On 7 September 1944 the British Government announced that the flying bomb danger was over. Seven days had passed since the last missile had been sent across the English Channel. On the morning of September 8, the British newspaper headlines proclaimed the end of the assault. That very evening, however, the first two V2 rocket bombs reached Britain; both fell on the outskirts of London, one near Epping, the other in Chiswick, killing three people. Both V2s came from the area around the Hook of Holland, which lay within two hundred miles of London, and less than sixty miles from the Allied front line. So as not to give the Germans cause for comfort, or improved aim, news of the rockets was kept secret for almost a month, until details were revealed in the New York Times.
As London braced itself for the onslaught of a new weapon, the Belgian Government-in-exile returned from London to Brussels. That same day, the Russians completed their occupation of Bulgaria, the Government which was formed in Sofia on September 9 being pledged to a total break with Germany and friendship with the Soviet Union. Later that day, all ‘pro-German members’ of the previous Government were arrested.
In Berlin, there were several more executions on September 8, in the continuing aftermath of the July Plot. Among those hanged that day was a woman, Elizabeth von Thadden, at whose home the anti-Nazi tea party discussion of 10 September 1943 had taken place. Also hanged that day was the diplomat Ulrich von Hassell, the Army officer Captain Count Ulrich von Schwerin-Schwanenfeld, and the lawyer Joseph Wirmer.
Revenge was also being taken on those who had fought for the Allies behind German lines. On September 9 a group of thirty-nine Dutchmen, as well as one American and seven Englishmen, all of whom had been active in the anti-Nazi underground, or in sabotage activities behind the lines, were brought to the concentration camp at Mauthausen, in Austria. After spending the night inside the bunker, they were driven, barefoot and in their underclothes, to the quarry, where, the historian of Mauthausen has written, the 186 steps were lined on both sides by SS men and guards ‘swinging their cudgels and anticipating a spectacle’. The forty-seven prisoners were ‘loaded with stone slabs of up to sixty pounds in weight, and then forced to run up the steps. The run was repeated again and again, and the blows fell faster and faster as the exhausted prisoners stumbled on the uneven steps’. One of the prisoners was a British Jew, Marcus Bloom, who had operated a clandestine radio in German-occupied France. He was shot in the head at point-blank range. Then the others were killed.
On September 9, in northern Italy, two hundred miles behind Allied lines, the German army and the Italian Fascist forces signed an agreement with the Italian partisans, whereby all German and Fascist forces were to be pulled out, at once, from Domodossola and the valleys around it.
On September 10, at the village of Roetgen, the first Allied soldier crossed into Germany; he was an American, Charles D. Hiller, and with him in his jeep was a Belgian passenger, Henri Souvée. It was an historic moment. It was also a moment at which the western Allies were closer to Berlin than the closest Soviet troops. The western Allies were also bombing deep into Germany. An arms factory at Chemnitz was hit by 132 American aircraft during a daylight raid on September 11. That night, more than two hundred British bombers struck at Darmstadt. In the resulting firestorm, an estimated 12,300 people died, about a fifth of them children. Only twelve British bombers were lost.
By midnight on September 10, American troops were in control of the Fort of Eben-Emael, which in May 1940 had been the most formidable obstacle in Belgium’s front-line defence against German attack. Then it had been defended tenaciously; now it surrendered without a fight. On September 12, the German garrison in Le Havre surrendered. That day, Roumania signed an armistice with the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States; she would take part in the war against Germany and Hungary, would pay 300 million dollars’ worth of goods and raw materials in reparations to the Soviet Union, and would go back to the Roumanian—Soviet frontier of June 1940. The Roumanians thus paid the price of defeat; for the Soviet Union, the price of victory over Roumania had been 46,783 men killed.
The price of clandestine work was also death; on September 12, in Dachau, the Germans shot four British women agents, Noor Inayat Khan, Yvonne Beekman, Elaine Plewman and Madeleine Damerment.
On September 9, Stalin at last agreed both to send air support to the Warsaw insurgents and to allow the western Allies to do so, using Soviet airstrips. On the night of September 13, the first Soviet air drops, of food, were made over Warsaw. The pilot of the first Soviet plane to drop food was a Pole, Alexander Danielak.
Less than 170 miles south-west of Warsaw, that same September 13, American bombers attacked synthetic oil plants at both Blechhammer and Monowitz. At Monowitz they met intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire, but hit their target, which lay within five miles of the still active gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
They also, by mistake, dropped a number of bombs on Auschwitz Main Camp, accidentally hitting and destroying the SS barracks there, and killing fifteen SS men. A further twenty-eight SS men were badly injured. The clothing workshop was also hit and destroyed, and forty camp inmates working there, including twenty-three Jews, were killed. During the raid, a further sixty-five inmates were severely injured.
During this same bombing attack of September 13, a cluster of bombs was dropped in error on Birkenau. One of the bombs damaged the railway enbankment leading into the camp, and the sidings leading to the crematoria. A second bomb hit a bomb shelter located between the crematoria sidings, killing thirty Polish civilian workers.
For the Jews themselves, trapped as slave labourers at Monowitz, the impact of the raid had been considerable. Among those who witnessed it was Shalom Lindenbaum, who had been sent from Birkenau to Monowitz only a few days before. As the American bombers appeared in the sky, he later wrote: ‘We ceased to work, and the German soldiers and civilians ran to the shelters. Most of us didn’t. So probably, we expressed our superiority feeling, and a kind of revenge. We had nothing to lose, only expected to enjoy the destruction of the big factory which we were building for the IG Farben Industrie. It was naturally so. This happy feeling didn’t change after the Americans indeed, began to bomb, and obviously we had casualties too—wounded and dead. How beautiful was it to see squadron after squadron burst from the sky, drop bombs, destroy the buildings, and kill also members of the Herrenvolk’.
Lindenbaum added, of the raid of September 13 and those which soon followed it: ‘Those bombardments elevated our morale and, paradoxically, awakened probably some hopes of surviving, of escaping from this hell. In our wild imagination we also saw a co-ordination between the Allies and the indeed small underground movement in the camp, with which I was in touch. We imagined a co-ordinated destruction and escape; destruction from above by the bombers, and from our own hands while escaping, even if we have to be living bombs….’
On the day of the Monowitz air raid of September 13, the Allies learned of the success of their oil campaign. In a signal sent to Tokyo that day from the Japanese Naval Mission in Berlin, and decrypted at Bletchley, the Japanese reported that although—despite Allied bombing—German fighter and rocket aircraft production was progressing, the German oil shortage, also the result of Allied bombing, had been one of the reasons for the defeat of the German Army in France, and would henceforth prevent the German Air Force from ‘attaining the anticipated objective of regaining control of the air’.
At Hanford, in the United States, 230 miles from the Pacific Ocean, September 13 saw the start of a final, crucial series of experiments to activate an atomic pile, the essential preliminary to an atomic bomb. Supervised by the Italian-born physicist, Enrico Fermi, the experiment was first successful two weeks later.
On September 14 the Red Army, already in possession of the village of Miedzylesie, advanced northward to the Warsaw suburb of Praga, across the river from the suburbs in which the insurgents were still fighting, and to which, ten days earlier, Churchill had wished to drop supplies by air. That day, September 14, a Soviet aircraft flew low over one of the suburbs, Zoliborz, dropping a container in which was a letter naming the places where supplies were to be dropped. Within forty-eight hours, the Soviets had dropped two heavy machine guns, fifty automatic pistols and fifty thousand rounds of ammunition.
As the Polish insurgents fought their final, heroic but hopeless battles against the German Army, Churchill was in Quebec with President Roosevelt. They had before them a proposal by the American Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, that, once Germany was defeated, the industries of both the Ruhr and the Saar would be ‘completely dismantled’. The Russians, Churchill explained in a personal and top secret telegram to the British War Cabinet, would ‘claim the bulk’ of the machinery of these two industrial regions, ‘to repair their own plants’ devastated by the war. In addition, Churchill explained, ‘some international Trusteeship and form of control would keep these potential centres of rearmament completely out of action for many years to come’. The consequences of this, Churchill noted, ‘will be to emphasize the pastoral character of German life, and the goods hitherto supplied from these German centres must to a large extent be provided by Great Britain. This may amount to three hundred to four hundred million pounds a year.’ Churchill added: ‘I was at first taken aback at this but I consider that the disarmament argument is decisive and the beneficial consequences to us follow naturally.’
The ‘Morgenthau Plan’, as it soon became known, was agreed to by Churchill and Roosevelt on September 15, when both men signed a programme ‘for eliminating the war-making industries in the Ruhr and in the Saar’ and ‘looking forward to converting Germany into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character’. Eden later told Churchill that he and the American Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, were both ‘horrified’ when they found out what Churchill and Roosevelt had initialled, Eden telling Churchill that the British War Cabinet would never agree to such a proposal. In the event, it was the State Department which rejected it.
On September 14, in the Pacific, American troops landed on Morotai Island, in the Moluccas, its airfields needed for any sustained air bombardment both of the Philippines and of Japan. In the battle for the island, 325 Japanese and forty-five American soldiers were killed. More costly in men on both sides was the American landing, that same day, on the Palau Islands, in the western Carolines. The casualty rate in the conquest of one of these islands, Peleliu, was to prove the highest of any amphibious attack in United States history, with 9,171 Americans being killed in eleven days, for the cost of 13,600 Japanese lives.
On September 16, Dunkirk, which the Germans had cut off in June 1940, was now bottled up by the Allies, and effectively besieged. That day, at Beaugency, on the Loire, 754 German officers and 18,850 German soldiers surrendered to the Americans. A further 30,000 Germans were able, however, to avoid the closing American pincers and to escape eastwards. Hitler, despite the collapse of his forces in France and Belgium, and the crossing of the German frontier, had every intention of regaining the military initiative; on September 16, the day of the surrender at Beaugency, he informed his senior generals, including Jodl and Guderian, that he intended to take the offensive against the Western Allies before the end of the year; it was to be made, he explained, through the Ardennes, with the port of Antwerp as its objective.
That night, on the Eastern Front, a Polish general nominally under Russian command, General Berling, authorized two battalions of the Polish Infantry Regiment to cross the Vistula west of Miedzylesie, and to enter the southern Warsaw suburb of Czerniakow. Once across the river, however, the attacking soldiers were pinned down by heavy German artillery fire, and then pressed back towards the river in repeated German tank and infantry attacks.
Equally unsuccessful, but far more costly, was Operation Market Garden, an attempt by the Western Allies on the following day, September 17, to land three airborne divisions, British and American, at Nijmegen, Eindhoven and Arnhem, behind German lines in Holland, with the aim of seizing a bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. After an eight-day battle, in which, on the fifth day, a brigade of Polish parachute troops managed to link up with the original force, the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem was retaken by the Germans.
In all, more than six thousand of the original airborne force of 35,000 men were taken prisoner; just over two thousand succeeded in recrossing the Rhine to safety. A total of 1,400 airborne troops had been killed. The casualties would have been higher, but for the efforts of Major Richard Lonsdale, commanding a small force of men who had become separated from their units. This force secured a small portion of the perimeter through which many survivors of the airborne attack were able to escape back across the Rhine. When the force itself eventually withdrew, Lonsdale was the last to leave.
In northern Italy, on September 17, German and Italian Fascist soldiers attacked a group of fifteen Italian partisans whose hiding place, in Verona, had been betrayed. The commander of the group, Rita Rosani, a twenty-four-year-old Jewish girl from Trieste, had already fought in several actions in the Verona region. Wounded in the attack, she fell, only to be found by an Italian Fascist officer and shot.
On September 18, two unusual flights took place over German-occupied Europe. One was of 107 American bombers which, leaving their bases in Britain, flew to Warsaw, dropped their supplies to the insurgents in the city, and flew on to the Soviet airbase at Poltava, with Stalin’s knowledge and agreement. So small was the area now controlled by the insurgents that, of the 1,284 containers of arms and supplies dropped, nearly a thousand fell into German hands. But only two of the American bombers were shot down.
The second flight was a part of Operation Amsterdam, an Allied escape line which made use of a small grass airstrip at Tri Duby, in central Slovakia, between Zvolen and Banska Bystrica, then under Slovak partisan control. On September 18 two B-17 Flying Fortresses, flying from Bari in southern Italy, landed at the Slovak airstrip, with a forty-one Mustang fighter escort which remained in the air above the strip during the twenty-five minutes while the two bombers were on the ground. On this occasion, the airborne Operation Amsterdam had flown in four and a half tons of military stores for the Slovak and Soviet partisans in the area. Flying back to Italy, the bombers took with them twelve American and three British airmen, and a Czech.
A third noteworthy flight on September 18 was part of an airlift of supplies to the British troops still beleaguered at Arnhem; that day, Flight Lieutenant D.S.A. Lord’s aircraft, a Dakota, was twice hit as it approached Arnhem, and one of its engines set on fire. Lord continued, nevertheless, on his mission, managed to drop most of his containers, and finally ordered his crew to jump. Shortly afterwards, the Dakota crashed in flames, and Lord was killed; he was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, one of five Victoria Crosses—four of them posthumous—to be awarded at Arnhem.
Also on September 18, a German V2 rocket, falling on the London suburb of Southgate, killed seventeen civilians; in all, fifty-six civilians were killed in London that week. Heavy cross-Channel shelling of Dover and Folkestone by German gun batteries set up on the clifftop near Calais led to a further twenty-two British civilian deaths.
On September 18, Hitler authorized the withdrawal of his armies from Estonia. That same day, he agreed that the British Government should be approached, with a request to help feed the civilians on the German-occupied Channel Islands. On the following day, the Americans captured the Atlantic port of Brest, and its commander, General Hermann Ramcke.
Less successful for the Allies, on September 19 two more Polish battalions crossed the Vistula to try to make contact with the insurgents still holding out in the suburb of Czerniakow, against a ferocious German onslaught. There was no way, however, to reach the defenders. General Berling’s action in trying to do so, Stalin told the American Ambassador in Moscow, Averell Harriman, four days later, ‘went against the better judgement of the Red Army’.
Almost at once, Berling was removed from his command, as was General Galicki, the commander of the battalions which had crossed the Vistula.
On September 19, Churchill and Roosevelt were at Roosevelt’s home, Hyde Park, on the River Hudson. Both men had been told by their scientific advisers that an atomic bomb, the equivalent to between 20,000 and 30,000 tons of TNT, would ‘almost certainly’ be ready by August 1945. Indeed, such a bomb might have three or four times such an explosive power. British scientists and technicians, Churchill had earlier been told, were ‘co-operating in the design and erection of the American plants’.
Churchill and Roosevelt agreed, and initialled an aide-memoire to that effect, that ‘when a “bomb” is finally available, it might perhaps, after mature consideration be used against the Japanese, who should be warned that this bombardment will be repeated until they surrender’.
The nature of what might be used against the Japanese was at least clear in terms of its explosive power. Here was a single bomb of at least 20,000 tons of explosive power; during the week Churchill and Roosevelt learned this, it had taken 2,600 sorties by British and American bombers to drop 9,360 tons of bombs.
On the day that Churchill and Roosevelt agreed that the atomic bomb might be used against the Japanese, two members of an American Air Force bomber crew, having been asked to remove their Air Force insignia, and to use Corps of Engineers emblems instead, were given, at Los Alamos, in New Mexico, an account of what the atomic bomb might do, and of the hazards which they, as part of the delivery crew, might face in dropping it. ‘The shock waves from the detonation could crush your plane,’ Robert Oppenheimer, in charge of the project, told the senior officer, Colonel Paul Tibbets, and he added: ‘I am afraid that I can give you no guarantee that you will survive.’
Among those to whom the second crew member, Lieutenant Beser, was introduced at Los Alamos was a young technician, David Greenglass. Unknown to anyone working on this top-secret project, Greenglass had just stolen the first of many blueprints which, for a few hundred dollars, he passed on to the Russians.
A patriot who died on September 19 was Guy Gibson, awarded the Victoria Cross for his skill in leading the raid on the Möhne dam in 1943; at his own request, he had left his desk job to go on a bombing raid against a German communications centre at Rheydt in the Ruhr. Returning from the raid, his plane was shot down over the Dutch village of Steenbergen; both he and his navigator, Squadron Leader J. B. Warwick, were killed. They were buried in a single coffin in the local Roman Catholic cemetery.
On September 19, as the Germans began the evacuation of Estonia, three thousand Jews at the slave labour camp at Klooga were taken from their barracks, as if to be evacuated, and shot. A further 426 were shot at the nearby camp of Lagedi. On the following day, a further deportation began of four thousand Jews from the Theresienstadt ghetto to Auschwitz. Before being deported, they had been made to appear in a film, designed to be shown throughout Germany, with the title: ‘The Führer donates a town to Jews’.
Inmates of Theresienstadt were shown in the library, by a swimming pool, at a tea dance, in a bank, and working at tailoring, shoe repairing, leatherwork and sewing. Children were shown in a playground, at a football match and in a canteen with plenty of bread, cheese and tomatoes. There were also scenes of wounded German soldiers at the front, with the comment: ‘While the Jews in Theresienstadt enjoy their coffee and cakes and dance, our soldiers bear the brunt of this terrible war, suffering death and deprivation in defence of the homeland.’
Almost all the Jews who appeared in the film were among those deported to Auschwitz; hardly any survived. Kurt Gerron, whom the Germans had appointed scriptwriter and director, died at Auschwitz that November.
On September 20, the last attempt to drop air supplies over Warsaw, to a Polish resistance group still holding out in the woods ten miles west of the city, was made from Foggia in southern Italy, when twenty aircraft, flown by Polish volunteers, crossed the Adriatic, Hungary, Slovakia and southern Poland. Five of the twenty were shot down. Only the ‘Frantic’ route across Europe to Soviet airfields now remained; but on October 2, Stalin vetoed the use of Poltava for any further British or American flights in support of the Warsaw uprising.
On September 21, evading the British security men who were guarding him at his hideaway on the Adriatic island of Vis, the Yugoslav partisan leader, Marshal Tito, flew by Soviet Dakota to a Soviet airfield in Roumania. From there, he went to Moscow, to sign an agreement for the ‘temporary entry of Soviet troops into Yugoslav territory’. He also secured a proviso, that the Red Army would leave Yugoslavia once its ‘operational task’ was completed. Nor would the Russians have any power over the partisans once the two forces were fighting together inside Yugoslavia.
In Rome, on September 20, the trial took place of Pietro Caruso, the former Italian police chief who had prepared a supplementary list of fifty names for execution by the Germans in the Ardeatine caves. Found guilty, he was executed by firing squad on the morning of September 21.
In the Pacific, September 21 saw the first American air raid on the Philippines, in preparation for the attempt to retake the largest of the Japanese conquests of American territory. The aircraft set off from carriers more than 145 miles from their targets in and around Manila. In two days, 405 Japanese aircraft were destroyed or damaged, 103 ships sunk or damaged. Only fifteen American aircraft were lost. It was a prelude to General MacArthur’s pledge of more than two and half years earlier: ‘I shall return’.
In northern Europe, the liberation of France was almost completed during the third week of September; on September 22 the German garrison at Boulogne surrendered to the Canadians. In Italy, Allied troops had pushed past the Gothic Line, and by September 25 were in control of their own line across the peninsula from Pisa to Rimini. On the Eastern Front, the Red Army had entered the Estonian capital, Tallinn, that week. In Greece, the Germans were pulling out of the Peloponnese; when a British commando unit was parachuted on to Cape Araxos on September 23, it found that the Germans had gone.
Only in Warsaw did the fortunes of war continue to favour the Germans. On September 23, German troops were in control of the whole western bank of the Vistula, and on the following day they moved against the last substantial pockets of resistance, in the suburbs of Mokotow and Zoliborz. That day also saw one of the last of the Allied air drops over the city, as the insurgents retreated to cellars and sewers, and had no open space under their control sufficient to enable supplies to be dropped. The final air drop was made three days later, when a Polish pilot, shot down over Dabrowa, and badly injured, was captured by the Germans, interrogated, and shot. Near the village of Dziekanow, an American crewman was beaten to death by his German captors. In all, 306 Allied aircraft had flown over Warsaw, with Polish, British, American and South African crews; forty-one of those planes had been shot down, and at least two hundred airmen killed.
In the prisoner-of-war camp at Colditz, Allied officers were driven by both hope and despair to seek to escape. But the obstacles were formidable. One would-be escapee, Michael Sinclair, known to the Germans as the ‘Red Fox’, tried three times. At the first attempt he had been shot through the chest, the bullet passing right through him, two inches from his heart. After a spell in hospital, he tried again, but was caught when only two days short of the Dutch frontier. On September 25, he made his third attempt; while on a heavily guarded walk in the park below the castle with other prisoners-of-war, he made a dash for the wire surrounding the park. He was shot as he climbed it, and killed.
On September 26, the Allied troops trapped at Arnhem surrendered to the Germans. That day, at Rastenburg, Hitler signed a decree establishing a People’s Army, for the defence of German soil, by means of the conscription of every able-bodied man between the ages of sixteen and sixty. Hitler’s unshaken determination to defend every yard of German soil was in sharp contrast to his physical appearance. A general who visited him that day, Nikolaus von Vormann, noted how ‘it was a tired, broken man who greeted me, then shuffled over to a chair, his shoulders drooping, and asked me to sit down’. Vormann added: ‘He spoke so softly and hesitantly, it was hard to understand him. His hands trembled so much he had to grip them between his knees.’
Hitler had cause to tremble later that day, when Himmler visited him, bringing a 160-page dossier of documents which the Gestapo had discovered at German Army headquarters in Zossen, implicating Admiral Canaris, the former head of Secret Intelligence Service of the German Armed Forces, in plots against Hitler going back to the earliest days of the war, including the warnings to the West about Hitler’s military intentions in 1940. Also implicated in the documents brought by Himmler were two senior members of Canaris’s Intelligence staff, General Oster, and Hans von Dohnanyi, as well as the former Mayor of Leipzig, Karl Goerdeler. It was a plot whose ramifications appeared to have no end.
On September 26, a three-man American mission, code-named Mongoose, was dropped behind German lines in Italy, near Stresa. Led by Major William V. Holohan, it quickly set up an Italian partisan Intelligence network. Further south, however, at Marzabotto, near Bologna, German forces commanded by SS Major Walter Reder, began an anti-partisan sweep that week, in which four hundred partisans were killed.
In Warsaw, the last of the insurgents fighting in the suburb of Mokotow surrendered to the Germans on the afternoon of September 27. That evening, Himmler telephoned to the commander of the German forces in the city, General von dem Bach Zelewski, to say that Hitler had awarded him, and also General Dirlewanger, the Knight’s Cross. During the next five days, a terrible vengeance was wrought on all who had been captured. During the fighting itself, fifteen thousand Polish resistance fighters had been killed, for a cost of at least ten thousand German dead. In savage reprisals, both during the fighting and after it, an estimated 200,000 Polish civilians were killed.
On September 27, the Japanese transport ship Ural Maru was torpedoed off the Japanese island of Okinawa by an American submarine, while on its way from Singapore to Japan. More than 2,000 of the 2,350 passengers on board were drowned. One of those who drowned was Bishan Singh, a young Indian who had volunteered to serve with the forces of Imperial Japan against the British Empire, and who, almost a year earlier, on 24 October 1943, had received the blessing of the Indian National Army founder, Subhas Chandra Bose, for his chosen path. Nine of Bishan Singh’s fellow volunteers were rescued from the sea. In due course they reached Japan and achieved their aim of fighting against Britain, alongside the Japanese forces in Burma.
On September 28, two hundred Gypsies, who had earlier been sent from Auschwitz to Buchenwald, were sent back to Auschwitz, where they were immediately gassed. That same day, in Theresienstadt, SS Lieutenant-General Heinrich Müller asked for volunteers to leave the privations of the ghetto and to work in factories in Germany. Some 2,300 Jews chose what they hoped would be the path of work and survival. They too were sent to Auschwitz, where nine hundred of them were gassed within a few hours of reaching the camp.
Many of the deportees from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz were German Jews, deported up to two years earlier to Theresienstadt from Berlin and from other German cities. Also murdered that week, on September 29, was Wilhelm Leuschner, a former trade union leader, who was hanged for his adherence to the July Plot. Two days later, Rudolf Schmundt, Hitler’s principal Army adjutant, who had been grievously wounded by the bomb, died of his wounds.
In Germany, all those declared ‘Enemies of the People’ for relatively minor offences were now in danger of more than imprisonment. In Vienna, seventeen Post Office employees who were found guilty that October of taking chocolate and soap from badly wrapped Army gift parcels were marched to a central square and publicly executed.
In Buchenwald, October saw two sets of medical experiments carried out on homosexuals, the first, on seven men, took place on October 1, the second, on eleven more, nine days later. The experiments involved castration; several of those operated on died as a result.
On October 3, as a prelude to the Allied advance into Holland, 247 British aircraft attacked the dykes which protected the Dutch island of Walcheren from the sea. Using the same type of bombs which had earlier breached the Möhne dam in the Ruhr, more than a hundred yards of dyke were destroyed, and the sea rushed in. During the raid, 125 islanders were killed, forty-seven of whom had been sheltering in a mill at Theune which collapsed on top of them. For a month, the air attacks on German strongpoints on Walcheren continued; only after more than eight thousand tons of bombs had been dropped on German radar stations, ammunition dumps and artillery batteries did British and Canadian forces cross the River Scheldt from Breskens, to occupy the island.
On October 4, in Greece, British parachute troops landed at Patras, in an operation, code-named ‘Manna’, intended to liberate the whole of the Peloponnese and, in due course, Athens. That same day, in Yugoslavia, the Red Army drove the Germans from the town of Pancevo, on the east bank of the Danube, less than ten miles downriver from Belgrade. That night, twenty-two British and American bombers, flying from southern Italy, laid fifty-eight mines in the Danube, both north of Györ and east of Esztergom, to impede German military supplies being brought south by barge through Hungary.
The British had been at war with Germany for more than five years, the Russians for more than three years, and the Americans for nearly three years. The strain of so prolonged a conflict had long been evident to the commanders of every army. On October 4, General Eisenhower distributed to all his combat units in Europe a report by the Office of the United States Surgeon General, which set out these hazards without equivocation. ‘The key to an understanding of the psychiatric problem’, the report explained, ‘is the simple fact that the danger of being killed or maimed imposes a strain so great that it causes men to break down. One look at the shrunken, apathetic faces of psychiatric patients as they come down stumbling into the medical station, sobbing, trembling, referring shudderingly to “them shells” and to buddies mutilated or dead, is enough to convince most observers of this fact’.
There was ‘no such thing’, the report continued ‘as “getting used to combat”’, and it went on to explain that: ‘Each man “up there” knows that at any moment he may be killed, a fact kept constantly before his mind by the sight of dead and mutilated buddies around him. Each moment of combat imposes a strain so great that men will break down in direct relation to the intensity and duration of their exposure. Thus psychiatric casualties are as inevitable as gunshot and shrapnel wounds in warfare’.
In Italy, the American forces estimated that an infantryman could ‘last’ for about two hundred regimental combat days. The British commanders, who pulled their men out of the line after every twelve days of combat, for a four day rest period, estimated that their men could remain unaffected for up to four hundred days of combat. The American report, which gave these figures, continued: ‘A wound or injury is regarded, not as a misfortune, but a blessing. As one litter bearer put it, “Something funny about the men you bring back wounded, they’re always happy… they’re sure glad to be getting out of here”. Under these circumstances it is easy for a man to become sincerely convinced that he is sick or unable to go on. This in turn leads to the premature development of genuine psychiatric disability and to needless loss of manpower. It also leads to self-inflicted wounds and to misbehaviour before the enemy’.
On October 6, over Nijmegen, on the Dutch—German border, a Royal Canadian Air Force squadron found itself confronted by a new adversary, a German jet aircraft. This was another of Hitler’s secret weapons. As, however, the jet was flying five hundred feet below the Canadians, it presented them with an ideal target, and was destroyed.
There was another Allied success in the air on the following day, when, as part of Operation Amsterdam, yet more Allied airmen, most of them Americans, were flown out of central Slovakia in an aircraft sent specially to take them out.
In Auschwitz, on October 7, about 450 Jews who were being forced to take the bodies of the victims from the gas chambers to the furnaces, rose up in revolt. Using explosive smuggled to them from Jewish women working in the nearby Union armaments factory, they blew up one of the four gas chambers, and set fire to another, before trying to break out of the camp’s wire perimeter. Two hundred and fifty managed to get beyond the wire; all were hunted down and shot. The two hundred who had failed to get beyond the wire were also shot. The SS also arrested five Jewish women in the Union factory. Despite terrible torture, they betrayed nobody. One of the women, Roza Robota, managed to smuggle out a message from the cell in which she was being held: ‘You have nothing to fear—I shall not talk.’ Three months after the revolt, the women were hanged, all the other women then at Auschwitz being assembled to watch the execution. Recalled one eye-witness: ‘They went calmly to their deaths.’
In northern Italy, the Germans, assisted by two thousand Cossack troops, continued their anti-partisan sweeps throughout the second and third weeks of October, freeing 336 Italian fascists and Germans being held by the partisans, capturing large quantities of rifles and ammunition, and killing, near Tolmezzo, 3,633 partisans in the self-proclaimed partisan Republic of Carnia.
At a meeting in Moscow on October 9, Churchill and Stalin talked not only about the final phases of the war against Germany, but also about their own countries’ respective positions in liberated Europe once the war was won. At Churchill’s urging, the two men discussed the Soviet Union’s future influence in those countries from which the Germans were even then being driven by the Red Army. He was ‘not worrying very much about Roumania’, Churchill told Stalin. That, he said, ‘was very much a Russian affair’. Over Greece, where, as Churchill put it, ‘Britain must be the leading Mediterranean power’, he hoped that Stalin would let Britain have ‘first say’ in the same way as Russia could in Roumania.
Only in Greece did Churchill seek a major influence for Britain. Over Yugoslavia, he proposed a ‘fifty-fifty’ divide of influence between East and West. Churchill also told Stalin that he envisaged the removal of the German population of Silesia and East Prussia into central Germany; East Prussia could then be divided between Russia and post-war Poland, and Silesia given to Poland as compensation for the eastern areas of inter-war Poland which Russia had already occupied, and intended to annex.
Churchill also told Stalin, at a second meeting on October 10, that the western Allies wanted every country to have ‘the form of government which its people desire’. No ideology should be imposed on any small States, Churchill asserted. ‘Let them work out their own fortunes during the years that lie ahead.’ There were fears in every country in western Europe, he told Stalin, of ‘an aggressive, proselytizing Communism’ once Nazism had been overthrown.
As Churchill and Stalin talked in Moscow, American forces in northern Europe encircled the German city of Aachen, the western gateway to Germany. In the Pacific, an American task force, in action off the Japanese island of Okinawa, destroyed more than a hundred Japanese aircraft. On the Eastern Front, the Red Army had reached the Baltic coast of Lithuania, and was besieging Memel, the city which Hitler had annexed to Germany in March 1939.
At Auschwitz, October 10 saw the arrival in the camp of eight hundred Gypsy children who had been held previously at Buchenwald. Among them were more than a hundred boys aged from nine to fourteen, who had earlier been sent from Auschwitz to Buchenwald, but had been found unsuitable for work. All were gassed in one of the two gas chambers which had not been destroyed or damaged in the Jewish revolt three days earlier.
In Italy, New Zealand troops crossed the River Rubicon on October 11, thus echoing Julius Caesar’s phrase, crossing in the other direction: ‘The die is cast’. That same day, Soviet forces crossed the River Tisza, at Szeged, Hungary’s southernmost city. Further east, Russian forces besieged both Debrecen and Cluj, where a combined Hungarian and German defence faced a combined Roumanian and Soviet attack. On the following day, the Red Army entered the Transylvanian city of Oradea; Hungary was now under Soviet attack along almost the whole length of its southern and south-eastern border. Desperately, the Germans pulled back their troops from northern Greece and southern Yugoslavia, but everywhere along the way they met the resistance of Greek and Yugoslav partisans. On October 12, a German Intelligence report, sent by Lieutenant Waldheim from Salonica, spoke of increased partisan activity on the road between Stip and Kocani. Two days later, German troops withdrew from Salonica; as they hurried northwards, they set fire to three villages along the threatened road, killing 114 of their civilian inhabitants. In all, according to Waldheim’s own final report of November 7, a total of 739 partisans and civilians were killed in Macedonia during the German withdrawal.
In the Pacific, the American preliminaries to the return to the Philippines continued, on October 12, with a massive air raid on Formosa, lasting for three consecutive days, in which five hundred Japanese aircraft, and forty Japanese warships, were destroyed, for the cost of eighty-nine American aircraft. Many of the Japanese pilots who were killed had only just been trained, a serious loss to the Japanese carrier fleet.
Another Berlin execution took place on October 12, that of Carl Langbehn, a lawyer, who had tried more than a year earlier to involve Himmler in the plot against Hitler. He had also made enquiries through Switzerland, in September 1943, about a possible negotiated peace with the Allies. It was then that he had been arrested.
On the morning of October 13, a German V2 rocket fell on Antwerp, killing thirty-two civilians. That afternoon, a V1 flying bomb fell on Antwerp’s municipal slaughterhouse, killing a further fourteen civilians, many of them butchers who had come for the weekly meat distribution. Six days later, forty-four civilians were killed by a second flying bomb. The agony of Antwerp had begun.
In Moscow, on October 13, Stalin indicated to Churchill that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan as soon as Germany was defeated. That same day, British troops entered Athens; the Germans had evacuated the city during the night. Also on October 13, after a violent three day struggle, Soviet troops entered Riga. The battle for the Baltic States was ended. ‘Riga and Athens are ripe plums fallen,’ Churchill’s wife Clementine wrote to her husband in Moscow, and she added: ‘How I wish we could wrench Rotterdam and Cologne.’
City by city, the German mastery of Europe was being ended. But there was to be no easy road to victory. On October 13 the Americans began a sustained assault on Aachen, already besieged for three days.
On October 14, two German generals went to see Field Marshal Rommel at his home in Herrlingen, where he was slowly recuperating from the head injury he had received in Normandy. They offered him, from Hitler personally, the choice of suicide, or a public trial. He chose suicide, taking the cyanide which the two generals had brought with them. Three days later, he was given a State funeral in Ulm. The German public were to be shielded from knowledge of the full extent of the opposition to Hitler, and of his revenge.