July 11, 1944
THE GREATEST GENERAL OF ALL TIME woke with a thick headache and a queasy stomach. His watch showed two minutes to ten. He had those two minutes to himself before Sturmbannführer Heinz Linge, one of his alternating household managers, arrived to wake him. He knew that the day would offer little comfort. He knew that Dr. Marzius would
sentence him to spend most of it connected to the Infernal Machine.
He resented the distraction when there were so many pressing matters that required his personal attention, but the health of a man in his position was a political consideration. If he attempted to chair a staff conference while joined to the Infernal Machine, there was no telling what some of the waverers on his General Staff would think.
Exactly on the dot of ten o'clock, Heinz Linge knocked firmly on the door of the comfortably furnished bedroom. The chalet on a rocky ledge 500 metres above Berchtesgaden was one of his master's few concessions to personal comfort in troubled times.
The Führer of the Greater German Reich had designed his Berghof personally. He had become enormously wealthy after his rise to power in 1933. His personal assistant, Martin Bormann, had invested the huge royalties from the sales of Hitler's personal philosophy, Mein Kampf, in his mountain retreat.
Linge and other members of the travelling household staff were happy to be in this tear drop of Bavaria falling into Austria. They had no love for Adolf Hitler's austere Supreme Headquarters, a nest of dank, concrete caverns lost in an East Prussian forest at the other end of Germany. Rastenburg was either cold and wet, or insufferably hot and humid. In July, the sentries had to wear gauze masks to protect their faces from clouds of hungry mosquitos. It was not a place for civilized beings.
When Hitler acknowledged his knock, Linge placed the breakfast tray in the exact centre of a small table in the anteroom. His master preferred to begin the day alone.
"The time is ten hundred hours, Führer, and the weather is fine and quite warm outdoors." Linge added selected items of news to his daily report. He finished, "Herr Himmler has pressing business in Berlin, but Herr Göring will attend the afternoon staff planning conference."
"The only person I'm interested in at the moment is Dr. Köster," sighed Hitler.
"At once, Führer." Linge hurried back to his own room.
Dr. Theodor Morell, Hitler's personal doctor, prescribed Dr. Köster's Antigas Pills for the relief of his patient's stomach cramps. He issued this proprietary blend of belladonna and strychnine to Linge in one-gross bottles. The maximum safe dose is eight pills per day. Linge supplied them to his master on demand, unaware that he was poisoning him slowly.
Dr. Morell, large, genial in a predatory way, and very sure of himself, arrived as Linge was removing the breakfast tray. It was time for the daily injection. Morell was doing his best to turn his most important patient into a pin-cushion. He had an armoury of instant relief that included stimulants, hormones and vitamins. Morell was using Hitler as a willing guinea pig.
Morell routinely administered massive doses of sulfonamides when Hitler felt a cold coming on, or on the days around an important speech if the weather was wet or chilly. The leader had to look and feel healthy at all times. Hitler had not been troubled by a cold for so many years that he had almost forgotten its misery.
Heinz Linge made sure that Dr. Morell was well out of the way before he admitted the next caller. Dr. Rolf Marzius was a tall, spare man from the Rhein Valley area of Baden Württemberg. He was bald on top. The surviving belt of dark brown hair around the pale dome was shot with abundant grey. At fifty-six, he was just three months Hitler's senior and similarly at the top of his profession. The doctor's detached air of academic gravity made him look much older. Stress and illness were having the same effect on his patient, a man previously noted for looking much younger than his calendar years.
Dr. Marzius considered Morell an outrageous quack, who was more interested in making a fortune out of his patent medicines and military contracts than in his patient's welfare. It was a truth best left unspoken in the eleventh year of the Thousand-Year Reich, in which every activity had to conform to National Socialist standards, which were often as arbitrary as they were contrary.
Dr. Marzius ran through an established routine, ignoring Hitler's professional air of calm well-being. Adolf Hitler had been adopting suitable poses since the birth of his political ambitions soon after the Great War. In such difficult times, with one set of enemies advancing steadily from the Normandy beachhead, and the Bolsheviks hammering into Poland and Romania, no leader could afford to show signs of weakness. He had to rise above even serious illness.
"Well, Professor, shall I take your report as read?" Hitler remarked as he buttoned his shirt.
"Your blood pressure is dangerously high, Herr Reichskanzler. I expect the blood sample to confirm the trend to anaemia." Marzius knew better than to blame the anaemia on Hitler's militant vegetarianism. "The swelling you see is fluid retained in the tissues due to the slow failure of your remaining kidney. Your chest pains are due to inflammation of the heart lining. Inflammation of the stomach and colon produce sickness and colitis. High blood pressure puts a strain on your heart, and damage to the nerves to your limbs could cause eventual paralysis."
"In short, the spiral of self-destruction continues with no immediate hope of relief." Hitler lowered himself onto a chair and folded his arms to control the habitual tremor in his left arm. He fixed the doctor with a stare that contained both patience and amusement.
"I remain optimistic." Marzius tucked his notebook into his black bag and closed the fastening. "The permanent solution, the surgical implantation of a replacement kidney, remains some distance away. The actual mechanics of the surgery, connecting up the new organ, lie well within our capabilities. But we have to sort out the chemistry first. To prevent the body destroying the implanted kidney as it would any other foreign tissue, such as an infection."
"Charting side effects from the drugs you must use? And the balance of the dosage? A little too much one way and the patient loses all his resistance to infection. Too little too much the other way and his body destroys the implant."
"You must know the story by heart, Reichskanzler. It must be as familiar as my assurances that research continues around the clock to overcome the problems. As for temporary relief: that remains a short journey and a certain amount of discomfort and inconvenience away."
Hitler's famously magnetic blue eyes strayed in the general direction of the cellars. "Down to the torture chamber?"
"Evolution took millions of years to develop an organ less than the size of a fist capable of filtering the whole of a man's five litres of blood thirty times per day, Reichskanzler." Marzius quoted well-worn statistics.
"Whereas you, after just a few years' work, have created a roomful of tubes and pumps and God knows what to do the same job. To which your victim has to be connected for up to fourteen hours at a time."
Dr. Marzius lifted his hands to shoulder height, palms toward his patient in a gesture of surrender and conciliation. "We are doing our best. And the benefits of the treatment are clearly evident. Even one week of treatments would give clearly visible improvements."
"Impossible, I fear." Hitler put on his weight of affairs of state expression. "I must be at Rastenburg by the weekend. You know what they say about rear-echelon types. The Supreme Commander must be seen to be at his forward command post in times like these."
"Today is Tuesday," mused Dr. Marzius. "I suppose we must do what we can in the time left. I cannot stress too highly the importance of relieving the strain on your remaining kidney."
The doctor decided not to irritate his patient by mentioning the climate in East Prussia or repeating the Führer's famous joke about needing concentrations of machine guns as air defence against the giant mosquitos. If the Russians continued to push forward in strength, the Wolfsschanze would be behind their lines before the current hot weather turned cold and damp enough to impose a different set of stresses on Hitler's uncertain state of health.
Hitler sighed heavily. "I take it doing what we can means going straight to the torture chamber? You have no idea how frustrating the immobility and isolation can be."
"You have the teleprinter, your staff and the communications centre, Herr Reichskanzler," Dr. Marzius said patiently. "I need not mention your own decision to keep your condition a secret."
"And I have officers on the way from Berlin to deliver vital reports at today's conference."
"I am sure the usual methods will suffice to communicate the reports to the treatment room."
"I really must attend the conference in person. Your Infernal Machine could wait..."
Dr. Marzius could tell from his expression that Hitler was willing to be persuaded. He used the most telling argument of all: "There is always Herr Müller, Herr Reichskanzler."
Oskar Weinkenner slumped in his seat as the camouflaged staff car stopped at the check point, displaying a total lack of enthusiasm for anything that life had to offer. He was wearing a black flying overall in preference to carrying it. He had just been discharged from Salzburg Military Hospital, twenty kilometres away. According to his doctor, he looked a picture of health. Dark blue eyes had stared out from a decidedly pale face in his shaving mirror. He felt in need of a long rest from the war.
At twenty-seven, Weinkenner felt that he was now a skilled pilot at the end of his luck. His last flight had ended in a crash, which had killed no more than half of those aboard the aircraft. His reward for an incomplete disaster had been the eternal gratitude of the survivors, two months in hospital, then a transfer to light duties. He had met his driver at the human sausage machine of a military hospital.
Twice-widowed Heidi Reifendorf was five years Weinkenner's senior, a somewhat aristocratic brunette Austrian from Henndorf, a village sixteen kilometres from Salzburg in the direction opposite to Berchtesgaden. She was a hospital administrator, one of a team who kept track of the servicemen who flowed through the wards in an endless stream. She added a tick to the box printed on the front cover of a discharged patient's file, assigning him to one of three categories. In Weinkenner's case, the tick had gone in the lowest box.
Inevitably, the largest box received fewest ticks. The Reich at war was desperately short of manpower. Anyone able to carry a rifle and walk a few steps was packed off back to the front as soon as possible.
Heidi Reifendorf applied the handbrake, then gave it an extra tug to be sure. "All change," she remarked brightly. She felt moderately guiltless about sending Weinkenner back to duty. He was a man who clearly knew how to look after himself despite a talent for landing up to his neck in trouble. Given a little luck, he might survive a few months more before the inevitabilities of war caught up with him.
"Are you sure you checked the right box on my file?" Weinkenner made no move to leave the car. "Shouldn't I be going home? Or off for a nice, long rest in a wooden box?"
"Worn out by your exertions last night?" Heidi gave him a smile with a mocking edge. She had high cheekbones, a noble nose, and warm, brown eyes. Poor food and long working hours kept her skin stretched tight. It was a common complaint in hard times.
"My offer to steal a plane and fly you to a life of luxury in Switzerland still holds."
"And what would we live on?" Heidi leaned over for a parting kiss.
Weinkenner released her reluctantly and climbed out of the car. Two well-polished SS sentries at the check point ten metres away were watching the car and grinning. Weinkenner waved an imperious summons. The sentries faced their front again, keeping the car under observation out of the corners of their eyes. It was just out of their take-action area.
Weinkenner pulled down the zip on his black overall, exposing the insignia of an SS Sturmbannführer on his black collars. He cleared his throat pointedly. One of the sentries snapped to attention, then trotted over to the car. Weinkenner took a tubular kitbag off the back seat and dumped it in front of the glittering sentry.
"So kind of you to give me a hand," he said with a smile.
"Your papers, please, Sturmbannführer," barked the sentry. His unaccustomed politeness was a response to Weinkenner's air of casual confidence. The sentry was carrying his MP-40 submachine gun across his chest, holding the handgrip, index finger extended beside the trigger guard. He had stopped far enough from Weinkenner to be able to step back and shoot if he saw a threatening movement.
Weinkenner fished out his identity card and his orders. He leaned forward to pass them to the sentry, respecting the neutral zone between them. The sentry compared an unknown face with the photograph in the Soldatenbuch. He unfolded the orders to check both details and the signature. So close to the top brass, sentries were as much on the alert for dirty tricks played by their own officers as for spies and saboteurs. They were liable to shoot if in doubt; to wound if they had time, to kill if they felt threatened.
The efficient sentry returned his documents and picked up the kitbag. Weinkenner retrieved a briefcase and his flight bag from the car. Heidi gave him a quick peck as she planted his cap on blond stubble. Weinkenner normally kept his hair very short to avoid snagging it in his leather flying helmet. The hospital barber had tried to shave him with the clippers. Weinkenner shivered every time a gust of wind caught his near-naked head. He looked distinctly Prussian now, which belied his international and very varied upbringing.
Originally a Rheinlander from Bonn, a town distinguished only as Beethoven's birthplace, he had spent most of his life in the east of the United States of America. Shaven-headed militarism was entirely foreign to his nature. He was more accustomed to guerilla warfare on his own terms. The apparent duelling scar on his left cheek marked an encounter with a fragment of bullet-shattered cockpit canopy. It had left him an enigma.
Scar-faced Prussian types belonged in the Army as part of the natural order of things. Those who joined the SS voluntarily were usually Party members and not to be trusted. Weinkenner was used to being treated with a strange mixture of muted cordiality and
contempt by people with a claim to an elevated position in German society.
The sentry escorted the new arrival to the cable railway for the climb to a combined holiday retreat and command post. Weinkenner settled himself on a decently padded seat opposite a Wehrmacht Oberst with a bulky briefcase on his lap. A black patch told
him that the other officer had lost his left eye.
As a connoisseur of survivable injuries, Weinkenner took in two digits missing from the left hand and a crippled right arm, which was just a useless appendage. Apart from the one on his left cheek, none of Oskar Weinkenner's accumulation of scars showed when he was fully dressed.
"Weinkenner," he remarked, catching the colonel's remaining eye.
"Stauffenberg." The colonel's accent and aristocratic bearing said von Stauffenberg. He looked rather tense.
"On your way to perform for the leadership?"
"Reports from Berlin on the Replacement Army."
The replacement situation had been bad in the East. It was becoming disastrous in the West following the landings in Normandy the month before. Casualties there were exceeding replacements by a ratio of nine to one, according to the whispered pessimism which had reached Weinkenner's hospital bed.
"Oberstgeneral Fromm's outfit?" said Weinkenner.
"Unless your chief succeeds in taking us over," Stauffenberg said, a touch frostily.
"My chief?" Weinkenner returned with a frown.
"Of the SS. Himmler." Stauffenberg's eye travelled disapprovingly to the SS insignia on Weinkenner's collar then moved on to pause at the unexpected eagle of a Luftwaffe pilot on the black overall.
"Oh, him," Weinkenner said dismissively. "He's far too far up in the stratosphere of command to be my chief. Cigarette?"
Stauffenberg accepted an English Senior Service and a light. Then he glanced at the luggage. "Posted here?"
"You will report for assignment to the head of Reichssicherheitsdienst, Obersalzberg, on eleventh July, 1944," Weinkenner quoted.
"Then they chucked me out of hospital without even giving me any lunch. In other words, I haven't a clue what they're going to do with me. I'm a pilot not a watchdog. What the hell do the RSD want me for? Guarding airfields?"
"Who knows? You've come far?"
"I suppose you've been flying all morning to get here? Just from Salzburg for me. Twenty minutes by road. I was there for a couple of months. Whatever happened to convalescent leave?"
"Some say getting back to the discipline of work right away is the best route back to health."
"That may be all right if you're a pen-pusher. I'll lay odds you didn't get your chest decorated sitting behind a desk."
Stauffenberg glance down at his collection of medals and campaign ribbons. The gesture involved a curious rotation of his head to compensate for the missing eye. "North Africa. A fighter strafed us in April last year. The seventh. Not a date I can forget."
"Two of them did for me on my last trip. Yank P-51 Mustangs. I had to belly flop on half an engine with all the controls shot to hell. Three privates, two corporals, and a captain ended up in wooden boxes. Two more privates, me, and a full colonel ended up in
hospital. My general and another private climbed out of the wreck without a scratch on them. And they still try and tell me there's no God. The man at the top looks after the highest and the lowest. And bugger the poor sods in between."
"You'll have an anniversary to celebrate next year; if you're still with us." Stauffenberg's tone expressed mild disapproval of casual blasphemy. He had clearly come to expect it as inevitable in the sort of company that the Army expected him to keep.
"The fourteenth of May," Weinkenner said reflectively. "A Sunday. And Yanks are supposed to be God-fearing. What were they doing shooting at me on the Sabbath?"
"Maybe they were atheists."
"Or Jews. Most of them are, according to Herr Goebbels."
"Jewish Terror-Bombers," Stauffenberg quoted with contempt. "I would have said squealing about how much terror-bombing hurts us is more likely to damage morale rather than put backbone into the people."
"Ours not to question the Party line." Weinkenner shrugged. "At least, not where there are any loose mouths around. Amazing the lengths we go to to avoid being shot or strung up by our own side. So Allied fighters or Jewish terror-bombers can blast us to pieces. What's the weather doing in Berlin?"
"Hot and sticky, with violent thunderstorms."
"It was bloody freezing when I was there in April. I was glad to get out of your famous Berliner Luft. Even if it helps to get the tang of brick dust out of your throat."
"The air tends to be cold but not damp in spring, for which all those with bullet wounds are grateful. All the lakes around the city help to give it a certain freshness even at the height of summer. Berlin could be almost uninhabitable otherwise."
"Especially with terror-bombers unloading all over the place," grinned Weinkenner. "Roll on final victory. Hello, I think we're there. Look at that view!"
Stauffenberg barely glanced at the expanse of wooded slopes, which unrolled for kilometres. The sudden preoccupation was only natural, Weinkenner told himself. Having to perform before the Führer would be an ordeal that required extensive preparation. He was glad that he was heading for an unimportant job that would keep him well away from the top brass.
The cable railway car swayed to a halt. Two orderlies were waiting for the officers. Struggling to keep pace with the immaculately turned-out heavyweight carrying his kitbag and briefcase, Weinkenner set off for the RSD command post. Any sympathy for the heroic wreck from Berlin was displaced by speculation about his own future in such a spit-and-polish outfit.
Weinkenner had not developed the slightest suspicion about Oberst Claus Schenk, Graf von Stauffenberg, who had in his briefcase a bomb to kill Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Herman Göring at their southern holiday retreat.
Despite the reservations of the heads of the German and Allied Secret Services, assassination attempts against heads of state were being made at every opportunity. Hitler was the target of a string of bomb plots devised by both the Allies and his own generals. The Blombeau-Dirkmann plot of February 1943 had used poison to reduce the Führer to his present perilous state of health.
Faulty German intelligence less than four months later had sent a BOAC flight from North Africa to London plunging into the sea. Alfred Chenfalls, a cigar-smoking financial expert with a fair resemblance to the British prime minister, had been spotted at the airport at a time when Winston Churchill was known to be in Algiers on his way home from Washington.
The flight normally carried freight and diplomatic mail. It had been ignored by the Luftwaffe for years; until that fateful Tuesday. The faulty information had also killed the British actor Leslie Howard, illustrating the danger of being near VIPs and those who look like them at the wrong moment.
Admiral Canaris, when head of the Abwehr, and others with the conscience of bygone ages, offered increasingly active opposition to political assassination. But the watchers on both sides continued to lay their plans and wait for opportunities.
In Germany, the watchers with eyes on their own leaders tended to belong to the older generation of military commanders and politicians, and the aristocracy. They were the men and women, and the children of such people, who had stood aside in 1933 and allowed the Nazis to assume power. They considered Hitler and his satellites lower-class upstarts who were leading the country to deeper ruin; to a situation from which recovery would be impossible after the inevitable peace.
The objectives of the military rebellion planned by Stauffenberg and his allies were: to kill Hitler and as many of the leading Nazis as possible, to seize all command centres in Berlin and the main cities of the Reich and occupied territories, to arrest as many top Party officials as possible, and to disarm all other troops. With Hitler dead, and the SS and the Luftwaffe neutralized, the army would be free of oaths of personal loyalty to Hitler and free to negotiate peace with the Allies. The most important objective was Hitler's death. His life represented a border between high treason and a sort of honourable legality, which was deemed essential by the regulation-bound military mind.
The original timetable of the current plan called for action in October 1944, when the conspirators had forecast that the war would be at a critical stage and the Allies willing to accept an armistice from a new regime. The surprise and success of the Normandy landings in the first full week of June had forced them to advance their plans by three months.
They had chosen General Ludwig Beck as the future regent of Germany. Now in his mid-sixties, Beck had resigned in 1938 over the plan to invade Czechoslovakia, and then turn westwards toward the Channel to finish off France and Britain before they became strong enough to defeat Germany. Beck had been convinced that his country would not be ready for war until 1941. He had been left behind by Hitler's victory through bluff over Czechoslovakia. A man of influence had been reduced to another an ex-officer who had guessed wrong.
Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben, in retirement for the last two years, would become the supreme commander of the armed forces if the bomb plot succeeded. Despite his failing health, he had many vital contacts with senior officers in Paris and the western sector. A network of conspirators stretched from Western to Eastern Fronts. As soon as the news of Hitler's death reached Berlin, Stauffenberg's superiors expected to execute their military coup with all speed and ruthlessness.
Admiral Canaris, head of the Abwehr until February 1944, had devised and installed a national defence plan called Operation Valkyrie. Officially, it was a scheme to counter an insurrection by the millions of foreign workers, who had been rounded up from all over Europe to supply the Reich with forced labour. Such a revolt was a practical impossibility, but Canaris had played on Hitler's suspicions. Thus all units of the Home Army had a blueprint for declaring martial law and taking over the major cities of the Reich.
General Fritz Fromm, CinC of the Home Army and Stauffenberg's commanding officer, was aware of the conspiracy but chose to ignore it. General Friedrich Olbricht, Quartermaster General of the army, was one of the principal conspirators. It was from their H.Q. in the former Defence Ministry building on Bendlerstraße in Berlin that the codeword Valkyrie would go out across Greater Germany and all occupied territories when Stauffenberg telephoned the news of Hitler's death.
The Abwehr had supplied Stauffenberg with a British-made bomb from its stores of captured materials. He took the bomb to Berchtesgaden in his briefcase. The two kilograms of plastic explosive were fitted with an acid/wire detonator for silent operation. The wire held back a firing pin against the pull of a spring.
Stauffenberg carried a pair of pliers in his left trouser pocket. His crippled left hand could still exert sufficient force to break a capsule of acid in a flexible sleeve. The acid would take fourteen to sixteen minutes, depending on the ambient temperature, to eat through the wire. The bomb contained enough explosive to kill every single person in a closed conference room.
Stauffenberg was that most dangerous of enemies - a believer in Nazism who had lost his faith. He came from an ancient and respected Catholic family, and his religion played an important part in his life. He was a well-read sportsman and horseman, who had considered music or architecture as his career. He had been a soldier since the age of nineteen, starting his career as an officer cadet in a cavalry regiment. A posting to the War Academy in Berlin had followed ten years later.
Stauffenberg had distinguished himself as a staff officer with the 6th Panzer Division under General Höpner in Poland and France. He had lost his faith in Adolf Hitler during the Russian campaign, sickened by the brutality of the SS, the systematic extermination of Bolshevik political officers, and the pointless sacrifice of the army trapped in Stalingrad. He had been unable to come to terms with conflicting military and political objectives.
Stauffenberg had been severely injured two months after the surrender at Stalingrad. At first, he had not been expected to survive. Then his doctors had feared that he would be totally blind. Typically, Stauffenberg had asked for a posting to the front immediately after his discharge from hospital. He had been sent to the 10th Panzer Division in Tunisia. He had decided during his convalescence that his life had been spared because he had still to perform an important mission. He believed now that it was his destiny to rid his country of the Nazis and end the war.
Two lines of argument ran through the conspirators' camp. One group was afraid that if they overthrew the Nazis and surrendered to the Allies, they might create another stab in the back myth like the one left over from World War One. The Nazis had made very able use of the political sell-out of armed forces that had not been defeated on the battlefield during the Great War, and the ensuing humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles.
Another faction believed that overthrowing the Nazis and negotiating peace would be no protection against an occupation of their country, but they believed that it would prevent the Russians from spreading their poisonous creed by force in a Reich under British and American protection. They hoped that the Western Allies would go easy on a reborn, non-Nazi Germany, knowing how much Winston Churchill hated the Bolsheviks. They expected Churchill to oppose the concept of Stalin having influence in territory which he had been unable to conquer. They feared that a communist Germany would be little different from Germany under the Nazis.
Disposing of Adolf Hitler and as many of the other leaders of the Nazi Party as possible remained an essential element of strategy to all of the conspirators. Their task was made more complicated by the deliberate irregularities that Hitler and his bodyguards introduced into his life as routine anti-assassination precautions.
Stauffenberg had already made one attempt to kill the Führer. He had arranged to deputize for General Olbricht at a staff conference at Rastenburg on Boxing Day in 1943. Hitler had then decided to spend Christmas on the Obersalzberg above Berchtesgaden.
Seven months later, the conspirators were aware that time was running out for them. The longer they talked instead of taking action, the greater the chance of betrayal, especially when they had to take the risks of meeting certain essential members of the conspiracy, who were high on the Gestapo's most wanted list.
The swift change of tempo in the war following the opening of the Normandy front was another factor in their plans. If they failed to act soon, there was a real danger that they would be overtaken by events. If they were unable to overthrow the Nazis before the Allies won the war, they would have no influence in the postwar world.
At a meeting the night before the conference, the rebels had confirmed that it was essential to kill Göring and Himmler as well as Hitler so that the Luftwaffe and the SS would not be used against them. Such comprehensive success would, they hoped, persuade uncommitted generals on the fighting fronts to join the military coup.
Keyed up for action, Stauffenberg felt let down badly when he saw that Himmler was absent from the early afternoon staff conference. He left to telephone General Olbricht in Berlin to assure him that he could still account for Hitler and Göring. Olbricht told him to wait until he could kill all three main targets. It was a disappointment, but there would be other chances in the near future.
Stauffenberg's meeting with the Führer was full of unconscious irony. He received lavish praise as an officer who continued to do his duty despite severe injuries, and compliments on his plans to supply the fighting fronts with badly needed replacements. Stauffenberg had done such a thorough job only to prove that disaster would follow if Himmler got his hands on the Replacement Army.
Praying that none of Hitler's inquisitive bodyguards would dare to search his briefcase, Stauffenberg accepted the praise of the man whose death he sought. He was the only person in the spacious conference room capable of appreciating the irony of his own definition of duty, which had brought him to the presence of his supreme commander with an enemy bomb in his briefcase.
Oskar Weinkenner kept his eyes in motion as he followed the orderly to the command post. He noted the contrast between Hitler's magnificent chalet and the luxury villas for his entourage on the one hand, and the functional concrete of the barracks for the SS guards and the sand-bagged entrances to the air raid shelters. The perimeter of the site was well stocked with 88-millimetre anti-aircraft guns, backed up with grouped cannons and machine guns to tackle low-level raiders; all tastefully screened by trees and flowering shrubs.
The guard details looked like toy soldiers. Their lint-free, pure black uniforms with silver facings looked tailor-made. Boots, buckles and decorations threw back the noon sun with an aggressive glare. If smartness could win wars, the Allies stood no chance against the polished perfection of the Führer's SS Begleitkommando. But the glitter also spoke of pride, high morale and instant obedience.
His guide showed Weinkenner along corridors in the command post to the office of Sturmbannführer Egon Fripp, who was the adjutant at Obersalzberg to the head of the Reichssicherheitsdienst, Johann Rattenhuber. Weinkenner dumped his flight bag with the rest of his luggage and shook the hand of an officer of the same rank. Two minutes later, Fripp waved him into the boss's office.
Johann Rattenhuber held the rank of Oberführer, the SS equivalent of brigadier, but he was wearing a comfortable civilian suit; pre-war from the cut and the comfortable hint of bagginess. He was a tall Bavarian in his sixtieth year. He looked more like a senior civilian policeman than a soldier to Weinkenner, who had had his fair share of brushes with authority. Weinkenner returned a firm handshake and dropped onto the straight-backed chair at the desk when invited to sit. Rattenhuber glanced through Weinkenner's orders, then added them to a bulky folder.
"An eventful life for one so young," he remarked.
"All that's about me?" Weinkenner sounded alarmed and pleased to be worth so much paper.
Rattenhuber nodded. "And I've read every word. You were born on October nineteenth, 1916, three months after your father, Peter Falkenberg, fell for Kaiser and Vaterland on the Somme battlefront. Your mother married an American of German birth, Herr Weinkenner, in 1921. She died of influenza in 1934 at your home in New York. Your stepfather was shot to pieces by rival gangsters two years later. You were working for his organization as a pilot by then.
"You left the United States on St. Valentine's Day in 1937, one jump ahead of the FBI, who wanted to question you about nine murders. You served with some distinction with our forces in Spain, mainly flying Ju52 transport aircraft to move supplies and troops to and from the battle fronts. You were more or less thrown out of the Luftwaffe in 1942 for running your own airline with Herr Göring's aircraft.
"The Abwehr rescued you, if that's the right word, as you were about to face court martial. They put you in Special Unit Brandenburg. You flew special agents around the Caucasus for the rest of the summer of 1942, and similar missions of a confidential nature thereafter. Successive commanding officers have described you as undisciplined to the point of criminality; understandable from your background; but one hell of a pilot.
"In short, Weinkenner, you have displayed an extraordinary talent for preserving both your own skin and your CO's; for which Gruppenführer Oserich has cause to be grateful. I understand you landed his plane with a bullet in your guts and wings like soggy pancakes, and he walked away without a scratch."
"Some people have got a charmed life." Weinkenner shrugged. "And wasn't it Napoleon who said he wanted lucky generals? That's why they call him Glücklicher Oserich."
"So," said Rattenhuber, "have you divined the nature of your next assignment?"
"Personal pilot to one of the top brass? It can't be the Führer. He's got two already, both first-rate men." There was nothing dismissive in Weinkenner's tone. He was looking forward to a safe, cushy number and he enjoyed flying.
"Close. You'll be personal pilot, chauffeur and bodyguard to a man whose importance to our country could be as great as the Führer's."
"Isn't that treason? Saying someone's as important as the Führer? All right if I smoke?"
"As long as you do it discreetly. Thank you." Rattenhuber accepted a Senior Service. "One thing that's vital to remember is you never smoke in the sight of, or, God forbid, in the Führer's presence. Or in any room he's likely to use."
"I heard he's fanatically anti-smoking."
"And he doesn't have to put up with others doing it around him." Rattenhuber dipped his cigarette into the flame of an American lighter made from a cartridge case. "Just remember to think twice at least before you light up around here."
Weinkenner shrugged again. "I'll do my best. Who's my VIP?"
"Professor Doktor Rolf Marzius. You'll meet him later this afternoon. I'm in deadly earnest about his importance."
"Can't say I've ever heard of him."
"Lose him and you needn't bother coming back yourself."
"Like that, eh? I suppose I have no choice about this job?"
"The Führer picked you out personally. You'll be meeting him this afternoon as well. You're to be on your best behaviour. Speak only when spoken to, don't mumble, and for God's sake, don't be facetious."
"I'd better get another shave."
"And your uniform pressed, and your boots polished. It's too late to get you up to Begleitkommando standards, but do your best."
"I saw the tin soldiers on the way here," grinned Weinkenner. "They looked very pretty. Not yours, surely?"
"Correct." Rattenhuber nodded. "I command the RSD, which consists of a number of units concerned with the security of individual members of the leadership. Needless to say, Dienststelle Eins, under Standartenführer Hoegl, protects the Führer. Hoegl is another of the people you'll meet this afternoon. RSD personnel are drawn mainly from the police detective force, not commando units like the one you came from."
"I thought you looked more like a cop than a soldier. Sir." Weinkenner threw in a belated acknowledgement of the other man's superior status. Despite his air of correctness, Rattenhuber was having a dangerously disarming effect on Weinkenner.
"The tin soldiers of the Begleitkommando are under Obersturmführer Schedle. They're not too bright, but they're loyal and they do a good job of guarding buildings. They provide a first line of deterrence. We supplement it with less obvious security precautions. Questions so far?"
"Who's my CO and where am I based?"
"You'll be under my personal command, based at Professor Marzius' clinic at Zell, about thirty-five kilometres west of here in a straight line; nearer fifty by road through our mountains."
"Not far from Salzburg," Weinkenner said thoughtfully.
"A question for you: are you, as your name suggests, a connoisseur of wine?"
Weinkenner shrugged. "I've never been able to get my hands on enough good stuff to be pretentious about it.".
"What about your drinking?"
"Not touched a drop since last night."
"I hear you're a bottle-a-day man."
"Have you ever been terrified, Herr Detective."
"Terrified of dying?"
"Terrified of being burned to death or ripped to pieces and screaming out your last hours. Too scared to get out of your chair when the boss orders you into action."
"Not in the way someone in your high-risk profession can be terrified. Not personally. But I've seen people in that state when they get on the wrong side of the Führer."
"When you're young, the excitement gets you out of that chair. A stiff drink does it when you get older. Another drink can keep you going afterwards."
"You consider yourself old at twenty-seven?" Rattenhuber frowned at a man less than half his own age.
"I've been flying since I was fifteen. I've had two dozen serious crashes. People have been trying to kill me for twice as long as this war's been going on. I'm using my luck up at a hell of a rate. Age is a matter of experience, not years."
"And the Führer is relying on that experience and your remaining luck to protect Professor Marzius."
"Is anyone trying to kill him?" Weinkenner asked with a frown.
"No more than any other member of the German race. He's not a specific assassination target, like the Führer, or Churchill, or Stalin; not yet. But bombs fall and Allied raiders shoot up cars, trains, and transport planes, as you well know. You job is to keep him safe if he runs into danger. At the risk of your own life, if necessary. Which brings us back to your drinking."
"It was never more than half a bottle of spirits a day. Or three or four bottles of wine, depending on what we could lay our hands on. Priming to turn the engine over or keep the cold out. I was never incapable when it counted. Gruppenführer Oserich will confirm that. Parties are another matter, of course."
"Very well." Rattenhuber's tone told Weinkenner that he would be kept under observation until further notice. "Your kit has been taken to the VIP hotel, not the SS barracks, to a room next to Professor Marzius. Get yourself presentable and have some lunch. And have your orderly sew on these shoulder flashes to identify you as part of my outfit."
"Am I going to have to buy a new uniform?" Weinkenner put on a pained look. He was dressed in the green uniform with black collars of the Waffen SS as opposed to the solid black of the Begleitkommando.
"Not necessarily," Rattenhuber decided. "It helps if my people don't all look the same. It keeps outsiders guessing. Your new passes are in here too. Countersign them right away." Rattenhuber passed a cellophane envelope across the desk. "And make sure you don't smell of cigarette smoke or drink when you meet the Führer. Especially not cigarette smoke. Dismissed."
Weinkenner stubbed out his cigarette in a Wehrmacht-green ashtray and rose to his feet. He clicked his heels and offered a raised arm, Party salute because he felt that it was expected of him.
"That's another thing," said Rattenhuber. "You only salute me when I'm in uniform. Never, ever when I'm in civilian clothing. In fact, when I'm in civvies, I'm invisible unless I tell you otherwise. Clear?"
"As iced vodka," Weinkenner said with a nod.
He returned to the adjutant's office. An orderly siting in a corner snapped to attention. Sturmbannführer Fripp offered a pen and showed him where to sign his passes. Then Weinkenner set off with his porter to the VIP hotel.
Oberführer Rattenhuber opened the file on his desk and took out a handwritten sheet of notes. The reports in the file had led him to conclusions that the interview had reinforced. Oskar Weinkenner took after his dead American stepfather. He was basically a cocky gangster, who treated rules as challenges rather than fences. His average build presented less of a target to a bullet than an impressive physique, and his intelligence was above average.
Weinkenner was ideally suited to clandestine operations. When he was convinced that there were distinct personal advantages in keeping Dr. Marzius alive, he would make an ideal chauffeur and bodyguard. As usual, the Führer had made a wise choice in accepting a recommendation from the head of the RSD. Rattenhuber wrote probably not a problem? beside the comments on Weinkenner's drinking. Gruppenführer Oserich's assurance needed confirmation.
As he padded round his spacious hotel room in red dressing gown and black slippers, opening drawers to find out where his meagre stock of possessions had been hidden, Weinkenner thought briefly about his new boss. Rattenhuber was a typical product of the Kriminalpolizei's detective branch. Sneaking about invisibly, building files and getting the goods on people would be as much a hobby as work to that type.
Rattenhuber was to be treated with formal respect and not trusted one single millimetre. At the same time, Weinkenner did not feel unduly threatened. Rattenhuber was no J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI had spent years trying and failing to catch up with Winkie Weinkenner and Son. The Rizzio Mob had closed the file on Weinkenner Senior. Weinkenner Junior felt most threatened by the gangsters-in-uniform of the American and British air forces.
Rattenhuber, clearly visible in his perfect, black uniform with silver trimmings, took Weinkenner along on a tour of inspection after lunch. Weinkenner felt unusually constricted in his newly pressed best uniform despite the weight lost in the hospital. He had never suspected that his boots could take such a high gloss. He was aware of every speck of dust that landed on them as he fought an urge to grab his crotch to ease the compression of vital organs. He had consumed just a modest half-bottle of wine with his lunch of roast pork and creamed potatoes, and none of the available liqueurs with what had tasted like real coffee made from real coffee beans.
He had hung his uniform in the en suite bathroom, changed into his dressing gown, and smoked the cigarette with his coffee at an open window. Then he had brushed his teeth. Strolling around in a dressing gown had made him feel like a hospital patient again. The main difference was that no one had hidden his clothes to stop him sneaking away to desert.
Weinkenner noted for future reference the efficiency and attitude of the toy-soldier sentries. They were well schooled in the essential art of maintaining space for action, and they worked in pairs. When one was engaged in a task, such as checking a pass, the other's attention revolved like a fighter pilot's, watching for disturbances elsewhere in the camp's routine. Weinkenner imagined them playing battle games throughout their duty period, expecting enemies round every corner, seeing a threat in every hand that reached into a pocket. Acts of banditry under their noses would be difficult, but not impossible for a man of Weinkenner's training.
A busy hour walking round the site with Rattenhuber left Weinkenner with a jumble of names and faces in his memory. He felt confident about fixing the important ones in short order. Hoegl, C.O. of the Führer's personal guard, was another detective type. He had subjected Weinkenner to a penetrating stare, as if X-raying his pockets for stolen silver cutlery. Schedle, the C.O. of the tin soldiers, looked like a typical member of the Rule-Book Cavalry.
Eventually, Rattenhuber led Weinkenner to the conference chamber. A staff briefing began promptly at 2.30 p.m. on every afternoon when the Führer was in residence. There were four public approach routes to the large room. Three were closed and guarded. Rattenhuber always manned the fourth - a wide entrance hall.
All officers attending the conference had to wear a dress belt without a holstered pistol. Rattenhuber checked everybody visually for concealed weapons, and he was not afraid to give a general a body-search if he felt suspicious.
When the door closed behind a tardy stenographer at 2.29 p.m., Rattenhuber made the sentries recite their routine for an air raid alert. They were just finishing when the sound of heel-clicks and muffled Heil Hitlers filtered through the double doors. The Führer had arrived by his own door. Rattenhuber put his eye to a lens concealed in ornamentation, then nodded satisfaction.
"Now, we shall meet Professor Marzius," he announced.
The sentries clicked from attention to stand-at-ease. They were not permitted to stamp their feet and make loud noises when the Führer was in the next room. The two officers headed for the Berghof, Hitler's luxurious retreat. Weinkenner was allowed on to the terrace to whistle at the spectacular and windy view over the Bavarian Alps. Then he followed Rattenhuber into the heart of the chalet.
The building had a typical alpine design - two storeys with a steeply pitched, overhanging roof and a first-floor balcony with the obligatory long, flowing swastika banner hanging from it. A first-class hotel's air of quiet luxury reigned within. No expense had been spared on carpets, curtains, furniture and decoration. Hitler's income from royalties on Mein Kampf had topped one million Reichsmarks in 1934, and that had been just the beginning.
The staff remained out of sight as a matter of routine, but a gesture from the right person made them appear in an instant. Weinkenner imagined them in constant motion through secret passages, sneaking into temporarily unoccupied rooms to clean and polish when the opportunity arose, fading away like a ghost when they had finished.
His first impression of Dr. Marzius was of a tall, balding and thoroughly preoccupied man in his fifties. Weinkenner had to look up to meet brown eyes that seemed to be focussed on a point some distance behind his head. Dr. Marzius was about the age that his stepfather would have reached had the Rizzio Brothers not sent two soldiers with Tommy guns to stop Winkie Weinkenner's clock. The doctor looked too busy every to have had the time to become a father.
They met in an office at the back of the building. After shaking his new watchdog's hand, Dr. Marzius kept the two officers standing in front of the neatly ordered desk while he completed some notes on a printed form. He enclosed the form in a bulky blue folder, which he locked in a steel cabinet behind his desk.
"Be seated, gentlemen." Dr. Marzius seemed to rediscover the visitors. "Coffee?"
Weinkenner nodded in concert with Rattenhuber, then he perched on a rosewood chair with dark green upholstery, trying to protect the creases in his trousers. Dr. Marzius put on a pair of severe, gold-rimmed spectacles with square lenses to examine his visitors. He had a mild case of myopia. The natural effects of ageing allowed him to read unaided. He needed his glasses to bring more distant objects to a sharp focus. He removed the glasses again to attended to several items of routine paperwork while a steward in a white jacket served the coffee.
"Thank you, Eberhard, that will be all," Dr. Marzius said with a smile.
The steward replied with a deep nod or a shallow bow, and ghosted out of the office. Weinkenner withdrew his gaze from the window and a view of distant, fluffy clouds. Dr. Marzius polished his glasses with a beige cloth taken from the case, then he donned them to make a more thorough inspection of Oskar Weinkenner.
"Another SS-man," he said with a faint note of disapproval. "You have a decent suit, Major, is it? I can never get the hang of SS ranks. And they're all such a dreadful mouthful."
"Major is near enough, Herr Professor," said Weinkenner. "And I haven't even got an indecent suit. My one and only went up in smoke one night when the britische Luftwaffe flattened our billet. I haven't had the opportunity or the need to replace it."
"Perhaps my budget will stretch to something suitable. Or will yours?" Dr. Marzius looked in question at Rattenhuber, who smiled a negative back at him. "Well, what have you told him?" the doctor added.
"About his job - it's his responsibility to protect you, Herr Professor," said Rattenhuber.
"And about Herr Müller?"
"I was saving that honour for you."
"In that case, you had better issue the customary dire warnings," said Dr. Marzius.
Weinkenner returned his cup to the saucer. He sensed that he was about to receive a coffee-spilling shock.
"The information you're about to receive has no security rating," said Rattenhuber. "If anything, it would be ultra-ultra-top-secret. But the creation of a suitable classification would reveal there's something that needs it. Self-defeating. You will not discuss that which you are about to see and hear with anyone but myself, Professor Marzius, and certain others named by us. Clear?"
Weinkenner nodded. "As far as it goes. If I do blab, I end up as a sticky mess on the floor? After suitable torture, of course. Are you sure I can be trusted with such an important secret?"
"Your file tells me you're bright enough to see the benefits that this knowledge will bring, and experienced enough to know you can't escape the consequences of treachery. Who better than a former Brandenburger to know exactly what our SS friends can accomplish when they put their minds to it?"
"Message received and understood," said Weinkenner. "Well, if everything was decided long before I came on the scene, may I know what the secret is now?"
Rattenhuber looked at his watch. "We have an appointment first. Then the professor will reveal all."
Dr. Marzius ushered the visitors into the corridor, then locked the office door. A sentry posted five metres down the corridor watched the operation between glances in the other direction for approaching danger. Dr. Marzius told him that there were coffee cups to be collected. Weinkenner bit back a smile, wondering if the steward would run into and out of the empty office, fearing a bullet from the tin-soldier sentry if he spent one suspicious second too long inside.
Dr. Marzius headed for a turning in the corridor. Rattenhuber and Weinkenner went the other way to the side door. An expectant silence between them lasted right up to the door of the nearby conference building. Rattenhuber checked his watch, told Weinkenner to give his pistol to the sentry, then ushered him inside. Weinkenner had just enough time to flick his toecaps with his handkerchief before the double doors opened.
Moving like an automaton, Weinkenner marched through the applause to the Führer's position in the centre of a long side of the conference table. An aide read an extravagant citation composed by Gruppenführer Oserich. The Führer draped a medal and ribbon around his neck, then shook his hand warmly. Weinkenner had been awarded the Knight's Cross of the Order of the Iron Cross. Flash bulbs exploded to record the creation of another German hero.
The assembled top brass applauded again while Weinkenner offered surprised thanks. The Führer shook his hand again. Then Rattenhuber marched Weinkenner out again to recover in the fresh, mountain air. The conference turned to further reports, copies of which had been distributed during the interlude.
"Well, what's it feel like to be a hero?" chuckled Rattenhuber as they headed back to the Berghof.
"Thanks a lot for the warning." Weinkenner realized that he was still holding his pistol, which the sentry had returned. He was not too dazed to check that it was still loaded before stuffing it into his holster. "What did I say to him?"
"It was fairly intelligent," grinned Rattenhuber.
He took them to a freight elevator behind the scenes in Hitler's chalet. There were chrome-plated panels inside. Weinkenner studied his mildly distorted image and tried to decide if the new medal made him look taller. The elevator descended two levels. Rattenhuber used a key to unlock the doors. They stepped into a white corridor with a floor of red tiles.
"An ultra-ultra-top-secret area?" said Weinkenner.
Rattenhuber nodded. "That's right. We're one level below the tunnels between the Berghof and the other villas."
Weinkenner walked with Rattenhuber to an unmarked green door. Dr. Marzius was sitting at the desk in a spartan office, studying a wad of papers and making entries in a thick stiff-backed notebook packed with protruding sheets of curling, ruled paper. Rattenhuber took one of the chairs facing the blank, pale green back wall. He waved Weinkenner to the other chair. The lights went out.
When a section of the wall's painted panelling slid upwards, Weinkenner found himself looking through a window into a long room behind the office; through a half-silvered mirror fixed to the wall in there. It was an old police and gang-boss trick, use to watch people unsuspected. The inner room looked like a chemistry laboratory, perhaps something left over from the good old days of Prohibition. There were tubes of glass and red rubber, pumps, motors, dials, all sorts of bits and pieces.
Some of the glass tubes were full of a thick, red fluid, which made Weinkenner think of hospitals. He was ready for the bed when his eyes moved to the left to take in the rest of the large room. There was a man in an armless hospital gown and black trousers lying on the bed, feet toward the mirror. He had dark brown hair. When he turned his head to the front to speak to an unseen orderly, Weinkenner saw the familiar toothbrush moustache.
"Doktor Frankenstein, I presume," he remarked, half to himself. "What in hell's name is all that about? And more to the point, who's that in there?"
"You have been the victim of a small deception," Dr. Marzius said behind him. "The man who presented you with your medal was Herr Müller. A doppelgänger, whom you found totally convincing, I'm pleased to say."
"That was a double?" gasped Weinkenner. "But... I can't believe anyone could be so convincing. With a dozen generals there. I mean, everyone knows the Führer..."
"The deception relies on that single fact," chuckled Rattenhuber. "Who would dare to suspect that the face the whole world knows belongs to an imposter in his own headquarters? But I assure you - Herr Müller is just an excellent copy. Just how excellent, you'll be able to judge for yourself in a very few minutes when you meet the genuine article."