MONDAY 30th APRIL 1945
Nicolaus von Below, the Luftwaffe adjutant who is making his way home to his wife and children on the Baltic Coast, steps out of the Chancellery garages on to Hermann-Göringstrasse. The street is an inferno. There are fires on all sides and the night air is thick with smoke. The surface of the street has been devastated. He has to make his way in the darkness over a confusion of of cables, torn-down wires, building rubble and bomb craters. As he picks his way towards the Brandenburg Gate and the Havel River, the same route travelled by the two groups of officers yesterday, von Below feels an enormous flood of relief. As he writes many years later, with every step it became clearer to me that I had left nothing left to do. I was all the same to me whatever happened now. I was free at last of all the responsibility and depressing burden of the Hitler years.
Ruins of Berlin April 1945
Further along the route, the three testament couriers are rowing as silently as they can down the River.
In the switchboard room of the bunker, Rochus Misch is woken from his doze by a message from Hitler. The Führer wants to know whether there has been any reply to the questions radioed to General Jodl a few hours ago. Is there any news of the progress of the German combined attack forces which are supposed to be relieving Berlin? There isn't.
A group of about 25 guards and servants are summoned from the Reich Chancellery Building to the Fürerbunker. Hitler tells them of Himmler's treachery. and his intention to take his own life rather than be captured by the Russia
'I do not want to be put on a show like an exhibition in a museum. He shuffles along the line of people and shakes hands with each of them, thanking them for their service. He tells them they are released from their oath of loyalty. They must try to make their way to an area controlled by the British or Americans rather than fall into Russian hands.
In the Führerbunker SS doctor Professor Ernst Schenck is looking Hitler in the eye, and although the Führer appears to staring back at him, his eyes say nothing. There is no expression. They are like wet pale blue porcelain, glazed actually more grey than blue... filmy like the skin of a soft ripe grape'. The whites of his eyes are bloodshot and there are black bags beneath. Schenck is not clear why he has been woken from a deep sleep and summoned to meet the Führer, but he is one of four medics who have been called to this meeting. He is exhausted. He has been working in the emergency hospital in the Reich Chancellery all week, carrying out operations on the endless stream of wounded who are brought in. Schenck is by training a research doctor, not a surgeon. His more experienced colleague, Dr. Werner Haase, guides him through the more complex operations. Haase is suffering from tuberculosis and has difficulty breathing. He lies on a hospital bed beside the operating table and talks Schenck through the necessary incisions. Schenck has spent most of the war working in Dachau concentration camp, developing nutritious sausages for soldiers, experimenting on the prisoners. He has never been so close to the Führer. The diminished hunched man with his shaking limbs is nothing like the inspiring leader he has admired from far. Schenck is a man whose mind always turns to diagnosis. This, he thinks, is a clear case of Parkinson's disease.
Noticing the food stains on the front of Hitler's military jacket, Schenck suddenly becomes aware of the state of his own uniform. It is spattered with encrusted brown blood - not his own. He has worked and slept in it for as long as he can remember.
Hitler takes Schenck's hand and gives it a jerky shake, a 'cold fish, flapping gesture'. He moves along the line of medics, shaking their hands in turn with trembling thanks for their work. The others summoned for this unexpected meeting is Dr Haase, who killed Hitler's German shepherd B Blondi a few hours earlier, and two nurses.
One of the nurses, Erna Flegel, has been helping to look after Goebbels children during the last week. Flegel is a stolid women who does not flinch as she dresses the hideous injuries of the wounded who are brought into the emergency hospital - but now, when Hitler takes her hand, she breaks down, sobbing, 'Mein Führer! Have faith in the final victory. Lead us and we will follow you!'
Hitler does not respond. He starts speaking, but his words, Schenck notices, seem 'not aimed at anyone in particular'. He is just summing things up, speaking, as it were, for the ages'. At last Hitler turns slowly away. Schenck and the two nurses leave, but Dr Haase is asked to stay.
The magnificent 70-foot long, three-masted barque Gorch Fock is slowly sinking in the Baltic Sea. She is a training ship for the German Navy, moored just off the island of Dänholm. There is no one on board, her crew were deployed elsewhere as the Russians advanced. At midnight he harbour master Hans-Heinrich Beerbohm received an order that the Gorch Fock shouldn't fall into Russian hands (they have already tried to sink her using rank shells, and so he dispatched two of his men to open the ship's peacocks. The men are watching from their motor launch as the Gorch Fock slowly settles on the seabed, her masts protruding above the waves.
Gorch Fock in Stralsund 2013
After the war, the Gorch Fock will be salvaged and taken as reparations by the Russians, to be renamed Tovarishch (Comrade) and used as a training vessel until the 1990s. She is now once more in German hands under her old name and is a museum ship moored close to where she sank in 1945
The testament couriers from the bunker have become separated on the River Havel. Only Johannmeier has managed to row as far as their agreed destination at the Wannsee bridgehead. In the darkness Lorenz and Zander have landed on the Sdchwannenwerder not far from the lakeside house where the Goebbels children were living until a week ago.
Dr Schenck is sitting drinking Schnapps in the corridor in the upper bunker. As the doctors and nurses walked back to the Reich Chancellery after their meeting with Hitler they came upon a big part of drinkers and were invited to join them. Two secretaries now appear with a third woman. Someone whispers to Schenck 'that this is Frau Hitler. She sits at one end of the table like a Rhineland carnival queen', knocking back the drink, dominating the conversation with stories. Schenck has never heard of her before, and certainly never met her. He can't tell whether the tremor in her voice is caused by a lisp or by alcohol.
In the Führerbunker switchboard room, Rochus Misch has woken again as General Jodl's replies to Hitler's questions about a combined attack come through o the radio:
1. Wenck's spearhead is stuck south of Schwielow Lake.
2. Consequently, the 12th Army cannot continue its attack on Berlin
3. The 9th Army is fully encircled. Holst's corps has been forced into
a defensive position. Attacks on Berlin have not advanced anywhere.'
There is no good news. In the frustration, Hitler orders Martin Bormann to send a message to Admiral Dönitz:
'Immediate ruthless action must be taken against all traitors.' It is Heinrich Himmler he has in mind.
Dr Schenck is desperate for a pee. He gets up from the table of drinkers, and realizes that his need is too urgent for him to go all the way back to the Reich Chancellery. He hurries down to the lower bunker. It is normally guarded by two armed guards but they seem to have disappeared.
The Führerbunker is ghostly quiet except for the drone of the Diesel generator and the more distant sounds of a boisterous party, somewhere in the Reich Chancellery. He creeps along the corridor for the latrines. Through an open doorway, he sees the Führer standing by a table, leaning his weight on one hand, in deep concentration with doctor Haase.
Hitler is anxious the he and Eva die at exactly the same moment. He wants to use a foolproof method of cyanide and shooting. They agree that he will have two pistols, in case one jam, and two cyanide capsules, in case one is a dud. Eva Braun will also have two capsules. Hitler will put one capsule in his mouth and hold the pistol at eyebrow level at a right angle, the muzzle on his temple. He will fire and bite simultaneously.
Haase the goes through to Eva Braun. She is worried that she will lose her resolve if Hitler dies first. Haase tells her to bite the moment she hears the shot. She has a pistol in reserve, but she doesn't want to use it.
In the Ministry of Interior, about 500 yards from the Reich Chancellery, a Soviet kitchen has been set up in the basement. A vat of porridge is being hurriedly cooked as an early breakfast to the troops who are about to take part in a dawn assault on the Reichstag.
Stalin has identified this government building as the one that symbolizes control of Berlin. He has ordered that the red flag should be flying from the Reichstag rooftop in time for Russia's national day, the May Day holiday tomorrow.
On the top floor of the Ministry, the battle of Berlin is still being fought. As Russian soldiers make their way up the stairs, German defenders are attacking them with grenades and sub-machine guns.
On the first floor, a centre of military operations has been set up. Captain Neustroev, the battalion commander who is about to lead the assault on the Reichstag, is studying a map with his regimental commander. Neustroev is struggling to get his bearings. 'How are we going to get past this grey building?
'Neustroev!' The senior commander explains, 'that grey building is the Reichstag!' Neustroev is stunned. He had not realized how close they were to their ultimate target. General Shatilov, who is in overall command of the South Rifle Division, is bursting with excitement. He can't resist informing the Front Headquarters that the Reichstag is as good as won. He knows Stalin wants the news in time for tomorrows May Day Parade.
As the first light of dawn begins to brighten the smoky Berlin sky, the escaping officers Brandt, Weiss and von Loringhoven can just make out three Russian tanks - their guns pointing in he direction of Pichelsdorf Bridge. The Hitler Youth have lost control of it, but remain in position on the far side. As the three officers approach there is no reaction from the Russian tanks, the Russian soldiers are sleeping. The officers are able to crawl unnoticed across the bridge, and slip down the far banks. It is the start of a cold, wet day.
In he Führerbunker Hitler retires to bed. The party of drinkers in the upper bunker disperses and Eva Hitler goes down to her room. Schenck and the nurses make their way back to the Reich Chancellery. Upstairs, in the new Reich Chancellery building, a raucous party is still in full swung, despite the risk of shelling. Behind the door of the Chancellery dental surgery, a woman is being strapped into the dentist chair. By this room is used for tooth extractions, by night it is the most popular place to have sex.
In the Ministry of Interior, breakfast is dished up, the Russian soldiers going to lead the attack on the Reichstag queue for dollops of under-cooked porridge.
German snipers in position in the Reichstag itself and the nearby Kroll Opera House. There are about 5000 German troops defending the Reichstag, they are made up of SS, regular army, Home Guard, Hitler Youth and 250 sailors who have been airlifted into Berlin in the past week. The Germans have dug a network of defence channels around the Reichstag. The centrepiece is a moat, which was created when shelling smashed an underground tunnel, allowing water to seep through from the River Spree.
Continued under Part 9/