The fall of berlin 1945, p.50
The Fall of Berlin 1945, p.50Antony Beevor
On 5 May, the corpses of Hitler and Eva Braun were finally found after more interrogations. It was a windy day with an overcast sky. A renewed and more thorough search of the Reich Chancellery garden was made. A soldier spotted the corner of a grey blanket in the earth at the bottom of a shell crater. Two charred corpses were exhumed. The bodies of a German shepherd dog and a puppy were found in the same pit. General Vadis was immediately informed.
Before dawn the next morning, Captain Deryabin and a driver wrapped the corpses of Hitler and Eva Braun in sheets and smuggled them out past Berzarin’s cordon. They drove them to the SMERSH base at Buch, on the north-east edge of Berlin. There, in a small brick clinic, Dr Faust, Colonel Kraevsky and other pathologists summoned to examine Goebbels’s corpse began work on the most important remnants of the Third Reich. According to Rzhevskaya, the forensic experts were upset when ordered to maintain absolute and everlasting secrecy about their work on Hitler’s corpse. Whether or not Telegin knew of its discovery is uncertain. He was in any case arrested by Beria on another charge later. But neither Berzarin nor Zhukov was informed that Hitler’s body had been found. In fact Zhukov felt deeply betrayed when he finally found out two decades later.
Vadis, to be absolutely sure that they had the true corpse before he informed Beria and Stalin, ordered further checks. His men found the assistant of Hitler’s dentist. She examined the jaws from Hitler’s skull and confirmed that they were indeed the Führer’s. She recognized the bridgework. The jaws had been specially detached for the purpose and were kept in a red satin-lined box – ‘the sort used for cheap jewellery’, observed Rzhevskaya. On 7 May, Vadis felt confident enough of his facts to write his report.
The death of Hitler, although it did not bring an immediate end to the war in Europe, certainly precipitated its terminal events. German forces in northern Italy and southern Austria, nearly a million men, surrendered on 2 May. Churchill wanted to dash for Fiume and secure Trieste before Tito’s Yugoslav partisans seized it. The race for the Baltic coast of Schleswig-Holstein was won by the British 2nd Army’s dash north of the Elbe to Lübeck and Travemünde. Allied troops prepared to move rapidly in to liberate Denmark. Rokossovsky’s 2nd Belorussian Front, now cut off from the prize of Denmark, had occupied almost all of Mecklenburg by then. His armies had, however, taken comparatively few prisoners. To Soviet fury, the remnants of Manteuffel’s Third Panzer Army and General von Tippelskirch’s Twenty-First Army had moved westwards to surrender to the British. These mass surrenders to the Western Allies deprived the Soviet Union of slave labour in compensation for war damage during the Wehrmacht’s invasion. Just after the final surrender, Eisenhower, still unwilling to upset the Kremlin, informed the Stavka that all German troops, including Schörner’s, would be handed over to the Red Army. This was ‘accepted with great satisfaction’ by Antonov.
On the afternoon of 4 May, General Admiral von Friedeburg and General Kinzel, Heinrici’s former chief of staff, arrived at Field Marshal Montgomery’s headquarters on Luneburg Heath to sign an instrument of surrender for all German forces in north-west Germany, Denmark and Holland. When General Bradley met Marshal Konev on 5 May, he handed him a map marking the position of every US Army division. Bradley received nothing in return, except a warning that the Americans should not meddle in Czechoslovakia. Soviet signals were unashamedly hostile, if not brutal. In San Francisco, Molotov told a shaken Edward Stettinius, the Secretary of State, that the sixteen Polish negotiators sent to discuss matters with the Soviet-controlled provisional government had been charged with the murder of 200 members of the Red Army.
Konev’s 1st Ukrainian Front had received orders to turn south to take Prague. There, the Czech resistance, aided by General Vlasov’s troops in a doomed turnaround, rose in revolt against Field Marshal Schörner’s troops. Churchill had asked the Americans on 30 April to send in General Patton’s Third Army to secure the city before the Red Army reached it, but General Marshall refused. Vienna, Berlin and Prague were all falling into Soviet hands and the whole of central Europe with them. Soviet occupation authorities in Austria had set up a provisional government without consulting the Allies. Breslau, the capital of Silesia, surrendered on 6 May after its appalling siege lasting nearly three months.
Vlasov himself had initially rejected the idea of betraying the Germans at the twelfth hour, but he stood no chance whatever he did. ‘On 12 May 1945, near the town of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia,’ reported the chief of the political department of the 1st Ukrainian Front, ‘tankists of 25th Tank Corps captured traitor of the Motherland General Vlasov. The circumstances were as follows: one of the lieutenant colonels of the 25th Tank Corps was approached by a man from the Vlasov army with the rank of captain who stated, pointing at a car moving alone on the road towards the west, that General Vlasov was in this car. A pursuit was organized immediately and tankists from 25th Tank Corps caught the traitor.’ Vlasov, who apparently attempted to hide under some blankets, was said to be found carrying an ‘American passport in his name’ (an item which may have been added to the list for reasons of anti-western propaganda), ‘his Party card, which he had preserved, and a copy of his order to his troops to stop fighting, lay down their weapons and surrender to the Red Army’. Vlasov himself was flown from Konev’s headquarters back to Moscow. There, boasts were later made of his death under terrible and prolonged torture. On 13 and 14 May, 20,000 of his men were rounded up in the region of Pilsen and sent to specially prepared camps for interrogation by SMERSH.
In the south, meanwhile, the Americans had pushed on eastwards and south-eastwards from Munich, as well as southwards into the Tyrol, but then halted on Eisenhower’s orders. The French had captured Bregenz on Lake Constance. General von Saucken, with the remains of the Second Army, still held out in the Vistula delta on the edge of East Prussia. In Courland, the divisions which Guderian had wanted to bring back to defend Berlin continued to resist, despite heavy bombardment from the Soviet armies surrounding them. And the Kriegs-marine, although short of fuel, continued its evacuations by sea from the Hela Peninsula, as well as Courland and the Vistula estuary. But the most intense activity continued round Prague, with Field Marshal Schorner’s Army Group Centre resisting the attack of three Soviet Fronts.
In the early hours of 7 May, General Jodl, on behalf of Dönitz and the OKW, signed an instrument of surrender at Eisenhower’s headquarters at Rheims. General Susloparov, the chief Soviet liaison officer with SHAEF, signed ‘On behalf of the Soviet high command’. Stalin was furious when he heard. The surrender had to be signed in Berlin and it had to be taken by the Red Army, which had borne the brunt of the fighting. To make matters more provoking for him, the Western Allies wanted to announce victory in Europe the next day, because they would not be able to prevent newspapers publishing the details. Stalin, not surprisingly, considered this premature. Despite Jodl’s signature in Rheims, Schörner’s army group in Czechoslovakia continued to resist fiercely, and neither General von Saucken nor the huge force still trapped in Courland had surrendered. But the crowds already gathering to celebrate in London prompted Churchill to insist on an announcement on Tuesday 8 May. Stalin, despite compromising a little, now wanted it to be made at just past midnight, the very start of 9 May, following a full surrender in Berlin.
The Soviet authorities, however, could not prevent their own troops from jumping the gun with their celebrations. Koni Wolf, with the 7th Department of the 47th Army, fiddled with wireless dials for most of the day on 8 May. He picked up the announcement in London and yelled it to his comrades. News spread fast in Berlin. Young women soldiers wasted no time in washing their clothes, while Red Army soldiers went on a frenzied hunt for alcohol. SMERSH officers shouted to Rzhevskaya to get ready for a party. Having been told that she would ‘answer with [her] head’ if Hitler’s jaws were lost, she spent an awkward evening, pouring drinks for others with one hand, while clinging on to the fancy red box with the other. It was a wise decision to entrust the evidence to a woman that nig
For those who had been fighting up to the very last moment, the news was even more joyously received. Those attacking the Twelfth Army’s perimeter round Schönhausen on the Elbe had suffered heavy casualties. Yury Gribov’s battalion lost nearly half its strength on 5 May, when attacking the remnants of the Scharnhorst Division. Their regimental commander, a Hero of the Soviet Union, had been killed two days later, in the last skirmishes. But by the evening of 8 May, the firing had stopped. ‘We celebrated victory in the forest. We all lined up in a broad clearing and did not let the division commander finish his excited speech, with bursts of firing into the sky. Our hearts were happy and tears streamed down our cheeks.’ Relief was always mixed with sadness too. ‘The first toast to victory,’ Red Army men said. ‘The second to dead friends.’
The writer Konstantin Simonov watched the final drama in Berlin. Late in the morning of 8 May, he lay on a patch of grass at Tempelhof aerodrome, which had now been cleared of wrecked German aircraft. A Soviet guard of honour 300 strong was being drilled in presenting arms again and again by ‘a fat, small colonel’. Zhukov’s deputy, General Sokolovsky, then arrived. Soon, the first aircraft appeared. Andrei Vyshinsky, the prosecutor at the Moscow show trials and now the deputy foreign minister, arrived with a retinue of Soviet diplomats. He was to be Zhukov’s political supervisor.
An hour and a half later another Dakota landed, bringing Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Eisenhower’s deputy and representative, and General Carl Spaatz, the commander of the US Air Force in Europe. Tedder, Simonov noted, was slim, young and dynamic, ‘smiling frequently and somehow in a forced manner’. Sokolovsky hurried to greet him and led his party towards the guard of honour.
A third aircraft landed. Keitel, Admiral Friedeburg and General Stumpff, representing the Luftwaffe, emerged. General Serov hurried over and escorted the Germans round the other side of the guard of honour, in case it might be thought it was there to welcome them too. Keitel insisted on leading the way. In full uniform, holding his marshal’s baton in his right hand, he walked with large strides, deliberately looking straight ahead.
Smart traffic controllers, young women soldiers with berets worn on the back of the head and sub-machine guns slung across their backs, had halted all vehicles to allow the staff cars a free passage to Zhukov’s new headquarters in Karlshorst. The convoy of staff cars churned up thick dust-clouds as Germans watched from side streets and crossroads. Simonov imagined their thoughts as they saw their generals on the way to sign the final surrender.
Just before midnight the representatives of the allies entered the hall ‘in a two-storey building of the former canteen of the German military engineering college in Karlshorst’. General Bogdanov, the commander of the 2nd Guards Tank Army, and another Soviet general sat down by mistake on seats reserved for the German delegation. A staff officer whispered in their ears and ‘they jumped up, literally as if stung by a snake’ and went to sit at another table. Western pressmen and newsreel cameramen apparently ‘behaved like madmen’. In their desperation for good positions, they were shoving generals aside and tried to push in behind the top table under the flags of the four allies. Eventually Marshal Zhukov sat down. Tedder was placed on his right, and General Spaatz and General de Lattre de Tassigny on his left.
The German delegation was led in. Friedeburg and Stumpff looked resigned. Keitel tried to look imperious, glancing almost contemptuously from time to time at Zhukov. Simonov guessed that a rage was boiling within him. So did Zhukov, who also noted that his face had red blotches. The surrender documents were brought to the top table. First Zhukov signed, then Tedder, then Spaatz, then General de Lattre. Keitel sat very straight in his chair, with clenched fists. He threw his head further and further backwards. Just behind him, a tall German staff officer standing to attention ‘was crying without a single muscle of his face moving’.
Zhukov stood up. ‘We invite the German delegation to sign the act of capitulation,’ he said in Russian. The interpreter translated, but Keitel, by an impatient gesture, signalled that he had understood and that they should bring him the papers. Zhukov, however, pointed to the end of his table. ‘Tell them to come here to sign,’ he said to the interpreter.
Keitel stood up and walked over. He ostentatiously removed his glove before picking up the pen. He clearly had no idea that the senior Soviet officer looking over his shoulder as he signed was Beria’s representative, General Serov. Keitel put the glove back on, then returned to his place. Stumpff signed next, then Friedeburg.
‘The German delegation may leave the hall,’ Zhukov announced. The three men stood up. Keitel, ‘his jowls hanging heavily like a bulldog’s’, raised his marshal’s baton in salute, then turned on his heel.
As the door closed behind them, it was almost as if everybody in the room exhaled in unison. The tension relaxed instantaneously. Zhukov was smiling, so was Tedder. Everybody began to talk animatedly and shake hands. Soviet officers embraced each other in bear hugs. The party which followed went on until almost dawn, with songs and dances. Marshal Zhukov himself danced the Russkaya to loud cheers from his generals. From inside, they could clearly hear gunfire all over the city as officers and soldiers blasted their remaining ammunition into the night sky in celebration. The war was over.
Stalin saw the capture of Berlin as the Soviet Union’s rightful reward, but the yield was disappointing and the waste terrible. A key target was the Reichsbank in Berlin. Serov accounted for 2,389 kilos in gold, twelve tons of silver coin and millions in banknotes from countries which had been occupied by the Axis. Yet the bulk of Nazi gold reserves had been moved westwards. Serov, however, was later accused of having also held back a certain proportion of the proceeds for the NKVD’s ‘operational expenses’.
The main objective was to strip Germany of all its laboratories, workshops and factories. Even the NKVD in Moscow provided a shopping list of items wanted from police forensic laboratories. The Soviet atomic programme, Operation Borodino, had the very highest priority of all, but considerable efforts were also made to track down V–2 rocket scientists, Siemens engineers and any other skilled technicians who could help the Soviet armaments industry catch up with the United States. Only a few, such as Professor Jung and his team who refused to help on nerve gas, managed to resist Soviet pressure. Most of the others enjoyed comparatively privileged conditions and the right to bring their families with them to the Soviet Union.
German scientific equipment, however, turned out to be rather less tractable than its human designers. The vast majority of items taken back to Moscow were of no use because they required an environment suitable for precision engineering and the purest raw materials. ‘Socialism cannot benefit itself,’ observed one of the Soviet scientists involved in stripping Berlin, ‘even when it takes the whole of another country’s technological infrastructure.’
Most of the programme of stripping laboratories and factories was marked by chaos and disaster. Red Army soldiers who discovered methyl alcohol drank it and shared it with their comrades. The contents of workshops were ripped out by working parties of German women, then left in the open, where they rusted. Even when finally transported back to the Soviet Union, only a small proportion was ever put to good use. Stalin’s theory of industrial expropriation showed itself to be worse than futile. And this came on top of the Red Army’s less than enlightened attitude towards German property in general. French prisoners of war were astonished at ‘the systematic destruction of machinery in good repair which could be reused’. It was a huge dissipation of resources and condemned Soviet-occupied Germany to a backwardness from which it never recovered.
Personal looting continued to be just as wasteful as it had been in East Prussia, although it now became more exotic. Soviet generals behaved like pashas. Vasily Grossman described one of Chuikov’s corps commanders during the last few days of the battle. This general had acquired ‘two dachshunds (nice fellows), a parrot, a peacock and a gu
Most of a general’s loot consisted of presents from subordinate commanders, who quickly grabbed the best items for their superiors when a schloss or fine house was taken. Zhukov was given a pair of Holland & Holland shotguns. They were later to form part of Abakumov’s attempt to discredit him, almost certainly on Stalin’s instructions. These two guns became, with that Stalinist compulsion to multiply everything in a denunciation, ‘twenty unique shotguns made by Golland & Golland [sic’.
At the other end of the chain of command, Red Army soldiers accumulated an interesting array of plunder. Young women soldiers were interested in assembling a trousseau ‘from some Gretchen’, hoping that they still might find a husband in a world short of men. Married soldiers collected cloth to send back to their wives, but also looted ‘Gretchen knickers’. This sort of present confirmed the worst jealousies at home. Many Soviet wives were convinced that German women in Berlin were seducing their husbands.
Most soldiers, however, concentrated on items for rebuilding at home, despite the fact that they were too heavy for their five-kilo allowance. An officer told Simonov that his men removed panes of glass, then fastened a bit of wood on each side and bound them up with wire to send home. He recounted the scene at the Red Army post department.
‘Come on, take it!’ the soldier said. ‘Come on, Germans smashed my house. Come on, take the parcel. If you don’t, you’re not the post department.’
Many sent a sack of nails. Someone brought a saw, rolled into a circle. ‘You could at least have wrapped it in something,’ a soldier in the post department told him.
‘Come on, take it! I’ve no time. I’ve come from the front line!’
‘And where’s the address?’
The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Antony Beevor / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes