Hitler's Last Day: Minute By Minute Part 21

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Back in his hut in Stalag IV-C, Bert Ruffle is updating his diary. He has been a prisoner since he was captured at Dunkirk on 26th May 1940. He's tired and he's hungry.

'Why?? Why?? am I writing this diary? Will anyone read it? What I have written is the true account of what I and my comrades have suffered in the past few months. When, oh when, is this bleeding b.l.o.o.d.y sodding WAR going to finish??'

Bert's war will end on 8th May as Britain celebrates VE Day. He and about 100 other men are in the prison camp's theatre that evening watching a concert, when a POW runs on the stage interrupting the squaddie singer, shouting, 'It's over, lads. The war is finished! We are free!'

Either side of the stage is a picture of Hitler and Goring. They are instantly torn down and someone produces pictures of King George VI and Churchill. Then two POWs unfurl a Union Flag on stage.

Ruffle wrote in his diary that night, 'Suddenly, and without a word of command, we all stood to attention, stiff as ramrods. Never, in all my life have I heard the national anthem sung as we sang it then. It was sung from the heart, with tears running down our faces. We sung that anthem proud, unbeaten, unashamed. Life, freedom, hope and home lay before us. Then we sang "Rule Britannia" and boy, did we let it go! It was a great and wonderful feeling. We were rejuvenated, reborn.' When he left the theatre, Ruffle saw that all the guards had fled.

The next morning, he left the camp with his friends, Frank, Lofty, Harry and Bunny, to try and find the advancing Americans. Later that day, Ruffle stared at the first GI they saw.

'I was fascinated by the huge roll of fat that was hanging from the back of his neck and over his collar. Talk about being well fed! He must have had a good lifestyle.'

Ruffle arrived home on 15th May 1945. He'd been a POW for four years and 51 weeks. Years later he wrote about his return to his wife Edna at their home at Weoley Castle in the suburbs of Birmingham, 'I stood on the corner of Ludstone Road and looked at number 5. It was so silent and peaceful. I crossed the road, sat on the fence and lit a f.a.g. I just sat there thinking "I am here!" I just couldn't take it in. I left my kitbag by the front door and was about to kick it down to let them know I was here. I decided to climb over the back wall but, in the process, I knocked the dustbin flying. I threw some bits of grit up at Edna's window. Then a voice I had not heard in five years came from the other bedroom "I'm coming." I heard a shout "He's here!"

'I was home... at last!

'I thank G.o.d for a wonderful home-coming.'

Not all returns were as joyous and as straightforward as Bert Ruffle's. The Daily Express journalist Alan Moorehead met two British POWs who had recently been liberated from a camp outside Hanover. Moorehead's car had broken down and as they helped fix it, he chatted to them.

'You'll be home soon. Are you married?' he asked.

'Yes,' they both said, but hesitantly.

One added, 'My wife got killed in an air raid and his' (he pointed to his friend) 'has gone off with an American. She wrote to him about it.'

'I'm sorry about that,' Moorehead said.

'Well, we've thought about it and we're not sorry. How could we have gone back again after five years? It wouldn't work. No. It's better the way it is.'


General Krebs sets off from the Fuhrerbunker for the Russian command post. He is accompanied by two officers and is bearing a letter from Goebbels and Bormann, which announces the death of the Fuhrer and requests a ceasefire in order that peace negotiations may commence. They ask for safe pa.s.sage for everyone in the Reich Chancellery complex.

Traudl Junge is sitting with her fellow secretary Gerda Christian in the Fuhrerbunker corridor with the other bunker staff, drinking coffee and schnapps and making 'pointless conversation'. Constanze Manziarly is sitting in a corner. Her eyes are red from weeping. Gunsche and Mohnke are talking about leading a group of fighting men to break out of the bunker. Junge's ears p.r.i.c.k up and in one voice she and Gerda Christian say, 'Take us too!' The two men nod. Junge doesn't think it likely that any of them could survive a breakout, but it seems better to do something active rather than 'wait for the Russians to come and find my corpse in the mousetrap'.

About 10.45pm

Dr Hans Graf von Lehndorff is in the attic of the Konigsberg camp hospital. It's cold and drafty, and looking up he can see holes in the roof where rain is coming in. Yet this is where, over the course of the day, over 100 sick men have been placed. Von Lehndorff has come to see how they are. The men were laid side by side on the floor, but some are now lying on top of each other. He can see a few are already dead and so he takes their coats and jackets and covers the living.

For days now von Lehndorff has been trying not to think too much about the hopeless situation he's found himself in, hoping that he doesn't have to treat someone he knows, as he may break down when he sees them.

Without thinking, von Lehndorff makes the sign of the cross as he leaves the attic, blessing those who will die before morning.


Russian reports will claim that this is the moment the red flag was hoisted above the Reichstag. Stalin will get his victory in time for May Day. On 2nd May Russian photographers will take the famous photograph that demonstrates their control of the building and the capital. For now the bitter fighting continues. The Battle of Berlin has cost Russia hundreds of thousands of lives. Ivan Kovchenko, a Russian soldier, summed up their experience: 'The battles for Berlin were characterised by particular toughness and resistance on the part of the Germans. Everything was on fire. We spared nothing, including ammunition, just to advance another few metres. It was even worse than Stalingrad.'

I increased speed from five to sixteen knots... and in a little while we had shaken off our pursuers. We heard them searching for us for quite a while after; the reason we had escaped them must have been beyond them.

Captain Adelbert Schnee

About 11.00pm

A revolutionary new submarine is leaving Bergen in Norway and heading out to sea. She is U-2511, a Type XXI U-boat under the command of 31-year-old Captain Adelbert Schnee. (The same type that British naval intelligence officer Patrick Dalzel-Job discovered in the Bremen shipyards earlier in the week.) Schnee knows these waters well, having taken part in the invasion of Norway in 1940. For over six months Schnee has been waiting for his U-boat to be ready, and now he is excited to try out her new technology, as are his crew of 56 submariners.

In 1942, following the loss of scores of U-boats, Admiral Donitz had ordered German naval architects to come up with a radical new design of submarine. U-2511 has powerful batteries that give her a very long range and a submerged speed of 18 knots. The fact that she is an Elektroboote an electric boat means that she can run silent at slow speeds and is therefore hard to detect; she can also crash-dive very fast. U-2511 even has a freezer to store food.

Schnee had sailed 12 combat patrols when he was brought onto Admiral Donitz's staff to help oversee the project. It has been a frustrating two years 118 of the new cla.s.s of U-boat have been made, but only two are ready for active service because they have been plagued by technical problems (mostly because the eight pre-fabricated sections of the submarine were made by companies with little experience of shipbuilding).

U-2511 is pa.s.sing the small island of Store Marstein, with its bomb-damaged lighthouse. Schnee gives the order to dive.

U-2511 will soon prove herself. The next day she manages to evade a flotilla of Allied warships, and on 4th May gets within 600 metres of the cruiser HMS Norfolk without being detected. Schnee invites his engineering officer and the officer of the watch to look through the periscope at the remarkable sight. But Schnee can't take advantage of his spectacular position; a few hours earlier he had received a radio message (while submerged another innovation) telling him to return to base and to surrender to the Allies. Schnee had sunk 21 merchant vessels in his career, so to let a prize like the Norfolk go was hard indeed.

On 5th May Captain Schnee will be interrogated by a Royal Navy admiral who doesn't believe his story about the Norfolk no submarine could get so close to one of his vessels without being detected. But once the Allies examine the captured Type XXI U-boats, they quickly appreciate its revolutionary technology.

The Soviets will get four Type XXI cla.s.s U-boats, the US two, the British and the French one each. The French U-boat will remain in commission until 1967.

Adelbert Schnee's U-2511 will leave Bergen for the final time on 14th June towed by a Royal Navy vessel. She is scuttled off the coast of Northern Ireland in January 1946 and still lies there in 226 feet of water.

11.30pm/3.30pm PWT

At the UN Conference in San Francisco, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov is giving the delegates a barnstorming performance at the podium. Without notes, he is taking apart the Argentine regime of General Edelmiro Farrell and his deputy Colonel Juan Peron, concentrating on their many years of support for the n.a.z.is (countries could attend the conference if they'd declared war on at least one of the Axis powers by 1st March. Argentina had declared war on Germany on 27th March once German defeat looked inevitable). Molotov is insisting that if Poland, a country that fought the n.a.z.is, is excluded, then so should Argentina be, having helped them. James Reston of the New York Times wrote afterwards, 'there was considerable admiration for the skill and persistence with which Molotov put his case'. Molotov impresses the US press, but not the delegates. He loses the vote and Argentina is allowed to join the United Nations.

Molotov has a secret. During his time in the United States he has constantly been asked by the press and his allies about 16 Polish underground activists who had gone missing in March on their way to Warsaw for a meeting with Red Army generals about the future of their country. Molotov denied any knowledge of their whereabouts. Then on 4th May, at a reception at the Soviet consulate in San Francisco, as Molotov is shaking hands with the US Secretary of State, he will say casually, 'By the way, Mr Stettinius, about those 16 Poles, they have all been arrested by the Red Army.' Edward Stettinius is left standing with a fixed smile on his face. UN talks about Poland are called off.

About Midnight/5.30am Burmese time

On the roof of Rangoon jail in Burma, Allied POWs are painting 'j.a.pS GONE' in large white letters. The Union Flag, used for three years for burials of POWs, is now flying above their heads. On Sunday night, Wing Commander Bill Hudson, who is the leader of the Allied POWs, discovered that their j.a.panese captors had fled, leaving two farewell notes on the gate. For the past 24 hours the men have been eating well, now that they have access to the guards' stores and livestock. They have been eating pancakes, chutney and plenty of pork. But the men still face dangers from the Burmese population outside the gates, many of whom have supported the j.a.panese, and from their own bomber crews, who might attack Rangoon not realising there are prisoners in the city. Hudson yesterday ordered all Burmese and Indian collaborators within the jail to be disarmed, and he had the gates shut and fortified.

Someone has had the idea that the best way to stop the Allies bombing the jail is to paint messages on the roofs, hence the words 'j.a.pS GONE'. After a Mosquito bombs the jail later in the day, a pilot will suggest a more urgent message, the RAF slang 'EXTRACT DIGIT', meaning 'get your finger out now'.

To ensure the POWs safety, Bill Hudson has started negotiations in a nearby house with two organisations that in March had swapped sides and joined the Allied cause the Indian National Army, and the Burma Defence Army led by 30-year-old General Aung San. Aung San had been such a strong supporter of the j.a.panese (in the hope that they would grant Burma independence) that Emperor Hirohito had awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun. Aung San soon realised that, in the words of a British general, 'he had exchanged an old master for an infinitely more tyrannical new one'. Hudson fears that if the j.a.panese are forced to retreat they may return to Rangoon he wants to be ready to repel them if they do so, and he needs Aung San's support and weapons.

Hudson was escorted out of the jail by RAF Warrant Officer Donald Lomas, who carried an old rifle that hadn't been fired for years. Lomas wrote in his diary that the meetings were 'very interesting' but that he was 'rather shaky' (he had been ill for a number of weeks). Hudson had had his first full-length wash with soap for five months, but he still looked scruffy in his tatty uniform, so someone lent him an RAF cap. Somehow he managed to convince Aung San and the INA leader that he was the Allied Supreme Commander Louis Mountbatten's official representative. Within an hour they provided the POWs with 17 rifles, ammunition and 12 hand grenades. 'We were no longer toothless,' Hudson wrote in his diary.

The POWs will have no need of the weapons. They will be liberated on 3rd May. Many of them are suffering from tropical diseases and malnutrition, and the side effects of eating rich food in the last few days of their captivity, which their stomachs could not cope with. In July 1947, shortly after signing an agreement with the British guaranteeing Burmese independence, General Aung San is a.s.sa.s.sinated in Rangoon. His daughter, the future Burmese political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, is two when her father dies.

Heinrich Himmler arrives at Plon Castle in a convoy of Volkswagens and armoured personnel carriers. He has surrounded himself with a big team of bodyguards for fear that Admiral Donitz is planning to arrest him for negotiating with the Allies.

Donitz is equally wary of Himmler. He arranges to greet him in his office. He has placed a pistol on his desk, hidden beneath a pile of papers with the safety catch off. As he later wrote in his memoirs, 'I had never done anything like this in my life before, but I did not know what the outcome of this meeting might be.' In addition to the guards of Plon Castle, the Admiral has a detachment of U-boat sailors at the ready should Himmler's SS guard attack.

Himmler sits down opposite him and Donitz pa.s.ses him the telegram from Bormann. Himmler's face goes white. Then he stands up and says, 'Allow me to become the second man in your government.' Donitz tells him that that won't be possible. Himmler, shocked by the news but relieved that he has not been arrested, takes his leave.

The new Chancellor of Germany gets down to work. Given the impossibility of holding back the Russians, he decides his top priority: how to get as many Germans as possible into the British and American zones.

By the light of several candles, on the second floor of the makeshift camp hospital in Konigsberg, Dr Hans Graf von Lehndorff and his young a.s.sistant Erika Frolich are helping a woman deliver twins. After the horrors of the Russian invasion, and the desperate plight of the other patients around him, this scene offers some comfort.

'Life goes on,' von Lehndorff thinks.

Imperial War Museums (BU 8955) Prime Minister Winston Churchill visiting Hitler's bunker on 16th July 1945.

The petrol cans used to burn the bodies are in the foreground.

After April 1945...

'So that's the end of the b.a.s.t.a.r.d.'

At 11pm on 8th May, Hitler's body made an appearance in Wakefield, Yorkshire. A hea.r.s.e containing his coffin was pulled through the town by 50 British servicemen and women, towards a park where a bonfire was waiting. A marching band played a funeral dirge. Walking alongside the hea.r.s.e were the mayor, Winston Churchill, President Truman, General de Gaulle and Joseph Stalin (who, the local paper noted, was particularly popular with the local ladies). When the cortege reached the park, Hitler's body was unceremoniously bundled out of the hea.r.s.e and into the flames. This spectacular event, staged by the members of the Wakefield Operatic and Dramatic Society, was just one of the many responses around the world to the news of the death of Adolf Hitler.

The Fuhrer's death was announced from the Hamburg radio studios of the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft at 10.30pm on 1st May. Listeners were told by an 18-year-old announcer that the Fuhrer had 'fallen at his command post in the Reich Chancellery fighting to the last breath against Bolshevism and for Germany.' When Churchill was told the news moments later in the middle of a meeting about the forthcoming general election he said, 'Well, I must say I think he was perfectly right to die like that.' Lord Beaverbrook pointed out that he obviously did not.

In Moscow, Stalin's response was blunter, 'So that's the end of the b.a.s.t.a.r.d.'

Although Hitler was dead there was still no ceasefire. Some German units made up their own minds about whether to fight on in light of the news. Eighteen-year-old Herbert Mittelstadt was part of an anti-aircraft unit in the Austrian province of Vorarlberg. On 1st May his commanding officer declared, 'I no longer believe that there is any way possible for us to win this war. I am going to discharge you, and whoever wants to, can continue fighting with me as a Werewolf (lone fighter).' Only one man put his hand up. Dispirited, the officer concluded, 'The whole thing isn't worth it. I'm going to discharge myself as well!'

In the Sudetenland, Michael Etkind was part of a group of Jews being forced by the SS to march away from a labour camp and the advancing Russians. Resting in a barn for the night, they heard their guards saying, 'Hitler is dead.' The news spread quickly around the exhausted prisoners. One man, who Etkind had nicknamed 'the Joker' because he kept them all going with his sense of humour, leapt up and started to sing a spontaneous song: 'I have outlived the fiend My life-long wish fulfilled...'

The others watched in horror as he sang and danced his way to the open barn door. One of the guards took aim. Etkind recalled, 'We saw the "Joker" lift his arms again... turn around surprised (didn't they understand, hadn't they heard that the Monster was dead?) and like a puppet when its strings are cut, collapse into a heap.'

The killing only stopped in Europe, when on 7th May, General Alfred Jodl, who had been Hitler's senior military advisor, signed a simultaneous and unconditional surrender on all fronts.

John Amery

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Hitler's Last Day: Minute By Minute Part 21 summary

You're reading Hitler's Last Day: Minute By Minute. This manga has been translated by Updating. Author(s): Emma Craigie, Jonathan Mayo. Already has 734 views.

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