A STURMBANNFUHRER'S BEST UNIFORM and the Knight's Cross hanging at his neck made no impression on the SS sentries on Gate Three at Supreme Headquarters. Weinkenner had passed out from Rastenburg's high security inner zone to the car park in the administration area ten minutes earlier. He wanted to confirm that the car was ready to take Dr. Marzius and Herr Müller to the airfield. He still had to show his pass to the tin soldiers on the way back through Gate Three. Obersturmführer Schedele's Begleitkommando practised self-protection by obeying every rule in the book plus a few of their own.
Weinkenner glanced at the Lagebaracke on his way to the guest villa. A camouflage artist had done an excellent job of disguising the conference room's concrete shell with swirling shades of green and brown. Weinkenner wondered why he had bothered with so many trees and the vast acreage of netting to swallow its outline. If the Red Air Force attempted to bomb the site, their efforts would be a lottery. When Russian soldiers got close enough to see the buildings, Adolf Hitler and his generals would be long gone; if the ailing Führer was still alive by then.
Weinkenner stopped to hang his cap on a handy branch while he mopped his brow and the back of his neck. The air was hot, heavy with pine scent. It was a day for snoozing in a deck chair, under a good mosquito net, not playing soldier. He glanced at his watch. It was twenty to one: nearly lunchtime. He could hear some old general droning on, the voice carrying clearly through the wide-open windows of the Lagebaracke, as he slapped the life out of a hungry mosquito. The Russkies were across the Danube somewhere in the south, heading north and west. The army group around Lake Peipus on the Estonian border was in deep trouble. It had to be withdrawn immediately, otherwise...
Weinkenner heard no more. For some reason, he was picking himself off the grass. He gripped his nose and blew. Then he swallowed several times to sort out the pressure imbalance in his ears. He had not heard the explosion, which was nothing unusual. He was experienced enough in the hard facts of war to know when he had been blown up. Either a small bomb or a large shell had hit the Lagebaracke.
Dr Marzius was running over from the guest villa with his black bag. Weinkenner knew that he would not be able to keep a doctor out of the danger zone. The best place for a bodyguard was to be beside his charge. If they went up together with another bomb or shell, Weinkenner would not have to face the consequences of letting Dr. Marzius get himself killed.
The doctor stopped to tie a dressing around the head of a Wehrmacht general with a gushing scalp wound. Weinkenner deflected a stretcher party away from a stenographer, who was clearly dead. They rushed away with the general instead. There seemed to be as many bodies outside the building as inside. Men with fire extinguishers were starting to drown thick, black smoke in white foam.
Oberst Heinz Brandt was among the dead. Stauffenberg's briefcase had obstructed his feet while he had been trying to lean over the table to follow his C.O.'s report on the map. He had moved the briefcase to the other side of the massive plinth, out of the way. In doing so, he had saved Hitler's life. Most of the others at that end of the table were dead, dying or seriously injured.
General Heusinger was injured. He had been standing on Hitler's right, delivering the report on the Estonian sector. General Korten, who had been standing between Heusinger and Brandt, was dying. Feldmarschall Keitel, standing on Hitler's left, was uninjured. He had helped the Führer out of the wreckage.
Hitler looked as if he had passed too close to a blast furnace. His hair was smoking, his face soot-streaked, his right arm and leg scorched, he could not move his right arm, his black trousers hung in sooty tatters, his eardrums had been punctured, and a falling beam had struck his back, leaving him hunched in pain.
Dr. Marzius rushed Hitler to his bunker for treatment. Weinkenner stayed at the Lagebaracke to help with the rescue work. He was hardened to air crashes and the effects of bombs and shells. His education had begun as a gangster's stepson working out of New York. He could handle the sight of large quantities of blood, blackened bodies and pieces from corpses in unlikely places. He could switch off his emotions, but clearing up after mayhem was a messy job and he hated messy jobs.
The conference room was a crazy, smoke-filled jumble of wooden battens, beams, sheets of corrugated iron from the original roof, and strings of wire dangling from lights and switch points. Some of the wall panels had been punched back to reveal the original timber frame of the building. The massive conference table, the stenographer's round table on the right, and a desk and a bookcase on its left were firewood.
There had been plenty of space to move around the room before the explosion. Wreckage had expanded to fill everywhere to chest height. Many of the injured had received deep wounds from bayonet-like, wooden splinters. The rescue workers had to send for heavy working gloves and more fire extinguishers. They made a start using tunics and pieces of blackout curtain to protect their hands.
Reichsführer Himmler had come to Rastenburg for the meeting with Mussolini, but he had not been invited to the first staff conference of the day. His campaign to take the Replacement Army into his empire was well known. Keitel had decided that putting Himmler in the same room with Stauffenberg would be provocative and counter-productive. There was no love lost between the Wehrmacht High Command and the SS. Keitel could not allow Stauffenberg to prolong the meeting by taking the opportunity to oppose SS control of General Fromm's command.
Himmler rushed over to the Lagebaracke when he heard the explosion. The source was a mystery at first. Hitler suspected a low-level attack by an enemy fighter bomber. He was a great believer in the effectiveness of fighter-bombers, even when attacking a small target hidden in a dense canopy of beech and pine forest and hectares of camouflage netting.
General Jodl, typically, blamed the Todt Organization's foreign construction workers for planting a time bomb. A metre-wide hole in the floor suggested that a bomb had been placed under it. The wildest rumours circled the camp. Subversive foreign labourers, British or Russian commandos, the American Mafia on a special mission; all received the blame from someone. Martin Bormann added a previously undetected Jewish terrorist group to the list.
That something had happened was clear. Exactly what remained a mystery. Himmler made a call to police H.Q. in Berlin. General Fellgiebel had closed down the Army communications network, but the SS, a completely separate organization, had insisted on having its own, independent system when the headquarters had been established. Himmler ordered Artur Nebe, head of the Criminal Police Department, to fly out his best detectives to make an investigation. The bomb had left four men dead, five dying and six gravely injured.
Within minutes of the explosion, the first ambulance left the inner zone, taking casualties to the hospital in the administration zone. Picking splinters out of his hands an age later, Oskar Weinkenner went to look for his cap. He glanced at his watch when he found it, still hanging on the same branch, among the scattered clothing which had been blown into the belt of trees. Half an hour had gone by since the assassination attempt. The gap felt like a couple of hours, as it usually did when there was a panic on. Then Weinkenner remembered Herr Müller.
The last thing that anyone wanted was two Führers running around, one looking like a scarecrow which had survived a stubble fire, the other whining and undamaged. Müller was full of complaints when Weinkenner reached the inner annex to the underground bomb shelter. He had had no lunch. He was outraged at being so neglected.
"Hey, listen!" Weinkenner clapped his hands with explosive force just in front of the tooth-brush moustache.
Müller stopped and stared at him, even more outraged, amazed that anyone would dare to treat him thus.
"The real chief is up there." Weinkenner pointed in the approximate direction of Hitler's bedroom. "Someone just came that close to blowing him up." He held right index finger and thumb half a centimetre apart. "Just think what would have happened if it had been you at the meeting instead."
Müller dropped onto a chair, turning pale.
"For someone without Hitler's charmed life, you'd be a nasty smear on the wall," Weinkenner added. "So just sit there, shut up, count your lucky stars and wait till you hear what's needed of you. Understand?"
Müller nodded submissively.
"Someone will be in touch soon." Weinkenner turned to go.
Müller squeaked something, then cleared his throat. "Weinkenner!" he managed in a fairly commanding tone.
"Führer?" Weinkenner turned at the door.
"Speaking of charmed lives, which of us was there in the conference room when the bomb went off?"
"I withdraw an inaccurate remark," Weinkenner admitted his mistake with a fleeting smile. Then he hurried back through the bomb shelter to the ground floor of the Führer Bunker.
Hitler was showing off his ruined trousers in the sitting room. They looked as if they had been slashed to pieces by a maniac with an open razor; the effects of wooden splinters. His wounds had been dressed, he had washed off the blood and soot, and someone had trimmed his hair to make the scorching less apparent. The Führer looked in remarkably good condition for someone who had been sitting within a couple of metres of a powerful bomb.
Weinkenner found Dr. Marzius in the anteroom, checking his medical bag. Dr. Marzius gave his sooty, tattered bodyguard a questioning look. Three orderlies in white jackets inspected the Waffen SS officer briefly, then decided that he was unimportant.
"Müller is getting over the shock," Weinkenner murmured through a smile. "And counting a few blessings. What's going on up here?"
"The Reichskanzler is beginning to believe there could be creatures at the highest levels who wish to destroy him, and through him, the Reich," Dr. Marzius said in a neutral tone.
"You'd think he'd know that for sure after the other assassination attempts. You wouldn't be here otherwise, Doc."
"True. In any case, the Gestapo are on the way to find out what happened, and the Reichskanzler says no one must know the true extent of his injuries. He has his reputation for invulnerability to consider."
"How badly injured is he?"
"Professor Giesing, an E.N.T. specialist... Ear, nose and throat," Dr. Marzius explained.
Weinkenner shrugged, shedding his mild frown. "You may know what it means, but I don't meet that type of person."
"Well, the Professor says nearly everyone who was in the explosion area has ruptured eardrums, which is to be expected, including the Reichskanzler. His right arm was also injured badly bruised. He will go to bed tonight feeling very sore. He could be fighting against concussion, but he intends to meet Mussolini regardless."
"The leader must be there to lead. General Jodl had a rather impressive bandage on his head."
"A chandelier fell on him."
"Was it badly damage?" Weinkenner asked himself in an undertone.
Oberführer Rattenhuber pushed into the anteroom at that moment. His natural air of competence was shredding at the edges and he was looking burdened with his years. The unthinkable had just happened despite his extensive security precautions. His expression asked Why today of all days? He stopped beside Dr. Marzius and Weinkenner and kept his voice low. "Müller is still here?"
"Good! We have to get him looking like the Führer right away. The Chief doesn't look too bad at the moment, but you can never tell how someone will take being blown up."
"I can see Müller enjoying his haircut," grinned Weinkenner. "I'd love to watch."
"But you'd better keep an unobtrusive eye on things up here," said Rattenhuber. "Everyone else is busy. Contact me immediately if you see any trouble building up."
"How has this affected today's timetable?"
"Mussolini's train's been delayed, which is unfortunate. We're expecting him at least an hour late. The Führer's talking of going to the hospital to see the injured men. Göring has turned up, behaving like he's at a party. I believe he's standing by to take over as the Führer's successor. Everyone's talking about providence; it's enough to make you sick."
"Any idea how it happened?" said Weinkenner.
Rattenhuber shrugged. "Too soon to tell."
"I think I'm ready now." Dr. Marzius closed his bag. "I have an anaesthetic ready for Herr Müller for when we burn his hair off."
"Do you have any earplugs?" chuckled Rattenhuber, leading the way toward the stairs to the shelters.
After a quick wash and brush up in the adjacent washroom, Weinkenner drifted into the sitting room, trying to be invisible. He was a new man on Rattenhuber's team, unfamiliar with the emergency routines, the only one who could be spared to watch Hitler for signs of distress. He found Bormann and Göring trying to score points off each other, as usual; like a weasel sparring with a whale, was the usual description. Like Himmler, Göring had not been invited to the staff conference. The general talk revolved around destiny, providence and clear signs that Hitler had been spared because his greatest triumphs were yet to come.
Weinkenner bit back a smile when he looked at Hitler's right-hand man. Martin Bormann was a shrimp, whose width made him look shorter than his true height. Even so, he fancied himself as a ladies man, and he had proved his virility by fathering ten children on his unfortunate wife.
Bormann had a habit of leaning toward Hitler to catch his every word or to slip a snide remark into the conversation. His round face reminded many people of Josef Lada's drawings of the Good Soldier Svejk, which amounted to treason because the works of Jaroslav Hashek had been condemned to one of Propaganda Minister Goebbels' bonfires of banned books in the l930s.
Weinkenner's stepfather had taken pride in his well-developed sense of humour. A Czech-born friend had introduced him to the late Jaroslav Hashek's books, translated into German, about two years before Winkie had been shot to pieces. Oskar had inherited the library and his father's ability to see life from a slightly off-centre angle. His mother had liked men who could make her laugh. He wondered briefly what had happened to the books in the seven years since his abrupt departure from the United States with the FBI on his trail.
Weinkenner was familiar with the type of uneasy atmosphere that filled the sitting room. He had experienced it before, in New York, after a failed attempting to depose his gang boss with a Tommy gun. A near miss always produces thoughts of what if? When the Boss goes down, his underlings have three choices: disappear, make a deal with the new regime, or wait for a bullet or cement overshoes. The bigger the boss, the bigger the hit-list. In Hitler's case, it would equal the population of a small country. Party members and SS officers would be right at the top. Weinkenner was both. Like the others, he had a powerful incentive to be on the winning side.
Weinkenner suddenly realized that Bormann was speaking to him. He gave name and rank in a neutral tone, adding, "RSD, mein Herr, on Oberführer Rattenhuber's staff."
"Rattenhuber," said Bormann coldly. "And where were you when the bomb went off?"
"About twenty metres away, mein Herr." Weinkenner ignored the Good Soldier's provocative tone. "Which is why my uniform is rather tattered. I kept snagging it during the rescue work."
"You're looking particularly smart, Martin," Göring remarked loudly, reminding everyone that Bormann had been safe in a concrete bunker in the administration zone at the time of the explosion, and he had not been burrowing in wreckage afterwards and possibly risking the life which, he kept telling people, belonged to the Führer.
"Almost like being at home in New York, Weinkenner?" Hitler remarked, breaking a long and threatening silence.
"Nobody every came so close to me there, Führer," said Weinkenner.
Bormann glanced sharply at Hitler, then wiped Weinkenner from his consciousness. There were no points to be scored off an SS officer who was in Hitler's favour because he kept the Führer entertained with his gangster stories.
"It was like being back at the front in the last war," Hitler added. "They used to dig under us and plant mines."
Göring directed a chubby smile at Bormann. He was fifty-one. Like Hitler, he had a distinguished war record. Bormann and Himmler, his two great rivals, were as old as the century. They were too young to have fought for their country under the Kaiser, and much too well connected to have to soil their hands in battle under the present regime.
"We could be buried for hour after hour, the earth smell mingled with the stink of explosives," Hitler said, more or less to himself. "They looked like Egyptian mummies in the hospital." He scowled, recalling the laughter at his inability to raise his right arm in the Party salute. The numbness was wearing off, allowing pain from his bruises to seep through.
"When is the Duce due?" Göring changed the subject.
"Fifteen-thirty hours," said Feldmarschall Keitel.
Bormann picked up a telephone, made a brief call, then flashed a sneer at Keitel. "The Duce's train will be here at four o'clock. The cars will leave for the station at twenty to." He felt that providing more accurate information had scored another point in the eternal game of dominance.
Hitler nodded, then lapsed into his ominous silence. Keitel began another of his tales of triumph from long ago. Göring looked from Weinkenner to the empty tulip glass in his chubby hand. Nobody else was drinking wine. Stewards in white mess jackets were passing round cups of tea. Weinkenner found the champagne bottle in an ice bucket behind him. He filled the empty glass, then one for himself in response to Göring's nod of encouragement.
"Nothing like a bottle of champagne to put life into perspective," Göring said in a hushed voice. His expression was one of amusement. "Do you know what happened?"
"Too early to say, Herr Reichsmarschall," Weinkenner murmured, dropping onto a neighbouring green armchair. Their words were lost in the buzz of over a dozen other voices. Weinkenner suddenly realized that he needed to sit down for a while. He had used up a lot of energy over the last couple of hours.
"It was definitely a bomb? Inside the building?"
"Inside or under the Lagebaracke, Reichsmarschall. There's a bloody great hole in the floor."
"I understand I used to have you under my command before you joined Himmler's merry band." Göring looked from the Ritterkreutz at Weinkenner's throat to the strange sight of a pilot's wings on the breast of a Waffen SS uniform.
"For five years, Reichsmarschall. From Spain to the Karkhov Offensive."
"Until you were thrown out of the Luftwaffe for running a private airline with my aircraft?"
"I noticed the true facts didn't reach my personal file."
"And those facts were?"
"I was using captured Russian aircraft to bring mail and home comforts to the front line, Reichsmarshall. I only ever used yours in emergencies."
"Home comforts? Such as taking prostitutes up the line?"
"Some adventurous ladies did want to have a look at the sharp end during quiet periods." Weinkenner shrugged. "I only flew them in at the request of others. What they did when they got there was none of my business."
"You were damn lucky to escape the court martial, Weinkenner."
"I could have called on four fighting generals to testify in my defence, Reichsmarschall. Concerning the enormous improvement in morale that followed one of my special flights. But I was told there was no time for the formality of clearing my name as the Special Forces needed someone with my extensive experience of flying Russian aircraft."
"Extensive?" Göring put on a mocking smile. "And what did you do with your profits? Live up to your name? Become a connoisseur of wine?"
"I never got my hands on enough good stuff to be pretentious about it, Reichsmarschall." Weinkenner offered his standard joke. "As for the profits, they all disappeared on monumental parties when I managed to get leave. There seemed little point in hanging on to the money if the next bullet might have my name on it."
"Yes, we felt the same on the Western Front in the last war," Göring said with a nod. He was never slow to remind people of his record in the Great War, when he had achieved twenty-one victories as a fighter pilot, received the prestigious order Pour le Mérite and commanded the famous Richthofen Squadron for twelve days in the summer of 1918. "Drink up. There should be another bottle chilled by now. This gloomy lot won't dare risk it. Still, all the more for the pilots."
Göring nodded to an orderly in the anteroom, who was lurking out of Hitler's line of sight. Another bottle in an ice bucket arrived. The orderly slid out the cork with a whispering pop, which was muffled by the crisp, white napkin. Then he disappeared with the empty bottle in its bucket of melting ice.
"At least the service is good here," said Göring. "What do you think of the Wolfsschanze?"
"I think I agree with the Führer's description: a cross between a concentration camp and a monastery." Weinkenner glanced around the room, taking in the collection of dark green armchairs, Hitler's throne, the silk curtains with their raised designs in the damask style, and the array of large and fairly oppressive paintings. "This bit looks like the Berghof on a fighting man's budget. Apart from the carpets and the oriental rugs. They must have cost a fortune. The gilt frames are very impressive. Pity the pictures are so gloomy."
"Bormann's taste, of course," Göring said dismissively.
Weinkenner nodded understanding, then took a swallow of wine. He knew the rules. Any overling not involved in the conversation was fair game for a stab in the back from any underling. If Weinkenner had been in intimate conversation with Bormann, alias the Good Soldier Svejk, he would have praised the paintings.
Half an hour later, Rattenhuber beckoned Weinkenner from the doorway, taking him out of the sitting room.
"Nothing much happening here," Weinkenner reported in the ante-room, keeping his voice low to avoid being overheard by the three orderlies. "The Führer's pretty quiet. But he could just be feeling rough and trying not to show it."
"Keep a close eye on him. We have Müller standing by."
"I bet he's feeling happy," Weinkenner said with a grin.
"Professor Marzius listed the Führer's injuries in case he has to simulate them. Müller has gone quiet too, imagining what could have happened to him."
"It had to happen today. The first time the Führer's been on parade, not Müller, for ten days."
"Life's like that," Rattenhuber said bitterly. "A perfect swine. Have you got another uniform with you? That one is a mess. The Führer will raise the roof if he sees it."
"He has and he didn't."
"Change it anyway. I'll hang on here till you get back."
"What's happening about our flight to Berlin? I managed to get a call through to the airfield at about one-fifteen. To tell them there was a delay."
"We'll aim to get you out when everyone goes to meet Mussolini. If Professor Marzius thinks it's safe. Tell your pilot to be ready for a four-thirty take off."
"That's going to take a bit of time on top of changing my uniform. Did you know the main switchboard has been shut down? At about thirteen hundred hours, the operator said. I had to go all the way to the SS Op-Control Bunker to find a phone still working."
Rattenhuber shrugged. "Probably to stop silly stories getting out. Go and make your call and get changed. And be as quick as you can."
Holding the Line
The armchairs in the sitting room were fully occupied when Feldmarschall Keitel returned from a fact-finding expedition. Hitler had sent him out to discover why no reports had come in from Berlin. At three o'clock, two and a quarter hours after the explosion, most of the senior officers in the sitting room had run out of things to say. Many had decided to remain standing on arrival, ready to jump to obey an order. They had realized eventually that they would not be asked to dash away to take action. Everyone was sitting and biding his time now. The orderlies were serving tea for the third time. Keitel was trying hard not to look too pleased with himself as he marched back into the sitting room.
"I request urgent permission to reopen communications, mein Führer," he said as he approached the throne. "Urgent calls from the front lines must be piling up with everything shut down."
"Shut down?" Hitler put on a frown. "On whose authority? I never gave any such order."
"Fellgiebel, Führer." Keitel tried to look apologetic on the offender's behalf. "He may have misinterpreted something you said. Or it may be deliberate sabotage."
"What did I say?" growled Hitler.
"That nothing of this affair must leak out, Führer"
"What! The communication network was closed down for that?" Hitler jumped to his feet in fury. "Sabotage!"
"It could well be, Führer. At the time, Fellgiebel said Something terrible has happened. The Führer is still alive. Shut everything down. His meaning is clear now."
"Arrest that traitor immediately."
"Fellgiebel is already in custody, mein Führer." Keitel retreated one step from the tirade, then held his ground for the triumphant statement. The custody was less absolute than he had made out, but it could become secure at a word.
"Send for Himmler," ordered Hitler. "I shall be in the Operations Room. See that all maps are brought up to date as soon as possible."
Weinkenner followed as Hitler headed for his underground operations room. Everyone else looked for a telephone. Welcome activity had broken the silence. There were things to do at last.
Himmler tapped down the concrete steps fifteen minutes later. He found Hitler leaning on the huge map table, waiting for reports. Hitler was convinced that something had happened during the communication break. Weinkenner had noticed that the German marker flags on the map were slightly bigger than those of other armies, and always more numerous. The figures on the pyramid bases denoting unit strengths, however, gave an accurate picture of the relative mights of the opposing forces.
"That one-eyed Oberst from Fromm's department," said Himmler. "With the Replacement Army figures."
"Stauffenberg," recalled Weinkenner, aware that Himmler was looking at him as if wondering where he had seen a Sturmbannführer with pilot's wings before. Looking at Himmler, Weinkenner suddenly understood the meaning of the English phrase chinless wonder.
"Exactly." Himmler gave a private nod of recognition. "We looked for him in our hospital first. He told the Lagebaracke's switchboard operator that he was expecting an urgent call from Berlin. We now know he came rushing out of the conference and dashed out of the building without stopping. He was passed through the checkpoints at Gates Two and One South within minutes of the explosion."
"Find him!" barked Hitler.
"It seems likely he left from the airfield at 13.02 hours. I issued an order for his arrest the moment he lands," said Himmler. "I have also questioned Fellgiebel. He insists he merely took steps to contain the news of the explosion, as ordered. He says he was waiting for the proper response to be decided. I left him under close guard."
"Stauffenberg," muttered Hitler. "Von Stauffenberg, if you please. Aristocracy and the old army. Traitors all." He slammed a fist onto the map table; his left fist.
A messenger handed a signal to Weinkenner. The SS officer looked senior enough to handle it and the messenger was reluctant to interrupt Hitler and Himmler on a day when the smallest mistake was liable to be interpreted as sabotage.
"If Stauffenberg is heading for Berlin, we should have him in an hour," said Himmler.
"I want him ground to pulp," growled Hitler. "You have some news there, Weinkenner?"
"Admiral Dönitz is on his way, Führer. He expects to arrive at seventeen hundred hours. May I remind the Führer his car will be ready to take him to the station to meet the Duce in fifteen minutes?"
"Of course." Hitler looked up at the electric clock. "Keitel will have to take care of the military situation while I play diplomat. It's what he's paid for."
"I have more questions for Fellgiebel, Führer." Himmler saluted smartly and left.
Hitler started to raise his right arm in reply, then thought better of it. The arm was too painful to move freely. "Someone will have to warn the Duce to shake left hands," he said to Weinkenner. "At least I won't have to worry about combing my hair. My cap will be falling over my eyes."
"They nearly scalped me before my discharge from hospital, Führer," said Weinkenner. "I'm still walking around with the inside band of my cap stuffed with pieces of paper."
"Yes, Linge should have thought of that. A valet should be equal to such an emergency." Hitler turned for the staircase. He stopped half way up to lean heavily on the hand rail. The damage to his ears had affected his sense of balance.
"Are you feeling all right, Führer?" Weinkenner asked, keeping his distance but prepared to catch Hitler if he keeled over.
"A little dizzy. I think I had better lie down for a few minutes. We have time in hand?"
"A good twelve minutes, Führer. And the convoy can leave ten minutes late and still be at the station in good time. Do you need any help?"
"No. A leader must be seen to be strong."
"Concussion knocks everyone out, Führer."
"You think that may be what it is?"
"I'm no doctor, Führer, but I've had it."
"What were your symptoms?"
"I felt all right when I came to the last time, about ten minutes after a crash. Just my eyes were a bit fuzzy. Then I felt a bit dizzy an hour or so later. Then half an hour after that, I passed out with a cup of coffee in my hand. I ended up in bed for a couple of days with a bump on my head and blisters on my thighs."
"I keep telling you, coffee is bad for you," Hitler said with a wry smile. He released his grip on the rail and continued up the stairs. "I shall stick to cold drinks, or remember to let my tea cool. When does Professor Marzius plan to leave with Herr Müller? I need him in Berlin in case I have to shock some of my generals into action."
"The airfield is standing by for a four-thirty take off, Führer, with the Duce arriving so late."
"You were able to contact them?" frowned Hitler.
"The phones in the SS Operational Control Bunker have always been open, Führer. Otherwise, I could have got one of Herr Bormann's despatch riders to phone through from the post office in Rastenburg."
Hitler stopped at the top of the staircase, just in the hall, and continued to frown at Weinkenner. "You mean none of my General Staff in Berlin had the wit to telephone our local post office or send us a telegram?"
"They may not have had any urgent news, Führer," Weinkenner said with a shrug. "As they say, no news is good news. Or they could have been waiting for the main switchboard to reopen to send through just routine reports."
"The Army High Command would call you a rogue, Weinkenner. Himmler and Bormann would call you an upstart, if they dared. If only they had a fraction of your initiative, they might start coming to me with viable plans instead of excuses. I must get something from Dr. Morell to keep me on my feet."
Hitler crossed the hallway to his quarters. Weinkenner descended the stairs again. He passed through the air raid shelter and the secret tunnel to the medical centre, which was less superheated than before. Dr. Marzius and Müller were drinking coffee. Müller had stripped to his vest. He had strips of pink sticking plaster on his right arm to remind him to restricted the movement of what was supposed to be a damaged limb.
"How do things look?" said Dr. Marzius.
Weinkenner filled a cup from the jug of coffee and helped himself to a sandwich. "He looks a bit shaky but he can't admit it. A leader must be seen to be strong. He's going to get a pick-me-up from Morell."
"The more he's picked up now, the harder he'll fall when it wears off," groaned Dr. Marzius. "Damn Morell."
"We're due to leave here at five to four," Weinkenner reminded him. "Do you want me to put it off again?"
"I think you had better," nodded the doctor. "What's the latest we can leave?"
"We're here for the night if we don't get to the airfield by eighteen-thirty hours. There is a war on, Doc."
"You can tell that from the radio. It's playing cheerful music to boost the morale of people at home and in factories. You'd never guess some-one has just tried to kill me," Müller complained.
"I think that's the idea," Weinkenner said drily. "I'll tell the airfield we'll phone before we leave here. That gives them half an hour's notice. The pilot will prefer to wait in the canteen instead of the cockpit."
"Do it quickly," approved Dr. Marzius. "I'd like you to go to the station to observe Herr Hitler and report to me on how he behaves. He will hardly appreciate another doctor hovering, waiting for him to collapse."
"You think that's on the cards, Doc?"
"The man is in a delicate state of health, and he was nearly blown to pieces three hours ago. Plus the inevitable reaction to whatever he lets Morell give him. He may be able to stay on his feet until he gets rid of Mussolini, by sheer will-power, but he must rest afterwards."
"There has to be a broadcast to the nation," said Müller. "The one sure way to stop rumours cold is for the Führer to be heard on the wireless."
"That must have been organized by now," said Dr. Marzius. "If I can just see him in bed and asleep, I can leave with a clear conscience. He will be out of Morell's reach asleep. And no one will dare wake him until he has had enough sleep to make further stimulants unnecessary."
"The Führer told me he wants Müller in Berlin in case he has to frighten any generals back into line," said Weinkenner. "I'll go and call the airfield."
Weinkenner returned to the bomb shelter, and made his call from an office beside the underground conference room. Then he went in search of Rattenhuber. The detective did not feel qualified to choose between doctors, but Morell had no solution to Hitler's kidney failure. Dr. Marzius, on the other hand, had an effective temporary solution and he was working toward a permanent one. Rattenhuber decided to follow Dr. Marzius' recommendations. He assigned Weinkenner to the security detail that would accompany Hitler to the station.
The convoy left just five minutes later than planned. Hitler was looking positively perky. He tended to hold his right arm awkwardly, almost as if it were no longer part of him, which suggested that Dr. Morell had given him an injection to deaden the pain.
Weinkenner took up a position on the platform where he could see Hitler, but Hitler could not see him. He did not want to have to explain why he was still there. Hitler looked as if he was about to meet the most important person in the world after himself; or anxious to get the whole thing over while he was feeling well enough to function as a leader.
"What are you doing here?"
Weinkenner started, turned to the cold voice, and found himself looking down at the Good Soldier Svejk. "As a member of the RSD," he said politely, "I am here on security duty, mein Herr."
"You're here to prevent another assassination attempt?" sneered Bormann.
"Along with the other security staff, yes, mein Herr."
"You didn't do very well at the conference, did you?"
"I see the Führer is still alive and here to greet his guests, mein Herr."
"More by the grace of God than your outfit's efforts," Bormann said coldly.
"Security is often concerned with limitation as well as prevention, mein Herr." Weinkenner remembered something that Rattenhuber had told him once.
Bormann frowned at him, as if suspecting insolence, then turned away. Weinkenner knew that he would have to watch out for Bormann, who was constantly challenging and trying to undermine all who came into contact with Hitler, as if fearing a threat to dilute his authority. Empire building was an obsession in the upper echelons of the Party. They grabbed when in favour and fought determined rearguard actions if their star declined. Waste by duplication in all spheres was the curse of the Third Reich.
A bell rang. Someone called, "Two minutes!"
Weinkenner was reminded of a film set. His stepfather had taken him to street locations in New York several times. There was a belt of photographers with still and movie cameras on the platform, waiting near the reception party to record the meeting. The photographers were having an unexpectedly busy day, even though much of their material could never be used, especially the poetic shots of dead officers hanging out of shattered windows.
They had crammed into the hallway leading to the ruined Lagebaracke after the explosion, then they had made nuisances of themselves at the hospital, recording Hitler smiling at senior officers done up like mummies in metres of white bandage. When Goebbels, the Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, put together a record of that eventful day, the editors would have to plough through kilometres of film.
A train decked in flags slid to a gently halt beside the platform. An honour guard snapped to attention. Arms flew into the air. A military band struck up the Italian anthem. Even though Benito Mussolini had been reduced to mere Gauleiter of Lombardy, kept in power by German arms, Hitler greeted him warmly.
Mussolini had been Hitler's model in the early days. He had been Duce of Italy and its colonies in the early Twenties when Hitler had been siting in Landsberg prison, dictating the first volume of Mein Kampf to Rudolph Hess. Across the Atlantic, also in short pants, Oskar Weinkenner had been perfecting his American English in school and on New York's streets.
Twenty years on, their positions reversed, the two leaders shook left hands at a significant moment in history: as Oberst von Stauffenberg's car was leaving Rangsdorf airfield for Berlin. Himmler's order to have him arrested had been lost in the flood of restored communications.
While the two leaders exchanged greetings in distant East Prussia, Stauffenberg's fellow conspirators at Home Army H.Q. in Berlin were preparing to send out the codeword Valkyrie on the strength of Stauffenberg's assurance to General Olbricht that Hitler was dead. The revolution was about to begin.
After speaking to Stauffenberg on the telephone, Olbricht went to see General Fromm to urge him to commit himself to the rebellion. Dug in behind his huge desk, Fromm dithered, reluctant to expose himself on verbal and contradictory evidence. He was confronted with a life and death issue. Jumping the wrong way would have the same result as blowing his own brains out.
Running out of arguments, Olbricht picked up the telephone and ordered a call to the Wolf's Lair, confident that the communications shut-down was still in force, proof that the bomb plot had succeeded. Fromm took over the receiver as soon as the connection had been made.
With disconcerting rapidity, Fromm found himself talking to Keitel. He asked about the rumours in a roundabout way. Keitel told him that a bomb had indeed exploded, but stressed that Hitler was still alive. Fromm replaced the receiver and turned to Olbricht with renewed confidence. If Hitler was alive, there was no need to take action or to involve himself in the plots of other, more reckless officers.
Olbricht was rethinking his strategy as he left Fromm's office. He could not be sure that Hitler was still alive. Keitel could have been lying on the orders of Himmler, Göring, or both potential successors. They might have been trying to buy time to stabilize the situation and consolidate their hold on the Reich.
Whether or not the bomb had done its work, Valkyrie had to be treated like a snowball rolling down a hill. It had to be pushed on and on with determination until it had gathered enough momentum to become unstoppable.
At Rastenburg, the convoy of official cars, flags flying, passed smoothly through Gates One and Two (East). Hitler took his guests to view the wreckage of the Lagebaracke, and pointed out the spot where he had been sitting when the bomb had exploded. There could be no doubt about how close he had come to death. His position could be fixed relative to the doorway, and there was a huge hole in the wooden floor a metre away. Sawdust had been used to soak up the blood of the officers who had been standing closer to the bomb.
Keitel made the obligatory remarks about providence acting to the benefit of the German people. Marshall Graziani, Mussolini's former Minister of War, nodded wisely. Il Duce insisted on climbing into the wreckage to stand on the very spot that Hitler had occupied. There was still a strong smell of charred wood.
Mussolini, nine days short of his sixty-first birthday, looked like an old and well-beaten man. His large, hairless head and his swollen face turned him into a crude caricature of the formerly self-assured and arrogant national leader. He was no longer a pretty subject for photography, but the flash bulbs exploded relentlessly. Despite his cheerful air, Hitler was also looking the worse for wear and his cap tended to hang low over his eyes. Linge had failed to get the padding quite right.
Feldmarschall Keitel insinuated himself into the group around Hitler; a gathering of everyone of consequence at Supreme Headquarters with Göring, Himmler and Bormann in the front rank. As a Reichsmarschall, Göring was one step up from a field marshal. Reichsführer Himmler was one step down from The Führer. The title that Bormann was destined to acquire in the near future, Reichsleiter, would be another variation on the leader theme for a man who couldn't lead a lemming over a cliff, according to his critics.
"I was in telephone contact with General Fromm in Berlin while you were away, mein Führer," Keitel said with his customary, dry importance. "He seemed to be in somewhat of a state over the rumours there. I was able to stop him flapping."
"The evidence as to who caused the rumours points squarely to Fromm's man Stauffenberg, whom you invited here, Keitel," Himmler pointed out.
"Acting on recommendations," Keitel said defensively. "I am not personally acquainted with the man. Do you have conclusive evidence of his guilt?" Keitel had a sculpted blade of a nose, which was ideal for looking down. He was significantly taller than Hitler, and careful never to look down the nose at him. Heinrich Himmler was another matter.
"Just a matter of time," Himmler said with supreme confidence.
"Good!" said Hitler, cutting short the in-fighting. "I expect every one of you to play your part in seeking out those involved in this act of treason."
Mussolini returned from the wreckage of the Lagebaracke for more handshakes and photographs, and expressions of confidence in final victory. The two leaders repeated again their unshakeable conviction that Hitler's survival meant that he had a still higher destiny, and that the current difficulties to east and west would be overcome. Then they retired to the sitting room in the adjacent Führer Bunker for tea.
Großadmiral Dönitz had arrived from Berlin. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had also rushed out to Supreme H.Q. to add his personal congratulations to the gushing stream. They felt bound to show their faces, if only to be there to counter the inevitable character assassination directed against them and to get in a few stabs on their own accounts.
Oberführer Rattenhuber arrived to report that the detectives from Berlin had started work on the wreckage. He interrupted a string of signals through the restored communication network. There were signs of a military revolt developing in Berlin. Civilians, Socialists and Communists were involved in a full-scale insurrection in Vienna. Confused signals from Paris, Munich and Prague showed that the disorder was wide-spread. Hitler's reaction was to despatch Himmler to Berlin immediately to round up the rebels and wipe them out.
Hitler, slumped in his throne-like armchair, lapsed into moody silence again. Weinkenner poured a dash of brandy into black coffee, reflecting that it was a pretty dull party. The undercurrent of tension in the room grew as those with the most to lose faced up to the unthinkable. They had achieved position and power. They had held on to both with single-minded ruthlessness. They knew that they were finished if a group of rebels six hundred kilometres away managed to tip the balance of power beyond the point of no return.
The question that troubled them most was what would happen if those caught up in the plot, perhaps unwittingly at first, believed that the risks of going on were less severe than those of drawing back. For members of the defeated regime, who were unable to escape or make peace with the new masters, the best that the future had to offer seemed to be a show trial followed by a long drop at the end of a short rope. It was a variation on a bullet, a shotgun blast or concrete overshoes for someone from Weinkenner's background. On both sides of the conspiracy, victory meant survival. There was no alternative path.
Mussolini seemed to have run out of energy. He sat quietly in an armchair, sipping coffee. Marshal Graziani did his best to entertain the company with his stories of life in Libya during better days, but he had a preoccupied audience. Göring was still drinking champagne. He had offered a glass to Ribbentrop to remind the Foreign Minister that he had once sold Sekt, the German sparkling wine, before marriage to the daughter of one of the leading producers had removed his need to work. The others were drinking tea or coffee and waiting for a decent excuse to leave.
A collection of signals from the Eastern Front, asking for clarification of the situation at Supreme H.Q., set Göring off on another tirade against the Army. The head of the Luftwaffe felt that his service's failings had received far too much mention from Army commanders, who had done little better since their own failure before Moscow at the end of 1941.
"Those milk-sop generals! See what antics they get up to when the going gets sticky?" Göring directed a glare almost but not quite in Keitel's direction. "They have enemies clearly in sight, but what do they do? Turn on their leader!"
"I entirely agree," said Großadmiral Dönitz. He was another greying, elder statesman in his early fifties, a contemporary of Ribbentrop and Göring. Keitel, their target, was ten years older, in Mussolini's age group.
"A pack of cowards," sneered Göring.
"The Army is failing to meet its obligations on all fronts," Dönitz added. "Not that the Luftwaffe has delivered according to the promises we received."
Everyone in the room knew that Dönitz was referring to the Luftwaffe's failure to supply Stalingrad from the air. The city had fallen just three days after Dönitz had taken over command of the Kriegsmarine on the tenth anniversary of the Führer's becoming Chancellor. "If we're a talking of achievement," he added smugly, "we need look no further than the Navy, particularly the submarine service."
Weinkenner looked across the room at Bormann. The Good Soldier Svejk was hovering near Hitler, watching the flow of the argument, waiting to jump in to support Hitler if he broke his silence. Keitel and the other Army generals seemed content to be out of the dogfight for the moment. Fegelein, Himmler's representative at Supreme H.Q., and the other SS generals looked on with almost indulgent amusement. Mussolini was looking embarrassed.
As Weinkenner watched, Hitler took another of Dr. Morell's bright orange pills from a silver pastille box. Mussolini had a black enamelled box. He was matching Hitler pill for pill, but in a more furtive manner.
"The Navy!" snorted Göring, reminding everyone of such achievements as the fate of the Graf Spee in the River Plate, the sinking of the Bismark and the lack of effect of Tirpitz and the other capital ships of the Grand Fleet.
"I must say, I tend to agree with the Großadmiral's opinion," Ribbentrop ventured. His elegant suit and stunning buttonhole looked strange among the uniforms. He was an obvious outsider and an obvious target. "The Navy remains..."
"Shut your damn mouth!" Göring barked, waving his ornate, field marshal's baton at him. "We don't need the view of a dirty little Sekt salesman, Ribbentrop."
"My name is von Ribbentrop," was the injured reply. "And as Aussenminister, my views carry at least the same weight as yours." The word weight was an obvious dig at the bulk of Göring, who had become a morphine addict after being shot during the failed Munich putsch.
One of the white-coated orderlies put his hand to his mouth and coughed to hide a smile. The idea that anyone would want the same weight as barrel-shaped Göring amused him.
Weinkenner glanced toward Hitler. The Führer seemed not to have noticed the raised voices. Weinkenner's ears still felt stuffed full of cotton wool. If he had been sitting practically on top of the bomb, Hitler had to be much more deaf. Mussolini was tracing the outline of one of the roses on the carpet with his toe. He sneaked a white pill into his mouth as Hitler took another orange one from his box. Hitler was suffering from both the effects of the explosion and the lack of his usual nap. Then Bormann thought of a way to bring him back to life: an old chestnut.
"It's like being back in 1934 again," he remarked, almost casually. "If there is a plot, we'll crush it the way we dealt with Röhm and his criminal perverts."
Hitler leapt to his feet as if a spike had been rammed up from the seat of his chair. The Röhm Putsch was a product of the imaginations of Himmler and Göring. It had been a device to pay off personal scores while getting rid of opponents within the Party structure; with the added bonus of keeping the Army happy by eliminating a rival paramilitary force: the Nazi Sturmabteilungen.
Hitler had been dismayed and distressed by the extent of the bloodshed. He had accused Göring of murdering some of his best friends at the time. Now, he had no alternative to believing the myth that wiping out the SA had been essential to the survival of the Nazi Party. He passed from apathy to blind fury in an instant.
Most of his tirade was incoherent. His accusation that the German nation was unworthy of him was standard fare for times of trial. He finished with a vow to show no mercy to anyone involved in the bomb plot. He would have the conspirators and their families shot. He would have them flung into concentration camps. Then he dropped into his chair again and took another orange pill.
"Where's Himmler?" he demanded as he put the silver box back into his pocket.
"Yes, where is he?" Bormann radiated sympathetic suspicion.
"Reichsführer Himmler is on his way to the airfield, Führer," said General Fegelein. "Following your personal order to go to Berlin to round up the traitors."
"At least someone is doing something," growled Hitler.
Ribbentrop turned his back on Göring to talk to Mussolini. The Duce looked grateful to be noticed again. Marshal Graziani joined the Wehrmacht generals. He had been CinC of Italian Forces, Libya; until driven out by the British. His next post had been Italy's Minister of War. Now, he was just another of Mussolini's demoralized band in Lombardy. He had a fund of stories more suited to a more cheerful occasion.
Göring signalled to Weinkenner for more champagne, and exchanged a few words on the quality when Weinkenner joined him. He had adopted the former Luftwaffe officer as his personal wine waiter under the guise of conversation. Weinkenner suspected that he was taking a dig at the SS generals; demonstrating that an ex-Luftwaffe officer in a black-collared Waffen SS uniform still belonged to Fat Hermann.
Keitel buried his sculpted blade of a nose in a sheaf of signals and looked busy. Bormann drifted across the room to talk to an Italian general in a splendid dress uniform. There was a moment of silence when Hitler pushed to his feet abruptly and left the room. Then the muted buzz of conversation resumed.
Hitler went to his private office to make a telephone call to the Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda in Berlin. A shocked Dr. Joseph Goebbels received his first news of the failed assassination attempt. Hitler ordered him to make a broadcast to tell the German people that their leader was unharmed. Then Hitler returned to the sitting room and resumed his silent brooding in his massive armchair.
An air of calm boredom swamped the tea party until Rattenhuber arrived on the dot of 17.45 hours to announce that the cars were ready to take the Duce and his party to the station. Hitler was fuming internally. Those who knew him well trod carefully. Photographers exploded flash bulbs on the platform. Movie cameras whirred as the two leaders exchanged cheerful farewells at the station. Neither suspected that it was the last they would ever see of each other.
The train was out of sight almost at once, rounding a long curve of track in the forest of tall pines and beeches. Eight minutes later, the armoured saloon cars and their escorts reached the administration zone's car park at Supreme H.Q. As the other VIPs trailed into the sitting room of the Führer Bunker, Hitler inspected his hands, then headed for his private washroom.
Weinkenner lingered in the hall. If Göring wanted more champagne, Weinkenner told himself, he could damn well get it himself or use one of the orderlies. Moments later, Heinz Linge came fleeing out of Hitler's bedroom. Weinkenner caught his arm and swung him to a stop.
"Trouble?" said Weinkenner.
"The Führer is unwell," Linge said urgently. "I have to fetch Dr. Morell."
"Find Rattenhuber instead," Weinkenner ordered. "I'll call Dr. Marzius."
"The Führer said Dr. Morell," Linge said uncertainly.
"I'll take the responsibility. You find Rattenhuber," Weinkenner told him firmly.
Hitler was sitting limply on a chair, his weight and friction holding him more or less upright. He looked liable to slide to the floor at any moment. Weinkenner unfastened his collar, then half dragged, half carried Hitler to the bed. He looked pale and dazed. His limb movements were unco-ordinated. Weinkenner used the bedside telephone to contact the underground medical centre. Dr. Marzius sounded remarkably calm when he described Hitler's condition.
"Stand at the foot of the bed and hold on," ordered Dr. Marzius. "Hang up the telephone first."
Uncertainly, Weinkenner did as he was told, taking a death-grip on the bed's iron frame. Part of the floor began to descend smoothly and silently. It stopped in the warmth of the underground room before he was ready for the end of the ride. Weinkenner pushed automatically as Dr. Marzius pulled. Müller pushed a similar bed onto the hoist. He took a long look at the prone form, then lay down on his bed and unfastened his collar.
"Just lie there. Don't move and don't get up until I come to you," ordered Dr. Marzius.
"Don't take all day." Müller flopped limply.
The heat of the underground room had left him flushed, but he looked just as distressed as the real Adolf Hitler otherwise. All Müller had to do was surrender to his imaginary ailments and look as bad as he felt.
The hoist moved up again. Weinkenner dropped onto a chair as Dr. Marzius began an examination. The telephone rang a few minutes later. Linge had found Rattenhuber. Weinkenner passed the receiver to the doctor.
"What do you think?" Rattenhuber asked.
"What I expected," said Dr. Marzius. "I need to get him to a major hospital. Ideally, the one at Kremmen."
"In that case, what do you need?"
"An ambulance to take us to the airfield. Weinkenner will ring ahead to have our aeroplane standing by."
"What do we say to explain things?"
"Is Linge still with you?"
"He's waiting in the hall."
"Ask him when the Reichskanzler last had something to eat."
"Nothing much since breakfast," Rattenhuber relayed after a short pause. "With the bomb and everything."
"Tell Linge to order a meal. No wonder people collapse if they overdo things. Trying to live on stimulants instead of food, indeed! I shall be up shortly."
"You think it might be as simple as that, Doc?" said Weinkenner as Dr. Marzius rang off. "No grub?"
"Not really," said Marzius. "I won't know until I have some X-rays taken, but there may be some bleeding inside the skull. That could put pressure on brain tissue, leading to paralysis or other loss of function, or a clot could form with fatal results."
"Shouldn't we get him to Königsberg right away?"
"Yes, but we have a secret to protect, remember? We must take the chance of flying the Reichskanzler to Berlin."
"And what happens to us if he dies on the way?" said Weinkenner thoughtfully.
"Some people will rush to give us a medal and others will rush to tear us to pieces," Dr. Marzius said with a shrug. "Either way, we shall be trampled to death between them."
Weinkenner nodded agreement. All those in the vicinity took a share of the responsibility if the gang-boss died. It was a basic rule of all jungles. It was the dark side of the tins of nuts, the free cigarettes and Hermann Göring's excellent champagne.