Τετάρτη, 30 Μαΐου 2012

WILHELM KEITEL : THE LAST DAYS UNDER ADOLF HITLER 2

It was at once clear to me that he intended to take the same stand as before, only in front of witnesses this time. My renewed attempt to move him to leave Berlin was categorically rejected.
Only this time he gave me his explanation in perfect calm: he explained that the very knowledge of his presence in Berlin would inspire his troops with a determination to stand fast, and would keep the people from panicking. This was unfortunately now the precondition of success for the operations presently in hand for the relief of Berlin and for the battle for the city itself that would follow. One factor alone would offer any hope of realising this success, which was still possible: that was the people’s faith in him. He would therefore personally direct the battle for Berlin in a fight to the finish. East Prussia had been held only so long as he had kept his headquarters at Rastenburg; the front there had collapsed as soon as he failed to support it by his presence. The same fate would lie in store for Berlin. That was why he would neither modify his resolution nor break his pledge to the army and to the city’s population.
This theme was put over without a trace of excitement,and in a firm voice. After he had finished, I told him Iwould drive out to the front at once and visit Wenck, Holste and the others, to harangue their troop commanders and tell them that the Führer expected them both to defend Berlin and to liberate him. Without a word, he extended a hand to me and we left him.
On some pretext or other, I was able shortly afterward to speak to Hitler once more, but quite alone, in his private chamber next to the conference room. I said that our personal contact with him might be severed at any moment if the Russians were to come down from the north and cut the communications between Krampnitz and Berlin. Might I know whether negotiations had been commenced with the enemy powers, and who would be conducting them? At first he said it was still too early to talk of surrendering, but then he began to insist that one could always negotiate better once one had achieved some local victory. In this case the “local victory” would be in the battle for Berlin.
When I said I was not satisfied, he told me that he had  in (242) fact been conducting peace talks with England via Italy for some time now, and that very day he had summoned Ribbentrop to discuss their next steps with him. He would prefer not to go into closer detail with me just then, but he certainly would not be the one to lose his nerve. That, said the Führer, was all there was to be said on the subject for the time being.I told him I would return the next day from my visit to the front to brief him on developments in the situation.Then I withdrew, not suspecting that we should never see each other again.
I drove back to Krampnitz with Jodl. On the way we frankly agreed that we could not leave things as they were – we discussed the possibility of abducting the Führer from his bunker, possibly even by force. Jodl told me that he had been occupied with similar thoughts since the previous day,although he had not ventured to give voice to them. While they had been in the Reich Chancellery’s bunker today he had examined the prospects for putting such a plan into practice and had had a look around. The plan was quite out of the question in view of the strong SS guards and of the Security Service bodyguard who had sworn personal oaths of allegiance to Hitler. Without their collaboration any such attempt was doomed to disaster. Men like General Burgdorf, the military adjutants, Bormann and the SS adjutants would all stand fast against us too. We gave the idea up.
Jodl further thought we should wait for the outcome of the steps he had undertaken with Göring. On the evening of the 22nd he had described the afternoon’s events in the Reich Chancellery in the closest detail to General Koller, the chief of Air Staff, and stressed that the Führer had resolved to stay in Berlin either as victor or victim. Jodl had sent Koller to Göring in Berchtesgaden to put him rapidly in the picture on the crisis which had thus blown up. Only Göring could intervene now, as he was indeed competent to. I underwrote Jodl’s action at once, and was grateful that he had taken the initiative in a direction which had not occurred to me.
When we checked into Krampnitz, our whole organisa (243) tion – that is the OKW operations staff plus War Office (North), which Jodl had combined into a Northern Command
Staff under his own command – was on the point of moving off. Having received an unconfirmed report of Russian cavalry scouting down toward Krampnitz from the north, the commandant had already had the huge munitions dump blown up, without waiting for any orders to that effect,and had ordered the evacuation of the barracks. Unfortunately I had no time to call to account this hysterical gentleman who had just wiped out Berlin’s munitions supply.. . .[1]
General Wenck had moved his army headquarters considerably further to the north, and was occupying another forester ’s house when I arrived shortly after dusk. He had endeavoured to establish contact with one of his armoured divisions on the other side of the Elbe, but without success.I urgently appealed to him to devote his operations now more than ever solely and entirely to Berlin, and to bring his own personal influence to play, for the Führer’s fate hinged upon the outcome of this last battle and not upon tank raids on the other bank of the Elbe.
A telephone call from Jodl was waiting for me there.He broke the news to me that during the night he had unfortunately been obliged to evacuate Krampnitz because of the proximity the enemy, against which he would have been able at that time to mount only two companies of tanks. He was therefore transferring the OKW’s headquarters – that is, our operational headquarters – to a forest encampment at Neu-Roofen, between Rheinsberg and Fürstenberg.
The camp had originally been fitted out with signals and communications equipment for Himmler, but was lying empty and was 100 percent available to us. I agreed at once, of course, with the added proviso that radio contact with the Reich Chancellery was to be maintained and that (244) the Führer should be informed of our move.
I realised at once that there was no guarantee that the daily war conferences in the Führer’s bunker would continue any longer, as the enemy would probably deprive us of a Krampnitz route to Berlin the next day. But there was now no other course of action open to us.After I had tried to bring home to General Wenck the gravity of the situation and the importance of the task given to him of reopening access to Berlin, and after I had ordered him to report in person to the Reich Chancellery to put the Führer in the picture, I drove out into the night to call on Holste’s headquarters, reaching it shortly before midnight. With Holste I went over the details of the task now facing him: by weakening his rear, which was confronting American forces which apparently had no plans to cross the Elbe, Holste was to gather all his forces together and screen the northern flank of Wenck’s Twelfth Army against any danger or actual interference from the Russians.
At the time there was still some prospect of re-establishing access to Berlin through Potsdam and Krampnitz if: 
1. the Twelfth Army’s drive resulted in the complete liberation of Potsdam and its communications with Berlin;
2. the Twelfth and Ninth Armies could link up south of Berlin; and 
3. the attack being made on the Führer’s personal orders by SS-General Steiner’s Armoured Corps from the north could batter through to the Berlin-Krampnitz road in territory admittedly unfavourable for tank operations, cramped and easy as it was for the enemy to block.
General Holste’s only problem was to establish contact with Heinrici’s army group and Steiner’s Armoured Corps to the northwest of Berlin. If he succeeded in doing that, then by exploiting the impassable Havelland marshes he could plug the gap with only modest forces. I assured (245) Holste that orders to this effect would go to Heinrici’s army group, and drove back out into the night. In the early light of dawn I passed through Rheinsberg, a quiet and peaceful town, and after a considerable search reached our encampment at Neu-Roofen – where Jodl and his immediate staff had just arrived themselves – toward eight o’clock. The camp was so well hidden in the forest, some distance from the village and the road, that only local guides could find it for us.
The painful awareness of our physical detachment from the Reich Chancellery and of our dependence on wireless and telegraphic communications strengthened in me my resolve to assume responsibility myself for decisions – in contrast to earlier – as soon as I could no longer receive telephone messages from there. During the morning I telephoned the Reich Chancellery and spoke first to one of the military adjutants and then to General Krebs, asking for a line to the
Führer as soon as he was available.
Toward midday that 24th April, I made a personal report to Hitler on my latest visits to the front. I mentioned the favourable progress being made by the Twelfth Army in its drive toward Potsdam and added that I intended to put in an appearance at the Reich Chancellery toward evening.
He forbade me to drive to Berlin by car, as the access roads were no longer adequately safeguarded, but he raised no objection to my flying to Gatow, the Air Warfare School’s landing ground, and being collected from there. He turned the receiver over to Colonel von Below and I arranged with him an immediate flight; I was to arrive shortly before dusk.
I summoned my trusty Ju. 52 from Rechlin to the landing ground at Rheinsberg, where I planned to take off for Berlin. Immediately after this telephone conversation, the first war conference under my direction was held. General Dethleffsen (General Staff) outlined the position on the Eastern Front, and Jodl the remaining theatres of war. We were still in touch with all of our formations, so without exception the various reports from the fronts were all to (246and as usual. Immediately afterward, Jodl apprised the Führer by telephone of my proposals and obtained his agreement to them. General Krebs, the deputy-chief of the Army General Staff, was at the Reich Chancellery end, and Jodl imparted his innermost thoughts to him.
That evening I drove through Fürstenberg to the command post of SS-General Steiner’s Armoured Corps just to the south, hoping to ascertain the situation there and the prospects of his attack. By that time, only one of the two armoured divisions which had been regrouping in New Brandenburg had arrived; the second was still being moved up. While Steiner had succeeded in fighting his way out of the narrow lakelands and winning the space for his tank formations to deploy in, he had attracted the enemy’s attention by the thrust, and as a result the chance of a surprise break-through – which otherwise would beyond any doubt have succeeded – had been lost.
Upon my return to the camp, it was time to depart for my flight to Gatow. My adjutant had already prepared everything when a telephone call came from Colonel von Below forbidding me to take off before dusk as enemy fighters were interfering with air movements at Gatow. I postponed my flight until ten o’clock that evening, but this plan was scotched as well: after a beautiful spring day, fog closed in and the flight was abandoned. I put it off again until the evening of 25th April.
Very early on the 25th I again drove out to the front, visiting General Holste’s headquarters first. After I had been briefed on his corp’s situation, and had telephoned Wenck – who had again transferred his army headquarters – to be brought up to date by him, I dictated to Jodl my own appreciation of the situation for forwarding to the Führer. General Wenck had admittedly reached Potsdam with his battle group, but it was only on a narrow front, forced like a wedge up between the lakes to the south of the town, and he lacked reserves and above all extra strike-capacity, as considerable sections of his forces were tied down by the multiplying battles around the Elbe crossings (without any (247) map I cannot give their exact locations) to the north of Wittenberg, so he could not release them for an attack on Berlin itself or a joint movement with the Ninth Army, which latter now apparently comprised only remnants. To execute both operations properly, the Twelfth Army just was not strong enough. In this situation, I authorised General Wenck – whatever the danger on the Elbe front – to release at least one division for the main Berlin operation and to apprise the Führer of this decision by radio on my behalf. When I was about to drive through the little town of Rathenow on my way back to camp, about halfway between Brandenburg and Nauen, German troops blocked our path and announced that Rathenow was being attacked by the Russians and was under enemy gunfire. As I myself could detect no sound of fighting anywhere, I drove down the absolutely empty road further into Rathenow. A Volkssturm [People’s Levy] company had excavated a three-foot-deep trench in the market square, affording them a field of fire of barely a hundred yards over to the houses on the far side. Nobody knew anything about the enemy, except that an attack on the town was anticipated. I explained to the company commander the lunacy of his actions; I had the company mustered, addressed a short speech to them, and ordered the company commander to lead me to the city commandant.On the way, I saw in various places every kind of artillery – field howitzers, infantry guns, 3.7-centimetre antiaircraft guns, and so on – drawn up in courtyards, limbered up and obviously camouflaged against detection from the air, their tractors and crews standing idly around them. It seemed there was sporadic gunfire from an enemy battery aimed at the outskirts of the town.
I found the commandant in a house some way off, issuing orders to some ten or twelve officers gathered around him. He was an active pioneer-troop officer, and my appearance not only amazed him but threw him into complete confusion. He told me he had ordered the evacuation of the town and the mining of the bridge at its eastern end [sic] as (248)the enemy was about to attack. I shouted at him that he must be out of his mind to decamp just because of a few rounds of long-range gunfire. What signs had he actually seen of the enemy? Where was his battle-reconnaissance unit? What had they reported to him? And what, above all, was the whole point of having the artillery that was lying around in every courtyard of the city? I ordered the whole party out of the house and walked with them to the outskirts of the town where the enemy was supposed to be attacking. Apart from a few puffs of shell bursts, there was nothing to be seen. Under my supervision, orders were issued for the defence of the town, the artillery was brought out and dug in, and this major was transferred to a command post from which he could see for himself out over the broad open spaces upon which there was no sign of an enemy.
I...........................................................................................

Now we were returned to our small villa. During the afternoon a table had been set up, groaning under the weight of a cold buffet, with various wines, while in the remaining rooms clean beds had been prepared for every one of us, one bed each. The official interpreter said that a Russian general was coming and that dinner would be served upon his arrival. A quarter of an hour later Zhukov’s chief quartermaster appeared and asked us to begin; he asked us to excuse him as he could not stay. The meal was probably more modest than we had been accustomed to, he apologised, but we should have to put up with it. I was unable to refrain from answering that we were not at all accustomed to such luxury and such lavish feasts. He obviously thought he was only being flattered by this remark.
We all thought that the kind of Sakuska with which we were served was all there was to this hangman’s breakfast; we were all feeling very replete when we learned there was a hot roast meat course to follow, and finally they gave us all plates of fresh frozen strawberries – something I had never eaten before in my life. It was obvious that some Berlin gourmets’ restaurant had provided this dinner, as even the wines were German brands. After the meal the interpreter officer left us; apparently he had stood in for the host. I laid on our aircraft for six o’clock the next morning to take us back, and we all turned in.
The next morning, at five o’clock, we were given a simple breakfast. As I was about to leave at about half-past five, I was asked to wait for Zhukov’s chief of staff, who wanted to have a talk with me about our return flight. We all stood around our cars, waiting to drive off. The general requested me to remain in Berlin; they would endeavour to provide me with the opportunity to issue from Berlin our cease-fire orders to the troops on the Eastern Front, just as I had demanded when we discussed the terms of the penalty clauses the day before. I replied that if they would guarantee
radio communication, I would at once issue the further signals; they would have to hand over the German cyphers to me. The general disappeared again to ask Zhukov for a decision. He returned with the news that it would not be possible after all for me to despatch these signals, but General Zhukov invited me to remain in Berlin nevertheless.
Now I saw what they were up to. I insisted on flying to Flensburg at once, as I would have to transmit the amended
surrender conditions to the troops as quickly as possible from there; otherwise I would not accept the consequences
for what happened. He was to inform his general that I had
signed in good faith and had been relying on General Zhukov ’s word as an officer.
Ten minutes later the chief of staff was back again with the news that my aircraft would be ready to take off in an hour. I climbed quickly into my car with Bürkner and Böhm-Tettelbach and the interpreter; these gentlemen had all realised that an attempt was being made to detain me much more clearly than I had myself – at first, at least.
They told me the Russians had obviously had too much to drink and the victory feast was still in full sway at the mess as we drove safely off.
The interpreter asked what route I wanted to take to the airport. We drove past the city hall, the castle, and along Unter den Linden and Friedrich Strasse. There were horrifying traces of the battle to be seen between Unter den Linden and Belle-Alliance-Platz. Large numbers of German
and Russian tanks blocked Friedrich Strasse at several places, and the street was strewn with the rubble of collapsed buildings. We flew straight back to Flensburg, relieved to be in a British aircraft and in the air. We landed at
Flensburg at about ten o’clock.
We had arranged to exchange official delegations with Montgomery and Eisenhower, to ease the business between
us. On Saturday, 12th May, the American delegation arrived
at Flensburg and were accommodated aboard the Patria, a luxury steamship; the first conference was arranged for eleven o’clock on Sunday morning. Dönitz was required to go aboard the Patria first to be received by the Americans, while I was to make my appearance half an hour later.
After Dönitz had left the ship, I was received by them.
The American general disclosed to me that I was to surrender as a prisoner of war, and would be flown out at two o’clock that afternoon, in two hours’ time. I was to turn over my official business to Colonel-General Jodl; I was to be permitted to take one companion and a personal batman,
as well as 300 pounds of luggage.
I stood up, saluted briefly with my field-marshal’s baton, and drove back to headquarters with Bürkner and Böhm-Tettelbach, who had both accompanied me during this “audience.” I took leave of Dönitz, who had already been briefed on what was to happen, and selected Mönch and Lieutenant-Colonel von Freyend as my companionsthereby ensuring a considerably less arduous captivity for them. I handed my personal papers and keys to Jodl and entrusted Szimonski with one or two personal objects for my wife, along with a letter to her, to be flown down to Berchtesgaden in the courier plane. Unfortunately the British seized everything from the brave “Schimo” subsequently – even my keys and bank pass-book, and the letter to my wife as well.We took off for a destination that was not disclosed to us, and after flying right across Germany landed early that evening at Luxembourg airport. There I was treated as a prisoner of war for the first time, and transferred to the Park Hotel at Mondorf, which had been converted into an internment camp. Seyss-Inquart had arrived before me.
In Flensburg I had been my own master. As I drove in my own car to the airfield, together with General Dethleffsen, in those two unguarded hours I could have put an end to my life and nobody could have stopped me. The thought never occurred to me, as I never dreamed that such a via doloris lay ahead of me, with this tragic end at Nuremberg.
I began my term as prisoner of war on 13th May, 1945, at Mondorf. I was transferred to a prison cell at Nuremberg on the 13th August, and am awaiting my execution on 13th October, 1946.

                                                      Finis, 10th October, 1946.



[1] In Keitel’s original manuscript there follow further charges against the commandant of Krampnitz, which could in any case not have been defended for lack of manpower – something the field-marshal overlooked in his anger. The passage has been omitted by the editor.

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