Now out on Kindle: Operation Flash, Episode 3: Spring Awakening

The third installment of the alternate history series where Hitler and Himmler were assassinated in March 1943.
A desperate military situation forces Carl Goerdeler’s Emergency Reich Government (ERG) to make a bargain with the devil.
Across the Channel, Winston Churchill plays for time as he pursues a separate peace with Goerdeler.
Two old acquaintances make the first steps on a long march toward national atonement.
And meanwhile, the ERG’s deadliest enemy lurks within its gates…

Operation Flash, Episode 2: Hinges Of Fate — now out on Kindle

In an alternate timeline, blowing up Hitler and his command turns out to be the easy part…

Killing Hitler had been child’s play in comparison with figuring out what to do next.
After the coup, the Reich was split into two. Bormann in Munich is Führer of a remnant Nazi state. Goerdeler’s Emergency Government in Berlin fights Bormann on the inside while waging a two-front war with the Allies on the outside.
But a secret meeting abroad may be a game-changer.
Meanwhile, Goerdeler’s special assistant Felix Winter investigates what turn out to be crimes beyond even the conspirators’ worst fears…

Like Episode 1 before it, this episode is just $0.99 on Kindle [free with Kindle Unlimited]

Kudos to all the people who helped make this happen, and especially to

  • Karen Folques, editor
  • “Covers Girl”, cover
  • John Earle, proofreader
  • Logotecture, final eBook conversion
http://www.amazon/com/dp/B07WDQZ766

Valkyrie Day post: Operation Flash, Ep. 2 update

Today, July 20, 2019, marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Valkyrie, the last assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler (y”sh).

The original “Operation Valkyrie” was a contingency plan of the Ersatzheer (idiomatically: reserve army, home army) for suppressing internal unrest in such events as an uprising by the millions of coerced foreign workers in Germany, or in the event the Führer was dead or incapacitated. During 1943, the plan was substantially rewritten in secret by several staff officers involved with the Resistance to exclude participation of the SS and other NSDAP-affiliated organizations, to facilitate a quick takeover of the country following a successful assassination. Most of the rewriting was the work of Maj.-Gen. Henning von Tresckow, chief staff officer of Army Group Center and in many ways the mastermind of the conspiracy, as well as of a gravely wounded general staff officer sent home from North Africa for convalescence and reassigned to the General Army Office on Bendlerstrasse: Col. (GS) Claus Schenk, Count von Stauffenberg. It was this fascinating man (I cannot do justice to Peter Hoffmann’s biography by selective quoting) who would eventually carry out the doomed attempt.

Operation Flash, Episode 1, describes an alternate timeline in which a previous plot, Rudolf von Gersdorff’s attempted suicide bombing at the Berlin Arsenal on March 21, 1943 had succeeded. (The one other departure from actual timeline I allowed myself is that the Valkyrie rewrite had been completed earlier than actually happened in our timeline.) Then the conspirators — despite extensive preparations for and political discussions about “the day after Hitler”, in both timelines — discover that killing the Führer and the Reichsführer-SS was actually the easy part.

Normally, Episode 2 would have been released today, but life and day job got in the way. I have just received the annotated rough draft from my editor, and am now aiming for a mid-August release.

Let me end this post on a musical note. Beethoven wrote this composition as incidental music for Goethe’s play Egmont, about the Flemish count who stood up against a different tyrant and paid with his life for it. His name is still remember in the Lowlands to this day as a fighter for freedom of religion and a martyr for (what ultimately became) Dutch independence.

Cover Reveal: “Operation Flash, Episode 1”

No, I have not dropped off the internet 🙂 but things have been extremely busy both at work and in my little writing studio.

The first installment of my alternate history project, “Operation Flash”, just came back from copy editing. It will hit the virtual bookshelves of Amazon any day now: Episode 2 is 80% written already, and I have plans for at least Episode 3. I am planning for Episode 2 to be released sometime in June, and Episode 3 sometime in August.

The following cover was produced by “Covers Girl” (one of the many monikers of Sarah A. Hoyt):

Cover for Operation Flash, Episode 1

On March 21, 1943, one man came within a hairbreadth of blowing up nearly the entire Nazi leadership.

In timeline DE1943RG, he succeeded.

Then the conspirators discovered that killing Hitler and his chief henchmen was the easy part.

COMING SOON TO AMAZON KINDLE:

OPERATION FLASH, Episode 1.

Eerily prescient 1907 poem by Stefan George: “Der Widerchrist”

This poem was written in 1907 by the German symbolist and “national renewal” poet Stefan George. It is as if he was prescient about what would happen in his own country in 1933. Or perhaps he simply understood a timeless truth about human nature: the attraction of a charismatic flimflam artist or ideology, and how they can lead a nation astray and asunder.

Those who have read Peter Hoffmann’s priceless biography of the Stauffenberg brothers Berthold and Claus will be aware they were both members of Stefan George’s inner circle. And indeed, Claus would countless times refer to this poem whenever Hitler [y”sh] was being discussed.

Here is Peter Viereck‘s verse translation, and below that follows the German original.

The Anti-Christ
He comes from the mountain, he stands in the grove!
Our own eyes have seen it: the wine that he wove
From water, the corpses he wakens.
O could you but hear it, at midnight my laugh:
My hour is striking; come step in my trap;
Now into my net stream the fishes.
The masses mass madder, both numbskull and sage;
They root up the arbors, they trample the grain;
Make way for the new Resurrected.
I’ll do for you everything heaven can do.
A hair-breadth is lacking – your gape too confused
To sense that your senses are stricken.
I make it all facile, the rare and the earned;
Here’s something like gold (I create it from dirt)
And something like scent, sap, and spices –
And what the great prophet himself never dared:
The art without sowing to reap out of air
The powers still lying fallow.
The Lord of the Flies is expanding his Reich;
All treasures, all blessings are swelling his might . . .
Down, down with the handful who doubt him!
Cheer louder, you dupes of the ambush of hell;
What’s left of life-essence, you squander its spells
And only on doomsday feel paupered.
You’ll hang out your tongues, but the trough has been drained;
You’ll panic like cattle whose farm is ablaze . . .
And dreadful the blast of the trumpet.

Stefan George’s original:

DER WIDERCHRIST
Dort kommt er vom Berge · dort steht er im Hain!
Wir sahen es selber · er wandelt in Wein
Das Wasser und spricht mit den Toten.‹
O könntet ihr hören mein Lachen bei Nacht:
Nun schlug meine Stunde · nun füllt sich das Garn ·
Nun strömen die Fische zum Hamen.
Die weisen die Toren – toll wälzt sich das Volk ·
Entwurzelt die Bäume · zerklittert das Korn ·
Macht Bahn für den Zug des Erstandnen.
Kein Werk ist des Himmels das ich euch nicht tu.
Ein Haarbreit nur fehlt und ihr merkt nicht den Trug
Mit euren geschlagenen Sinnen.
Ich schaff euch für alles was selten und schwer
Das Leichte · ein Ding das wie Gold ist aus Lehm ·
Wie Duft ist und Saft ist und Würze –
Und was sich der grosse Profet nicht getraut:
Die Kunst ohne roden und säen und baun
Zu saugen gespeicherte Kräfte.
Der Fürst des Geziefers verbreitet sein reich ·
Kein Schatz der ihm mangelt · kein Glück das ihm weicht ..
Zu grund mit dem Rest der Empörer!
Ihr jauchzet · entzückt von dem teuflischen Schein ·
Verprasset was blieb von dem früheren Seim
Und fühlt erst die Not vor dem Ende.
Dann hängt ihr die Zunge am trocknenden Trog ·
Irrt ratlos wie Vieh durch den brennenden Hof ..
Und schrecklich erschallt die Posaune.

 

Saturday the 13th: Tale of another failed Hitler assassination

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the question: “why didn’t anybody try to kill Hitler” (y”sh), I’d have a tidy sum of money. In truth, depending on how you define an attempt, there have been over forty events that may qualify, over a dozen of which became serious. Four of the latter came within a hairbreadth of succeeding. In reverse chronological order, they are:

  • the July 20, 1944 plot (a.k.a. Operation Valkyrie)
  • Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff’s attempted suicide bombing on March 21, 1943, which I have blogged about here and fictionalized here. This one would have been a decapitation strike on the regime top, rather than a one-target assassination
  • Henning von Tresckow and Fabian von Schlabrendorff’s attempted bombing of the Führer’s plane on March 13, 1943, about which today’s blog post
  • Georg Elser‘s time bomb at the Bürgerbraukeller, November 8, 1939 — about which a future blog post

All would-be assassins had to find ways to circumvent elaborate security measures, that only got more stringent with every known attempt. By the time of the war, there were three concentric protection circles — not counting ad hoc deployment of Gestapo, SS, and SD:

  • outer perimeter security of the Wolfsschanze/Wolf’s Lair and other forward headquarters was assured by a battalion from the elite Grossdeutschland motorized infantry division: this Führerbegleitbatallion (Leader escort battalion) grew into a regiment with tanks, armored carriers, and anti-aircraft guns, and eventually (after Hitler holed up for the last time in his Berlin bunker) was sent to the front as a division.
  • inner security was provided the Reichssicherheitsdienst  (RSD) of up to a few hundred trained police and security personnel (not to be confused with the Sicherheitsdienst or SD, which was the SS’s domestic and foreign intelligence apparatus), which protected not just Hitler but other top Nazi functionaries. Its commander  Hans Rattenhuber was also the overall security chief.
  • finally, 8-12 trusted bodyguards recruited from the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler (the 1st Waffen SS regiment, later a division) provided the closest-in security, and did double duty as valets and messengers. This Führerbegleitkommando answered to the Führer directly, in practice to his chief adjutant Julius Schaub. A number of those stayed with their master in the bunker to the last.

Gersdorff recalls in his memoirs, Soldat im Untergang/Soldier In The Downfall, that, when a senior officer pulled out his handkerchief as he had a cold, an RSD agent grasped his hand while it was in his pocket and brought it up very slowly, then only let go when he was certain it only contained an innocuous object.

Col. (GS) [**] Henning von Tresckow, the Ia Staff Officer (Operations) of Army Group Center, and his adjutant, Lt. Fabian von Schlabrendorff (who happened to be Tresckow’s cousin), had been convinced since the autumn of 1941 that Hitler had to be removed, if need be by assassination. While they were unabashed German nationalists and outright anticommunists, the mass murder of Jews and other civilians by SS “task forces” (Einsatzkommandos) had been a bridge too far — especially once Tresckow and his aide discovered that these were not isolated war crimes by rogue units, but part and parcel of a systematic policy handed down from the top itself. Gradually and carefully, Tresckow and Schlabrendorff gathered a group of conspirators around them, with the Ic Staff Officer (Intelligence) Col. (GS) von Gersdorff as an early recruit.

When the Führer was to fly to Army Group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte) headquarters near Smolensk, a plan formed in the conspirators’ minds. If only they could smuggle a bomb with a time fuse on board of the Führer’s personal FW 200 “Condor” before it flew back, that could circumvent many of the problems with a shooting or grenade attack.

Gersdorff, via his contacts in the Abwehr (military intelligence) headquarters (where another group of conspirators went all the way to the top), had managed to get hold of a stock of captured British “Nobel 808” plastic explosives — more powerful and reliable than anything in their own arsenal — and of so-called “time pencil” detonators, which make no sizzling or ticking noise. The available time pencils came in 10 minute, 30 minutes, and 2 hours variants. The image below, from the US National Archives, illustrates their mechanism:

bombe-s-zuenderk

Briefly: on the inside of a soft metal housing was a glass vial with a strong acid. The pencil was primed by bending or applying strong pressure, which crushed the vial. The acid would burn through a thin metal wire that held back a spring, to which a striker pin was attached. The striker pin would hit a detonator cap, which finally would set off the explosive. The duration of the process will be determined by the concentration of the acid and the thickness (and composition) of the wire. In cold weather, of course, the chemical reaction will be slowed down…

Tresckow and Schlabrendorff did do their homework: in between their extensive staff officer duties, they managed to carry out thorough experiments with the explosives and fuses. They discovered that cold weather could extend the stated time of the time pencils by over 100%, but that they were otherwise quite reliable, and that about a kilogram of explosive should be adequate to blow the Condor’s fuselage to bits.

They prepared an explosive parcel disguised as two bottles of Cointreau liqueur, which contained about 2 kg of Nobel 808.

At any rate—while Hitler (and/or Rattenhuber?) were notorious for changing movement plans at the last minute, two planes carrying Hitler, his entourage, and his close-in protection detail did duly land on Saturday, March 13, 1943. (One was the dictator’s personal Focke-Wulf 200 Condor illustrated below — not the Junkers 52 shown in the opening scenes of the movie “Valkyrie”. [*])

FW 200

Schlabrendorff, in his memoirs Offizieren gegen Hitler (see also here in English), recounts  that during the dinner following the briefing, the dictator would only eat food prepared by his own cook, then taste-tested before his eyes by his personal physician Theodor Morell. “The proceedings reminded one of an oriental despot of bygone ages.” (F. v. S.)

Tresckow approached one of Hitler’s closest aides, Col. Heinz Brandt, if he could do him a favor: he owed his friend Gen. Hellmuth Stieff two bottles of liquor because he had lost a bet with him, and if Col. Brandt would be so kind as to deliver it to him? This being a not uncommon request among staff officers, Brandt agreed. Schlabrendorff, being Tresckow’s aide, was asked to bring the liquor to the plane.

Once Schlabrendorff saw Hitler board the plane, he surreptitiously primed the 30-minute time pencil he had earlier selected, and handed the package over to Brandt — who boarded the same plane as Hitler (otherwise Schlabrendorff would have had to come up with a last-minute excuse that it wasn’t the right parcel, or something).

The plane took off for Rastenburg, East Prussia (presently Ketrzyn, Poland) — the location of the Wolf’s Lair — and the conspirators gave a coded heads-up to their co-conspirators in Berlin. The next code word would follow once a signal had come to the HQ’s communications room that the plane had crashed.

The pair waited anxiously — then a signal came in that the plane had duly arrived at Rastenburg.

Gen. Stieff would later join the conspirators, but was not (yet) in on the plan, so if he started opening the bottles, he would be in for quite a ‘spirited’ surprise. So Schlabrendorff traveled to Rastenburg himself and told Col. Brandt that there had been a mixup: he had been given the wrong bottles (Cointreau), so if he wouldn’t mind giving them back and trading them for the right bottles (Cognac)?

Brandt suspected nothing, and the substitution was made with a smile. Schlabrendorff made his way to the nearby railroad exchange, and there caught a night train to Berlin.

Once in his sleeper compartment, he locked the door and very cautiously, with a razor blade, excised the failed detonator from the explosive charge and started disassembling it.

As it turned out, the glass was broken, the wire had been eaten through despite the cold, and the striker had been released.

Only the percussion cap, for the first time ever in all their experience, had failed to fire.

The English school children’s rhyme of old comes to mind:

For want of a nail a horseshoe was lost,
for want of a horseshoe a horse went lame,
for want of a horse a rider never got through,
for want of a rider a message never arrived,
for want of a message an army was never sent,
for want of an army a battle was lost,
for want of a battle a war was lost,
for want of a war a kingdom fell,
and all for want of a nail.

Or “all for the want of a percussion cap”, the war dragged on for two more years and many millions more were slain.

[*] Update: according to “Guarding Hitler” by Mark Felton, the second plane was also a Condor, but without the armored compartment (12mm steel, 50mm bulletproof glass) and parachute seat for the Führer.

Apparently, the first plane was taken up for a 10- or 15-minute test flight before every trip with the Führer. This would also have set off any bomb with a barometric fuse, had one been smuggled aboard.

[**] Note about ranks: Both Tresckow and Gersdorff’s formal ranks were Oberst i. G., in full Oberst im Generalstabsdienst: Colonel in General Staff service. I have rendered this as Col. (GS). Permanent assignment to the general staff was indicated by red vertical trouser stripes (“Lampassen”) in the uniform.

Valkyrie Day post: “The Tenth Righteous Man”

Sixty-four years ago to this day, a German general staff officer named Claus Schenk, Count von Stauffenberg led an attempt to assassinate the Führer (y”sh) and effect regime change. His attempt was the last of many, and failed through a minor coincidence. The former Bendler Street in downtown Berlin, where once the plotters worked, is today known as Stauffenberg Street: a memorial to the German anti-nazi resistance stands there now. The biography by McGill U. historian Peter Hoffmann makes for fascinating reading.

Many had tried and failed before Stauffenberg: three came within a hairbreadth of succeeding, as he himself would.

The “lone wolf” carpenter and master clockmaker Georg Elser managed to install a powerful time bomb behind the speaker’s rostrum at the hall where his target was scheduled to give an annual memorial speech for the ‘old comrades’ who fell in the attempted 1923 “Beer Hall Putsch”. (Elser had gone to work at a quarry so he could gradually purloin the required dynamite.) Only a last-minute  schedule change because of predicted foul weather thwarted the attempt: the bomb went off twelve minutes after the speaker had left, and killed at least a dozen people.

Later, two general staff officers succeeded in smuggling a time bomb aboard the Führer’s personal plane, disguised as a gift of liqueur from one general staff officer to his colleague in Berlin. The detonator failed, presumably because of the cold weather: the plotters were able to extricate their own bomb and go undetected.

The third, the attempted suicide bombing by Col. Rudolf Freiherr [=Baron] von Gersdorff, was unique in that, if it had succeeded, it would have been a ‘decapitation strike’ against nearly the entire apex of the Nazi state. I wrote a fictionalized version of this incredible tale as the first story in this anthology:

(the entire story appears in the preview). It is a classic illustration of the adage that history can be stranger than fiction. In brief: an exhibit of captured Soviet armaments had been organized in Berlin (at the building that today houses the German Historica Museum). As an additional morale booster, the grand opening was to be attended not just by the Führer himself but by Goering, Navy commander Adm. Doenitz, and SS-chief Himmler. Gersdorff (the intelligence officer of Army Group Center) managed to get himself assigned as the senior guide to the exhibition, and carried two captured British time bombs in his pocket. He set off the fuses and started guiding the VIPs on their tour, expecting the fuses to go off, killing his guests and himself. However, whether from boredom or through a long-standing habit of throwing wild-cards into his schedule and movements, Hitler left the exhibit after a few minutes. Gersdorff was quite willing to die but not to throw away his life for nothing, and thus excused himself to a bathroom where he managed to defuse his two bombs just in time. Unbetrayed by his comrades even under the vilest tortures, Gersdorff survived the war and lived to tell the tale, and to become the founder of Germany’s largest volunteer ambulance service.

[He had actually] offered his services to the Bundeswehrafter the war, but was blackballed as a ‘traitor’, being as he had sworn personal allegiance to the man-monster he had tried to murder. By our lights, he had merely tried to defend ‘against all enemies, foreign and domestic’.

[…]Gersdorff was no plaster saint: he loved the good life, particularly horseback riding, and appears to have taken the trappings of his aristocratic background for granted. On the other hand, noblesse obligewas clearly no mere phrase for him, but an ideal for which he was prepared to pay the ultimate price.

He was not merely a nobleman in title. More importantly, he was a man noble in spirit.

Today in History: Operation Valkyrie (July 20, 1944)

66 years ago to the day, a group of German military officers and civilians lead by Col. Klaus Schenk, Count Stauffenberg tried to put an end to the Hitler (y”sh) regime. In a unique example in modern history, the leader of the coup attempted the assassination with his own hand. Due to a quirk of fate, their target survived the bomb meant for him. Stauffenberg soldiered on regardless, to no avail: eventually, many conspirators paid the ultimate price, Stauffenberg among the first.

Here is the closing scene of the movie “Valkyrie”. Despite my apprehension about anything coming out of Hollywood, and about Tom Cruise (who does have a vague physical resemblance to the historic Stauffenberg), I can only say that the movie displays an almost astonishing level of historical accuracy (at least by Hollywood standards).

By a quirk of the calendar, July 20 this year falls on Tisha Be-Av, the day Jews commemorate a long litany of calamities that befell the Jewish people on or around that day. Had the assassination succeeded, it is quite likely that the “Final Solution” machinery would have ground to a halt and that a large part of the Jews of Hungary would have escaped its mauls.

Some historians have tried to make Stauffenberg into something he wasn’t. He was an unapologetic German imperialist and militarist, an elitist with little use for democracy as we understand it, and approved to some degree of Nazi racial doctrines even though he considered their implementation “exaggerated” and “excessive”.  In short, he was not a saint. But let us honor his memory for what he really was: somebody who, in a place where there were no men, strove to be one (במקום שאין בו אנשים השטדל להיות איש). And let us likewise honor those who stood and fell with him.