Sitting by a deserted Bavarian Autobahn, Claus Sellier is writing in his pocket diary. '30th April 1945. We completed our mission!' Earlier at the army provisions store in Traunstein, he and his companion Fritz loaded up two knapsacks with supplies, including pots and pans to exchange for food. Claus yells as loud as he can towards the Alps, 'I am free at last! This is a great day!'
The young men pick up their knapsacks and head for home.
Four days later on the 4th May 1945 Claus and Fritz see an American roadblock in the distance, They keep their uniforms on, but bury their pistols in a gas mask container and mark the spot by placing their belts in the shape of cross in case they need to retrieve them.
At the roadblock the GIs take great interest in Claus's medals, especially a swastika made of gold. Claus doesn't understand exactly what's being said, but he knows an auction when he sees one. A young GI gives the soldier on duty a wad of notes for the gold swastika. Claus notices that all of the Americans have watches from their wrists to their elbows. They try and take Fritz's gold watch, but he fights too hard, shouting in broken English that he demands to see the officer in charge.
#Then the GIs motion to Claus and Fritz to roll up their sleeves. All SS soldiers have their blood type tattooed under the left armpit. Satisfied that they are ordinary soldiers, the Americans take them to a nearby cemetery where they join other German soldiers sitting on cold wet gravestones.
Claus and Fritz watch as a civilian is stopped. He protests in good English that as he isn't a soldier he shouldn't be searched. But in his belongings the American soldiers find a photograph of him dressed in an SS uniform - he shouts indignantly that it's a picture of his twin brother. They rip odd his white shirt and find a blood group tattoo - further evidence that he he's in the military. At At gunpoint the man joins Claus and Fritz in the cemetery. It starts to snow. Two weeks later, the men make it home to their families, looking tired and scruffy.
Around the same time, a farmer outside Munich discovers that two of his scarecrows are wearing the uniform of German Mountain Artillery Regiment.(Something I never could understand when taken prisoner May 1945, that highly decorated German soldiers for bravery would grovel towards the Americans,HKS)
Hitler's adjutant Otto Günsche goes up the stairs to the upper bunker and drops onto the bench beside Traudl Junge. He takes the bottle of Schnapps from her and lifts it to his lips. His large hands are shaking. He is as white as ghost and stinking of petrol. 'I have carried out the Führer's last order.' 'His body has been burned.' Traudl Junge doesn't reply.
Downstairs, Heinz Linge is sorting out Hitler's study: disposing of the bloodstained carpet, medicines, documents and clothes. Günsche leaves Traudl Junge to give orders to two SS officers, Ewald Lindoff and Hans Reisser, to bury the bodies.
Rochus Misch remains at the switchboard, he has been joined by one of the mechanics from the underground garages who helped bring the petrol to the Führerbunker. They sit in silence.
Misch is hyper-alert. He keeps thinking he can hear 'the tread of the death squad's boots sent below by Gestapo Müller to shoot us.' He takes the safety catch off his pistol.
As dusk begins to fall, Berlin darkens quickly under the pall of smoke and the Russian assault on the Reichstag restarts. General Shatilov has learned that his overly optimistic claims of have taken the Reichstag have reached Stalin. He is now desperate to get the red flag flying on the roof of the building on the far side of the square.
Captain Neustroev, who us leading the assault unit, is exasperated by the focus on the flag. All his platoon sergeants are vying to be the ones to plant it on the roof. Half a mile away in the Führerbunker, Goebbels, Bormann and Krebs, Mohnke and Burgdorf are sitting in the conference room trying to agree the best course of action They quickly decide against joint suicide. Bormann suggests a mass breakout, but Mohnke argues that it would be impossible. They decide to try and set up negotiations with the Russians. Meanwhile the Führer's death must be kept secret. Only two people need to know: General Weidling, who is leading the defence of Berlin, and Josef Stalin. Weidling is summoned from his command post at the Tiergarten.
Yes, what to do next?
In Berlin the Russian soldiers of the 150th Rifle Division are charging the front of the Reichstag. They have finally been able to cross Königsplatz under the cover of the dark fug of smoke and with tank support close behind them. They rush at the building to burst through doors and windows, but the German defence force has managed to brick up and block the entrances. The Russians have to blast their way in.
A few hundred yards away SS officer Ewald Lindoff climbs the steps from the Führerbunker to the Reich Chancellery garden, armed with a spade. He has been ordered by Otto Günsche to bury the bodies of Adolf and Eva Hitler. Shells have hit the garden in the last few hours and Lindoff finds the bodies are not burned, but have been 'torn open by shelling. He buries the remains in a fresh shell crater.
Admiral Dönitz arrives back at Plön Castle, following his meeting with Himmler in Lübeck police station. He is astonished to be greeted with a telegram from Martin Bormann informing him that he has been appointed as Hitler's Successor.
The commandant of Berlin General Weidling, arrives in the bunker and is met by Goebbels, Bormann and the Generals, who show him Hitler's study where the double suicide took place. He is sworn to secrecy. He immediately summons Colonel von Dufving, his Chief of Staff, and a number of other staff members, to join him in the bunker, without giving a reason
Allied bombing reduced most of Berlin to rubble
The stone columns of the great entrance hall of the Reichstag are covered in blood. The first Russian soldiers to force their way in are met with a storm of grenades and Panzerfaust fire from the balconies around the central staircase. As reinforcements flow into the building, climbing over the dead and injured, the Russians gradually make their way up the stairs, firing from sub-machine guns, lobbing grenades. Many of the German defenders - the Hitler Youth, the soldiers, the SS - race down back staircases to hide in the cellars. Others are forced further upwards as the building catches fire.
In the early dusk of the smoke filled skies, the three officers who have escaped the bunker, von Loringhoven, Boldt and Weiss, are setting off in a rowing boat they have found in a sailing club on the Pichelsdorf peninsula. Like the three men carrying Hitler's testaments, they are also heading for the Wannsee bridgehead. It is another dark and moonless night. The three men hold their oars and let the boat slide silently downstream. They can hear the conversations of the Russian soldiers occupying the villas along the river banks. These are the very same houses that have, until recently been used as weekend getaway by top Nazis, and before that belonged to Jewish families who are brutally forced out.
As the bunker telephones are no longer working, a technician called Hermann Gretz brings a drum of cable to Misch's switchboard. He heads out, taken the other end to the Russian command in nearby Zimmerstrasse. Now the Führer is dead, those remaining in the bunker want to establish contact with the enemy forces.
In Plön Castle Admiral Dönitz is on the telephone to Heinrich Himmler . After hearing of his appointment as Hitler's successor, one of Dönitz's first action was to ask his adjutant to call Himmler. He feels it is very important that he gets his support. At their meeting that afternoon, Himmler had given him the impression that he saw himself as a natural successor to the Führer. The SS Chief initially refused to come to Plön, but now reluctantly agrees when Dönitz calls him back and speaks to him in person.
1943 portrait Admiral Karl Dönitz
Gretz returns from Russian command and plugs in the cable. Misch tests it, but says the line is dead. Gretz double-checks. It is dead. He goes back to the Russians in Zimmerstrasse.
In the upper bunker Magda Goebbels is putting her children to bed. The littlest, Heide, has a sore throat. Her mother finds her a red scarf. This is their last night's sleep. This time tomorrow they will each be given injections of morphine. Their mother will tell them that this is a vaccination that all the soldiers are getting to protect them against disease. Once they are dozing, Ludwig Stumpfegger, one of the Reich Chancellery doctors, the only one whom Magda has been able to persuade to carry out this task, will crush a cyanide capsule between each child's teeth
The three testament couriers are re-united at the Wannsee bridgehead. While waiting for his colleagues Johannmeier has found a small German army unit and used their radio to make contact with Admiral Dönitz . Dönitz has instructed them to go to Pfaueninsel, a small wooded island further south along the river Havel, and wait for a seaplane which he is sending to rescue them.
Gretz the technician reappears in the Führerbunker switchboard office. 'The cable was not earthed, try it again.
Misch plugs it in and hears a Russian voice. Moment, moment,' he says, and passes the connection to General Krebs, who has been secretly brushing up the Russian he learned when he was the military attache in Moscow before the war. Krebs arranges to meet the Russian General Zhukov later that evening.
Zhukov in 1944
Constanze Manziarly is mashing potato and frying eggs, creating dinner that she knows the Führer won't eat. Those in Hitler's immediate circle are keeping his death secret from the staff in the Reich Chancellery, and the kitchen orderlies who assist her have no idea that this meal is a charade.
Back in the map room, Goebbels and Bormann are drafting a letter for Krebs to take to General Zhukov. Goebbels is adamant that they will not offer an unconditional surrender.
In the Reichstag fierce fighting continues. Two Russian soldiers, bearing a red flag and heading for the roof, are moan down as they reach the second floor.
The three officers who are supposed to be delivering Hitler's testaments have reached Pfaueninsel in the middle of the River Havel. The island's white castle looms through the darkness. This will be the landmark to guide the seaplane which Admiral Dönitz is sending. The men clamper ashore. They manage to find some civilian clothes in the castle and they disperse of their army uniforms. They begin the long wait for the seaplane to arrive. At dawn they will be joined by the three officers who have broken out of the bunker - von Loringhoven, Boldt and Weiss..
General Krebs sets of from the Führerbunker for the Russian command post. He is accompanied by two officers and is bearing a letter from Goebbels and Bormann, which announces the death of the Führer and requests a ceasefire in order that peace negotiations may commence. They ask for safe passage for everyone in the Reich Chancellery complex.
Traudl Junge is sitting with her fellow secretary Gerda Christian in the Führerbunker corridor with the other bunker staff, drinking coffee and Schnapps and making pointless conversation,' Constance Manziarly is sitting in a corner. Her eyes are red from weeping. Günsche and Mohnke are talking about leaing a group of fighting men to break out of the bunker. Jung''s ears prick up and in one voice she and Gerda Christian say, 'Take us too!' The two men nod. Junge doesn't think 'it likely that any of hem could survive a breakout, but it seems better to do something active rather than wait for the Russians to come and find my corpse in the mousetrap.'
Continued under Part 12/