Δευτέρα, 21 Μαΐου 2012

WILHELM KEITEL : THE LAST DAYS UNDER ADOLF HITLER 1


As one of the few people to have survived the events of April 1945, both within and without the Reich Chancellery, I would like to relate some of my recollections, beginning with those of 20th April- Hitler's last birthday. Berlin and the city's eastern suburbs were already under sporadic long-range gunfire from small-calibre Russian artillery. A few enemy bombers and spotter planes had been wheeling over the eastern end of the city, particularly at and shortly after dusk, but they kept a respectful distance between themselves and our anti-aircraft batteries on the flak towers, which in addition to acting as anti-aircraft defences were engaging the Russian long-range batteries with accurate gunfire and repeatedly silencing them. Fighting had already reached the outermost suburbs of east Berlin, as General Busse's Ninth Army had been routed near Frankfurt-on-Oder and Küstrin, and our defence of the Oder had collapsed.
The chief of the High Command [i.e., Keitel himself] and his chief of operations staff [Jodl] and their immediate lieutenants were still working in the command post which had been built in Dahlem's Föhrenweg by War Minister von Blomberg back in 1936, while the OKW operations staff, which had relinquished its nearby quarters at the Air Zone Command building in Kronprinzallee, had moved [with the Army General Staff] to the War Office.s bunker at Wunsdorf (in Zossen). It was there too that Jodl and I had our emergency billets, I myself being billeted at Number 16 Föhrenweg, the former home of the champion boxer Schmeling.(230)
Toward midday of 20th April, the British and American air forces executed their last massive air raid on the centre of Berlin, the governmental quarter. Together with my wife, Grand-Admiral Dönitz and his wife, and our adjutants, we watched this violent and horrible spectacle from a small mound in the garden of the Grand-Admiral's service quarters. He had returned to Berlin the night before from Coral, his operational headquarters near Eberswalde, as it was now threatened by the Russians. advance.
During this final heavy bombardment in perfect and sunny weather, the already badly-afflicted Reich Chancellery building escaped further damage. Our own fighter squadrons did nothing to beat off the attack on Berlin, and the anti-aircraft defences were powerless against an enemy attacking from such a height. The raid lasted almost two hours, the bombers parading overhead in tight formation as though it were a peacetime air display, dropping the bombs in perfect unison.
A war conference had been laid on from four o.clock onward that afternoon in the Führer's bunker at the Reich Chancellery. As Jodl and I entered the bunker, we saw the Führer accompanied by Goebbels and Himmler going up to the Reich Chancellery's day-rooms. I rejected an adjutant.s suggestion that I should tag along with them, as I had not yet had the opportunity of greeting the Führer. I learned that a number of boys of the Hitler Youth had been paraded upstairs in the Reich Chancellery to receive decorations for gallantry, including several Iron Crosses, for their superb work in ARP and anti-aircraft units during the enemy air raids.
After the Führer had returned to the bunker, Göring, Dönitz, Keitel and Jodl were individually summoned to his small sitting room next to the conference chamber to congratulate him on the occasion of his birthday. All the other people taking part in the conference were greeted by the Führer with just a handshake as he entered the chamber, and no further attention was paid to its being his birthday.
When I found myself alone face-to-face with the Führer, I found myself unable to congratulate him: I said (231) something to the effect that both his merciful escape from assassination on 20th July and his continued survival until today, his birthday, to maintain in his hands the supreme command at this grave moment when the very existence of the Reich he had created was threatened as never before, inspired in us the confidence that he would draw what seemed the inevitable conclusion now: I said that I believed he should begin surrender negotiations before the Reich capital itself became a battlefield.
I was about to continue in this vein when he stopped me with the words: Keitel, I know what I want. I am going to go down fighting, either in or outside Berlin.. To me that sounded like an empty slogan, and he could see I was trying to dissuade him from the idea. He held out his hand to me, and said, .Thank you . call in Jodl, will you. We will speak later about it.. I was dismissed from his room. What he discussed with Jodl I never learned.
The war conference took its usual course in the oppressive confines of the bunker chamber. The War Office's General Krebs described the situation on the Eastern Front, and Jodl the remaining theatres. In the meantime, Göring and I withdrew to the private rooms and discussed his intention to evacuate his operational headquarters to Berchtesgaden, as Karinhall was already in grave danger and Kurfürst, the air force operations staff.s headquarters, was already being cut off from time to time from the signals networks. Göring was planning to go by car, in which case it was high time for him to leave, as between Halle and Leipzig there was only one main road south known to be clear of enemy spearheads. I advised Göring to go, and he asked me if I would suggest to Hitler that the air force operational headquarters be transferred to Berchtesgaden.
Despite the critical situation . in the Italian theatre .the war conference passed calmly and without the otherwise frequent unbalanced outbursts. The Führer made a number of clear and objective decisions; his excitability was well in rein. When I put forward the proposal that Göring should be despatched to the south before the communications were severed altogether, he agreed and went (232) so far as to suggest this himself to Göring.
My motive in doing this centred admittedly on my own absolutely firm belief at that time that the Führer and the OKW operations staff would . as had been provided for in
our orders - also be transferring their supreme command to Berchtesgaden, even if not until the situation in the fighting around Berlin was consolidated; if necessary they would have to flee by air and at night. The aircraft for this were already standing by, and everybody not absolutely vital to the Führer.s headquarters in Berlin had already been sent off to Berchtesgaden by special trains and convoys of lorries.
The same went for the OKW and the War Office, which had both been split up and resolved into a joint Northern Command Staff (for Dönitz) and a Southern one, at Berchtesgaden. Dönitz was to assume command of all branches of the armed forces in northern Germany as soon as central and southern Germany were cut off from the north by the linking-up of the American and Russian troops to the south of Berlin. Hitler himself had signed the orders for this, as he himself planned to take over in the south while remaining in radio communication with Dönitz.
On our return to Dahlem on 20th April, I informed Jodl of my decision to fly out to Berchtesgaden everybody with whose services we could possibly dispense. My own special train had already moved there two days earlier. With my adjutant Szymonski in command, my private aircraft made a perfect daylight take-off in the hands of Air-Staff Engineer Funk [Keitel.s pilot] and a full crew, taking General Winter, Dr. Lehmann, Frau Jodl and my wife to Prague, where a service car was waiting to take them on to Berchtesgaden. The plane was back at Berlin-Tempelhof and at my disposal again that evening. All this was done to ease the pressure and prepare the way for the imminent migration of the Führer.s headquarters to Berchtesgaden . a move which at that time was beyond any question.
On 21st April, General Schörner, commander of the largest and strongest army group on the Eastern Front [Army Group Centre], operating from down in the Carpathians to (233) almost as far as just south of Frankfurt-on-Oder, arrived to make a personal report on the situation to the Führer. They met in complete privacy and, as Jodl and I entered the Führer .s bunker that afternoon, Schörner was just taking leave of him. It was obvious that the Führer had been greatly encouraged by their talk, for he uttered a few optimistic remarks which Schörner echoed and then invited us to congratulate Germany.s latest .field-marshal.. As the war conference progressed, it became very obvious that Schörner had imbued the Führer with an exaggerated confidence in his own front and leadership, and that Hitler was now clutching at this like a drowning man at a straw, despite the fact that in the final synthesis it was only a limited section of the front that was putting up any show of resistance. Things were becoming hopeless in the west and in Italy, the Russians were at the gates of Berlin. . . . The Führer.s mood brightened still further as, unexpectedly for us, General Wenck, commanding the newly-formed Twelfth Army, put in an appearance during the conference to brief Hitler on the position of his divisions, and on his operational intentions and the timetable for his surprise attack on the American formations operating in the Harz region and advancing on the Elbe. As General Wenck has survived and is in American captivity, I will leave it to him to describe what were his aims, intentions and prospects at some date in the future. I myself have no charts or papers to refer to. The Führer particularly valued Wenck as the energetic but cautious staff officer for which he had come to know him. He had been the closest colleague of the chief of General Staff, Guderian, and his right-hand man and permanent representative, and he had been hand-picked by the Führer for the command of the newly-raised Twelfth Army.
This latter would, it was hoped, bring about a change in the position between the mountains of central Germany and the Elbe by mopping up the enemy forces . believed to be only weak . in the Magdeburg-Lüneberg-Brunswick area and joining up with the armoured group which had crossed the Elbe south of Lauenburg and was fighting in the vicinity of Uelzen.(234)
In view of the improvised nature of his formation, the complexity of the situation, which was tying down our forces on every hand, and the numerical weakness of the army in question, I was unable to comprehend either the Führer.s optimism or that of General Wenck. I am convinced that Wenck did not honestly hope to gain more than a local success, and certainly not a strategic victory. But in this case, too, the Führer.s manifest self-deception was only increased by the generals in whom he had trusted, and this in turn inspired hopes in him which were to prove fateful to us. Only people who . like me . have seen and heard the hundreds of cases where even senior commanders did not dare to stand up to the Führer at times like this and tell him what they thought and what they considered feasible, have any right to reject the accusation of .feebleness.among the Führer.s closest advisers.
As Jodl and I drove back together in my car that evening after the war conference, as was our custom, we both expressed our amazement that the Führer had seemed so optimistic, or at least had been able to talk so confidently.
Schörner and Wenck must have infused him with this new spirit. Could it really be that he did not see how hopeless our position was? No, he must have seen it, but he refused to admit it could be true.
At our usual time on the afternoon of 22nd April, we went to the war conference. I saw at once that leaden clouds lay heavily over the atmosphere; the Führer.s face was yellowish-grey and he was of stony countenance. He was extremely nervous, his mind kept wandering, and twice he left the conference chamber for his private room next door.
In our absence the situation on the Eastern Front and the acute worsening of the position around Berlin had been outlined at midday by General Krebs, who had taken General Wenck.s place as representative of Guderian, chief of the General Staff, who had been sent on permanent leave some weeks before.
Not only was there street-fighting in the eastern suburbs of Berlin now, but as a result of the rout of the Ninth Army (235) to the south the Russians had already reached the Jüterbog area, and the army.s largest and most important central unitions dump was thus in grave and immediate danger; we had to be prepared to write it off. There was also increasing enemy pressure on the northern outskirts of Berlin, although on both flanks of Eberswalde Colonel-General Heinrici.s Oder front still stood fast. Jodl and I learned of this worsening of our position in the battle of Berlin only at the Reich Chancellery. The commandant of Berlin had received personal orders from the Führer that midday for the safeguarding of the city center and the government quarter.
Jodl kept the war conference as short as possible. Army Group West [i.e., the formations under the C-in-C West, Field-Marshal Kesselring] had in southern Germany already been pushed back into the Harz from Thüringia, there was fighting in Weimar, Gotha, Schweinfurt, and so on. In northern Germany they had been pushed back to the Elbe and the region south of Hamburg.
At the end of the conference, I asked for an interview with the Führer accompanied only by Jodl. A decision could not be postponed any longer: before Berlin became a battleground of house-to-house street-fighting, we had either to offer to surrender or to escape by flying out to Berchtesgaden at night to commence surrender negotiations
from there. I had the conference chamber cleared and found myself alone with Hitler, just as Jodl had been summoned to the telephone. As so often in my life, Hitler cut me short after my very first few words and broke in to say: .I know already what you.re going to tell me: .The decision has got to be made now!. I have already made a decision: I will never leave Berlin again; I will defend the city with my dying breath. Either I direct the battle for the Reich capital . if Wenck can keep the Americans off my back and throw them back over the Elbe - or I will go down with my troops in Berlin, fighting for the symbol of the Reich!.
I told him bluntly that that was madness, and that in the present situation I was obliged to demand that he fly that very night to Berchtesgaden to ensure the continuity of command over the Reich and the armed forces - something (236)  that could not be guaranteed in Berlin, where communications might be severed at any moment.
The Führer explained: There is nothing to stop you flying to Berchtesgaden at once. In fact I order you to do so. But I myself am going to stay in Berlin. I have already announced that to the German people and the Reich capital on the radio an hour ago. I am not in the position to retract.
At that moment, Jodl came in. In his presence, I explained
that I had no intention whatsoever of flying to Berchtesgaden without him
Hitler that was quite out of the question. It was not just a matter of the defence or loss of Berlin but of the command of all the armed forces on every front, which could not be guaranteed from the Reich Chancellery if the situation in the capital worsened further.
Jodl fervently agreed, and explained that if their signals communications with the south were to break down altogether 
and the big cable had already been cut in the Thüringian Forest then there would be no further possibility of directing the operations of the army groups of Schörner [Centre], Rendulic [South], the Balkans [northwest Croatia], Italy [Southwest (C), under Colonel General von Vietinghoff-Scheel] or West [Field-Marshal Kesselring];radio communication alone would not suffice. The splitcommand organisation would have to be put into effect at once and the Führer would have to fly, as planned, to Berchtesgaden to remain in command. 
The Führer called in Bormann and repeated to the three of us the order to fly to Berchtesgaden that night, where I was to take command, with Göring as his personal representative.All three of us announced that we refused to do so. I said: In seven years I have never refused to execute an order from you, but this is one order I shall never carry out. You cannot and should not leave the armed forces in the lurch, still less at a time like this. He replied: I am stopping here, and that is that. I have deliberately announced this without your knowledge so as to commit myself. If there has to be any negotiating with the enemy as there has now then Göring is better at that than I am. Either I (237) fight and win the battle of Berlin - or I am killed in Berlin. That is my final and irrevocable decision." 
I saw it was useless to continue this argument with Hit­ler in his present mood, and I announced I would drive at once from the Reich Chancellery to the front to see General Wenck, cancel all the orders covering his operations, and direct him to march on Berlin and join up with the Ninth Army units fighting to the south of the city. I would report to him, the Fiihrer, at noon the next day on the new position and on Wenck's movements, and then we should be able to look ahead from there. The Fiihrer at once agreed to my proposal. Obviously, it brought him a degree of deliverance from the frankly horrifying position in which he had put both himself and us. 
On his orders I was provided with ample victuals. As I partook of a bowl of pea soup before my departure, I went over the other measures to be taken with Jodl. He suggested to me that the supreme command should be safeguarded against the event that the Fiihrer really did adhere to his plan as outlined to us in the emotional scene shortly before. We both at once agreed that in that case it would be impos­sible to command from the Fiihrer's Reich Chancellery bunker, but on the other hand we would not go to Berchtesgaden and thereby give up both the Fiihrer and contact with him; but we would under no circumstances remain at the Reich Chancellery or even in Berlin our­selves, as we would thereby lose all contact with the vari­ous fronts. 
On this basis, I authorised Jodl to make the necessary dispositions for the combined OKW and War Office com­mand staff foreseen for Berchtesgaden to transfer all the remaining units still in Wunsdorf under the command of Lieutenant-General Winter (deputy-chief, OKW operations staff) immediately to Berchtesgaden, to safeguard the oper­ational command in the south, while the northern command staff should that same evening be assembled at Krampnitz barracks, near Potsdam, to which locality we two would also transfer with our immediate lieutenants. Overall com­mand should remain for the time being with the Fiihrer,(238) keeping in contact with the Reich Chancellery at all times and with the daily war conferences continuing as before.
This left the way still open for the solution we had originally planned, for we were both firmly resolved to dissuade the Führer, come what may, from his mania for succumbing in Berlin. Jodl undertook to apprise General Wenck, possibly by radio, of my advent and of the order I intended to issue to him; then we separated.
I drove straight from the Reich Chancellery, accompanied by my staff officer Major Schlottmann, and with my ever-cheerful driver Mönch at the wheel. We wandered all around Nauen and Brandenburg with the greatest difficulty as they had recently been ploughed up by an air raid and only a desert of ruins remained. The street leading directly south to Wenck
s headquarters had been hopelessly blocked.
I finally found Wenck shortly before midnight at a lonely forester
s house. Our finding the place at all was pure chance: I first met a despatch-rider who guided me to General Koehlers headquarters, and General Koehler provided me with a driver who knew the forest lanes leading to Twelfth Army headquarters. In a tête-à-tête with General Wenck, I outlined the situation that had developed during the previous afternoon in the Reich Chancellery, and made it clear to him that my last hope of fetching the Führer out of Berlin rested solely on the success of his breaking through to the capital and linking up with the Ninth Army. I was thinking in terms of nothing less than abducting the Führer if necessary by force from the Reich Chancellery if we were unable to bring him to his senses something I hardly dared to hope after his calamitous performance during the previous afternoon.
Everything depended, I told him, on the success of our operation, whatever the cost. Wenck called in his chief of staff. With a map, I sketched in the situation around Berlin as best I knew it from the previous day. Then I left the men alone and set about my supper in the hall of the forester
s house, while Wenck dictated the new order to his army I had asked him for, to take back to the Führer. About an hour later I drove off (239) again with the army order in my pocket, having offered to hand Wencks order to General Koehler on the way back, and to brief him personally and visit his divisional commanders during the night as well. I wanted to bring my own personal influence to bear on all these troop commanders and bring home to them both the rough significance of the task lying ahead of them and the assurance that, if things went wrong, it would augur ill for Germany. Wenck was and remained the only one to know my innermost thoughts and of my intention to abduct the Führer from Berlin before the capitals fate was sealed.
At dawn, after a tiresome search, I reached the command post of the division closest to the front. It had already issued orders to attack in line with the changed situation and our intentions. I found the divisional commander some way back in a village, while there were sounds of battle some way off in the distance. I demanded that he accompany me immediately to his most advanced regiment, so he could exert some personal influence on his troops and because I wanted to speak to the regiment
s commanding officer myself.It was a division that had recently been raised in the capital from units and unit leaders of the Reich Labour Service. Naturally, it was not a battle-hardened troop, but its officers and men were fired by a magnificent spirit. But their commanding officers, obviously energetic and warhardened soldiers, belonged more than normally at the head of their troops and not at rearward command posts, for only their personal example could compensate for the lack of training and self-confidence of their subordinate officers. After I had brought home the importance of their task to the attacking officers, both by my own presence and by a  speech to them, I called in briefly on General Holstes headquarters on the way back to Krampnitz. He was responsible for safeguarding the line of the river Elbe against a crossing by the Americans from the west. I discussed the position in detail with Holste an old regimental comrade from the 6th Artillery Regiment, whose enthusiasm and vitality I could vouch for and stressed to him the importance (240) of his rôle, which was the prerequisite for the success of the Twelfth Armys operations (to which formation I forthwith subordinated him). Holste was absolutely convinced by the burden of reports from the troops and enemy intelligence that the Americans were making no preparations to attack eastward over the Elbe.
Toward eleven o'clock that morning [23rd April, 1945], I checked back into Krampnitz dead tired, of course and after consulting with Jodl called at the Reich Chancellery to report to the Führer. As we were ordered to report to him at two oclock, I was able to get in a good hours sleep  first.  In contrast to the previous afternoon, I found the Führer very calm, and this kindled new hopes in me of bringing him to reason and persuading him to forget his unfortunate plan. After General Krebs had described the position on the Eastern Front, where things had not noticeably worsened, and Jodl on the other fronts, I confidentially reported to him with only Jodl and Krebs in attendance on my visit to the front. First, I handed to him the Twelfth Army order issued by Wenck. The Führer scrutinised it carefully and retained it.
Although he passed no comment on it, I had the impression
he was completely satisfied. I outlined in detail the outcome of my talks with the troop commanders and gave him my own impression gained on the spot. In the meantime, news had arrived of the progress of the attack being mounted by General Koehler
s Army Corps toward Potsdam to their northeast. The Führer enquired whether contact had already been established between them and the Ninth Army, which I was unable to answer. Nor did General Krebs have any reports to that effect from the Ninth Army, whose radio traffic was being monitored by the  Reich Chancellerys signals office. Krebs was again ordered to direct the Ninth Army to establish contact with the Twelfth Army and mop up the enemy forces between them.
Finally, I again requested a private interview. The Führer said he wanted Jodl and Krebs to be present too.  
Στο τέλος , ζήτησα για μια ακόμη φορά να του μιλήσω ιδιαιτέρως. Ο  Führer είπε ότι επιθυμία του ήταν να παρευρίσκονται σ΄αυτή τη συνομιλία  ο Jodl και ο Krebs (241) .
(Συνέχεια)

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