Chapter 9: Depth of Evil Revealed: Progress across Europe from east and west reveals Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camps; Auschwitz, Dachau, Belsen.
Chapter 10: A Bunker in Berlin: Last days of Hitler.
Chapter 11: Surrender; VE Day (Victory in Europe Day).
Chapter 12: The War in the Pacific: Doolittle Raid; Guadacanal; Mariana Islands – Saipan, Tinian; Burma; Philippines; Iwo Jima; Guam.
DELIVERANCE – The Story of WWII
EVIL REVEALED: NAZI DEATH CAMPS
By the spring of 1945 the German Third Reich of Adolf Hitler was collapsing as sure as it was shrinking.
The guns of the mighty Russian Army could already be heard in Berlin. If the Fuehrer, safely ensconced in his Berlin Bunker, ventured up into the Chancellery Garden – he too would hear them. He was pondering his options.
The U.S. and British Armies were fanning out to drive across Germany, north, east, and south. They would aim to meet the Russians at the Elbe River.
The three great Allied leaders, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin decided they should confer to plan the occupation and administration of defeated Germany.
YALTA CONFERENCE – Feb 4-11, 1945
Marshall Stalin said his doctors advised him not to travel outside the Soviet Union. So President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill agreed to travel and have the conference at YALTA, a resort town in the Crimea on the Black Sea.
U.S. President Roosevelt had recently been re-elected for an unprecedented fourth term, but he was not a well man. The long, arduous, fourteen-hour journey took its toll. Observers reported that FDR “had a gaunt and haggard face”. Churchill too had aged but his mind seemed as sharp as ever.
Each delegation was assigned to one of the beautiful palaces, built by the Tsars.
The Livadia Palace of Tsar Nicholas II was where the main sessions would be held and also the palace assigned for the President. I have listed below the most important decisions made at the Yalta Conference.
- Stalin agreed that the Russians would stop at the Elbe River coming to it from the East. He kept his word.
- All liberated countries would appoint their own governments democratically elected. History would later conclude that here Stalin was more devious. He made sure such countries, liberated by Russia, would have governments heavily embracing the Communist ideology. One thinks of the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania; plus Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Hungary, Bulgaria, and others. Stalin wanted Russia to have a “sphere of influence” over all countries bordering Russia.
Occupied Germany would be divided up into 4 zones – Soviet Russian, American, British and French. Since Berlin would fall into the Eastern/Soviet zone it, too, was to be divided into four Zones. This was to lead to some very difficult and dangerous problems. Think of the “Berlin Wall”; the “Berlin Air-lift”; President Kennedy’s visit, “Ich bin ein Berliner”; and President Reagan’s, “ Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
- Stalin promised to support the U.S. in the war against Japan.
- Stalin wanted acceptance of certain border adjustments and a redrawing of frontiers in Poland. These were accepted.
- Germany would be de-militarized (excepting Allied occupiers). She would pay reparations and surrender those guilty of war crimes for trial.
- Stalin agreed to participate in the new international body: the United Nations.
Churchill reported all this to the House of Commons and asked for approval of the Agreement. It was passed overwhelmingly with only 25 Members of Parliament voting against. Almost 400 approved.
Roosevelt addressed Congress on March 1st. Some commented that he looked “burned out.” It was a moving speech broadcast live (available on YouTube). Many Americans learned for the first time how handicapped he was when he apologized for giving his speech seated, explaining how difficult it had been dragging around 10lbs of steel on his legs.
CONQUEST FROM THE WEST
Under Commander-in-Chief General Eisenhower (Ike) the different Allied armies were seeking to accomplish their assignments.
In the NORTH
Field Marshal Montgomery (Monty), commanding British forces, and U.S. 9th Army units under General Hodges, was to encircle the important Ruhr area. General Simpson and his 1st Army would come up from the south and complete the encirclement. This pincer plan was achieved on April 1st, meeting up at Lippstadt. After 18 days of siege nearly 400,000 German troops surrendered, including 30 generals. The overall commander, General Walter Model, preferred to wander off into some woods near Duisburg and shoot himself.
The Ruhr was an important coal mining area and with crucial armaments factories. The Allied air forces had bombarded the cities, Duisburg, Essen, Dortmund, Dusseldorf, and others. In Dusseldorf the German anti-Nazi resistance tried to surrender the city but the S.S. prevented that and executed all their leaders. Nevertheless all the cities were taken.
Monty to the BALTIC
Ike was anxious that the Baltic ports – Kiel, Lubeck, Wismar, Rostock and Sassnitz – should be captured and a way blocked to the – still German-occupied – peninsula of DENMARK. Churchill particularly, who had not been quite as trusting of “Uncle Joe” (as FDR called Stalin), worried about Denmark. “Marshall Stalin,” Churchill said, “has a voracious appetite for small countries.”
Monty’s men did the job and the Germans in Denmark surrendered. Furthermore the liberation of the Netherlands was also at long last completed.
The speed of progress of the Allied armies was mixed. Sometimes there was great resistance, especially by units of the fanatical SS. Elsewhere whole towns or villages would hang white sheets from their homes and almost gave the impression that even the German people would be relieved when it was all over. Units of the army or individual soldiers would voluntarily seek to surrender. Woe to them, however, if they were caught by the SS or the Gestapo. Himmler’s order was that deserters would be immediately executed and their families also. Nevertheless fifteen thousand German individual soldiers were executed as “deserters”. (Only one American, and no British in WWII.)
General Patton heads EAST
Eisenhower – acting upon HQ intelligence – was convinced Hitler was planning a “last stand” at his Alpine home (the Berghof) at Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. There was credible evidence. Goering appeared to have been sent there to organize the Redoubt. Goering had a house near to Hitler’s. So did Albert Speer, Martin Bormann. Secretaries and other Fuehrer HQ staff had been sent there. The Waffen-SS troops long ago had taken the resort town. Now, it was rumored, new elite SS Divisions were assembling.
Said Eisenhower, “Berchtesgaden must be taken.”
The 3rd Army was to make very rapid progress toward the Swiss and Czech borders. Patton’s tanks raced down Hitler’s vaunted (and admired) Autobahns. Patton advanced 250 to 300 miles in 6 weeks.
Consider these numbers:
From the Rhine to the Elbe, 33,000 square miles of German territory. Losses tell the story.
Allied losses: 2,000 killed; 8,000 wounded; 1,500 missing.
German losses: 20,100 killed; 47,000 wounded; 653,000 captured
Prisoners – There were stupendous numbers of prisoners to feed and somehow intern.
Then they would be moved to prisoner-of-war camps in Britain, Canada, and the U.S.
Miles of long lines of exhausted and dejected German troops clogged the roads. As one writer put it, “…the goose step was heard no more – only the shuffle of defeat.”
THE LIBERATION OF THE PRISON CAMPS
WE must turn to THE defining event of the Allied advance of 1945. This was the discovery and liberation of the concentration camps. It has been estimated that between 1933 – when Hitler came to power – and the end in 1945, over forty thousand (40,000) prison camps were constructed.
There were three different types:
- STALAGS – prisoners-of-war camps
- CONCENTRATION – forced labor camps
- EXTERMINATION – for the mass killing of Jews and others
PRISONER of WAR CAMPS – (“Stalags”)
These were usually guarded and administered by the German military. Only rarely were British, Commonwealth, and American prisoners-of-war sent to concentration camps. If prisoners escaped and were re-captured they could be shot – and often were. However, when some Allied airmen escapees were caught and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, the German Luftwaffe found out. Goering was incensed and ordered them transferred to a Luftwaffe POW camp. Generally speaking the Western Allied POWs were treated in accordance with the Geneva convention – except for shortage of food. Red Cross parcels were a God-send (when they were not stolen by the guards!)
As the Allied armies drew near the POWs were usually ordered to march further into Germany to other camps. The overcrowding therefore increased, while the supply of food decreased.
The prisoner-of-war camps for Russian prisoners were very different. Russian POWs were deliberately starved until thousands died. Of the three and one half million (3,500,000) Russian POWs more than half died. The Nazis classified Russians, Poles, and all Slavs as “untermenschen” (sub-human). Contrast: out of two-hundred-and-thirty-one-thousand (231,000) Western Allied POWs some eight-thousand-three-hundred (8,300) perished – often through illness.
There were thousands and thousands of these. Most were LABOR CAMPS: they were opened near industrial areas or near factories that could use prisoners to assist the Nazi war effort. The camps might have very different categories of prisoners, indicated by a different badge sewn onto the “uniform” – (often like striped pyjamas): Jews-yellow; Romani (Gypsies) – brown; Homosexuals – pink; Jehovah’s Witnesses – purple; Communists – red. Political prisoners and others were interned: anyone who offended Hitler – or other Nazi leaders.
It was all slave labor and inmates would be worked 12 to 14 hours per day and fed on meager rations. Thousands starved or just died from exhaustion or disease.
The concentration camps were under the supervision of the notorious SS. This Series has mentioned the SS several times…remember Oradour and Malmedy (chapter 7).
Who were the SS?
SS stands for “Schutzstaffel” meaning “protection squadron”. It was created by Heinrich Himmler, in the early days of Hitler’s rise to power, as a “Praetorian Guard” for the Fuehrer. It comprised an elite squadron of men recruited for their racial purity (Aryan), physical and military prowess, ruthless behavior, and (most of all) a fanatical dedication to their oath to the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler.
This body quickly grew until it had to be organized into some specialist branches. One such was the “Waffen-SS” – the armed divisions of the Wehrmacht, the German Army.
To the very end the SS was led and controlled by Himmler, described by one writer as “the most terrifying apparatus of state repression that Europe has yet seen. An empire of evil that held, not only the Reich, but vast swathes of conquered territory in the grip of sheer terror.”
Of the thousands of concentration camps, I will write about the liberation of just a few. The reaction by British and American liberators each time was one of horror, anger, and almost disbelief.
This camp – satellite of the notorious “Buchenwald” – was the first to be captured by the Allied forces on April 4, 1945.
The men of the US 4th Armored Division and 89th Infantry were shocked and sickened by what they found. Piles of emaciated bodies, attempts to cover the evidence of executions and torture: mass cremations still smoldering, and the stench of death even before you entered the camp.
On April 12 General Eisenhower, accompanied by Generals Patton and Bradley came to see what had been found. Ike was so horrified he gave immediate instructions. Press men must be invited to come with photographers – both film and still. He visited a shed piled high with thousands of naked, rotten, decomposing, unburied bodies. All virtual skeletons. In the huts: no beds, just lice infested, blood soaked straw. Bradley went deathly white. Patton had to retreat and vomit.
The prisoners were there to work on tunnels, railways, roads. Up to 13,000 died in the short period from January to April 1945 alone. Eisenhower commanded that the German civilians from the nearby town must be brought here. They were made to see everything and then help with the piling up of the dead for a mass cremation.
Eisenhower addressed his officers in cold fury, “I want every American unit not actually in the front lines to see this place.” He said, “We are told the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.”
The German mayor of the town went home with his wife and both committed suicide.
On April 19, back at his HQ Eisenhower sent a message to Chief of Staff George Marshall suggesting that a delegation of Congressmen, Senators, and British MPs come and see for themselves this unforgettable atrocity. That same day Marshall received the permission of the President and Secretary of War Stimson for these delegations to visit the liberated camps.
This notorious camp, one of the largest, was built in 1937. It is near WEIMAR; previously the city of Goethe and Liszt and home of the Weimar Republic.
It was liberated on April 11, 1945 at 3:15 p.m. – the time now stopped on the clock at the gate. The slogan at the entrance: “Jeden das Seine” – (lit. “To each his own”) – colloquially “Each gets what he deserves”. It was liberated by the 89th Division of Patton’s 8th Army.
It had 238,800 prisoners – 56,000 died from neglect, forced labor, exhaustion, disease, or shooting. At Buchenwald – as in all the camps – with the approach of the Allies the SS ordered forced marches of prisoners to other camps away from the liberation line. As German territory shrank these camps – already horrendously overcrowded – just could not cope.
As at Ohrdruf, the sight of thousands of walking skeletons and piles of stacked bodies came as a terrible, unforgettable shock to the liberators.
On June 5, 2009, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. President Barak Obama visited the site of Buchenwald concentration camp. The President recalled how his great-uncle, Charlie Payne of the 89th Infantry Division, helped liberate Ohrdruf. The horror of thousands of decomposing corpses and walking skeletons never left this soldier. He returned home a haunted man and isolated himself for quite a time from friends and even family.
President Obama said, “These sites have not lost their horror. More than half a century later, our grief and outrage have not diminished.”
Notorious at Buchenwald was Ilse Koch, wife of the first commandant. She was so brutal and sadistic that she was nicknamed, “The Witch of Buchenwald”. She crucified two priests upside down. Prisoners were hung to die in the forest – called the “screaming forest” – for reasons too horrible to describe. Most gruesome of all, she arranged to have human skin prepared to be made into lampshades. Some SS preferred wallets!
Some “Special Prisoners” were incarcerated here, most of which were scheduled to be executed. They included: Admiral Canaris – former head of the “Abwehr” (Military Intelligence); Kurt Schuschnigg – former Austrian Chancellor; Leon Blum – former President of France; and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (see the end of this chapter for more on Pastor Bonhoeffer).
SOME OTHER CONCENTRATION CAMPS
DACHAU – near Munich The oldest camp, established in 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor.
U.S. troops called it “The Hell of Dachau”. Some wrote of their experiences. Wrote one sergeant describing what he found behind the crematorium, “The stench was horrible. In back were pile upon pile of clothes all neatly arranged. The coats were separate, the pants, and so on. Little children’s clothes and shoes; girls and women’s dresses, shoes and hats.”
A corporal at the same place wrote, “I went into one of the crematoria – this is where the Nazis burned people alive. Saw some of the half-cooked bodies…rows and rows of bodies that these Germans had killed before they retreated…makes you just feel like killing every German alive.”
BERGEN-BELSEN – liberated by the British, April 15, 1945. Seventy-thousand (70,000) died here – including Anne Frank, aged 15. Some British soldiers cried, others vomited.
The most famous BBC reporter, Richard Dimbleby, sent back a recording of his eye-witness report. At first the BBC masters refused to broadcast it: too horrible; too unbelievable. Dimbleby threatened never, never, never to report for them again. They relented, with some cuts.
In May 1985 President Ronald Reagan visited Bergen-Belsen. Here was a great mound covered with heather. Here lay the bodies of 50,000 victims of Nazi brutality. Here he delivered a moving speech. Part of it was as follows: “Here they lie. Never to hope, never to pray, never to love, never to heal. Never to laugh, never to cry…Rising above all this cruelty, out of this tragic and nightmarish time, began the anguish, the pain, the suffering, and for all time we can and must pledge, NEVER AGAIN.”
RAVENSBRUCK – a camp for women – 90,000 died
MALTHAUSEN, Austria, nr. Linz (Hitler’s home town) – 95,000 died
And so it went on. At last the “unbelievable” rumors were horribly shown to be true. Photographs appearing in newspapers; pieces of film. As a boy I remember seeing pictures in the newspapers of what the liberators found at Belsen. It was far worse – even than the rumors.
But then was revealed the ultimate horror –the extermination camps.
The mass murder of “undesirable” people became a byword of the behavior/policies of Hitler and Nazi Germany.
It is the most unpleasant and horrific story of all but I must make reference to it for the cry still goes up from the blood-soaked soil of those death camps and smoking chimneys of the crematoria – never FORGET.
Persecution of Jews
Early in his leadership of the National Socialist Party (Nazi) Adolf Hitler incorporated into his speeches vitriolic hatred of Jews. They were, he said, the cause of all the ills Germany had suffered and Germany must be cleansed of them. They were “vermin”.
The 1935 notorious “Nuremburg Laws” decreed Jews could no longer be lawyers, teachers in schools and universities, civil servants, doctors, and other professions. It was an offence for a Jew to marry a German Gentile or to have sex relations together.
Life in Germany must be made so unpleasant that Jews will all leave. Hitler said, “Let them go back to their ancient homeland, Palestine – or to America, if they’ll have them!” Well, they would have some, but not too many! Britain, America, and other countries received some as refugees but put caps on the numbers and other restrictions.
The President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, went before the US Congress and asked them to pass a Bill allowing for 10,000 Jewish children to come to the USA each year for 2 years. This would be in addition to the very limited quota. One Senator said he would, “…rather have old Jews. They would not procreate!” The Bill was refused.
As for Palestine…the Arabs there were growing in hostility to the immigration of Jews. Britain, having the League of Nation’s Mandate, therefore put “caps” on how many could be allowed to settle. Britain now had the unenviable job of trying to keep the peace, and ended up being blamed by both sides.
About nine months before the war started (1939), the Jewish Agency asked the British Government for permission to send 10,000 children to Palestine. The Colonial Office turned it down. (It would further upset the Arabs.)
However, the British Government allowed up to 10,000 German Jewish children to enter Britain if a foster home, school, or family could be provided plus financial sponsorship. They must never become a financial burden on the taxpayer. Ten thousand were housed. Memorial statues grace Liverpool Street Station in London, Vienna station, and Israel itself.
The Nazi government turned to what became euphemistically called, “The Final Solution.” In other words, mass murder, genocide, “The Holocaust”. In a speech before the war Hitler cried: “If world Jewry drags Germany into another war that will be the end of the Jews in Europe.” This was met with rousing cheers. So, from about 1941 Hitler changed emigration to extermination.
At the Nuremburg war crime trials a defendant was asked, “What was the Final Solution?”
He replied, “The extermination of Jewry.”
Heinrich Himmler eagerly got to work.
SPECIAL EXECUTION SQUADS
These were known as “Einsatzgruppen” (Special Task Force). Each unit comprised of up to about 200 sharp-shooters, their task was to be sent to murder large concentrations of Jews.
Rumbala Forest For example, near Riga, capital city of Latvia, twenty-five thousand (25,000) Jews were executed in a two-day massacre.
Three hundred Russian prisoners-of-war were made to dig huge “death pits” shaped like an inverted pyramid. On November 30 and December 8 Jews from the Riga Ghetto were systematically marched down into the grave and then shot by 10 or 12 men. Also murdered were two-hundred-thousand (200,000) German Jews who had been transferred to Riga.
Babi Yarl – was the name of a ravine near KIEV, the capital of Ukraine. There, on September 29 and 30, 1941, approximately 34,000 Ukrainian Jews were murdered by the Einsatzgruppen.
These task force units were kept very busy with their evil work before the death camps took over.
In the occupied countries special extermination camps were set up until the killing – by shooting – was eventually deemed, “too slow, and too squeamish for some stomachs.” The camps turned to gassing. One camp we have mentioned before in Chapter 8 was Treblinka. 700,000 to 900,000 were murdered there.
The most famous of all was Auschwitz…
The Auschwitz twin camps were opened in 1940. The words “Arbeit Macht Frei” – “Work sets you Free” were set over the gate (the same as at Dachau).
Strategically built on a mid-Poland rail line running from Vienna to Krakow – a branch line could be diverted straight into the camp. Tens of thousands of Jews were rounded up and systematically crammed, like sardines, into box-cars (freight cars). They were told they were to be “resettled” in the East. Often, if not usually, they were without food or water. The result was that on arrival the dead were either dragged out or thrown out.
Prisoners were stripped naked and made to run by doctors who divided from them those who they assessed as able to be housed in the huts and used in nearby factories as slave labor. When they grew too exhausted or ill to work they went to the gas chambers.
The elderly, children, pregnant women, and the weaker ones were sent straight to the gas chambers. Of course they weren’t told what was to happen. They were told they were going for de-lousing and showers. The Nazis called them “bath houses” – 4 of them. In order to keep up the pretense and to avoid “unpleasant” trouble, lawns with flower beds greeted the victims on the outside of the chambers. The Nazis even separated Jewish musicians and formed a small orchestra to play calming music.
When the 4 huge chambers were packed full of victims the doors were locked and Zyklon B crystals were dropped through a hole in the roof. They usually took 20 to 30 agonizing minutes to die.
Jewish prisoners were used to clear out bodies, extract gold fillings, dentures, jewelry, artificial limbs, glasses and women’s hair. They were then carted off to a crematorium. The constant smoke and stench spread over the camp and surrounding countryside. Even human fat was harvested to be made into soap. Nothing was to be “wasted”! They boasted at the end: 6,000 prisoners per day exterminated.
One of the few survivors told of a Jewish lady, dismounting from a freight car, addressed a Nazi officer. “Sir,” she said, “there is a rumor you are going to gas us!?”
He replied, “Madam. Do you think we are barbarians?!”
Twenty thousand (20,000) more were shot at the “wall of death”. As the Russian army drew ever nearer the process was speeded up in order to do away with as many as possible. Eventually they received orders to blow up the gas chambers and the crematorium, and do everything possible to cover up the atrocity.
At Auschwitz nearly two million (2,000,000) persons were murdered – most of them Jews, but also Poles, Russian prisoners-of-war, Romani, and homosexuals – by gas, shooting, disease, exhaustion, and medical experiments again just too horrible for me to write about.
The camp was overrun by Russian troops on January 27, 1945.
Of the nine million Jews in Europe, the Nazis murdered six million.
I cannot leave this chapter with its catalog of death and despair without recounting the inspiring story of Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Pastor Bonhoeffer came from an aristocratic family. He became disturbed and disappointed that the state Lutheran Church had embraced theological liberal teaching and become hand-in-glove with the Nazi Government.
So he started a “church within a church” called “The Confessing Church”. He pastored for a time in London and visited New York. In America he was again appalled that famous churches had only preaching that was a mix of sociology and psychology. Missing were the great Bible doctrines of Man’s sin, Judgment to come, the Deity of Jesus, and the Atoning work of the Savior on the Cross.
To his delight, he found his spiritual home in Harlem in a black (African American) church. He loved the exuberant worship but, most of all, these were a people who knew God and loved the Savior.
Bonhoeffer was taken from Buchenwald to the Flossenbürg extermination camp in Bavaria. His life was an inspiration to his fellow prisoners. However Hitler gave a personal order that this “traitor” should be executed. Bonhoeffer had been suspected of supporting the 1944 plot to get rid of Hitler.
On April 8 he conducted a short service: Protestant, Catholic and even a Russian atheist present. He preached on “the heart of the Gospel” from Isaiah 53 verses 5-6:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
And 1 Peter 1 v3, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”
A fellow prisoner, British Intelligence Officer Captain Payne Best wrote, “Pastor Bonhoeffer spoke to us in a manner which reached the hearts of all.” He was, “The finest and most lovable man I ever met.”
Another said, “He was one of the very few men I have ever met to whom God was real and ever close to him: his soul really shone in the desperation of our prison.”
On the following morning he was taken out to the scaffold and hung. His final words were, “This is the end…for me the beginning of life.”
Charles Wesley wrote in one of his hymns, “Happy if with my latest breath I might but gasp His Name: Preach Him to all and cry in death, “Behold, behold the Lamb!”
Bonhoeffer did just that.
Readers may be interested to know that in my 1 Peter series there is a message based on the same verse that Bonhoeffer preached. Click on the link: PE 4 A Living Hope
APRIL 1945 – A BUNKER IN BERLIN
Deep beneath the Reich Chancellery, in a bunker protected by 30 feet of concrete, the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, played out the final act of the greatest drama of the 20th century – namely the total collapse of the Third Reich including his own humiliating end.
In 1945 the marble halls and impressive conference rooms of the Chancellery had, by April, become almost unusable. The Allied bombers had seen to that. But beneath the ruins was this labyrinth of tunnels and bunkers housing secretaries, guards, cooks, medical personnel, telephonists and telegraphers – even the Fuehrer himself.
The FUEHRER BUNKER was at the end of a long tunnel and consisted of two floors of about 20 rooms on the lower floor. The entire complex was rather cramped and Spartan. Only the final corridor leading to the Fuehrer’s suite had any evidence of opulence. It was richly carpeted and furnished with quality chairs and paintings. There was an emergency exit up six flights of concrete steps which led into the Chancellery Garden.
At the daily briefings with the Fuehrer, the Generals could hardly be anything but gloomy in their reports. Things were not going well anywhere and here in Berlin it was a case of “the Russians are at the Gates!”
The mighty Russian armies under the overall command of Marshal Zhukov, with no fewer than two-and-one-half million men, were seeking to close a circle around the city and then launch an onslaught on all fronts.
The streets were almost devoid of civilians as they took shelter in basements, subway tunnels and stations. The day and night bombing would eventually leave 800,000 homeless Berliners. Famed American reporter, Edward R. Murrow reported the bombing of Berlin as “orchestrated hell!”
Yet Zhukov warned the battle for the city would be tough. It was. He lost 100,000 dead.
Why did the German defenders fight with such fanatical determination when it seemed obvious that defeat was inevitable?
They fought for their Fuehrer. He was still in the city. He had not yet gone to Bavaria.
They fought for the Fatherland. This nationalism had been drilled into them for years. Every soldier, not just the SS, but also the old men of the “Volkssturm” (Home Guard) and boys and girls of the Hitler Youth, were in the streets building barricades to try to stop, or at least delay, the tanks. They were setting up booby-traps in buildings, choosing firing positions from roofs and rooms to fire down at the invaders.
They fought because the Fuehrer had told them help was on its way. He was arranging for strong German armies to come to rescue the city. Hold out for a day or two more and all will be well.
They fought because stories of Russian atrocities filled the hearts and minds of the women with dread. Their fears were well grounded. It was every bit as bad as they had heard from the streams of refugees fleeing from East Prussia. The things that were done to the women are too dreadful for me to describe. No woman, however old or young, was spared.
Hitler continued to live in his make-believe world. He would listen to the reports then issue his orders. Wenck’s 12th Army must come to the relief of Berlin: General Busses’ 9th Army must join up with Wenck, come at the Russians from behind, and trap them. Other armies must be diverted from fighting in the west to strengthen the fight against the hated Bolsheviks. Steiner must form a special rescue force of men and armor which will punch a corridor through Russian lines.
But some of these armies were phantoms: others were so weakened they could hardly survive where they stood.
Hitler – ever unbelievably optimistic – would draw attention to the new weapons, like the V-2 rockets, even in March still raining down upon London to terrorize them surely to come to an agreement.
Then he had the jets – fighter bombers – a thousand of them now. They would destroy Zhukov and his armies from the air. But the Allies had jets too. German runways proved too short, or too damaged, and fuel was too scarce. Many jets were destroyed on the ground.
Hermann Goering, the Luftwaffe chief, seemed more concerned to deliver his wife and family safely to Berchtesgaden, preceded by a huge column of vehicles bearing away to safety his vast collection of priceless artwork (most of it purloined), and over half-a-million German marks (currency).
Hitler complained even his favorite, Albert Speer, “always brings me bad news.” Speer had been Hitler’s architect and they spent endless hours building dream cities together.
Speer had designed and built the new Chancellery – now a ruin. Now Speer was Armaments Minister. With the loss of Silesia, the Ruhr, two-thirds of the factories, of course he had an impossible task.
A ray of comfort for the Fuehrer was the arrival of his devoted companion and lover, Eva Braun.
Hitler had first met Eva twelve years before in Munich when she was a then-seventeen-year old assistant to Hitler’s photographer. Eventually she moved into private rooms provided for her next to Hitler’s at the Berghof, or in Munich. That is where she spent most of the war years. Hitler did not want her near the war zone and she was not allowed in military meetings. She was his “escape” from the burdens he carried. Eva Braun was not a political person. She never even joined the Nazi Party!
He explained that the German people would not like him to be married for he was 100% dedicated to his German people.
Eva spent her days, when her beloved Adolf was not at the Berghof, hiking the beautiful mountains or skiing on the winter slopes. She liked watching movies and socializing with the SS guards and numerous visitors. Chief of Armed Forces, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel described her as, “slender, elegant, reticent and retiring. A very, very nice person.” Visiting Generals always addressed her as “Gnadige Fraulein” (Gracious Lady).
Contrary to what you may have read, it seems they were very much in love. They spoke on the phone daily, and when Hitler was told of an air-raid on Munich he would pace up and down until he was assured that Eva and her family were safe.
Now she had come to the Bunker to share his birthday, to marry him, and to die beside him.
THE SIGN IS IN THE STARS – OR IS IT?
Just when things were getting worse and worse for the Fuehrer, his faithful and devoted Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, arrived to deliver a forecast of dramatic change. Goebbels dabbled in astrology and assured Hitler that the stars forecast dramatic events in the second half of April. Furthermore, these events would turn the tide in favor of the Nazi Regime.
To bolster this Goebbels read to Hitler from historian “Thomas Carlyle” how Frederick the Great was downcast during the 18th century “Seven Years War” because the Russians were prevailing.
Suddenly the Tzarina of Russia, Empress Elizabeth, died. Her successor to power was none other than Peter – a German! Everything changed and the suicidal Frederick now prevailed.
Frederick was Hitler’s hero. His picture adorned the Fuehrer Bunker wall.
Imagine the excitement, therefore, in the bunker when news arrived on April 12th that U.S. President Roosevelt had suddenly died of a cerebral hemorrhage, aged 63. Goebbels opened a bottle of champagne, assuring Hitler this must be the sign that was indeed in the stars.
THE DEATH OF THE PRESIDENT
As my readers will remember, FDR had been stricken with polio in 1921. He lost the use of his legs but found some relief and help in the mineral springs of a Georgia spa town called Warm Springs. Consequently the President bought a house there and bathed in the baths. The place was nick-named “The Little White House”.
On April 12 he had agreed to sit for a portrait to be painted by the friend of a friend. Suddenly he complained of a very bad pain in the back of his head and slumped forward. He was carried unconscious upstairs, but died at 3:30 p.m. the same afternoon.
Goebbels may have greeted the news with exuberant joy, and Hitler with renewed hope of victory, but in America and most of the rest of the world there was great sadness and mourning.
The body was taken by rail from Warm Springs to Washington. Respectful, silent spectators lined the track and station platforms, heads bowed, hats removed throughout the journey of over 700 miles.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons, “Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest friend we have ever known and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the New World to the Old.”
Adolf Hitler said, “President Roosevelt was the worst war criminal who ever lived!” (A bit steep coming from Hitler, don’t you think?)
HITLER’S 56TH BIRTHDAY
April 20 was a big day in the calendar of the Nazi regime. Domestic staff, secretaries, Reich leaders, assorted Generals and other military officers would gather to express loyal greetings to “Mein Geliebte Fuehrer” (My Beloved Fuehrer). In happier days (for them) these birthdays would be celebrated at Hitler’s favorite residence, the Alpine” Berghof”, near Berchtesgaden. This year it was described as “bizarre” – down in this bunker. Nevertheless came most of the leaders often called by Churchill, “The Nazi Gang.”
Heinrich Himmler – S.S., Gestapo and Death Camps
Hermann Goering – Luftwaffe (Air Force)
Karl Doenitz – Navy
Joseph Goebbels – Propaganda
Albert Speer – formerly architect, now Armaments
Joachim von Ribbentrop – Foreign Affairs
Plus – close female secretaries, his personal vegetarian cook, his valet, Heinz Hinge; adjutant and bodyguard Otto Günsche – and, of course, Eva Braun.
Sometimes, newly appointed officers would be seeing their Fuehrer for the first time for some years. They were appalled at his appearance. One General who last saw him at his birthday in 1939 now described him, “The Hitler of that time was in no respect comparable with the wreck of a person…who wearily extended to me a limp, trembling hand…He dragged himself along slowly and laboriously…he had lost control of his right arm and the hand trembled constantly…a picture of misery and horror.”
Others spoke of his pallid complexion and bloodshot eyes.
Nevertheless, the same General added, “Mentally Hitler (was) still fresh.” And another observer,”…as soon as discussion got underway. Immediately he became lively, answering with clear considered arguments…the reins firmly in his grasp.”
In the afternoon of the 20th Hitler climbed the six flights of stairs into the Chancellery garden. This was to present the awards of Iron Cross for bravery to 20 boys of the Hitler Youth fighting in the defense of Berlin. This was the last appearance of Hitler. He is reported to have said to one boy, “I wish all my Generals were as brave as you!”
Almost all the “top brass” urged him to now leave the bunker for Berchtesgaden. A car and escort was standing by – a few roads were still open. Or they could arrange a plane. But Hitler refused. He must, he said, lead the defense of the German capital city.
“ALL IS LOST”
April 21-22 – So, it was back to business – military business. He sent Goering to Bavaria to organize the south; Doenitz to the north. Things began to happen rapidly. At the briefing he asked how Steiner was progressing. They now had to report that Steiner had been unable to move at all. He was still where he was when he received the order.
At this Hitler ordered everyone out of the Conference room except the very top Generals: Field Marshall Keitel (Commander-in-Chief); General Hans Krebs (Chief of Staff); General Alfred Jodl (Chief of Army); and General Burgdorf.
Then Hitler finally lost control. “He released a furious tirade.” All was lost and it was the fault of the Generals: they were traitors, disloyal and/or utterly incompetent. This screaming accusation lasted for a “terrible half-hour.” It could be heard all over the lower floor of the Fuehrer Bunker – possibly even above. Hitler was notorious for occasional loss of temper, but generally he was an attentive listener and soft spoken. To the women, almost tender in tone. Now everyone stopped what they were doing. The secretaries at least had never heard anything like this.
As suddenly as the tirade began it ended. Hitler collapsed exhausted into a chair and – for the first time – declared the war lost. The four Generals and Reichsleiter Bormann tried to soothe him and, once again, assure him it was “not all over.” They could get him yet to Bavaria and an Alpine Redoubt. He again refused. He told them they could go to anywhere they wanted. He would stay in Berlin and shoot himself.
Then Hitler called again for four ladies to come and see him: Gerda Christian (experienced secretary); Traudl Junge (very young and attractive secretary ); dietician cook Constanz Manziarly, and Eva Braun. “Get ready,” Hitler ordered, “a plane will take you south in one hour. All is hopelessly lost.”
At this, Eva stepped forward, “You know I will not leave you. I am not letting you send me away.”
Hitler was clearly moved by this. He stepped forward and held her, kissed her, and said, “Mein Schatz” – “My Sweetheart, my treasure.” No one had ever seen Hitler make a gesture like that to Eva in public. On impulse Traudl Junge also stepped forward and declared the same and the two others said, “Me too.”
After the “Birthday Formalities” of April 20th, Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering safely arrived at his home at Obersalzburg, near Berchtesgaden.
The Goering home was near Hitler’s Berghof. He had been expecting Hitler to arrive at any time. No doubt word came to Goering about Hitler’s diatribe on April 21st and his admission, at last, that all was lost. Furthermore Goering was told the Fuehrer had said he would not be going to Berchtesgaden but would stay and die in Berlin.
Goering consulted his closest advisers to see if here was a chance which Goering had always dreamed of. Namely taking control of the State. Hitler had issued a decree earlier that Goering was his deputy and would lead the nation if he, Hitler, became incapacitated. With the Russian army getting ever nearer the Chancellery the Reichsmarschall saw his opportunity to take power.
He sent a telegram as follows:
“My Fuehrer! In view of your decision to remain in the fortress of Berlin, do you agree that I take over at once total leadership of the Reich, with full freedom of action, at home and abroad, as your deputy, in accordance with your decree, June 29, 1941? If no reply is received by 10 o’clock tonight, I shall take it for granted that you have lost your freedom of action…May God protect you, and speed you quickly here in spite of all. Your loyal, Hermann Goering.”
This was intercepted by Bormann who rushed it to Hitler crying, “Treason!” Hitler was persuaded. Being outraged by, what he took to be, an ultimatum!
He telegraphed back that Goering must immediately resign all his offices or he would be shot.
Bormann sent instructions to the SS in Berchtesgaden that Goering must be arrested, and he and his family (wife Emma and daughter Edda) placed under house arrest.
HIMMLER SUES FOR PEACE
Whilst the Fuehrer was reeling from Goering’s “attempted Coup d’Etat” (as Bormann and Goebbels saw it!), Himmler had been up to some treachery of his own since the birthday. Pacing nervously about in a terrible state of indecision at his headquarters in Lubeck, Himmler was asking everyone he could, “What shall I do? What shall I do?”
Rather than just wait for the inevitable capture and death, surely there was something he could do. He approached Count Folke Bernadotte, a Swedish diplomat, asking him to put out a feeler to Eisenhower. If he, Himmler, would surrender the German forces what terms could they obtain. Could he be allowed to become a civilian or go into exile? Could the British and American forces join with the Germans to repel the Bolsheviks?
The word came back that the Allies would accept nothing other than “unconditional surrender” of ALL German forces – including those fighting the Russian (Soviet) armies.
Himmler had asked that this approach be kept absolutely secret. Somehow, however, a lower level British diplomat, working in San Francisco preparing the forthcoming organization which became “The United Nations”, got wind of it. In turn he told a reporter from Reuters – “off the record”. Before long the “record” of this approach was reported on Stockholm radio – it soon flashed around the world!
Of course Hitler was told about it. He went apoplectic! His trusted, very faithful, loyal Heinrich. Deserted by Himmler. He dispatched orders that Heinrich Himmler, Head of the S.S. and murderer of six million Jews and millions more, was to be immediately arrested and shot!
SS Gruppenfuehrer Hermann Fegelein was the Liaison Officer of Himmler assigned to the Fuehrer Bunker. Now Hitler sent for him, but he had disappeared. Actually he was in his fashionable apartment in the Kurfuerstendamm. When he didn’t answer an order to return to the bunker, the Gestapo found him stupidly drunk and in bed with a prostitute! His bags were packed with civilian clothes, lots of money and jewelry. A search of his papers revealed that he knew well of his boss’s contacts with the Allies. He was returned to the bunker where he faced a court-martial. Weeping and wetting himself he was deemed too drunk. Hitler ordered him shot there and then. He was shot by firing squad in the garden of the Chancellery.
The fact that he was married to Eva Braun’s sister, Gretl – who happened to be pregnant – did not save him.
Another visitor to the bunker was Albert Speer. After the Birthday he, too, had returned to his HQ trailer in the north 200 miles away. However, he had hardly reached there before he turned and set off right back. For some reason he felt compelled to confess his own disobedience of the Fuehrer’s orders to his face – though it would probably cost him his life. Hitler had given his Armaments Minister the order that everything must be destroyed. All bridges blown up; electric and water supplies rendered useless; all factories completely destroyed. This is often described as a “scorched earth policy.”
When given the order Speer had tried to reason with Hitler how that would mean untold suffering for the German people. The population would starve; hospital patients would die; in the aftermath of the war the German people could never recover. Hitler replied to Speer that the German people did not deserve to recover. They had proved to be the weaker after all. (There is Hitler’s Darwinism again!)
Now Speer had returned to confess he had not only failed to carry out the policy, but where Gauleiters (local leaders) had received the Fuehrer’s order, he (Speer) had rescinded it. Speer fully expected to be immediately arrested and probably dealt with the same way as Fegelein. Instead Hitler stared at him with a vacant stare, then gave a wan smile and gave him leave to go. Perhaps Hitler admired his courage.
GREIM and REITSCH
Hitler had ordered General Ritter von Greim to come to see him in the Fuehrer Bunker. Hitler, in his phantom world, doesn’t seem to have taken in that travel was becoming almost impossible.
Hanna Reitsch, the famous test pilot and holder of numerous records, and an ardent Nazi, flew Greim. She obtained a small plane, flew far higher than it was supposed to, dodging the deadly flak fired at them from Russian lines. She landed on the “Unter-den-Linden Avenue” – the Champs Elysees of Berlin. General Greim, however, sustained a severe injury to his foot which more or less shattered it.
Whilst lying in the Bunker’s medical facility being attended to by Dr. Stumpfegger, Hitler’s personal surgeon, Hitler explained to Greim why he had been summoned. “Hermann Goering has betrayed both me and his Fatherland. (He sent me)…a crass ultimatum! Nothing is spared me. No betrayals I have not experienced.”
Hitler then appointed the startled Greim “Commander-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe”.
Greim was wise enough NOT to say, “My Fuehrer, there is nothing left of it!”
Hanna Reitsch, who adored Hitler with a passion, then pleaded with him to let her fly him to safety at Berchtesgaden. He politely declined and explained that he could not expect his troops, plus old men and boys, to fight in the defense of Berlin if he had taken himself off to safety.
Eva confided to Hanna, “Poor, poor Adolf – deserted by everyone, betrayed by all. Better that ten thousand die than that he be lost to Germany.”
Joseph Goebbels would not betray him. Hitler asked for Frau Goebbels and the six children to come to the Bunker. Shells were now crashing on the Chancellery and its garden, walls were shaking, and dust was falling from the ceilings. To this Magda Goebbels brought her children.
The arrival of the Goebbels family immediately sparked a renewed, passionate appeal by Magda Goebbels to the Fuehrer to leave at once for the south and safety. The beautiful Magda adored Adolf Hitler. Dr. Goebbels joined in by declaring to Hitler that a tank was on standby with a S.S. unit. This would deliver Hitler safely through the Russian lines to a plane, in a secret place, which would fly the Fuehrer to South America, Japan, or anywhere else!
Obviously Hitler was not the only one living in a phantom world. With gentleness but firmness Hitler declined these pleas. He gave to Magda his personal, gold, Nazi Party badge. She would soon die wearing it.
Next Hitler called for Traudl Junge to take down his Testament and Will.
TESTAMENT AND WILL
Testament – Junge later testified she hoped for something new but instead, Hitler dictated that all the ills of the world were due to International Jewry. They caused this unwanted and unnecessary war. The Jews controlled the deadly plague “Bolshevism”, and the weak leaders of Great Britain! Then he also again blamed his Generals.
As one historian declared, “Hitler dredged up all the empty clap-trap of Mein Kampf. It was a fitting epitaph of a power-drunk tyrant whom absolute power had corrupted absolutely and destroyed.” (Shirer)
Hitler appointed his successors. Since the head of the army and the head of the air force had betrayed him he turned to the Navy: Admiral Doenitz to be Fuehrer, and Commander-in-Chief of all Armed Forces. Dr. Goebbels to be Chancellor; Martin Bormann to be Party Secretary.
Goebbels, Bormann, Generals Krebs and Burgdorf, signed as witnesses. Three messengers were appointed to carry these documents to safety. Remarkably they did. The only appointment that mattered was Doenitz.
While the dictating was going on, there was a hunt to find an “official” to oversee the marriage of Hitler and Eva Braun. It being past midnight April 29 had now become April 30.
Fighting in the Volkssturm such a man was eventually found and was brought to the Bunker: Mr. Walter Wagner was a “Municipal Councilor”. Hitler must have everything “legal”.
Adolf and Eva both attested they were of “complete Aryan descent” and had “no hereditary diseases.” They expressed their mutual desire to be husband and wife. Eva began to sign with “B…”, then crossed out the “B” and signed “Eva Hitler,” née Braun.
A “Wedding Breakfast” followed. The guests were the Goebbels, Bormann, the secretaries, Fraulein Manziarly (cook), plus two Generals.
Champagne was served and “the talk gravitated to old times and better days. As was his custom,” says Traudl Junge, “the bridegroom talked on and on…” At last Mr. and Mrs. Hitler retired to bed.
On rising Hitler reluctantly decided he must test the poison capsule on his beloved German shepherd dog, Blondi. Dr. Stumpfegger obliged and the death was instantaneous. Blondi’s puppies were shot.
The secretaries gathered and Hitler gave to them each a cyanide capsule. He said he wished he could give them a better farewell present than this. However, if the Russians stormed the Bunker, this might be preferred. He thanked them for long and faithful service.
He and Eva Hitler emerged again to say “farewell” to about twenty staff assembled in the corridor. They walked down the line, Hitler shaking hands, but he appeared to have a “faraway look.” Eva hugged the women and urged them to try to escape through the Russians to the west. To Traudl Junge she said, “Please give Bavaria my love.” (Traudl Junge wept).
Still the inevitable was delayed. A lunch would be served in Hitler’s private rooms for the two secretaries, Junge and Gerda Christian, and again the cook. Eva had no appetite and remained in her room. This time the “goodbye” was final.
Hitler had instructed his adjutant, Otto Günsche, to obtain 200 liters of petrol (gasoline) and to make absolutely certain the bodies of himself and his wife were destroyed. Hitler had heard what horrors had happened to his friend Mussolini. He did not want their bodies to be found. Kemp, the chauffeur was instructed to carry out the demand for the fuel. Mystified, for fuel was very scarce, he managed it and put the jerrycans near the emergency exit in the Chancellery garden.
THE SOUND OF A SHOT
At approximately 3:30 p.m. a shot was heard. Even above the explosions of the shelling and constant noise of machinery this shot was different. The Goebbels’ little boy, playing a game with Traudl Junge, stopped and said, “Ooh. That was a bulls-eye!”
Heinz Linge (Hitler’s valet) and Otto Günsche waited a minute or two then entered Hitler’s room. Hitler was slumped slightly on the sofa opposite the door. He had shot himself with his Walther pistol through his right temple. Next to him on his left with her legs drawn up onto the sofa was Eva Hitler. She had obviously taken the cyanide capsule. A very strong smell of bitter almonds filled the room. Eva was wearing the dark blue dress with white lace edging of roses which was Hitler’s favorite.
Bormann was informed. Hinge had wrapped Hitler’s body in a blanket. Eva also. Hinge and Gunsche carried Hitler up the stairs. Bormann, and then Kemp carried Eva. (The chauffeur could not stand to see the much loved Eva being carried by the detested Bormann!)
In the Garden shells were exploding frequently. They had to lay the bodies side by side a yard or two from the exit, dousing them thoroughly with the fuel and using a lighted taper to set it ablaze. They quickly retired to the shelter of the doorway. The cremation would continue for three hours. During a short lull in the shelling Bormann, Gunsche, Goebbels and Hinge stood in the doorway and lifted their arms in the Nazi salute. One last “Heil Hitler!” was said, and all was over.
Leckie comments, “All that was mortal of Adolf Hitler, the vilest tormentor of mankind, was now but a handful of dust.”
A Navy Man – Bormann sent a telegraph to Admiral Doenitz informing him of his appointment as “Fuehrer”. He was flabbergasted. Doenitz was a “Navy Man”. He never had any desire for such a responsibility. Bormann’s message did not even say Hitler was dead.
GOEBBELS FOLLOWS HIS LEADER
On the evening of May 1, at the request of Magda Goebbels, Dr. Stumpfegger gave the Goebbels’ children each a sedative. As soon as they were all asleep Magda administered to each the cyanide capsule and thus murdered these six beautiful innocent children: Hela – 12; Hilda – 11; Helmut – 9; Holde – 7; Hedda – 5; Heide – 3.
The Goebbels together climbed the concrete steps. Accounts of exactly what happened are conflicting. Maybe Joseph Goebbels shot his wife and then himself. Or an S.S. orderly carried out the Minister’s order and shot them both. Their bodies too were doused with fuel but the cremation was not very successful. When the Russians came they were easily identified. All the Russians found of Hitler – if anything was ashes – and maybe a much disputed partial skull.
A SHABBY LIE
May 1, 1945
Hamburg Radio began to play solemn music at 10:00 p.m.: then announced, “Our Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism fell for Germany this afternoon…The Grand Admiral and successor to the Fuehrer now speaks to the German people.”
10:20 p.m. – then Doenitz’s voice spoke of “a hero’s death at the head of his troops.”
Shirer comments: “The Third Reich was expiring, as it had begun, with a shabby lie.”
VICTORY IN EUROPE – V.E. Day
What was the response to news of Hitler’s death?
REJOICING – As word passed around the world there was great rejoicing – especially amongst those nations who had been for five years paying such a terrible cost because of the belligerent
conquests and murderous rule of this Dictator.
ANGER – Among some German units – once they learned of Hitler’s death by suicide.
The first such response came from the Commander leading the costly and bloody defense of the capital. General Helmut Weidling toured the Berlin streets and avenues with a loud speaker ordering German defenders to cease fighting, “On April 30, 1945, the Fuehrer took his own life, thereby abandoning those who had shown him loyalty. End fighting immediately!”
Not for this General the lie of Grand Admiral Donitz’s announcement on May 1st, “Our Fuehrer died a hero’s death at the head of his troops.”
SYMPATHY – IRELAND Following the announcement of Hitler’s death on April 30, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland – neutral during WWII – made his way to see the Envoy of Nazi Germany in Dublin. Eamon de Valera went to offer his condolences – and that of the Irish people – on the death of the Fuehrer.
The Allied press reacted with rage, so did most of the Free World, so did a large proportion of the Irish people. After all, pictures and reports of Nazi atrocities and mass murder were widely known in Ireland. Around 50,000 Irish volunteers were serving with British forces of liberation. 10,000 gave their lives and several were awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.
Mr. de Valera had offered no condolences when U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt died!
In actual fact, document discoveries after the War reveal that the Nazis knew the exact number of Jews in the Republic of Ireland. There is little doubt that had Hitler’s army conquered Great Britain, in 1940 when Britain stood alone, Ireland would have been be next – neutral or not! (Think Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, and others.)
I remember – as a boy of eleven – my father, himself of Irish ethnicity, expressed shock and shame. After all, even our name “Kilbride” is Irish. It means “the church of St. Bridget.”
RELIEF – To most of the Allies there was a great relief. Although Hitler had designated a new Government, surely it could not last very long.
Under Grand Admiral Dönitz – his back to the Baltic, his territory shrinking, Berlin gone – it lasted just over one week.
The bodies of supposed new Chancellor, Joseph Goebbels and his wife, Magda, were found in the Chancellery Garden. The body of Martin Bormann was located on a bridge over the Berlin River Spree. Heinrich Himmler, murderous head of the S.S. had changed into the uniform of a private soldier with false documents. He hoped to escape. However, his haughty manner made his British captors suspicious. Identified, he bit into a cyanide capsule and perished.
Hermann Goering, Albert Speer, and even Dönitz himself were soon in Allied custody.
OTHER SIGNIFICANT EVENTS – April 1945
First we must retrace the story and see what else had been happening whilst we (in chapter 10) had followed the dramatic events taking place in the “Bunker in Berlin”.Nuremburg – On April 10, the large city of Nuremburg fell to U.S. forces. Nuremburg was very important to the Nazis. Here the great annual Nazi rallies had taken place when their leader gave his rousing speeches. It was also notorious for the passing of the, so-called, “Nuremburg Laws” in 1935 – beginning the persecution of Jews which led eventually to the gas chambers (see chapter 9).
After the War Nuremberg became the site of the historic trials of captured Nazi leaders for war-crimes.
Torgau – On April 25, U.S. and Russian armies met, at last, at Torgau on the river Elbe. There was great rejoicing, somewhat limited because each side did not understand the other’s language. Celebrations were done, therefore, with multiple hugs, lots of laughter, exchange of gifts, and generous consumption of vodka and schnapps!
Munich – this city had also been severely bombed throughout the War. The historic city center was especially targeted. Munich, of course, was “the cradle of Nazism” and the Nazi Party headquarters.
Surprisingly Hitler’s home and office in Prinzregen Platz survived the bombing – and on the day Hitler took his own life, Lee Miller – a U.S. News photo-journalist, was taking a very welcome bath in the Fuehrer’s bathroom. Many German homes in Munich had displayed white sheets of surrender, including an official welcome in the iconic Marienplatz.
Berchtesgaden – On April 25, was another significant event: the successful bombing of Berchtesgaden and – more particularly – Obersalzberg and Hitler’s Berghof. Previous bombing attempts had been thwarted by the strong S.S. garrison who put up a screen of artificial fog. This time their supplies of manufactured fog were exhausted as were the shells for the anti-aircraft guns.
Actually, not too much damage was done to the quaint Bavarian resort town. So much so that a young girl, writing later about life “On Hitler’s Mountain”, declared, “The Lord protected Berchtesgaden.”
Not so the homes of the Nazi leaders around the village of Obersalzberg. Severe damage was done there. In fact, Hitler’s Berghof suffered a direct hit by the Royal Air Force. Also hit were the houses of Hermann Goering, and other leaders. The Goering family were safe in their underground shelter but the roof was blown in and the staircase gone.
Readers will remember Goering had been put under house arrest by the S.S. – accused of treason. Now his captors accompanied him to a family castle over the border in Austria. Here they remained until captured by the U.S.
The Eagle’s Nest Rising behind Hitler’s Berghof in Alpine Bavaria is the 8,274 ft. mountain Hoher Göll. At 6,017 ft. above sea level is a rocky outcrop known as “The Kehlstein”. In1938 Reich Leader, Martin Bormann, had an idea. As a gift to the Fuehrer for his 50th birthday the Nazi Party would build for him a “Tea House” atop this “Kehlstein Spur”.
Bormann hired 3,000 skilled men, paid them well, and it was done in 13 months working night and day.
A twisting narrow road was built to link to a tunnel, which in turn led to an elevator shaft which rises through 400 ft. of rock ending actually inside the tea-house.
Mussolini donated an Italian marble fireplace to his friend; the Emperor of Japan, a lush carpet. Hitler visited it when he wished to impress important visitors with the spectacular view. Otherwise the Fuehrer preferred the Berghof. He did not care for the dangerous winding road, or the claustrophobia of the tunnel and the elevator. Eva Braun loved it as also did her sister, Gretl. After her wedding on June 3, 1944, Gretl held a party there. Hitler did not attend! However, he had attended the “Wedding Reception” in the Berghof.
The official name was “The Kehlstein Tea House” – the Allies nicknamed it “The Eagle’s Nest“. Perhaps Eisenhower and his colleagues supposed Hitler would make his last stand from there…the mythical “Redoubt.” It seems that had been a serious plan.
As news came through of Hitler’s suicide the S.S. retrieved and destroyed documents from the Berghof and then set fire to it. Once the S.S. had left for Austria, the Berchtesgaden residents began to stream up the hill taking away as much as they could carry: food, wine, luxury items, and much else from the other Nazi leaders’ homes. Good for exchange bartering during years of U.S. occupation.
Berchtesgaden Surrender The U.S. 7th Infantry arrived first in Berchtesgaden (May 4) closely followed by a French unit. The Mayor immediately surrendered the town – festooned with white sheets of “welcome”. On the morning of the 5th came the 101st Airborne. Generally the U.S. troops behaved well – always excepting the usual looting of liquor, wine and souvenirs. Wrote U.S. historian Stephen Ambrose, “…Everyone was grabbing loot at a frantic pace…more than they could ever carry or hope to get home.”
It is worth remembering how Nazi leaders had shipped to this area, vast quantities of valuables which they had “collected” from all over Europe. Here in the tunnels and cellars the Allies found currency, gold, art treasures, expensive wines (thousands of bottles), liquor, fur coats, jewelry, and cars.
The Eagle’s Nest was virtually left alone – except for some souvenirs taken by U.S. Forces once they took over.
Of the Berghof there is now no evidence. The Bavarian government later blew up what was left, and in successive operations removed or buried the very stones and planted a forest of new trees over the site. They wanted no “shrine” to neo-Nazism.
Personal The Eagle’s Nest, however, is operational – as is the tunnel and the lift (elevator). It had long been a dream on this writer’s “bucket list” to visit the Eagle’s Nest. In July 2013, on our last visit to the UK and Europe, June and I were able to fulfill this dream and we spent a day at the Eagle’s Nest and Obersalzberg in glorious weather.
The ultimate surrender of Nazi forces on all fronts came in stages over the period May 2-8.
Italy – May 2 German Group C surrendered to Allied forces.
Lüneberg Heath On May 3, Field Marshall Montgomery was in his trailer on the edge of Lüneberg Heath, 38 miles southeast of Hamburg. Hamburg itself had surrendered by declaring itself to be “an Open City.” Monty had threatened, if they defended street by street at the cost of thousands of lives on both sides, he would call in the bombers first to give this – already severely damaged city – another pounding. The Hamburg Mayor – ignoring the S.S. “no surrender policy” spared Hamburg further slaughter (remember 40,000 civilians died in 1943 in one night of bombing).
Now, a delegation of four, led by German Admiral von Friedeburg, arrived to try to get “terms” with the British Commander. At first Monty sent out his adjutant to ask, “Who are these gentlemen and what do they want?”
Apparently this was a traditional first question dating back to medieval times! Just like Monty. (I wonder what Patton would make of that!)
Monty explained that the German forces fighting the Russians must surrender to the Russians. He would accept the surrender of German forces in Northern Germany, Holland, and Denmark.
They said, “No one wants to be captured by the Russians.”
Monty replied, “You should have thought of that when you invaded them in 1941. However,” said Monty, “I am not a monster. If anyone comes to us with hands in the air we will accept them as prisoners-of-war.”
The next day the emissaries returned after consulting Dönitz and Keitel, and submitted.
A tent was set up with a trestle table. The press and photographers had been prepared and with no ceremony or speeches the German leaders signed.
Reims – May 4 The day after signing at Lüneberg, Admiral von Friedeburg, the German negotiator arrived at the Allied Supreme Headquarters of General Eisenhower. He again attempted to negotiate the surrender of all forces only to Eisenhower – none to the Russians. Eisenhower’s response had been the same as Monty’s: unconditional surrender everywhere. So back and forth they went bringing in General Jodl to argue the case.
Whilst the process was delayed, Ike’s patience was wearing thin. He threatened to close the border to further numbers of Germans – both military, and civilian – streaming from the Eastern front to surrender to the West.
Thus, on Monday, May 7, at 02:41 a.m. – the final surrender was signed. Because it was not Dönitz who signed for the Germans, but General Jodl, Eisenhower instructed General Bedell Smith to sign for the Western Allies. All arms to be laid down by midnight, May 8.
Here in a relatively unprepossessing red-brick school, these historic surrenders were signed. Jodl asked permission to speak. This was granted. He said, “Sir, with this signature, the German nation, and the German armed forces are at the mercy of the victors. Throughout this war, which has lasted for five years, both have performed more, and perhaps suffered more, than any other nation on earth. At this hour we can only hope that the victors will be generous.”
This was greeted with silence. They saluted and left.
Was this all over? Not quite. Stalin would not accept this to apply to Russians. There must be a signing in Berlin. Eisenhower commanded Allied forces in the west – not Russian. Anyway, Eisenhower did not even sign in Reims – because Dönitz was not there.
Obviously these protocols of seniority are very important at times like this.
Stalin also argued the final document should be signed in Berlin – because Berlin was the center from which the War flowed. Eisenhower accepted these points and so another, final, document was signed.
Berlin – May 8 Marshall Georgy Zhukov (Russia), Air Chief Marshall Tedder (Eisenhower’s deputy), General Carl Spaetz (U.S.), General Jean de Lattre (France), and Wilhelm Keitel (Germany) – all signed.
At last it was done and accepted by all. VE Day (Victory in Europe) was announced as May 8 – in Britain, the Commonwealth, and the United States. In Russia and the Soviet Union, “Victory Day” would be May 9th.
Later, in captivity Dönitz “explained” his delays in signing. That had allowed 1.8 million German troops to escape capture by the Russians. The numbers of streaming German civilian refugees was incalculable.
It had been difficult enough to coordinate the signings of surrender in the different war fronts, but eventually all was done.
Now there had to be agreement on public announcements. The press corps present in Lüneberg, Reims, and Berlin had been asked to hold off announcing the surrender. Very difficult for impatient press reporters and around the cities of the world news began filtering out.
London In London – especially on Monday, May 7, people gathering were getting very, very restless and impatient. We, like most people, had the radio tuned in all day waiting. The problem – as so often – was Marshall Stalin! Not surprisingly Stalin wanted no announcement of surrender until after the Berlin signing on May 8th.
New U.S. President Harry S. Truman did not want to offend him by ignoring him. He knew he was planning to try to persuade Stalin to declare war on Japan, thereby to help his Allies to finish the war in the Pacific.
Eventually, however, Churchill refused to be muzzled any longer by “Uncle Joe.” At 7:20 p.m. an announcement was made on BBC Radio; this was followed at 9:40 p.m. that V.E. Day (Victory in Europe Day) would be tomorrow, May 8.
The huge crowds broke out into “a riotous celebration.” Flags everywhere, lights coming on, singing and dancing. The well-worn war-time songs were sung lustily from Pimlico to Piccadilly, and in packed out pubs, such as, “Roll out the Barrel”; “Bless ’em all”; “Knees up Mother Brown”; “Tipperary”; and “Land of Hope and Glory”.
A line, dancing the Conga, threaded its singing way from Buckingham Palace to Trafalgar Square, with jazz trumpeter, Humphrey Littleton, leading the way swaying precariously on the back of a truck! A torrential downpour of rain eventually sent the partyers home to bed to prepare for the big day tomorrow.
It was estimated that over 1 million people thronged central London.
On V.E. Day itself celebrations started more gradually. Many had hangovers from the night before! Others were up half the night preparing bonfires and street party decorations. Flags adorned houses, offices, and public buildings (closed for the day). Even babies sported red, white, and blue bows, and dogs, patriotic collars. Tug boats sailed up and down the Thames hooting and tooting.
At 3:00 p.m. Prime Minister Churchill broadcast to the nation and commonwealth from the Cabinet Room in Number 10 Downing Street. Loud speakers had been installed in the streets and squares; and celebrating crowds hushed and stood to listen to his speech. Almost every home was tuned in to every word.
Churchill announced the signing in Reims to be ratified in Berlin.
He went on, “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead. Japan, with all her treachery and greed, remains unsubdued.”
The Prime Minister then made his way, through cheering crowds, to the House of Commons. On his entry every Member of Parliament stood and cheered him to the roof. He made a statement more or less the same as his broadcast. He then laid down an official motion, “That this House do now attend at the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster, to give humble and reverent thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German domination.”
St. Margaret’s is next door to Westminster Abbey. Churchill then accompanied his War Cabinet to Buckingham Palace where His Majesty the King received them to thank them. After lunch with the King, the Prime Minister made his way through cheering crowds to Whitehall. From the balcony of the Ministry of Health he gave an impromptu speech to the crowd.
The revels continued: elderly grandmas were doing the hokey-cokey with young revelers, and in Trafalgar Square pretty girls could be seen kissing Yankee sailors and dancing in the fountains. Agile recruits climbing lamp-posts and helmeted bobbies (policemen) joining in the fun. One U.S. columnist wrote: “The war-weary British began to celebrate…after years of austerity and rationing, 5 inches of water for a bath, few eggs, no bananas, blackout streets, V1 bombs and V2 rockets. Pubs were again packed out hour after hour until eventually the beer ran out. Exhausted revelers sank down onto window ledges or even the curbside to rest their weary legs and voices.
Churches were also full with thankful worshippers giving thanks to God, praying for absent loved ones, and asking for the defeat of Japan so that all might be united and in peace.
Personal In my home town…my Dad took me into the City center to join the throng outside of the Town Hall. As well as songs and cheers and speeches there were fireworks. He hoisted me onto his back – as he often did – so that I could see. There was a picture of Winston Churchill revealed in fireworks. I had never seen anything like that before.
Our Bradford local paper reported a conversation when a little girl asked her mother, “What does it all mean?”
Mother replied, “It means having ice-cream and oranges; bananas and chocolate bars; light in the streets; best of all – Daddy being home again!”
The crowd outside Buckingham Palace seemed never to have ceased being tens of thousands strong, chanting incessantly, “We want the King.” At last, after lunch, the Royal Family appeared on the famous balcony. Princess Elizabeth (19) was wearing her uniform as an Auxiliary Subaltern (Lieutenant) of the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service.
She had trained as a truck mechanic and driver. Princess Margaret (14) was also included.
A special cheer was raised when Winston Churchill was brought out to stand amidst the Royal Family. There are differing reports about how many appearances the King and his family made – let us compromise and say eight. It was later revealed that during the evening the two princesses slipped out of the palace and joined the crowds incognito (with 14 others from the Palace).
At 9:00 p.m. the King broadcast. His speech was listened to with great quietness and respect – even in pubs. Many people stood – at the sound of his voice as if in his presence.
He began: “Today we give thanks to Almighty God for a great deliverance. Germany, the enemy who drove all Europe into war, has been finally overcome. In the Far East we have yet to deal with the Japanese, a determined and cruel foe…Let us remember those who will not come back…in defending ourselves we were defending the liberties of the whole world…In the hour of danger we humbly committed our cause into the hand of God and He has been our strength and shield.”
A Thanksgiving Service would be held in St. Paul’s Cathedral on May 13.
My readers will understand I cannot describe the similar gatherings in so many great cities and towns all over the world. Especially in those Commonwealth countries that committed so much blood and treasure that Europe might be “Delivered from Evil.” Especially was it true also of the United States of America.
President Harry S. Truman
President Truman held a short press conference at 8:30 (U.S. time). It happened to be the new President’s 61st birthday and, to expressions of, “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” from the Press Corps, he declared it was his happiest birthday ever. He dedicated the day to his predecessor and said, “I only wish Franklin Roosevelt had lived to see and witness this day.”
“Today,” he declared, “the flags of freedom fly all over Europe. This is a solemn and glorious hour. What a debt we owe to God…our victory is but half won.”
He also declared Sunday, May 13, to be a “Day of Thanksgiving”.
As in London, the crowds celebrated in New York’s Times Square, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. The lights came on again after blackout.
I will have more to say about this great President. He was soon to face probably the toughest and most awful decisions to bring the war against Imperial Japan to an end.
As he gave his first address to a joint session of Congress he concluded as follows: “I have in my heart a prayer. As I have assumed my heavy duties, I humbly pray Almighty God, in the words of King Solomon, ‘Give therefore thy servant an understanding heart to judge the people that I may discern between good and bad; for who is able to judge this thy great people. I only ask to be a good and faithful servant of my Lord and of my people.”
THE SLEEPING GIANT STRIKES BACK
In the early decades of the 20th century, the rulers of Japan had become militaristic. The children were being taught that the Japanese are a superior race and that their Divine Emperor was intended to have a great Empire – especially ruling the islands, lands, and nations of the Pacific. In 1931 Manchuria and eastern China were invaded and occupied accompanied by horrifying massacres of innocent civilians. Korea was colonized as was Formosa (Taiwan). Men and women were taken into slavery.
The United States and her allies imposed sanctions, the last straw of which was an oil embargo imposed by President Roosevelt. Japan must acquire oil, rubber, and iron. It seemed war was inevitable.
In chapter 2 of this series I described the sudden devastating attack on the U.S. fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, December 7, 1941, which brought the United States into the war which had been raging for two years in Europe and on the high seas.
In 1942 the Japanese seemed unstoppable. They drove the Americans out of the Philippines; the Dutch out of the East Indies; and the British out of Malaysia, Singapore, and Burma. Strings of islands fell to the Imperial Japanese armies: Solomon Islands, Mariana Islands, Aleutian and Gilbert Islands, and many more. Even bigger prizes were being eyed greedily, such as: India, Australia, and New Zealand.
Nevertheless, the commanding Admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy, Isoroku Yamamoto, was uneasy. After Pearl Harbor he was reported to have said, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled it with a terrible resolve that will soon be turned on us.”
THE DOOLITTLE RAID –April 18, 1942
President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed a wish for the U.S. to find a way, as soon as possible, to confirm Yamamoto’s opinion and drop some bombs on Tokyo. In 1942 the President’s wish could only be fulfilled by long-range bombers flying from an aircraft carrier. But bombers require long runways. It would be very risky and required much practice.
Eventually, on April 18, 1942, sixteen Mitchell bombers, led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, daringly and successfully, lifted off from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. HORNET to make the 750 mile flight. Each would carry four 500lb bombs and 5 crew. They would fly only 200 feet above the waves to avoid detection by radar.
Yamamoto had positioned several “picket ships” to watch out for any sign of enemy retaliation. One night duty watchman did indeed spot some planes. He awoke his sleeping captain, who dismissed it as an illusion. In the early morning light the watchman spotted a carrier and other ships. This time the captain saw for himself, confirmed them to be U.S. ships, and returning to his cabin, he shot himself!
Doolittle’s squadron successfully reached their Tokyo targets, dropped their bombs, and flew on towards China. Since they could not carry enough fuel to return to the Hornet, their orders were to try to reach parts of unoccupied China. If the U.S. pilots could not land, the crews would bail out or crash the plane into the land or sea.
One pilot was killed in his bail-out attempt; two drowned; eight were captured by the Japanese, and the remainder were sheltered by Chinese peasants. Of the captured eight flyers, three were almost immediately executed and the other five, though also sentenced to death, were interned in prisoner-of-war camps and treated with great cruelty and starvation. One died. The Chinese paid a heavy price as the Japanese searched for the rest of the squadron, but none were betrayed. One pilot flew to an airfield in Russia near Vladivostok. The crew was interned for a year because Russia still had a neutrality treaty with Japan. They were then helped to escape to Iran.
The raid did not achieve much significant material damage but the Japanese people were in shock. They had been told their skies were “impenetrable.” The people of the United States received a great boost of morale and James Doolittle was awarded “The Medal of Honor”. Sgt. Jake de Shazer returned later to China and served his Savior as a missionary for 30 years.
VICTORIES – Oh, but at what cost!
Readers will understand that, with island and mainland battles occurring throughout the years 1942 to 1945, space will permit me only to select several. All the battles were fought by brave men.
The map shows the extent of Japanese control in 1942 and marks some of the battles to liberate those areas. Liberation cost thousands upon thousands of the lives of United States and Allied nations, as well as Japanese.
GUADALCANAL – August 7, 1942 – February, 1943
Guadalcanal is the chief island of the SOLOMON ISLANDS, north east of Australia. Ninety miles long, it is an island of dense tropical forest with a mountainous interior. The Solomon Islands were part of the Japanese plan to conquer and take control of a defensive ring of islands far away from their homeland. The island was taken by Japan in May 1942 and construction of an airfield began as soon as sufficient jungle could be cleared at Lungar Point. They intended the runway to be able to accommodate long range bombers as well as fighters. Prime Minister Tojo and his military regime had big plans. Occupation of Guadalcanal posed a threat to Australia – the Solomon Islands being a lifeline between the U.S. and Australia.
The U.S. invasion of Guadalcanal was the first major offensive battle against the Empire of Japan. The U.S. landed 19,000 Marines on August 7, 1942. With such overwhelming numbers much of the island, and especially the partially built airfield were taken. The airfield was key – as with all the islands – each one an “unsinkable aircraft carrier”. The U.S. Marines found the Japanese had made much building progress at the airfield but the runway was still only dirt. The U.S. Seabees (Engineers) got to work. Nevertheless, holding the airfield proved to be very tough. Very tough indeed.
Though the Japanese sea planes had been destroyed by the U.S. Air force, they sent others to bomb and strafe the U.S. forces. Fast warships came every night from the north down “the Slot” (a long corridor from Bougainville to Guadalcanal) to bombard the U.S. This nightly run was nicknamed “The Tokyo Express.”
Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (or Savo Island) – 12-15 November 1942
A ferocious four day (and night) battle was fought in a supreme attempt to reinforce Japanese forces and retake the airfield. Two battleships slipped past U.S. and Australian naval defenses and bombarded the airfield. One-half of the U.S. aircraft were destroyed; plus all the fuel supplies. Two U.S. Admirals were killed.
Meanwhile the battle for other parts of the island continued with heavy losses on both sides. U.S. forces came across Catholic missionaries who had been murdered and nuns who had obviously been raped and then bayoneted to death.
On one occasion a Japanese scout appeared with a white flag. He told of a hundred Japanese soldiers trapped on a coastal part of the island. They were without food and medical supplies; many were very sick and they wished to surrender. The Americans therefore sent a platoon of at least 25 soldiers plus scouts on a mercy mission and to take control of these surrendering Japanese troops. However, the Japanese rose from the jungle cover and mowed down almost all the Americans. Only three survived the massacre. It would never be forgotten.
Both sides suffered from terrible diseases, especially dysentery and malaria.
Eventually the Marines handed over the defense to the American Army. The Marines had other beaches to storm. The airfield was named “Henderson Field” in honor of an airman, Major Lofton Henderson, who gave his life for his country at the Battle of Midway (described in Chapter 3 of this series).
The U.S. built a 20,000 man strong defensive perimeter ring which Japanese reinforcements sought to penetrate again and again with “Banzai” charges (“Banzai” – a short version of an ancient battle-cry, “Long live the Emperor.”) They came on en masse screaming to “terrify” their enemies but incurring terrible losses themselves. “Banzai” battle-cry charges bring to mind the “Picket’s Charge” during the Battle of Gettysburg, or the massacres of thousands charging to their deaths “Over the top” in World War 1.
The U.S. declared the island “secure” despite these attacks, and at last the Japanese – after many futile attempts to re-take it – withdrew for good early February 1943.
The losses were disproportionate in the extreme. 50,000 Japanese died.
Of the U.S. forces losses were: 1,042 Marines; 550 Army; plus Naval and Air Force casualties.
A neatly formed square was cut out of jungle density to serve as a military cemetery. Each cross or Jewish 5-pointed Star of David contained a dog-tag and helmet. They named it “Flanders Field”. A poem was posted up – which could refer to all the Pacific battles:
“And when he gets to Heaven
To St. Peter, he will tell,
“One more Marine reporting, Sir –
I’ve served my time in Hell!”
THE MARIANA ISLANDS
The Marianas are a crescent of 15 volcanic islands, east of the Philippines, approximately 1,300 miles southeast of the Japanese homeland. (Of interest: In this area is the Mariana Trench – the lowest point on the Earth’s surface – 36,070ft [10,994m] under the ocean.) The CHAMARROS are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands.
SAIPAN – Battle – June 15 to July 9, 1944
At 85 square miles Saipan is the 2nd largest Mariana Island after GUAM. It was occupied by Japan during WWI and ceded to Japan afterward. Some 30,000 Japanese settled there and built up the infrastructure, creating roads and defenses. By 1944 the island bristled with gun batteries, forts and underground tunnels. A substantial naval port was operational. It was regarded by the Japanese as the first line of defense of the Homeland.
The U.S. Marines invaded Saipan on June 15, 1944 and fought a ferocious battle lasting until July 9. On Day One, 20,000 Marines were put ashore.
To the Americans it was very important because from Saipan B29 bombers could reach mainland Japan.
All told 3,426 American troops were killed and 10,000 wounded. Of the 930,000 Japanese defenders, the U.S. received only 921 prisoners. This terrible loss was inflated by the fact that surrender was regarded as dishonorable and an insult to the Emperor. Each fight must be to the death. If not, the loser would commit suicide. Japanese defenders lost 4,300 killed in just one “Banzai” charge.
One of the worst aspects of this battle was the high casualty rate of 20,000 civilians. This included over 10,000 who committed suicide, often by throwing themselves and their children onto jagged, coral-encrusted rocks below the cliffs.
To this day two particular cliffs are named, “Banzai Cliff” and “Suicide Cliff”.
The defeat of Saipan broke the spirit of the cruel military leader, General Heideki Tojo. He resigned his office of Prime Minister. Retiring to his house, he attempted to shoot himself. However, he botched the action, was later arrested and, after the War, tried and hanged as a war criminal.
GUAM and TINIAN – July 21 to August 10, 1944
The largest of the Mariana Islands is Guam. Between 4 to 8 miles wide and 32 miles long, before 1941 Guam had been a U.S. territory for 40 years.
The Japanese invasion of GUAM began the day after Pearl Harbor and was concluded two days later. Guam was the first U.S. soil occupied in the Pacific.
The indigenous CHAMARROS people, given automatic U.S. citizenship, were fiercely loyal to the U.S. The new Japanese conquerors were cruel overlords. The Chamarros were driven into forced labor and prostitution. Many were tortured and even beheaded for refusing to use the new name for Guam; “Omiya Jima” (the “Great Shrine Island”). Schools were closed; priests and pastors, murdered; and Catholic sisters, raped.
The battle to liberate the territory began on July 21, 1944 and lasted until August 10. More than 10,000 Japanese defenders were killed, only 485 surrendered.
The Chamarros celebrate LIBERATION each July 24.
The Christian organization TRANS WORLD RADIO has a super-power transmitter on Guam. Some years ago we had the privilege of broadcasting God’s Word from there.
The small island of Tinian was settled by Japan and fortified in 1944.
The U.S. forces invaded on July 24 and succeeded by August 1 after, once again, ferocious fighting. Of the 8,500 defending Japanese troops only 313 surrendered. Of 15,700 civilian settlers, dreadful numbers chose to take their own lives.
The U.S. immediately constructed long runways making the whole island into an airbase. From here in 1945 would fly two memorable B29s carrying nuclear bombs; the “Enola Gay” and the “Bockscar”.
BURMA (now MYANMAR)
Burma was a British Colony but the expanding Japanese Imperial regime wanted Burma, for reasons already given – resources, slave labor, and defense. Furthermore, Japan was even eyeing the possibility of gaining India as a “jewel in the Imperial Japanese crown” instead of being the jewel in the British crown!
Japan invaded Burma in January 1942, it being defended by the British Burmese Army comprising of forces from Burma, Britain, Australia, India, Nepal (Gurkha), and China. The jungle and monsoon conditions for five months of every year made the lot of the Burmese army a nightmare. General Wavell was in command of the Allied army but communications were poor. Japanese aerial superiority made life terrible as did the dysentery, malaria, typhus, and dengue fever which devastated the troops. For every battle casualty there were 120 victims of disease!
Later a Japanese officer explained: “Japanese troops watched what the monkeys ate, mostly bamboo shoots, whereas the British troops wanted roast beef and Yorkshire pudding!” They also took note of what the monkeys did NOT eat, it being poisonous. The Japanese occupiers sealed off the vital supply lines between India and China – “The Burma Road”. Some American volunteers flew planes to try to supply the Allied troops or evacuate their wounded. But by May the Allied armies were driven out of Burma, the longest retreat in British military history. Casualties were in their thousands, and soldiers who were captured numbered thousands more. 5,000 were taken prisoner after one engagement alone, despised by the Japanese for surrendering. Rangoon fell in March 1942.
Wavell had enlisted as many volunteers as possible from India to help defend their border until some calculated that two out of every three soldiers were Indian.
The disheartened Burmese Allied army tried to mount a counter-attack at Arakan near the Bay of Bengal but was unsuccessful. Conversely, the Japanese attempted an invasion of India, made some progress but then were driven back.
In October 1943, Lord Louis Mountbatten arrived to take over the South East Asia Command. This member of the Royal Family put new heart into the Allies who began to see some successes including Arakan. Another hope lay with a mini-army of “Special Forces” called “Chindits” led by Major-General Orde Wingate. These were dropped behind enemy lines to harass the Japanese and sever their supply lines. Unfortunately Wingate was killed in an air accident.
The British troops, especially, felt they were “the forgotten army” as all the attention back home seemed to be on Hitler and defeating the Germans.
Vera Lynn, a well-known English singer, was flown out to cheer them up with songs from home. Her voice, and her songs, became nostalgic nourishment wherever British troops were fighting. She was called “The Forces’ Sweetheart.”
We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.
Keep smiling through; just as you always do
And the sun will drive the dark clouds all away.
There’ll be blue birds over, the white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow, just you wait and see …
When this writer was serving with the Royal Air Force in occupied Germany 10 years later we were still listening to Vera singing those songs – and also feeling homesick! As I write, May 2017, Dame Vera Lynn has recently celebrated her 100th birthday.
At last events began to go in the Allies favor. A great battle against the Imperial Japanese was won in the “Battle for Imphal” (India). It was one of Japan’s worst defeats losing between 50,000 and 60,000 dead, and 100,000 injured. The Allies lost 12,500 including 2,269 killed.
Japanese atrocities came to light. Escaped prisoners spoke of the Bataan March (see later account). Prisoners of war were made to build the Burma Railway accompanied by “unimaginable cruelty”. Every sleeper laid cost a prisoner’s life. 13,000 prisoners-of-war died, and were buried beside the railway. Between 80,000 – 100,000 civilians died – chiefly in forced labor.
Northern Burma was liberated in 1944 and the “Burma Road” (India to China) reopened. Rangoon was re-taken on May 2, 1945.
IWO JIMA – Battle February 19 – March 26, 1945
Iwo Jima means “Sulfur Island”, and is one of the volcanic islands of the Bonin Group. Only eight square miles in size, it is half-way between Japan and the Mariana Islands. It is unusually flat apart from Mount Suribachi (546 feet) on the southern tip.
The iconic photograph “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima”, taken by the Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, has made this particular battle the most well-known of the Pacific War against Imperial Japan. That and the recent Clint Eastwood films “Flags of our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima.”
Japanese defense forces intended the two airstrips to be essential to intercept enemy bombers en route to bombing missions over Tokyo and other mainland cities. The island defenses consisted of 16 miles of tunnels and 1,500 “chambers” housing powerful guns.
The landing of U.S. Marines was preceded, as usual, by a bombardment from air and sea from a fleet of 500 ships. 60,000 Marines, several thousand Seabees, and infantry were arrayed against 25,000 Japanese defenders. Because Iwo Jima was regarded as Japanese soil the fight was all the more fierce. After 20 days of “softening up” bombardment the landing was made. The U.S. sustained 2,400 casualties on the first day.
Mt. Suribachi Flag
The Marine landing took place on February 19 and on the 4th day morning the 2nd Battalion under the command of Lieutenant –Colonel Chandler Johnson was tasked to form a unit to climb to the top of Mt. Suribachi and plant a flag. This was achieved and at 10:30 a.m. a United States “Stars and Stripes” flew proudly. The unit was accompanied by a military photographer, Staff Sergeant Louis Lowery, who snapped a picture for “Leatherhead (Marines) Magazine”. Troops fighting on the southern end of the island saw the flag and cheered – but the 54” by 28” flag could not be seen all over the rest of the island.
A second unit was organized and, after some delay, a larger flag was obtained: 96 inches by 56 inches. This was erected and the armies fighting (and dying) on the northern shores could see it. Many wept and the rest cheered as ships offshore hooted.
Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, was on board the flagship “Elderado” under the command of Admiral Hammond Smith. On the evening of the 3rd day Forrestal expressed a wish to land on shore the next day. This was granted and as he and the Admiral stepped ashore, seeing the flag proudly billowing in the wind, Forrestal commented to the Admiral, “Hammond. Raising that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years!”
AP Photographer Joe Rosenthal had captured a shot of the second flag as it was being raised. For that iconic picture he won the Pulitzer Prize. He asserted to his dying day, it was NOT restaged for the camera.
Observers of detail might notice 48 stars, not fifty, for in 1945 Hawaii and Alaska were not yet states. Secretary of the Navy Forrester expressed a wish for the flag. “No way,” said Lt. Gen. Chandler Johnson, “that flag belongs to the 2nd Battalion!”
Actually, both flags are now in the Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia.
Iwo Jima was the first truly Japanese homeland soil to be conquered. In 1954 a sculpture of this incident by Navy Petty Officer Felix de Weldon became the main feature of the Marine Memorial in Washington, DC.
The U.S. Marines lost 5,931 men killed, and 17,372 wounded. The Japanese lost all but 200 defenders. They fought until they died or committed suicide.
General Douglas MacArthur was impatient to liberate the Philippine Islands. Let me remind my readers of 1942. The Philippines were an American Protectorate invaded by Imperial Japan the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor – December 8, 1941. MacArthur and the U.S. and Filipino armies fought bravely but Manila fell and gradually the armies were isolated on the Bataan Peninsula. Holed up in the rocks and caves of Corregidor, MacArthur was ordered to escape to Australia and help plan the fight back. This he did March 12, 1942 – promising as he left, “I shall return!”
The end came for the U.S. and Filipino army on May 18. Between 60,000 and 80,000 prisoners of war were taken. Later some escaped to tell a horrific story of the BATAAN DEATH MARCH. They were ordered by their captors to march sixty to seventy miles. Any stumbling, were shot. Any sick or collapsed were either shot, left to perish unattended in the sun, or run over. Other prisoners were herded into “Hell ships”. Stuffed into the hold they were given no food or water, and many perished.
The Allied plan was to begin the liberation by occupying Leyte Island. However, Admiral Nimitz, in joint command, decided to first take the small volcanic island of PELELIU. Though only six miles long and two miles wide, the Japanese had built an excellent airfield. If this could be captured it would help MacArthur. It was anything but easy. The Japanese again had built a network of tunnels connecting five hundred caves, heavily armored to fight off any invasion. The battles raged furiously and casualties were very high. The U.S. planners estimated the conquest (of Peleiu) would take only 4 days. It actually took 12 weeks! The U.S. lost well over 1,000 Marines killed, with 5,000 wounded. U.S. Army soldiers’ casualty rate was also very high. All 11,000 Japanese defenders perished.
A U.S. invading force prepared to land on Leyte Island while intending then to liberate LUZON, the main island, and MANILA, the capital. MacArthur later reported in his Memoirs, “The night before the landing on Leyte I went back to my cabin and read again those [biblical] passages from which I had always gained inspiration and hope. And I prayed that a merciful God would preserve each one of those men on the morrow.”
Thus it was that MacArthur himself, with his customary dramatic flair, waded ashore from a landing craft on October 20, 1944. His voice hoarse and emotional, he declared, “People of the Philippines! I have returned! By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil…Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on…Let no heart be faint; the guidance of God points the way. Follow in His Name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory!”
Gulf of Leyte Battle
Before the main island could be secured a tremendous sea battle raged in the Gulf of Leyte. Some historians have said it was the “greatest sea battle in history.”
The Japanese introduced a deadly new weapon, KAMIKAZE PILOTS. These were young aviators who had volunteered to fly their planes – loaded with bombs – directly onto ships, and especially aircraft carriers.
“Kamikaze” means “Divine wind” and dates from 1274. The Mongols, led by Kubla Khan (grandson of Genghis Khan),attempted an invasion of Japan. A typhoon blew up and scattered the invading ships. Surely, said the Japanese leaders and people, this was a “Divine wind” (kamikaze). These suicide pilots wore a white silk scarf and carried fuel adequate only for a one-way journey.
In spite of the action of the Kamikazes the sea battle of Leyte was disastrous for the Imperial Navy. 218 Allied warships and 1,280 planes battled with 64 Japanese warships and 716 planes. In all Japan lost 3 large carriers, 1 escort, and 3 light carriers, 4 battleships, 14 cruisers, 32 destroyers, and 7 submarines – 64 ships. America’s losses were: 1 light carrier, 3 escorts, 6 destroyers, and 7 submarines – 21 ships in all.
After the naval victory in the Gulf of Leyte, the liberating U.S. army could now complete the liberation of Leyte, and execute landings on LUZON. On Leyte over 80,000 Japanese defenders were killed. Only 828 were captured.
175,000 Marines landed on Luzon. Gradually the main island was conquered until the Japanese defenders were confined to the Bataan Peninsula – just as the U.S. had been. Also, as previously, they were holding out in the labyrinth of caves on Corregidor on the rocky shore. The defenders were urged to surrender. As usual they refused. The U.S. forces pumped three-thousand gallons of diesel into the caves and set off incendiary charges. None survived. On Luzon over 200,000 were killed – only 9,000 captured.
Manila was now to be taken. When the Japanese had taken it in 1942 MacArthur had declared it an “open city” to save thousands upon thousands of civilian lives.
The Japanese bombed and shelled it anyway. Now, under Japanese occupation, it was the U.S. bombs that destroyed the city. It was so badly rendered a total ruin it was likened to Warsaw, Stalingrad, Dresden and Berlin.
Nevertheless brave Allied forces fought house by house until the capital was secured on March 3, 1945.
It was described as “the bloodiest battle of the Pacific theater of war.” 100,000 civilians were killed. War truly is terrible. It was to be even worse before it was done.