Printer Friendly

End of Hitler. Start of peace? A suicide in a bunker and the fall of Berlin bring an end to Nazi aggression--and the start of a new war of words, spies, and nerves.

NAZI GERMANY WAS SHRINKING FAST. In March and April 1945, two massive Allied forces closed in from two different directions, steadily compacting the area where Adolf Hitler's Third Reich still held power. The Red Army, mustering 2.5 million men and women and armed with 6,250 tanks and self-propelled guns, approached from the east. This Soviet-Polish force had crossed the Oder River; now it prepared to launch its last campaign just 50 miles from Berlin. On the other side of Germany, the Western Allies had all their armies across the Rhine River by the last week of March and were rushing eastward.

Just where the Western Allies would meet the Soviets had been determined by the Big Three--US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin--at the Yalta Conference in the Crimea that February. The juncture would come at the Elbe River, which would become the dividing line between the Soviets' postwar occupation zone in eastern Germany and the western occupation zones of the US, British-Canadian, and French armies.


The dubious honor of taking Berlin, the Reich's capital, fell to the Soviets. Stalin insisted on this mission, and the Allies felt no regret in leaving the Nazi capital to the Russians' tender mercies. Only Churchill and some American generals fell prey to glory rapture and pressed Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower to ignore the decision of the Big Three and the directive of the British-American Combined Chiefs to stop west of Berlin. Eisenhower would have none of it.

Although the German army had lost much of its cohesiveness, the German soldier fought on for his homeland with stubborn tenacity in kampfgruppen (battle groups) of various sizes. Such formations usually included a few tanks and self-propelled guns, anti-tank teams, machine-gun teams, and infantry of varied quality--everything from elite SS (the Nazi party's Stutzstaffel, or "protective squadron") regiments shrunken to company size, to regular army soldiers, to the teenagers and older men of the landsturm, Germany's last-echelon reserves. Armed with an MG 42 machine gun or anti-tank panzerfaust, a grandfather or teen could be as deadly as a storm trooper.

Without close air support and with very little artillery, the Germans killed 10,677 GIs in April 1945, about the same number they had killed in the June 1944 Normandy Invasion. Around each bend in the road Allied troops might find a quaint village or a deadly ambush. Seasoned American units made heavy use of reconnaissance by fire, opening up on suspected enemy positions to see whether their fire sprang a trap or produced a frantic showing of white sheets.

The broad front that Eisenhower preferred inhibited bold maneuver but encouraged multiple deep penetrations that prevented both German counterattacks and organized partisan resistance. Allied intelligence had discovered half-baked Nazi plans to form mountain-based groups of partisans called Werewolves. These fighters who would roam the so-called Alpine Fortress never materialized, but the very thought of such a guerrilla force explains the haste with which General George S. Patton's Third Army and General Alexander M. Patch's Seventh Army occupied Bavaria and drove into Austria and western Czechoslovakia.

Werewolves notwithstanding, Patton's and Patch's fast-moving columns did find real horrors as they advanced: hundreds of slave labor camps and political prisons like Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Nordhausen. Seeing the numbers of dead laborers and the pitiful condition of the living in these hells, many GIs thought they were liberating death camps. Then the Americans found Buchenwald, a true death camp. Outraged GIs shot some remaining guards and forced German civilians to form burial parties.



The Americans did not murder and rape their way across Germany, but their souvenir collecting was voracious, limited only by lack of transportation. Truck-rich artillery battalions were particularly effective looters of German memorabilia. While the Western Allies had sticky fingers and a developed taste for schnapps and liebfraumilch, however, what the Soviets wanted was more blood.

They got it. In Berlin, German military resistance that raged on through April and into May empowered Soviet and Polish divisions to finish the destruction that Allied bombers had begun. Casualties reached 360,000 before the shooting stopped. "No quarter" was the order of the day.

Hitler survived the hecatomb by closeting himself in the Fuhrerbunker with his longtime mistress, Eva Braun, and his Nazi family of military and civilian retainers. After Hitler's 56th birthday party on April 26, suicide and flight emptied the bunker. Others would face the consequences that the Fiihrer and his cadre could not. For the rump government Hitler left behind--a handful of senior officers anxious to avoid Soviet captivity--the immediate concern was surrendering to the right people, namely the Americans.

On April 24, American and Russian troops met at the Elbe as planned, though the Western generals kept their main forces well west of the river. The Western armies were at their assigned objectives by May 2, and four days later the Soviets had forces all along the Elbe. On May 5, a German delegation reached Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force at Reims, France, and tried to get terms that would save Germans from the Russians.

Eisenhower would not budge, and on May 7 the Germans surrendered unconditionally. May 8 became V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, but Soviets kept fighting until they participated in a surrender ceremony on May 9. Even then, the surrender omitted a government capitulation, so the ex-Nazis surrendered again on June 5. By then the Third Reich was no more, falling short of the Nazis' envisioned thousand-year rule of Europe.

Despite the Allied powers' often divergent views, one issue on which the victors could agree was that the Nazi regime and the German armed forces had to go, and quickly. Allied moral certainty made de-Nazification easy. So did some of the top Nazi leaders, three of whom--Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels--killed themselves. Martin Bormann, Hitler's preferred successor, died trying to flee Berlin. Just how many lesser Nazis escaped Europe remains uncertain, but escape they did. Most notable was Adolf Eichmann, overseer of the Holocaust. A global search for Nazi war criminals continues to this day.

Most Nazi leaders, led by the Luftwaffe's Field Marshal Herman Goring and civilian economic czar Albert Speer, surrendered and took their chances with the Allies. The Wehrmacht officers tried to cover up their complicity with the Nazis and genocide. Admiral Karl Donitz, the last head of state, and Field Marshal Albert Kesselring set the example for cooperating with the occupiers, supported by a stained cast of scientists like Werner von Braun and intelligence experts like Reinhard Gehlen. These Germans worked to cast the Soviets as the new menace to Europe.

Not all Nazis and collaborators would succeed in avoiding retribution, however. The Big Three were of one mind that German political and military leaders should stand trial for war crimes, and an international tribunal was quickly set up for that purpose. The international tribunal focused on the leaders of the Holocaust and the slave labor camp system, which killed 12 million Europeans, half of them Jews.

The novel aspect of the international trials was the creation of a new category of war crimes that did not yet exist in international law: starting a war of aggression and conducting a war of genocide. Twenty-four prominent German leaders accused of these new Class A war crimes went to judgment in the 1945-1946 Nuremburg trials. Twenty-one were convicted. Ten of them died on the gallows. Ten went to prison, including Speer. Goring committed suicide.

The demand for a day of reckoning for accused Nazi war criminals echoed through every European nation, where civilian and military tribunals prosecuted Nazis and local collaborators. Most of the defendants were accused of traditional Class B war crimes such as the massacre of POWs and civilians.

The European nations addressed the question of war crimes and collaboration with varied vengefulness and toleration. France pressed 170,000 cases, won 120,000 convictions, and executed 2,000 war criminals. Belgium, with a population of 8 million, investigated 634,000 accused collaborators and convicted 77,000 of them for various crimes. Austria identified only 9,000 potential war criminals and eventually executed 35. After Italy announced a general amnesty in 1946, only 4,000 former fascists remained in prison, though Italian Communist partisans had executed at least 2,000 fascisti in early 1945. The Norwegians methodically screened 18,000 suspected collaborators and passed judgment on most of them, which included imprisonment and all sorts of civil punishments. Notorious Norwegian fascist Vidkun Quisling went to the gallows. In the USSR Stalin executed thousands of Balts, Ukrainians, and Cossacks for helping Germany and sent a million more to the gulag.

IN THE INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL'S PROCEEDINGS, the largest category of Germans to escape serious prosecution were German officers who initiated or tolerated the slaughter of Russian POWs and civilians. This betrayed a convenient amnesia related to the growing tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Most of the Webrmachfs surviving rank and file faced another kind of trial--the challenge of survival. Most of them shed their uniforms and searched for their families among the urban wreckage and fallow farms. A scene of human chaos greeted them. Eight million German refugees who had fled the country's Soviet-occupied zone and central Europe had arrived in the Western Allies' zones. Also wandering the countryside or huddled in camps, seven million non-Germans struggled to get home from forced labor sites and camps. Through the heroic efforts of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the Allied armed forces, five million succeeded by 1946. The two million others had no home in Eastern Europe to return to without great risk. England accepted the largest number of these, 270,000, mostly Poles. Jews tried to reach Palestine.



Many displaced people simply remained in Germany, where, united with the German refugees, they exceeded the prewar population in the Western Allies' occupation zone--and created a solid anti-Communist electorate in what would become West Germany. There were millions of Germans, meanwhile, who had not come home, because their captors chose not to release them. In the war's last stages, seven million Germans had surrendered to the Western Allies. Another million had fallen into Soviet hands in 1945, joining the two million Germans already captive in Russia or dead from maltreatment. For a variety of reasons, the Western and Soviet Allies sought to hold on to a sizeable portion of these millions after hostilities had ceased.

The Western Allies categorized a percentage of their captives as civilian detainees rather than POWs, to justify detaining them longer and to excuse a shortage of food and medical supplies. Had these Germans been classified as POWs, the Western Allies would have been subjected to International Red Cross inspection of camp conditions and requirements for rapid release. Instead, German prisoners spent the next year cleaning up the Fatherland and nearby countries; there were a million in France alone.

In fact, the Western Allies did release about half their prisoners, those regarded as ordinary soldiers. The remaining captives included military personnel but focused on Nazi party officials, the elite Waffen-SS (armed SS men), other SS members, Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei, or "secret state police"), the SA (Sturmabteilung, the Nazi party's storm troopers), labor and concentration camp personnel, and government officials.


An estimated 40,000 Germans died in postwar captivity, unmourned by the Allies. The Russian record was worse. Almost a million German POWs never returned from Russia, and thousands remained captive until the 1950s.

Not only on the treatment of prisoners, but on key policy questions, too, the Soviet Union's views and aims were at odds with those of the Western Allies. Discussion of visions of a postwar Europe had begun at the Big Three's November 1943 Tehran conference and continued at the February 1945 Yalta meeting. In July, the leaders discussed the issue again in Potsdam (with Harry Truman replacing Roosevelt, who had died in April, and Clement Attlee replacing Churchill partway through the conference after defeating him at the polls). From the beginning, however, not all the plans for Europe were mentioned out loud--especially not Stalin's.

Soviet plans and policies for postwar Europe reflected Russian wartime suffering that included 20 million deaths and economic devastation that reached to the Urals. As the Red army's end-of-war spree of murder, rape, and pillage subsided in 1945, Stalin's generals and commissars set about transforming the nations that would join the Soviet Union in the 1955 Warsaw Pact--Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania--into a European political and geographic barrier to what the Soviets considered capitalist aggression. They created the "Iron Curtain," as Churchill dubbed it. Stalin predicated an inevitable World War III between the victors of World War II.


IN THE BALTIC REPUBLICS and in Poland, Romania, Albania, Hungary, and Bulgaria, Communist expatriates and Moscow-approved resistance leaders assumed power. Only Czechoslovakia created an effective government from exile leaders in Great Britain, and a fiercely anti-Russian population kept the government alive until 1948, when it fell to a Communist coup. Yugoslavia, the domain of Josip Broz Tito and his Serbo-Croatian Communist partisans, avoided prolonged Soviet occupation largely by arming itself with confiscated German weapons and quick, effective Communist local political control. Austria, like Germany, fell under Four-Power (United States, Britain, France, and Soviet Union) military occupation and administration.

Tough policies in the USSR's occupation zones and sphere of influence ensured Eastern European and German compliance. German POWs served as cheap labor, joined by repatriated Red Army POWs. Any members of the Eastern European exile armies adopted by America and Great Britain--meaning the Poles and the Czechs--who managed to return home ended up dead or in prison as state enemies. Anti-German resistance leaders, even Communists, were fair game for purges.

The Soviet occupiers' economic policy was uncomplicated: if we can use it, you lose it. The Russians claimed 25 percent of all German assets. Industrial and transportation resources went east, with Romanian oil and food from all over Eastern Europe. This reparations program continued in lesser form for the next decade until protests in Poland and East Germany and the pleas of local Communist leaders stopped the practice.

The fate of the Allied coalition's Western European members would have been comparable to the thralldom of Eastern Europe if not for the residual strength of the United States. Great Britain, having used up probably half its economic wealth and having squeezed comparable resources from the Commonwealth, was an exhausted, prostrate victor that soon surrendered Burma and India to independence movements, even as it fought to hold its African colonies, its Middle Eastern protectorates, and Malaya.

On the continent, the constitutional monarchies of Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium reestablished themselves with British support, as did Greece's autocratic monarchy. The Belgian royal family survived its perceived record of collaboration; the Italian monarchy did not. In the new republics of France and Italy, parliamentary parties that claimed various types of resistance to Nazism, including partisan warfare, vied for electoral power with domestic Communist parties that remained serious threats until the 1950s. In Greece the rivalry brought on a five-year civil war, eventually suppressed with US aid and Tito's defection from the cause of the Greek Communists.

In the midst of Europe's postwar tumult, Germany soon seemed to be doing the impossible. Despite the devastation that attended the Reich's downfall--and despite the curses Hitler had hurled at his people for losing the war--Germany would climb from its rubble within a decade. By 1955 the Federal Republic of Germany, or West Germany, and the Democratic People's Republic of Germany, or East Germany, would stand revitalized in the center of Europe. In a bizarre twist of fate, the two Germanys recovered and prospered faster than the European nations that defeated the Nazis. This was largely because of the postwar rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union, which drove each of the two superpowers to support the resurgence of its corresponding German republic.

The United States lent its assistance not only to West Germany, but to all of Western Europe, beset by postwar economic peril. Between Allied bombing and destructive air-ground operations, most of inhabited, economically important Europe had been destroyed. Allied armies had mounted the first relief efforts as they liberated France, Italy, Belgium, and Holland and occupied Germany and Austria. Medical and medical service units treated, inoculated, and sanitized millions, spraying DDT insecticide to wipe out parasites. All the forces brought in food and redistributed German caches of food and medicine.

CIVILIAN GOVERNMENT AGENCIES and non-governmental organizations, some sponsored by the new United Nations Organization, filled the vacuum of relief services when the armies in the western occupied zone finally started disbanding. Europeans avoided epidemic disease, but still died of malnutrition and respiratory infections by the thousands. The Dutch remember resorting to eating tulip bulbs during two consecutive winters.

The relief money came from America. By 1948 two American-supported organizations, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the Economic Cooperation Administration, had become the dominant relief agencies.


Ultimately, Europe's recovery depended upon the creation of a long-term global financial system that ensured stable investment, sound monetary relations, tariff regulation, and inflation-resistant fiscal regimes. The Bretton Woods agreement of 1944 established the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, pooling and debt-managing agencies that achieved limited initial success.

The United States took a unilateral course, forgiving $20 billion in Lend-Lease loans it had made before entering the war and preventing an Allied reparations campaign in Germany like the one that followed World War I.

The leverage for European recovery, centered on the new Germany, became the European Recovery Act of 1948--known as the Marshall Plan, for Secretary of State George Marshall--which allocated $17 billion to long-term economic development ($400 billion in today's dollars). Access to Marshall Plan dollars required European governments to adopt fiscal policies that met American conservative, free-market criteria. The Marshall Plan also encouraged European champions of economic integration in key industries such as steel-making and coal-mining.

The Allied de-Nazification program faded as fear of Soviet subversion grew and then shifted by 1950 into fear that the USSR might intervene militarily to cripple the growing power of West Germany. Not until Stalin's death in March 1953 did Western leaders see a softening of Soviet belligerency.

Evidence of Soviet aggressiveness mounted rapidly after 1945. Stalin endorsed the Greek Communists, pushed Turkey to transfer control of the Turkish Straits (the generally recognized boundary between Europe and Asia) to the Soviet Union, and slowly moved the Red Army out of northern Iran. In Asia the Soviets supported Mao Zedong's Chinese revolutionaries and other agents of socialist national liberation. In occupied Germany, the Soviets tightened the police state and for 12 months in 1948 and 1949 prevented overland travel to Berlin. The United States saved the city by delivering food and supplies via airlift. The Soviet Union detonated its first atomic bomb in September 1949, only a year after the Czech coup. At the same time, while the US Army demobilized and the British and French sent their professional armies off to hold their empires, the Soviets reorganized and strengthened their army in Germany. In this context, the wars of decolonization in Indonesia, Indochina, Malaya, and Algeria looked like Communist adventurism to America's major allies in Europe.

Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union courted war with the same fervor as Hitler had, but differences in ideology, economic aspirations, cultural convictions, and security goals divided the Western and Communist states. The range of Cold War rivalries hardened in the 1950s.

In Europe, Germany's future remained the central divisive problem. The Allies agreed to restore Austrian sovereignty in a 1955 treaty that included neutralization and disarmament; they could pretend Austria had been a victim of Nazism, not Hitler's compliant, silent partner. Germany itself was another matter, especially as its industrial output climbed, quadrupling between 1948 and 1958.

In 1949 the United States, Great Britain, and France essentially returned internal West German government to civilian, "good" Germans led by Konrad Adenauer, Helmut Schmidt, and Willy Brandt (though many Germans regarded Brandt, long-time mayor of West Berlin, as a traitor, because he had been a Norwegian citizen in exile and posed as a Norwegian soldier to escape Gestapo capture in 1940).

Soon enough, West Germany would resume a place among the world's military powers. To protect all of Europe, Great Britain, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands formed a military alliance in 1948, the Act of Brussels, which expanded into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. American rearmament, sparked by a war in Korea in 1950, created a six-division US Seventh Army on the border of the two Germanys, backed by the 1,000 aircraft of the US Air Force Europe. Both of these US forces became nuclear-capable in the 1950s, along with Great Britain and France. In 1950 the NATO allies approved German rearmament in principle and in 1954 admitted that the Germans should have real national armed forces, the Bundeswehr (Federal Defense Force). The Soviets noted that the "good" German generals were all WWII veterans of considerable reputation for killing Russians. The Germans noted that such experience could be invaluable to NATO.


In the political sense, World War II in Europe ended when the Allies--the Soviet Union excluded--signed a set of administrative turnover agreements with Germany in 1949. (A formal peace treaty was not signed until September 1990. The Soviet Union had blocked any previous attempts at a real treaty favored by all the Allies.) Germany's rebirth required some forgetfulness about who had done what to whom from 1939 through 1945. The investigators of Nazi war crimes and Swiss bank accounts stayed on the job and hounded some suspects in the courts. Some former German commanders died under suspicious circumstances. All the while, Soviet spies in the US, British, and German governments and intelligence agencies kept Western insecurity alive while American nuclear superiority made the Soviets more paranoid than usual.

The wartime past would not die. War crimes sleuths, for example, discovered in 1985 that former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, then an Austrian presidential candidate, had been a very efficient officer in suppressing Yugoslav partisans. Preserving the death camps at Dachau and Auschwitz reminded Europeans that World War II had left more than neat military cemeteries and memories of soldierly sacrifice. It proved easier to clear away the rubble of 1945 than to wipe away the memory of the horrors of a war that killed more civilians than soldiers.

RELATED ARTICLE: Victory!--and more war.

By Brian John Murphy

American soldiers in Europe were still fighting for a toehold on the shores of France in mid-1944 when the US high command in Washington, DC, started planning the details of their redeployment to the Pacific. The question was whether units and individuals would be redeployed or demobilized after victory in Europe. The brass chose both.

Right after the May 7 German surrender, GIs learned from the army newspaper Stars and Stripes that whether they would go home or to the Pacific depended on the new Adjusted Service Rating system. A soldier earned 1 point for each month in the service, starting on September 16, 1940, and ending May 12, 1945. Each month spent overseas rather than in the States was worth an additional point. Each battle a soldier participated in was worth 5 points, as was each Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Silver Star, or Distinguished Service Cross. Finally, a soldier collected 12 points for every dependent child under 18 years of age, up to a maximum of 36 points. A total of 85 points earned a discharge and ticket home.


Company clerks were soon besieged by GIs eager to get their Adjusted Service Rating Card Form No. 163, known as a "TS slip" (TS for "time of service")--or, once it accumulated 85 points, as a "ticket home." Army personnel staff filled out the cards and then forwarded them to the units, where the soldiers picked them up, reviewed them, and if necessary requested corrections, as in "I was inducted in June, not August!" The GI then signed the card and turned it back in to the clerk.

Meanwhile, the problem of how to transfer units to the Pacific bedeviled the higher-ups. Most troops would have to be returned to the East Coast, moved to the West Coast by rail, and then shipped out toward the Japanese islands. The movement would place a great strain on the American rail system. And on the West Coast there were few suitable ports of embarkation. Generals were tempted to work around the whole mess by shipping troops straight from Europe to the Pacific through the Panama Canal, but that was politically impossible. They had no real choice but to deal with the logistics nightmare. Pacific-bound veterans returning to the States from Europe were to receive a month's furlough. And because island combat was very different from combat in Europe, soldiers would need a few weeks' training in Pacific warfare. Before shipping out, units were reorganized and re-equipped.

The travel from Europe, the furlough, the training, and the reorganizing and re-equipping were going to take time. With the war in Europe ending in early May, the invasion of Japan's southern island of Kyushu, scheduled for November, would have to be mounted by forces already in the Pacific. The invasion of Japan's central and largest island of Honshu, planned for March 1946, would star the boys who had defeated the Nazis.

Or would it? The choicest, most experienced veterans were also the men with the most discharge points. If the Adjusted Service Rating system were followed to the letter, they would be unavailable to train, guide, and steady the relatively inexperienced men who would make up the bulk of the invasion force. It was hardly a surprise that the rules were stretched. If a GI was in a vital service unit--especially engineers or medical personnel, who would be desperately needed in the Pacific--points would mean very little.

Also out of luck were Army Air Forces members. The bomber, fighter, and logistics commands that operated in Europe, especially the Mighty Eighth Air Force, were bound for the islands, though not necessarily with their own aircraft. The crews of the 489th Heavy Bombardment Group, for example, reported to Connecticut's Bradley Field after their furloughs, expecting refresher training and new B-24s. Instead they found enormous B-29 Superfortress bombers. The men were handed operations manuals and put into five-month training programs.

At the end of the fighting in Europe, front-line units were mixes of old veterans and new personnel from replacement depots---"repple depples" in army slang. Morale sank in units scheduled for redeployment, especially among GIs who had already been away from home and in combat for some time. These men were not optimistic about their future, with memories of Stars and Stripes articles about the savage fighting in the Pacific still fresh in their heads. Then the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.

by Dr. Allan R. Millett

Dr. Allan R. Millett is Ambrose Professor of History and director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. He has written and co-edited numerous books on military history.
COPYRIGHT 2010 310 Publishing LLC
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:BRINGING DOWN THE REICH: chapter five
Author:Millett, Allan R.
Publication:America in WWII
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Jun 1, 2010
Previous Article:West meets East: vodka toasts, feasts, and dancing spelled doom for the Third Reich when eastward-marching GIs met westbound Soviets at the Elbe...
Next Article:The Pacific.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters