Chapter Six - The Battle for Berlin
THE STRATEGY OF THE NAZI LEADERS, in the face of certain defeat, was to hold their ground in the east at all costs, check the Soviet offensive and conclude a separate deal with the USA and Britain in the hope of avoiding unconditional surrender.
In the May 1945 issue of Labour Monthly, Palme Dutt described, in some detail, the political moves of the German industrialists who were already comforting themselves with the thought that "although Germany may sometimes lose a war, she never loses a peace."
"Despite every rebuff, it is obvious that German reaction still courts the West and hopes to find friends. There is obviously no hope for the nazi leaders. But the big monopolists, industrialists and Junker Lords, the real backers, creators and paymasters of nazism, now come forward in person and offer themselves to the kind attention of the Western Allies. Like sitting rabbits, they await discovery in the path of the Anglo-American armies. First, the looted gold of the Reichsbank is revealed, together with a leading Reichsbank director at hand to explain that they did not blow up the mine because they wished the Americans to find the gold, so that it could serve as the basis for the future Reichsmark. Next, Alfred Krupp, head and sole owner of the 160 million mark Krupp concern, appears in immaculate attire in the path of the Allied armies to explain that his one philanthropic thought is to maintain employment for his beloved workers (and 50,000 foreign slaves). Next von Schnitzler, chief of the chemical combine, allows himself to be discovered, and exclaims: 'Gentlemen, it is a pleasure to be working with you again.' He explains that he looks forward to visiting 'his friends the Duponts' and 'several other people in the United States and Britain - all heads of big industrial concerns - whom he describes as intimate friends' (the Telegraph of the 13th April, which reports this charming scene, naturally does not print the names of the British 'intimate friends' but the intelligent reader can fill in the gap). Finally is revealed the King Pin himself, old von Papen, the arch-plotter of German intrigue for thirty years, and the king-maker who placed nazism in power. He is apparently received with all the diplomatic courtesy due to his high position and distinguished record, and the government professes itself unable to determine whether there is any reason to regard him as a war criminal... "
Palme Dutt then went on to quote from a recent broadcast in which J.C. Holmes, United States Assistant Secretary of State, had revealed that:
"In August 19~3, von Papen told a close friend that Germany could no longer hope to win the war, and so every possible move should be made to save German industry and military power for the future. In November 1943, a representative of the German concern, I. G. Farbenindustrie (the chemical combine) assured certain business officials that whether Germany won the war or not the firm's position in a certain market area would not be impaired because pre-war cartel agreements with certain firms would probably be renewed."
Commented Palme Dutt:
"All these big shots of the criminal and nazi regime ...evidently imagine that they have discovered a much more ingenious method than the stereotyped false beard and forged passport to skip to Switzerland or South America."
On the 28th March 1945, General Eisenhower sent a telegram to Marshal Stalin, as from one commander to another, announcing that after reaching the Elbe, he would make his main thrust along the Erfurt-Leipzig-Dresden axis which would cut the remaining German forces in two. When Churchill was informed of this, he telegraphed to Eisenhower (31st March) asking: "Why should we not cross the Elbe and advance as far east-ward as possible'?"
That this was contrary to what had been agreed at the Crimea Conference did not seem to worry Churchill. In a letter to Roosevelt, on the 1st April, he wrote: "The Russian armies will no doubt over-run all Austria and enter Vienna. If they also take Berlin, will not their impression that they have been the overwhelming contributor to our common victory be unduly imprinted on their minds, and may this not lead them into a mood which will raise grave and formidable difficulties in the future? I therefore consider that from a political standpoint we should march as far east into Germany as possible, and that should Berlin be in our grasp we should certainly take it."
By now, Roosevelt's health had deteriorated to such an extent that General Marshall had to deal with this question. In the meantime, Eisenhower had replied to Churchill's telegram assuring him that "the only difference between your suggestions and my plan is one of timing" and that "if at any moment collapse should suddenly come about everywhere along the front we would rush forward, and LUbeck and Berlin would be included in our important targets."
On the 12th April 1945, President Roosevelt collapsed suddenly and died without regaining consciousness. This was a sad loss for the commom cause. His share in building the alliance of the United Nations and in the decisions taken at Teheran and Yalta assure him of a place in world history. His successor, Harry S. Truman, immediately announced that America would "never become a party to any plan for partial victory" and that "nothing shall shake our determination to punish the war criminals, even though we must pursue them to the ends of the earth" - but his subsequent deeds did not match his fine words.
On the 19th April, Hitler issued an appeal to his soldiers on the Eastern Front to stand firm, assuring them that Berlin would remain a German city. He re-inforced this appeal to their fanaticism and fighting spirit by demanding that anyone who issued an erder to retreat be shot on the spot. Then, on the 22nd April, he withdrew all his troops from the Western Front and threw them into the battle for Berlin.
In spite of these desperate measures, he failed to prevent the Soviet troops from closing the ring around the city. This was accomplished on the 25th April. During the encirclement of Berlin, the internal resistance forces, led by the Communist Party of Germany, called for an end to the senseless bloodshed; but in spite of their heroism, they were not strong enough to stop the fighting.
A few days later, however, the remnants of his forces reeling under the hammer blows of the Red Army, Hitler finally had to admit defeat. On the 29th April he appointed Admiral Doenitz to be his successor and on the 30th he committed suicide. The Berlin garrison continued to defend the ruined city until the 2nd May, when all resistance ceased. On the 7th May, Soviet troops joined up with the US forces on the Elbe.
Hoping that he could negotiate a separate capitulation of his southern group to the Americans, Doenitz sent Admiral Friedeburg to Eisenhower but the US Command would have no part of this manoeuvre. On the 8th May, Doenitz tried again and sent General Jodl to see Eisenhower. This time, a document on the capitulation was signed at Rheims.
When Stalin was informed that JodI had signed an act of unconditional surrender, he protested that since the Red Army had borne the ma1n burden of the war, the document signed by JodI should be regarded only as a preliminary protocol of surrender, and that the act of unconditional surrender should be signed in Berlin by representatives of the German High Command, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and the Supreme High Commander of the Red Army. This document was executed in Berlin at midnight on.the 8th May 1945.