With the Eagles
THERE WAS A DIFFERENT TEMPO TO LIFE on the mountain above Berchtesgaden when the VIPs were absent; or thought to be elsewhere. Just the maintenance staff stayed on to keep the villas clean and aired. The sentries worked a five-day rota to keep them sharp: four days on then a day off. When they were guarding just buildings, their officers threw in extra training exercises.
It was a nerve-racking time for both parties. The sentries carried live ammunition. They were under orders to shoot if someone failed to respond correctly to a challenge. Their officers and NCOs tried to sneak past them to plant thunderflashes in corridors and offices, aware that an over-excited guard could end a promising career in an instant.
If three rings on the camp's alarm bells followed a muffled explosion, everyone else could ignore it. If those organizing the exercise decided to add on a hunt for the successful saboteur, life became miserable for everyone on the site. Irritating identity checks and searches continued day or night until the saboteur was identified.
The signals staff remained as busy as ever. They kept the situation maps in the conference room up to date behind windows shuttered to prevent unauthorized persons viewing secret information. Hitler received a private view of the map board via his closed-circuit television system. He also received copies of the diaries of incoming and outgoing signals. All the necessary information for the conduct of the war flowed into Berlin and out to Berchtesgaden, Rastenburg, and a temporary base elsewhere if the Führer was on the road.
Security at the Berghof remained as tight as ever. While protecting Hitler, who had stayed on unsuspected in the sub-basement, the sentries were there to exclude assassins with time bombs. The Gestapo knew that five such attempts had been foiled, or had failed of their own accord, in the last sixteen months. They had warned Rattenhuber that a sixth plot seemed to be reaching the boil. Rattenhuber was living on his nerves again.
Sturmbannführer Oskar Weinkenner groaned inwardly when his car arrived in Berchtesgaden on a bright Tuesday afternoon a week after his release from hospital. There was a double guard on the cable railway and the road up to the Obersalzberg, a sure sign of a security alert higher up the mountain. The corporal of the guard checked his identity card and the three passes that gave him free access to all parts of the upper camp. Then the corporal made a telephone call to confirm that Weinkenner was entitled to travel up the mountain on the winding road.
Weinkenner, slumped in the back of a Mercedes with RSD flags on either wing, lit an army-issue cigarette. He had smoked his Senior Service. German tobacco tasted very strange in comparison. He had enjoyed an all too short lunch with Heidi Reifendorf in Salzburg. Their friendship had acquired the stamp of permanency. Heidi's friends at the hospital had been profoundly impressed by his gift of a whole kilogram of mixed nuts, which they had shared enthusiastically. They felt that any man who could conjure up that sort of gift despite the stringent wartime rationing had to be in earnest.
After lunch, a meal memorable more for the company than the food, Weinkenner had retired to a newspaper library within smelling range of a brewery. He needed ammunition for his midnight sessions with Hitler. His freshest memories of life in America's gangsterland were eight years old. He had lived through a wealth of equally vivid experiences since then.
He could remember some parts of his older adventures in full. It was embarrassing to realize that he had forgotten important peripheral details of others such as dates and places. Hitler demanded high standards of accuracy; hence the trip to Salzburg with his notebook after morning flying practice.
A sentry who knew him by sight checked Weinkenner's papers at the camp's main gate.
"How long's the panic been going on?" Weinkenner muttered.
"Twenty minutes, Sturmbannführer," the sentry murmured without moving his lips. "Saboteurs in the VIP hotel."
"I hope to hell they didn't use my room. Those damned thunderflashes stink for hours afterwards."
"All in order!" The sentry barked a formal report to the corporal in charge of the barrier. "Pass one vehicle!"
The car cruised round the parade ground to the hotel. As Weinkenner was getting out, the camp's broadcast system clicked on. Three long rings on the alarm bell announced that the exercise was over. The saboteur had been cornered. There would be a review and modifications to standing orders, if necessary, in due course. Then the game would resume.
The thunderflash had exploded in one of the ground-floor sitting rooms. As he approached the hotel's main entrance, Weinkenner could see open windows and electric fans pushing the smell out over flower beds. Obersalzberg glowed with bright flowers. There were big, wooden tubs of them on the terraces of the villas, and the concealing shrubs around the flak batteries were masses of yellow or white blooms. If it were not for the uniforms, the armed sentries and the sand-bagged gun positions, the camp would have looked like a holiday resort for the very rich.
Weinkenner threw his briefcase onto a chair when he reached his room. He shed belt, cap, tunic, boots and his Knight's Cross. Heidi had been very impressed by the medal. It proved that he was a genuine hero. Someone of Weinkenner's age, twenty-seven, was too young to have won it through flying a desk for several decades. It also commanded better service from waiters in cafés.
Shirt collar open, sleeves rolled up and wearing his black slippers, Weinkenner rang for his orderly. He ordered a pot of coffee, then he settled down at the writing desk to prepare his script. Hitler expected him to perform from memory, but he felt more confident when he had sketched out a story on paper first. That night's lecture would include Blue Jaw Magoon's original approach to handling trade unions.
Weinkenner had his own key to open the elevator doors at the level below the Berghof's cellars. He entered Dr. Marzius' office at ten to midnight. He wanted to check on his audience's condition before he performed. Dr. Marzius was looking tired but pleased with himself.
"What sort of mood is he in?" Weinkenner nodded toward the panel closing the observation mirror as he surrendered his pistol.
Dr. Marzius yawned. "In fairly good spirits."
"How come he's on the Infernal Machine today? I thought it was every other day. He was on it yesterday."
"He has to go to Berlin tomorrow, and on to Rastenburg for a meeting with Mussolini on the twentieth, Thursday. And he's looking and feeling much better. Due as much to a week away from that quack Morell's potions as my treatment, but try to tell him that."
"We've got a Müller at Rastenburg. Why can't he take care of Musso? Surely he's a spent force now? It must be a year since the Eyeties chucked him out. I know because I was nearly in on Operation Oak when Skorzeny went in to rescue him. Only my General wouldn't let me go. I was too valuable to waste on such a hare-brained scheme, he said."
Dr. Marzius shrugged. "It's the Reichskanzler's decision. He has a soft spot for Mussolini and he shall go to Berlin tomorrow. And that is the end of that. We are going with him, of course. I have some tests to conduct."
"You might have told me," Weinkenner said indignantly. "I've got a date for tomorrow."
"My summons from Rastenburg will arrive tomorrow morning. If you start packing in advance, people will think you have psychic powers, and we have quite enough of that nonsense around at the moment."
"Oh?" Weinkenner returned with a frown.
"I suppose you know Himmler is steeped in it? He says he's a medium. He says he can call up the dead to order." Dr. Marzius put on a scornful expression.
"You're kidding!" gaped Weinkenner.
"And the Reichskanzler is also very interested in astrology and the occult; which carries over into his attitude to medicine. He has alarmingly little respect for orthodox medicine. As far as I can gather, he believes in a form of mystic self-healing. A sort of Christian Science without the Christianity. He likes to think he can control his own health by the power of his will. Plus some fine-tuning by that quack Morell."
"So that's why you can't overrule Morell?"
"For the moment. Of course, my Infernal Machine is hardly orthodox, which gives me a certain status in the mysticism game. And my work at Zell is on the frontiers and beyond current medicine."
"Talking of Zell, you mentioned the guy I replaced has an infection of some sort," Weinkenner said with studied casualness. "Not something he picked up there?"
"A severe case of influenza," Dr. Marzius replied with a smile. "Something he could have picked up anywhere. We are not involved in warfare by disease at Zell. Quite the reverse."
"You don't have to tell me how bad flu can be, Doc. It killed my mother. That and a weak heart. How long will we be in Berlin?"
"At least long enough to have you measured for two decent suits. We shall leave for Rastenburg in the late evening, most likely, arriving in the middle of the night. It's easier to smuggling in my associate, Herr Müller, at night. Fewer people around to watch comings and goings."
"According to Rattenhuber, the Wolfsschanze is a dump. He doesn't like East Prussia one bit. He's more at home here, on his home ground."
"It's certainly a horrible place in winter: damp, concrete rooms and respiratory diseases. And it's not much better in the summer with the heat trapped in the forest, and the flies and mosquitos. No flower beds and pretty hospital administrators. Just a canopy of trees and nets to hide everything from the air, and Hoegl's RSD-men sneaking around watching everyone. And Schedle's Begleitkommando gleaming like Christmas trees and itching to shoot someone for failing to respond to a challenge quickly enough."
"Just like here," grinned Weinkenner. "Well, I'd better get on parade."
"Tell me, all your stories of gangsters, how much is factual?"
"Most of it. My father used to hang around with some pretty desperate characters. And I used to listen in before I was old enough to join the poker games. I heard things to make your hair curl."
Smiling sceptically, Dr. Marzius passed a hand over his bald dome and glanced at Weinkenner's hospital stubble.
"Well, they made mine curl when it was longer," grinned Weinkenner. "And it's nearly midnight."
He walked briskly from the office to the anteroom nearer the elevator. He paused to pull his tunic straight and rub up his toecaps before entering the treatment room. A middle-aged nurse, brunette streaked with grey and glowing with a deep tan, sat at the desk in the corner. Weinkenner clicked his heels at the bed.
As usual, Hitler expressed genuine surprise at Weinkenner's preference for coffee over herbal tea. When the nurse brought his cup, Weinkenner launched into Blue Jaw Magoon's adventures with the New York labour unions. It was a strange occupation for a battle-hardened pilot, but it beat the hell out of being shot to pieces by Russian and American fighters.
Early the next morning, fighting off sleep, Weinkenner phoned apologies to Heidi Reifendorf. Then he collected a staff car in Berchtesgaden and drove two kilometres west along the valley to the airfield. He had made his first practice flight two days after his release from hospital; just half an hour of circuits and bumps in a trainer to get used to the routines of flying after a two-month enforced rest. His seventh daily flight was scheduled to last from 10:00 hours to 11:30 hours. He had a navigator aboard, but the flight was intended as a test of his ability to find his way around barely familiar mountains.
Weinkenner was feeling quite pleased with his performance as he coasted down to a cross-wind landing, engines popping, giving just enough power to hold the Heinkel transporter out of a stall, wings and flaps cupping the still air. He felt at one with the
machine as it planted wheels on the runway with scarcely a bump. He felt a little tired, but free of the can't do hospital mentality. Sitting down with his feet up during an all-day train journey sounded a good idea.
The most convenient route north from Berchtesgaden by rail was Salzburg-Linz-Prague-Dresden-Berlin. A pre-war tour of three different countries had become a swing through provinces of the Greater German Reich. Getting the Führersonderzug started on a journey had been likened to moving a travelling circus.
The list of essential personnel included a dozen aides and adjutants, two or three of Hitler's corps of secretaries, two physicians and a surgeon, a press contingent and Hoffman, the Führer's personal photographer, several Foreign Office staff, and the Führer's personal staff of three valets and two drivers.
In addition, there were over a dozen each of railway and catering staff, five railway policemen, three post office officials, the two girls whose sole duty it was to clean and count the mountain of silverware, and squads of both conventional military and SS bodyguards.
The train was followed by aircraft and dozens of cars in case the Führer decided to change his travel arrangements en route, in line with his policy of unpredictability. Every mode of transport had to be protected by flak gun crews, or a fighter escort, and the usual cordon of military police. This vast army of people on the move required field kitchens for their food, washing facilities, lavatories and places to sleep. Transporting the Head of State was an apparent logistic impossibility, which was achieved quite regularly.
Weinkenner, in his black flying overall, was fed up of having his identity checked by the time he was allowed, finally, to board the special train. He nodded to an unknown, bearded man when he reported to Dr. Marzius' compartment. The stranger was wearing smoked glasses and a smart suit with discreet checks. He was sitting at the window, half hidden from the platform by folds of a blue curtain.
"Off in five minutes, Herr Professor," Weinkenner said formally in the presence of a stranger. "They're loading the last of the mail now."
Dr. Marzius glanced at his watch. He was sitting diagonally opposite the stranger, at the corridor side of the compartment. The train was due to leave at noon. "I'm not going to complain about leaving two minutes late when we're always delayed at some point on such a long journey," the doctor remarked. "You know Herr Müller, of course."
Weinkenner, leaning in the doorway, stared at the bearded man, started to come to attention, then thought better of it. Dr. Marzius and the disguised Adolf Hitler burst into spontaneous laughter at his confusion.
"Sit down before you fall over, Weinkenner," chuckled Hitler. "You had a successful flight?"
Clutching his flight bag, Weinkenner dropped onto the padded seat beside Dr. Marzius. He found himself trying to sit to attention. He relaxed and stretched his legs across the aisle. "Very successful, Führ..., er, Herr Müller. I'm getting the touch back nicely."
"You like my beard?"
"It makes an amazing difference." Weinkenner allowed himself to stare at the neatly sculpted whiskers, which followed Hitler's jawline, surrounded his mouth, and merged invisibly with his natural moustache.
"It's extremely easy to wear," Hitler said with a smile. "Well ventilated. Essential if one is to wear it on an all-day train journey. Not that today's will be so long. We shall fly ahead to Berlin at Prague. Do you feel comfortable as a passenger in an aeroplane, Weinkenner? Göring always tells me he itches to take over the controls."
"I don't mind letting someone else do the driving, Führer. I have no illusions about being the only pilot in the world."
Hitler nodded. "A common experience of soldiers who have faced the enemy. We all learn that no one is indispensable in the final analysis. It's driven home when one receives a severe wound and our comrades are able to carry on in our absence. An experience we have shared."
"And could have done without? Even if it does show you how you personally can keep going after you've been hit, and how much you can survive."
"I certainly have no fond memories of being blinded by British gas. But it was just one of many trials; which include Professor Marzius' Infernal Machine."
"Which has allowed you to return to your other trials feeling better than you have for months, Herr Müller?" Dr. Marzius suggested.
"As if one could be anxious to resume the burdens of office." Hitler patted a well-stuffed briefcase on the seat beside him. He had carried it aboard the train personally in his role as Dr. Marzius' associate.
Whistles shrilled along the platform. Dr. Marzius reached for his own briefcase and his collections of reports.
"I'd better change out of my flying gear. Or they might send me to the cockpit at Prague," said Weinkenner.
"Join us for lunch," said Hitler. "Being Herr Müller leaves me free to get on with my work, but rather short of conversation partners."
"Delighted." Weinkenner was used to the role of chauffeur and pilot, who entertained the gang boss as a sideline. If not for the uniform, it would have been like being back in New York again.
The train started with a jerk as Weinkenner carried his flight bag into the corridor. Hitler was leaving his alpine retreat for the last time. RSD-men were lurking at either end of the corridor, assigned by Rattenhuber to watch over Dr. Marzius and his bearded colleague. Weinkenner had a wash in the nearer toilet, then changed into his second-best uniform in an empty compartment.
He lit a cigarette, then took off his boots and put his feet up on the seat opposite. A stiff breeze through the compartment whipped the smoke out through the window. Weinkenner had to close the window while he unfolded one of his maps to the correct area. As personal pilot to Dr. Marzius, who was always at Hitler's call, Weinkenner had to familiarize himself with the hazards on routes to and from major centres: Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Nuremburg, Rastenburg, Berchtesgaden, Zell, and so on.
One of the major problems was keeping track of the requirements for each of the square, air defence zones. Pilots were required to fly at a particular height at a particular time of day in each zone as an anti-intruder measure. Anyone failing to observe the requirements of the moment was liable to be shot at by over-eager flak crews or fighter pilots. Weinkenner felt that if he lasted any time in his new job, he would be well qualified to join an internal civilian airline when the war ended.
He was certain now that his job was less cushy than it had seemed. Associating with whoever was occupying Hitler's chair placed both Dr. Marzius and himself at risk if an assassin struck. If the secret of Hitler's ill health ever got out, Dr. Marzius would become a target in his own right. If he died, so did Oskar Weinkenner.
The train stopped at Salzburg for more mail after ten minutes. Lunch was served half way along the descent to Linz, another mail stop. Weinkenner offered some second-hand memories of John Dillinger to keep his supreme commander amused through the meal. His step-father had met the bank robber in Minneapolis, and again in Chicago shortly before the FBI had written the final chapter in the Dillinger legend.
After climbing through wooded uplands from Linz, the train descended into the Vltava Valley at Prague. Two staff cars and an armed escort were waiting to take Dr. Marzius and his party to the airfield. Another convoy was waiting at much-bombed Tempelhof airfield when the passenger transporter landed at seven o'clock on a bright summer evening.
A pair of Gestapo types took an interest in the party as it crossed a stretch of oily concrete to the cars. Weinkenner gave them an insolent stare in passing, wondering what would happen if they asked for identity documents and treated Herr Müller with their habitual arrogant insolence. Some instinct for self-preservation kept the Gestapo men leaning against their wall.
The party took over five rooms at a city-centre hotel: Hitler was flanked by Dr. Marzius and Weinkenner, who were flanked by RSD-men. Müller had exchanged his briefcase at the airport for one that was fatter and heavier. After carrying the briefcase to his supreme commander's room, Weinkenner left for his appointment with the tailor.
He had not been to Berlin for three months. The last visit had been ten hours of running around looking for a comrade. Hauptsturmbannführer Otto Severing had been sent home on much overdue leave. He had disappeared on a bender before the inbound train had come to a full stop. Weinkenner had had to borrow an ambulance to take him, flat on his back, to Scharnreich military airfield. Severing had taken two days to sober up fully. He was dead three days later.
Used to sneaking around small towns and villages, and remote stretches of countryside flat enough for him to land a light aircraft or a troop transporter, Weinkenner found a major city an interesting novelty. There were no white visibility hoops on trees and lamp posts where he fought his war, nor luminous kerbs. He had a talent for walking into obstacles in the total blackout of moonless countryside, and he had the scars to show for it.
The streets were fairly empty. Most people were busy with their evening meal, such as it was, or bracing themselves for the horrors to come in the night. It was a warm evening with just a few wisps of cloud in a clear, blue sky. Clear skies meant easier navigation for the bombers. It was a night when people would go to work in comparative safety and come home to a heap of rubble where their apartment building had been.
There was a strong smell of woodsmoke everywhere. Weinkenner did not know the city well enough to spot differences in bombed Berlin between early April and late July. The Allies had been pounding the city in earnest for eleven months now. The attitude of the local military establishment tended to be: the more bombs wasted on terror-bombing civilians, the fewer for factories and other military targets. Berlin was reaching the stage where the bombers were destroying the same pieces of shattered ground over and over as they searched for areas missed on previous trips, or fell for the decoy fires lit to divert them.
Coming straight from the pure mountain air at the Austrian border, Weinkenner was painfully aware of the brickdust fog in Berlin. Such red hazes hung over most cities now, providing quite spectacular sunsets at times. The clogging taste and the sharp tang of woodsmoke conspired to give him a powerful thirst. But duty came first.
Boards had replaced the display windows at the tailor's shop on once fashionable Schinkelstraße. Quite a few of the buildings were just a façade with blue sky beyond the bare window spaces at upper floors. Fragments of roof tile crunched underfoot as Weinkenner crossed the road. He had an hour and a half to get himself measured, quench his thirst, find some dinner and any other diversion available, and return to the hotel. The staging flight to meet the train at Thorn left at sunset. Herr Müller was due to arrive at Rastenburg at three in the morning. It was going to be a long, tiring day.
July 20, 1944
Martin Bormann became worried if Hitler stayed up much beyond 2 a.m., his usual bedtime. Too little sleep made the Führer bad tempered and more liable to upset the carefully planned routine at his Supreme H.Q. Wednesday became Thursday. The midnight staff conference became a tea party for a select group in the sitting room of the Führer's temporary billet. All of the windows were open to catch any movement of the humid air. It was a hot night among the pine trees. Knowing that a change-over was imminent, Bormann was content to let the party run on. The Führer would have plenty of time to rest when his Doppelgänger was on parade.
The Führer's throne-like armchair was the focus of attention, as usual. He had one of the set of massive chairs at each of his headquarters. Field Marshal Keitel, Chief of the Combined General Staff; General Jodl, his Chief of Operations; Gruppenführer Fegelein, Himmler's representative at Supreme H.Q.; an aide-de-camp; two of Hitler's team of secretaries; a stenographer left over from the conference; Bormann; and Heinz Linge, the duty valet, were struggling to keep their eyes open.
The Führer, stroking Blondi, the Alsatian bitch sitting by his chair, had been building castles in the air and discussing the necessity of Germany's proving itself worthy of him. Keitel chimed in with some of his customary soft soap, then he deflected the Führer onto a past triumph.
The Night of the Long Knives, a perennial favourite, had been forced on the Party by the Army at a time when the Nazi Party had been consolidating still its control of Germany. The elimination of Ernst Röhm and his paramilitary Brownshirts was seen now as a necessary counter-coup against dangerous elements, horror glossed over by time and expediency.
At the time, in the summer of 1934, the purge had almost led to a serious rift between Hitler and the execution cabal of Göring and Himmler. Hitler had complained bitterly that some of his closest friends had been murdered. In the end, he had been forced to accepted the slaughter as necessary, if not a good thing. Göring, vindictive by nature, had taken the opportunity to settle some old scores. The dead had included a newspaper editor, whom Göring had sued unsuccessfully for libel.
The Nazi Party's revenge for being driven by the Army into taking dangerous action against one of its military wings had been the disgrace of leading generals Fritsche and Blomberg. They had been shamed into resignation by Gestapo dirty tricks as part of its plan to achieve control of the armed forces. Fritsche, the victim of a trumped up charge of homosexuality, had been reinstated after the Führer had taken personal control of the armed forces. There had been no way back for ageing General Blomberg, whose new wife had been exposed as a former prostitute. Hitler had attended their wedding as a witness, and Blomberg had committed the unpardonable sin of involving the Führer in his scandal.
Bormann swallowed another yawn as Keitel droned on about how necessary it had been for Hitler to take supreme command of the Army in order to consolidate absolute and undivided control of all aspects of German society; and, by implication, how wise he had been to choose Wilhelm Keitel as the instrument of his authority over the whole of the armed forces.
There was as little comradely feeling between Bormann and Keitel as between Martin and his brother, Albert Bormann. Keitel considered Martin Bormann an opportunist non-entity and unworthy of notice; but he did refer to him occasionally as The Wine Waiter. The despised Bormann considered Keitel a windbag and a mere cypher. He called him The Lackey in contempt for Keitel's total submission to Hitler's will.
Although detested by many of Hitler's court, Bormann had no doubts about the security of his own position. He had taken over responsibility for constructing Hitler's chalet above Berchtesgaden as part of a campaign to make himself indispensable to a man of destiny. Bormann had taken the place of Rudolph Hess after the latter's forlorn peace mission to England in 1941. Now, he was the Führer's right-hand man.
Of the nine people grouped around the Führer's chair, only Bormann knew the true identity of its occupant and the full scope of the zodiac of doubles. Most of the others knew, or suspected, that doubles were used sometimes for parades or morale-boosting visits. None of them suspected that they sometimes dealt with one of the Herrn Müller for days on end.
Even Bormann could be fooled for long periods. Ill health and military reverses had left Hitler subject to violent changes of mood, which could be used by a double to escape from an awkward position. It took a braver man than Bormann to challenge the Führer when the slightest doubt existed. Double-check, double-cross, use extreme caution and watch your back constantly had always been the way of survival in the Third Reich.
On this occasion, the mood was jovial. The Führer ended the party at a quarter past two. An SS NCO collected Blondi for a final walk before lodging her in her kennel. Bormann was the last to shake the Führer's hand. He resisted the temptation to give Virgo's ankle a swift kick. He had rarely seen the zodiac's hypochondriac looking more cheerful.
For Erwin Enckes, the gut-wrenching tensions of his five-day spell of duty were coming to an end. Heinz Linge would put an imitation to bed in a room with four unadorned walls, which enclosed a wooden bed, a wardrobe, a single chair and a bedside table. Linge would bring breakfast to the real thing later that morning. Enckes welcomed the return to obscurity. He was looking forward to getting back to his secluded home on the outskirts of Berlin. He lived well clear of the bomb-run, and his RSD bodyguards ensured peace and privacy.
As he made what would have been his final rounds on a normal day, Oberführer Johann Rattenhuber's mind was full of the arrangements for the substitution. He had managed to snatch a couple of naps during the day. Many long years of service in the Kriminalpolizei and the RSD had taught him to divorce duty and the clock
Rattenhuber was working harder than ever as increasingly optimistic reports flowed in from Gestapo H.Q. They were closing in on a network of political opponents, which had infiltrated every level of society. Reading around the Gestapo's usual paranoia, Rattenhuber knew that a serious threat was materializing.
He was waiting at the station to receive Dr. Marzius and his party when their train arrived in the middle of the night. It was ten minutes early, having made the journey from Thorn in three and a quarter hours. The bearded Herr Müller allowed Weinkenner to carry his bulging brief-case to the car. Rattenhuber acknowledged Müller with a nod after greeting Dr. Marzius. Then he ignored the bearded subordinate as befitted a person of no great status.
Adolf Hitler was sleeping in his own bed as himself when Oberst Graf von Stauffenberg and his adjutant, Leutnant Werner von Häften, took off from Rangsdorf airfield after a thirty kilometre drive south from bomb-battered Berlin.
Stauffenberg had been summoned by Feldmarschall Keitel to report on the availability of Replacement Army units, which were needed to plug holes in the crumbling Ukrainian front. His briefcase was packed with documents. Among them was a timebomb wrapped in a spare shirt. Leutnant Häften was carrying a reserve bomb in his briefcase.
Five days on from the previous Saturday's Valkyrie fiasco, the bomb plot's success had become more urgent. An allied fighter had strafed Field Marshal Rommel's car on the Monday. An influential officer, whose support was vital to the credibility of the planned new regime, was now too badly injured to offer his endorsement.
On the Tuesday, Carl Gördeler, former mayor of Leipzig, who would become Chancellor on Hitler's death, had been warned by friends at police H.Q. in Berlin that Himmler had ordered his arrest. Stauffenberg had persuaded Gördeler to go into hiding. Also on Tuesday, one of the few naval officers involved in the coup attempt had warned Stauffenberg that the Gestapo was investigating a rumour circulating in the capital that the Führer's H.Q. would be blown up in the next few days.
As they began the three-hour flight out to Rastenburg, both Stauffenberg and Häften knew that someone had been indiscreet, and that the Gestapo could be closing in on the conspiracy's inner circle at that moment. It was the usual time for arrests - too early in the morning for suspects to be properly awake. Stauffenberg and Häften were well aware that their mission had acquired the urgency of sheer survival. Hitler had to die that
At their destination, Blondi was in a very boisterous mood when Sturmscharführer Tornow brought her over from her kennel after Hitler had finished his late breakfast. Oberführer Rattenhuber kept a close eye on everyone in the vicinity, especially Linge. Nobody appeared to notice any difference in the dog's behaviour to suggest a different response to a different man.
Rattenhuber had identified Hitler's dog as a major source of problems right at the start of the Zodiac operation. Blondi had to be introduced to each new member of the secret circle and made to believe that he was a friend of status equal to her master's. Rattenhuber saw Hitler's dog as an irreplaceable weak link in the chain of deception.
Everything hinged on the unthinkable. A double could take the salute at parades, shake hands and present medals, and spend a few hours at a concert or an opera. Nobody expected a double to preside at important staff conferences at which decisions vital to the conduct of the war were taken. Nobody expected a double to be able to treat the Führer's dog as his own.
It was simply beyond belief that the Führer, the man who snapped out commands in so positive a manner, was a mere image controlled from up to one thousand kilometres away.
The normal daily routines had been compressed on that July Thursday. Hitler had to reach the station by 2.30 p.m. to meet Mussolini's train. As usual on such a hot day, the first staff conference was to be held in the Lagebaracke. When the Eastern Front had been hundreds of kilometres away, the surface conference room had been a wooden hut measuring twelve and a half by five metres. A half-metre concrete shell had been added during the previous winter's hardening campaign to protect it from the effects of the massive air raids that Hitler feared. Gaps closed by external steel shutters had been left at the windows.
Sweating aides threw all ten windows wide open, made sure that the mosquito screens were in place and intact, then set to work laying out documents, pencils, pads and maps on the magnificent table. The top was a slab of oak measuring five and a half by one and a half metres. It weighed as much as nine men. Four men were needed to lift it to adjust the positions of its two massive supporting plinths. Experts said that anyone hiding beneath the table during an air raid would be as safe as someone cowering in the deepest shelter.
The Führer's chair stood at the centre of one of the long sides, back to the doors. The maps stacked there were carefully rechecked to make sure that they were in the right order. Hitler's powerful magnifying glass for small print received a special polish.
When everything was ready, the aides prayed for relief from air raids. Bringing the conference forward had been enough of a scramble. They were dreading having to transfer everything to the cooler but more cramped underground conference room.
Oskar Weinkenner was almost expecting the miracle when Dr. Marzius led him through an apparently solid wall in the Führer's personal air raid shelter. He made a mental note to try to spot which cracks formed the door's outline on the return journey. The secret tunnel was a tube of whitewashed concrete, two metres wide and two and a half tall, running parallel to the end wall of the shelter.
"This tunnel leads to a medical centre beside Herr Hitler's bedroom but ten metres below it." said Dr. Marzius. "Another tunnel leads to his guest villa for unofficial consultations." He opened a plain, white-painted door.
"Hell's teeth!" muttered Weinkenner as a wave of hot air washed over him. The tunnel had been pleasantly cool after the baking day above ground.
"Herr Müller feels the cold, even when the rest of us are roasting." The doctor's voice contained a note of irritation. "The hoist you can see facing us can be used to lower one Herr Hitler in his bed, substitute another, and raise him back to his bedroom in the manner of a stage magician. The mechanism is electrically powered, of course, and quite silent."
"You have one of your Infernal Machines here, Doc?"
"Not yet. But I hope the success of the week's treatment at Berchtesgaden will persuade the Reichskanzler he needs one here too. It would be more convenient to have the system installed in the neighbourhood of Berlin, but he spends very little time there these days."
A man in a plain blue dressing gown and blue slippers emerged from an inner room. Weinkenner moved to a position of attention out of habit. Dr. Marzius took his stethoscope out of his black bag. The man with the toothbrush moustache flopped onto a straight-backed chair. The room contained three such chairs, a bed, a desk, and cabinets of medical instruments and drugs. Cylinders of oxygen and other medical gases formed a patch of colour against one white wall. Clusters of lights on long, jointed arms could be swung to any desired position.
"You know Herr Weinkenner, of course," said Dr. Marzius as the seated man opened the front of his dressing gown to reveal a pale chest and dark hair.
"Of course," said one of the Herrn Müller. "I saw his file with the other briefing documents. I only hope my eyesight is equal to the strain of all this reading."
"How are you feeling otherwise?" said Dr. Marzius.
"I just mentioned I felt a cold coming on and that swine Morell gave me four injections!" Müller complained. "At ease, Weinkenner. Don't stand there like a stuffed dummy."
Weinkenner took a chair at the desk, half-turned away from the examination. He flicked through a week-old Berlin edition of Völkischer Beobachter to find out how well the war was going. German forces were winning great victories, or at least holding the line, on all fronts. The Allies, in contrast, were wasting their time and a lot of lives in Normandy, and the Russians were walking into a trap in the east.
Beside him, two metres away, Weinkenner could hear a catalogue of complaints delivered in what was undoubtedly Hitler's voice. Müller remained in character as if crammed into a mould and unable to regain his own shape when he was off parade.
Müller wanted to know when he could return to his lakeside villa near Trebbin, fairly safely to the south of the Berlin bomb-run. Dr. Marzius told him to be ready to leave at about three o'clock, when the Mussolini visit was distracting attention.
Müller began to moan about the delay and having to remain underground in such an unhealthy atmosphere. Dr. Marzius pointed out, sharply, that Müller had turned up the heating himself. Then he promised to do something about an earlier departure.
Weinkenner swallowed a smile as he turned the page of his newspaper. He knew that Dr. Marzius' party was due to leave at one-fifteen after an early lunch. The doctor was clearly a diplomat as well as a specialist in kidney diseases. This particular Müller was an asshole compared to the one in Berchtesgaden.
Oberst Graf von Stauffenberg and Leutnant von Häften had been up since dawn. Five hours into their day, they landed at Rastenburg airfield. Their car passed through Gate Two (South) at Supreme H.Q. at ten-thirty. They had a meal with the commandant's adjutant, Hauptmann von Möllendorf, then Stauffenberg went to confer with General Fellgiebel.
The Chief of Signals was ready and eager to carry out his tasks; to report the news of the explosion to Berlin and then to cut all telephone, teleprinter and radio communications with the outside. Preventing the spread of information was a reflex under the Nazis. As they parted, Fellgiebel wished Stauffenberg better luck than he had enjoyed five days earlier, on Saturday.
When Stauffenberg reported to Field Marshal Keitel's bunker, he learned that the first staff conference had been brought forward because of a visit by Mussolini. Keitel told him to be brief, and to avoid pessimism when he reported on the numbers of replacement troops available.
Stauffenberg had been hoping that an air-raid alert would drive the conference underground, where the blast from the bomb would be contained and therefore more effective. Effective in this context meant having greater killing power. The Russians were unlikely to oblige with an air raid so early in the afternoon, but Stauffenberg was confident that his two kilograms of British plastic explosive would do the job, even in the larger Lagebaracke.
The meeting would have been held underground if the assassination plan had been running on the original October timetable. The invasion of Normandy had forced the plotters' hands. They had to be in control of Germany before victorious enemies occupied any part of their country. They felt that they would have greater bargaining power if they could offer a quick end to the war with the consequent saving of many American and British lives. They also wished to avoid exclusive occupation of areas of Germany by Soviet forces, which could lead to the spread of Communist influence. Communism was as unpalatable to the conspirators as Nazism.
Feldmarschall Keitel kept one eye on his watch while Stauffenberg outlined his report. Then Keitel told him that they would be late if they did not start for the meeting at once. A few metres from the concrete bunker, Stauffenberg pretended to notice that he had left his cap and belt in the anteroom. He dashed back into the bunker before Keitel could send his own adjutant to fetch them.
Alone in the office, Stauffenberg opened his briefcase and used his pliers to start the acid fuse. The thinnest grade of wire had been used. In nine to ten minutes, the acid would weaken it sufficiently, the wire would snap, the firing pin would smash against the detonator and Adolf Hitler would be dead.
Stauffenberg tried to look suitably chastened when Keitel snarled at him on the way to Gate Three. Keitel was well known for being a bully with junior officers and a baa-lamb with his superiors. He made no allowance for the fact that a colonel with one useable hand would have trouble with his belt.
By the time they reached the conference room, just after the meeting had started, Keitel had recovered his good humour. Scowling in front of the Führer could be interpreted as defeatism. Stauffenberg regretted that some good officers would have to die with Hitler, but even a devout Christian would find it difficult to miss Wilhelm Keitel.
Oberführer Rattenhuber was on duty in the entrance hall, making sure that men entering the same room as Adolf Hitler carried neither visible nor concealed weapons. Stauffenberg took the opportunity to tell the switchboard operator that he was expecting an important call from Berlin with information to bring his report right up to the minute.
Keitel led the way through the double doors. Hitler was sitting with his back to them. The stenographers were also sitting. The rest, two dozen officers from all armed services and the SS, were standing shoulder to shoulder around the oak table. On the right of Hitler's chair, Chief of Army Operations General Heusinger was droning through an embarrassingly gloomy report. He looked almost grateful for an interruption.
Hitler turned to shake the wounded hero's crippled hand, saying, "I have been most impressed by your thinking on the replacement situation, Stauffenberg. I shall hear from you immediately after we have covered the general situation."
General Jodl moved aside to allow Keitel to assume his usual position at the Führer's left hand. Stauffenberg moved to a place on Hitler's right, between Luftwaffe Chief of Staff General Korten and Oberst Brandt, Heussinger's Chief of Staff. Stauffenberg knew that Himmler was at Rastenburg; but diplomatically absent from the conference in view of his plans to take over the Replacement Army. Göring was also in the region, but an hour's drive distant at his H.Q. at Rostken.
Stauffenberg put his briefcase on the floor, and pushed it under the table on the inside of the right-hand plinth. The bomb was less than two metres from Hitler's legs. The acid in the fuse had been eating at the thin wire for five minutes.
General Heusinger resumed his report, moving a finger over the map of the Baltic States. The other officers bowed their heads, as if in prayer, as they concentrated on the crumbling front in the east. Stauffenberg moved away from the table. His excuse for leaving was the fictitious telephone call from Berlin. Oberst Brandt moved to his left, into the vacant space in front of the bomb.
As Heusinger approached the end of his report, Keitel looked for Stauffenberg. Keitel was responsible for keeping the meeting smooth-running and short. He felt a surge of irritation when he failed to spot Stauffenberg. Then he remembered the telephone call. Keitel slipped out of the meeting. Stauffenberg was not in the entrance hall. The NCO at the switchboard reported that he had left the building as if in a hurry.
Baffled, wondering what the hell he was going to say about the disappearance of an officer with a vital report, Keitel returned to the conference room.
Stauffenberg hurried out of the Lagebaracke and through the check-point to the administration zone. He headed for Bunker 88, two hundred metres away, where General Fellgiebel had his office. Fellgiebel was waiting for him at the entrance. They had time to exchange muted greetings, feeling oddly calm inside. Then a wave of sound and heat erupted from the inner zone. Leaves, twigs, branches soared into the air in a tangled weave of camouflage netting. Bodies flew with wreckage from the Lagebaracke's broad windows.
Riding a wave of sudden triumph, Stauffenberg rushed to join Leutnant Häften at their car. Fellgiebel dashed into the communications bunker. When he had telephoned the news of the explosion to Berlin, he ordered a complete shutdown of the camp's communication systems. The guards closed all checkpoints automatically when they heard the explosion. There was no cause for immediate alarm, however. Deer in the woods occasionally strayed onto a mine.
Confronted by a barrier at Gate Two (South), Stauffenberg leapt from his car and dashed into the guardroom. He found an SS Obersturmführer holding a field telephone. The guard commander turned as Stauffenberg entered.
"Why is the checkpoint closed?" Stauffenberg demanded.
"I'm trying to find out," the younger officer told him. "I regret that nobody is allowed to pass until then, Herr Oberst. Standing orders."
"I must use your telephone," Stauffenberg said with all the urgency that he could muster.
The Obersturmführer surrendered the receiver. Stauffenberg broke the connection, put the receiver on the desk, rushed through dialling an incomplete, random number with his one serviceable hand, then gave his name into the silence of an unconnected line. The Obersturmführer heard him ask for permission to pass through the gate. Then Stauffenberg replaced the receiver.
"As you heard, I am allowed to pass." he said with calm confidence.
The Obersturmführer followed Stauffenberg to the door of the guardroom. He ordered the sentries to open the barrier. Then he returned to write in his logbook: 12:44 - Oberst von Stauffenberg passed through.
One minute later, a general alarm was issued, reinforcing the automatic security alert following an unusual event.
Stauffenberg told his driver that speed was essential. Then he and Häften maintained an anxious silence. The car crossed the outer cordon of minefields and strong points in less than four minutes. There was a steel barrier across the road at Gate Three (South) and the guard had been doubled.
A tough SS warrant officer called Kilbe was on duty. He had no intention of opening his barrier for a mere Wehrmacht colonel. Stauffenberg maintained that he was an exception and insisted on the immediate use of a telephone.
Realizing that bluff would not work a second time, he contacted Hauptmann von Möllendorff, the commandant's adjutant. Stauffenberg tried to keep his tone casual to create the impression that his car had been rolling through the minefield's safe corridor when the excitement had started.
"Oberst Stauffenberg," he said in an upper-class drawl. "I'm stuck at the outer ring and the guard commander won't let me through because of some explosion or other. But the point is, I'm in a hurry. I have General Fromm waiting for me at the airfield."
The last was a deliberate lie. General Fromm was still in Berlin but Möllendorff was not to know that. Möllendorff did know that there had been an explosion, but not the cause of it. The site was so vast that details took time to travel. If Stauffenberg had an urgent appointment, he saw no reason to detain an officer with whom he had enjoyed a second breakfast.
Stauffenberg replaced the receiver. "As you heard," he remarked to Kolbe, who was standing beside him, "I have permission to pass through."
Kolbe was not impressed. He wanted a direct order before he would open his barrier. Stauffenberg had to stand and watch, and contain his impatience and fright, as Kolbe used the field telephone again. Stauffenberg was calculating the odds of shooting the guards as Kolbe received confirmation of the order from Möllendorff's own lips. Stauffenberg had to force himself not to run from the guardroom.
The car moved off. Häften took the spare bomb from his briefcase. He dismantled it on the way to the airport, throwing the components out through his window. They would be found later by the Gestapo.
The alert had not reached the airfield at the edge of the vast forest. Stauffenberg's pilot was warming up his engines. He had been warned to be ready to begin the return journey at any time after noon. He had been waiting for one hour.
Stauffenberg and Häften struggled with a sense of unreality as their aircraft droned westwards over the flat, sandy plain. They knew that the world had changed dramatically. The coup d'état could go ahead because Adolf Hitler was dead at last.
They had escaped from the trap of the triple-ringed security at Supreme Headquarters only to be condemned to spend the next three hours in their slow Heinkel passenger aircraft. They had to wait and hope that Fellgiebel had been able to contact Berlin, that the Valkyrie messages were sent out and acted on, and that they eluded the Russian fighters that prowled with increasing frequency over East Prussia.
Lacking a long-range radio, they were unable to listen in as the news of Hitler's death travelled out to the world. Neither could they make their own broadcast in case Fellgiebel had been unable to get through. If a vengeful member of the old regime suspected that they were involved in the assassination, and ordered the Luftwaffe to intercept their flight, they would receive as much warning of sudden death as they had given Hitler.
Stauffenberg and Häften could only endure the tensions of delay as they played out in their imaginations everything that could go wrong. They could scarcely dare to dwell on the upheavals of success and the opportunities opened by a new future in a Germany free of the dangerous embrace of Nazism.
Their spirits rose as the aircraft approached Rangsdorf airfield. They were just 26 kilometres from Berlin now. Stauffenberg rushed to a telephone to call General Olbricht at Home Army H.Q. Expecting a catalogue of dramatic events, he was dismayed to hear that nothing had been done in the vital three hours since the explosion.
Fellgiebel had made a guarded telephone call from Rastenburg on a very bad line. The conspirators were not sure whether Hitler had been killed, releasing them from their oath of loyalty. The total shutdown of communications meant that they could not seek confirmation, and therefore they had just waited to hear from Stauffenberg. They were living in the sort of dangerous world where a misguided or wrongly interpreted action could be their last. They had a chance of surviving failure by Stauffenberg. They knew that they were dead men if they began a revolt while Hitler was still alive.
Olbricht had taken the Valkyrie orders out of his safe, but they were just sitting on his desk. General Beck and Feldmarschall von Witzleben, the future Head of State and CinC Armed Forces respectively, had not yet arrived in Berlin. The revolt was in limbo still.
It was a hot, oppressively humid day, even with a breeze blowing from the nearby lake at Rangsdorf. Stauffenberg could feel his shirt clinging to his body. The previous Saturday's failed assassination attempt and the near disaster of sending out the codeword Valkyrie two hours prematurely were fresh in everybody's mind. Stauffenberg could only urge Olbricht to get things moving as quickly as possible. Then he raced to join Häften in a waiting car, knowing that he was still a good forty minutes from the old War Ministry building on Bendlerstraße.