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80th Anniversary of Start of World War II – Excerpt from “Hitler Here’Facebooktwitterlinkedinmail

World War II in Europe began 80 years ago, on September 1, 1939. This excerpt from my biographical novel “Hitler Here” deals with the first several weeks of what would become the bloodiest conflict in history.

PREPARATIONS
By A Polish General

An alarmed and resolute Poland prepared to meet the enemy. We had defeated the Russians in 1920 and knew we could at least delay the Germans for a long time now. By then France could launch an offensive to relieve us. Maybe then we could even counterattack and expand. The Germans sure as hell weren’t going to get back the Corridor to Danzig. Into this area we deployed about a third of our thirty-five divisions. The French and others had advised us to dig in further back, behind the Vistula and Sun Rivers. But we could not concede so much industrial territory, vital if we were to sustain war.

WAR
By A German Officer

A little before five on the cool first morning in September 1939, our modest yet formidable cruiser guns began firing on Danzig. The honor to initiate this fusillade enlivened everything from the bowels of the magazine to the tips of guns that hurled shells onto the city, where smoke erupted, and I knew far distant on our Polish frontier other German guns were also firing, and the roar here linked other martial thunder, and the blitz on Poland had begun.

SELF DEFENSE
By Adolf Hitler

I moved with bounce into Kroll Opera House and announced: “The Poles began firing on us early this morning, and we returned fire and will answer bombs with bombs. This treachery has come despite my modest and loyal proposals, and my patience and love of peace. England has also rejected me. The only alternative is therefore to once again put on my dear and sacred uniform, and I will not take it off until victory, or I will perish before the end.”

ONLY ALTERNATIVE
By Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain

Everything I had worked for and believed in crashed on this saddest day of my life. Germany did not respond to our ultimatum to at once remove all its troops from recently occupied territory. Consequently, England declared war on Germany a little after eleven on the bleak morning of September third. A somewhat reluctant France had to be stiffened by us and convinced to do likewise later in the day. Though disturbed by the French delay, I did empathize since their forces alone in the West would have to thwart German aggression, as none of ours had yet arrived.

CHARGE
By A Polish Officer

Fearless and determined, we were braced on the ground for their panzers when from above the Stukas began diving — with unimaginable shrieks — to bomb and machine gun us. As soon as possible I ordered my cavalry to ready rifles and swords, and charge. The gruesome green panzers were rolling fast among us now and firing everywhere accurately as more Stukas hurtled in and the panzers stormed by, leaving us entirely naked and confused. After very much fighting in an eternal short while, I buried my face in my sleeve, never wanting again to see so many comrades lying next to slaughtered horses.

PANZERS
By General Heinz Guderian

Following the Great War, I had seen the future of warfare. It lay in movement, and panzers were the key. I immersed myself in training and tactics, and battled many hidebound generals who felt infantry and artillery were still paramount. I knew that would never be again and refused to compromise essential principles. The Fuehrer had eventually supported my ideas, and now he was visiting the front within sight of Kulm, my birthplace and German territory for generations before Poland stole it. Surveying the battlefield, the Fuehrer was as emotional as I, and he smiled and swept his hand and said: “My Luftwaffe did this?”

“No, Mein Fuehrer. The panzers.”

PRUDENCE
By General Maurice Gamelin

France wanted to relieve Poland, but there were problems. I had thought the Poles could hold out six months. A lot depended on that. Contrary developments provoked great concern about what France should do. We had promised to partially engage the Germans right after any attack on Poland, then launch a full-scale offensive as soon as we could, perhaps in a little more than two weeks after hostilities began.
We certainly stuck to the first part by attacking Germany in the Saar and claiming about seven miles of enemy territory. But everything bogged down. We were confined to a narrow front of attack since we could not invade through neutral Belgium and Holland, and in Germany the enemy had sown tens of thousands of mines. That was troublesome because we had no mine detectors. Also, most of my artillery was still in storage or en route to the front and would not be ready in time for a great offensive. We, at any rate, were not focused on attacking. France had bled its youth into the battlefields of the Great War and did not want to do so again. And we wondered what would be the use of launching a real offensive to relieve the Poles since they were by now pretty well beyond relief.

JOINING HANDS
By Vyacheslav Molotov

Soon after attacking Poland, the Germans began pestering us to do likewise. At first I replied we would do so at a suitable time that had not yet arrived. On September fifteenth Ribbentrop wired that Warsaw would be captured within a few days and that he expected prompt Soviet military action. The next day I summoned Ambassador Schulenburg, assured him of an imminent Soviet attack, and stated our pretext: we would be preventing a third power from exploiting the chaos to hurt our Ukrainian and White Russian blood brothers.

The following afternoon Schulenburg complained to Stalin about our unpleasant allusion to Germany. Stalin promptly deleted offensive sections so our explanation now stated that since Poland had ceased to exist, the 1932 Polish-Soviet nonaggression pact also ceased to exist, and the Soviet Union was moving in to forestall dangerous developments and protect its minorities. On the eighteenth our troops joined hands with the Germans at Brest-Litovsk, a place of anti-Russian perfidy but a generation ago.

WARSAW
By Hermann Goering

Around Warsaw the Army had placed a noose of artillery, but that was not enough. I told the Fuehrer the Army was incapable of the highest tasks. The Luftwaffe would have to crush the final pockets of Warsaw resistance delaying the Fuehrer’s celebration. I ordered four hundred planes to attack, and Stukas began dive-bombing a city soon in flames. Next I employed Junker transport planes with loads of incendiaries. Since my men had to wrestle the bombs out side doors of the unsleek transports, accuracy was not perfect, and some of our troops were hit. The Army demanded we cease bombing, but the Fuehrer wouldn’t hear of it. Wave after wave of planes continued to attack, and my pilots said they could not see much except smoke and debris.

ADJUSTMENTS
By Joseph Stalin

Our friends fought so well and so fast that I offered to stick to our original agreement or, far better for both of us, make a few adjustments. If Germany would give me Lithuania, I would grant it the provinces of Warsaw and Lublin. The Germans already had those areas but were honor bound to give them to us. I invited Ribbentrop to Moscow to discuss these matters. He came on September twenty-eighth, and by early next morning we had carefully redrawn maps and agreed on everything, with Hitler’s approval, of course, and now Germany had most of the Polish people under its control, which was a big advantage, and I still had a nice chunk of Poland as well as the Baltic States, and we agreed not to tolerate any Polish agitation against either partner.

OPERATION REINHARD
By Reinhard Heydrich

I had many lists. They were quite long and contained the names of undesirable Poles. Most of them were aristocrats, doctors, teachers, priests and businessmen. My specially-trained Einsatz Commandos hunted these dangerous criminals, and by late September had shot all but three percent of the Polish upper class.

This territory now was an ideal place to transport the Jews. We should not have had to bother. They should already have left Europe, but no one else wanted them either. The United States and England had turned away shiploads of Jews. So they were still our problem, and my particular responsibility and burden.

WHY WAR?
By Adolf Hitler

There did not have to be war, and there should not be war. That I explained October sixth in Kroll Opera House. Everyone had to understand: “I always offered Poland the utmost friendship and every time was spurned. Just as a fine English diplomat wrote in 1598, the most glaring characteristics of Poles are ‘cruelty and a lack of moral restraint.’ Obviously nothing has changed in three hundred fifty years. Despite my repeated offers to permit civilians to leave Warsaw, the Poles rejected me and forced continued conflict that exposed a great city to destruction. Ten thousand Germans have died because of Polish treachery, and a few thousand missing are no doubt being tortured.

“German suffering at the hands of Poles has long been too great to ever permit a restoration of the Poland of the Versailles Treaty. That Poland will never rise again, though Russia and Germany are willing to consider the formation of a reasonable Polish state. That, however, is exclusively our business and certainly cannot be solved by a war with the West.

“So why should there be war? Why should millions die and property in the billions be destroyed in order to save a state that from its artificial inception was an abomination and a fake? Is there some other reason? Should millions die in what would be a vain sacrifice to try to remove Germany’s current regime?

“How could there possibly be a need for war? I have forever endeavored to create harmonious and tolerable relations with France. We have no claims against France. I have always expressed to France my desire to bury our ancient enmity and bring our two glorious nations together.

“My relations with England have been characterized by the same devotion and sincerity. At no time and in no place have I ever acted contrary to British interests. There can only be real peace in Europe and throughout the world if Germany and England come to an understanding.

“We need a great conference among leading European nations to work out the issues of the day. Peace can be unconditionally guaranteed. Weapons of all kinds should be regulated and reduced. The problem of Jewish resettlement can be resolved. International trade agreements need to be forged. These are just tasks of great urgency. History proves that in war there can never be two victors, and that everyone loses. Let those who want peace accept my outstretched hand. But if those who want war to prevail, men like Churchill and his followers, then there will be war. With profound hope, I await a response that compassion and foresight will prevail.”

WHAT NOW?
By General Walther von Brauhitsch

The Fuehrer ordered top military chiefs to his new Chancellery late morning October tenth, 1939. We were worried what he was thinking might be dangerous. We didn’t want that and were going to tell him. He needed to listen. But right after we arrived he began lecturing and soon pronounced: “For three hundred years Germany has suffered from Western hostility. Our imperative task, therefore, is to destroy forever the capacity of the West to threaten German growth and security. For that we need time, but time is against us and for the enemy. We must strike quickly and ruthlessly because Germany cannot wait for a long war. Our supplies of food and raw materials are limited, and our industrial base is vulnerable and could be shattered, and that would destroy our war economy and the capacity to resist. We shall overcome vulnerability by waging our new methods of warfare.

“The attack can only be launched through Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. There we will destroy enemy forces, including the British and French, and obtain bases on the Channel and North Sea from which we can brutally employ the Luftwaffe against England. This historical mission requires novel tactics. You must improvise, and you must do so right away because the time for this attack cannot come too soon.”

All of this dumbfounded our increasingly troubled group, and we left without argument. But indignation and outrage soon festered within the General Staff. Complaints and pressure increased when England rejected Hitler’s peace proposal, and General von Leeb sent this strong memorandum: “The enemy possesses as many tanks and anti-tank guns as Germany, and even if we aren’t overrun, we can do no better than exhaust ourselves in positional warfare. Furthermore, Germany would place itself clearly in the wrong by violating Belgium, leaving us friendless, isolated and encircled by enemies. The German people, having already regained far more than Versailles took, want peace, not military adventurism, and will not support offensives.

“We must also note the array of advantages if we restrain ourselves. First, the German Army in the West is unassailable in its current defensive position. An enemy attack would cost it severely and still not destroy German forces. Industrial production would continue unabated if we stay on the defensive, and enormous political advantage would accrue if warmonger England presses hostilities against peace-seeking Germany. Poland also remains in Germany’s hands as a tool of negotiation. If we do not attack, the West will eventually accept a rump Polish state as well as a reestablished Czech state, minus the Sudetenland and anyway under German influence. All of this presents Hitler a magnificent opportunity to appear a prince of peace.”

Leeb stressed that the fate of Germany might depend on me, the Commander in Chief of the Army. I agreed, and twice in mid-October I implored the Fuehrer not to attack. He dismissed every point without consideration. I then talked to General Halder and others who had urged me to eliminate Hitler a year ago, and they again pressed me to take action. Many of them could have shot Hitler themselves. Some thought about it. They said they wanted to, but as officers they had to refrain. I certainly could not shoot Hitler, either. Many still reminded me I was the only one empowered to order the Army to strike. I did not think I should, but I agreed to consider it.

This conspiracy, fomented by others, began to take form. Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler and Heydrich were to be arrested. Goering would be charged with stealing millions of marks from taxes paid by workers. Plenty of proof existed for that, as well as for charges that Himmler had jailed, tortured, and killed thousands of innocent people. The Fuehrer would be charged with plotting to wage an illegal and immoral war doomed to bury Germany.

Erich Kordt and other conspirators fortified our commitment with this incisive memorandum: “Hitler should not be preserved based on the premise that he has achieved numerous stunning successes. These are illusory since Germany, even without him, would have achieved military autonomy as well as an Austrian Anschluss and hegemony over Czechoslovakia. The invasion of Czechoslovakia provoked France and England into backing Poland against us. Hitler has blundered us into world war.

“Failure to strike the warmonger cannot be justified on grounds that a debacle has not yet occurred. History proves that a debacle is obvious only once it has happened, when it is too late. A coup therefore has to be founded on courage gained from moral rectitude. Officers are also freed from a fallacious personal oath to a man who has broken countless oaths for insane purposes.”

I couldn’t sleep or stop thinking about coups and wars and Hitler, and on October twenty-seventh I again urged him to call off invasion plans. Instead, he set a date: November twelfth. I told relevant people about my doubts. Most of our troops and many young officers were rabid Nazis. They wouldn’t help overthrow Hitler. And how could we weaken and disrupt the country with an armed enemy poised in our faces? Still, I agreed to seriously consider a Putsch if Hitler did not respond on November fifth when our troops were scheduled to move to forward positions.

On that date, in the Chancellery, I told the Fuehrer: “I’ve talked to all the field commanders and they’re unanimous in their conviction that we’re unprepared for war in the West.”

Hitler stood with arms locked across his chest and grimaced that I could continue.

“Our artillery units are very poorly trained and more a menace to us than the enemy. And the enemy is probably better trained than we are, and he has the advantage of the defensive. Also, the poor weather is bound to hamper our offensive.”

“The enemy faces the same weather we do.”

“All the same, Mein Fuehrer, the enemy would be in a covered and fortified position. I don’t think our troops are up to it. They lack discipline, and they don’t have the same fighting spirit our troops had at the start of the Great War. Now they’re more like those in 1918. In Poland there were many lamentable examples of defeatism, even cowardice.”

“I don’t believe it,” Hitler shouted.

“Well, Mein Fuehrer, the reports…”

“In what units was there defeatism and cowardice?”

“The exact units, I can find out which ones…”

“I want to know what happened. Where? Specifically. I’ll fly there tonight. You say there was cowardice? How many death sentences were carried out? Who were the commanders? I’m asking you questions, General, and I don’t hear any answers.

“Well, I’ll tell you a few answers. There’s plenty of cowardice in the Army, but it’s not on the front lines. It’s right in front of me. The truth is, the generals don’t want to fight. You generals stink of defeatism. You lack even the will to fight. What the hell do you think your job is? Do you expect to spend your entire career on your ass. Your job is to fight. That’s why you exist. Your job is also to do what the hell I tell you to do. I’m tired of constant avalanches of cowardly, defeatist General Staff shit about why we can’t fight and win. My judgment has proved infallible and will continue so.

“I obviously need to remind you, General, and this applies to Halder and all the others, that in my career I’ve always struck my enemies with brutal force. And if necessary I’ll annihilate the General Staff. You all make me sick.”

Hitler spun hard and stomped out the room.

Sick feeling and empty, I returned to military headquarters outside Berlin. We had a lot of documents to burn, fast.

World War II in Europe began 80 years ago, on September 1, 1939. This excerpt from my biographical novel “Hitler Here” deals with the first several weeks of what would become the bloodiest conflict in history.

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This entry was posted in Adolf Hitler, George Thomas Clark, Germany, Hitler Here, Joseph Stalin, Poland, Russia, World War II.