. The offensive came to a halt, as Chuikov put it, because “we needed ammunition, fuel and pontoons for forcing the Oder, the riverways and canals that lay in front of Berlin.” The need to regroup and prepare had already given the Germans nearly two months in which to organize their defenses. Chuikov was bitter. Each day’s wait meant more casualties for his Guardsmen when the attack began.
Colonel General Mikhail Yefimovich Katukov, Commander of the First Guards Tank Army, was equally eager for the offensive to begin, yet he was grateful for the delay. His men needed the rest, and his maintenance crews needed a chance to repair the armored vehicles. “The tanks have traveled, in a straight line, perhaps 570 kilometers,” he had told one of his corps commanders, General Getman, after they reached the Oder. “But, Andreya Levrentevich,” he continued, “their speedometers show more than 2,000. A man has no speedometer and nobody knows what wear and tear has taken place there.”
Getman agreed. He had no doubt that the Germans would be crushed and Berlin captured, but he, too, was glad of the opportunity to reorganize. “The alphabet of war, Comrade General, ” he told Katukov, “says that victory is achieved not by taking towns but by destroying the enemy. In 1812, Napoleon forgot that. He lost Moscow—and Napoleon was no mean leader of men.”
The attitude was much the same at other army headquarters all along the front. Everyone, though impatient of delay, was tirelessly taking advantage of the respite, for there were no illusions about the desperate battle that lay ahead. Marshals Zhukov, Rokossovskii and Koniev had received chilling reports of what they might encounter. Their intelligence estimates indicated that more than a million Germans manned the defenses and that up to three million civilians might help fight for Berlin. If the reports were true, the Red Army might be outnumbered more than three to one.
When would the attack take place? As yet, the marshals did not know. Zhukov’s huge army group was scheduled to take the city— but that, too, could be changed. Just as Anglo-American armies on the western front waited for the word “Go” from Eisenhower, the Red Army commanders waited on their Supreme Commander. What worried the marshals more than anything else was the speed of the Anglo-American drive from the Rhine. Each day now they were drawing closer to the Elbe—and Berlin. If Moscow failed to order the offensive soon, the British and Americans might beat the Red Army into the city. So far the word “Go” had not come down from Josef Stalin. He almost seemed to be waiting himself.