A GREAT PROCESSION of Army supply trucks rolled along the narrow, dusty main street of the French city. In endless lines the convoys roared through, heading northeast on the long haul to the Rhine and the Western Front. No one was permitted to stop; MP’s stood everywhere to keep the traffic flowing. To the drivers, there was no reason to stop anyway. This was just another sleepy French city with the usual cathedral, just another checkpoint on the high-speed “Red Ball Highway.” They did not know that at this moment in the war Reims was perhaps the most important city in Europe.
For centuries battles had raged about this strategic crossroad in northeast France. The Gothic cathedral rising majestically from the city’s center had endured countless bombardments, and again and again its fabric had been restored. On its site or within its sanctuary every French monarch, from Clovis I in 496 to Louis XVI in 1774, had been crowned. In this war, mercifully the city and its monument had been spared. Now, in the shadow of the great twin-spired cathedral stood the headquarters of another great leader. His name was Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces was tucked away on a back street close to the railway station in a plain, modern three-story building. The building was the Collège Moderne et Technique, a former technical school for boys. Box-like, its four sides surrounding an inner courtyard, the red brick school was originally designed to hold more than 1,500 students. Staff members called it the “little red school house.” Perhaps because of SHAEF’s requirements, it seemed small: the headquarters had almost doubled its strength since 1944 and now had nearly 1,200 officers and some 4,000 enlisted men. As a result, the college could accommodate only the Supreme Commander, his immediate general staff officers and their departments. The remainder worked in other buildings throughout Reims.
In the second-floor classroom that he used for an office, the General had worked almost without pause all day. The room was small and spartan. Blackout curtains hung by the two windows overlooking the street. There were a few easy chairs on the highly polished oak floor, but that was all. Eisenhower’s desk, set in an alcove at one end of the room, was on a slightly raised platform—once used by the teacher. On the desk were a blue leather desk set, an intercom, leather-framed photos of his wife and son, and two black phones—one for regular use, the other a special instrument for “scrambled” calls to Washington and London. There were also several ashtrays, for the Supreme Commander was a chain-smoker who consumed more than sixty cigarettes a day.* Behind the desk stood the General’s personal flag and, in the opposite corner, Old Glory.
The previous afternoon Eisenhower had made a quick flight to Paris for a press conference. The big news was the victory on the Rhine. The Supreme Commander announced that the enemy’s main defense in the west had been shattered. Although Eisenhower told reporters he did not want to “write off the war for the Germans are going to stand and fight where they can,” in his opinion the German was “a whipped enemy.” Buried in the conference was a reference to Berlin. Someone asked who would get to the capital first, “the Russians or us?” Eisenhower answered that he thought “mileage alone ought to make them do it,” but he quickly added that he did not “want to make any predictions”; although the Russians had a “shorter race to run” they were faced with “the bulk of the German forces.”
Eisenhower spent the night at the Hotel Raphael; then, leaving Paris shortly after dawn, he flew back to Reims. At 7:45 A.M. he was in his office and conferring with his Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith. Waiting for Eisenhower, in General Smith’s blue leather snap-top folder, were a score of overnight cables that only the Supreme Commander could answer. They were labeled with the highest security tag: “For Eisenhower’s Eyes Only.” Among them was Montgomery’s message, seeking approval for his dash to the Elbe and Berlin. But the most important cable was from Eisenhower’s superior, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall. By coincidence Marshall’s and Montgomery’s messages had arrived at SHAEF within two hours of each other the previous evening—and both were to have a major influence on Eisenhower. On this Wednesday, March 28, they would act as catalysts in finally crystallizing for the Supreme Commander the strategy he would follow to the war’s end.
Months before, Eisenhower’s mission as Supreme Commander had been spelled out by the Combined Chiefs of Staff in one sentence: “You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” He had carried out this directive brilliantly. By dint of personality, administrative ability and tact, he had welded the soldiery of more than a dozen nations into the most awesome force in history. Few men could have achieved this while keeping animosities to such a minimum. Yet the 55-year-old Eisenhower did not conform to the traditional European concept of the military leader. Unlike British generals, he was not trained to consider political objectives as part of military strategy. Eisenhower, though a master diplomat in the politics of compromise and placation, was in international terms politically unaware—and proud of it. In the American military tradition he had been schooled never to usurp civilian supremacy. In short, he was content to fight and win; politics he left to the statesmen.
Even now, at this crucial turning point of the war, Eisenhower’s objectives remained, as always, purely military. He had never been given a political directive regarding post-war Germany, nor did he regard that problem as his responsibility. “My job,” he later said, “was to get the war over quickly … to destroy the German Army as fast as we could.”
Eisenhower had every reason to be elated with the way the job was going: in twenty-one days his armies had catapulted across the Rhine and burst into the German heartlands far ahead of schedule. Yet their headline-making advances, so eagerly followed by the free world, were now presenting the Supreme Commander with a series of complex command decisions. The unanticipated speed of the Anglo-American offensive had made obsolete some strategic moves planned months before. Eisenhower had to tailor his plans to meet the new situation. This meant changing and redefining the roles of some armies and their commanders—in particular, Field Marshal Montgomery and his powerful Twenty-first Army Group.
Montgomery’s latest message was a clarion call for action. The 58-year-old Field Marshal was not asking how the battle would be fought; he was demanding the right to lead the charge. Quicker than most commanders to realize the political implications of a military situation, Montgomery felt that the Allied capture of Berlin was vital—and he was convinced that it should be undertaken by the Twenty-first Army Group. His cable, indicative as it was of Montgomery’s intractability, made clear there were still vital differences of opinion between him and the Supreme Commander. Eisenhower’s reaction to the Field Marshal’s cable, as General Smith and others at SHAEF were to recall, was “like that of a horse with a burr under his saddle.”
The crucial difference between the military philosophies of Montgomery and Eisenhower concerned the single thrust versus the broad-front strategy. For months Montgomery and his superior, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, had agitated for a lightning-like single thrust into the heart of Germany. Almost immediately after the fall of Paris, while the Germans were still disorganized and fleeing France, Montgomery had first put his plan up to Eisenhower. “We have now reached a stage,” he wrote, “where one really powerful and full-blooded thrust toward Berlin is likely to get there and thus end the German war.”
Montgomery spelled out his scheme in nine terse paragraphs. He reasoned that the Anglo-American forces lacked the supply and maintenance capabilities for two side-by-side drives into Germany. In his view there could be only one—his own—and it would need “all the maintenance resources … without qualification.” Other operations would have to get along with whatever logistical support remained. “If,” warned Montgomery, “we attempt a compromise solution and split our maintenance resources so that neither thrust is full-blooded, we will prolong the war.” Time was “of such vital importance … that a decision is required at once.”
The plan was boldly imaginative and, from Montgomery’s viewpoint, accurately timed. It also marked a strange reversal in the Field Marshal’s usual approach to battle. As Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan, now Eisenhower’s Assistant Chief of Staff, later described the situation: “Put succinctly, Montgomery, principally celebrated hitherto for cautious deliberation, had conceived the notion that were he to be accorded every priority to the detriment of the American Army Groups, he could, in the shortest order, overwhelm the enemy, drive to Berlin and bring the war to a speedy end.”
Obviously the plan involved a gigantic gamble. To hurl two great army groups of more than forty divisions northeast into Germany in a single massive thrust might invite speedy and decisive victory—but it might also result in total and perhaps irreversible disaster. To the Supreme Commander, the risks far outweighed any chance of success, and he had said as much in a tactful message to Montgomery. “While agreeing with your conception of a powerful thrust towards Berlin,” Eisenhower said, “I do not agree that it should he initiated at this moment.” He felt that it was essential first to open the ports of Le Havre and Antwerp “to sustain a powerful thrust deep into Germany.” Further, Eisenhower said, “no reallocation of our present resources would be adequate to sustain a thrust to Berlin.” The Supreme Commander’s strategy was to advance into Germany on a broad front, cross the Rhine and capture the great industrial valley of the Ruhr before driving for the capital.
That exchange had taken place in the first week of September, 1944. A week later in a message to his three army group commanders, Montgomery, Bradley and Devers, Eisenhower further elaborated on his plan: “Clearly Berlin is the main prize and the prize in defense of which the enemy is likely to concentrate the bulk of his forces. There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that we should concentrate all our energies and resources on a rapid thrust to Berlin. Our strategy, however, will have to be coordinated with that of the Russians, so we must also consider alternative objectives.”
The possible objectives as Eisenhower saw them, varied widely: the northern German ports (“they might have to be occupied as a flank protection to our thrust on Berlin”); the important industrial and communication centers of Hanover, Brunswick, Leipzig and Dresden (“the Germans will probably hold them as intermediate positions covering Berlin”); and finally, in southern Germany, the Nuremberg-Munich areas, which would have to be taken (“to cut off enemy forces withdrawing from Italy and the Balkans”). Thus, warned the Supreme Commander, “We must be prepared for one or more of the following:
“A. To direct forces of both north and central army groups on Berlin astride the axes Ruhr-Hanover-Berlin or Frankfurt-Leipzig-Berlin or both.
“B. Should the Russians beat us to Berlin, the northern group of armies would seize the Hanover area and the Hamburg group of The central group … would seize part, or the whole of the area Leipzig-Dresden depending on the progress of the Russian advance.
“C. In any event the southern group of armies would seize Augsburg-Munich. The area Nuremberg-Regensburg would be seized by the central or southern groups … depending on the situation at the time.”
Eisenhower summarized his strategy in these words: “Simply stated, it is my desire to move on Berlin by the most direct and expeditious route, with combined U. S.-British forces supported by other available forces moving through key centers and occupying areas on the flanks, all in one coordinated, concerted operation.” But, he added, all this would have to wait, for it was “not possible at this stage to indicate the timing of these thrusts or their strengths.”
Whether the broad-front strategy was right or wrong, Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander and Montgomery had to take his orders. But he was bitterly disappointed. To the British people he was the most popular soldier since Wellington; and to his troops Monty was a legend in his own time. Many Britons considered him the most experienced field commander in the European theater ( as he was well aware), and the denial of his plan, which he believed could have ended the war within three months, left Montgomery deeply aggrieved.* This strategic dispute in the autumn of 1944 had opened up a split between the two commanders that had never completely healed.
In the seven months since then, Eisenhower had not deviated from his concept of a broad coordinated pattern of attack. Nor had Montgomery ceased to express his opinions on how, where, and by whom the war should be won. His own Chief of Staff, Major General Sir Francis de Guingand, later wrote, “Montgomery … feels justified in bringing all influences to bear in order to win his point: in fact the end justifies almost any means.” One of the influences he brought to bear was powerful indeed: the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Brooke, saw Eisenhower as vague and indecisive. He once summarized the Supreme Commander as a man with “a most attractive personality and, at the same time, a very, very limited brain from a strategic point of view.”
Eisenhower was perfectly well aware of the biting comments that emanated out of the War Office and Montgomery’s headquarters. But if this whispering campaign over his strategic policies hurt, Eisenhower did not reveal it. And he never hit back. Even when Brooke and Montgomery advocated the appointment of a “Land Forces Commander”—a sort of field marshal sandwiched in between Eisenhower and his army groups—the Supreme Commander displayed no anger. Finally, after months of “sitting with clenched teeth”—to use General Omar Bradley’s expression—Eisenhower lost his temper. The issue came to an explosive boil after the German attack through the Ardennes.
Because the enemy drive split the Anglo-American front, Eisenhower was forced to place all troops on the northern salient under Montgomery’s command. These forces included two thirds of General Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group—that is, the First and Ninth U.S. armies.
After the Germans had been thrown back, Montgomery gave an extraordinary press conference in which he implied that he had almost singlehandedly rescued the Americans from disaster. He had neatly tidied up the front, the Field Marshal declared, and “headed off … seen off … and … written off” the enemy. “The battle has been most interesting. I think possibly one of the most tricky … I have ever handled.” He had, Montgomery said, “employed the whole available power of the British group of armies … you thus have the picture of British troops fighting on both sides of the Americans who have suffered a hard blow.”
Montgomery had indeed mounted the main counteroffensive from the north and east and had directed it superbly. But, at the Field Marshal’s press conference, to use Eisenhower’s words, “he unfortunately created the impression that he had moved in as the savior of the Americans.” Montgomery failed to mention the part played by Bradley, Patton and the other American commanders, or that for every British soldier there were thirty to forty Americans engaged in the fighting. Most important, he neglected to point out that for every British casualty forty to sixty Americans had fallen.**
German propagandists were quick to make matters worse. Enemy radio transmitters put out an exaggerated, distorted version of the conference and beamed the broadcasts directly toward the American lines; it was this version that gave many Americans their first news of the incident.
On the heels of the press conference and the uproar it caused, the old controversy about a land forces commander flared again, this time supported by an active campaign in the British press. Bradley blew up. If the Field Marshal were appointed ground forces commander, he declared, he would resign his command. “After what has happened,” he told Eisenhower, “if Montgomery is to be put in charge … you must send me home … this is one thing I cannot take.” Patton told Bradley: “I’ll be quitting with you.”
Never had there been such a rift in the Anglo-American camp. As the “promote-Montgomery” campaign intensified—a campaign which seemed to some Americans to originate directly from Montgomery’s headquarters—the Supreme Commander finally found the situation intolerable. He decided to end the bickering once and for all: he would fire Montgomery by making an issue of the whole matter before the Combined Chiefs of Staff.
At that point Montgomery’s Chief of Staff, General de Guingand, learned of the impending blow-up and hastened to the rescue of Anglo-American unity. He flew to SHAEF and met with the Supreme Commander. “He showed me a signal that he was about to send to Washington,” De Guingand later recounted. “I was stunned when I read it.” With the aid of General Bedell Smith he prevailed on Eisenhower to delay the message twenty-four hours. Eisenhower agreed with great reluctance.
Returning to Montgomery’s headquarters, De Guingand bluntly laid the facts before the Field Marshal. “I told Monty that I had seen Ike’s message,” De Guingand said, “and that, in effect, it said ‘It is either me or Monty.’” Montgomery was shocked. De Guingand had never seen him “so lonely and deflated.” He looked up at his Chief of Staff and said quietly, “Freddie, what do you think I should do?” De Guingand had already drafted a message. Using this as a basis, Montgomery sent Eisenhower a thoroughly soldierly dispatch in which he made clear that he had no desire to be insubordinate. “Whatever your decision may be,” he said, “you can rely on me one hundred per cent.” The message was signed “Your very devoted subordinate, Monty.”*
There the matter had ended—for the moment anyhow. But now, at his headquarters in Reims, on this day of decision, March 28, 1945, Eisenhower was hearing again the distinct echo of an old refrain: not the agitation for a land forces commander once more, but the older, more basic issue—single thrust versus broad front. Without conferring with Eisenhower, Montgomery had, in his own words, “issued orders to Field Commanders for the operations eastwards” and now hoped to make a single great push toward the Elbe and Berlin, obviously intending to enter the capital in a blaze of glory.
The fact was that in making the main thrust north of the Ruhr, Montgomery was actually following agreed strategy—the Eisenhower plan approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff at Malta in January. What Montgomery now proposed was simply a logical extension of that drive—a move that would carry him to Berlin. If he was acting in haste, his eagerness was understandable. Like Winston Churchill and Field Marshal Brooke, Montgomery believed that time was running out, that the war might be lost politically unless Anglo-American forces reached Berlin before the Russians.
The Supreme Commander, on the other hand, had received no policy directive from his superiors in Washington reflecting this British sense of urgency. And although he was Commander of the Allied Forces, Eisenhower still took his orders from the U.S. War Department. In the absence of any redefinition of policy from Washington, his objective remained the same: the defeat of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces. And, as he now saw it, the method by which he could most quickly achieve that military objective had changed radically since the presentation of his plans to the Combined Chiefs of Staff in January.
Originally, under Eisenhower’s plan, General Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group in the center was to have a limited role, supplementing Montgomery’s main effort in the north. But who could have foreseen the spectacular successes achieved by Bradley’s armies since the beginning of March? Good fortune and brilliant leadership had produced dazzling results. Even before Montgomery’s massive Rhine assault, the U.S. First Army had captured the Remagen bridge and had quickly crossed the river. Farther south, Patton’s Third Army had slipped across the Rhine almost unimpeded. Since then, Bradley’s forces had been on a rampage, going from victory to victory. Their achievements had fired the imagination of the U.S.public, and Bradley was now seeking a larger role in the final campaign. In this respect Bradley and his generals were no different from Montgomery: they, too, wanted the prestige and glory of ending the war—and, if they got the chance, of capturing Berlin.
At the right moment, Eisenhower had promised, he would launch one massive drive to the east, but he had not specified what group—or groups—would make the final thrust. Now, before making a decision, Eisenhower had to consider a variety of factors, all of which affected the design of his final campaign.
The first of these was the unexpected speed of the Russian advance to the Oder. At the time the Supreme Commander formulated his plans for the Rhine assault and Montgomery’s offensive north of the Ruhr, it looked as if months might pass before the Russians got to within striking distance of Berlin. But now the Red Army was barely 38 miles from the city—while British and American forces were still more than 200 miles away. How soon would the Russians launch their offensive? Where and how did they intend to mount the attack—with Zhukov’s army group in the center opposite Berlin, or with all three groups simultaneously? What was their estimate of the German strength opposing them and how long would it take the Red Army to break through those defenses? And, after they crossed the Oder, how long would it take the Soviets to reach and capture Berlin? The Supreme Commander could not answer these questions, all of them vitally important in his planning.
The simple truth was that Eisenhower knew almost nothing of the Red Army’s intentions. There was no day-to-day military coordination between Anglo-American and Soviet commanders in the field. There was not even a direct radio link between SHAEF and the Anglo-American military liaison mission in Moscow. All messages between the two fronts were funneled through normal diplomatic channels—a method totally inadequate now because of the speed of events. Although Eisenhower knew the Russians’ approximate strength, he had no idea of their battle order. Apart from occasional data collected from various intelligence sources—most of it of doubtful accuracy*—SHAEF’s chief source of information on Russian moves was the Soviet communiqué broadcast each evening by the BBC.
One fact, however, was clear: the Red Army had almost reached Berlin. With the Russians so close should the Supreme Commander try for the city at all?
The problem had many dimensions. The Russians had been on the Oder for more than two months, and with the exception of some local advances and patrol activity they appeared to have come to a full stop. Their lines of supply and communications must be stretched to the utmost, and it hardly seemed likely that they could attack until after the spring thaw. Meanwhile the western armies, moving at astonishing speeds, were driving deeper and deeper into Germany. At places they were averaging better than thirty-five miles per day. The Supreme Commander had no intention of letting up, no matter what Russian plans were. But he was reluctant to enter into a contest with the Russians for Berlin. That might prove not only embarrassing for the loser but—in the event of an unexpected meeting between the onrushing armies—catastrophic for both forces.
A headlong collision involving the Russians had occurred once before, when they were allied by treaty with the Germans. In 1939, after Hitler’s undeclared blitzkrieg into Poland and the subsequent division of that country between Germany and Russia, Wehrmacht troops advancing east had smashed head on into Red Army forces racing west : no prearranged line of demarcation had been established. The result was a minor battle, with fairly heavy casualties on both sides. A similar clash could occur now, but between the Anglo-Americans and the Russians—and on a much larger scale. It was a nightmarish thought. Wars had been set off by less. Obviously coordination of movement had to be effected with the Russians, and quickly.
Furthermore, there was one tactical problem that hung over Eisenhower like a thunderhead. In the great map room near his office there was a carefully drawn intelligence chart bearing the legend “Reported National Redoubt.” It showed an area of mountainousterritory lying south of Munich and straddling the alpine regions of Bavaria, western Austria and northern Italy. In all, it covered almost twenty thousand square miles. Its heart was Berchtesgaden. On the nearby Obersalzberg—surrounded by peaks seven to nine thousand feet high, each studded with concealed anti-aircraft guns—was Hitler’s mountaintop hideaway, the “Eagle’s Nest.”
Covering the map’s face was a rash of red marks, each one a military symbol denoting some kind of defense installation. There were food, ammunition, gasoline and chemical warfare dumps; radio and power stations; troop concentration points, barracks and headquarters; zigzagging lines of fortified positions, ranging from pillboxes to massive concrete bunkers; even bombproof underground factories. Each day now, more and more symbols were added to the chart, and though all of them were labeled “unconfirmed,” to SHAEF this formidable mountain defense system was the greatest threat remaining in the European war. The area was sometimes referred to as the Alpenfestung, Alpine Fortress, or the “National Redoubt.” In this craggy citadel, according to intelligence, the Nazis, with Hitler at their head, intended to make a last-ditch, Wagnerian stand. The rugged stronghold was considered almost impregnable and its fanatical defenders might hold out for as long as two years. There was another, even more chilling aspect; specially trained commando-type forces—Goebbels called them “Werewolves”—were expected to sally out from the alpine bastion and create havoc among the occupation armies.
Did the Alpenfestung really exist? In Washington the military seemed to think so. Information had been accumulating ever since September. 1944, when the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), in a general study of southern Germany, predicted that as the war neared its end the Nazis would probably evacuate certain government departments to Bavaria. Since then, intelligence reports and appreciations had poured in, from the field, from neutral countries, even from sources inside Germany. Most of these evaluations were guarded, but some bordered on the fantastic.
The Southern Redoubt. This map was drawn up at Supreme Headquarters to show the so-called defenses, which existed only in the minds of Allied intelligence officers. The details of nonexistent ammunition dumps and defense lines were so believable that the map played a large part in the decision not to advance to Berlin.
On February 12, 1945, the War Department issued a straightfaced counterintelligence paper which said: “Not enough weight is given the many reports of the probable Nazi last stand in the Bavarian Alps…. The Nazi myth which is important when you are dealing with men like Hitler requires a Götterdämmerung. It may be significant that Berchtesgaden itself, which would be the headquarters, is on the site of the tomb of Barbarossa who, in German mythology, is supposed to return from the dead.”* The memo urged that field commanders “down to corps level” be alerted to the danger.
On February 16, Allied agents in Switzerland sent Washington a bizarre report obtained from neutral military attachés in Berlin: “The Nazis are undoubtedly preparing for a bitter fight from the mountain redoubt…. Strongpoints are connected by underground railroads … several months’ output of the best munitions have been reserved and almost all of Germany’s poison gas supplies. Everybody who participated in the construction of the secret installations will be killed off—including the civilians who happen to remain behind … when the real fighting starts.”
Although British intelligence agencies and the OSS both issued cautious statements intended to dampen the scare reports, over the next twenty-seven days the specter of the National Redoubt grew. By March 21, the threat had begun to influence tactical thinking. Headquarters of Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group put out a memorandum entitled “Re-Orientation of Strategy” in which it was stated that Allied objectives had changed, rendering “obsolete the plans we brought with us over the beaches.” One of the changes: the significance of Berlin was much diminished. “The metropolitan area can no longer occupy a position of importance,” the report read. “… all indications suggest that the enemy’s political and military directorate is already in the process of displacing to the ‘Redoubt’ in lower Bavaria.”
To meet the threat, instead of making a thrust in the north, Bradley suggested that his army group split Germany in two by driving through the center. This would “prevent German forces from withdrawing” toward the south and “into the Redoubt.” In addition it would drive the enemy “northwards where they can be rounded up against the shores of the Baltic and North Seas.” Later, suggested the memorandum, Twelfth Army Group forces would pivot south to reduce any remaining resistance in the Alpenfestung.
The most alarming analysis came on March 25 from the Intelligence Chief of Lieutenant General Patch’s Seventh Army, which was fighting along the southern wing of the front. It foresaw the possible creation in the redoubt of “an elite force, predominantly SS and mountain troops, of between 200,000 and 300,000 men.” Already, the report said, supplies were arriving in the redoubt area at the rate of “three to five very long trains … each week (since 1 Feb. 1945)…. A new type of gun has been reported observed on many of these trains….” There was even mention of an underground aircraft factory “capable of producing … Messerschmitts.”
Day after day the reports had flooded into SHAEF. No matter how the evidence was analyzed and re-analyzed, the picture remained the same: though the Alpenfestung might be a hoax, the possibility of its existence could not be ignored. ’s own concern was clearly indicated in a March 11 intelligence evaluation on the redoubt: “Theoretically … within this fortress … defended both by nature and the most efficient secret weapons yet invented, the powers that have hitherto guided Germany will survive to organize her resurrection…. The main trend of German defense policy does seem directed primarily to the safeguarding of the Alpine zone…. The evidence indicates that considerable numbers of SS and specially chosen units are being systematically withdrawn to Austria…. It seems reasonably certain that some of the most important ministries and personalities of the Nazi regime are already established in the redoubt area…. Goering, Himmler, Hitler … are said to be in the process of withdrawing to their respective personal mountain strongholds….”
SHAEF’s Intelligence Chief, British Major General Kenneth W. D. Strong, commented to the Chief of Staff: “The redoubt may not be there, but we have to take steps to prevent it being there.” Bedell Smith agreed. There was, in his opinion, “every reason to believe that the Nazis intend to make their last stand among the crags.”
As the considered views of the SHAEF staff and U.S. field commanders piled up in Eisenhower’s office, there arrived the most significant message of all. It came from the Supreme Commander’s superior, General Marshall, a man Eisenhower venerated almost above all others.*
“From the current operations report,” Marshall’s cable read, “it looks like the German defense system in the west may break up. This would permit you to move a considerable number of divisions rapidly eastwards on a broad front. What are your views on … pushing U.S. forces rapidly forward on, say, the Nuremberg-Linz or Karlsruhe-Munich axes? The idea behind this is that … rapid action might prevent the formation of any organized resistance areas. The mountainous country in the south is considered a possibility for one of these.
“One of the problems which arises with disintegrating German resistance is that of meeting the Russians. What are your ideas on control and coordination to prevent unfortunate instances…? One possibility is an agreed line of demarcation. The arrangements we now have … appear inadequate … steps should be initiated without delay to provide for communication and liaison …”
Marshall’s carefully worded message finally jelled the Supreme Commander’s plans. Having weighed all the problems, having consulted with his staff, having discussed the situation over the weeks with his old friend and West Point classmate, General Bradley, and, most important, having been acquainted with the views of his superior, Eisenhower now molded his strategy and made his decisions.
On this chill March afternoon he drafted three cables. The first was historic and unprecedented: it was sent to Moscow with a covering message to the Allied Military Mission. SHAEF’s operations, Eisenhower wired, had now reached a stage “where it is essential I should know the Russians’ plans in order to achieve the most rapid success.” Therefore, he wanted the Mission to “transmit a personal message from me to Marshal Stalin” and do everything possible “to assist in getting a full reply.”
Never before had the Supreme Commander communicated directly with the Soviet leader, but now the matter was urgent. He had been authorized to deal with the Russians directly on military matters pertaining to coordination, so Eisenhower saw no particular reason to consult beforehand with the Combined Chiefs of Staff nor with the U.S. or British governments. Indeed, not even the Deputy Supreme Commander, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, knew about it. Copies were prepared for them, however.
The Supreme Commander approved the draft of the Stalin cable shortly after three. At 4 P.M., after it had been encoded, Eisenhower’s “Personal Message to Marshal Stalin” was dispatched. In it the General asked the Generalissimo for his plans, and at the same time revealed his own. “My immediate operations,” he said, “are designed to encircle and destroy the enemy defending the Ruhr…. I estimate that this phase … will end late in April or even earlier, and my next task will be to divide the remaining enemy forces by joining hands with your forces…. The best axis on which to effect this junction would be Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden. I believe … this is the area to which main German Government Departments are being moved. It is along this axis that I propose to make my main effort. In addition, as soon as possible, a secondary advance will be made to effect junction with your forces in the area Regensburg-Linz, thereby preventing the consolidation of German resistance in the Redoubt in southern Germany.
“Before deciding firmly on my plans, it is most important that they should be coordinated … with yours both as to direction and timing. Could you … tell me your intentions and … how far the proposals outlined … conform to your probable action. If we are to complete the destruction of German armies without delay, I regard it as essential that we coordinate our action and … perfect the liaison between our advancing forces …”
Next he prepared cables for Marshall and Montgomery. These were dispatched at 7 P.M. and within five minutes of each other. Eisenhower told the U.S. Chief of Staff that he had communicated with Stalin “on the question of where we should aim to link up …” He then pointed out that “my views agree closely with your own, although I think that the Leipzig-Dresden area is of primary importance …” because it offered the “shortest route to present Russian positions” and also would “overrun the one remaining industrial area in Germany to which … the High Command Headquarters and Ministries are reported moving.”
Regarding Marshall’s fears of a “National Redoubt,” Eisenhower reported that he too was aware of the “importance of forestalling the possibilities of the enemy forming organized resistance areas” and would make “a drive towards Linz and Munich as soon as circumstances allowed.” Eisenhower added that as regards coordination with the Russians he did not think that “we can tie ourselves down to a demarcation line” but would approach them with the suggestion that “when our forces meet, either side will withdraw to its own occupational zone at the request of the opposite side.”
The third Eisenhower cable of the day, to Montgomery, contained disappointing news. “As soon as you have joined hands with Bradley … [east of the Ruhr] … the Ninth U.S. Army will revert to Bradley’s command,” the Supreme Commander said; “Bradley will be responsible for mopping up … the Ruhr and with the minimum delay will deliver his main thrust on the axis Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden to join hands with the Russians. …” Montgomery was to head for the Elbe; at that point it might be “desirable for the Ninth Army to revert to your operational control again to facilitate the crossing of that obstacle.” Eisenhower, after reading the draft, added one last line in pencil, “As you say, the situation looks good.”
The Supreme Commander had refined his plans to this extent: instead of making the major drive across northern Germany as originally considered, he had decided to strike directly across the center of the country. The U.S. Ninth Army had been returned to Bradley, who would now have the major role. He would launch the last offensive, aiming to put his forces in the Dresden area, about one hundred miles south of Berlin.
Although Eisenhower had accepted part of Marshall’s recommendations, his moves were similar to those suggested by General Bradley’s Twelfth Army Group in its “Re-Orientation of Strategy” memorandum. But, in all three of Eisenhower’s cables on his campaign plans, there was one significant omission: the objective which the Supreme Commander had once referrred to as “clearly the main prize.” There was no mention of Berlin.
The battered Brandenburg Gate loomed large in the dusk. From his villa nearby, Dr. Joseph Goebbels stared out at the monument through the partly boarded-up windows of his study. Almost contemptuously, Hitler’s gnomelike propaganda chief had turned his back on his visitors—at least so it appeared to the man who was speaking, the Berlin Commandant, Major General Hellmuth Reymann. The General was trying to get a decision on the one matter that he considered of the utmost urgency: the fate of the city’s population on this eve of battle.
It was the fourth time within a month that Reymann and his Chief of Staff, Colonel Hans Refior, had met with Goebbels. Next to Hitler, the 47-year-old Goebbels was now the most important man in Berlin. He was not only Reichsminister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda; he was also Gauleiter of Berlin. As such he was a Reich Defense Commissioner, responsible for all measures regarding the city’s civilian population, the organization and training of Home Guard units and the construction of fortifications. At a time when the absence of any clearly defined division of authority between the military and civilian agencies was creating trouble for soldiers and civil leaders alike, Goebbels had added to the confusion. Though he was totally ignorant of military or municipal matters, he had made it quite clear that he alone was assuming responsibility for defending Berlin. As a result, Reymann found himself in an impossible position. From whom was he to take his orders—from Hitler’s military headquarters or from Goebbels? He was not sure, and no one seemed eager to clarify the command position. Reymann was desperate.
At each of the previous meetings Reymann had raised the issue of evacuation. At first Goebbels said that it “was out of the question.” Then he informed the General that a scheme did exist, prepared by “higher SS authorities and the police.” Reymann’s Chief of Staff had promptly investigated. Refior had indeed found a plan. “It consists,” he told Reymann, “of a map, scale 1 to 300,000, on which the responsible official, a police captain, has neatly marked evacuation routes running out of Berlin to the west and south with red ink.” There were, he reported, “no sanitation stations, no food points, no transportation for the sick or weak.” He added that, “as far as I can see, the plan calls for evacuees to set out along these roads with only hand luggage, march 20 to 30 kilometers to entraining stations where they will be transported to Thüringen, Sachsen-Anhalt and Mecklenburg. All this is supposed to take place when Goebbels presses a button. But exactly where the rail transport is to come from has not been made clear.”
Reymann tried to discuss the matter with Hitler. He had seen him only twice: on assuming command and a few days later when he was invited to attend one of the Führer’s nightly conferences. At that meeting the discussion was mostly about the Oder front and Reymann did not get an opportunity of explaining the situation in Berlin. But at one point during a lull in the proceedings, he spoke to Hitler and urged that he immediately order the evacuation of all children under ten from the capital. In the sudden silence that followed Reymann’s suggestion, Hitler turned toward him and asked icily, “What do you mean? What exactly do you mean?” Then, slowly, emphasizing each word, he said, “There are no children in that age group left in Berlin!” No one had dared contradict him. Hitler quickly passed on to other matters.
The rebuff did not deter the Berlin Commandant. Reymann now pressed Goebbels on the same subject. “Herr Reichsminister,” he said, “how will we support the population in the event of a siege? How will we feed them? Where is the food to come from? According to the mayor’s statistics there are 110,000 children under ten with their mothers in the city right now. How are we to provide babies with milk?”
Reymann paused, waiting for an answer. Goebbels continued to stare out the window. Then, without turning, he snapped: “How will we feed them? We’ll bring livestock in from the surrounding countryside—that’s how we’ll feed them! As for the children, we have a three months’ supply of canned milk.” The canned milk was news to Reymann and Refior. The livestock proposal seemed madness. In a battle cows would prove more vulnerable than human beings, who could at least take shelter. Where did Goebbels plan to herd the animals? And what would they feed on? Reymann spoke up earnestly: “Surely we must consider an immediate evacuation plan. We cannot wait any longer. Each day that passes will multiply the difficulties later on. We must at least move out the women and children now—before it’s too late.”
Goebbels did not answer. There was a long silence. Outside it was growing dark. Suddenly he reached up, grabbed a cord by the window, and yanked it. The blackout curtains closed with a rattle. Goebbels turned. Club-footed from birth, he limped across to his desk, snapped on the light, looked at the watch lying on the blotting pad and then at Reymann. “My dear General,” he said mildly, “when and if an evacuation becomes necessary I will be the one to make the decision.” Then he snarled: “But I don’t intend to throw Berlin into panic by ordering it now! There’s plenty of time! Plenty of time!” He dismissed them. “Good evening, gentlemen.”
As Reymann and Refior left the building, they paused for a moment on the steps. General Reymann gazed out over the city. Although the sirens had not sounded, in the far distance searchlights had begun fingering the night sky. As Reymann slowly pulled on his gloves he said to Refior: “We are faced with a task that we cannot solve; that has no chance of success. I can only hope that some miracle happens to change our fortunes, or that the war ends before Berlin comes under siege.” He looked at his Chief of Staff. “Otherwise,” he added, “God help the Berliners.”
A short while later, at his command post on the Hohenzollerndamm, Reymann received a call from the OKH (Army High Command). Besides the Supreme Commander, Hitler and the Berlin Gauleiter, Goebbels, Reymann now learned that he was subordinated to yet another authority. Arrangements were being made, he was told, for the Berlin Defense Area to come eventually under the direction of the Army Group Vistula and its commander, Colonel General Gotthard Heinrici. Reymann felt the first stirrings of hope at reading Heinrici’s name. He directed Refior to brief the Army Group Vistula staff at the earliest opportunity. There was only one thing that worried him. He wondered how Heinrici would feel about taking Berlin under his wing while at the same time preparing to hold the Russians on the Oder. Reymann knew Heinrici well. He could imagine the Giftzwergs reaction when he heard the news.
“It’s absurd!” growled Heinrici. “Absurd!”
Army Group Vistula’s new Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Eberhard Kinzel, and its Operations Chief, Colonel Hans Eismann, looked at each other and remained silent. There was nothing to say. “Absurd” seemed an understatement. The proposal to attach the Berlin Defense Area to Heinrici’s hard-pressed command at this particular moment seemed impossible to both officers. Neither could see how Heinrici was supposed to direct or even oversee Reymann’s defense operations. Distance alone made the plan impractical; Vistula’s headquarters was more than fifty miles from Berlin. And it was clear that whoever had suggested the idea appeared to know very little about the staggering problems facing Heinrici.
Earlier in the evening, operations department officers of OKH (Army High Command) had carefully presented the Berlin defense proposal to Kinzel. The idea was put forth tentatively—almost as a suggestion. Now, as Heinrici paced his office, the mud of the front still on his old-fashioned leggings, he made it plain to his subordinates that so far as he was concerned the plan would remain just that—a suggestion. Army Group Vistula had one task: to stop the Russians on the Oder. “Unless I’m forced,” said Heinrici, “I do not intend to accept responsibility for Berlin.”
That did not mean he was unaware of the plight of the city’s people. Indeed, the fate of Berlin’s population of almost three million was often in Heinrici’s thoughts. He was haunted by the possibility of Berlin’s becoming a battlefield; he knew better than most what happened to civilians caught in the fury of artillery fire and street fighting. He believed that the Russians were merciless, and in the heat of battle he did not expect them to discriminate between soldiers and civilians. Nevertheless, at this moment it was unthinkable that he should be expected to take on the problem of Berlin and its civilian population. The Army Group Vistula was the sole barrier between Berlin and the Russians, and as always Heinrici’s main concern was with his soldiers. The crusty, belligerentGiftzwerg was furious at Hitler and the Chief of OKH, Guderian, for what seemed to him the deliberate sacrifice of his soldiers’ lives.
Turning to Kinzel, he said: “Get me Guderian.”
Since assuming command a week before, Heinrici had been constantly at the front. Tirelessly he had traveled from headquarters to headquarters, mapping out strategy with division commanders, visiting front-line troops in their dugouts and bunkers. He had quickly discovered that his suspicions were well founded: his forces were armies in name only. He was appalled to find that most units had been fattened with splinter troops and the remnants of once-proud divisions long since destroyed. Among his forces Heinrici even found non-German units. There were the “Nordland” and “Nederland” divisions composed of pro-Nazi Norwegian and Dutch volunteers, and a formation of former Russian prisoners of war under the leadership of the erstwhile defender of Kiev, a distinguished soldier named Lieutenant General Andrei A. Vlasov. After his surrender in 1942 he had been persuaded to organize a pro-German anti-Stalinist Russian army. Vlasov’s troops worried Heinrici : it seemed to him that they were likely to desert at the slightest opportunity. Some of Heinrici’s panzer forces were in good shape, and he was depending greatly on them. But the overall picture was bleak. Intelligence reports indicated that the Russians might have as many as three million men. Between Von Manteuffel’s Third Panzer Army in the north and Busse’s Ninth Army in the southern sector, Heinrici had a total of about four hundred eighty-two thousand, and there were almost no reserves.
Besides being desperately short of combat-tested troops, Heinrici was handicapped by acute shortages of equipment and supplies. He needed tanks, motorized guns, communications equipment, artillery, gasoline, ammunition, even rifles. So short were supplies that Colonel Eismann, the Operations officer, discovered that some replacements had arrived at the front with bazooka-like anti-tank weapons instead of rifles—and only one rocket-projectile apiece for the weapons.
“It’s madness!” Eismann told Heinrici. “How are these men supposed to fight after they fire their one round? What does OKH expect them to do—use their empty weapons like billy clubs? It’s mass murder.” Heinrici agreed. “OKH expects the men to wait for what fate may bring them. I do not.” By every means in his power Heinrici was trying to rectify his equipment and supply situation, even though some commodities had all but disappeared.
His greatest lack was artillery. The Russians were beginning to construct bridges across the Oder and its marshy approaches. In some places the flood-swollen river was more than two miles wide. Special naval forces attached to Heinrici’s command had floated mines down the river to destroy the pontoons, but the Russians had promptly countered by erecting protective nets. Bombing the bridge construction from the air was out of the question. Luftwaffe officials had informed Heinrici that they had neither the aircraft nor the gasoline for the job. The most they could provide was single planes for reconnaissance missions. There was only one way left to stop the Russians’ feverish bridge building: artillery. And Heinrici had precious little of that.
To make up for this crippling shortage he had ordered anti-aircraft guns to be used as field pieces. Although it meant less protection from Russian air attacks, Heinrici reasoned that the guns would be used to better advantage in the field. And, indeed, the move had alleviated the situation. From the Stettin area alone, Von Manteuffel’s Third Panzer Army acquired 600 flak guns. Each had to be set in concrete; for they were too large and unwieldy to be mounted on vehicles, but they were helping to fill out the gaps. Yet, though they stood menacingly in place, they fired only when absolutely necessary. The lack of ammunition was so severe that Heinrici was determined to husband what little he had for the opening of the Red Army’s onslaught. Still, as he told his staff, “While we do not have enough guns or ammunition to stop the Russians’ building, at least we’re slowing them up.” Colonel Eismann viewed the situation more pessimistically. “The Army Group could be compared to a rabbit,” he later recalled, “watching spellbound a snake which wants to devour him. He can’t move a muscle, but waits for the moment when the snake will strike in a lightning-fast manner… . General Heinrici did not want to admit the fact that the Army Group could not take any more meaningful measures on the basis of its own strength.”
Yet in just one week of command, Heinrici had bulldozed his way through scores of seemingly insurmountable difficulties. Like the Heinrici of Moscow he had cajoled and goaded his troops, growled at and praised them in an effort to give them a fighting morale that would gain him time and help save their lives. Whatever his private feelings, to his officers and men he was the unintimidated, unbreakable Heinrici of legend. And true to character he was still fighting the “madness and bad judgment” of the higher command.
Right now his fiery temper was directed at Hitler and the Chief of OKH, Guderian. On March 23 General Busse’s Ninth Army had attacked twice in a desperate effort to break through to the isolated defenders of Küstrin, the city the Russians had encircled the day Heinrici had assumed command from Himmler. Heinrici had agreed to Busse’s tactics. He felt they offered the only chance to free the city before the Russians consolidated their positions. But the Russians were much too strong; both attacks proved disastrous.
Heinrici, reporting the outcome to Guderian, was told bluntly: “There must be another attack.” Hitler wanted it; so did Guderian. “It’s crazy,” Heinrici replied stiffly. “I would suggest that the panzer units in Küstrin receive orders to break out. It’s the only sensible thing left to do.” Guderian flared at the proposal. “The attack must be mounted,” he had shouted. On March 27 Busse had once again thrown his troops at Küstrin. So ferocious was the attack that some of his panzer forces actually did break through to the city. But then the Russians smashed the German drive with artillery fire. At staff headquarters, Heinrici minced no words. “The attack,” he said, “is a massacre. The Ninth Army has suffered incredible losses for absolutely nothing.”
Even now, the day after, his anger had not abated. As he waited for his call to Guderian, he paced his office muttering over and over the one word, “Fiasco!” Regardless of what might happen to him personally, when Guderian came on the phone Heinrici intended to charge his superior with the bloody massacre of eight thousand men—nearly a division had been lost in the Küstrin attack.
The phone rang and Kinzel answered. “It’s Zossen,” he told Heinrici.
The smooth voice of Lieutenant General Hans Krebs, OKH Chief of Staff, was not what Heinrici expected. “I meant to talk to Guderian,” he said. Krebs began speaking again. Heinrici’s face hardened as he listened. The staff officers watching him wondered what was happening. “When?” asked Heinrici. He listened again, then abruptly said, “Thank you,” and put down the phone. Turning to Kinzel and Eismann, Heinrici said quietly, “Guderian is no longer Chief of OKH. Hitler relieved him of command this afternoon.” To his astonished staff Heinrici added, “Krebs says that Guderian is sick, but that he doesn’t really know what happened.” Heinrici’s rage had completely evaporated. He made only one further observation. “It’s not like Guderian,” he said thoughtfully. “He didn’t even say good-bye.”
It was late that night before Heinrici’s staff was able to piece the story together. Guderian’s dismissal had followed one of the wildest scenes ever witnessed in the Reichskanzlei. Hitler’s midday conference had begun quietly enough but there were undertones of barely repressed hostility. Guderian had written the Führer a memorandum explaining why the Küstrin attack had failed. Hitler disliked not only the tone Guderian adopted but also Guderian’s defense of the Ninth Army and of General Busse in particular. The Führer had settled on Busse as the scapegoat and had ordered him to attend the meeting and make a full report.
As usual Hitler’s top military advisors were in attendance. In addition to Guderian and Busse there were Hitler’s Chief of Staff, Keitel; his Operations Chief, Jodl; the Führer’s adjutant, Burgdorf; several other senior officers and various aides. For several minutes Hitler listened to a general briefing on the current situation, then Busse was invited to give his report. He began by briefly outlining how the attack was launched and the forces that were employed. Hitler began to show annoyance. Suddenly he interrupted. “Why did the attack fail?” he yelled. Without pausing, he answered his own question. “Because of incompetence! Because of negligence!” He heaped abuse on Busse, Guderian and the entire High Command. They were all “incompetent.” The Küstrin attack was launched, he ranted, “without sufficient artillery preparation!” Then he turned on Guderian: “If Busse didn’t have enough ammunition as you claim—why didn’t you get him more?”
There was a moment of silence. Then Guderian began to speak quietly. “I have already explained to you …” Hitler, waving his arm, cut him off. “Explanations! Excuses! That’s all you give me!” he shouted. “Well! Then you tell me who let us down at Küstrin— the troops or Busse?” Guderian suddenly boiled. “Nonsense!” he spluttered. “This is nonsense!” He almost spat the words out. Furious, his face reddening, he launched into a tirade. “Busse is not to blame!” he bellowed. “I’ve told you that! He followed orders! Busse used all the ammunition that was available to him! All that he had!” Guderian’s anger was monumental. He struggled for words. “To say that the troops are to blame—look at the casualties!” he raged. “Look at the losses! The troops did their duty! Their self-sacrifice proves it!”
Hitler yelled back. “They failed!” he raged. “They failed.”
Guderian, his face purpling, roared at the top of his voice: “I must ask you … I must ask you not to level any further accusations at Busse or his troops!”
Both men were beyond reasonable discussion, but they did not stop. Facing each other, Guderian and Hitler engaged in such a furious and terrifying exchange that officers and aides stood frozen in shock. Hitler, lashing out at the General Staff, called them all “spineless,” “fools” and “fatheads.” He ranted that they had constantly “misled,” “misinformed” and “tricked” him. Guderian challenged the Führer on his use of the words “misinformed” and “misled.” Had General Gehlen in his intelligence estimate “misinformed” about the strength of the Russians? “No!” roared Guderian. “Gehlen is a fool!” Hitler retorted. What of the surrounded eighteen divisions still in the Baltic States, in Courland? “Who,” barked Guderian, “has misled you about them? Exactly when,” he demanded of the Führer, “do you intend to evacuate the Courland army?”
So loud and violent was the encounter that afterward no one could remember exactly the sequence of the quarrel.* Even Busse, the innocent perpetrator of the argument, was unable to tell Heinrici later what had transpired in any detail. “We were almost paralyzed,” he said. “We couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Jodl was the first to snap into action. He grabbed the yelling Guderian by the arm. “Please! Please,” he implored, “calm down.” He pulled Guderian to one side. Keitel and Burgdorf began ministering to Hitler who had slumped, exhausted, into a chair. Guderian’s horrified aide, Major Freytag von Loringhoven, certain that his chief would be arrested if he did not get him immediately out of the room, ran outside and called Krebs, the Chief of Staff, at Zossen and told him what was happening. Von Loringhoven implored Krebs to speak to Guderian on the phone, on the pretense that there was urgent news from the front and to hold him in conversation until the General calmed down. With difficulty, Guderian was persuaded to leave the room. Krebs, a past master at the art of manipulating information to suit the occasion, had no trouble in claiming Guderian’s undivided attention for more than fifteen minutes—and by that time the Chief of the Army High Command was in control of his emotions again.
During the interval the Führer had calmed down, too. When Guderian returned, Hitler was conducting the conference as though nothing had happened. Seeing him enter, the Führer ordered everyone out of the room except Keitel and Guderian. Then he said, coldly, “Colonel General Guderian, your physical health requires that you immediately take six weeks’ convalescent leave.” His voice betraying no emotion, Guderian said, “I’ll go.” But Hitler was not quite finished. “Please wait until the conference is over,” he ordered. It was several hours before the meeting broke up. By that time, Hitler was almost solicitous. “Please do your best to get your health back,” he said. “In six weeks the situation will be very critical. Then I shall need you urgently. Where do you think you will go?” Keitel wanted to know, too. Suspicious at their sudden concern, Guderian prudently decided not to tell them his plans. Excusing himself, he left the Reichskanzlei. Guderian was out. The innovator of the panzer techniques, the last of Hitler’s big-name generals was gone; with him went the last vestiges of sound judgment in the German High Command.
By 6 A.M. the following morning, Thursday, March 29, Heinrici had good reason to feel Guderian’s loss. He had just been handed a teletyped message informing him that Hitler had appointed Krebs as Chief of the OKH. Krebs was a smooth-talking man who was a fanatical supporter of Hitler; he was widely and cordially disliked. Among the Vistula staff, the news of his appointment, following so closely that of Guderian’s departure, produced an atmosphere of gloom. The Operations Chief, Colonel Eismann, summed up the prevailing attitude. As he was later to record: “This man, with his eternally friendly smile, reminded me somehow of a fawn … it was clear what we could expect. Krebs had only to spout out a few confident phrases—and the situation was rosy again. Hitler would get much better support from him than from Guderian.”
Heinrici made no comment on the appointment. Guderian’s spirited defense of Busse had saved that commander and there would be no more suicidal attacks against Küstrin. For that Heinrici was grateful to a man with whom he had often disagreed. He would miss Guderian, for he knew Krebs of old and expected little support from him. There would be no outspoken Guderian to back up Heinrici when he saw Hitler to discuss the problems of the Oder front. He was to see the Führer for a full-dress conference on Friday, April 6.
The car pulled up outside Vistula’s main headquarters building a little after 9 A.M., on March 29, and the broad-shouldered, sixfoot Berlin Chief of Staff bounded out. The energetic Colonel Hans “Teddy” Refior was looking forward enthusiastically to his meeting with Heinrici’s Chief of Staff, General Kinzel. He had high hopes that the conference would go well; coming under Heinrici’s command would be the best thing that could happen to the Berlin Defense Area. Lugging maps and charts for his presentation, the husky 39-year-old Refior entered the building. Small though the Berlin garrison was, Refior believed, as he later wrote in his diary, that Heinrici “would be delighted at this increase in his forces.”
He had his first moments of doubt on meeting the Chief of Staff. Kinzel’s greeting was restrained, though not unfriendly. Refior had hoped that his old classmate Colonel Eismann would be present—they had gone over the Berlin situation together a few weeks before—but Kinzel received him alone. The Vistula Chief of Staff seemed harassed, his manner bordering on impatience. Taking his cue from Kinzel, Refior opened his maps and charts and quickly began the briefing. The lack of a major authority to direct Reymann had produced an almost impossible situation for the Berlin command, he explained. “When we asked the OKH if we came under them,” he elaborated, “we were told ‘the OKH is responsible only for the eastern front. You people come under the OKW [Armed Forces High Command].’ So we went to OKW. They said, ‘Why come to us? Berlin’s front faces east—you are the responsibility of OKH.’” As Refior talked, Kinzel examined the maps and disposition of the Berlin forces. Suddenly Kinzel looked up at Refior and quietly told him of Heinrici’s decision of the night before not to accept responsibility for the city’s defense. Then, as Refior later recorded, Kinzel spoke briefly of Hitler, Goebbels and the other bureaucrats. “As far as I am personally concerned,” he said, “those madmen in Berlin can fry in their own juice.”
On the drive back to Berlin, Refior, his buoyant enthusiasm shattered, realized for the first time what it meant to be “a rejected orphan.” He loved Berlin. He had attended the War Academy, married and raised his two children—a boy and girl—in the capital. Now, it seemed to him that he was working in ever-increasing loneliness to defend the city in which he had spent the happiest years of his life. No one in the chain of command was prepared to make what Refior saw as the gravest of all decisions: the responsibility for the defense and preservation of Berlin.
All that was left to do was to put the few possessions on his desk into a small case. He had said good-bye to his staff, briefed his successor, Krebs, and now Colonel General Heinz Guderian was ready to leave his Zossen headquarters, his eventual destination a well-guarded secret. First, however, he intended to go with his wife to a sanatorium near Munich where Guderian could get treatment for his ailing heart. Afterward he planned to head for the only peaceful place left in Germany: Southern Bavaria. The only activities in that region centered around army hospitals and convalescent homes, retired or dismissed generals and evacuated government officials and their departments. The General had chosen carefully. He would sit out the war in the unwarlike climate of the Bavarian Alps. As former Chief of the OKH, Guderian knew that absolutely nothing was happening down there.
*In 1948, following a sudden rise in pulse rate, his doctors told him to give up tobacco. Eisenhower never smoked again.
*His pride was somewhat restored when, shortly after this incident, the British showed their confidence in Montgomery and his policies by naming him a Field Marshal. For the man who had turned the tide of British defeat in the desert and chased Rommel out of North Africa, it was an honor long overdue.
*These figures were given by Winston Churchill on Jaunary 18, 1945, in a speech before the House of Commons. Appalled by the breakdown in amity, he announced that “U.S. troops have done almost all the fighting” in the Ardennes, suffering losses “equal to those of both sides at the Battle or Gettysburg.” Then, in what could only be interpreted as a direct slap at Montgomery and his supporters, he warned the British not to “lend themselves to the shouting of mischief makers.”
*“I should never have held the press conference at all,” Montgomery told the author in 1963. “The Americans seemed over-sensitive at the time and many of their generals disliked me so much that no matter what I said, it would have been wrong.”
*“Montgomery,” Eisenhower later stated, “believed in the appointment of a field commander as a matter of principle. He even offered to serve under Bradley if I would approve.”
** On March 11, for example, SHAEF intelligence reported that Zhukov’s “spearheads” had reached Seelow, west of the Oder and just twenty-eight miles from Berlin. When the author interviewed Soviet defense officials in Moscow in 1963, he learned that Zhukov did not actually reach Seelow, in the center of the German Oder defense system, until April 17.
*Whoever prepared the counterintelligence paper was in error about Barbarossa’s last resting place. Barbarossa (Red Beard)—the surname of Frederick I (11211190)—is not buried in Berchtesgaden. As the myth goes, “he never died, but merely sleeps” in the hills of Thuringia. He sits at a “stone table with his six knights waiting for the fullness of time when he will rescue Germany from bondage and give her the foremost place in the world … his beard has already grown through the stone slab, but must wind itself thrice around the table before his second advent.”
** One of Marshall’s senior staff officers, General John Hull, who in 1945 was the U.S. Army’s Acting Chief of Staff for Operations, says that “Ike was Marshall’s protégé and, though Ike might resent me saying this, there was between the two men a sort of father-son relationship.”
*There are many versions of the row, ranging from a detailed report in Juergen Thorwald’s Flight in the Winter to a two-line account in Die Leitzen Tage der Reichskanzlei by Gerhard Boldt, one of Guderian’s aides. Passing lightly over the matter, Boldt writes that Hitler advised the OKH Chief “to go to a spa for treatment” and Guderian “took the hint.” He gives the conference date as March 20, seven days before the fateful Küstrin attack. Guderian, in his memoirs Panzer Leader, gives the time and date as precisely 14.00 hours on March 28. For the most part, my reconstruction is based on Guderian’s memoirs, supplemented by interviews with Heinrici, Busse and their respective staffs.