WAR CAMPAIGNS: The West Offensive of May 1940 was entirely planned by Adolf Hitler
Translation and Commentary by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
Ein Anderer Hitler, Druffel Verlag, Leoni am Starnberger, 6th edition, 1982.
Copyright 2010 Carolyn Yeager
Hitler: Now I took Keitel (center) and Jodl (right) into my confidence—no, I did not win them over for my plans right away. They disapproved and raised objections, like: Would it not be wiser to go northwards around the Maginot fortifications?
Translators’ Introduction: In the following chapter taken from Hermann Giesler’s memoir Ein Anderer Hitler, the Fuehrer’s detailed explanation to his architect-friend in the map room of his headquarters in Winniza1 should clarify once and for all who was the author of the West campaign, and eliminate the fantasies of most military historians of the past decades who accept Generals Franz Halder or Erich von Mainstein as the genius strategist and original planner.
Those fallacies are still considered historical fact today. Their origin can be found in statements by former chief of staff Colonel General Franz Halder in his Kriegstagebuch2 as well as remarks by General Walter Warlimont, deputy chief of operations at the OKW, in his book Inside Hitler’s Headquarters (See “The Controversy: Keitel vs. Halder")
General von Manstein’s reports and messages to OKH and his detailed descriptions of the events in late 1939 and early 1941 in his book Verlorene Siege, came closest to Hitler’s description. As chief of staff of Army Group A with headquarters in Koblenz, von Manstein, from October 1939 on, bombarded Army chief of staff Colonel General Halder with memos that suggested corrections for the organization of German forces at the Western war theater, which were readying for the offensive.
Several postponements, caused partly by bad weather, partly by the accident of General Felmy’s staff officers at the Dutch border3, gave Manstein the opportunity to suggest in detail a radical change of the offensive strategy. Giving up the old von Schlieffen plan, he preferred instead a thrust across the Maas River at Sedan with three armies of Army Group A, and a rapid move to the mouth of the Somme River at Abbeville.
On November 12, 1939, to their utmost surprise, Army Group A received a teleprint with Hitler’s detailed orders finalized along the lines of von Mainstein’s strategy. In his book, Manstein describes that event: “…maybe Hitler came to that thought by himself. He had an eye for tactical possibilities and pondered a lot over maps. He could have recognized one could cross the Maas the easiest way at Sedan, when further down the panzer of the 4th army would have it much tougher. He could have seen the Maas crossing near Sedan as a favourable place ….” (V.S. p. 106)
Any message from von Manstein had to go by way of the commander of Army Group A, Generaloberst Gerd von Rundstedt, to Halder, before it got to Hitler. Von Manstein suspicioned that his and von Rundstedt’s messages never reached Hitler’s desk. On February 17, 1940, von Manstein—who in the meantime had been sacked as chief of staff of Army group A (Halder didn’t like Manstein, was jealous of him, and so interfered with his intentions and strategy plans)—had, as the newly appointed commander of the 38th corps (far in the hinterland, an infantry force in Stettin), to report to Hitler. It was at that meeting that Hitler first got acquainted with von Manstein’s “new innovative plans” forwarded to Halder (but never received by Hitler) that were so close to Hitler’s own findings.
Thus the strategic dice were cast—Rundstedt’s Army and Guderian’s Panzer were ready.
* * * *
It was a large collection of maps bound in leather: The France War Campaign in its Chronicle Sequence. One day it was placed on Adolf Hitler’s work desk. The Armed Forces Adjutancy had told me the volumes were prepared as a military-historical documentation, and its first edition was presented to Hitler at Winniza.
Adolf Hitler, as a preamble for his giving me a review of the campaign which surprised the world, explained to me that he had already requested from the chief of the general staff (Franz Halder), before the end of the Polish campaign, a presentation of the strategic dispositions for an offensive campaign in the West. He said, “First, I did not trust the peace; second, an offensive in the West had to be thought through and prepared in all its details; and finally, the timing—the most important factor. We were permanently under time pressure and still are; the time, she stays as a powerful ally with the enemy, more relentless than the past winter with its premature snow, ice and shattering cold.”
Pensive, he added, “From my youth on, like a premonition, I never liked snow or ice.
"Already, long before the French campaign, I told you that the chief of staff presented me in September 1939 with the rehashed Schliefen plan4—not, however, in detail. How it happened—I mean, the arrogance of a presentation of shallow nothingness, of repetitions of the thought processes of the honorable General Schliefen, which was still, in its operational principle, part of the 19th century and not accounting for the possibilities of modern weapons, tanks and air force!”
Adolf Hitler was silent, remembering.
After a while, he said, “I looked at the chief of the general staff and was convinced that any further words, or even a critical analysis, would lead to nothing, would end in emptiness—he is not able to think in all dimensions at all, but he is convinced he is of a unique military capacity. He is lacking in ideas, novelty, imagination, daring and, above all, in the charisma that is characteristic of a military leader.
"But how much time remained to change that ‘strategy according to Schliefen,’ and those meticulously compiled tactical detail plans by radically new offensive thinking? In the short time available, one could only reinforce tank units and motorized divisions in front of Luxembourg, and thus at that attack section emphasize the offensive thrust in the direction of Neuchateau and Sedan.
"I gave the order to attack at middle of November ‘39. Then that mysterious betrayal of the start of the offensive happened. Its discovery was relayed to me at your office, on November 8th5. I immediately called the offensive off. It was not easy, we lost time. But on the other hand, the assassination6 against me did not succeed, and the decision to call off the attack turned out later to be correct because of the very unfavorable weather conditions.
"The traitor, up till now, has not been found7. Camouflaged, he sits in a high military position; all offensive deadlines have so far been betrayed! What hatred against me, and National Socialism, lies behind that revolting and cowardly treason—without any hesitation German soldiers are sacrificed.
"A decision in the West in 1939 was not possible anymore. We lost time, valuable time, but I used that time to deal with the strategy of the French campaign and to thoroughly study the tactical details which derived from it.”
We walked over to the maps and Adolf Hitler opened the volume. First was a map surveying the area from the Mediterranean to the North Sea, marked with the military forces as of September 1939.
"I was now dealing on my own with the strategic possibilities, keeping completely to myself. My idea was: If I act as if I was attacking ‘a la Schliefen,’ and thus fooled them thoroughly”—with one hand he outlined an area—“and begin with an energetic thrust, here, where they would not expect it at all”—his index finger pointed down to Sedan—“what will then be the consequence? Slowly, my ideas focused. I could see the sequence of the surprise attacks, everything firmed up. But still I kept it to myself; I didn’t talk to anyone about my deliberations.
"I requested all supportive material and checked it out thoroughly. I surveyed the Maginot fortifications as far as they were known to us and marked on our general staff maps. Then I had relief maps and aerial photos set before me, but from all sections, not only from the area of my planned thrusts. Furthermore, I dealt with the entire road system and its pass-through volume, and checked the possibility of camouflaging the readiness positions.
"Gradually, I felt sure, and now I committed my Wehrmacht adjutants8 to absolute secrecy so that they could assist me. Slowly, I gained the conviction that is eminently necessary to feel that ‘this is the way and no other.’
"In December 1939, the offensive plan moved from a mere idea into a more concrete stage. Great strategy takes place not only on an intellectual level, but according to its own laws, similar to city building and architecture—I am nearly tempted to say, it is artwork.
"Should that strategy lead to a complete success, should it be achieved, it will be by a logical interconnecting of all tactical details, which have to be sensible and carefully planned. These tactical details must be completely integrated and subordinated to one great strategic idea. They are, at the same time, both the foundation and structure. Naturally, precautionary preparations had to be planned in order to meet all possible unknowns. Furthermore, to reach the great goal, surprise is necessary.
"Now I had to deal with the details and the respective tactics of attack; I took my time and did it thoroughly. From maps we went to sand box exercises. I still kept the circle of the insiders small, and according to my later experiences my precautions were absolutely correct.
"Beginning January 1940, that strategy was solidly cemented by all tactical detail planning.
"Now I took Keitel and Jodl9 into my confidence—no, I did not win them over for my plans right away. They disapproved and raised objections, like: Would it not be wiser to go northwards around the Maginot fortifications?
"Just that is what the adversaries expect and make preparations for, I told them. My offensive plans were too bold, too daring.
"Naturally it was risky; not only the front-thrust but also the flanks from South, West and even from the East were in danger, in case the divisions following the first thrust are not able to secure the break-through area in time. They didn’t make it easy for me to convince them.
"The blocking barrier of Maginot? Well, I was sure about that. The Czech barrier forts, directed against us then and built by French engineers similar to the Maginot bunkers—not only did I have a close look at those, they were for me useful objects for shooting trials. The results met my expectations—the bunkers were cleanly penetrated by direct shots of 8.8 special shells. Also, by Stuka attacks I would either eliminate them or keep them down.
"Around the middle of February, the newly nominated commanding generals, among them Manstein, reported in. (Gen. Rudolf) Schmundt made me aware of him, indicating that his ideas about the war strategy in the West were nearly the same as mine. After he reported in, I gave Manstein the opportunity to present his thoughts about the West offensive. Yes, it was as Schmundt told me.
"Manstein was the only general who found the way to the same basic plan of operation; my thinking was thus confirmed. I still kept silent though—the fewer who knew about it, the more surprising the thrust would be. It would not have been prudent to let Manstein know how far advanced beyond the basic strategic concept the tactical details had already been worked out.”
Hitler tells of his detailed planning
During his talk, Adolf Hitler had turned over map after map covering the months of the “drole de guerre” (funny war) until May 1940. On the map you could notice the markings of the take-off positions for the attack.
"I don’t want to get involved now with all the details, like the rapid taking over of crossings, bridges, and barriers. Once they were situated close to the border, I engaged raiding commandos—partly even on bicycles—so they could quickly and silently run over the enemy positions.
"Most important was the storming of Eben Emael, the impenetrable, modern barrier fort. It could be taken without heavy losses only by a surprise raid, by coordinating the attack from the air and the ground. Gliders should silently land on top of the fort and drop off the commandos. Airplanes with parachute troops, and gliders with raiding commandos, will engage as tactical considerations at the time require it. Whenever possible, airfields behind the enemy lines will be captured that way.
"Believe me, Giesler, all these attacks I discussed, and exercised on a model, with officers and flying personnel, pioneers, parachutists and infantries—and we succeeded totally.”
Adolf Hitler opened the next map: it showed the attack that took place on the morning of May 10th with the markings for the first day targets. Following that were maps with sections of the different divisions, then a second map series marking the success by the individual panzer and battle groups.
Drawn on a larger scale could be seen the hard battle for Sedan. That was the energetic thrust the enemy did not expect—then the breakthrough and the advance of the panzers, secured at their flanks by the forward pushing divisions. Now, map after map followed, sometimes two for one day, graphically reporting the battle success of the panzer thrust along the eastside of the Somme to Abeville.
"My biggest worry was securing the flanks; counterattacks from the South and Southwest, energetically executed, would have grown to a serious threat. Logically, at the same time, the ‘Schliefen attack’ had to be seriously carried out in order to draw the main forces of the enemy, the motorized units, into Belgian territory. The deception succeeded; the mass of the enemy forces moved into those battle areas, as I imagined they would, and were cordoned off. The frontal attack of our divisions also showed total success and forced Holland and Belgium to surrender. The operation, later called ‘Sichelschnitt’ (sickle cut), became a decisive success. But the total defeat of the Western allies was not yet won.”
The Dunkirk miracle—was it really Hitler’s error?
Translators' Commentary: A lot of consternation and wild speculation among military historians has centered about the Dunkirk operation of May 26 to June 4, 1940. Hitler’s description of these fateful days strongly supports the belief that it was primarily political considerations that led him to the decision to hold the panzers which were ready to encircle and defeat close to a half million soldiers of the British expedition corps. We know of Hitler’s aversion—at least at that time—to fight the Brits tooth and nail.
He thought his already obvious victory in the West should convince England to enter into peace negotiations and discussions of a new order in Europe together with Germany. Thoughts of himself as a European, and not only a German, military leader were in his mind—thoughts very different, as we know, from those of Churchill and his sinister advisers and dark Hintermaenner who wanted war.
The decision to hold the panzer corps at Dunkirk was discussed at the OKW and agreed to by von Rundstedt and his chief of staff—Manstein`s successor—Gen. von Sodenstern. Hitler, Keitel, Jodel and Rundstedt had two military considerations in mind leading to this decision:
1) The rapid thrust of the panzer had driven men and material to the utmost limits—rest and repair were necessary. On May 23rd, Panzerkorps Kleist reported close to 50% of their panzers lost. The flat environment of Dunkirk demanded full strength of the panzer corps. Rundstedt gave the halt order and overruled OKH, and Brauchitsch and Halder’s further advance.
2) The Southern flank of Army Group A was partly wide open. Even though the sickle movement of the two Army groups cut the Allied forces in half, there were still formidable French forces, tanks and motorized divisions assembled South and West of the Somme and Aisne to be reckoned with.
It is also known that Goering assured Hitler that the Luftwaffe, if called, would be able to devastate the grounded British expedition corps. As it turned out, the bad weather grounded the Reichsmarschall’s bombers for days, allowing 338,000 British soldiers to escape across the channel. England was saved, but thousands of weapons and vehicles were left at the beaches.
German Panzer and infantry crossed the Somme and Marne after a short, hard fought battle and took Paris. In a forest clearing at Compiegne, in the same railway car the German delegation signed the armistice in 1918, the French general Huntzinger signed the new armistice of June 22, 1940.
Adolf Hitler continues: “The opponent was actually decisively beaten in the North sector. Pressed from the East and South by our fast-moving troops, cut off towards the West, only the sea remained as the last open flight path. The mass of those primarily English forces was concentrated around Dunkirk, on the Flanders plains, which I remembered well from my world war time. Oh, I know, my Dunkirk decision was described as a big mistake, not only by the circle of the so-smart general staff—those “know it alls” and those with their so-Christian feelings—thought it was my biggest stupidity not to have completely destroyed the already-beaten British forces.
"Various considerations kept me from doing so.
"First, the military reasons. The Flanders lowlands restrict tank operations basically to the roads. Long drawn-out battles, with our own losses and the possible high breakdown of our tanks, were to be expected. For further necessary operations towards the West and South, into France proper, I could not sacrifice one tank. But above all, we must not waste our strength and lose time. The enemy had been shocked; now everything had to be done stroke by stroke.
"After listening to Rundstedt, my inner circle of military advisers also shared that opinion. It was absolutely necessary to continue the attack to the West and South without any hesitation before the enemy succeeds in building up a strong defense along the Somme and the Aisne. Our follow-up thrust already met with strong resistance there. It also had to be assumed the English would send additional troops, assisted by the artillery support of their battleships, across the Channel – they could not let France down as they did Poland!
"We had to attack towards the West—Paris and Northern France had to be taken very fast, to make it impossible for the English to land additional troops. We also had to direct an offensive toward the South, with a thrust behind the French fortifications. We had to enforce a final decision and thus bring the French campaign to a quick finish because there was another reason of a military-political kind. I did not remain orientated to only one side: for a long time I was listening, worried, toward the East.
"And did not a slight possibility of peace still exist, even though a vague one, which I might have obstructed by a pitiless defeat of the Dunkirk army?”
Adolf Hitler was deliberating on rational grounds as he was so often doing in the past years; he did not think only as a German—he thought as a European. He truly thought in a sense of a higher humanity which he wanted to be realized within ethnically-based unified societies (Volksgemeinschaften).
That he judged the possibility of peace higher, there is in my eyes one proof: On June 24, 1940, at his headquarters Bruly de Peche, he gave orders for peacetime tasks10, issuing a decree on the 25th giving authority to Speer and me to begin the restructuring of German cities.
Later, I was once more reminded of the “mistake of Dunkirk.” If I remember correctly, it was in August 1943 after the devastating air attacks in Hamburg. In an adjoining room, Adolf Hitler gave orders to an adjutant. A pile of photographs were lying on a table; I picked them up.
They were horrible testimonials of the effect the phosphor-hail had on women and children by that terrible terror attack at Hamburg with over 40,000 civilian death victims.
When Adolf Hitler returned to the work room, he saw the photographs in my hand. With a quiet, but very resolute voice he said: “Let it go, Giesler, don’t look at the pictures anymore. After a while, I had to rethink. It didn’t agree with my character to step on the one who lies on the ground. I was mistaken—magnanimity will not be recognized. They repay my sparing them at Dunkirk with bombs and phosphor on women and children whose men and husbands were fighting for Europe. What you see there is destructive brutality”—he pointed to the photographs—“again and again one tries not to believe this; now I know—no mercy!”
Those words were for me proof that his decisions at that time came from ethical ideas of war, rather than only military and political reasons.
I thought back to fall 1942 at Winniza. Upset and pondering, I had arrived there late at night or early morning and could not sleep. After Adolf Hitler talked with me, the explanation for his mistrust and chilly attitude toward the generals was evident. It was not commonly so, because, contrary to that, he kept the front officers and fighting troops in high esteem—and of whom he said: They know what is at stake.
It dawned on me why he so thoroughly explained, with the map documents, his strategic and tactical decisions and the way the French campaign was won. It was not based on the fact that the first example of that documentation was now set on the table; it was not just the explanation of his carefully planned campaign. No doubt, by reviewing, he wanted to assure himself that his strategic idea, his tactical dispositions were correct and had led to a surprisingly rapid success. His explanations were by no means arrogant. Deeds, courage and self-sacrifice of the soldiers and commanders always took first place, above all events.
"Only with such soldiers and officers could I dare to plan such an audacious performance,” he said to me. He followed with the remark, “The strategy for the Russian campaign was deliberated exactly the same way.”
For awhile he was silent and then he continued, “When I recognized, after the talks with Molotov, that no other possibilities existed—I had the choice: fight or give up and betray Europe. I decided to fight. It was the hardest decision of my life.”
I asked myself: Why does Adolf Hitler reveal all these problems and thoughts to me. Apart from the fact that his loneliness urged him to talk, he knew I was not only a National Socialist and follower he could trust, but, in addition, close to him as his architect.
He also recognized that I understood his goals—even more, he sensed that I saw him as a far-forward thinker who was already planning and fighting for the next generation. The joint work on city building conceptions and their architectural details created trust; he accepted and respected me. During those hours of mutual planning, he saw himself bound to peace, and his real mission as forming a new social order of the German people and their environment. He found the answer to the challenge of the time, the challenge of the technique, and the challenge of the new social order. In those hours, he was lifted up; I was more to him than his architect.
As always, I attended lunch. Adolf Hitler was pensive; our discussion was restricted to my impressions of the Danube bank design in Budapest. Right on the first day of our joint lunch and dinner, I asked to be served the same food as he was having. Hitler mentioned that I could order the mess-menu—it would not disturb him at all.
"No,” I replied, “I’m not pretending. I really want to get acquainted with your diet, and for the orderlies it is simpler to serve.” So I spooned the roasted semolina soup and forked the potato pancakes with vegetables. At that lunch, they served milk-rice, and with it ground chocolate in a small cup, as dessert. I sprinkled some over the milk-rice. Adolf Hitler criticized, “That’s too little—it is a rare pleasure,” and then poured nearly everything out of the cup over my rice.
"I am not allowed too much of it,” he remarked. I could see that by his small rice portion. It was rather surprising how little nourishment he needed.
After dinner he said, “Giesler, you are not only exhausted, but you also have not had enough sleep. I can see it. You will now take a walk, naturally with company—with Professor Brandt—and then go to the sauna, and you will sleep well. I’m very busy with military discussions and deadlines; no planning talks today. I’ll see you at tea time, late evening after the Lage.”
During the walk, I talked with Karl Brandt, of whom I think highly, about Hitler’s loneliness and his great burden. “If I am already worn out after hours in my small professional work here, and the talks with him, think then about the continuous demands made on him.”
"No,” Brandt interrupted me, “you have to look at it differently, Giesler. It’s obvious that you are tired out by the nightly discussions with the Chief, but also obvious that, for him, it means complete relaxation. He gains distance and new energy for decision-making. That’s why you’re so important here now.
Kietel and Jodl explain
I had dinner at the casino barracks and had a chance to talk to Field Marshal Keitel, with General Jodl present—naturally about the French campaign. I wanted to listen to his assessment.
"Well, when I think about the past it gives me confidence,” Keitel said. “He rarely talks about it; he was probably inspired by the map-collection.
What he presented to you, based on the maps, I can only add it was his idea, in all details his work. He alone was the commander of the French campaign.”
Keitel continued, “When he explained, in January 1940, his concept about the Western campaign, worked out to all strategic details, I was startled by his audacity, even though I had to acknowledge the brilliant strategy.” Jodl nodded, agreeing, and remarked, “We were pretty much perplexed when he put it on our table, complete with all details!”
"For his attack solution, he first won Jodl over, when I still could not accept it,” Keitel added. “I asked myself: would we succeed in deceiving the Allies to such an extent that they would thrust their motorized army and tank units into the Belgian-Holland region, in order to block the ‘Schliefen-Wing’? Would they consider the breakthrough at Sedan as a tactical, space-limited attack only? Could the flanks for the panzer thrust to the coast be secured at all? I never would have had the courage for such an audacious operation.
"General Schmundt said later that Manstein had the same thoughts. His ideas were not accepted and were refused by the chief of the General Staff (Halder). I found that out in January and arranged that Manstein could present his ideas to the Fuehrer. That was possible when he reported to the Fuehrer after his nomination to a Commanding General (Kommandierenden General) in middle February 1940.
"At that time, the Fuehrer had already planned and committed down to tactical details beyond the strategic operations—up to the commandos he needed for Eben Emael. With an incomparable insistence, he pushed through his strategic ideas and all tactical measurements. When Manstein presented his ideas for an offensive campaign, he could by that time only confirm what the Fuehrer had intended.”
Field Marshal Keitel and General Jodl were hung at Nuremberg11; General Schmundt became a victim of the July 20th assassination. But the Field Marshal confirmed what I heard from him in Winniza in the notes he left. The courageous, inspired strategy of the Western campaign was explicitly and absolutely Adolf Hitler’s work; he alone was the chief commander of the French campaign.
1. Winniza, Ukraine was the location of Hitler‘s headquarters called Werwolf. Franz Franz
2. Halder, Kriegstagwebuch 1939-1942, 3 vols., Stuttgart Kohlahammer, 1962-64
3. Some staff officers on the way from Luftwaffen General Felmy (chief of Luftflotte 2) to a place in the Rhine Valley—they were supposed to go by train, but they got hold of a small 4-seater plane—ran into foggy weather and emergency-landed in Dutch territory. One staff officer tried to burn, and then swallow, the documents they were carrying, but was not successful. They were delivered to the Dutch General Staff and, because the secrecy was breached, the attack had to be postponed. Felby was replaced because of this incident.
4. Halder was the chief of the general staff at that time. Schliefen’s plan in WWI was to make the right wing of the German forces strong and fast-moving. However, they stopped at the Marne River and didn’t move on; never captured Paris.
5. See TBR, Jan/Feb 2009, “Hitler in Paris” part two, page 60
6. The Nov. 8, 1939 bomb explosion at the Buergerbraukeller in Munich, which Hitler attended, but left early.
7. It was Hans Oster, who passed the date of the invasion of the Netherlands to the Dutch attache in Berlin. (See TBR, Nov/Dec 2009, “Valkyrie-The Last Circle,” page 51)
8. Schmundt from the Wehrmacht (Armed Forces), von Puttkammer from the Navy, von Below from the Luftwaffe, Engle from the Army, Schaub from the Party.
9. Chief of Staff OKW Wilhelm Keitel and his assistant Chief of Operations OKW Alfred Jodl.
10. At the time of the German-French armistice, Hitler visited Paris with architects Giesler and Speer. Hitler told them, “For you a tough time begins, work and pressure, the forming of cities and monuments which are put into your trust.” (See TBR, Jan/Feb 2009, “Hitler in Paris,” page 58)
11. Though Keitel and Jodl pleaded not guilty, the Nuremberg court found them both guilty on all charges, and shamefully hanged them on October 16, 1946, though they had requested to be executed by a firing squad, which was the only honorable method for officers. Jodl’s last words were “My greetings to you, my Germany;” Keitel’s were “I follow now my sons—all for Germany!” In 1953, Jodl was found posthumously “not guilty” by a German court and the verdict was declared “a mistake.”
During the preparations for the West Offensive, alarming reports of naval and troop concentrations in East Anglia arrived at Hitler’s headquarters from Adm. Canaris’s Abwehr. Chief of Operations Jodl and Col. Gen. Nikolaus von Falkernhorst were certain this meant the British were preparing to invade Norway and realized the great danger of being cut off from the vital supply of Swedish iron ore, and an encirclement from the north. Hitler reacted swiftly, ordering the invasion of Denmark and Norway under the code name “Weseruebung” on April 9, 1940. Hermann Giesler reports in Ein Anderer Hitler about the tremendous tension and pressure being felt at headquarters in Berlin.
MAY 1940: GIESLER’S RECOLLECTIONS
During the decisive battle in Norway, especially around Narvik, I was Adolf Hitler’s guest for lunch and dinner at the Reichs Chancellery. After the evening military meeting, Hitler returned to the “Bismark” living quarters; he wanted to talk until the reports arrived. He was restless, under tension, and had been worried for hours.
His greatest worry is the battle for Narvik; that’s why he is restless. The battle group Dietl1 is too weak to resist the massive enemy forces still being strengthened by the English fleet and ample supply.
By his order our soldiers are involved in a desperate fight against that superior power—and we cannot help them. Any supply possibilities by sea are prevented by the English; a land bridge is impossible. How long will they be able to hold on? To stay in Narvik is of utmost importance. “Do you understand how I feel? I question myself, is it time for the battle group to move into Swedish territory and surrender? Gen. Jodl pleads for continued fighting. I now recognize, remembering my own time as a soldier, it is easier to fight than to be responsible for the battle.Well, Giesler, let’s walk up and down until new reports arrive.”
Messages arrived continuously; very hard fights around Narvik—fights against English and Norwegian forces in the valleys north and south of Trondheim. One question was in Hitler’s mind: Where is the Norwegian king; did they succeed in capturing him?
Then the decisive message came in: The keep-on-fighting, hang-on tough paid off. We succeeded. The king, who was with his troops in the north, offered to surrender; he may have recognized that further resistance of his troops was senseless.The German forces pushed forward .The fighting against the English-French expeditionary corps continued, but the success of that bold Norway operation was assured.
Now Hitler had to face a new, burdensome responsibility: the battle against the West. “Giesler, we beat the English by only a few hours.A dangerous threat for Germany from the north could have occurred.”
1 Col. Gen. Eduard Dietl commanded part of the Third Mountain Division in Narvik. His troops were landed by German destroyers that got involved in a disastrous naval battle in which all were sunk or shuttled, after which 2500 stranded Navy men joined the Mountaineers.They withdrew into the hills, were cut off and partially supplied by air drops, but managed to retake the town.
by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
The Belgian fort at the triangle border area of Germany, Belgium and Holland was located at a commanding position overlooking the Maas River and three bridges spanning the Albert Canal. It presented a major obstacle for any troops to advance into Belgium and Holland.
Some of the awesome, threatening casemates of Eben Emael. (photo courtesy Fronta.cz)
The fort drew the early attention of Hitler as he began to plan for the May 1940 campaign in the West. In late 1939, he arranged for special commandos of parachute troops (Fallschirmjaeger) and airborn units (Luftlandetruppen)—using glider planes because of their silence, and with brand new weapons and explosives (Haftladung)—to train under top secrecy at the similar border fortifications in Czechoslovakia.
The assault on the fort Eben Emael was part of the much larger campaign, “Fall Gelb,” of combined airborne troops, parachute troops, Stuka Aircraft and transport aircraft (400 Ju 52 transporters) against bridges, airfields and fortresses in Belgium and Holland. On May 9, 1940 these forces were gathered around Cologne. The force tasked with assaulting the Fort and capturing the three bridges was named Sturmabteilung Koch (Assault Detachment Koch) after the leader of the force, Hauptmann (Captain) Walter Koch.
Hauptmann Koch divided his force into four assault groups. Group Granite, under First Lt. Rudolf Witzig, was to assault and capture Fort Eben Emael from above. The other three groups were to capture the bridges. Eleven gliders carrying the 85 men of Group Granite, rope-towed by Ju 52s, left an airfield near Bonn at 4:30 on the morning of May 10 with the task to land on top of the fort and assault the cupolas and casemates with the new “hollow explosives,” flamethrowers and automatic weapons.
Absolute radio silence was enforced; the Ju 52 pilots were navigated by vertical searchlights toward the Belgian border and released the gliders at 7000 ft., about twenty miles before the target. Witzig’s glider was hit by a snapping tow line, forcing it to land in Germany; another glider released too early. Thus undermanned, only nine gliders landed on the roof of Eben Emael, where the troops quickly emerged and began attaching explosive charges to emplacements housing the artillery pieces. Each glider troops had their own objective. Some of the larger guns were more difficult to destroy and troops from two gliders, and then even more than that, had to join together to finally disable them.
A cupola in Fort Eben Emael after penetration by a shaped charge.
The fighting in the major part of the fort was fierce, and Stuka bombers had to be called in to quell some pockets of resistance. Entrances and exits located by the airborne troops were destroyed with explosives to seal them off.
In the meantime, Witzig had quickly called up another glider and, after flying through anti-aircraft fire, landed on top of the fortress and participated in the fighting. Group Granite was not relieved by the 51st Engineer Battalion until 7 a.m. May 11 because the Belgian engineers managed to destroy some bridges over the Maas River, which the Germans had to repair before crossing. Under great pressure, Group Granite suffered six killed and 19 wounded. But the defenders suffered 60 killed and 40 wounded, and surrendered at 12:30 on May 11, with an estimated 1000 Belgian soldiers taken into captivity.
The three bridges across the Albert Canal were also successfully captured by the other three glider groups under the command of Captain Koch. As result of these successes, the armored division of the 18th Army was able to enter the heart of Belgium. For their outstanding efforts, both Koch and Witzig were rewarded with the Knights Cross.
General Kurt Student, Commander of the Fallshirmjaegertruppen and advisor to Hitler on Eben Emael, wrote of the operation, and the efforts of Group Granite in particular, that "It was a deed of exemplary daring and decisive significance [...] I have studied the history of the last war and the battles on all fronts. But I have not been able to find anything among the host of brilliant actions—undertaken by friend or foe—that could be said to compare with the success achieved by Koch's Assault Group." (Volkmar Kuhn, German Paratroops in World War II. Ian Allen, Ltd. 1978. Page 36)
WAR CAMPAIGNS: Sea Lion - The Campaign That Was Never Launched
Translation and commentary by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
Copyright 2010 Carolyn Yeager
Translators' Introduction: Not quite four weeks after the new president of the defeated Republic of France, Marshal (Philippe) Petain, signed the Armistice with Germany, Adolf Hitler spoke to the Reichstag and the German Nation. It was the 19th of July 1940 when the Reichstag Deputies were assembled at the Kroll Opera House in Berlin, joined by all government ministers and the top brass of the Wehrmacht.
“I have summoned you to this meeting in the midst of our tremendous struggle for the freedom and the future of the German nation,” Adolf Hitler began. “I have done so […] with the intention of appealing, once more and for the last time, to common sense in general.” He described his political, social and economic goals and how they had succeeded since his Machtuebernahme in 1933. Raising His voice slightly, he said, “The program of the National Socialist Movement, besides freeing the Reich from the innermost fetters of a small substratum of Jewish-capitalist and pluto-democratic profiteers, proclaimed to the world our resolution to shake off the shackles of the Versailles Dictate…” Toward the end of his speech, showing visible emotion, he claimed, “From France and England, I never demanded anything but peace […] because my intention was not to make war, but to build a new social and cultural state […] At this hour I feel obligated before my conscience to once more appeal to common sense in England […] I don’t see any reason to continue this senseless fight.”
England’s answer was Churchill’s cynically uttered, “I don’t propose to say anything in reply to Herr Hitler’s speech, not being on speaking terms with him.” The British Prime Minister and his Hintermaenner wanted war and the destruction of Germany.
Prior to this speech, Hitler had issued on July 16th his Directive #16. It began: “Concerning preparations for an amphibious operation against England. Since England, in spite of her hopeless military situation, still shows no sign to come to an agreement, I have decided to prepare, and if necessary carry out, a landing operation against her.” He then outlined his strategy in broad strokes and requested plans from his three Armed Forces Commanders in Chief (Army, Navy, Luftwaffe) by early August.
At a meeting at his Berghof residence on July 31st with Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch (CiC Army) and Grand Admiral Erich Raeder (CiC Navy), Hitler requested detailed position papers for the operation after listening to their ideas. Already at that time, he told them he would start the campaign against Russia if Sea Lion was not executed, revealing he was aware of the serious problems confronting an invasion.
OKH (Oberkommando des Heeres–Army Supreme Command) came up with a bold, massive offensive across a wide stretch of Southern England that would tie up large enemy forces. Three Army groups (Army Group A under von Rundstedt; B under Strauss and C under von Reichenau) with a total of 36 divisions, including six tank and two airborne, would invade the South East coast of England, a 200-km long area between Ramsgate, the Isle of Wight and the Lyme Bay. Three waves, the first one with six divisions (16th, 9th and 6th Army), supported by 650 tanks (280 submerging amphibian) should attack on D day between September 19th and 21st.
OKM (Oberkommando des Marine—Navy Supreme Command) followed later with its operational plan. They requested a smaller attack area—no Lyme Bay—and concentrating between Folkstone and Eastbourne. With a strength differential of 1:10 for the German Navy to the Royal Navy, they could not give enough protection at the far Western end, since large naval units were unable to operate in the small English Channel–Straight of Dover. The Navy proposed to make a flotilla of ten destroyers and twenty torpedo boats available for the West side; thirty Schnell boats1 and twenty-one submarines for the East side; large minefields on the flanks; and to fake naval operations with a battleship, cruisers and troop transporters out of German North Sea ports and the south coast of Norway. The Navy also requested absolute control of the airspace by the Luftwaffe. There were some obvious military basics missing, for instance, time and space for unloading troops from ships to landing boats or vehicles.
Hitler intervened and demanded a revised plan to be worked out by the operations department of OKH. The invasion force was cut down to 26 divisions. A first wave of six divisions of General Busch’s 16th Army (from Army Group A) was to assemble in the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp, Dunkirk and Calais, going ashore between Folkstone and Dover. Two divisions of General Strauss`s 9th army were to assemble at the harbor of Boulogne and landing between Eastbourne and Bexhill. Three divisions of Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau’s 6th Army would assemble at Le Havre, invading the shores at Brighton.
In the meantime, from August 13—“Eagle Day”—Luftflotte 2 and Luftflotte 3 of Germany’s Luftwaffe, tried to gain control over the island’s skies. It seemed to work, as they strafed and bombed airfields and communications, until the “Ultra” machine deciphered the wireless orders of the Luftflotte and enabled the British Command to quickly assemble Spitfires and Hurricanes for fierce counter-attacks. When Reichsmarshall Goering ordered reprisal attacks against British cities for the terror bombing of German cities, the goal of airspace supremacy was lost.
On September 17th, 1940, the Fuehrer Headquarters, recognizing these problems, postponed Operation Sea Lion and it never took place. Hitler turned his attention to the east.
August 1944, Fuehrer Headquarters, Winniza
"Why didn’t I give the order to attack England? I had various reasons.”
We were having our nightly tea at Winniza. It was not clear to me what Adolf Hitler was drinking most of the time. Once he said to me, “Camomile tea with honey tastes very good, sometimes peppermint tea or rose hips … also tea of mixed flower blossoms. And quite delicious is a boiled apple served in a glass.”
I chose black tea with oat cookies; from time to time, he took one.
For sure, he let the preparations for the attack go ahead; he had his reasons. Operation Sea Lion sounded very promising, but he was by no means sure about it. The forces for the attack had already begun their exercises; ships were concentrated; offensive operation plans worked out.
“But I wanted peace! Was it not possible that our offensive preparations would have been detected by reconnaissance, eagerly reported via the Vatican, Switzerland, Sweden, and Portugal to England, and possibly contributing to willingness for peace? But soon I recognized the hate was stronger; they preferred ‘blood, sweat and tears.’ The powers in the dark—incomprehensible—did not mind; it was not their blood, or their suffering. This war was satisfying their hate and drive for profit and power; Churchill was only the order taker.”
The offensive toward the West had never been his goal; he wanted to avoid it, and an attack on England seemed to him senseless. What losses would have occurred by such an attack across the Channel. Fall was approaching, with its unruly seas; most of the transport ships were not seaworthy. At first, he only felt a slight apprehension about it, but then he saw a threat—the very busy diplomatic activity of the enemy. Their target: a renewed effort at encirclement. But for the time being he left that aside.
“Let’s assume we attack England and the attack succeeds, under great sacrifices. What then? We would not possess the English government, the Royal House, the fleet—they moved away to Canada. The war in the West would continue, but not to our advantage, and in any case with an enormous tie-down of our forces. The occupation of England would not relieve the situation in Norway and France.
“And how would we feed the island when we ourselves are just making it, with restrictions. Then, our forces would bleed to death on the way to England and in England itself, while the Russians rolled over the Balkans, as they did in the Baltic with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. First they declare it a ‘sphere of interest,’ then comes military occupation, and finally the bolshevization, and with it, gaining military and economic strength.
“But not only that, the Russian could cut off our supplies and block important raw materials at the Balkans, above all oil. No, he would have us in his hand, dictating. We should even be glad he would not attack us right away. That would depend on how much our forces were weakened by our attack of England.”
Those were his considerations at that time. Why was England not ready for peace? Churchill has said only one word: Russia.
Already, long before (just after the French campaign had ended), it was clear to him that, depending on the war and political world situation at the time, Russia will act—either by its Bolshevik idea of a world revolution or by a nationalistic Russian idea of expansion towards the West, Europe. Both would come to the same result in the end. It’s a problem of greatest importance, not only for Europe but more so for the whole world. It lurks on the horizon like a threatening cloud before a thunderstorm.
Certainly the Russians were not yet quite ready, but the threat was already obvious. The deployment against us had already begun, first diplomatically, followed very soon by military preparations. Now he knew it would not take long for blackmail to enter. He anticipated far ahead of what Molotov presented.
Stalin would naturally have preferred us to attack England, to weaken and entangle ourselves according to Lenin’s prophecies. Not only common sense but European thinking spoke against an invasion of England.
More and more, threatening signals appeared—danger from the East. Not only the decision for Germany, but one for the whole world rested with us. Churchill and Roosevelt, warmongering figures visible in the darkness, bet on the Russia card. To forestall them with our attack was the only possibility; first to ward off the Russian-Bolshevik danger, second to secure food and raw materials, and third to not only take the Russian card out of the hands of the West, but to make it obvious that, by Germany securing its food and raw material, a continuing of the war would be senseless.
For sure, individual operations in the West, like Gibraltar, would have been possible and could have shown significant results, but only on our own, without drawing Spain into the war. He has been advised against this. He had talked to me about his disappointments after negotiating with Franco. He naturally wanted to attack Gibraltar from the land side. He by no means intended to draw Spain into the war. Ally with Spain?—never. We were burdened enough by the Italians. Spain would draw us into war fronts of neither military, nor, above all, of any economic interest. That’s one side of the coin. The other is that we would have had to help them; we could not allow them to get beaten, even in battles picked by them for which we saw no need.
Specifically, he was thinking about the very senseless attack of Greece—he could not prevent it.2 He had told me that on his visit in Florence he faced a fait accompli—an expanding war, followed by restlessness at the Balkans and the consequence: Yugoslavia.3 All in all, a loss—a tie down of forces; we lost time, unrecoverable time, over two months time. We missed the original assault time for reaching the targets he had set. That lost time was a gain for the Russians; they threatened our border by putting 175 divisions into readiness.
A neutral Italy, mobilized and ready for action, could have helped us and been useful to them, too. Already in 1940, when we had taken Paris, Hitler had prophesied to me that we would not be able to hold back the Italians; they wanted to have a part in it. They lessened our victory and the possibility of peace. If they really wished to fight, they should have taken Malta.
After pondering in silence, he said with a slow voice: “Yes, now I faced the most difficult decision of my life. What will happen if I push open the door to the East?” Adolf Hitler was quiet again for a while, then, “Enough for today, Giesler, I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch.”
Lunch at Deutelmoser’s Osteria in Munich
Alone, I had time to think and ponder also. I recalled the 26th or 27th of October, 1940, when I had been asked to the “Osteria Bavaria” for lunch. After the meetings with Franco and Petain, Adolf Hitler came to Munich at midmorning, before meeting later on with Mussolini in Florence. Deutelmoser, the owner of the Osteria, was always highly honored when Hitler choose his small, simple restaurant for lunch. I was amused every time at the stir-up in the kitchen. But Deutelmoser was cool and collected when he served the potato soup and the turnip salad with the air of serving treasures.
After lunch, I was sitting alone with Adolf Hitler at the table. He talked about his trip and said of Petain: “A soldier, honorable and dignified, he fully met my idea of a French marshal, but he is already too old to plan into the future. Well, now to Franco—it may well be that my disappointment influenced my judgment. Our discussion remained without results. Franco has no personality, he is absolutely average. Without the Jesuits, who in my opinion not only advise but direct him, he would be insignificant. He is certainly clever in his way, but so are traders.”
He believes if he had already recognized Franco’s political aims and his character in 1936, his sympathies would have been with those who stood up against the feudal system and the clerics. But those revolutionaries were led by communists, and once they get their foot in the door there is no turning them out again. A socialism that suits Spain, yes; a Spanish-Communistic state as a satellite of the Soviets, no. It was a European task to prevent it and in that he agreed with the Duce. Thus, we had to intervene with help. It would then have been up to Franco to start a new social order with his Falangists.
Adolf Hitler looked around, met the eyes of the guests with a smile and a gesture of greeting. “What might I expect in Florence? I have an unpleasant feeling,” he said, facing me again with a completely changed look.
At his request, I gave him a short report about the status of the Munich city planning and the steps I initiated for the construction of the Autobahn ring and the new railway system. I also asked him if he thinks that, for the time being, all constructions and plans for (NSDAP) party buildings should be set aside. Absolutely; he said preference has to be given to plans serving city rebuilding and community purposes.
It was certainly the word “party” which turned his thoughts.
He worries a great deal about Rudolf Hess. He knows he can talk about it with me: Hess’s nearly occult, airy behavior, his hypochodria (Sichkrankfuehlen) and what he is doing for it. He (Hitler) is certainly not against homeopaths and non-medical practitioners, but strongly against all those Hess trusts with his confidence. He should by all means find the confidence of a physician with rank. Hitler is really worried, not only because of Hess’s position and tasks, but simply because he is sincerely fond of him. “That I keep him in such high esteem, that I feel an obligation, well, he is the ‘Faithful’ since the beginning of the national socialist struggle.”
Adolf Hitler stood up, waved his hand to his guard commando, saying good bye, to travel towards new disappointment and trouble. When he arrived in Florence, Mussolini told him he issued the order to attack Greece. That was now the second extension of the war and war theaters, totally undesired and useless, idiotic.
Hitler expressed it once to me as a fall-back of two millennia, and its origin lay in the historically-based myth about the Roman Empire. He explained that the turbulence in the Balkans, cleverly stirred by the English, surely led to Yugoslavia’s break-away and the Balkan campaign, causing losses and tying up divisions and airplanes necessary for the offensive against Russia, and above all using up time, precious time.
"The most difficult decision of my life,” Adolf Hitler told me at the end of our nightly talk in his work room at the Winniza headquarters. A memory appeared like a picture in front of my eyes: around February 1941, on an afternoon at the Berghof, after a discussion with my construction staff for Obersalzberg (Bauleitung Obersalzberg), I arrived at the large living room of the Berghof for the usual walk to the tea pavilion.
The military talks were just finished. Adolf Hitler stood with a few generals at the marble table in front of the big window and gave some orders to his adjutant. Dr.Todt, who participated at the talks, stood with me toward the back of the large room. He pointed to the scene and said quietly, “They know about the decision—Russia. It will be tough, who knows what is waiting for us behind that border; what is already known to us is threatening enough. But look, here the Fuehrer stands, concentrated, collected, and in the background the Untersberg. You know the saga: For one thousand years the hope of Germans is connected with this mountain—isn’t that strange?” (see story below)
Yes, it was a striking picture, somber and impressive. I looked at Adolf Hitler’s profile as some generals and SS officers were facing him with serious, tight expressions. In the background, the view through the large window looked over the deeply snowed-in landscape of the Berchtesgadener Land. The Untersberg alone stood high above the dark forests, its red, precipitous rocks now white, illumined by the last sunrays of the day.
In the evening we were sitting around the fireplace; Adolf Hitler was silent, focused inward. We talked quietly. Around midnight, Hitler asked (Martin) Bormann for something. Then, to our complete surprise, the powerful, fateful-sounding melodies of Liszt’s “Les Preludes” swept through the large hall lit only by the flames of the fireplace.
1) German Schnell boats were heavily armed coastal craft often referred to by the Royal Navy as E-boats. Faster and better armed than the Royal navy MTB’s and PT-boats, they became the most effective inshore attack craft of World War Two. All German Schnell Boats carried two separate torpedo tubes. In total 249 Schnell Boats were built for the Kriegsmarine, with a total of 157 being lost or scuttled. The US, UK and Russia divided up the surviving boats between them.
2) Benito Mussolini, impressed by Hitler’s success, wanted to do his own war and started the attack on Greece without informing Hitler. It can be attributed to jealousy combined with imperial pride on Mussolini’s part.
3) Giesler is referring to the putsch in Yugoslavia that forced the redirection of German forces to the Balkans just before the planned invasion of the Soviet Union. Guided by the British secret service and probably supported by the Russian Air Force, Serbian General Simovic overthrew the Pro-Hitler regency of Prince Paul and installed a pro-British military government.
The Barbarossa Saga
At the time of the crusades, the German Kaiser and Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich the First, called Barbarossa (Red Beard), left to fight in the Holy Land. During the 3rd Crusade in 1190 in Asia Minor, the Emperor died tragically by drowning in the River Saleph.
Soon, however, rumors that he was not dead, but would return, began to circulate and developed into the Barbarossa Saga. The enchanted Friedrich was said to still live with his whole court in the Kyffhäuser, a mountain in Thuringia, or in Mount Untersberg, straddling the border between Berchtesgaden and Salzberg. One version of the legend has it that the Emperor is seated in the mountain at a table with his golden crown on his head; his beard grows around the table and has circled it twice. When the time comes, Barbarossa will step out from the mountain and again erect his empire. Every hundred years, he sends his dwarfs to see if the ravens are still circling around the mountain. If this is the case, the time for the Emperor’s awakening is not yet and he again falls back into his enchanted sleep.
After the death of the last Staufer (the Hohenstaufen dynasty), Emperor Friedrich II, in the year 1250, the German Empire, after a nearly 100-year blossoming, broke down into many small states with partly-contradictory interests. The Barbarossa Saga mirrors the desire of simple people for a unified state led by a wise and just ruler.
Originally, the Emperor’s saga was applied to Friedrich II, the nephew and successor of Barbarossa. However, by the later middle ages, it was Barbarossa who was seen as the sleeping Emperor in the mountain.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, during the time of Bismarck, strong efforts were made to create a unified German national state. During that time, the Barbarossa Saga became the German national story.
Franco, center, greets Adolf Hitler in Hendaye, October 23, 1940.
Adolf Hitler remembered his meeting with Generalissimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye as one of his worst experiences. They met at this town on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. Hitler was upset for two reasons.
First, the General’s growing hesitancy to support Hitler’s "Operation Felix," the plan to take Gibraltar and extend the operation into Spanish Morocco. Franco did not want Spain to join the war. Unbelievable as it sounds, Franco was advised to take up that attitude by Hitler’s chief of the Abwehr, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, who was an expert for Spanish affairs and twice visited Madrid in 1940.1
Second, Hitler was angered by Franco’s outrageous demands for Germany to supply raw materials, armaments, machinery and even foodstuff with which to fight the war. Franco knew well enough Germany could never fulfill this request. That devious move was also suggested by Canaris. The meeting ended with the signing of a worthless document of mutual cooperation. Hitler reportedly stated about this meeting: "I would rather have my teeth pulled than meet with Franco again."2
Franco’s Jesuit conscience must have pestered him, however. He could not but remember the decisive help given to him by Adolf Hitler during his life and death struggle with the Red Republic from 1936-39, which resulted in unfavorable publicity such as “Guernica” being leveled against “the facists,” including Germany. He did permit Spanish military forces to join Germany’s war in Russia. The Blue Division (Division Azul) under the command of General Agustin Múñoz Grandes fought with distinction for two years at the Leningrad front.
1) John H. Walter, The Unseen War in Europe, p. 155. 1996, Random House, New York
2) Published in “The Journal of Art, History and Literature,” from Count Ciano’s transcript of Hitler's October 28th meeting with Mussolini, written a few days after Hendaye. Ciano was Mussolini’s son-in-law.
(L to R) Marshall Petain, interpreter Paul Schmidt, Adolf Hitler, Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, in France in October 1940.
Marshal Philippe Petain, national hero of WWI, took over the presidency of the French government after he signed the final armistice treaty with Germany. He resided in Vichy, in the unoccupied part of France, and collaborated with Germany. His premier, Pierre Laval, suggested a military alliance and full cooperation with the National Socialist government. The pro-German PPF party of Jacque Doriot had Laval’s full support.
After the war, the government of General De Gaulle sentenced Marshal Petain to death, then pardoned him to life imprisonment. He was too famous, and too much a part of past French victories, to punish with death. Laval, however, was shot as a traitor in July 1945. ~ cy & wm
WAR CAMPAIGNS: Operation Barbarossa
Hitler explains his strategy for the Russian Campaign
Translated from Hermann Giesler’s Ein Anderer Hitler by Carolyn Yeager and Wilhelm Mann
Copyright 2010 Carolyn Yeager
Translators' Introduction: In the discussions pertaining to the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Herman Giesler, in Ein Anderer Hitler, presents Adolf Hitler speaking at length in the first person. Therefore, we have not used quote marks or indentation to indicate Hitler’s voice, but instead have distinguished the two voices by using italic for Giesler’s words.The scene opens on an evening in the late summer of 1942 at Hitler’s headquarters in Winninza (called Werwolf) where Giesler is staying as a guest of the Fuehrer. Hitler begins one of several talks with his architect as they work on building plans for German cities.
I planned the preventive stroke against Russia with still more care than the West campaign. The threat from the east was too obvious. After the French campaign, I declared to the Reichstag that there was no reason to continue the senseless war against England. The answer to that peace gesture was a rude denial. England wanted to go on with the war; Churchill was serious with his “Germany must perish!”
From then on I spent long nights over the maps of East Europe, full of sorrow, pondering and reviewing England’s typical conduct toward a conflict-free Europe. Looking for her advantage, England had always interfered in continental affairs—provoking or inflaming disputes via middlemen. She always tried to find a continental saber to fight for her and spare her own strength.
With France now eliminated, England—sure of the support of Roosevelt’s America—would try with all means available to let Russia fight for her.
I paid dearly for the pact with Stalin in August 1939. It cost me a lot for a pragmatic friendship for the sake of a pretended limitation of the war or, if the conflict expanded, to avoid facing Soviet bayonets at my back.
Stalin turned agreed-upon spheres of interest into the brutal occupation of the Baltic States, the separation of Bessarabia, and the forcing of Finland to its knees by a war of deceit.
After the military occupation of the Baltic, Bessarabia and Bukovina, Stalin’s goal was clearly recognizable—to become ruler over northeastern Europe and the Balkans. He wanted free access to the Mediterranean and an all-important starting position against Europe.
Stalin saw those possibilities at a time when we were tied up in the West. He had the constellation England-United States in view; he had made up his mind and was preparing to attack Germany, the only nation that could block both aims. The threat could be seen; the Soviet deployment began.
The military deployment of the Soviets on our Eastern border would soon be followed by political blackmail. I was convinced of that. It was also obvious to me that the Pan-Russian sphere-of-interest thrust was increased toward the West because of the demand of Bolshevism—it had already earlier jumped over its natural eastern border at the Pacific.1
Soon, Stalin would be found on the side which offered him the greatest advantage—elimination of the only power that could resist the further advance of Bolshevism into European areas: National Socialist Germany.
I not only saw the threat in the ready positioning of Russian armies at our Eastern border, with only a thin veil of a few divisions opposing them, but my concern was much more for our dependence on raw material—such as oil from Romania, but also ore, bauxite, molybdenum, manganese, chromium, and nickel from Finland—the supply of which could be blocked at any time by the Russians.
I again negotiated with Russia; it was an honest effort. Molotov, however, arrogantly delivered Stalin’s demands: a free hand for Russia in Romania, Bulgaria, Finland, and, in addition, free access to the Baltic Sea and the Dardanelles. That meant abandoning Europe.
My only alternative was the defense by a preventive stroke. Not only Germany was at stake, but the existence of Europe. The decision for me was not an easy one.
Regardless of all other matters, it meant the postponement of the realization of the social part of the tasks I set for myself and which required a secure time of peace; to those tasks, as you know, belonged the reconstruction of the German cities.
When I ordered the beginning of the preparations, that sinister treason occurred again that we experienced during the campaign against Poland, before the operation Weseruebung (in Norway and Denmark) and the French offensive.2 Nevertheless, great initial success occurred due to the unique strengths and élan of the German soldier, the strategic planning, and the supreme tactical leadership.
After the stormy successes, the wear and tear of men and material came to light. The vast spaces for which we had to fight hard tired out the troops. We had to take a breather—the supply problem forced it also—before we could take up the decisive moves incorporated in my strategic ideas.
Egoism and the one-track thinking of my generals crossed that strategic planning. In that month of August, so decisive for the Barbarossa operations, I fell ill and was so weakened that I could not gather the necessary insistence and steadfastness to push my plans through against my generals. (See side story “Strategy” following this article.)
Twice I thought to be close to victory. I was mistaken and it turned out to be deceptive.
Giesler: We were sitting on stools at the working table, drawing details of the Linz City house. Adolf Hitler, however, was soon at the war scene again in his thoughts. He said:
I talked with you already about my strategy because I knew you, as a talented architect of multi-faceted city projects, could appreciate the importance and the scope of complex planning.
Above all, a sober, mathematical thinking is needed, not only for various military dimensions, but more so for the immense distances, estimates of timing, and transport routes for securing supply. Specifically in the wide-open Russian space, one has to think about locations of raw materials and food; also regions of concentrated armament industries. All these things determine the basic idea for strategic planning, and at the same time influence the order of military targets, which again demand the ability for imagination, intuition, invention and audacity.
One can pretty well figure out one’s own forces, its battle strength and battle experience. But judging your adversary? Evaluating the enemy strength?
A complete failure of intelligence by our general staff and the military information service, and by the spy-agents and all the way up to the military attache at the embassy in Moscow—nothing of real information! During the occupation of Poland and the winter offensive in Finland, our military experts were outsmarted by the Russians.
We did not know anything about the strength of their divisions. We knew what was opposite us, but nothing of what we had to expect in the depth of the Russian space.
During battle, it was revealed that the shells of our PAK only caused a knock on the steel protection of the T34.3 Only our 8.8 cm Flak (Flieger Abwehr Kanone - anti-aircraft gun) shells were able to pierce the strong armor of the 50 and 100-ton tanks.
An impenetrable camouflage made the build up of an incredible military and armament force possible. (See side story “The Day M” following this article.) In the struggle for information, we were, and remained, hopelessly beaten.
I remembered a remark from December 1941, when Adolf Hitler told me:
Giesler, we just got away and escaped destruction by the Bolshevism—Stalin was nearly ready to pounce upon us.
Now he explained to me the connection between the Russian campaign planned by him, and his experiences after the invasion.
Added to the complete under-estimate of the enemy, the wrong reports about its reserves and armament strength, its deceits and confusions, was that incomprehensible treason. The preventive stroke was really no surprise at all for the enemy; it was reported on time and exact to the day and the hour. But that’s not all: every detail, every offensive plan was given to the enemy by German traitors!
I expected the treason of the X day. The surprise had to be rooted in the strategic development of our offensive. That strategy had been carefully thought out. In order to keep it secret and be sure of the surprise, I kept my plans only to the smallest circle. The orders for the development of the strategic tactical operations had to depend on the given situation of the offensive, the factors space – time – weather, and above all, on the forces of the adversary.
Now to the strategic structure: The armies were organized in three Army Groups: North, Center and South. Main emphasis lay with Army Group Center’s thrust towards Moscow. That was an intentional deception; I did not have Moscow in mind at all. The enemy forces should be confronted with our thrust, they should be tied down and not evaded. Then they should be destroyed by massive encirclement.
Adolf Hitler sketched on drawing paper the arrows of the attacking directions of the Army Groups, between the outlined Baltic and Black Seas. In front of the arrows he put 3 points and circled each one.
Leningrad-Moscow-Rostow, he said. The arrow of Army Group Center, he reinforced on both sides by additional arrow lines. Big circles between those five lines indicated the encirclement of enemies’ armies. A fat cross line he drew in front of Army Group Center, marking Moscow.
The attacking thrust should stop there, the tank forces with their rapid units should turn to Army Group North and South. That primary order was now decisive for the further necessary operations. Moscow was not my goal. It was necessary to encircle Leningrad, to establish the connection with the Finns at Lake Ladoga, to eliminate Leningrad as a center of the armament industry and to deprive the Russian navy of its base at Kronstadt. It was very important to pacify the Baltic Sea in order to secure the supply line.
Still more important was the thrust of Army Group South. The spreading out of the tank and rapid-unit forces into the distant space had to be executed twice. We had to obtain the harvest of the fertile Ukraine, the wheat and the oil from the giant sunflower fields, for our troops and the nation.
The second North-South thrust from Army Group South was aimed toward the raw materials—the coal, iron ore, chromium and manganese, and the important power plants at the Dnieper and Donez region all the way to Rostow and the Black Sea. There, right at the raw material sources, were also located the industrial centers, a concentration of the Russian armament industry and its economic power.
At the same time we could gain the take-off position for the thrust toward the Caucasian oil. And we also would win a critical region to protect the war-important supply of the Romanian oil from Ploesti against surprise attacks.
The political rewards of such a surprising, successful military operation would have been quite significant.
Giesler: When speaking, Adolf Hitler pointed his pencil to the marks of his strategic planning and completed the sketches with energetic lines. He quickly shaded the border areas around the Baltic Sea in the North and the Black Sea in the South, he drew circles around the raw material, industrial, and armament centers, and once more around the encirclement of the Russian armies.
Then the arrow points of Army Group Center pierced through the heavy marked “stop line” in front of Moscow, and out of the operative areas of all Army Groups, he drew dotted bow-shaped lines that encircled Moscow completely:
If strength, time and space made it possible, it should be the finale. Only a wide, all-encompassing scissor movement would give us the possibility to take Moscow and smash the Russian forces decisively at the same time!
Strategically and tactically, I considered those flank and encirclement operations as the only possibility to destroy the enemy; to avoid a frontal confrontation with heavy losses, we neither could match the enemy with the number of our divisions nor, as it later turned out, with our tanks and heavy weapons.
In order to overcome the massive Russian formations and tear up rigid fronts, we should concentrate on mobile units—taking advantage of the fighting strength of our soldiers and the tactical supremacy of our leadership.
The generals reported to me that the panzer divisions and rapid forces are completely exhausted, the tanks have to be overhauled; they are not fit for battle. They told me how many weeks they will need for it. Thus, they wanted to block my flanking thrusts Northwards towards Leningrad and to the South into the Ukraine and the Donez.
I was sick and without any willpower—weakened I could not get anywhere against their ego sense and ego will. “We generals”—that’s how they were stubbornly thinking—“can judge the military situation much better.”
Way back, a military personality once gave me the advice that, from an army general upwards obedience decreases and any order is subject to a personal critique. I often had the same experience.
Again and again I noticed that my generals, in their deliberations, completely disregarded the political, geo-political and economic matters. Mostly, they kept to a purely military viewpoint, and that turned out to be traumatic when directed towards Moscow in the Russian campaign.
As I found out later, my generals insinuated that I reflected a Napoleon-related Moscow shyness. Yet, by no means did I misjudge the military and political importance of taking Moscow; but first, the prerequisite for that were successful attacks toward the North and South, those two strategic pillars. Then, Moscow might be the last stage of the gigantic Russian undertaking.
The time favorable for mobile warfare ran out—the valuable time—it was always too little time and too much space in this war.
At the end of September, when I was healthy again, I could still push through one of the flank-and-encirclement thrusts toward the South. That operation I had to literally wrestle from my generals—yes, I had to enforce it by harsh orders. The result: four Russian armies were destroyed, and 650,000 prisoners taken. Even that success did not convince my generals of the only possible strategy within the vast Russian distances.
Against my inner conviction, they set up the frontal offensive against Moscow. Moscow was never in my mind, but they would or could not understand that.
To carry the great strategy through, it was, however, too late. The offensive toward Moscow met an increasingly stiffened Russian defense. Our divisions, tired and weakened by the month-long hard battles, had the target before their eyes and clashed against fresh Siberian forces continually moving in from the far regions.
The frontal offensive toward Moscow lost it’s momentum against the massive Russian defense. Soon afterward, the front froze in snow and icy cold; the winter equipment, ordered in time, never reached the troops.
Now my generals were for retreat, which meant a Napoleon-like end. The catastrophe. ~
1) Referring to the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, and specifically the result of Russia’s far-east expansionist policy to gain control of Manchuria and Korea, and the warm water Port Arthur.
2) See previous articles, “Fateful Decisions, Irreversible Consequences,” TBR March/April 2010, p. 50 and “With Hitler in Paris,” TBR Jan/Feb 2009, p. 60
3) The Soviet medium tank produced from 1940 to 1958, credited by some as the single most effective, efficient and influential design of WWII. It was the mainstay of Soviet armored forces, more heavily armored than previous models, and the most-produced tank of the war.
By Wilhelm Mann
By early August 1941, five weeks after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, opinions among the OKW, the OKH and some of the field generals diverged.
The first idea of Hitler and OKW was for Field Marshal von Leeb, leader of Army Group North, to move northeast and take Leningrad with a strong, decisive thrust that would cut the city and its immediate hinterland from Moscow, join with the Finnish forces and secure the supply for his army group through the Baltic Sea. The larger part of Army Group Center would then support the move south to obtain the treasures of the Ukraine; then conquer Moscow without too great military risks.
Colonel Rudolf Schmundt, Hitler’s chief adjutant, had relayed this to Col. General Heinz Guderian at their July 29 meeting on the east bank of the Dnieper River, on the occasion of rewarding him with the Oakleaf of the Knight’s Cross. With all his power as Germany’s tank expert, convincingly successful in the Polish and French campaigns, Guderian argued for the thrust toward Moscow.
Guderian’s Panzergruppe 2 and Colonel General Hermann Hoth’s Panzerkorp 3 were the powerful spearheads of Army Group Center. It was known that Field Marshal Guenther von Kluge, commander-in-chief of the Fourth Army and Guderian’s superior, sided with the OKW, advising more caution. Further complicating matters—the relationship between the two was rather estranged.
OKH’s chief of staff Col General Franz Halder and his chief of operations, Col. Adolf Heusinger, were at first uncommitted, but then pleaded with the generals for the Moscow thrust, as also did their Chief, Field Marshal Fedor von Bock.
A DECISION HAD TO BE REACHED
On August 4th, at the headquarters of Army Group Center in Novy Borrisow, northeast of Minsk, the decisive meeting took place. Hitler, accompanied by Schmundt, requested reports and opinions from von Bock, Guderian, Hoth, and Heusinger.
In von Bock’s map room, the Fuehrer met, one on one, first with Heusinger, then von Bock, followed by Guderian and Hoth. Assembling all again after the individual meetings, Adolf Hitler announced his decision: first the thrust North to take Leningrad; then, depending on the military situation, either east to Moscow or South to Kiev and the heart of the Ukraine.
This was at the time that Hitler became incapacitated by severe stomach and sleeping problems.
It was on August 18 that Hitler issued Directive No. 34, pressed by the surprising Soviet offensive in the North that was endangering Col. General Erich von Manstein’s offensive toward Narva—and Manstein’s request for help from Panzerkorps Hoth. Army Group Center’s offensive power moved to the Southeast, to Kiev.
On the 24th of August, three weeks after Hitler’s original decision and six days since the Directive was issued, Guderian was called by his superior von Bock to attend a meeting at Headquarters that Halder also attended. The three discussed how Hitler’s “irrefutable decision” could be changed, and after hours long deliberation, von Bock suggested that Guderian and Halder should visit Hitler at Wolfsschanze.
Guderian describes the scene in his book Erinnerungen Eines Soldaten:
… after the landing I reported to C&C Army, Field Marshal von Brauchitsch. He received me with the words: “I forbid you to discuss with the Fuehrer the question of Moscow. The offensive toward the South is ordered and it is only a question of the How. Any argument is useless.” I then requested to fly back to my Panzergruppe because any argument with Hitler is, under the given conditions, of no avail. But Brauchitsch did not like this either and gave me the order to see Hitler and report the situation at my Panzergruppe, but without mentioning Moscow.1
I then went to Hitler and reported in the presence of a large group of officers—Keitel, Jodl, Schmundt and others, but regretfully without Brauchitsch or Halder and no representative of the OKH—the situation at, and condition of, my Panzergruppe. Hitler asked, “Do you think your troops will, after all your achievements, still be able to endure great efforts?”
I answered: If the troops are told of a great goal, understandable to each soldier, yes.
Hitler replied: “You naturally mean Moscow.”
I: Permit me to present my reasons since you touched the subject.
Hitler agreed and I argued my case. He let me finish and did not interrupt once. Then he talked and explained why he arrived at a different decision. For the first time, I heard the sentence: “My generals do not know anything about war economy (Kriegswirtschaft).”
Once the final decision was made, I supported the offensive to the Ukraine with all my power and asked Hitler to issue an order to keep my Panzergruppe together as a solid unit. He agreed to issue that order.”2
A few days later, Army Group Center moved with decisive force towards Kiev … and was successful.
Guderian, Heinz, Erinnerungen Eines Soldaten (Memoirs of a Soldier), Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart, 13th edition, 1994. P.180
If there is any proof strong enough to correct and revise the traditional “court” historiography of World War II, which names Adolf Hitler’s regime in Germany as the sole aggressor, it can be found in Victor Suvorov’s excellent book The Chief Culprit (Der Tag M in its German publication)1. It follows Suvorov’s first book Icebreaker, published in 1990, which became a sensation in Russia, Germany and also in Israel.
In both books he outlines how Stalin and his General Staff, well
in advance of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, planned to attack
Germany. New detail and documentary evidence have been brought into Chief Culprit.
“M-Day”—the mobilization—fell on June 13, 1941, but the preparations went back to early February the same year, and
even further back into 1939 and 1940 when, shortly after the end
of Germany’s campaign in Poland, the Soviet army occupied the eastern part of that country.
Marshal G.K. Zhukov and Marshal A.M.Vasilevsky—both major generals at that time—and staff officers at high army commands were planning, on Stalin’s orders and in deep secrecy, the attack on Germany.
Suvorov quotes Vasilevsky: “Since May 1940, the deputy head of the Operations Directorate of the General Staff worked on the operational part of a plan of strategic deployment of Soviet armed forces in the northern, northwestern and western directions.”2 That meant war preparations against Germany.
If Maj. Gen. Vasilevsky worked on such plans at that time for his operational section, from the Baltic Sea to the Pripet marshes in White Russia, one has to assume—and Suvorov indicates it—that similar plans were developed at the other four military districts on the Russian west border. At the Kiev Military District, one of special importance because of its strategic position vis-à-vis the new eastern borders of Germany, those military operations are described in detail.
On “M-Day” (June 13), orders marked “Top Secret, Special Importance”3 were received at the Kiev military district for the
“transfer (of) all deep-rear divisions and corps commands with
the corps formations to new camps closer to the state border.”
It was signed by Marshal Timoshenko and Maj. Gen. Zhukov.4
Immediately, massive troop movements of the First Strategic
Echelon, consisting of 170 divisions, began. Fifty-six divisions moved clandestinely all along the five military districts from the Baltic to Odessa, mostly at night, to areas within 20 km of the borderline, in
an operation camouflaged as summer maneuvers. The remaining
114 divisions moved into the deeper territories of the western border area, fully equipped and ready to attack.
In the meantime, forces of the Second Strategic EchelonFar-East in the Siberian Baikal andAltai military districts, received similar “Top Secret, Special Importance” orders to move to new camps westward. It was an immense logistical task—thousands of railway cars transported those masses of rifle, tank and artillery corps, and
with or behind them their ammunition, food, sanitary and
But not only the army moved; the airplanes of the Russian air forces —not an independent branch of the Soviet forces but attached to army units—flew in, landed and parked on fields close to the border, cramped and looking like busy ant hills. Also the navy submarines and mine sweepers, destroyers and torpedo boats left the ports of
Kronstadt and Narva, taking positions farther west.
This gigantic deployment was nearly completed when, in the early morning hours of June 22, Hitler executed his preventive masterstroke. The military disaster for the Soviet forces that followed within the next four weeks brought the worst that can happen to a deploying, marching force: encirclement. The Blitzkrieg pincer movements of the Heeresgruppe North in the Riga-Luga-Staraja areas, the Heeresgruppe Middle in Bryansk-Minsk-Smolensk region and the Heeresgruppe South at Kiev-Uman smashed the Soviet armies.
More than three-quarters of a million prisoners were taken; 10,000 tanks, artillery pieces, trucks, machine guns and thousands of tons of ammunition were destroyed or taken over. Yet, in spite of this auspicious beginning, the massive size, huge population, raw materials and great industrial strength of the Soviet Union eventually asserted themselves—as Suvorov insists they were destined to do from the start.
1. Suvorov,Viktor, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to StartWorldWar II,
Naval Institute Press, Maryland, 2008.
2. VIZh=Voenno-istorichesky Zhournal (“Military History Journal”), Marshal
A.M.Vasilevsky,VIZ7 (1979), p. 43.
3. Only one classification was higher than “Top Secret, Special Importance”—that
was “Top Secret, Special File,” which meant that only one copy was produced and could not leave the premises of the Kremlin. Thus Top Secret, Special Importance was the highest level of secrecy used beyond the Kremlin. (Culprit, p. 208.)
4 Culprit, pp. 208-9.