ALMOST NOTHING of the once mighty Third Reich remained. Crushed from both sides, on the map it resembled an hourglass: the North Sea and the Baltic formed the top, and Bavaria, parts of Czechoslovakia, Austria and northern Italy—which Germany nowoccupied—made up the lower half. Across the narrow neck between these areas, only about ninety miles separated the Americans and the Russians. Fighting was still heavy in the north and, to a lesser degree, in the south. In the center General William Simpson’s U. S. Ninth Army was simply holding its positions along the Elbe, mopping up pockets of resistance bypassed during the dash for the river and repulsing occasional sharp counterattacks against its bridgeheads. There was one sore spot for the Ninth: Magdeburg. Again and again its commander had refused to surrender. Now Simpson had had enough: he called in bombers and leveled more than one third of the city. Then he sent in his troops.
On the afternoon of the seventeenth, as units of the 30th Infantry and 2nd Armored divisions began the attack, General Bradley joined Simpson at his headquarters. The phone rang. Simpson picked it up, listened for a moment and then, putting his hand over the receiver, said to Bradley, “It looks as if we may get the bridge in Magdeburg after all. What’ll we do then, Brad?”
Bradley knew only too well what Simpson wanted him to say: that the Autobahn bridge was the most direct and fastest route to Berlin. But he shook his head. “Hell’s bells,” he replied. “We don’t want any more bridgeheads on the Elbe. If you get it you’ll have to throw a battalion across it, I guess. But let’s hope the other fellows blow it up before you’re stuck with it.”
Bradley’s instructions from SHAEF were clear; he could offer Simpson no hope of moving forward. The orders read: “Take the necessary action to avoid offensive action in force, including the formation of new bridgeheads east of the Elbe-Mulde line….” Simpson’s forces were to remain as a threat to Berlin, but that was all.
Minutes later a second call settled the issue. As he put down the phone, Simpson told Bradley: “No need to worry any longer. The Krauts just blew it up.”
The blowing of the bridge brought to an end the dream of “Big Simp” Simpson, who had wanted to take his mighty Ninth Army into Berlin, the city which the Supreme Commander had once described as “clearly the main prize.”
In the hamlets north of Boizenburg on the Elbe, the householders were startled by a distant wailing. The strange sound grew louder, and soon an astonishing apparition came in sight. Down the road tramped two Scottish bagpipers, their pipes skirling. Behind them came Warrant Officer “Dixie” Deans’s POWs, twelve thousand strong, marching in columns under a light German guard. The prisoners’ uniforms were in tatters. Their few belongings were bundled and slung on their backs. They were emaciated, cold and hungry, but their heads were high. The determined Deans had seen to that. “When you pass through the villages,” he told the men, “spruce up even if it hurts, and show these bloody supermen exactly who won this war.”
Dixie’s own transport was an ancient bicycle that threatened to fall apart at any moment. A patch covered a large swelling on the front tire. But, bumpy as the ride was, Dixie was thankful for the mobility. He rode continuously from column to column, watching over his men and observing the German guards that marched on either side of each column. Every road was filled with POWs. There were nearly two thousand to a column, and although Deans tried resolutely to cover the entire area, it was an exhausting job. After almost ten days of seemingly aimless marching, Deans’s men were in bad shape. There were a few German supply trucks in the procession, but for the most part the men were living off the countryside. The German Commandant, Colonel Ostmann, appeared almost embarrassed by the meandering march and the shortage of food, but he told Deans, “There is just nothing I can do.” Dixie believed him. “I don’t think he has a clue from one day to the next where the devil we’re going,” Deans told fellow R.A.F. Warrant Officer Ronald Mogg.
The POWs had wandered like nomads since leaving Fallingbostel. Now they were heading for the town of Gresse, where trucks with Red Cross food parcels were said to await them. Deans hoped that they would halt there and go no farther. He told Ostmann that the march was useless, for the British would soon overrun them. Deans hoped he was right. From what the men were able to pick up on the precious secret radios they had carried out of the camp, the Allied news was good. Mogg, a shorthand expert, took down the BBC news twice a day. Whenever they could plug into an outlet, the radio in the gramophone was used; during the march they relied on the battery-operated receiver. One of the German guards, Ostmann’s interpreter, Corporal “Charlie” Gumbach, thought Sergeant John Bristow was foolish to carry the heavy, old-fashioned gramophone on his back. “Why don’t you drop it somewhere?” the German suggested. “I’ve grown attached to it, Charlie,” said Bristow seriously. “And anyway, the chaps would never forgive me if we didn’t have music in the evenings.” Bristow looked at the German suspiciously. “Don’t you like to dance, Charlie?” he asked. Gumbach shrugged helplessly; all these British were madmen.
As Deans’s column swung down the road toward a new village the pipers hoisted their instruments into position, and the tired men in the ranks squared their shoulders and got into step. “At least,” said Ron Mogg, stepping out smartly alongside Deans on the bicycle, “we’re impressing the natives no end.”
On the eastern front, Chuikov’s Guards and Katukov’s tankers had finally gained a foothold on the Seelow Heights by sheer weight of numbers. A little before midnight on the sixteenth, General Popiel afterward remembered, “the first three houses in the northern suburbs of the town of Seelow had been captured…. It was a bitter operation.” All through the night of the sixteenth, Red Army attacks were smashed again and again by point-blank fire from anti-aircraft guns. “The Germans didn’t even have to aim,” Popiel said. “They just fired over open sights.” Chuikov himself reached Seelow about noon on the seventeenth. He found the resistance so fierce that he pessimistically estimated it would take “one day to pierce each line of resistance between the Oder and Berlin.” Not until the night of the seventeenth were the Heights taken. It had indeed taken more than forty-eight hours to break through the first two lines. The Russians believed that there were at least three more such lines lying before Berlin.
Popiel, trying to make his way to Katukov’s headquarters some distance from Seelow, saw that the fight had caused great confusion. Troops and tanks were everywhere, crammed into every corner, alley, street and garden. German artillery was still firing. In their effort to take the Heights, Zhukov’s troops had become disorganized; now they had to be reassembled before moving again. Zhukov, furious, and well aware of the pace Koniev was setting, demanded an all-out effort.
During the fighting, Soviet tankers had come up with an ingenious solution to the bulky anti-tank rockets fired from Panzerfäuste. To his amazement, General Yushchuk saw that his tankers had taken every bedspring they could find from German homes. These coiled-wire contraptions were now hitched to the front of tanks to break the impact of the blunt-nosed rockets. Preceded by bedsprings, the Soviet cannon now prepared to lead the assault on the city.
Near Cottbus, in a medieval castle overlooking the Spree, Marshal Koniev waited for his call to go through to Moscow. Somewhere a lone enemy battery was still firing. It was typical German artillery fire, Koniev thought as he listened to the carefully timed, methodical bursting of the shells. He wondered what they were firing at—perhaps the castle or the antenna of his headquarters radio station. Whatever the target, the fire was not hindering his tanks, which had been crossing the Spree since noon. By now they were miles away, smashing through a disintegrating enemy and rumbling toward Lübben, near the point where the boundary between his army and Zhukov’s ended. For Koniev, the time had come to call Stalin and ask permission to swing his tanks north toward Berlin.
Koniev had every reason to be in high spirits. His tankers had moved with unforeseen speed, although the fighting had been brutally hard in some areas and casualties had been heavy. Earlier on this morning of the seventeenth, driving toward the front to watch the crossing of the Spree, Koniev had realized for the first time just how terrible the battle had been. His car had passed through smoldering forests and along fields cratered by artillery fire. There were, he recalled, “huge quantities of decommissioned and burned-out tanks, equipment mired in streams and swamps, heaps of twisted metal, and there were dead everywhere—all that remained of the forces that had met and battled and passed through this land.”
Koniev had expected great difficulty crossing the Spree, which was 180 feet wide in places. By the time he reached the headquarters of General Rybalko’s Third Guards Tank Army, a few tanks had actually been ferried across, but ferrying was much too slow. The Spree line had to be forced fast. Koniev and Rybalko hurried to an area where reconnaissance patrols had reported evidence that some sort of ford existed. Although the river at this site was close to 150 feet wide, Koniev, after inspecting the terrain, decided to risk sending a tank on a trial crossing. Rybalko selected the best tank crew in his lead detachment and explained what they were to attempt. The tank plunged in. Under fire from the west bank, it began slowly to move across. The water rose up over its treads—but it got no deeper. At this one point, the river was only three and a half feet deep. One behind another, Rybalko’s tanks lumbered through the water. The German line on the Spree was cracked. Koniev’s forces moved across the river in strength and charged ahead at full speed.
Now, in the Cottbus castle, the Marshal’s call to Moscow came through. An aide handed Koniev the radio-telephone. As he spoke he reverted to the military formality that Stalin always demanded. “This is the Commander of the First Ukrainian Front,” he said. Stalin replied, “Comrade Stalin. Go ahead.”
“This is my tactical situation,” Koniev reported. “My armored forces are now twenty-three kilometers [about fourteen miles] northwest of Finsterwalde, and my infantry are on the banks of the Spree.” He paused. “I suggest that my armored formations move immediately in a northerly direction.” He carefully avoided mentioning Berlin.
“Zhukov,” Stalin said, “is having a difficult time. He is still breaking through the defenses on the Seelow Heights. Enemy resistance there appears stiff and unyielding.” There was a brief pause. Then Stalin said, “Why not pass Zhukov’s armor through the gap created on your front and let him go for Berlin from there? Is that possible?”
“Comrade Stalin,” Koniev said quickly, “it would take much time and cause great confusion. There is no necessity for transferring armor from the First Belorussian Front. Operations in my section are going favorably.” He took the plunge. “I have adequate forces and we are in a perfect position to turn our tank armies toward Berlin.”
Koniev explained that he could send his forces toward the city by way of Zossen, twenty-five miles south of Berlin. “What scale map are you using?” Stalin asked suddenly. “One to two hundred thousands,” Koniev answered. There was a pause while Stalin referred to his own map. Then he said, “Are you aware that Zossen is the headquarters of the German General Staff?” Koniev said he was. There was another pause. Finally Stalin said, “Very well. I agree. Turn your tank armies toward Berlin.” The Generalissimo added that he would issue new army boundary lines, and then, abruptly, he hung up. Koniev put down his own phone, immensely satisfied.
Zhukov learned of Koniev’s drive on Berlin from Stalin himself —and for the General it apparently was not a pleasant conversation. What was said no one knew, but the headquarters staff could see its effect on the commander. As Lieutenant Colonel PavelTroyanoskii, senior correspondent for the military paper Red Star, was later to recall the incident: “The attack had stalled and Stalin reprimanded Zhukov. It was a serious situation and a reprimand from Stalin was often couched in not very mild language.” Troyanoskii could plainly see that “Zhukov, a man with all the marks of an iron will about his face and a man who did not like to share his glory with anyone, was extremely worked up.” General Popiel described Zhukov’s state of mind more succinctly. “We have a lion on our hands,” he told his fellow staff members. The lion was not long in showing his claws. That evening the word went out from a grim Zhukov to the entire First Belorussian army group: “Now take Berlin!”
By now confusion was beginning to sweep the German lines. Shortages were apparent everywhere and in everything. A critical lack of transport, an almost total absence of fuel, and roads thronged with refugees made large-scale troop movements almost impossible. This immobility was producing dire consequences: as units shifted position, their equipment, including precious artillery, had to be abandoned. Communication networks, too, were faltering and in some places no longer existed. As a result, orders were often obsolete when they reached their destinations—or even when they were issued. The chaos was compounded as officers arriving at the front to take over units discovered nothing to take over, because their commands had already been captured or annihilated. In some areas, inexperienced men, left leaderless, did not know exactly where they were or who was fighting on their flanks. Even in veteran outfits, headquarters were forced to move with such frequency that often the troops did not know where their command post was or how to contact it.
Units were trapped and captured or simply overrun and slaughtered. Others, demoralized, broke and ran. In only two places did the Vistula front remain intact. The northern area held by General Hasso von Manteuffel’s Third Panzer Army had not been hit by Zhukov’s massive assault—but Von Manteuffel was expecting an attack at any moment by Marshal Konstantin Rokossovskii’s Second Belorussians. Farther south, part of Busse’s Ninth Army was still holding. But it was beginning to be affected by the general disintegration: its left flank had already started to crumble before Zhukov’s avalanche of tanks; the right was halfway encircled by Koniev’s sledgehammer drive south of Berlin. In truth, the Army Group Vistula was breaking up piece by piece, in chaos, confusion and death—exactly as Heinrici had known it would.
Von Manteuffel, like Heinrici, had never underestimated the Russians; he, too, had fought them many times before. Now, in his Storch reconnaissance plane over the Oder, he studied the enemy. Rokossovskii’s men were making no effort to hide their assault preparations. Artillery and infantry units were being openly moved up into position. Von Manteuffel marveled at the Russians’ cockiness. For days now, as he flew back and forth over their lines, they had not even bothered to look up.
Von Manteuffel knew that when the drive came he would not be able to hold for very long. He was a panzer general without panzers. To halt Zhukov’s drive in the Ninth Army sector, Heinrici had denuded Von Manteuffel’s army of the few panzer divisions it had left. They had come from the 3rd SS Corps, holding the southern edge of his sector in the forests of Eberswalde. SS General Felix Steiner, who was regarded by Wehrmacht officers as one of the best of the SS generals, reported that though he had lost the tanks he had been given other reinforcements. Solemnly he reported to Von Manteuffel: “I have just received five thousand Luftwaffe pilots, each with his little Iron Cross hanging around his neck. Tell me, what do I do with them?”
“I have no doubt,” Von Manteuffel told his staff, “that on Hitler’s maps there is a little flag saying 7TH PANZER DIV., even though it got here without a single tank, truck, piece of artillery or even a machine gun. We have an army of ghosts.”
Now, looking down on the Russians’ preparations from his plane, Von Manteuffel figured that he could expect their main assault sometime around the twentieth. He knew exactly what he was going to do then. He would hold as long as possible and then he intended to retreat “step by step, with my soldiers arm to arm, shoulder to shoulder, all the way to the west.” Von Manteuffel had no intention of allowing even one of them to fall into Russian hands.
The situation of the Ninth Army was now bordering on the catastrophic, yet its commander was not considering pulling back. To General Theodor Busse, retreat, except under orders, was comparable to treason—and Hitler’s orders were to stand fast. Zhukov’s tanks, storming on after their breakthrough on Seelow Heights, had ripped a gash in the army’s northern flank, and now the First Belorussians were charging at breakneck speed toward Berlin. The near-absence of communications made it impossible for Busse to assess the extent of the breakthrough. He did not even know if counterattacks could close the tear in his lines. His best information was that Zhukov’s tanks were already within twenty-five miles of Berlin’s outskirts. Even more alarming was Koniev’s blistering drive along the Ninth’s southern flank. The First Ukrainians, now beyond Luübben, were arching back behind the Ninth and racing northward for the city. Would the Ninth be cut off, Busse wondered, just as Model’s army group had been in the Ruhr? Model had been lucky in one respect: he had been encircled by the Americans.*
The situation was particularly galling for General Karl Weidling, whose 56th Panzer Corps had absorbed the full brunt of Zhukov’s breakthrough on the Seelow Heights. His corps had held off Zhukov for forty-eight hours, inflicting staggering casualties. But the promised reserve divisions that Weidling so anxiously awaited—the SS Nordland Division and the powerful, fully operational 18th Panzer Grenadier Division—had not arrived in time for the counterattacks that might have stopped Zhukov’s tanks.
One man from the Nordland Division did show up—the commander, SS Major General Jürgen Ziegler. Arriving by car at Weidling’s headquarters north of Müncheberg, Ziegler announced calmly that his division was miles away; it had run out of fuel. Weidling was livid. Every panzer division carried reserves for just such emergencies. But Ziegler, who disliked fighting under Wehrmacht officers, apparently did not consider his division’s arrival urgent. Now, twenty precious hours had been lost in refueling and Ziegler was still not in position. The 18th Panzer Grenadier Division, which should have reached Weidling the day before, on the seventeenth, had just arrived. The counterattacks that had been planned for this force would not take place: the division had arrived just in time to retreat.
Weidling seemed dogged by bad luck. When Zhukov’s massive columns of tanks surged out from the plateau, among the German units hit hardest had been the one force that Heinrici had worried about most: Goering’s 9th Parachute Division. Already demoralized by their initial exposure to the battle on the Heights, Goering’s paratroopers panicked and broke as the Russian tanks, guns blazing, smashed into their lines. Colonel Hans Oscar Wöhlermann, Weidling’s new artillery commander, who had arrived on the opening day of the Russian offensive across the Oder, witnessed the rout that followed. Everywhere, he said, were soldiers “running away like madmen.” Even when he drew his pistol, the frantic paratroopers did not halt. Wöhlermann found the division’s commander “utterly alone and completely disheartened by the flight of his men, trying to hold back whatever there was left to hold back.” Eventually the headlong flight was stopped, but Goering’s much-vaunted paratroopers “remained”—in Wöhlermann’s words—“a threat to the course of the whole battle.” As for Heinrici, when he heard the news he rang Goering at Karinhall. “I have something to tell you,” he said acidly. “Those Cassino troops of yours, those famous paratroopers—well, they have run away.”
Although Weidling tried desperately to stem the Russian armored assaults, the 56th Corps front could not hold. Weidling’s Chief of Staff Lieutenant Colonel Theodor von Dufving, saw that the Russians were “beginning to force us back by applying terrific pressure in a kind of horseshoe-like maneuver—hitting us from both sides and encircling us again and again.” The Corps was also subjected to merciless air attack: Von Dufving had to take cover thirty times within four hours. The Soviet pincer tactics had forced Weidling to evacuate two headquarters since noon. As a result, he had lost communications with Busse’s headquarters.
At nightfall Weidling found himself in a candlelit cellar at Waldsieversdorf, northwest of Müncheberg. There he received a visitor: Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, looking shaky and apprehensive. “He kept looking at us expectantly,” Wöhlermann was to remember, “with anxious, sad eyes.” When he heard the truth about the 56th Corps situation, “it seemed to have a crushing effect upon him.” Hesitantly, the Foreign Minister asked a few questions in a hoarse, quiet voice, and shortly thereafter he took his leave. Wöhlermann and other members of the headquarters staff had half expected Von Ribbentrop “to tell us that negotiations had begun from our side with the English and the Americans. It would have given us hope at this last hour.” He left no such word.
On the heels of the Foreign Minister arrived the one-armed 32-year-old leader of the Hitler Youth, Artur Axmann. He brought news he was sure would please Weidling. The youngsters of the Hitler Youth, Axmann announced, were ready to fight and were even now manning the roads in the 56th Corps rear. Weidling’s reaction to the news was not what Axmann had expected. As Wöhlermann remembers, Weidling was so enraged that for a moment he was almost inarticulate. Then, “using extremely coarse language,” he denounced Axmann’s plan. “You cannot sacrifice these children for a cause that is already lost,” he angrily told the Youth Leader. “I will not use them and I demand that the order sending these children into battle be rescinded.” The pudgy Axmann hurriedly gave Weidling his word that the order would be countermanded.
If such a directive was issued, it never reached hundreds of Hitler Youth boys lying under arms on the approaches to the city. They remained in position. In the next forty-eight hours they were steamrollered by Russian attacks. Willy Feldheim and the 130 boys in his company were swamped; they fell back helter-skelter and finally stopped and tried to hold a line in the protection of some ditches and a bunker. At last Willy, exhausted by fear, stretched out on a bench during a lull in the fighting and fell asleep.
Hours later he woke up with a strange sense that something was wrong. A voice said, “I wonder what’s up? It’s so silent.”
The boys rushed out of the bunker—and were confronted by a “fantastic, incredible scene, like an old painting of the Napoleonic Wars.” The sun was shining and there were bodies everywhere. Nothing was standing. Houses were in ruins. There were cars wrecked and abandoned, some of them still burning. The worst shock was the dead. They were heaped in piles, in “a weird tableau, with their rifles and Panzerfäuste lying beside them. It was lunatic. And then we realized that we were all alone.”
They had slept through the entire attack.
In Berlin the tension was building hour by hour. General Reymann’s scanty forces, manning the outer perimeter rings, had been warned that the signal “Clausewitz,” code name for the attack on the city, might come at any time. Various emergency measures had gone into effect, making clear to all Berliners that the moment of truth was at hand. Among other things, along the main roads and thoroughfares the closing of the barricades had begun.
Not even Goebbels could ignore the threat any longer. A torrent of hysterical news and slogans poured out of the Propaganda Ministry. The official Nazi Party newspaper, Völkischer Beobachter, announced the Soviet drive across the Oder, and said: “A new and heavy trial, perhaps the heaviest of all, is before us.” The newspaper continued, “Each square meter of territory which the enemy has to battle for, each Soviet tank which a Grenadier, a Volkssturm man, or a Hitler lad destroys bears more weight today than at any other time in this war. The word for the day is: Clench your teeth! Fight like the devil! Don’t give up one foot of soil easily! The hour of decision demands the last, the greatest, effort!” Berliners were warned that the Russians had already decided the fate of the city’s inhabitants. Those who were not killed at the barricades, Goebbels warned, would be liquidated “by deportation as slave labor.”
On the afternoon of the eighteenth, General Reymann received an order from the Reichskanzlei, later confirmed by a personal call from Goebbels, that “all forces available, including Volkssturm, have been requested by the Ninth Army to hold second-line positions.” In other words, the city was to be stripped to man the outer defenses. Reymann was astounded. Hurriedly ten Volkssturm battalions were rounded up, along with a regiment of anti-aircraft defense units of the “Great Germany” Guard regiment. After hours of search and requisition, a miscellaneous collection of vehicles was assembled and the force headed east. As he watched them go, Reymann turned to Goebbels’ deputy. “Tell Goebbels,” he said angrily, “that it is no longer possible to defend the Reich capital. The inhabitants are defenseless.”
Carl Wiberg’s face betrayed no emotion but he noticed that his hands were trembling. After the long months of his quest, he could hardly believe his ears. Standing among other customers near the main counter of the black market food store, he leaned down and patted his little dachshunds; the action also enabled him to hear a little better, although the two well-dressed women standing next to him had made no attempt at secrecy.
Most Berliners knew nothing about this well-stocked shop. It sold only to selected customers, including those well up in Nazi echelons. Wiberg had been patronizing the place for a long time, and he had picked up many choice and accurate items of information just by listening to such customers as these two well-fed ladies. Their information ought to be accurate, he thought; their husbands were both important Nazis.
Wiberg decided he had heard enough. He collected his purchases, doffed his Homburg to the proprietor and strolled out of the store. In the street his pace quickened as he hurried to find Jessen-Schmidt.
Several hours later, after a lengthy discussion, both men agreed that Wiberg’s news had to be true. By the afternoon of Wednesday, April 18, a message was en route to London. Though all their other hopes had been dashed, Wiberg fervently hoped the Allies would act on this report. According to what he had overheard in the food shop, Hitler was definitely in the Berlin area—at a headquarters in Bernau, only about fourteen miles northeast of the city. What better present could they give him for his fifty-sixth birthday, April 20, than a massive air raid?
General Alfred Jodl, Hitler’s Chief of Operations, returned home at 3 A.M. on April 20. His face was lined with worry and exhaustion. The crisis had been reached, he told his wife Luise. “You’d better start packing and get ready to leave,” he said. Luise argued; she wanted to continue with her Red Cross work. But Jodl was insistent. “With your name, the Russians would not wait a single day before shipping you off to Lubianka,” he said. Where were they going? she asked. Jodl shrugged. “To the north or south—nobody knows,” he said. “But I hope we can face the end together.” They talked most of the night. A little before 10 A.M. the sirens sounded. “I’ll bet Berlin gets an extra ration of bombs today,” Jodl said. “It always happens on Hitler’s birthday.”
Jodl hurried upstairs to shave before going back to the Führer-bunker. This birthday was to be no different from the Führer’s others: there would be the usual parade of government officials and Cabinet members arriving to congratulate Hitler, and Jodl was expected to be present. As he came down the stairs, Luise handed him his cap and belt. He picked up his map case and kissed her good-bye. “I must hurry for the congratulations,” he said. Luise wondered, as she did every day now, whether they would ever see each other again. “Bless you,” she called after her husband as he got into his car.
Another of Hitler’s court was also ready to leave for the ceremonies. Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering intended to show up just to prove he was still loyal, but from there he was heading south. Goering had decided that the moment had come for him to bid farewell to his huge castle and estate at Karinhall, about fifty miles northwest of Berlin. He had reached the decision shortly after the Soviet bombardment began at 5:30 A.M. Goering had promptly called Heinrici’s headquarters in nearby Prenzlau. The attack in the north had begun, he was told: Rokossovskii’s Second Belorussians had finally launched their offensive against Von Manteuffel’s Third Panzer Army. Goering was well aware that Von Manteuffel’s strength was inadequate. The Reichsmarschall had toured that front several times in the previous weeks, loudly telling one general after another that because of “all the loafing around nothing is prepared. The Russians will just laugh their way through your lines.”
Goering himself had prepared well for this moment. Lined up on the main road outside the gates of his estate were twenty-four Luftwaffe trucks loaded with the contents of Karinhall—his antiques, paintings, silver and furniture. This convoy was to head south immediately. Most of the Luftwaffe headquarters people in Berlin, along with their equipment, were to leave in other convoys later in the day.*
Now, standing by the main gates, Goering spoke a few final words to the commander of the truck column. Surrounded by motorcylists, it moved off. Goering stood looking at the huge castle with its magnificent wings and buttresses. A Luftwaffe engineering officer came up; everything, he said, was ready. As a few of his men and some of the local villagers watched, Goering walked across the road, bent over a detonator and pushed down the plunger. With a tremendous roar Karinhall blew up.
Without waiting for the dust to settle, Goering walked back to his car. Turning to one of his engineering officers he said calmly, “Well, that’s what you have to do sometimes when you’re a crown prince.” Slamming the car door he set out for Berlin and the Führer’s birthday celebration.
Hitler rose at 11 A.M. and from noon on he received the tributes of his inner clique—among them Joseph Goebbels, Martin Bormann, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Albert Speer, and his military leaders Karl Doenitz, Wilhelm Keitel, Alfred Jodl, Hans Krebs and Heinrich Himmler. After them came Berlin area Gauleiters, staff members and secretaries. Then, as the guns rumbled in the distance, Hitler, followed by his entourage, emerged from the bunker. There in the bombed wilderness of the Reichskanzlei gardens he inspected men from two units—the SS “Frundsberg” Division, a recently arrived unit from the Courland Army,* and a proud little group from Axmann’s Hitler Youth. “Everyone,” Axmann said long afterward, “was shocked at the Führer’s appearance. He walked with a stoop. His hands trembled. But it was surprising how much will power and determination still radiated from this man.” Hitler shook hands with the boys and decorated some whom Axmann introduced as having “recently distinguished themselves at the front.”
Then Hitler walked down the line of SS men. He shook hands with each one, and confidently predicted that the enemy would be defeated before the approaches to Berlin. Looking on was Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS. Since April 6 he had been meeting secretly from time to time with Count Folke Bernadotte, head of the Swedish Red Cross. In a vague way, Himmler had sounded out Bernadotte about the possibility of negotiating peace terms with the Allies, but now he stepped forward and reaffirmed his loyalty and that of the SS to Hitler. In a few hours he was scheduled to meet once more with Bernadotte.
Immediately after the inspection ceremonies, Hitler’s military conference began. By this time Goering had arrived. General Krebs conducted the briefing, although everyone was familiar with the situation. Berlin would be encircled within a matter of days, if not hours. Even before that happened, Busse’s Ninth Army would be surrounded and trapped, unless orders for its withdrawal were given. To Hitler’s military advisors one point was clear: the Führer and vital government ministries and departments still in Berlin must leave the capital for the south. Keitel and Jodl particularly urged the move, but Hitler refused to acknowledge that things were that serious. According to Colonel Nicolaus von Below, the Führer’s Luftwaffe adjutant, “Hitler stated that the battle for Berlin presented the only chance to prevent total defeat.” He did make one concession: in the event that the Americans and Russians linked up on the Elbe, the Reich would be commanded in the north by Admiral Doenitz and in the south possibly by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. Meanwhile, various government agencies were given authorization to leave immediately.
Hitler did not reveal his own plans. But at least three people in the bunker were convinced he would never leave Berlin. Fräulein Johanna Wolf, one of Hitler’s secretaries, had heard him remark only a few days earlier that “he would take his own life, if he felt the situation was beyond saving.” Von Below, too, believed that “Hitler had made up his mind to stay in Berlin and die there.” Jodl, when he returned home, told his wife that Hitler, in a private talk, had said, “Jodl, I shall fight as long as the faithful fight next to me and then I shall shoot myself.”*
Most of the government had already left Berlin, but the remaining Reich administrative agencies almost seemed to have been preparing for this moment for days, like runners awaiting a starter’s pistol. The real exodus now began; it was to continue until the city was finally surrounded. The Luftwaffe’s Chief of Staff, General Karl Koller, noted in his diary that Goering had departed. “Naturally,” Koller wrote, “he leaves me here to let all Hitler’s anger pass over me.” Bureaucrats big and small made their get-away. Philippe Hambert, a young French forced laborer who worked as a draftsman in the offices of Dr. Karl Dustmann, one of the Todt Labor Organization architects, was dumbfounded when his boss suddenly gave him a present of a thousand marks (about $250) and then left town. Margarete Schwarz, in the garden of her apartment house in Charlottenburg, glanced down the street and saw a large chauffeur-driven blue car pull up outside a nearby house. Her neighbor, Otto Solimann, joined her, and together they watched as “an orderly in a neat white jacket along with a naval officer with lots of gold on his uniform” left the house. Quickly the car was packed with baggage. Then the men jumped in “and drove off at top speed.” Solimann said to Margarete: “The rats are leaving the sinking ship. That was Admiral Raeder.”
In all, the Berlin Commandant’s office issued over two thousand permits to leave the capital. “There was something almost comic about the reasons with which state and party functionaries backed up their requests to leave the city,” the Chief of Staff, Colonel Hans Refior, later recalled. “Even though Goebbels had ordered that ‘No man capable of carrying arms is to leave Berlin,’ we put no difficulties in the way of these ‘home fighters’ who wanted passes. Why should we hold up these contemptible characters? They all believed that flight would save their precious lives. The majority of the population remained behind. Flight for them was beyond their means anyway because of the transport shortage.”
In the dental offices at 213 Kurfürstendamm, blond Käthe Heusermann got a phone call from her employer. The Nazis’ top dentist, Professor Hugo J. Blaschke, was leaving immediately. A few days earlier, Blaschke had instructed Käthe to pack all dental records, X-rays, molds and other equipment in boxes so they could be collected and sent south. Blaschke said that he expected “the Chancellery group to leave any day and we are going with them.” Käthe had told him she was staying in Berlin. Blaschke was furious. “Do you realize what it’s going to be like when the Russians get here?” he asked. “First you’ll be raped. Then you’ll be strung up. Have you any idea what the Russians are like?” But Käthe just “could not believe it was going to be that bad.” Later she was to recall, “I didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation. Maybe it was foolishness, but I was so busy that I didn’t realize how desperate everything had become.” Now Blaschke was insistent. “Pack up and get out,” he urged. “The Chancellery group and their families are leaving.” But Käthe was adamant. She intended to stay in the city. “Well,” Blaschke said, “remember what I told you.” Then he hung up.
Suddenly Käthe remembered something Blaschke had asked her to do some days before. If he left the city and she remained, she was to warn a certain friend of his—using a code sentence because, said Blaschke, “the phones might be tapped”—that the top Nazis were fleeing. If the entire entourage had gone she was to say, “The bridge was removed last night.” If only some had departed the sentence was to be, “Only a tooth was extracted last night.” She had no idea who Blaschke’s friend was except that “his name was Professor Gallwitz or Grawitz and I think he mentioned that he was a senior dentist for the SS.” Blaschke had given her only a telephone number. Now, under the impression that the entire “Chancellery group” had left, she called the number. When a man spoke, Käthe said, “The bridge was removed last night.”
A few hours later that evening, Professor Ernst Grawitz, head of the German Red Cross and friend of Heinrich Himmler, sat down to dinner with his family. When everyone was seated Grawitz reached down, pulled the pins on two hand grenades, and blew himself and his family to oblivion.*
The great exodus would always be remembered by the Berliners as “the flight of the Golden Pheasants.” But most people that day were more aware of advancing Russians than of fleeing Nazis. Helena Boese, wife of film director Karl Boese, recalled that the only concern now “was to somehow stay alive.” Soviet troops were already at Müncheberg and Strausberg, about fifteen miles to the east; and now the news was filtering through the city that another Russian drive was heading toward the capital from the south, toward Zossen. Georg Schröter, a screenwriter living in Tempelhof, learned of this Russian advance firsthand. Worried about a girl friend of his, a cabaret artist named Trude Berliner who lived in one of the outlying districts south of Berlin, Schröter phoned her home. She answered and then said, “Wait a minute.” There was a pause. “I have someone here who would like to speak to you,” she said. Schröter found himself conversing with a Soviet colonel who spoke perfect German. “You can count on us,” he told the astonished Schröter, “to be there in two or three days.”
Everywhere—north, south and east—the fronts were shrinking. And now almost all the machinery of the shattered, ruined metropolis was either slowing down or coming to a halt. Factories were closing; streetcars had ceased to run; the subway had stopped except for the transport of essential workers. Ilse König, a laboratory technician in the city health department, remembers the Roter Ausweis (red pass) she received in order to continue riding to her job. Garbage was no longer being collected; mail could not be delivered. Gertrud Evers, working in the main post office on Oranienburgerstrasse, remembered the “terrific stench of spoiled, undelivered food packages that hung over the building.” Because most of the police were now either in fighting units or the Volkssturm, the streets were no longer patrolled.
For many people on this twentieth of April the seriousness of the situation was really brought home by a single occurrence: the zoo closed its gates. Electricity there stopped at exactly 10:50 A.M., making it impossible to pump in water. The current would come on again four days later, but for only nineteen minutes. Thereafter it would remain off until the battle was over. But from this day onward the keepers knew that many of the animals must surely die—particularly the hippos in the pools and the inhabitants of the aquarium that had been saved earlier. Heinrich Schwarz, the bird keeper, already worried about the condition of the rare Abu Markub stork, which was slowly but surely starving to death in the Schwarz bedroom, now wondered how the bird could possibly survive without water. He would carry pails of water until he collapsed, the 63-year-old Schwarz decided—and not only for Abu, but for Rosa, the big hippo, and her two-year-old baby, Knautschke.
Zoo director Lutz Heck was in a quandary. He knew that eventually the dangerous animals must be destroyed, in particular the zoo’s prize baboon, but he kept putting off the moment. Distraught and in need of a moment’s peace, Heck did something he had never before done in his life: he went fishing in the Landwehr Canal along with one of the keepers. There, while “thinking things out,” the men caught two pike.
That day Fritz Kraft, the municipal subway director, met with Berlin’s Mayor, Julius Lippert. The Mayor gave Kraft and the assembled subway managers some realistic instructions. “If the Western Allies get here first,” Lippert told the group, “hand over the subway installations intact. If the Russians get here before them …” He paused, shrugged, and said, “Destroy as much as possible.” Small automatic telephone exchanges got similar instructions. Mechanics at the Buckow exchange were told to destroy the installations rather than let the Russians capture them. But maintenance man Herbert Magder suddenly realized that nobody had been given any instructions about how to do it. To the best of Magder’s knowledge not a single exchange was destroyed. Nearly all of them continued to work throughout the battle.
Factories also were ordered leveled, in keeping with Hitler’s scorched-earth policy. Professor Georg Henneberg, head of the Schering chemical department in Charlottenburg, remembers the plant director calling in all the chemists and reading an order he had just received. As the enemy got closer, the edict said, water, gas, electrical and boiler installations were to be destroyed. Henneberg’s boss finished reading the order, paused a moment, then said, “Now, gentlemen, you know what you are not supposed to do.” He bid them all good-bye and closed down the plant, intact. As Henneberg remembers, “We all bid farewell to one another until life after death.”
For years, Berliners would remember that April 20 for still another reason. Whether in celebration of the Führer’s birthday or in anticipation of the climax to come no one knew, but that day the government gave the hungry populace extra allocations of food called “crisis rations.” As Jurgen-Erich Klotz, a 25-year-old one-armed veteran, remembered the extra food allocation, it consisted of one pound of bacon or sausage, one half pound of rice or oatmeal, 250 dried lentils, peas or beans, one can of vegetables, two pounds of sugar, about one ounce of coffee, a small package of a coffee substitute and some fats. Although there were almost five hours of air raids on Berlin this day, housewives braved the bombs to pick up the extra rations. They were to last eight days, and, as Anne-Lise Bayer said to her husband, “With these rations we shall now ascend into heaven.” The same thought apparently occurred to Berliners everywhere; the extra food came to be known as Himmelfahrtsrationen—Ascension Day rations.
At Gresse, north of the Elbe, the Red Cross packages had arrived for Warrant Officer Dixie Deans’s twelve thousand POWs. Deans had made all the arrangements. He had even persuaded the Commandant, Colonel Ostmann, to let R.A.F. men go to the International Red Cross center in Lübeck and drive trucks back, to get delivery faster. Now, columns of men covered the roads all around the town where the distribution of parcels was taking place. “Two parcels to a man,” Deans had announced. “The effect on the morale of the men,” Flight Sergeant Calton Younger remembered, “was electric. The arrival of the parcels was a plain miracle and we promptly invested Deans with the qualities of a saint.”
Deans cycled from column to column on his frail bicycle with the distorted tire, seeing that every man got his quota, and warning the half-starved POWs, who had been subsisting for the most part on raw vegetables, not to eat too much but to “save as much as you can because we don’t know what Jerry still has up his sleeve for us.” Nevertheless, most men, Deans saw, “were eating as though it was their last meal.” Flight Sergeant Geoffrey Wilson wolfed his way through the parcel: corned beef, biscuits, chocolate—and, above all, 120 cigarettes. He was “eating like mad, and smoking like mad because I intended to die full and not hungry.”
The British planes found them as they sat there eating: nine R.A.F Typhoon fighters. They circled overhead, and then, in what Wilson was to remember as a “kind of a dreamlike, fascinating way,” they peeled off and dived. Someone said, “My God! They’re coming for us!” Men scattered wildly in all directions. Some tried to put out colored identifying cloth strips which they were carrying for just such an emergency. Others threw themselves into ditches, lay behind walls, ran for cover in barns or took shelter in the town itself. But many were too late. One after another, the Typhoons swooped in, firing rockets and dropping anti-personnel bombs among the columns. Men yelled: “We’re your mates! We’re your mates!” Eight planes made individual attacks; the ninth, perhaps realizing the mistake, pulled up. It was all over in minutes. Sixty POWs were dead. A score of others were injured, and some would die of their wounds in German hospitals.
Deans was sick with despair as he walked along the roads and saw the carnage. He immediately ordered identification of the dead. Some bodies were riddled almost beyond recognition—“just bits and pieces that had to be shoveled into the graves,” Deans was later to recall.
After the dead had been buried and the wounded moved into German hospitals, a cold and determined Deans cycled over to Colonel Ostmann at his temporary headquarters. There was no military courtesy this time from Deans. “Ostmann,” he said, “I want you to write me out a pass that will carry me through to the British lines. This sort of thing must never happen again.”
Ostmann looked at Deans in amazement. “Mr. Deans,” he said, “I couldn’t do that.”
Deans stared back at him. “We don’t know who is going to overrun our group,” he warned. “It could be the British—or it could be the Russians. We don’t give a damn who liberates us. But which do you want to surrender to?” Deans looked squarely at the German. “Somehow I don’t think you’ll have much of a future with the Russians.” He paused to let his last statement sink in. Then he said quietly, “Colonel, write out the pass.”
Ostmann sat down at a table and on Wehrmacht paper wrote out a note which would carry Deans through enemy territory. “I don’t know how you’ll get through the front lines,” he told Deans, “but at least this will get you up to them.” Deans said: “I would like to take the guard Charlie Gumbach with me.” Ostmann thought about that for a moment and said, “Agreed.” He wrote out a pass for Gumbach. “And I could do with a bicycle that isn’t falling apart,” said Dixie. Ostmann looked at him and then, shrugging, said that he would arrange that, too. As he left the office, Deans had one final remark. “I will be back with Charlie to bring my men out, I promise you that.” Then with a crisp salute, Deans said, “Thank you, Colonel.” The Colonel saluted too. “Thank you, Mr. Deans,” he said.
That night, accompanied by German Corporal Charlie Gumbach, the indomitable Dixie Deans set out for the long ride to the British lines.
By nightfall Koniev, watching the map anxiously as Zhukov’s tanks streaked toward Berlin, was urging his men on to even greater speed. “Don’t worry about your flanks, Pavel Semenovich,” he told General Rybalko, Commander of the Third Guards Tank Army. “Don’t worry about being detached from the infantry. Keep going.” Years afterward, Koniev remarked, “At that moment I knew what my tank commanders must be thinking: ‘Here you are throwing us into this manhole, forcing us to move without strength on our flanks—won’t the Germans cut our communications, hit us from the rear?’” The tall Koniev, clapping his Marshal’s epaulettes with his hands, told the tank commanders, “I will be present. You need not worry. My observation post will be traveling with you in the very middle of the drive.” Rybalko and General D. D. Lelyushenko, Commander of the Fourth Guards Tank Army, responded brilliantly. In a dash resembling that of the U.S. 2nd and 5th Armored divisions to the Elbe, the Soviet tankers sliced through the enemy—even though, as Rybalko noted, “German divisions that had not been wiped out still remained behind us.” In twenty-four hours, fighting all the way, Rybalko made a blazing run of thirty-eight miles. Lelyushenko’s tanks drove twenty-eight miles. Now Rybalko exultantly phoned Koniev. “Comrade Marshal,” he said, “we are fighting on the outskirts of Zossen.” Elements of the First Ukrainians were now only twenty-five miles from Berlin.
At Zossen the alarm had been sounded. It now seemed likely that the Soviets would reach the High Command headquarters within twenty-four hours, and the order had been given to move. Key officers had left already for a new command post near Potsdam. The remainder of the headquarters personnel, along with the office typewriters, decoding machines, safes and crates of documents, were loaded into buses and trucks. As the packing and loading went on, people walked about anxiously, eager to get going. At that moment, said General Erich Dethleffsen, who had taken over Krebs’s old job as Assistant Chief of Staff, “we offered the enemy air force a rewarding target.” Shortly before dark the convoys moved out, heading for Bavaria. Dethleffsen, driving toward Berlin to attend the Führer’s night conference, was happy to see a flight of Luftwaffe planes heading over him going south. Later at the briefing he heard a Luftwaffe officer tell Hitler about a “successful attack upon Soviet tanks pushing toward Zossen, to defend the area from attack.” The bombers of the Luftwaffe had been more than successful: the “Soviet tanks” had been the buses and trucks of the OKH command column heading south. The Germans had shot up their own convoy.
At midnight on April 20 Heinrici grimly surveyed his maps and tried to analyze the situation. A few hours earlier, one of his fears had been realized: he now commanded not only the Army Group Vistula but Berlin as well. Almost immediately upon receiving the order he had called Reymann and told him that no bridges were to be destroyed in the city. Reymann had complained that the city was defenseless anyway, now that the best part of his Volkssturm had been pulled out to man defense lines. Heinrici knew all about it; in fact, he now told Reymann to send along the remainder of the Home Guard. “Reymann,” said Heinrici wearily, “don’t you understand what I’m trying to do? I’m trying to make sure that fighting takes place outside the city, and not in it.”
Under the present circumstances, Heinrici knew, Berlin could not be defended. He had no intention of allowing his armies to fall back into the city. Tanks would not be able to maneuver there. Because of the buildings, artillery could not be used: they would have no field of fire. Furthermore, if any attempt was made to fight in the city there would be an enormous loss of civilian life. At all costs Heinrici hoped to avoid the horror of block-to-block, street-to-street fighting.
His main concern at the moment was Busse’s army; he was sure that if it was not pulled back quickly it would be encircled. Before leaving for the front early in the morning, lie had given a message to his Chief of Staff for Krebs: “I cannot accept responsibility or direct this situation if Busse’s army is not withdrawn immediately—and have him tell that to the Führer.”
Then he had driven all over the front. Signs of disintegration were everywhere. He saw “roads covered with the vehicles of refugees, often with military transport among them.” For the first time, he ran into troops who were obviously retreating. On the way to Eberswalde, he noted, “I didn’t find one soldier who didn’t claim to have orders to get munitions, fuel or something else from the rear.” He was appalled, and swung into action. North of Eberswalde he “found men marching toward the northwest, saying that their division was to be reformed near Joachimsthal”; he stopped them and reorganized them near Eberswalde. At canal crossing-points in the same area he found “parts of the 4th SS Police Division being unloaded. They were young, newly organized, but only partially armed. They had been told they would get weapons in Eberswalde.” South of there he found the road jammed with a mass of civilians and soldiers. Heinrici got out of his car and ordered the noncommissioned officers to turn their men around. “Go back to the front,” he said.
In the town of Schönholz he saw “younger officers inactive and just looking around. They had to be energetically ordered to build a line to catch scattered troops.” The forests between there and Trampe were “filled with groups of soldiers either resting or retreating. No one claimed to have any orders or assignments.” In another area he discovered “a tank reconnaissance section resting next to its parked vehicles.” He ordered the unit to “move on Biesenthal at once and recapture this very important crossroads.” There was so much confusion around Eberswalde, Heinrici later recalled, that “no one could tell me if a front existed at all.” But by midnight he had restored order in the region and had issued fresh commands.
It was clear that his forces were undermanned, underarmed and often without competent leadership, and Heinrici knew that the front could not hold for long. Von Manteuffel’s Third Panzer Army in the north had achieved some defensive success against Rokossovskii, but it was only a question of time before Von Manteuffel would be forced to retreat also.
At 12:30 A.M. he called Krebs. He told him that the situation was becoming almost impossible to control. In particular he talked about the 56th Panzer Corps which, “in spite of all counterattacks against the Soviets, is being pushed farther and farther back.” The situation there, he said, was “tense to the point of bursting.” Twice during the day he had talked personally to Krebs about the Ninth Army’s rapidly worsening situation; each time Krebs had again given him the Führer’s decision: “Busse is to hold on the Oder.” Now Heinrici fought for Busse again.
“Consistently,” Heinrici told Krebs now, “I have been denied freedom of movement for the Ninth Army. Now I demand it—before it’s too late. I must point out that I am not resisting the Führer’s orders because of stubbornness or unjustified pessimism. From my record in Russia you know that I do not give up easily. But it is essential to act now in order to save the Ninth from destruction.
“I have received the order,” he said, “that the Army Group must hold the front line in its present positions and that all available forces must be pulled out to close the gap between the Ninth and Schörner on the southern flank. I regret what I’m going to say with all my heart, but the order cannot be carried out. The move simply has no chance of success. I demand the approval of my request to withdraw the Ninth Army. It is in the interest of the Führer himself that I make this request.
“Actually,” said Heinrici, “what I should do is go to the Führer and say, ‘My Führer, since this order endangers your well-being, has no chance of success and cannot be carried out, I request you to relieve me of command and give it to somebody else. Then I could do my duty as a Volkssturm man and fight the enemy.’” Heinrici was putting his cards squarely on the table: he was stating to his superior officer that he would rather fight in the lowest ranks than carry out an order that could result only in the useless sacrifice of lives.
“Do you really want me to pass this on to the Führer?” asked Krebs. Heinrici’s answer was short. “I demand it,” he said. “My Chief of Staff and my operations officers are my witnesses.”
A short while later Krebs rang back. The Ninth was to hold its position. At the same time, all forces that could be made available were to try to close the gap with Schörner on the southern flank, “so as to set up a continuous front once more.” Heinrici knew then that the Ninth was as good as lost.
In the Führerbunker Hitler’s nightly military conference broke up at 3 A.M. During the meeting Hitler had blamed the Fourth Army—the army that had been crushed by Koniev’s attack in the opening day of his offensive—for all the problems that had since arisen. He accused the army of treason. “My Führer,” asked General Dethleffsen, shocked, “do you really believe that the command committed treason?” Hitler looked at Dethleffsen “with pitying eyes, as if only a fool could ask such a stupid question.” Then he said: “All our failures in the east can be traced to treachery—nothing else but treachery.”
As Dethleffsen was about to leave the room, Ambassador Walter Hewel, Von Ribbentrop’s representative from the Foreign Ministry, entered, his expression deeply concerned. “My Führer,” he said, “do you have any orders for me?” There was a pause, and then Hewel said: “If we still want to achieve anything on a diplomatic level, now is the time.” According to Dethleffsen, Hitler, “in a voice soft and completely changed,” said: “Politics. I have nothing to do with politics any more. That just disgusts me.” He walked toward the door—“slowly,” recalls Dethleffsen, “tired and with flagging gait.” Then he turned and said to Hewel, “When I am dead you will have to busy yourself plenty with politics.” Hewel pressed. “I think we should do something now,” he said. As Hitler got to the door Hewel added most earnestly: “My Führer, it is five seconds before twelve.” Hitler seemed not to hear.
*The Ruhr pocket was completely erased by April 18. Three days later Model committed suicide.
*Goering may have had even more than twenty-four trucks. Heinrici believes he had “four columns.” This, however, may have included the additional Luftwaffe convoys that left Berlin later in the day. The fantastic fact is that at this moment with planes grounded and vehicles unable to move because of fuel, Goering had at his disposal not only trucks but ample supplies of gasoline.
*Completely surrounded in the Baltic States, the remnants of the Courland Army were finally evacuated by boat and arrived at Swinemünde at the beginning of April. Of the eighteen divisions only a few boatloads of men, minus equipment, reached Germany.
*Hitler’s remark to Jodl was written down by Luise Jodl in her detailed diary. The entry is followed by this note: “My husband remarked that ‘save for one other occasion, after the death of my first wife, this is the only personal remark Hitler has ever made to me.’”
*Testimony at the Nuremberg trials disclosed that Grawitz in his additional capacity as Himmler’s Chief Surgeon had authorized medical experiments on concentration camp inmates.