QUALITY OF INFORMATION AND DISTANCE determined the speed of action of the rebels. When Oberst Graf von Stauffenberg arrived at the Home Army's Headquarters in Berlin, he leapt out of his car and ran up the stone steps, entering a massive, square citadel in the sea of rubble that had been Bendlerstraße. He rushed to assure General Beck, the regent in waiting, that Hitler was dead and that reports to the contrary from Feldmarschall Keitel were black lies. The force of Stauffenberg's belief was sufficient to persuade Beck to press on with Operation Valkyrie.
Stauffenberg telephoned Paris to urge his cousin, Oberstleutnant Caesar von Hofacker, to get things moving immediately. Hofacker passed on the code word Finished to his CO, General von Stülpnagel, who launched an operation that succeeded in rounding up all 1,200 Gestapo, SD and SS officers and men in the French capital before nightfall.
Further calls told Stauffenberg that the conspirators in Vienna were ready and eager to support the civilian revolt. Prague was still hesitating, but receipt of the Valkyrie orders had been acknowledged. The Berlin police, under Graf von Helldorf, had been waiting since noon to act in support of the rebels and they were becoming increasingly frustrated by the delay.
Stauffenberg and General Olbricht decided to make another attempt to swing General Fromm to their side. The meeting became an argument, then a brawl. Fromm refused to believe that Hitler was dead. He flew into a rage when he hear that Oberst Mertz von Quirnheim, Olbricht's chief of staff, had issued Valkyrie orders without his consent.
Fromm summoned Quirnheim to his office and placed him under arrest. Then he told Stauffenberg that he had no honourable alternative to immediate suicide if his assassination attempt had failed.
Stauffenberg refused to shoot himself. Fromm placed Stauffenberg and Olbricht under arrest. Olbricht told Fromm that he was the one under arrest. Fromm lunged at him. Stauffenberg stepped between them. Fromm tried to push the rebels aside, but the pair of them wrestled him into his chair. Minutes later, the CinC of the Replacement Army was under arrest in his own office, guarded by his own adjutant. Farce was blended with deadly seriousness. Control was now a matter of survival.
Stauffenberg returned to his office to urge others into action by telephone. He found SS Oberführer Piffräder and two plain-clothes SD-men waiting there to arrest him on Himmler's orders. Piffräder and his satellites were the ones who were locked up. Their penetration of the building served the useful purpose of telling Stauffenberg that the rebels had forgotten to post guards around their own centre of operations.
While Stauffenberg was correcting the oversight, General von Kortzfleisch, the military commander of the Berlin-Brandenburg district, arrived to find out for himself exactly what was going on at Home Army H.Q. When he refused to join the revolt, he too was locked up.
By this time, parts of the apparatus of state in Berlin had been neutralized. The C.O. of the crack Guards Battalion Großdeutschland had sent Major Otto Remer into the city to seal off the ministries on and around Wilhelmstraße, the axis of Government, and the head office of SS Security near Anhalt station. Remer had been told that Hitler was dead, the victim of assassination, all hell was breaking loose, and the SS were planning a military coup.
Remer reported the successful deployment of his troops to General von Hase's office on Unter den Linden. He was ordered to proceed at once to arrest Dr. Goebbels, the most senior Nazi official in the capital at the time. Goebbels had just taken the first of several telephone calls from Hitler. He had received brief details of the assassination attempt, and he was still digesting his orders to broadcast without delay the news of Hitler's survival.
Goebbels had not recovered from his shock when a young Propaganda Ministry lecturer burst into his office with a tale of retired field marshals driving around the city in full uniform and troops mounting guard on buildings in the heart of Berlin. When Goebbels looked out of his office window, he saw trucks full of armed soldiers and armoured cars rolling past.
Hitler was still alive and nominally in command of the whole Reich, but he was six hundred kilometres away in East Prussia. Control of his capital had passed to the army. Goebbels realized that he would have to move carefully until he learned how the situation in Berlin affected his personal circumstances.
The proclamation of martial law required by the Valkyrie plan was not issued from the Home Army's communications centre until the early evening. Stauffenberg had been back in Berlin for over an hour after his long flight across half of Germany. The rebels had found just a draft of the proclamation in the Valkyrie file. They had spent all afternoon putting their statement into the right official language. The initiative was slipping away from them as they struggled to follow what they saw as the correct procedures for a transfer of power to themselves. They lacked the nerve to go out and seize control by force of arms, uncertain of their support.
As the messages were being transmitted by teletype and radio, three more generals arrived at the building for a routine evening staff conference with General Fromm. The rebels tried to put them off, but the visitors began to suspect that there was something going on. They too had to be arrested. The pendulum of revolt was approaching the farthest point on its outswing.
Erwin Enckes, Virgo of the Zodiac, had reached his moment of destiny. The hypochondriac had a whole catalogue of aches and pains to act out. He had escaped explosive death by sheer good luck that afternoon. It was no wonder that he felt awful; and yet he had to put on a brave face. He was the leader of the Greater German Reich. He knew that triumph over adversity was routine and expected of him. Heinz Linge found him standing in front of the bedroom mirror, peering closely at his own reflection.
"You are feeling better, Führer?" said the valet with evident relief.
"Normal for a man in my condition. My God! My hair looks dreadful. What have they done to me?"
"It will grow back in a matter of weeks, Führer. Professor Marzius recommended some food to give you strength. Might I suggest an omelette?"
"You may. With plenty of cheese," the Führer said graciously.
"Should I serve it here? Do you wish to lie down until Professor Marzius has examined you, Führer?"
"As if I had time to lounge about in bed while traitors are active behind my back. Food first, doctors later."
"At your orders, mein Führer. Oberführer Rattenhuber is here to see you."
"Send him in." The Führer turned back to his mirror.
Rattenhuber arrived with a click of heels. He met the eyes in the mirror and held a finger to his lips. After a long pause, he opened the bedroom door. Linge had gone to order the omelette. The Führer had perched on his straight-backed chair. Rattenhuber sat on the end of the bed, facing him, to deliver a brief account of the afternoon's events in the sitting room.
"My God," chuckled the Führer when he had finished. "Did Fatty Hermann really threaten Ribbentrop with his baton?"
"Feelings are running high and Göring has been drinking non-stop, Führer. Everyone is trying to make sure the blame for the bomb doesn't land on him by pinning it on someone else. Your own mood has been silent on the whole, but you should go on the offensive now to keep them off balance. I recommend stressing the urgency of your making a radio broadcast to reassure the nation."
"Has any sort of announcement been made yet?"
"You first telephoned Dr. Goebbels at the Propaganda Ministry at five-thirty. It's six-twenty now. We've heard nothing but music on the radio."
"Could Goebbels be involved in this treachery?"
"Possible but unlikely," Rattenhuber said after a moment's reflection. "If the whole Army High Command is involved, rather than just a few malcontents, they're more likely to put Goebbels up against a wall than recruit him to their cause."
"And what do we know of the extent of the treason?"
"Communications tend to be difficult or impossible with certain sectors, especially Paris and the West, but we do have unconfirmed reports of unauthorized troop movements in Berlin."
"When will Himmler get there?"
"Between eight-thirty and nine. Two more hours, at least."
"You don't think a Putsch could succeed?"
"The most essential part of the plan had to be to kill the man to whom the armed forces have sworn a personal oath of loyalty. The Army is nothing without its honour. The news of the Führer's survival must go out to a wider circle very soon. Either through Goebbels, or if he's unable to act in Berlin, through a satellite radio station. That should drag the waverers back into line."
"What would happen to me if it did succeed, though?"
Rattenhuber shrugged. "Nothing at all. If you shave off the moustache and change into a civilian suit, a brief physical examination would confirm that it wasn't you who was blown up this afternoon, Herr Müller."
"But I've been doing this voice, I've been the Führer, for almost two years now. I don't know if I can remember my own natural voice now."
"Under the present circumstances," Rattenhuber said drily, "that's hardly a disadvantage."
"Of course. It's a time for all of us to hold the line, each making a contribution in his own way, confident of final victory in the face of merely local adversities, shielded by divine providence and following a higher destiny. And also a time to watch who is making a positive contribution to that victory and which swine are just marking time to see what happens in the short term."
The Führer stood up to straighten his jacket. He winced as the plasters tugged at his right arm, pulling hairs, reminding him not to move it freely. He had a small, flat stone in his right shoe to give him a trace of a limp. Rattenhuber opened the door for him. It was always an impressive sight to watch one of the corps of Johann Müllers go on parade and become Adolf Hitler, Führer of the Greater German Reich and one of the most powerful men in the world.
A greater hush spread through the already subdued atmosphere in the sitting room. There was no point in trying to unload the blame for the bomb conspiracy if the Führer was not there to be impressed by a brilliant performance. The orderlies were passing round trays of sandwiches. The message had got through that it was a day for eating on the run while waiting for news.
The Führer crossed to his armchair, giving a perfect impression of a man with an injured leg, who refused to limp because he was strong enough to overcome the disability. Bormann moved across the room to his usual proximity to the centre of power.
"I have a feeling there is more going on than a pathetic assassination attempt by a cripple," said the Führer. "What reports have come in?"
"I have tried to contact Generals Fromm and Olbricht at Home Army H.Q. to make sure that man has been arrested, Führer," Keitel said in an apologetic tone. "There are technical difficulties in getting through."
"Everything seems normal at the Foreign Office, Führer," Ribbentrop contributed quickly.
"We are in constant communication with State Security H.Q. in Berlin, Führer," added Gruppenführer Fegelein, Himmler's deputy at Rastenburg. "Our people are standing by to mop up any trouble that arises."
The Führer looked at him, allowing himself the luxury of wondering what an illiterate former jockey was doing so close to the centre of power, especially someone who looked so loutish. "And yet there has been no broadcast on the radio," he remarked. "Even though I've been calling Goebbels repeatedly for over an hour." As Führer, he could deal with subjective rather than objective time.
"A personal broadcast to the nation might be more appropriate in the circumstances, Führer," said Bormann. "In preference to some anonymous announcer, or even the esteemed Dr. Goebbels."
"Goebbels should have suggested that."
"He was probably too embarrassed to tell you there is no direct link from where we are to a powerful transmitter, Führer." Bormann slid the knife into a rival with his customary skill. "Which amounts to almost criminal sabotage."
"Put through another call to his office at once. Let us find out what excuse Goebbels has to offer."
One of the white-jacketed orderlies placed a telephone on a round, pedestal table next to the Führer's armchair. Bormann negotiated switchboards with commendable speed. Then he handed the receiver to the Führer.
"I have been waiting an hour for your radio broadcast, Goebbels," the Führer said with dangerous calm.
"I have an announcement drafted, mein Führer," Goebbels replied with equal, fatalistic calm. "But the situation here has changed dramatically. I can see several tanks and over one hundred armed men from my office windows. I expect to learn in the next few minutes whether they are here for our protection or as part of a military coup."
"Telephone me the instant you know." The Führer dropped the receiver onto the brass supports with an air of finality, as if he did not expect to be hearing from Goebbels again.
Dr. Marzius hurried into the sitting room. He approached the Führer's chair through a storm of accusations. The army officers were denying that their colleagues in Berlin were all in revolt, in breach of their personal oath of loyalty to the Führer. They were outnumbered heavily by Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine and SS personnel. Ribbentrop was looking somewhat smug; no one had thought of accusing the Foreign Ministry of treachery.
"I came as soon as possible, Herr Reichskanzler," said Dr. Marzius. "My colleague, Herr Müller, is gravely ill." He had to raise his voice almost to a shout.
"Do what you must." The Führer nodded permission to go. His voice barely carried to Dr. Marzius.
Bormann cleared his throat loudly as Dr. Marzius left the room. The squabbling officers lapsed into embarrassed silence when they realized how much noise they had been making. Heinz Linge padded across the carpet with the Führer's omelette. Everyone else rediscovered the sandwiches. Linge placed the tray on a table and moved it in front of the massive armchair.
The Führer tried to use his knife, then he abandoned the struggle. He used the side of his fork to cut the omelette into convenient bites and wolfed it down in his usual manner, as if he had not seen food for a week. When he had finished, Linge swapped the tray for a cup of herbal tea. Gruppenführer Fegelein took advantage of the table to further the interests of the SS. He opened a folder to reveal neat, typed paragraphs on a sheet of paper with Himmler's letterhead.
"I understand Reichsführer Himmler has discussed with you the advisability of placing the Replacement Army under his control, mein Führer," said Fegelein. "In view of events in Berlin, we have prepared the necessary document."
The Führer frowned at the table, becoming Erwin Enckes for the moment as he struggled to recall what his briefing had told him on the subject. He was not encouraged to sign documents without authorization, but the matter had been raised in his briefing notes and the evidence did suggest that dirty work was going on at Home Army headquarters. In the circumstances, there could be no harm in awarding Himmler the job of finding cannon fodder for the East on a temporary basis, which could become permanent with Hitler's approval.
"Add For the duration of the emergency." The Führer signalled to Linge for his spectacles and magnifying glass. He had remembered, just in time, that he needed them to read when he was on parade. Erwin Enckes' eyesight was still equal to reading normal-size print unaided; which was something of an achievement for a fifty-five-year-old man with his medical history.
Fegelein let an aide add the rider, satisfied that he had wedged open the door. The Führer's signature was even more of a scrawl than usual due to his damaged arm. Fegelein withdrew from the sitting room with the precious document. He practically ran past the guards at Gate Three on his way to the SS Operational Control Bunker in the administration zone. Two hours hence, when he landed at Berlin, Himmler would find good news waiting at the airfield.
The telephone beside the Führer rang as Fegelein was leaving the sitting room. Bormann lifted the receiver. "Goebbels, Führer," he said, his tone underlining his earlier suggestion that Goebbels had gone over to the rebels.
"I have a Major Remer in my office, mein Führer," Goebbels said in a remarkably relaxed tone. "You may recall you presented him with oak leaves for his Knight's Cross at the end of June. As I look down the barrel of his pistol, he has told me that you are dead. And he has orders to seal off all Government buildings and take all Ministers and senior officials into custody."
"Let me speak to him," said the Führer.
The receiver changed hands. Remer made a cautiously respectful report of name, rank and unit.
"Do you recognize my voice, Remer?" said the Führer.
There was a pause, as if for dramatic effect, then Remer managed, "Of course, mein Führer." He sounded as if he was speaking from a rigid position of attention.
"Oberst Remer, you received your orders from traitors. You will arrest them forthwith. My personal order to you is to crush this uprising with ruthless force. You will work in conjunction with Dr. Goebbels, Reichsführer Himmler, who is flying to Berlin at this very moment, and General Reinecke, who has been appointed military commander. If you have any problems, contact me personally without delay. You are to strike at the heart of this conspiracy with all speed, remembering that you are working for the survival of the Greater German Reich. Are your instructions clear?"
"Perfectly, mein Führer." The newly promoted colonel's tight voice was bursting with pride and loyalty.
"Let me speak to the Minister again." The receiver changed hands again. "Goebbels? I expect the announcement on the radio as a matter of urgency. And I wish to broadcast to the nation myself. See to it without further delay."
The Führer replaced his receiver on the tail end of Goebbels' assurances. "A breakthrough, gentlemen," he announced to the room at large. "We have a few loyal officers in Berlin still. My God! Heads will roll when we take the situation under control."
There was a chorus of agreement. Stepping into a dead man's boots is a recognized method of empire building, and there would be plenty of territory to annex if the revolt failed. Göring signalled to an orderly, giving an order to open another bottle of champagne to celebrate a step back toward normality. Keitel began to speculate on the type of decoration that would be appropriate for newly promoted Oberst Remer.
Ten minutes later, an orderly turned up the volume of the ornate radio in the corner next to the buffet. The announcer's voice was grave for a serious matter, but not sombre. Goebbels had telephoned the text of the broadcast to the offices of Deutschlandsender, a radio station with the power to cover the whole of Europe.
The announcer reported that a bomb attempt on Hitler's life had left him with no injuries apart from slight burns and light bruising. A list of the dead and injured was a roll-call of those who had been in the Lagebaracke. The announcer closed by saying that the Führer had resumed work at once, and completed his planned itinerary for the afternoon, which had included a meeting with Mussolini in the company of Reichsmarschall Göring. Nothing was said about the source of the bomb.
"Seventy-five seconds." Bormann looked up from his watch as a cheerful march replaced the announcer. His criticism of Goebbels' brevity was plain for all to hear.
The gathering in Hitler's sitting room resumed the assessment of which senior officers could be relied on to stay loyal and which would blow with the prevailing wind. The Führer took the safe course for a man in his difficult position; he sat in his huge armchair, sipped tea, ate mixed nuts left-handed, and said nothing.
Half an hour dragged by. Eventually, the Führer noticed Rattenhuber lurking in the doorway to the anteroom. Everyone else leapt to his feet when the Führer walked carefully to the door, disguising his limp fairly successfully. He and Rattenhuber moved to a corner of the anteroom to confer in undertones.
"You're doing very well, Fuhrer," Rattenhuber said in an encouraging tone.
"Am I really supposed to know all the details of Berlin politics among my generals?" the Führer complained. "Someone in my position should be above all that. And that snake Bormann breathing down my neck gives me the creeps! A man in my position should be able to command instant and unquestioning loyalty. There should be no waverers in Berlin."
"Life just isn't like that, Führer," Rattenhuber said with a ghost of a smile. "People don't always do what they're told, or what's expected of them. Such as giving Himmler control of the Replacement Army."
"Purely on a temporary basis. A decision which can be reviewed when the emergency is over," the Führer said defensively. "What do I do now?"
"Take a breather in your office and study the script for the broadcast. Then go and kick up a fuss about getting it made. The more you create, the more you'll keep everyone else off balance. If they're scared to move, they won't try to talk you into something and get you into trouble."
"What about the police investigators? Have they found anything yet? They've been here long enough."
"They have to sift through a mountain of debris, starting some distance from the site of the explosion and working inwards. They think they've found pieces of a British-made bomb case. The Abwehr has stocks of British explosives dropped by the R.A.F."
The Führer nodded thoughtfully. "I've always had my doubts about whose side our Secret Service is really on. Look at all the attempts on my life, but Canaris kept refusing to strike at Churchill or Roosevelt, or that swine Stalin."
"They also found a pair of pliers, which could have been used to break the acid capsule in a silent fuse, and the remains of a briefcase, which confirms the conclusion that the bomb went off at floor level. There are fragments of papers that could refer to Replacement Army business."
"I knew it was Stauffenberg." The Führer sounded like a police inspector in a play tying up loose ends in the last act. "He belongs to a class that has long resented losing the reigns of power, largely through their own incompetence and unfitness to rule. Where is he now?"
Rattenhuber looked at his watch. "In Berlin by now. No word he's under arrest yet. But that must be just a matter of time. General Reinecke will be very keen to show his efficiency; especially if you're promoting Majors to Oberst on the spot."
"That was an honest mistake," the Führer admitted. "I forgot his rank. Still, it should make him more efficient. And it was rather insulting to poor old Goebbels, sending a mere major to arrest him. Why the hell wasn't Stauffenberg's damn briefcase searched?"
"I have suggested it on numerous occasions, but the General Staff keep saying it would be an insult to them."
"Typical. Well, they'll bloody well have to put up with it in future! Any news of Herr Müller?"
"I had a rather garbled message from the airfield. Something about one of my officers commandeering an aircraft at gunpoint. They wanted to know if they should scramble some fighters along his route to shoot him down."
"My God! What's that Weinkenner got himself into?" gaped the Führer. "I always knew he'd turn his job into a Wild West show."
"I'm still waiting for the details, but I issued orders that any fighters scrambled are to be used as an escort. If he heads for Kremmen, all well and good. If not, well, I prefer not to think about that for the moment."
"I'm not sure I want this job permanently."
"I think that's rather in the hands of Herr Weinkenner at the moment, Führer. In the meantime, would you mind studying your script? I have attached some corrections the Führer would make. Just a few because of his current writing problems."
The Führer took charge of a blue folder and made for his private office. Rattenhuber went down to the basement operations room to find out if more details had come through from the airfield. The secret worked against itself at such times. If an emergency arose when one of the Zodiac was on parade, Rattenhuber was authorized to confer with Himmler and Bormann together on matters of policy. He was allowed to consult either singly on Hitler's direct order.
Himmler was flying to Berlin and out of reach. Whatever his eventual destination, Hitler was also out of reach. Under such circumstances, Rattenhuber was expected to hold the line. He was expected to prevent the on-parade Müller from taking irrevocable decisions in the Führer's name. In a way, the military revolt was a godsend. It captured the attention of everyone at the Wolf's Lair. No decisions on the conduct of the war could be taken until the power struggle had been resolved.
The Führer's role at his military headquarters was clear: to issue such orders as were necessary to restore control. The lack of scope for issuing orders fell in with Rattenhuber's brief to hold the line. At the same time, he had to deal with the possibility that Weinkenner had made nonsense of all the planning by reverting to his gangster past.
It could be argued that Weinkenner had the nerve to kidnap Hitler. A routine investigation of his ancestry had shown that it was as pure and Aryan as the SS could wish, but the German side of his character had been contaminated with American instincts. He had wiped out his stepfather's killers under the noses of dangerous gangsters and the FBI, an organization for which a professional policeman like Rattenhuber had great respect. Rattenhuber had worked with FBI agents several times when Berlin had housed the recognized headquarters of the International Criminal Police Organization.
Rattenhuber drew some comfort from knowing that a slow, Heinkel transporter could not escape the borders of the Reich without refuelling; unless it flew east to Russian-held territory or turned north to Sweden. Making unauthorized course changes would be extremely difficult, given the presence of the two additional RSD-men with Dr. Marzius' party to keep an eye on things.
Weinkenner could draw no advantage from taking Hitler to Sweden. If the Swedes dared to delay Hitler's return, Himmler and/or Bormann might well replay the Rudolph Hess scenario and take over after allegations of insanity.
A German aircraft was most likely to be shot down before it could land behind Russian lines. And the Communists would have an intelligence file on Weinkenner, which would ensure a quick death or endless misery in one of their concentration camps.
Rattenhuber had almost convinced himself that there was no cause for alarm when a telephone rang. He learned that Weinkenner was in possession of some sort of pass signed by the Führer, that he had left his additional RSD escort behind, and that he was not flying a slow, short-range Heinkel 111.
Weinkenner had acquired one of the Führer-fighters, the converted Messerschmitt 110s, which put England or even Italy within his grasp. Suddenly, Rattenhuber's world was filled with deeper and more serious doubts.
The radio announcement was a body blow to the rebels in Berlin. It underlined their inability to execute the Valkyrie plan. The radio station was on a list of essential buildings, which should have been secured a good hour before the broadcast. At 18.45 hours, Stauffenberg sent out a teleprinter signal to all army commanders. He assured them that Hitler was dead and that the announcement was a lie. Then he returned to his telephone to urge waverers to continue with the plan.
Once they reached a certain point, Stauffenberg knew, Hitler's survival would become irrelevant. The rebels had to keep rolling their snowball down the hill until it became big enough to become unstoppable. They had to dismiss from their minds thoughts of tarnished honour and a broken oath of loyalty.
Operation Valkyrie was going well in Paris. The rebels in Berlin assumed that things were going their way because the SS had not arrived in force to lay siege to their isolated building on Bendlerstraße. Yet there were clear signs that they were a long way from control. Army units which they had ordered into the city had not turned up. As the long, summer evening wore on, vital officers became impossible to contact. The waverers were playing a waiting game. Worse, the commanders in Prague and Vienna began to rescind orders to arrest all Party officials and SS troops. Farce was descending into black tragedy.
Almost six hundred kilometres to the east of Berlin, the Führer began his own offensive. His female secretaries fled at once. His General Staff either sneaked away or kept their heads down, enduring the familiar gut-wrenching tensions of futures at stake. The Führer demanded news, raging about being surrounded by traitors and incompetents. Only Bormann had answers to the angry questions because he had taken charge of the arrangements for the broadcast.
Erwin Enckes enjoyed letting himself go occasionally. It was a release from the frustrations of his position. He was not a well man, but Hitler's tribe of doctors kept giving him injections and telling him that he was fit to work on, no matter how rotten he felt.
He had never liked Bormann. In fact, Enckes was afraid of him. He considered Bormann a jumped-up little opportunist. He enjoyed demanding at the top of his voice, within the limits of his condition, access to the German people, who were desperate for the sound of that voice. Bormann tried to calm him with a story of a recording van on the way from Königsberg.
"When?" snarled the Führer. "When will this van arrive?"
"Very shortly, Führer," Bormann soothed in his smoothest conciliatory manner. "We are working at top speed to make the arrangements."
Bormann had to tread a fine line between efficiency and back-stabbing. He had ordered the radio station to send the van just after the Führer had made his first call to Goebbels. Bormann had waited another hour before suggesting the personal broadcast to the nation by the Führer. It was a routine tactic in a plan to make Goebbels appear to be falling down on the job.
He was expecting the van at seven-thirty. It was now twenty-five past. Bormann had been warned that engineering work at Königsberg to make the broadcast possible would take several hours. He hoped that just making a recording would satisfy the Führer for the moment. Once that process was over, Bormann could wash his hands of the whole affair, having done his bit. Failure to get the recording on the air would be the radio station's responsibility entirely.
The Führer retired to his bedroom to lie down after his rampage. He was feeling a little tired after expending so much emotional energy and he had to pace himself. He knew that the staff called Hitler Teppichfresser - carpet eater - when they were sure that they could not be overheard.
He had never witnessed that extreme of rage, but Dr. Marzius had explained that Hitler could drive himself into an ecstatic state through the emotional intoxication of ranting about his enemies. It was a part of his personal magnetism and his almost mesmeric power over the people who came into personal contact with him.
Erwin Enckes knew that he would never be able to bring himself to add that particular gesture to his repertoire of theatrical anger. A man in his delicate state of health could risk neither the emotional stress of ecstasy nor the physical danger of chewing a rug on which others had been wiping their dirty boots. The thought made him feel even more ill.
Bormann was looking extremely smug when the Führer returned to the sitting room twenty minutes later. "The recording technicians are here, mein Führer," he purred. "They should be ready in about ten minutes."
"About time," the Führer said ungraciously.
"I'm still surprised the Propaganda Ministry failed to organize the proper facilities," Bormann added. "It's not like Goebbels to fall down on the job so badly."
"Perhaps the tanks rumbling past his windows distracted him," said the Führer, taking little pleasure from defending one philandering husband at the expense of another. He felt duty bound to show Bormann that he could see right through his sycophantic act.
One of the secretaries brought a retyped version of the address to the nation, which included the Führer's changes. Linge brought more tea as the Führer donned his spectacles. Reichsmarschall Göring and Großadmiral Dönitz were also checking final drafts of speeches.
Outside, in the long shadows of a hot evening, sweating technicians were running cables from their van to an improvised studio in Oberführer Rattenhuber's office off the wide corridor between the wreck of the Lagebaracke and the Führer Bunker. When the microphone was installed, they rushed through final checks of equipment and sound quality.
The electric fan in the office was making too much noise. The office was too hot with the window closed to exclude noise. Bormann told the technicians to leave it open, then issued a general silence order; no vehicles to move, no whistles, no sirens, no shouted orders until further notice. There was just the stillness of a vast forest when the Führer took up his position in front of the microphone.
Erwin Enckes had developed a special technique for reading scripts when he was on parade. Hitler's staff used a special typewriter, which printed letters five times the usual size. Enckes had found that if he let the glasses slip down his nose, then he could read comfortably over the top of them. The unnatural position also added a realistic huskiness to his voice.
Bormann hovered in a corner of the office as the recording began, praying that it would not be interrupted by a sudden burst of noise outside. He knew that he had many enemies. It would be just his luck if one of them started a vehicle or blew a whistle to show him up.
"My German comrades!" the Führer read, seeking a precise blend of scorn and outrage to add to his tone. "If I speak to you today, it is first in order that you should hear my voice and know that I am unharmed and well. And second, to bring you the details of a crime unparalleled in German history.
"A very small clique of ambitious, unscrupulous, and at the same time senseless and criminally stupid officers concocted a plot to eliminate me. And with me, the staff of the Wehrmacht High Command."
A technician in bulky headphones listened on for a moment, then nodded. "Perfect for level and quality, mein Führer"
At a cue signal, the Führer began to read his speech for the recorder. He named Oberst Graf von Stauffenberg as the bomber. Adding the title was a swipe at opponents in the ranks of the nobility, and distanced the conspirators from both the Army and the German people. The Führer ordered all loyal citizens to ignore orders from the conspirators and to arrest or shoot anyone issuing or obeying such orders. He closed with a promise of ruthless retribution.
Göring took over Rattenhuber's chair at the desk. Bormann looked as if he was hoping that it would collapse under the bulk generated by morphine addiction. Göring expressed his outrage at the unspeakably vile murder plot, and also included Stauffenberg's title. Dönitz read a speech assembled from the Nazi Party's phrase book of political rhetoric. It was the sort of thing that an experienced speech writer could dash off in a couple of minutes between important jobs.
Bormann followed Dönitz back to the sitting room. He announced that the quality of the recordings was excellent. The Führer gave him the solicited words of praise for his efficiency. Then Bormann hurried back to the van, where orderlies were serving coffee and sandwiches to the recording technicians.
"When will the recordings be broadcast?" Bormann demanded of the chief technician.
He answered from a sitting position to avoid towering over Bormann. "As soon as humanly possible, mein Herr."
"All right, that's the politician's answer." Bormann lowered his voice to an intimate murmur with menacing overtones. "What about all this engineering work at Königsberg?"
"It's going to take several hours to step up the transmitter's output," the technician admitted at the same level. "Rewiring for a greater power load, adjustments to the aerials, and we have to find the people and materials in wartime. It would be quicker to fly the recordings to Berlin."
"Perhaps you haven't heard." Bormann put on a patient smile. "There's a military revolt going on in Berlin. That's what all this fuss is about."
"Really?" The technician's eyes opened wide.
"You didn't know?"
"My feet haven't touched the ground for hours. I've been too busy getting things done to ask why."
"That smoke you smell is from a fire caused by the bomb the Führer was talking about. Our forces are resuming control in Berlin and rolling up the traitors, so perhaps you understand the urgency of the broadcast now?"
"Of course, mein Herr."
"And efficiency brings its own rewards," Bormann added. "Whereas foot-dragging leads straight to a concentration camp."
Having done his bit to speed up the broadcast, Bormann left the van and re-entered the hallway between the wrecked Lagebaracke and the Führer Bunker. Workmen were busy on his left. The detective squad had finished work on the site of the explosion. The workmen were fitting a door to exclude a persistent smell of scorched wood and furnishings.
To Bormann's right, Rattenhuber was holding open his office door while a technician wound the last of the cables onto a drum. A telephone began to ring in the office. The technician tugged the cable into the hall. Rattenhuber disappeared inside. Bormann took the opportunity to wipe his face and make sure that his hands were dry. He cursed the summer heat of Rastenburg as he slid the handkerchief back into a pocket.
Four sentries; tall, noble pictures of German manhood; were on duty at the Führer Bunker's entrance. They subjected Bormann to penetrating stares but allowed him to pass without challenge. Bormann was lost in thought, wondering how to convey the impression that the broadcast would be made in the next few minutes without committing himself.
He also wondered if he could sabotage the radio set in the sitting room in a way that would escape notice. If it was found not to be working, he could always suggest that the broadcast had been made before the fault had been discovered. Success at his level in the Party was all about appearances, about looking successful. Actual results were a secondary consideration.
Oberführer Johann Rattenhuber sank into the chair behind his desk and dragged the ringing telephone closer. He knew that Bormann had taken over his office without a by-your-leave as a demonstration of power. He also knew that there was nothing that he could do about it.
His generation of policemen had been forced to clear up after the street battles between Nazis and Communists during the early years. Bormann saw Rattenhuber of the embodiment of old authority, despite his commitment to the present regime.
As compensation, Rattenhuber could enjoy watching Bormann sucking up to one of the Zodiac without realizing that a substitution had been made; not that Bormann would admit being deceived when the truth came out.
"An urgent call from the airfield, Herr Oberführer," said one of the switchboard operators when Rattenhuber gave his name into the receiver. "Putting you through."
"Oberst Lorenz," said a familiar voice. "Calling about the Führer-fighter. We have a... development."
"Tell me the worst," sighed Rattenhuber.
"I managed to get a fighter escort into the air a few minutes after it left here. They formed up on an Me One-Ten, but it turned out to be the wrong one." Lorenz paused, waiting for a comment, then ploughed on. "It had the same squadron markings, but it was a night-fighter on a test flight after an engine change. I know they're painted black and yours has daylight camouflage, but, as you know, the Führer-fighter is given the markings of a local squadron as a routine security measure..."
"Assuming the Führer-fighter was heading for Berlin, where would it be now?"
"About ten minutes away, approaching the River Oder in the vicinity of Küstrin."
"But there's no sign of it. We sent out details to all air-defence zones. There's nothing of that type with the correct squadron markings flying in any of the ones we've heard from."
"Are you telling me the aircraft has landed or crashed?" Rattenhuber asked the question with fatalistic calm.
"We've asked all civil defence units for reports of crashes. I'm waiting for news now. How experienced was the pilot? What's his name? Weinkenner?"
"He made his first solo flight at fifteen in the United States. He's had twelve years' continuous experience in all types of planes except rocket-planes and jets. And all sorts of conditions from Spain and North Africa in summer to Russia in the depths of winter. So you think he's crashed?"
"If he'd landed at an airfield, he'd have phoned us; or the C.O. would," said Lorenz. "I'll call back with any news."
Rattenhuber replaced his receiver and looked up at the clock over his door. Himmler was due to land at Rangsdorf in twenty-five minutes, unless he managed to sneak in closer to Berlin at an airfield on the bomb-run that was clear. If the Führer-fighter had crashed, Rattenhuber had a full-blown crisis on his hands. He was stuck with the same handicap that had plagued the high command all day. He had no solid information and therefore no basis for deciding what to do for the best.
A fatal crash meant that the power struggle would diversify. Bormann, Göring and Himmler would all make a bid for control if they could crush the revolt. They would seek to rule either in their own right or through one of the zodiac of figureheads. All that Rattenhuber could do was hold the line until he knew Adolf Hitler's fate.
Coup de Grace
After the recording, Feldmarschall Keitel headed for the communications centre in Zone Two of the Supreme Headquarters. He had to escape from Bormann's smug satisfaction. He sent out a teleprinter signal to all units announcing that Reichsführer Himmler had been appointed commander of the Replacement Army to replace General Fromm, and that only orders from Himmler and himself (Keitel) were to be obeyed.
All orders issued by Fromm, General Höpner, who commanded an armoured division strategically placed between Berlin and Munich, and retired Feldmarschall von Witzleben were invalid and to be ignored. It was the sort of grand gesture expected of a person of Keitel's eminence.
As a scheme to impose martial law, the Valkyrie plan became a disaster. The general who should have occupied Berlin's radio station was at a relative's funeral. No one had warned him to stand by on July 20th. His second-in-command was away on business. When the missing general returned to his office, twenty minutes after Keitel's teleprinter message had been received, he found that essential troops had left the barracks for a night exercise. The normal routines for a wartime, summer Thursday were being followed because few people knew that a revolution was supposed to have started.
Tanks were essential to the military coup. Oberst Gläsemer, the commander of Krempnitz tank school, had orders to send tanks into Berlin under the Valkyrie plan. When he had completed his deployment, he reported to Bendlerstraße for further information on the supposed practice alert. Gläsemer quickly got into a heated argument with the conspirators when he refused to take part in their coup d'état. Then he asked for time to think in private.
He used the respite to issue his adjutant with recall orders for the tanks. He resumed the debate when Olbricht and Stauffenberg returned, giving his adjutant time to escape from the building to relay Gläsemer's orders to the tank commanders.
Eventually, the conspirators locked up Gläsemer with the other officers who had chosen to remain loyal to Hitler. He escaped later by telling his guards that he had changed his mind about joining the coup. As soon as he was out of the building, he rushed to the headquarters of the Inspectorate of Panzer Troops to continue his opposition to the rebels.
Some tanks did reach the heart of Berlin. They gathered around the Victory Monument in the Tiergarten. The monument had become almost unrecognizable in its wartime camouflage. The buxom, gilded angel and her column had been painted drab brown, and a great wooden dome now rose to about half-way up the structure to deprive Allied day-bombers of an aiming point. The tanks spent less than half an hour in the park. Then they ground back to Krempnitz.
The rebels tried to regain some momentum by ordering the relevant second-in-command to take over if his C.O. refused to carry out Valkyrie orders. They were always acting with incomplete information and they had no idea who was truly on their side. All they could do was keep up a solid front of belief in their enterprise and hope to paper over the cracks with bluff.
Retired Feldmarschall von Witzleben, the designated military supreme commander, had spent most of the day thirty-five kilometres to the south of Berlin at Zossen, where separate monumental, concrete citadels housed the Army General Staff and the Abwehr. When he finally arrived in Berlin at about 8 p.m., the general air of confusion at Home Army Headquarters told him that the coup had failed. Witzleben turned on General Beck, the designated Head of the new State, and Stauffenberg, accusing them of bungling the whole operation. He conveniently ignored his own failure to take an active part when a former field marshal's authority might have rallied support to the rebels.
Witzleben spent three-quarters of an hour in Berlin, in full uniform and carrying his baton, playing the part of a field marshal for the last time. Then he returned to his car. He called in at Zossen to tell Quartermaster General Eduard Wagner that the coup had collapsed through sheer incompetence. Then he continued on to his country estate fifty kilometres further south, where he was arrested the next day.
A quarter of an hour after Witzleben's departure from Home Army Headquarters, the Deutschlandsender announcer warned the nation to stand by their radios for a personal message from the Führer. By this time, General Fromm had taken action.
He had dined on sandwiches and red wine with the three generals of his staff, who had been arrested in the early evening when they had reported to Bendlerstraße for a routine conference. The four were allowed to move unescorted from the office to Fromm's private quarters in the building. He led his department heads straight to an unguarded but locked emergency exit, and ordered them to escape and alert the Berlin garrison. The conspirators' security remained as slack as ever.
Resistance was growing also in other parts of the headquarters building. The basement communications room decided to ignore further orders from Olbricht and Stauffenberg when Keitel's teleprinter message came in from Rastenburg. The rebels were stretched too thinly to be able to keep an eye on their communications staff. A group of junior officers on Olbricht's staff had been playing a waiting game for most of the day. When they realized that the coup might not succeed, and that the reports of Hitler's death were lies, they ordered by telephone a delivery of sub-machine guns from the Spandau armoury on Wilhelmstraße.
The lorry which brought their weapons and ammunition just drove unchecked through to the inner courtyard of Home Army Headquarters. The junior officers unloaded the cargo and heaved crates up a staircase to Oberstleutnant Franz Heber's office. Then, while charging 32-round magazines with cartridges and cleaning storage grease from MP-40 sub-machine guns, they resumed their eternal discussion of what to do for the best. They wanted to be on the winning side, but they also had to make a plan for survival if they were surrounded by enemies.
Eventually, while General Reinecke was closing a cordon of troops loyal to the Führer around Bendlerstraße, the talking came to an end. The junior officers had reduced their choices to two: do nothing and be hanged as conspirators or arrest the leaders of the rebellion and become heroes. Heber and his colleagues trawled the building for a makeshift battle unit of like-minded officers and men, armed them, and then moved out in force to take over.
They ran into their enemies in Olbricht's anteroom and shot up the room in their excitement. Only Stauffenberg was injured, shot in his left arm, the good one, while trying to escape. Heber assembled the leading rebels in General Fromm's spacious office while a squad headed for Fromm's private quarters to release their commanding officer.
General Beck, a man in his mid-sixties, knew what was expected of an officer of the old school in his position. He asked General Fromm for permission to shoot himself. Fromm agreed, brimming over with relief and his newly restored power. Beck started to make a final speech. Fromm told him to get on with it without delay.
Beck put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. He succeeded only in giving himself a surface head wound, which bled freely but left his life in no danger. One of the loyal junior officers tried to take his pistol away. Beck asked for a second chance. Fromm told him to hurry up, adding his permission for the other prisoners to write a final letter.
Generals Olbricht and Höpner sat down at the huge desk and tried to compose their thoughts. Fromm left the office to ponder their fate in private. He had known of the conspiracy but he had not dared to take an active part in it. Neither had he reported his knowledge of the conspirators' plans to the proper authority. His only hope of salvation, he realized, lay in presenting himself to Hitler as the man who had put down the revolt, who had let the rebels expose themselves before crushing them.
Fromm returned to his office after an absence of just five minutes. he began the process of self-protection by condemning to death Olbricht and his chief of staff Oberst Mertz von Quirnheim, Stauffenberg and his adjutant Leutnant Häften. He tried to give the death sentences a gloss of authority by announcing that they had been decided at a (non-existent) court martial.
As the four condemned men were being led down to the courtyard for execution, General Beck made a second attempt to kill himself, and failed again. Fromm told one of the junior officers to help him, disgusted by his former colleague's ineptitude. The designated executioner delegated the task to an NCO, who applied the coup de grace with a bullet through the back of Beck's neck. Then he, in turn, delegated the tasks of removing the body and cleaning up the mess.
Olbricht and his companions were marched down to the courtyard and lined up in the slits of light cast by the headlamps of blacked-out staff cars. It was full night and the city was darkened and waiting for the first air raid alert. The condemned men were crowded together against a stretch of wall between tall windows, which was scarcely wide enough for a single execution, let alone four men at once.
A firing squad with submachine guns went through the routine of load, aim, fire! Flame stabbed toward the prisoners. They were flung back against the wall. Stray bullets smashed adjacent windows. The four prisoners crumpled to the cobbles. Following regulations, the officer in charge of the firing party inspected each man, pistol in hand, ready to deliver a shot to the back of the neck if any was still alive. All four men were dead. They had been spared the prolonged agony and humiliation that awaited others who had supported their doomed conspiracy.
Inside the building, Fromm was faced with the problem of what to do with General Höpner, his intended successor if the coup had succeeded, who was too senior an officer for Fromm to decide his fate. Höpner felt that he could justify his actions. Fromm had him taken under close guard to Moabit military prison.
At last, he was back in undisputed control of his command. Fromm's next action was to dictate a teleprinter message to Supreme Headquarters at Rastenburg announcing that he had crushed the coup and executed the ringleaders. He added a fulsome pledge of his eternal loyalty and devotion to the Führer. He was wasting his time. His own appointment with a firing squad lay a further eight months in the future.
The executed men were wrapped in waterproof ground sheets and loaded into the back of a lorry. Working parties hosed away their blood and boarded up the smashed windows. The lorry headed for a nearby churchyard with a burial party. Stauffenberg and his companions lay in their shallow graves until dawn, then they were resurrected by the Gestapo to be photographed for official records. Eventually, their bodies were incinerated and their ashes scattered on the four winds, a fate shared two years later by those convicted in the victors' war crimes trials.
Just after midnight, General Reinecke closed his ring of steel and moved in on the Home Army Headquarters. Fromm was relieved of his command by Sturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, the SS officer who had carried out Operation Oak, the daring rescue of Mussolini in 1943. Skorzeny put an end to the executions and set to work rounding up prisoners for transfer to Gestapo Headquarters, the notorious brain-repair workshop on Prinz Albrechstraße. He also brought in a team of detectives to assemble incriminating documents.
Himmler telephoned Rastenburg from Goebbels' Ministry to make a personal situation report to the Führer and to confirm that the revolt had been crushed.
The recordings made by Hitler, Göring and Dönitz were not broadcast until 1 a.m. on July 21st. As martial music and the belated words of anger were ringing over the whole of Europe, Stauffenberg and his comrades were being buried in a gloomy churchyard by the minimal gleam of blackout lights, and General von Stülpnagel was admitting defeat in Paris. Hitler was in his twelfth year as ruler of Germany. The only serious revolt in all that time had lasted less than twelve hours.
At Rastenburg, the Führer was under the impression that his message had been transmitted several times before when he heard the broadcast for the first time, accompanying it with muttered threats against the rebels and their families. Then he decided to have what, for him, would be an early night. When he had gone to bed, his staff left the inner compound feeling weak with relief. The tensions of the day had left them totally drained.
The Führer had been swinging between apathy and urgency all evening. He had been requiring, in equal measures, progress reports on the efforts to regain control of the Reich and its occupied territories, and assurances that the loyal forces were equal to their tasks. His rapid shifts of mood had severely tested the collective confidence, imagination and sycophancy of his headquarters staff.
Blondi was allowed out of her kennel for her last walk of the day. She had been locked up, out of the way, since the early afternoon. Rattenhuber made his final rounds of the inner compound in an uneasy frame of mind. He had set his Gestapo contacts looking for Dr. Marzius and Weinkenner after holding a guarded telephone conversation with Himmler two and a half hours earlier. Rattenhuber was under orders to take no further action until Himmler reached Rastenburg in the morning.
The Führer had lived through the day. Rattenhuber could offer proof of his survival, in varying degrees of authenticity, in various parts of the country. Unfortunately, all of his Führers were called Müller. The whole charade would disintegrate if he failed to find the genuine article. He would become the bodyguard who had lost Adolf Hitler. That achievement alone might be grounds for his instant execution in the power struggle to come. Or he might become an essential member of the new ruling group.
He was living in desperately uncertain times. Rattenhuber realized that getting to sleep with so much on his mind would be a major miracle. All that he could do was return to his office and hope that the stupefying effect of routine paperwork would make him doze off for an hour or two.