Escape from the Bunker

At 5.30pm 30 April 1945, Weidling appeared in Hitler’s bunker. Goebbels informed him of Hitler’s death and of the composition of the new government. Bormann, Goebbels, Axmann, Krebs, Burgdorf, Weidling, Mohnke, Günsche and Naumann took part in the ensuing conference at which they discussed the plans for breaking out of the Chancellery or for asking the Russians for a temporary ceasefire. After much wavering, the second plan was adopted. It was decided that the Head of the Operations Department on Weidling’s staff, Colonel Dufving, should be sent as an envoy to the nearest Russian command post.

At 7.30pm that evening Dufving left the bunker and passed through the German lines around the Chancellery to the Russians. At around 11.00 he was back. He reported that the Russians would not listen to him as he was not carrying any authority on him. That same night Goebbels and Bormann despatched Krebs to the Russian High Command, where he was meant to negotiate as Chief of the General Staff. His return was impatiently awaited.

This extract from The History of the Grossdeutschland Panzer Corps records:

Major Lehnhoff gave orders to this combat team of the Grossdeutschland Guard Regiment to assemble at 2300 hours on the 1st May in Kastanienallee to break out to the west via Rathenow.

The remaining vehicles were tanked up, millions of Reichsmark coins were shared out among the men, the last rations issued, and then away. The break through the Soviet lines was made at the Schönhauser Allee station, where Stalin-Organs and tank fire inflicted heavy casualties. With five tanks and 68 men Major Lehnhoff broke out of the city toward Oranienburg, where unfortunately the tanks had to be blown up because of breakdowns. Divided into four groups the men then pushed on toward the Elbe and Schleswig-Holstein.

When Linge emerged from his billet on the morning of 1 May, he ran into Goebbels in the bunker’s antechamber. After they had said hello, Goebbels said in a hoarse voice, ‘Tell me, Linge–could you not have stopped the Führer from committing suicide?’ Linge riposted, ‘Herr Doctor, if you could not manage it, how do you think I would have been able to do so?’ Goebbels went on, ‘I have had a horrible night. I have also decided to bring my life to an end; but it is a very difficult moment. I have been arguing with myself for ages, but I lack the courage.’

At around midday Krebs returned with the news that the Russian High Command demanded unconditional surrender. At 6.00 p.m. Burgdorf summoned SS-Major General Wilhelm Mohnke and Günsche to the New Chancellery bunker. Weidling and Dufving were already present. When Mohnke and Günsche entered, Weidling was just taking a piece of paper out of his pocket and telling Dufving, ‘Oh, before I forget, the Führer had promoted you colonel. Congratulations.’ On a little table Weidling laid out a city plan of Berlin. He informed Mohnke and Günsche that the remnants of the Berlin garrison were going to make an attempt to break through the Russian lines and escape from Berlin that evening at 10.00. After he had gone into certain details he asked Mohnke which direction he was thinking of taking with his battle group. Mohnke showed him on the map his planned route to the north-west via Tegel. The meeting then came to an end, and Mohnke and Günsche left the room. From the other side they heard loud hammer blows: the radio station and the telephone exchange of Führer HQ were being destroyed in accordance with instructions.

Mohnke went back to his command post to prepare the order for the break-out. Günsche informed Linge, Schädle, Högl and Kempka that the garrison was planning to escape that evening. He told Bormann, Voss, Hewel and Stumpfegger that they should make themselves ready to depart. He also informed the women–Frau Christian, Frau Junge, Fräulein Krüger and Fräulein Manziarly–who had not taken Hitler’s advice to kill themselves. They elected to go with the men.

At 8.00 p.m. Günsche, Linge, Schädle and Kempka went to Mohnke’s command post. The soldiers of the battle group lay in the corridors, passages and rooms of the New Chancellery bunker on chests, on benches or on the ground. They slept in the most unnatural positions with their steel helmets and weapons at their sides, exhausted by the endless heavy fighting. Between them lay the wounded, groaning. At short intervals, when Russian artillery fire slackened off, the latter were carried off in stretchers to the hospital that had been set up in the cellar of the half-bombed-out Hotel Adlon on the Linden. Those who had already expired from their wounds were carried into the Chancellery garden to be buried. The stream of wounded men never ceased. Wild screams of agony and groans rang out in all the rooms. Tobacco smoke, sulphur, carbolic and the stench of overflowing lavatories mixed with the stale air. It was enough to make one throw up.

Axmann, Naumann, Albrecht, Rattenhuber and several officers from the battle group had already made their way to Mohnke’s command post. Mohnke read out the order to escape, which also decreed by what stages the Chancellery was to be evacuated. The first group was to be commanded by Mohnke himself. It was to be composed of Günsche, Hewel, Voss, Frau Christian, Frau Junge, Fräulein Krüger and Fräulein Manziarly, as well as Hitler’s Escort Company under the command of Obersturmführer Doose. The second group, under the command of Naumann, was to comprise Bormann, Schach, officials of the Berlin Nazi Party and a Volkssturm battalion from the Propaganda Ministry. The third group, headed by Kempka, was made up of Linge, the soldier-servants, Hitler’s bodyguard and the Chancellery drivers. A fourth group was commanded by Hitler’s personal adjutant, Brigadeführer Albrecht, and consisted of the staff of Hitler’s adjutants. The fifth group under Rattenhuber was made up of Baur, Betz, Högl and the members of the SD. The sixth group led by Axmann was composed of 200 Berlin boys whom he had brought into the bunker a few days before to get Hitler out of Berlin. When Hitler had refused their services, Axmann kept them on for his own use.

The break-out was to go ahead according to the following plan: after leaving the Chancellery the six groups were to take the U-Bahn tunnel to Kaiserhof station, and from there proceed as far as possible towards Wedding. In small groups they could use the side streets to get past the Stettin station and Tegel and move in a north-westerly direction to reach the German forces fighting there.

Günsche left Mohnke’s command post to inform Linge, Schädle, Kempka and Högl of the details of the escape plans. At 10.00 p.m. Günsche said goodbye to Hitler’s ADC Burgdorf and the Chief of the General Staff, Krebs. They did not wish to take part in the escape attempt, but preferred to shoot themselves in the cour d’honneur at the moment the Russians came in. Burgdorf explained, ‘As a young officer in 1918 I lived through the defeat of Germany in the First World War. I was young then and full of strength. Now I am too old and too dispirited.’ Then Günsche took his leave of the Gestapo Chief, SS-Gruppenführer Müller, who told him that he was going to shoot himself in the Chancellery, as he had no desire at all to fall into Russian hands alive.

Günsche next went to Goebbels to say a last adieu to him and his wife. Frau Goebbels was sitting in a chair in the depths of despair. She just stretched her hand out silently to Günsche and withdrew into Goebbels’s bedroom. Goebbels’s face was ashen. He was almost inaudible when he spoke: ‘I am going to shoot myself with my wife here in the bunker. I hope that you get out of Berlin safely.’ Goebbels took out a cigarette, gave Günsche his hand and likewise disappeared into his bedroom.

Now Günsche went across into the New Chancellery bunker. The groups had assembled there at 9.30 for the break-out. At 10.00 Goebbels’s adjutant Schwägemann and the valet Ochs came from Hitler’s bunker to join their group. They told Linge the following: Goebbels and his wife had shot themselves a few minutes before in the bunker. Naumann, Schwägermann, Ochs and others had soaked the bodies with benzene in Goebbels’s bedroom and set fire to them.ix After that they had problems getting out of the bunker themselves as the fierce draught that had been unleashed by the flames had made the armour-plated door slam shut.

A few hours before, at 4.00 p.m., when Linge was still in Hitler’s bunker, Hitler’s doctor Stumpfegger had performed the task assigned to him by Goebbels and had killed his five children, mixing poison into their coffee. Frau Goebbels waited for Stumpfegger outside the door. When he came out, he nodded to her as a sign that the children had been poisoned. She fainted and two SS men from Hitler’s bodyguard carried her back to her husband’s bedroom.

Around 2,000 people left the Chancellery. Most of them were armed with machine guns, automatic pistols, revolvers and anti-tank weapons. They left with the Mohnke Battle Group, which was composed of some 3,000 men and several Tiger tanks, self-propelling guns, anti-tank guns, mine-throwers and heavy machine guns. The hospital remained in the New Chancellery bunker under the direction of Professor Haase.

#

Mohnke, who was in charge of the Führerbunker group, failed to liaise with SS-Major General Dr Gustav Krukenberg commanding the 11th SS Nordland Panzergrenadier Division in this area, so considerable confusion resulted.

The Führerbunker group, which was split into ten smaller groups, had set off at ten-minute intervals with the intention of following the U- and S-Bahn tunnels as far as the Stettiner railway station (now the Nordbahnhof) some 1,200 metres due north of the Spree. From there they would march as far as the Gesundbrunnen station, another 2,000 metres, and there split up to make their individual way to find the German forces via Neuruppin.

However, when the leading group under Mohnke, which included Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, reached the level of the Spree, they found their way blocked by a waterproof steel door guarded by two railway men, who refused to let them through. The door was regularly locked between the last train at night and the first in the morning, and although no trains had passed for a week, the watchmen were sticking to their orders. Amazingly, the group complied, turning back to emerge above ground at the Friedrichstrasse station.

The Weidendammer bridge was blocked by a German anti-tank barrier and was being shelled by the Soviets, so they cut their way through the barbed wire blocking the footbridge integrated under the near side of the still intact railway bridge and made their way across the river. Following an encounter with Soviet troops at Lehrter station (site of the present Hauptbahnhof), Martin Bormann and his companion, SS Colonel Dr Ludwig Stumpfegger, committed suicide, realising the hopelessness of their situation. Their remains were not found and identified until 1972.

Meanwhile other groups started arriving at the Friedrichstrasse station, some having come above ground, and attracted Soviet attention, so that searchlights and artillery fire were directed at the crossing. SS-Major General Krukenberg had been caught unprepared and decided to use those of his troops immediately available to force a break-out. A Königstiger with a damaged turret led the way, smashing through the anti-tank barrier on the bridge, closely followed by five armoured personnel carriers and then a mass of soldiers and civilians. However, by then the Soviets were waiting in ambush for them. All the armoured vehicles were destroyed and hundreds of people killed. Only a few survivors managed to get through with Krukenberg. SS-Sergeant Major Willi Rogmann wrote:

Meanwhile we were all waiting for Mohnke in vain. I went around the crowd and met some people I had not seen for years, but it was no time to chat, we were all too concerned with what might await us.

Then at last there was some movement. A lone Königstiger tank rolled up noisily with a defective track. I crossed the Spree and stopped a short distance behind the barricade there, whose right-hand side was open. Then a self-propelled gun and an armoured personnel carrier drew up behind it side by side. Next five armoured personnel carriers drew up and lined up behind the others. In the second one I could see a figure in a cap and overcoat, whom in the darkness I took to be Mohnke. . . .

The officer I had taken for Mohnke was in fact SS-Major Ternedde, commander of the Norge Regiment of the Nordland, and all the vehicles were from that division. . . .

The armoured vehicles started moving forward and we formed up right across the street beyond the barricade. The first rank consisted of machine gunners with their weapons on slings, all carrying 50-round drum magazines. Apart from my machine gunner, I and my men followed in the second rank.

The armoured vehicles speeded up. We followed in quick time, but could not keep up and soon lost contact. We then came under infantry fire from the windows of the buildings on the right side of the street and all the machine gunners returned the fire, spraying the front of the buildings. The din caused by a hundred machine guns firing simultaneously was enough to burst one’s eardrums. Now tanks opened up on us from either side. . . .

There was no sense of leadership in this mob. There were no responsible officers. My men only obeyed me because they knew me and trusted me. They had only to catch my eye and signal, for shouting was no good in this din, to follow my orders. Literally thousands of people were thrusting blindly forward behind us. I had never seen such a primitive form of attack, being used to an empty battlefield in modern warfare. This was utter nonsense.

They were not just Waffen-SS behind us, and not just soldiers, but even officers with their wives, even my former company commander SS-Lieutenant von Puttkamer with his heavily pregnant wife.

Meanwhile we had reached the level of Ziegelstrasse on our right, which was now full of Russian tanks that must have been alerted to our impending break-out by their scouts. With our incomprehensible long waiting we had given them plenty of time to form up, although the tank had been able to slip through, if a bit damaged. But the self-propelled gun and one of the armoured personnel carriers had been shot up as the other armoured vehicles passed through, as I saw no other wrecks around.

The Russians fired into our packed ranks as we stumbled forward without regard for our dead and wounded. My group was now in the lead. Then we came under fire from tanks in Johannisstrasse on our right, and the effect of high explosive shells bursting in our ranks was simply terrible. The advance came to a halt and thousands of people started streaming back. I had never seen such a fiasco.

However, we did not go with them. It was obvious that there would be another attempt, so we vanished like lightning into the buildings on our left, where we were safe. As we had been right in front, no one could prevent us stepping aside as we did. We were right in front because in an attack that is the safest place to be, as experienced front-line soldiers know.

So far my own men had suffered no casualties and were still sticking together. We waited for the inevitable second attempt, which was preceded by an armoured personnel carrier firing on all sides as it raced toward us, but it was only hastening to its fate, for it stopped and burst into flames, blocking the street for the other armoured vehicles following.

As those on foot reached us, we jumped out to resume the lead. The street now lay full of dead and wounded, the armoured vehicles racing over them. While under cover in the buildings, we had met up with some experienced men from the Nordland and even some parachutists. Enemy tanks appeared in front of us again and we tried to creep up under their fire to knock them out in order to get past, but fresh tanks appeared behind them from the right and sprayed those in front with machine-gun fire, the ricochets causing heavy casualties among us. Practically the whole of my platoon was hit by this fire, which broke up the attack, sending the masses streaming back again.

We pulled our wounded into the cover of the buildings and bandaged them up as best we could. I used my bottle of schnapps to pour courage into them. I realised that the whole business was hopeless. The Russians had been reinforced and when another crowd moved up they were slaughtered before my eyes.

We did not take any further part in this massacre. I worked out that the leadership had driven off, abandoning us, so I owed them no further allegiance and must save my own life and those of my few remaining unwounded men. We had to leave our wounded behind, which made my heart bleed, for it was for the first time in this war.

#

Shortly after 10.00 p.m. the first group left the bunker under Mohnke’s orders. Besides eighty to a hundred soldiers there were Günsche, Hewel, Voss, the secretaries Frau Christian, Frau Junge and Fräulein Krüger, the diet cook Fräulein Manziarly and several officers from the Mohnke Battle Group. In small parties they crossed the New Chancellery’s cour d’honneur and went out on to the Wilhelmsplatz through the great arch before running to Kaiserhof U-Bahn station. From there they reached Friedrichstrasse station through the tunnel. The tunnels, and the stations above all, were crammed full of soldiers and civilians. Weeping children and hysterical, screaming women were everywhere, along with soldiers either uttering curses or giving orders. The situation at Friedrichstrasse station was particularly chaotic. Here the tunnels had been barricaded up and rendered impassable. One could get out only in small groups, as the exits were covered by Russian mortars.

One part of the Mohnke group was lost in the crowd. Mohnke with some of his people managed finally to leave the U-Bahn and get across the Weidendamm Bridge to the other side of the Spree. From there they made it through the courtyards of the Charité Hospital and, via connecting cellars, on to the Chausseestrasse. From there they passed the Maikäfer Barracks and arrived at Wedding station. The group had been reduced to twenty to twenty-five persons, including–besides Mohnke himself–Günsche, Hewel and the four women, Frau Christian, Frau Junge, Fräulein Krüger and Fräulein Manziarly. The streets were deserted and many houses were burning. This part of the city had suffered little shelling up to now. They unexpectedly ran into a brace of T-34 tanks which were controlling a crossroads and which fired on them with their machine guns, forcing them to retreat. They tried to negotiate the back streets, but without success. The little group was becoming noticeably smaller. In the end only Mohnke, Günsche, Hewel and the four women remained.

Before noon on 2 May they reached the big air-raid shelter next to the brewery on the Schönhauser Allee. This contained several hundred German soldiers from every sort of unit. The cellar housed the command post of 18th Panzer-Grenadier divisional commander General Major Josef Rauch and the commander of the 9th Parachute Division, Colonel Harry Herrmann. Together with Rauch and Herrmann and a few other officers, Mohnke and Günsche tried to redeploy the soldiers and continue the break-out. Gradually more and more officers and men from Mohnke’s battle group turned up, plus SS officers from Hitler’s bodyguard and the SD as well as several members of Hitler’s personal staff who had left with other groups. Among them was the head of the SD, Rattenhuber, who had been slightly injured in the leg.

At 3.00 p.m. Russian units approached the air-raid shelter in the Schönhauser Allee. Russian officers came to Rauch’s and Hermann’s command post and declared that the Berlin garrison had capitulated the night before.iz In order to avoid further bloodshed, they requested that the Germans lay down their arms and give themselves up. They asked Rauch and Hermann to accompany them to the nearest Russian staff post, where Berlin’s capitulation would be confirmed. Günsche advised Hitler’s secretaries and Fräulein Manziarly to leave the air-raid shelter and to break through on their own. They agreed and Mohnke gave Frau Christian a little sack filled with diamonds. The gems had been intended for the making of important medals, and it had been Burgdorf’s job to look after them. He had handed them to Mohnke when his group left the Chancellery.

At 4.00 p.m. Mohnke, Rauch and Günsche drove with one of the Russian officers to Russian army HQ. There a Russian general confirmed to them that Berlin’s Commandant, General Weidling, had capitulated during the night of 1 May. The general declared, ‘Now this horrible war has come to an end. We should all rejoice in that.’

Mohnke, Rauch and Günsche returned to the air-raid shelter escorted by the same officer. It was now 10.00 p.m. The remaining German officers and men had already given themselves up. The air-raid shelter and a few adjoining rooms were now occupied by the Russians. As Mohnke, Rauch and Günsche went in, they ran into Hewel, SS-Standartenführer Professor Schenck, a lieutenant colonel and several young officers who had hidden from the Russians in another room. Mohnke told them it was all over. Russian officers came in and demanded that they lay down their arms and follow them. At that moment Hewel whipped out his pistol and shot himself. The others handed over their weapons and followed the Russian officers.

The third group to break out, the one to which Kempka and Linge belonged, left the New Chancellery bunker at 10.30 p.m. It contained more SS men from Hitler’s bodyguard as well as his drivers and soldier-servants.

When Linge and Kempka and the group emerged into the Vossstrasse, the government district was being subjected to a continuous Russian artillery barrage. In the darkness only ruins were to be seen. Everywhere half-destroyed façades pointed up to the skies. Thick clouds of smoke billowed out of dark window-frames. On streets pitted by bombs and shells lay beams, bricks and pieces of masonry. The skies were bright from the reflections of so many fires. Linge, Kempka and the others ran past the ruins to the Wilhelmplatz U-Bahn station. From there they followed the tunnel to Stadtmitte station, before running across the ruined Friedrichstrasse to the station of that name. At the other end of the Weidendamm Bridge soldiers of the Mohnke Group were fighting the Russians, who were pinning them down with fire from houses in the Chausseestrasse. The German soldiers were trying to get through with the help of tanks, but they did not succeed.

Linge saw from the other side of the bridge how Bormann and Naumann jumped on to a German tank that was driving by, in order to get through the Russian lines. He also saw that a grenade was thrown at the tank. At the same time Albrecht, Högl and many members of Hitler’s adjutants’ pool were killed on the Weidendamm Bridge. Linge lost Kempka in the confusion and joined the rest of a troop of Mohnke’s battle group, which together with a hundred civilians managed to get through the U-Bahn tunnel from Friedrichstrasse to Seestrasse. Among them was the Assistant Gauleiter of Berlin, Schach.

On the morning of 2 May Russian soldiers informed this group too that Berlin had capitulated during the night. They requested that they give themselves up. Schach shot himself on the spot Linge and the other members of the group went into captivity.

On 8 May Germany capitulated. Here ended the epoch of the Third Reich, which according to Hitler should have lasted a thousand years. When he came to power he had promised the German people, ‘If I remain in power for ten years, you will no longer recognise Germany.’ And that was true: after Hitler’s rule Germany was no longer the same. It lay in ruins. Hitler himself had ended his life in suicide in terror of the Russians.

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