ON WEDNESDAY 13 JUNE 1945 Fedden’s team made an early start to get to Army Group Headquarters to obtain travel permits and to make arrangements for the first destination on their itinerary, the secret Luftfahrtforschungsansalt (LFA or aeronautical research institute) at Völkenrode. For their first two or three days in Germany they encountered unseasonably cold and wet weather and this may have been why it was decided to travel the 60 or so miles (95km) by road, instead of using the aircraft. Each of the Dakotas carried an American-built Jeep and unloading them was a tricky manoeuvre which entailed making a sharp turn rearwards out of the side of the aircraft’s fuselage and then down two narrow and steep wooden ramps. But this operation soon became second nature to the crews, as Fedden noted:
We were profoundly thankful that we had been given adequate transport, and the method of taking our own Jeeps in the Dakotas was of immense value. At first we had some delays in getting them in and out, but the crews soon became expert, and in a few days it was possible to be on the road in ten minutes or so after touching down.
For this first excursion they also managed to borrow a spare US Army Dodge truck for their ‘luggage’, which presumably meant the booty they were hoping to bring back with them.
Völkenrode is located to the east of Hannover near the city of Braunschweig, a little north of the Harz Mountains. But getting there was going to introduce the mission to the sort of conditions they would encounter throughout their stay in this battered country. The physical effects of the war were to be seen everywhere, from the countless abandoned vehicles lining the roads to the burnt-out carcasses of the ruined buildings. There were endless delays on the roads, even on the autobahn, caused by bomb damage, obstructions, or where bridges and viaducts had been systematically destroyed by the retreating German army.
‘Diversions were usually marked,’ wrote Fedden, ‘but it was not unknown for the signs to have been demolished by a heavy army vehicle.’ Trying to navigate through the towns proved to be even more difficult. In the central area of Braunschweig, for example, 90 per cent of the buildings had been destroyed in the Allied bombing raids of October 1944. By the time of the mission’s arrival the mounds of rubble had been cleared from the roads, but without any landmarks to help them it was almost impossible for the drivers to find their way. In the end their journey took almost the entire day and, having averaged less than 10mph (16km/h), they didn’t get to RAF Headquarters at LFA Völkenrode until 4.30 in the afternoon. With hindsight they realised that they could actually have flown direct to Braunschweig, the nearest airfield, and then unloaded the Jeeps for the relatively short drive up to Völkenrode. It was a practical lesson in logistics which caused Fedden and his team to reconsider the plans for the remainder of their time in Germany:
Map from The Fedden Mission to Germany – Final Report showing the distribution and clustering of the facilities being targeted by his team as well as the extent of the four Control Zones. Several key sites, such as Dessau and Nordhausen (Mittelwerk), are shown within the Russian Zone, which was extended within days of Fedden’s visit.
We realised that we had undertaken an ambitious programme, and the map with which we were provided showed no fewer than fifty-two places to visit, but we little knew how great the difficulties would be, and how much scheming we would have to do in order to cover half of what we intended to accomplish … It soon became obvious that the number of visits was too ambitious for the time available and it was therefore found essential to cut down their scope.
The post-mission map, included in the final report, reveals the extent of the itinerary they actually achieved, both in terms of the number of facilities visited but also their geographical distribution across Germany. The ‘targets’, as they were termed, were divided into three main clusters. To start with they spent six days in the British Zone in central north Germany, with the mission making its headquarters at Braunschweig initially (shown on the map in its Anglicised form as Brunswick) and then at Kassel, which is a little further to the south and within the American Zone. From these two locations they also made a number of important excursions north-eastwards, extending up as far as Dessau and into territory which was about to be taken over by the Russians. The second cluster of target sites was also in the American Zone, this time in and around the Munich area of Bavaria in the southernmost part of Germany. Here they were based at the American 3rd Army Intelligence Headquarters at Freising, about 20 miles (32km) outside Munich itself. During this second six-day stint they not only undertook daily excursions within the immediate vicinity, but also went by aircraft to the Stuttgart area further to the west. For the mission’s third and final cluster of targets they were based at SHAEF Headquarters in Frankfurt.
Loading a Jeep through the rear doors of one of the mission’s Dakota aircraft. With practice the tricky manoeuvre could be accomplished in around ten minutes.
Because of the time pressure on their schedule a smaller sub-group returned to Germany later on, from 16 until 25 July, with the primary objective of investigating the ‘Hibertus’ High Altitude Test Chamber at BMW Munich (see Chapter 12). During this second trip they were based at Freising once again and visited facilities in Munich, Stuttgart, Göttingen, Völkenrode and Kochel. For the sake of clarity, this account of the Fedden Mission to Germany frequently groups the activities and findings of the different trips together, either reporting them within the sections on individual sites or within specific areas of research or development. (The complete Mission itinerary is included as Appendix 1.)
Aside from the obvious practical issues with travelling, the team discovered that they had much to learn when it came to dealing with the inevitable bureaucracy of occupation. Despite receiving the full cooperation of both the American and British officials, plus written authority from SHAEF, obtaining permits for travel invariably took far longer than anticipated. In addition they had to organise appointments and travel permits for the long list of German technicians and engineers they proposed to ‘interrogate’ and then they had to get these individuals to the various locations when and where they were needed. As virtually all of the aeronautical research centres and industrial plants were at a complete standstill by this time, with the exception of a handful of senior personnel the staff tended to live some distance from where they worked. On several occasions it was found necessary to fetch people from up to 50 or even 100 miles away, again requiring permits as there were even stricter restrictions on travel for German citizens.
There was also the problem of finding accommodation for the mission each night, an especially difficult task in a country bereft of functioning telephones or hotels. They had taken their own tents and rations with them, but for the most part the members of the mission were billeted at American camps where they soon became familiar with the little cardboard boxes containing US Army K-rations and marked ‘Supper’. At least they had something to eat and as with so many aspects of life in Germany in the immediate aftermath of war it was a case of adapting to their circumstances as they went along. Accordingly, the biggest change to their method of operating was put forward by Wing Commander Cross, the mission’s liaison officer. Instead of moving about as a single unit he proposed sending one aircraft on ahead, a day or two before the main party, in order to organise the permits, accommodation, and so on. It was a strategy that proved to be highly effective and saved them a lot of time throughout the remainder of their stay.
Before and after photographs of Frankfurt illustrating the extent of the damage inflicted on many of Germany’s cities. The older timber framed buildings, clustered to the left of the cathedral in the upper image, have been completely destroyed by the bombing. The lower image looks back towards the river with its broken bridges. (USAF)
Apart from the engineers and scientists they interviewed, the mission didn’t have a great deal of direct contact with German civilians. All contact between the Allied forces of occupation and the local population, even on an official basis, was deliberately limited to what was considered absolutely necessary. Fraternisation was forbidden and Allied soldiers were instructed not to ‘shake hands with Germans, visit their homes, play games or walk with them on the streets or elsewhere’. In 1944 the British Political Warfare Executive issued a pocket-sized information booklet, entitled Instructions for British Servicemen in Germany, which contained guidelines for the servicemen on what to expect in Germany and how to deal with the situations that they might encounter. It is a slim volume but reveals much about the official attitude of the Allies at the time. From a modern perspective much of its contents read as pure propaganda and racial stereotyping, especially the introduction which was printed in bold type for added emphasis:
For the second time in under thirty years, British troops are entering upon the soil of Germany. The German Army, the most carefully constructed military machine which the world has known, has suffered catastrophic defeats in the field. The civilian population of Germany has seen the war brought to its homes in a terrible form. You will see much suffering in Germany and much to awake your pity. You may also find that many Germans, on the surface at least, seem pleasant enough and that they will even try to welcome you as friends. All this may make you think that they have learned their lesson and need no further teaching. But remember this: for the last hundred years, long before Hitler, German writers of great authority have been steadily teaching the necessity for war and glorifying it for its own sake. The Germans have much to unlearn.
Photographed in July 1945, a tangle of twisted girders at the Fieseler works near Kassel. As well as its producing its own aircraft, the company was targeted because it manufactured parts for the Fw 190. (NARA)
Wilhelm Keitel signs the documents of Germany’s unconditional surrender at the Soviet headquarters in Karlhorst, Berlin. (NARA)
It goes on to state that, ‘there will be no Brutality about a British occupation, but neither will there be softness or sentimentality’:
You may see many pitiful sights. Hard-luck stories may somehow reach you. Some of them may be true, at least in part, but most will be hypocritical attempts to win sympathy. For, taken as a whole, the German is brutal when he is winning, and sorry for himself and whines for sympathy when he is beaten. So be on your guard against propaganda in the form of hard-luck stories. Be fair and just, but don’t be soft.
After a brief summary of German history, including the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, and a description of the conditions in Germany, the booklet returns to its main theme, a warning against the dangers of fraternisation, especially with the women:
When you meet the Germans you will probably think they are very much like us. They look like us, except that there are fewer of the wiry type and more big, fleshy, fair-haired men and women, especially in the north. But they are not really so much like us as they look … Remember keep Germans at a distance, even those with whom you have official dealings … Numbers of German women will be willing, if they can get the chance, to make themselves cheap for what they can get out of you … Be on your guard. Most of them will be infected. Marriages between members of British forces and Germans are, as you know, forbidden …
That last sentence was also printed in bold type. There would be no sleeping with the enemy. Not for a while at least.
One of the first actions of the Allied authorities in Germany was to implement a programme of denazification. This involved removing former pro-Nazis from positions of authority and eradicating all physical traces or symbols of Nazism. Streets with Nazi connections were renamed, all Nazi propaganda was removed from educational establishments, and all Nazi regalia was banned.
Friendly smiles in front of the cameras at least as the ‘Big Three’, Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, meet at the Yalta Conference in February 1945 to discuss Europe’s post-war reorganisation. (US DoD)
For Fedden and his colleagues their first encounter with the German civilians was on the drive to Braunschweig on their first day. They couldn’t fail to observe the endless tide of people clogging the roads and filling the towns. These were the DPs, meaning Displaced Persons, a politically innocuous and all embracing term that wrapped up a maelstrom of human stories hidden behind the statistics. The never-ending blur of humanity was too vast to register as individuals, but every now and then a cameo of misery would catch their eye. An old woman pulling a handcart piled high with bundles, a small child asleep in its mother’s arms.
The number of DPs was truly incredible. It is thought that approximately 26 million Germans were made homeless as a result of the war, and as many as 12 million had either fled from the advancing tide of the Red Army in the east or were forcibly expelled from Germany’s provinces and the former occupied countries such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania. This uprooted population didn’t just comprise Germans; its number was swollen by hundreds of thousands of former enforced foreign workers, people from France, Holland, Belgium, Russia and Poland, plus concentration camp internees as well as political and other prisoners who had been held by the Nazis. The result was a massive stream of the dispossessed, all striving to make their way home, whatever that had become, as best they could. Put together, this army of lost souls was the greatest movement of people in modern history.
The exodus of civilians from the eastern parts of Germany had begun during the final stages of the war. Under siege, the Nazi regime had paid scant regard to the needs of its civilian population; they were of secondary importance, an unfortunate inconvenience, especially when they hindered the movement of the army. Even in cases where plans had been laid for the evacuation of civilians, discussing such a possibility in the face of imminent invasion would be condemned as ‘defeatist talk’ and could incur the death penalty. This left the ordinary Germans completely in the dark with nowhere to turn, whilst the Nazi propaganda machine continued to churn out lurid horror stories of what would befall them at the hands of Soviet invaders, in particular with respect to what would happen to the women. Stirring up these deep-seated fears was a deliberate ploy to make the German defenders, both the soldiers and the civilians, hold their ground right to the bitter end. But as it turned out the reality was not that far removed from the propaganda. In an orgy of revenge the advancing Soviet soldiers frequently shot German civilians, looted their homes and burnt whole villages to the ground, while the young girls and women were almost systematically raped, often publicly, and frequently left for dead. Of course it would be unrealistic to suggest that cases of rape didn’t occur in the western zones, but it was to a far lesser extent, and under military law an American soldier could face execution if convicted of rape.
The Allied Zones of Occupation showing the inner German border and the area handed over to the Russians in July 1945. (LoC)
Apart from a few older men and young boys, the German DPs consisted almost entirely of women. German men of fighting age – and from October 1944 that included the sixteen to sixty-year-old members of Hitler’s Volkssturm, a national militia or people’s army – were either dead or they were being held as prisoners of war. Many of the POWs were corralled within large open-air holding camps, which the Allies referred to euphemistically as Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures. Here they were exposed to the elements and it is thought that thousands of the prisoners succumbed to either malnutrition or disease, especially during the harsh winter of 1945. Many of the POWs were put to work by their captors. At the Yalta Conference the Allied leaders had approved the principle of enforced labour for German POWs, not only in order to repair the damage that the Nazis had inflicted on their victims and fellow Germans but also as a form of war reparation. The three Allied powers handled this in different ways and prisoners held by the Russians, in particular, were very harshly treated with thousands transported to the Soviet Union where they faced years of back-breaking labour in the work camps. Whereas most of those imprisoned by the western Allies were released by the end of 1948, the final repatriation of Russian-held prisoners didn’t take place until 1955; ten years after the war had ended.
In addition to the imprisoned soldiers, a further 100,000 German civilians were interned by the Allies in the months after the war because they were either considered to be a threat to security or they were being held for possible trial. The two main architects of the Luftwaffe, Hermann Göring and Erhard Milch, were already in custody. Milch was captured on the Baltic coast on 4 May, while Göring had surrendered to US soldiers in Bavaria on 9 May 1945 (see Chapter 12).
During 1945 the situation with DPs was further exacerbated when Germany was carved up into Allied-controlled zones of occupation. This wholesale rearrangement of Germany’s political geography had been agreed some time previously by the ‘Big Three’ – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin – and it was ratified at the Yalta Conference held in the Crimea in early February 1945. The Allied leaders next met in July 1945, just weeks after the Fedden Mission’s departure, this time at Potsdam, where they continued their discussions on the future of Germany and Eastern Europe. By then there had been some significant changes in their line-up. Following the sudden death of President Roosevelt in April 1945, the USA was represented by his successor, Harry S. Truman, and almost midway through the conference Clement Attlee replaced Winston Churchill after the latter’s shock defeat at the hand of the British electorate. That left Joseph Stalin as the only wartime leader still in power. Two of the main policies to come out of Potsdam were the moving of Poland’s borders westward, and the approval of a programme of ‘ethnic reconfiguration’ which would see the forcible deportation of the remaining German nationals and ethnic Germans from the eastern territories. Referred to as ‘orderly population transfers’ by the Allies, Churchill regarded this process as a vital element in establishing post-war stability, a ‘clean sweep’ as he put it, to prevent future troubles.
German officers standing in line waiting for ‘C’ Rations at a Prisoner of War camp near Hershfeld, April 1945. ‘Note their arrogance even after capture’, stated the photo caption at the time. (NARA)
The programme of denazification saw the removal of all Nazi regalia including named street signs. (NARA)
The division of Germany in 1945 saw the British, Americans and Russians each allocated a zone of approximately equal size. The British had the north-west, the Americans the central and southern areas and the Russians took control of the north-eastern zone. Meanwhile the French were allocated a far smaller strip in the south-west of Germany which was created by hiving off territory from the American and British zones. Despite the declared intention of establishing a single unified Allied Control Council across the whole of the country, in practice each of the four powers wielded governmental control within their respective zones. Of particular relevance during the Fedden Mission was an imminent shift of the boundary on the eastern side of the British zone in Russia’s favour. This had come about because the invading US forces had over-stepped the mark by pushing up to 200 miles (322km) beyond the boundary previously agreed. Within just a matter of days of Fedden’s arrival in Germany the British were due to concede this territory and hand it back to the Russians. This area included the Braunschweig enclaves where the secret LFA research institute at Völkenrode was located, which explains why it was right at the top of Fedden’s hit list.
The division of Germany into Allied zones was not a distribution of territories as the spoils of war as such, or at least it was not meant to be, but rather it was intended as a fair distribution of governmental responsibility among the Allies. Having said that, there is no doubt that the prevailing attitude held by the victorious nations was that in defeat the Germans had only got what they deserved, and they would have to pay for what they did, quite literally. With the experience of the war still so raw in the Allies’ minds it was never going to be about how to put Germany on its feet again. It was about revenge and recompense. At the Yalta Conference it was agreed in general terms that Germany would ‘pay in kind for the war losses caused by her to the Allied nations in the course of war’. This included not only the delivery of goods from production but also, and more significantly in the immediate aftermath, a percentage of usable industrial equipment. The Russians in particular were rigorous in applying this policy and they dismantled and removed complete industrial complexes, right down to the washroom fittings. Similar removals also took place in the American and British zones, albeit on a more limited scale. As for the Nazis’ discarded military hardware and expertise, that was regarded as fair game. Such blatant terms as ‘war prizes’ or the ‘spoils of war’ might not have been bandied about, but that is exactly what the various Allied technical teams scouring Germany were looking for in the factories, on the airfields and in the aeronautical research centres. (The question of the quantity of hardware and technical knowledge which was removed in this process is examined in Chapter 12.)
It is interesting to note that upon his arrival in Germany in June 1945 Sir Roy Fedden had at first expressed a great sense of satisfaction on seeing the extent of the damage inflicted upon German towns and cities by the Allied bombers. However, this outlook began to wear off after a few days and soon changed. By definition many of the aircraft factories and aeronautical research establishments his team was visiting had been high-priority targets during the Allied bombing campaign and the devastation inflicted was often extensive:
It is a depressing experience to enter large plants and engineering establishments, even if they belonged to the Germans, and to find them at an absolute standstill. Places with unique equipment and facilities for tackling the most intricate mechanical problems, either on a research or complete production basis, are lying fallow, and in many cases, having been partially destroyed, will soon become derelict wrecks … It is surprising how in a few weeks a production line will deteriorate. Sabotage and looting, which took place by the workers and the troops immediately on the cessation of hostilities, are still evident. And the effect of going into magnificent offices and stores and finding excellent precision equipment, drawings, papers, micrometers, gauges etc, thrown all over the floor in confusion, must actually be seen to be appreciated.
As Fedden mentions, apart from the obvious effects of the bombing, considerable damage and disruption had been caused by a number of groups. To begin with there had been the retreating German forces who deliberately sabotaged aircraft, equipment and plant to make sure they could not be of any use in the hands of the enemy. Then there was the ransacking and sabotage inflicted as revenge and retribution either by those who had been suppressed by the Nazis, in particular by former enforced foreign workers, or by looters looking for valuables to sell. These included the local population, the DPs, and, it has to be admitted, the Allied soldiers themselves who, heady with their victories, were hell-bent on teaching the vanquished a lesson and taking home a few choice trophies. To some extent the revelations of what had been happening in the concentration camps and reports of other atrocities, especially those concerning stories of downed Allied airmen being shot, fuelled a frenzy of anger against the Germans.
In the final stages of the war the British had deployed their Target Force – better known simply as T-Force – to secure important facilities, whether military, scientific or otherwise, and to protect them from looters and saboteurs. There were also fears, unfounded as it turned out, of a campaign of continued covert resistance by Nazi fanatics, a guerrilla war of sabotage and terrorist actions to be conducted by the almost-mythical Werewolf organisation. The lightly armed and highly mobile T-Force operated at the vanguard of the advancing Allied land forces, sometimes ahead of the line and delving deep into enemy territory, to secure and guard targets which had been selected by the experts in the CIOS.
Nuremberg 1945. Some landmarks remain, such as the twin-spired Lorenz Church and the statue of Kaiser William I, but in many cities the streets had been reduced to featureless canyons of rubble. (US DoD)
One final element used to justify the Allies’ ransacking of Germany’s technological jewels was rooted in the widely held view that the German leopard was incapable of changing its spots. At heart the Germans were unrepentant and the ghastly nightmare could start all over again. Fedden expressed himself very clearly in this passage taken from an article written for Flight magazine in November 1945:
Even after a fair interval of time, one’s impressions of German aeronautical progress are constantly overshadowed in the mind by the tremendous social, moral and economic problems imposed by the condition of Germany today. I knew several leaders of the aircraft and engine industry for many years before the war, and it was a sombre experience to meet them again after seeing the horrors of Nordhausen, with its incinerators for the corpses and the pitiful shambles of maimed and dying humanity … For the most part these leaders of industry seemed quite unrepentant, and thought it was bad luck they had lost after so nearly winning.
Many argued, Fedden among them, that it was vital that the Allies must get their dealings with a defeated Germany right this time. In particular they must learn from the experience of the First World War and the subsequent Treaty of Versailles, because if they didn’t Germany would rise again as a military power. It has been suggested by some historians that it was the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that had actually laid the seeds of German rearmament for the Second World War. In addition to substantial economic reparations the Allied signatories to the treaty had sought to permanently pacify Germany by severely restricting the size of its military forces. The army was limited to 100,000 men and the navy was permitted only six small battleships and thirty other craft, but no submarines. As for the air force, that was to be abolished. It is estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 German aircraft were scrapped after the First World War. In addition the terms of the Versailles treaty restricted German aeroplane production to civil aircraft only and strict limits were placed on the engine power permitted.
In 1921 the Reichswehrministerium (Defence Ministry) had sought to circumvent the restrictions by equipping its security police force with seven air squadrons, but this loophole was soon closed by the Allied Control Commission. Over the ensuing years the aircraft companies, and even the proponents of a new German air force, found ever more devious ways to continue their work either covertly or under the guise of other activities; in particular the training of pilots through the pretext of sport aviation. Within Germany there was an explosion of gliding and private flying clubs which attracted a new generation of young aviators. Further afield, a secret military pilot training base was established in 1924 at Lipetsk, in southern Russia, where the pilots could hone their skills on Dutch-built Fokkers or on a handful of Soviet and German aircraft. Gradually the restrictions were eased. In 1922 the Allies allowed a limited resumption of civil aircraft production and the Paris Aviation Treaty of 1926 actually permitted the manufacture of military aircraft, although for export purposes only. Through these measures the key skills vital for a new German air force were kept alive and when, in January 1933, Adolf Hitler became German Chancellor he immediately instructed Herman Göring to form the RLM. Two years later, in 1935, all pretence was abandoned with the official formation of the Luftwaffe in a direct breach of the Treaty of Versailles, intended as a show of strength by Hitler.
After the end of the First World War under the terms of the Treaty Of Versailles the German air force was systematically dismantled and between 15,000 and 20,000 aircraft were scrapped.
The rest, as the say, is history. But in 1945 the question facing the Allies was whether German militarism could or would rise from the ashes of war for a second time. Fedden thought so. He expressed his concerns in a secret briefing document prepared in January 1945:
I have no doubt that Germany is already planning for the next war, and that those who go over there to deal with her, after her defeat this time, will have to be very alive to the fact, and not take an obvious or unintelligent line such as smashing up all her existing types. I do not mean by this that all the heavy industries and aircraft plants must not necessarily be swept away finally; rather I am trying to point out that those responsible for long term policy in Germany are extremely subtle and long-headed people, and, if we are not careful, will manage to work out some quite original plan to counter our stopping the rebuilding of their air force.
What even Fedden failed to grasp at the time is that the Germans had had enough of wars. The greater threat to post-war peace would come from the changing political balance of power and the opposing ideologies of east and west. Even as Fedden’s team scooped up the crumbs from the table, the American and Russian technical teams were already scouring fallen Germany to grab the most advanced aircraft, guided missiles, jet engines and rockets that the Nazi scientists and engineers had devised. These machines snatched from the ruins of Hitler’s Third Reich would define the weaponry of the Cold War era.