Hitler declares that he will bomb British cities

You will understand that we shall now give a reply, night for night, and with increasing force. And if the British Air Force drops two, three or four thousand kilos of bombs, then we will drop 150,000, 180,000, 230,000, 300,000 or 400,000 kilos, or more, in one night. If they declare that they will attack our cities on a large scale, we will erase theirs! We will put a stop to the game of these night-pirates, as God is our witness.

The Heinkel III, mainstay of the German bomber fleet, in flight, September 1940.

After German boasts that Berlin was too well protected to be bombed, there was shock when the RAF did hit the German capital for the first time on August 25th. The raid, and those on subsequent nights, provoked a significant change in strategy in the air offensive against Britain.

Until now the bombing had been confined to broadly military targets, with the emphasis on airfields and aircraft factories. Hitler had expressly forbidden ‘Terror raids’ on Britain or the bombing of London. He had long hoped that he could somehow arrange a peace with Britain, its conquest had never been part of his long term objectives, he really wanted to turn his attention East.

The prolonged air battles were not bringing the RAF to heel. Perhaps general bombing of the civilian population might produce a less obstinate Britain.

This was not the whole story – the Nazi regime also felt compelled to simply respond to the insult of having its own heartland bombed, as Hitler made abundantly clear in his speech of 4th September:

It is a wonderful thing to see our nation at war, in its fully disciplined state. This is exactly what we are experiencing at this time, as Mr Churchill is demonstrating to us the aerial night attacks he has concocted. He is not doing this because these air raids might be particularly effective, but because his Air Force cannot fly over German territory in daylight.

Whereas German aviators and German planes fly over English soil daily, there is hardly a single Englishman who comes across the North Sea in daytime. They therefore come during the night – and as you know, release their bombs indiscriminately and without any plan on to residential areas, farmhouses and villages. Wherever they see a sign of light, a bomb is dropped on it.

For three months past, I have not ordered any answer to be given; thinking that they would stop this nonsensical behaviour. Mr Churchill has taken this to be a sign of our weakness.

You will understand that we shall now give a reply, night for night, and with increasing force. And if the British Air Force drops two, three or four thousand kilos of bombs, then we will drop 150,000, 180,000, 230,000, 300,000 or 400,000 kilos, or more, in one night. If they declare that they will attack our cities on a large scale, we will erase theirs! We will put a stop to the game of these night-pirates, as God is our witness.

The hour will come when one or the other will crumble, and that one will not be National Socialist Germany. I have already carried through such a struggle once in my life, up to the final consequences, and this then led to the collapse of the enemy who is now sitting these in England on Europe’s last island.

Hitler orders final Luftwaffe push against England

1. The German Air Force is to overpower the English Air Force with all the forces at its command, in the shortest time possible. The attacks are to be directed primarily against flying units, their ground installations, and their supply organizations, but also against the aircraft industry, including that manufacturing anti-aircraft equipment.
2. After achieving temporary or local air superiority the air war is to be continued against ports, in particular against stores of food, and also against stores of provisions in the interior of the country.
Attacks on the south coast ports will be made on the smallest possible scale, in view of our own forthcoming operations.

German 'Stuka' dive bomber pilots in France in 1940. They were suffering terrible losses when the RAF managed to break through their fighter cover and would soon be withdrawn from battle.
German ‘Stuka’ dive bomber pilots in France in 1940. They were suffering terrible losses whenever the RAF managed to break through their fighter cover and would soon be withdrawn from battle.

On the 1st August the Luftwaffe senior command met for a conference to discuss the destruction of the RAF. Not for the last time Hermann Goring had made extravagant promises to Hitler that he could single handedly achieve the Fuhrer’s objectives with his airforce.

The RAF had been carefully keeping its reserves out of the air battle around the coast of Britain. Luftwaffe intelligence had interpreted this as a lack of strength. The more insightful of the German fighter pilots recognised that this was not the case at all – they were being held back to counter the more intensive attacks that the Luftwaffe were now planning to launch.

Oberst Theo Osterkamp the commander of Jagdgeschwader 51, attended the conference as a representative of the fighter pilots that were currently doing battle. He quickly learnt that his observations on the state of the RAF were not welcome:

A big conference of the Luftwaffe command with its Supreme Commander Hermann Goring. Place of action – The Hague, at the headquarters of General Christiansen, the commander in Holland. I have the honour to join this illustrious company as the representative of the fighter forces.

Everybody of rank and name is present. Because of the good weather the festival takes place in the garden. The ‘Iron One’ [Goring] appears in a new white gala uniform.

At first he praised extravagantly the lion’s share of the Luftwaffe in the defeat of France. ‘And now, gentlemen, the Fuhrer has ordered me to crush Britain with my Luftwaffe. By means of hard blows I plan to have this enemy, who has already suffered a decisive moral defeat, down on his knees in the nearest future, so that an occupation of the island by our troops can proceed without any risk!’

Then the matter of orders and directives for the execution of the plan was taken up. According to the information of the intelligence service. Britain disposed in its southern sector – the only one which came into question for us – of, at the most, 400-500 fighters.

Their destruction in the air and on land was to be carried out in three phases: during the first five days in a semicircle starting in the west and proceeding south and then east, within a radius of 150 to 100 kilometres south of London; in the next three days within 50 to 100 kilometres; and during the last five days within the 50-kilometre circle around London. That would irrevocably gain an absolute air superiority over England and fulfil the Fuhrer’s mission!

I think that I must have made a terribly stupid face, but in my case that should scarcely attract any attention. Udet told me later that I shook my head in shock, but I do not remember.

At any rate I saw Udet leaning down to Goring and whispering something to him. Goring looked up, saw me and said, ‘Well, Osterkamp, have you got a question?’

I explained to him that during the time when I alone was in combat over England with my Geschwader I counted, on the basis of continuous monitoring of the British radio and of air battles during which the distinctive marks of the units [to which the British fighters belonged] were ascertained, that at that time about 500 to 700 British fighters were concentrated in the area around London. Their numbers had increased considerably if compared with the number of planes available at the beginning of the battle. All new units were equipped with Spitfires, which I considered of a quality equal to our fighters.

I wanted to say more, but Goring cut me off angrily: ‘This is nonsense, our information is excellent, and I am perfectly aware of the situation. Besides, the Messerschmitt is much better than the Spitfire, because, as you yourself reported, the British are too cowardly to engage your fighters!’

‘I shall permit myself to remark that I reported only that the British fighters were ordered to avoid battles with our fighters — ’ ‘That is the same thing,’ Hermann shouted: ‘if they were as strong and good as you maintain, I would have to send my Luftzeugmeister [Udet] before the firing squad.’

Udet smiled and touched his neck with his hand. I still could not hold back and said, ‘May I ask how many fighters will be used in the combat against Britain?’ Hermann answered, ‘Naturally, all our fighter squadrons will be used in the struggle.’ I now knew as much as I had known before and thought, after a careful appraisal, to be able to count on some 1,200 to 1,500 fighters. In this too I was to be bitterly disappointed.

As quoted by Telford Taylor in The breaking wave: The German defeat in the summer of 1940

Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring
Hitler believed that Herman Goring\’s assurances that the Luftwaffe could neutralise the RAF.

On the same day, 1st August 1940, Hitler issued Directive 17, believing that a knock-out blow against the RAF was within the grasp of the Luftwaffe:

In order to establish the necessary conditions for the final conquest of England I intend to intensify air and sea warfare against the English homeland. I therefore order as follows:

1. The German Air Force is to overpower the English Air Force with all the forces at its command, in the shortest time possible. The attacks are to be directed primarily against flying units, their ground installations, and their supply organizations, but also against the aircraft industry, including that manufacturing anti-aircraft equipment.

2. After achieving temporary or local air superiority the air war is to be continued against ports, in particular against stores of food, and also against stores of provisions in the interior of the country.
Attacks on the south coast ports will be made on the smallest possible scale, in view of our own forthcoming operations.

3. On the other hand, air attacks on enemy warships and merchant ships may be reduced except where some particularly favourable target happens to present itself, where such attacks would lend
additional effectiveness to those mentioned in Paragraph 2, or where such attacks are necessary for the training of air crews for further operations.

4. The intensified air warfare will be carried out in such a way that the Air Force can at any time be called upon to give adequate support to naval operations against suitable targets. It must also be ready to take part in full force in Operation Seelowe.

5. I reserve to myself the right to decide on terror attacks as measures of reprisal.

6. The intensification of the air war may begin on or after 5 August. The exact time is to be decided by the Air Force after completion of preparations and in the light of the weather.

The Navy is authorized to begin the proposed intensified naval war at the same time.

Generaloberst Ernst Udet
Generaloberst Ernst Udet

Hitler plans the invasion of Russia

He repeated Hitler’s view and probably his own also that the collision with Bolshevism was bound to come and that it was better therefore to have this campaign now, when we were at the height of our military power, than to have to call the German people to arms once more in the years to come.

Colonel Warlimont, pictured in 1939, was one of a very small group of officers who learnt that Hitler began planning to attack Russia in 1940.

Following a Military Planning Conference with Hitler at the Berghof, 29 July 1940 General Alfred Jodl, the Chief of the Armed Forces Command Staff discloses to his small group of support officers that Hitler is already pressing for an attack on Russia.

Colonel Walter Warlimont was one of the officers in the Special Command Train Atlas at the Bad Reichenall Station following the conference at the Berghof:

[Including myself] Four of us (Lt. Col. von Lossberg, Capt. Junge, Major Freiherr von Falkenstein) were present, sitting at individual tables in the restaurant car. … Jodl went round ensuring that all doors and windows were closed and then, without any preamble, [he] disclosed to us that Hitler had decided to rid the world ‘once and for all’ of the danger of Bolshevism by a surprise attack on Soviet Russia to be carried out at the earliest possible moment, i.e. in May 1941.

… Jodl countered every question [we had] … although he convinced none of us. … He repeated Hitler’s view and probably his own also that the collision with Bolshevism was bound to come and that it was better therefore to have this campaign now, when we were at the height of our military power, than to have to call the German people to arms once more in the years to come.

… Shortly after Jodl’s disclosure, we happened to discover that Hitler had originally been determined to launch the attack in the late summer of 1940. The most urgent representations from Keitel and Jodl … had been necessary to convince the Supreme Commander that the time and space factors alone, together with the weather conditions, rendered this plan totally impracticable.

See Walter Warlimont: Inside Hitler’s Headquarters, 1939-45

Hitler orders ‘Operation Sealion’ – invade Britain

They are certainly formidable obstructions to most of us especially in the hours of darkness when one is confronted by barriers in the most unexpected places. I am told that Winston is mainly responsible for them and takes the deepest interest in them. He appears to spend a lot of time inspecting our defences all over the country.

Watching out for raiders over London.

There had been some resistance to the appointment of Churchill as Prime Minister within the Conservative party. However his dynamic approach and rousing rhetoric was bringing people round. Senior Conservative Party MP and military insider Sir Cuthbert Headlam observed the new confidence in him even as the physical signs of the threat to the nation became ever more apparent:

16 July

London is rapidly become like a besieged town – or, rather, is being converted into a defended zone.

Whether all the barbed wire defences and machine-gun posts in the Whitehall area are erected to cover the last stand of Winston and the rest of us against the invading Germans, or whether to prevent the government offices being raided by ‘Fifth Columnists’ and parachutists, one does not know. They are certainly formidable obstructions to most of us especially in the hours of darkness when one is confronted by barriers in the most unexpected places.

I am told that Winston is mainly responsible for them and takes the deepest interest in them. He appears to spend a lot of time inspecting our defences all over the country. It is certainly his hour – and the confidence in him is growing on all sides.

See Parliament and Politics in the Age of Churchill and Attlee. The Headlam Diaries 1935-1951

Planning conference at the Berghof, July 1940: Hitler and Admiral Erich Raeder in discussion at a map table. Also present are (l to r) Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, General Alfred Jodl, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and an unidentified Kriegsmarine staff officer.
Planning conference at the Berghof, July 1940: Hitler and Admiral Erich Raeder in discussion at a map table. Also present are (l to r) Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, General Alfred Jodl, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel and an unidentified Kriegsmarine staff officer.

While Britain was gripped by the thought that invasion might come at any day, Hitler was still considering his options. It was only on 16th July that Hitler signed the order for ‘Operation Sealion’:

‘Directive No.16 for Preparations of a Landing Operation against England’.

The preamble ran: ‘Since England, in spite of its militarily hopeless situation, still gives no recognizable signs of readiness to come to terms, I have determined to prepare a landing operation against England and, if need be, to carry it out. The aim of this operation is to exclude the English motherland as a basis for the continuation of the war against Germany, and, if it should be necessary, to occupy it completely.’

[emphasis added]

This was a lukewarm approach to a possible invasion. Most of his military advisers knew very well that it was going to be impossible to carry out the directive that summer. They knew as well as Churchill, who had already made his own assessment of the prospects for invasion, of the immense risks such an undertaking would involve.

Hitler’s early morning tour of Paris

After a last look at Paris we drove swiftly back to the airport. By nine o’clock in the morning the sightseeing tour was over. ‘It was the dream of my life to be permitted to see Paris. I cannot say how happy I am to have that dream fulfilled today.’ For a moment I felt something like pity for him: three hours in Paris, the one and only time he was to see it, made him happy when he stood at the height of his triumphs.

Adolf_Hitler_in_Paris_1940
Hitler in front of the Eiffel Tower with Speer at left and Arno Breker on the right. The French claimed that the cables to the Eiffel Tower lift had been cut and Hitler declined to climb the stairs to the top of the Tower. Some hours after Hitler left the lift was working again.

Adolf Hitler made a swift tour of Paris in the early hours of 23rd June, accompanied by Albert Speer his favourite Architect and later Armaments Minister, and Arno Breker his favourite sculptor. Speer dated the visit as 28th in his memoirs but most authorities agree it was the 23rd:

Three days after the beginning of the armistice we landed at Le Bourget airfield. It was early in the morning, about five-thirty. Three large Mercedes sedans stood waiting. Hitler as usual sat in the front seat beside the chauffeur, Breker and I on the jump seats behind him, while Giessler and the adjutants occupied the rear seats. Field-gray uniforms had been provided for us artists, so that we might fit into the military framework. We drove through the extensive suburbs directly to the Opera, Charles Garnier’s great neobaroque building. . . . It was Hitler’s favorite and the first thing he wanted to see. …

Later they drove through the centre of Paris, stopped at the Eiffel Tower and again at Napoleon’s tomb where Speer recalls that Hitler spent a long time in contemplation. He was however apparently unimpressed by much of the classical French architecture.

After a last look at Paris we drove swiftly back to the airport. By nine o’clock in the morning the sightseeing tour was over. ‘It was the dream of my life to be permitted to see Paris. I cannot say how happy I am to have that dream fulfilled today.’ For a moment I felt something like pity for him: three hours in Paris, the one and only time he was to see it, made him happy when he stood at the height of his triumphs.

In the course of the tour Hitler raised the question of a victory parade in Paris. But after discussing the matter with his adjutants and Colonel Speidel, he decided against it after all. His official reason for calling off the parade was the danger of its being harassed by English air raids. But later he said: ‘I am not in the mood for a victory parade. We aren’t at the end yet.’

See Albert Speer: Inside The Third Reich

The French sign the Armistice with Germany

Hitler, we soon observe, has no intention of remaining very long, of listening to the reading of the armistice terms themselves. At three forty-two p.m., twelve minutes after the French arrive, we see Hitler stand up, salute stiffly, and then stride out of the drawing-room, followed by Goring, Brauchitsch, Raeder, Hess, and Ribbentrop. The French, like figures of stone, remain at the green-topped table. General Keitel remains with them. He starts to read them the detailed conditions of the armistice.

Hitler and Goring await signing of Armistice.
Hitler with Goring, Hess, Ribbentrop and German army officers await the arrival of the French outside the railway carriage at Compiègne.

Journalists from neutral countries still had a considerable degree of freedom to report independently from occupied Europe. American reporters had greater freedom than most to take an openly critical line.

Soon the United States would line up in support of Britain. This would make the situation of her otherwise neutral journalists increasingly difficult, long before Hitler declared war on America.

William Shirer was making a name for himself as he gathered stories close to the heart of the Nazi regime. Now he scored a considerable scoop by witnessing the French surrender in Hitler’s carefully choreographed Armistice ceremony:

…It is now three three twenty p.m. and the Germans stride over to the armistice car. For a moment or two they stand in the sunlight outside the car, chatting. Then Hitler steps up into the car, followed by the others. We can see nicely through the car windows.

Hitler takes the place occupied by Marshal Foch when the 1918 armistice terms were signed. The others spread themselves around him. Four chairs on the opposite side of the table from Hitler remain empty. The French have not yet appeared. But we do not wait long. Exactly at three thirty p.m. they alight from a car. They have flown up from Bordeaux to a near-by landing field. …Then they walk down the avenue flanked by three German officers. We see them now as they come into the sunlight of the clearing.

…It is a grave hour in the life of France. The Frenchmen keep their eyes straight ahead. Their faces are solemn, drawn. They are the picture of tragic dignity. They walk stiffly to the car, where they are met by two German officers, Lieutenant-General Tippelskirch, Quartermaster General, and Colonel Thomas, chief of the Fuhrer’s headquarters. The Germans salute. The French salute. The atmosphere is what Europeans call “correct.” There are salutes, but no handshakes.

Now we get our picture through the dusty windows of that old wagon-lit car. Hitler and the other German leaders rise as the French enter the drawing-room. Hitler gives the Nazi salute, the arm raised. Ribbentrop and Hess do the same. I cannot see M. Noel to notice whether he salutes or not.

Hitler, as far as we can see through the windows, does not say a word to the French or to anybody else. He nods to General Keitel at his side. We see General Keitel adjusting his papers. Then he starts to read. He is reading the preamble to the German armistice terms. The French sit there with marble-like faces and listen intently. Hitler and Goring glance at the green table-top.

The reading of the preamble lasts but a few minutes. Hitler, we soon observe, has no intention of remaining very long, of listening to the reading of the armistice terms themselves. At three forty-two p.m., twelve minutes after the French arrive, we see Hitler stand up, salute stiffly, and then stride out of the drawing-room, followed by Goring, Brauchitsch, Raeder, Hess, and Ribbentrop. The French, like figures of stone, remain at the green-topped table. General Keitel remains with them. He starts to read them the detailed conditions of the armistice.

Keitel at armistice signing.
Wilhelm Keitel hands the terms of the Armistice to the French General Charles Huntziger.

Hitler and his aides stride down the avenue towards the Alsace-Lorraine monument, where their cars are waiting. As they pass the guard of honour, the German band strikes up the two national anthems, Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles and the Horst Wessel song. The whole ceremony in which Hitler has reached a new pinnacle in his meteoric career and Germany avenged the 1918 defeat is over in a quarter of an hour.

See William Shirer: Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent, 1934-1941

William Shirer the American journalist, seen here on the right, types up his despatch on the signing of Armistice at Compiègne.

William Shirer was not supposed to be at the site of the Armistice at all, all other foreign journalists had been sent back to Berlin. Shirer had the help of a German unsympathetic to Hitler to get to the site and to witness the proceedings. He went on to outwit the Germans who permitted him to make a recorded radio broadcast of the Armistice terms, that they insisted would be played only after the Germans had made their own broadcast. In a spectacular scoop he managed to get a live link to CBS while he was in the studio waiting to make the recording, persuaded the engineer present that he had permission to do this, and broadcast the news a full six hours ahead of the Germans.

The Germans prepare for the Armistice

The humiliating peace terms of the First World War were one of the root causes of Nazism. Hitler was determined that the peace he imposed would extinguish that humiliation. He ordered that the railway carriage where the 1918 Armistice had been signed by the defeated German army should be brought to the exact same spot in the Forest of Compiegne for the ceremony to be held on the 22nd June.

On 21 June 1940,
On 21 June 1940, before the “wagon de l’Armistice” at Rethondes, in the “clairière de l’Armistice” of the Compiègne forest, Hitler speaks with German high-ranked Nazis and Generals, before launching the negotiations of the armistice to be signed the next day (on 22 June 1940) between defeated France and the victorious Third Reich.
The signing will take place at the very same place where the 1918 armistice was signed when Germany was defeated : in the rail car which has been towed from its shelter for this special occasion.
Recognizable people are, from left to right :
Joachim von Ribbentrop, Foreign Office minister of the Reich ;
Adolf Hitler, chancellor of the Reich ;
Hermann Göring viewed from behind, Generalfeldmarschall, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe ;
Erich Raeder partly hidden, Großadmiral, commander-in-chief of the Kriegsmarine ;
probably Walther von Brauchitsch partly hidden, Generaloberst, commander-in-chief of the Heer (the “field” Army) ;
probably Rudolf Hess viewed from behind, deputy to Hitler as leader of the Nazi party, chief of the Party Chancellery.

The humiliating peace terms of the First World War were one of the root causes of Nazism. Hitler was determined that the peace he imposed would extinguish that humiliation. He ordered that the railway carriage where the 1918 Armistice had been signed by the defeated German army should be brought to the exact same spot in the Forest of Compiegne for the ceremony to be held on the 22nd June.

American journalist William Shirer described Hitler after he had arrived that warm afternoon:

grave, solemn, yet brimming with revenge… There was something else, difficult to describe, in his expression, a sort of scornful, inner joy at being present at this great reversal he himself had wrought.

Earlier German troops had dragged the railway carriage out of a French museum. After the 1940 signing it was taken to Germany but apparently destroyed in a later bombing raid.
Earlier German troops had dragged the railway carriage out of a French museum. After the 1940 signing it was taken to Germany but apparently destroyed in a later bombing raid.

German forces begin to surrender in the west

On the fourth and fifth days, their fighting men appeared, not riding but on foot. Varying in age from sixteen to sixty, they were a scraggly looking lot, dirty, unkempt, with shoes held together by rags. They were a far cry from the commanders and staff who had passed through first. There seemed no question that they were a soundly beaten force, with no fight left in them. Although the generals and their staffs were still capable of continuing the war, they no longer had quality frontline troops to command.

The headline of the Stars and Stripes for the 2nd May 1945.
The headline of the Stars and Stripes for the 2nd May 1945.

The new German ‘government’, if it could be described as such, had limited communication with the remaining units of the German forces and an incomplete picture of the strategic situation. Grossadmiral Doenitz appears to have decided to keep fighting simply to enable more German units to move to the west to surrender, rather than surrender to the Red Army.

German troops surrendering their weapons near a subway entrance, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945
German troops surrendering their weapons near a subway entrance, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945

With Hitler dead many Germans felt released from their oath of loyalty to him. Whether in consultation with Doenitz or not, many senior German commanders now decided to stop fighting. Formal surrenders were arranged in Italy and Berlin, and there were more local arrangements elsewhere in Germany.

The famous picture of Red Army soldier Mikhail Alekseevich Yegorov of Soviet 756 Rifle Regiment flying the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945. For the Soviet authorities this was the best of several images taken at the time - a problem emerged only after it had been first published.
The famous picture of Red Army soldier Mikhail Alekseevich Yegorov of Soviet 756 Rifle Regiment flying the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany, 2 May 1945. For the Soviet authorities this was the best of several images taken at the time – but a problem emerged only after it had been first published.
Soldiers raising the flag of Soviet Union on the roof of Reichstag building in Berlin, May, 1945. Original photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei. This version of the photograph was later significantly altered for propaganda purposes; additional smoke was added for dramatic effect, and multiple wristwatches were removed from the lower soldier's wrist, as they would imply that he had been looting
Original photograph by Yevgeny Khaldei.
This version of the photograph was later significantly altered for propaganda purposes; additional smoke was added for dramatic effect, and multiple wristwatches were removed from the lower soldier’s wrist, as they would imply that he had been looting

The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division, veterans of Sicily, D-Day, Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge and the battle through Germany suddenly found that the war was coming to an abrupt end. The German 21st Army wanted to surrender to them, even though their eastern most units were still engaged with the Red Army.

James Magellas, by now the 82 Division’s most decorated officer, one of the few who had survived all the way through, describes the situation:

The forward element of the 3rd Battalion, H Company, set up a road-block on one of the roads leading into the division sector to disarm the surrendering Germans.

On that historic day, an entire army, with a vast array of tanks, trucks, half-tracks, howitzers, vehicles of all types, and motorcycles, began to pass through the division’s checkpoints heading to the rear. With Russians not far behind, the convoy of German soldiers and armaments bore little resemblance to the Wehrmacht that had fought so hard against us.

We were witnessing an unprecedented event. First, an entire German army, about 150,000 men, surrendered to a division of about 10,000. Second, their frontline units were combating Russian forces, not American. Third, the Germans passed through our lines in reverse order—army headquarters first, then corps, divisions, and regiments; the combat troops came through last.

The general staff included ten generals; the headquarters appeared to be in excellent condition. They seemed to have prepared for the grand finale. Clean-shaven and groomed, uniforms clean and neatly pressed, boots shined, with monocles and medals, they were proud to the very end. They represented some of the top brass of the Wehrmacht.

They rode in large, chauffeured staff cars accompanied by their women, wives, or mistresses. The obedient aides, still by their side, took care that the generals were going out in style.

They took approximately one week to pass through our lines, with vehicles almost bumper to bumper for the first few days. Their rear-echelon troops appeared to be in excellent physical condition, looking much better kept than our own combat forces.

All of their equipment and armor was also in good condition. I found it difficult to believe that they were the conquered and we were the conquerors. On the third day, their frontline units began to pass through our lines.

On the fourth and fifth days, their fighting men appeared, not riding but on foot. Varying in age from sixteen to sixty, they were a scraggly looking lot, dirty, unkempt, with shoes held together by rags. They were a far cry from the commanders and staff who had passed through first. There seemed no question that they were a soundly beaten force, with no fight left in them. Although the generals and their staffs were still capable of continuing the war, they no longer had quality frontline troops to command.

The focus of attention for many men rapidly switched from the rigours of battle to more material concerns:

As the Germans passed our checkpoints, they were disarmed; in many cases, our troops relieved them of their cameras, watches, and other “souvenirs.”

Sergeant Charles Crowder recalled: “I obtained a burlap bag, mounted a motorcycle with a sidecar and, as the enemy troops marched by, I told them to throw their pistols in the bag. I started taking watches and rings until the bag was full. I figured this was my chance to get rich. I also took money in German marks. I gave away all the pistols that I gathered to other men in my unit, except four, which I kept for myself. I kept most of the watches.”

Sergeant Jimmy Shields emptied a barracks bag full of pistols on the table and told his squad, “Help yourself.” I picked out several highly prized pieces: a Luger, a P38, and an Italian Beretta.

Sergeant Donald Zimmerman traded a Mauser pistol with me for a week-end pass. The Mauser, a semiautomatic that could be fired as a pistol or attached to a wooden holster and fired as a shoulder piece, was carried by general officers and was of World War I vintage. It was the only one I ever saw.

See James Megellas: All the Way to Berlin: A Paratrooper at War in Europe.

Infantry of 2nd Battalion, The Wiltshire Regiment, supported by Churchill tanks of 6th Guards Tank Brigade, clear a pocket of resistance south of Lubeck in Germany, 2 May 1945.
Infantry of 2nd Battalion, The Wiltshire Regiment, supported by Churchill tanks of 6th Guards Tank Brigade, clear a pocket of resistance south of Lubeck in Germany, 2 May 1945.

More suicides as the Berlin battle continues

The scourge of our district was a small one-legged Hauptscharfuhrer of the SS, who stumped through the street on crutches, a machine pistol at the ready, followed by his men. Anyone he didn’t like the look of he instantly shot. The gang went down cellars at random and dragged all the men outside, giving them rifles and ordering them straight to the front. Anyone who hesitated was shot.

With a torn picture of his Führer beside his clenched fist, a dead major of the Volkssturm,Walter Doenicke lies on the floor of city hall, Leipzig, Germany. He committed suicide rather than face U.S. Army troops who captured the city.
With a torn picture of his Führer beside his clenched fist, a dead major of the Volkssturm,Walter Doenicke lies on the floor of city hall, Leipzig, Germany. He committed suicide rather than face U.S. Army troops who captured the city.

A wave of suicides was now hitting Germany. Those who identified most closely with Nazism were not just fearful for the future but despaired of a life without the Nazi regime. There were suicides on the western front because people feared the arrival of the Americans. The circumstances in the east, where there were fearsome stories spreading about the behaviour of the Red Army, many of them substantiated by fleeing refugees, were even more desperate.

The suicides involved the young and the old as well as whole families. For teenagers whose whole life had been dominated by the Nazi ethos the collapse of the regime seemed to be the end of the world. The news of Hitler’s death was the final straw for many more.

Martin Borman’s 15 year old son, also called Martin, had been at an elite Nazi school. He and others had recently been given false papers and helped to flee. Years later he told Gitta Sereny:

It was a small inn and a very small Stube [parlour]. We sat on benches tightly packed together. It’s impossible now to convey the atmosphere. The worst moment was when, at two o’clock in the morning on May 1, the news of Hitler’s death came through on the radio. I remember it precisely, but I can’t describe the stillness of that instant which lasted . . . for hours.

Nobody said anything, but very soon afterwards people started to go outside, first one, then there was a shot. Then another, and yet another. Not a word inside, no other sound except those shots from outside, but one felt that that was all there was, that all of us would have to die.

(Picking up a gun, Martin walks outside.) My world was shattered; I couldn’t see any future at all. But then, out there, in the back of that inn, where bodies were already lying all over the small garden, there was another boy, older that I: he was eighteen. He was sitting on a log and told me to come sit with him.

The air smelled good, the birds sang, and we talked ourselves out of it. If we hadn’t had each other at that moment, both of us would have gone; I know it.

This account appears in Gitta Sereny: Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth

3,881 people were recorded as committing suicide during April in the Battle of Berlin, although the figure is probably an underestimate. More would die now that Hitler was dead – but it would be difficult to determine how many people died given the desperate conditions inside the capital. Conditions were by now so chaotic that many people did not hear the radio announcements.

Claus Fuhrman was hiding in a cellar in Berlin and describes the last days:

The scourge of our district was a small one-legged Hauptscharfuhrer of the SS, who stumped through the street on crutches, a machine pistol at the ready, followed by his men. Anyone he didn’t like the look of he instantly shot. The gang went down cellars at random and dragged all the men outside, giving them rifles and ordering them straight to the front. Anyone who hesitated was shot.

The front was a few streets away. At the street corner diagonally opposite our house Walloon Waffen SS had taken up position; wild, desperate men who had nothing to lose and who fought to their last round of ammunition. Armed Hitler Youth were lying next to men of the Vlassov White Russian Army.

We left the cellar at longer and longer intervals and often we could not tell whether it was night or day. The Russians drew nearer; they advanced through the underground railway tunnels, armed with flame-throwers; their advance snipers had taken up positions quite near us; and their shots ricocheted off the houses opposite.

Exhausted German soldiers would stumble in and beg for water — they were practically children; I remember one with a pale, quivering face who said, “We shall do it all right; we’ll make our way to the north west yet.” But his eyes belied his words and he looked at me despairingly. What he wanted to say was, “Hide me, give me shelter. I’ve had enough of it.”

I should have liked to help him; but neither of us dared to speak. Each might have shot the other as a “defeatist”.

An old man who had lived in our house had been hit by a shell splinter a few days ago and had bled to death. His corpse lay near the entrance and had already began to smell. We threw him on a cart and took him to a burnt-out school building where there was a notice: “Collection point for Weinmeisterstrasse corpses.” We left him there; one of us took the opportunity of helping himself to a dead policeman’s boots.

The first women were fleeing from the northern parts of the city and some of them sought shelter in our cellar, sobbing that the Russians were looting all the houses, abducting the men and raping all the women and girls. I got angry, shouted I had had enough of Goebbels’ silly propaganda, the time for that was past. If that was all they had to do, let them go elsewhere.

Whilst the city lay under savage artillery and rifle fire the citizens now took to looting the shops. The last soldiers withdrew farther and farther away. Somewhere in the ruins of the burning city SS-men and Hitler Youth were holding out fanatically. The crowds burst into cellars and storehouses. While bullets were whistling through the air they scrambled for a tin of fish or a pouch of tobacco.

On the morning of 1 May our flat was hit by a 21-cm. shell and almost entirely destroyed. On the same day water carriers reported that they had seen Russian soldiers. They could not be located exactly; they were engaged in house-to-house fighting which was moving very slowly.

This account appears in Louis Hagen (ed): Ein Volk, Ein Reich: Nine Lives Under the Nazis.

 Leipzigs Deputy Mayor and Municipal Treasurer Dr. Lisso, at desk, his wife Renate, in chair, and their 20 year old daughter Regina Lisso, after committing suicide by cyanide in the Leipzig New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) to avoid capture by American soldiers of the 69th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions as they closed in on the city. Regina Lisso wears the armband of the German Red Cross.
Leipzigs Deputy Mayor and Municipal Treasurer Dr. Lisso, at desk, his wife Renate, in chair, and their 20 year old daughter Regina Lisso, after committing suicide by cyanide in the Leipzig New Town Hall (Neues Rathaus) to avoid capture by American soldiers of the 69th Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions as they closed in on the city. Regina Lisso wears the armband of the German Red Cross.

Adolf Hitler commits suicide as Reichstag burns

Hitler wore his grey tunic emblazoned with the Gold Party Badge, the Iron Cross First Class and the Wounded Badge of the First World War — as he had done constantly in recent days. He was wearing a white shirt with a black tie, black trousers, black socks and black leather slippers. Eva Braun’s legs were drawn up under her on the sofa. Her brightly coloured high-heeled shoes lay on the floor. Her lips were firmly pressed together. She had poisoned herself with cyanide.

The last known picture of Hitler surveying the runs outside his bunker in Berlin, some days before his suicide.
The last known picture of Adolf Hitler, surveying the ruins outside his bunker in Berlin, some days before his suicide.

Now he has done it, the bastard. Too bad he could not be taken alive.

This was the reported reaction of Stalin when he heard of Hitler’s suicide. For a long time the Soviets claimed that Hitler had simply taken poison, which in their eyes made it an even more ‘unworthy death’, even though they had access to the closest witnesses to the incident.

The Soviet authorities were able to build up a detailed picture of events because they were interrogating Hitler’s personal aide and valet, Heinz Linge. The final report was presented to Stalin on his 70th birthday in 1949:

In front of the open armour-plated door to the antechamber stood Gunsche with SS-Obersturmfuhrer Frick, who was on duty that day. It was now a few minutes to four. As Linge walked past Gunsche, he remarked, ‘I think it’s over,’ and quickly went into the antechamber. There he smelled gunpowder, as if from a shot.

He rushed out of the antechamber and unexpectedly ran into Bormann, who was standing, with his head hanging, next to the door to the conference room, his hand resting on the table. Linge reported to Bormann that there was a smell of gunpowder in Hitler’s antechamber. Bormann stood up straight and together with Linge he dashed into Hitler’s study. Linge opened the door and walked in with Bormann.

They were presented with the following picture: on the left-hand side of the sofa sat Hitler. He was dead. Next to him was a dead Eva Braun. In Hitler’s right temple gaped a bullet wound the size of a Pfennig and two streams of blood ran down his check. On the carpet next to the sofa a puddle of blood the size of a plate had formed. The wall and the sofa were bespattered with blood. Hitler’s right hand lay palm uppermost on his knee. The left hung at his side. Next to Hitler’s right foot lay a 7.65mm Walther pistol, and next to his left foot a 6.35mm of the same make.

Hitler wore his grey tunic emblazoned with the Gold Party Badge, the Iron Cross First Class and the Wounded Badge of the First World War — as he had done constantly in recent days. He was wearing a white shirt with a black tie, black trousers, black socks and black leather slippers. Eva Braun’s legs were drawn up under her on the sofa. Her brightly coloured high-heeled shoes lay on the floor. Her lips were firmly pressed together. She had poisoned herself with cyanide.

Bormann rushed out into the antechamber to call the SS men who were to carry the two bodies out into the garden. From the antechamber Linge fetched the blankets he had left there to wrap Hitler up in and spread one of them on the study floor. With the help of Bormann, who had come back again, he laid Hitler’s still-warm body on the ground and wrapped him in the blanket.

See The Hitler Book: The Secret Dossier Prepared for Stalin from the Interrogations of Otto Guensche and Heinze Linge, Hitler’s Closest Personal Aides

Hitler and Braun’s corpses were carried out of the bunker and placed just two metres away from the emergency exit to the bunker, they could not go any further into the garden because Soviet shells were bursting in the area, and the Reichstag and nearby buildings were on fire. Two hundred litres of benzine were poured on the bodies but it was difficult to light the fire because of the wind whipped up by the burning city. Once lit the funeral party had to move quickly back inside because the flames were so close to the door.

It was not until the early hours of the following day that German radio made the announcement of his death:

It has been reported from the Fuehrer’s headquarters that our Fuehrer Adolf Hitler has died this afternoon in his battle headquarters at the Reich Chancellery, fallen for Germany, fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism.

On the 30th of April the Fuehrer nominated Grossadmiral Doenitz to be his successor. The Grossadmiral and Fuehrer’s successor will speak to the German nation.”

Doenitz: “German men and women, soldiers of the German Armed Forces! Our Fuehrer Adolf Hitler is dead. The German people bow in deepest sorrow and respect. Early, he had recognized the terrible danger of Bolshevism, and had dedicated his life to the fight against it. His fight having ended, he died a hero’s death in the capital of the German Reich, after having led an unmistakably straight and steady life.

The deaths were a signal to many other dedicated Nazis to decide their fate. Goebbels and his wife had decided to kill not only themselves but their six children as well, although they delayed until the following day. By then there was insufficient benzene left for their bodies to be completely burnt.

 The Goebbels family in 1942: (back row) Hildegard, Harald Quandt, Helga; (front row) Helmut, Hedwig, Magda, Heidrun, Joseph and Holdine. (In this well-known specimen of manipulated image work, the visage of the uniformed Harald, who was actually away on military duties, was inserted and retouched.) Only Harald, Magda Goebbels son from her first marriage, would survive the war.
The Goebbels family in 1942: (back row) Hildegard, Harald Quandt, Helga; (front row) Helmut, Hedwig, Magda, Heidrun, Joseph and Holdine. (In this well-known specimen of manipulated image work, the visage of the uniformed Harald, who was actually away on military duties, was inserted and retouched.) Only Harald, Magda Goebbel’s son from her first marriage, would survive the war.