20 July 1944 and Aftermath III

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20 July 1944 and Aftermath III

Hitler narrowly escaped death as a result of Stauffenberg’s bomb. He was baddly shaken, but alive. Here staff officer’s celebrate his survival. He lost his hearing in one ear. Notice how he is holding his right hand because it was trembling uncontrollably. His survival meant that the War would continue another 10 months. Most of the damage to Germany occurred during this 10 month period. We arenot sure about all of the people pictured here. The man behind Hitler is probably his secretary Martin Boreman. The injured man is Field Marshall Keitel. In the background between Hitler and Keitel it looks like Speer. Source: Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.

Hitler took the first major step in radicalization within hours of surviving the bomb blast in his East Prussian headquarters in appointing Himmler to replace General Friedrich Fromm as Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army. The headquarters of the Replacement Army had been the epicentre of the plans for the intended coup d’état, and, despite his endeavours to prove his loyalty – once he knew Hitler had survived – by turning on the plotters and having Stauffenberg and three of his co-conspirators shot by a firing squad late in the evening of 20 July, Fromm was himself soon arrested and, some months later, executed. The Replacement Army was viewed as the Augean Stables that had to be cleansed. In Himmler, the man was at hand to take on this task.

Himmler had, in reality, failed as head of security in the Reich to protect Hitler from the assassination attempt or to uncover the plot that lay behind it. Hitler either ignored or overlooked these omissions in turning now to Himmler to place his stamp on a central office of the Wehrmacht. Himmler, as we noted, had already a foot in the door of the Replacement Army’s sphere of competence on gaining responsibility for ideological ‘education’ on 15 July. His influence was now, however, substantially extended as he brought under his aegis one of the most important positions within the Wehrmacht, on taking charge of armaments, army discipline, prisoners of war, reserve personnel and training. With the Replacement Army, almost 2 million men in conventional military service were placed under Himmler’s control. It was a significant addition to his already enormous range of powers.

Himmler’s impact was soon felt. He immediately countermanded Fromm’s orders of 20 July and started to fill the key positions in his new domain with trusted SS lieutenants, making the head of the SS operations head office (SS-Führungshauptamt), Hans Jüttner, his deputy in running the Replacement Army. He then embarked upon a series of pep-talks for army officers. While short on specifics, these speeches gave a clear impression of the changed climate.

As early as 21 July, Himmler addressed officers under his command as Chief of Army Armaments, an area which had now fallen within his own imperium. In 1918, he began, the revolt of the soldiers’ councils had cost Germany victory. This time, there was no danger of anything similar happening. The mass of the people, in bombed-out cities and factories, were of unprecedented ‘decency’ (one of Himmler’s favourite words) in their behaviour. But now, for the first time in history, a German colonel had broken his oath and struck at his supreme warlord. He knew it would come to this one day, he said, vaguely glossing over what he might have been expected to have gleaned of the background to the plot. The attempt to kill the Führer and overthrow the regime had been suppressed. But it had been a grave danger. It had been more like Honduras or South America than Germany. The previous afternoon, he had received the mandate from the Führer to restore order and take over the Home Army. He had accepted ‘as an unconditional follower of the Führer’ who had ‘never in my life been guilty of disloyalty and never will be’. He had taken on the task as a German soldier and not as the commander-in-chief of a rival organization, the Waffen-SS. He now had to clean up. He would, he went on, restore trust and bring about a return to values of loyalty, obedience and comradeship. It was sometimes necessary to go through hell, he declared, but the supreme leadership had strong nerves and knew how to act brutally when necessary. He ended by outlining the meaning of the war: confirmation of Germany as a world power; the creation of a Germanic Reich to grow to 120 millions; and a new order within that Reich. An ‘invasion from Asia’ would recur every fifty, hundred or two hundred years. But there would not always be an Adolf Hitler to help repel it. The necessity, therefore, was to prepare a bulwark against future attacks by colonizing the east through German settlement. ‘We shall learn to rule foreign peoples,’ he stated. ‘We would have to be deeply ashamed if we were now to become too weak.’

Two further speeches by Himmler to officers in the next few days had much the same tenor: the recourse to the baleful precedent of 1918, the fulfilment of duty this time by the people and almost all the army but the shame ‘a colonel’ had brought on the officers corps, the lack of loyalty of some officers, and the need for ruthless action against those guilty of cowardice. The emphasis was once more on the war aims that could not be given up – including, now, mastery over the Continent to afford protection in future wars through the extension of defence frontiers. The unbounded ruthlessness that was more than ever to become the Reichsführer-SS’s trademark in subsequent months was evident in his message to his liaison officer in Hitler’s headquarters, Hermann Fegelein, that at the sign of any disintegration among divisions serving in the east (which he put down to sedition spread by Communist infiltration) ‘reception detachments’ (Auffangkommandos) of ‘the most brutal commanders’ were to shoot ‘anyone opening his mouth’.

Himmler’s authority to intervene in what had hitherto been army matters was widened still further by another Führer decree on 2 August, giving the Reichsführer-SS powers, through radical restructuring, to inspect and ‘simplify’ (meaning reduce in size, producing savings in manpower) ‘the entire organizational and administrative basis of the army, the Waffen-SS, the police and the Organisation Todt’ to produce more manpower for the army. The last of these bodies, the OT, was the huge construction complex, whose massive workforce Speer had now agreed to expose to the Reichsführer-SS’s new powers for labour saving. Cuts in what he saw as a bloated army administration had been part of Himmler’s intention from the start, and he was able through his excisions to raise another 500,000 troops for the front and create fifteen Volksgrenadier (People’s Grenadiers) divisions from new recruits. With this new authority, Himmler was now a party to the power-struggle at the top of the regime for control of the new total-war drive.

Goebbels was a second key winner from the events of 20 July. The crucial role that he had played in crushing the uprising in Berlin was acknowledged by Hitler. Under the impact of the attack on his life, and the shock to the system that this represented, Hitler was now at last prepared to grant to his Propaganda Minister the position that Goebbels had been seeking for well over a year, and finally make him Reich Plenipotientiary for the Total War Effort.

The meeting of ministers or their representatives chaired by Lammers that took place on 22 July, a day later than had originally been arranged, amounted practically to a ritual acclamation of Goebbels as the new total-war supremo. At the very outset of the meeting, Lammers – safe in the knowledge that the Reich Chancellery, over which he presided, had been exempted by Hitler from any inroads into its personnel – proposed the Propaganda Minister for the task of mobilizing the civilian sector. Keitel, Bormann and all others present supported the proposition. Goebbels spoke for an hour, portraying the issue as threefold: providing new manpower through cutting back on Wehrmacht administration, drastically reducing the state bureaucracy, and a vaguely couched ‘reform of public life’. The Party, Goebbels acknowledged, did not fall within his purview. That was Bormann’s domain, for him alone to handle. Combing out the military sector was also ruled out of the proposed operations. This was set aside for the new Commander-in-Chief of the Replacement Army, Heinrich Himmler.

Speer, who had tried hard in mid-July to press for total war, found himself now largely on the sidelines. His memorandum of 12 July, received, on Hitler’s instructions, only little attention to prevent the meeting becoming immersed in detail. When Speer spoke, in fact, the figures he gave for potential savings from state bureaucracy were immediately contradicted by Lammers and the State Secretary in the Reich Ministry of the Interior, Wilhelm Stuckart. Vested interests came into play straight away as Stuckart emphasized how little spare capacity for manpower savings existed in the state bureaucracy. Goebbels steered the meeting away from a likely descent into detail and back to the general issue. For the Propaganda Minister, as he plainly stated, total war was ‘not only a material, but especially a psychological problem’, and he acknowledged that some of the measures taken would ‘in part have merely optical character’. Ideological mobilization was, as ever, his chief concern. The meeting ended, predictably, with Lammers agreeing to propose Goebbels for the position as Plenipotentiary next day, when most of those present would gather again to report to Hitler at his East Prussian headquarters.

Goebbels was happy. ‘All those taking part’, he jotted in his diary,

are of the opinion that the Führer must provide the most extensive plenipotentiary powers, on the one hand for the Wehrmacht, on the other for the state and public life. Himmler is proposed for the Wehrmacht, I, myself, for the state and public life. Bormann is to get corresponding full powers to engage the Party in this great totalizing process, and Speer has already received the powers to intensify the armaments process.

When the meeting reassembled in Hitler’s presence the following afternoon, Göring and Himmler were also in attendance. Göring protested in vain at yet a further diminution of his power in handing Himmler responsibility for matters which should properly, he claimed, be those of the commanders-in-chief of the Wehrmacht. Hitler intervened to back Himmler. The resulting experience could then be utilized by Göring and Grand-Admiral Karl Dönitz, who, as Commanders-in-Chief of the Luftwaffe and Navy, continued to be responsible for their own domains. The compromise was accepted. For the rest, Hitler, who had evidently carefully read Goebbels’ memorandum of 18 July, backed the Propaganda Minister and the proposal for drastic new measures in the total-war effort. ‘The Führer declares that there is no further use in debating specific points,’ Goebbels recorded. ‘Something fundamental has to be done or we can’t win this war.’ Hitler’s position, he noted, was ‘very radical and incisive’. In what would become a cliché in the last months, Hitler spoke of the new radicalization as a return to the Party’s roots. Characteristically, too, he played on the populist assumption ‘that the people wanted a total war in the most comprehensive fashion and that we cannot contradict the will of the people in the long run’. Goebbels was delighted at the outcome, and at Hitler’s changed approach. ‘It is interesting to observe’, he commented, ‘how the Führer has changed since my last talk with him on the Obersalzberg [on 21 June]. Events, especially on the day of the assassination attempt and those on the eastern front, have brought him to the clarity of the decisions.’

Two days later, on 25 July, Hitler signed the decree making Goebbels Plenipotentiary for Total War. Goebbels was elated over his triumph – a far greater success, he claimed, than he had imagined. His press secretary, Wilfred von Oven, thought he was now ‘the first man in the Third Reich after Hitler’. Three times in his diary the Propaganda Minister himself spoke of ‘an internal war dictatorship’, implying that this, his coveted goal, would now be in his hands. It was a fine conceit, but Goebbels was aware that he would remain, if with strengthened authority, only one, not the sole, source of power beneath Hitler and that, as ever, this power would be wielded in competition, not unison. The very wording of the decree, as he recognized, limited the scope of his powers. He could issue directives to the ‘highest Reich authorities’, but any decrees of implementation that arose had to be negotiated with Lammers, Bormann and Himmler (in his capacity as General Plenipotentiary for Reich Administration, which had fallen to him when he became Minister of the Interior). He was dependent upon Bormann’s support for measures involving the Party. And in the case of unresolvable conflict arising from his orders, Hitler reserved his own authority to make any necessary decision. Some exemptions were made on Hitler’s express authority. The personnel of the Reich, Presidial and Party chancelleries, the Führer’s motor vehicle staff, and those involved in planning the rebuilding of Berlin, Munich and Linz were excluded. And a major area, the army, had, of course, from the beginning been carved off and given over to Himmler.

Undeterred, Goebbels presided over a veritable torrent of activity in subsequent weeks, dispatching instructions to all Gauleiter in a telephone conference each midday. He had to contend with numerous obstacles and vested interests, which he did not always surmount. And, however drastic his interventions, there were in fact fewer slack areas of the economy able to provide extra manpower than he had anticipated, while some of his ‘rationalizations’ proved to be inefficient. In some cases, Hitler himself intervened to limit the cuts that Goebbels sought to impose. Through Bormann, he requested that the Propaganda Minister consider in each case whether the ends justified the means, if this entailed significant disturbance to public services such as postal deliveries. Even so, Goebbels raised nearly half a million extra men for the Wehrmacht by October, and around a million by the end of the year. Many were, in fact, far from fit for military service and were in any case outweighed by German losses at the front over the same period.

As a means of countering the massive Allied superiority in numbers, it is obvious that Goebbels’ total-war effort, scraping the bottom of the barrel, was doomed. But in terms of prolonging the war, and enabling Germany to fight on when beset by disaster on all fronts, the total-war mobilization that flowed from Goebbels’ new powers certainly played its part. Through his measures, the German population were more dragooned, corralled and controlled than ever. Few people were inwardly enthused for long. Most, where they could gain no exemption, had little choice but to fall in with the new demands. Dislocation, atomization and resignation usually followed. Though the appetite for the ever more desperate struggle was diminishing, there was scant room for any alternative.

Martin Bormann, head of the Party’s administration, was the third big winner from the military disasters of the summer and, especially, of the radicalization of the regime that followed the shock of the attempt on Hitler’s life. He exploited the new crisis atmosphere to reinvigorate the Party and massively expand its power and his own power and influence in the process. Even before the assassination attempt, he had started to sift through the Party organization to make manpower available for the Wehrmacht or the armaments industry. Goebbels’ total-war initiative was, therefore, both timely for him and could be used to his own advantage. Goebbels set up a relatively small coordinating staff in Berlin, but envisaged the crucial work of the total-war effort being carried out through the Party agencies at regional level. This was grist to the mill for Bormann. He could utilize the changed climate to bolster the power of the Gauleiter in the regions at the expense of the state bureaucracy.

As Reich Defence Commissars (Reichsverteidigungskommissare, RVKs), the Gauleiter already possessed the scope to interfere in matters deemed to pertain to the defence of the Reich in their regions. This had been widened, a week before the assassination attempt, by a decree from Hitler stipulating what would prove to be unclear guidelines for collaboration of Wehrmacht and Party in military operational zones within the Reich. The decree opened the door to future interference by the RVKs in crucial issues within the operational zones such as the evacuation of the civilian population and immobilization or destruction of industry. Bormann was now able to extend their power substantially in what was in effect a permanent crisis subsumed under the mantle of total war, authorizing them to issue directives to the state administration in areas which had previously been beyond their remit. The Gauleiter, each of whom had acquired his position through readiness to use ‘elbow power’, were only too happy to comply with the invitation to throw their weight around more than ever.

The decentralization of power that this implies was, however, only one strand of what has been dubbed, slightly awkwardly, a policy of ‘partification’. While backing the Gauleiter against the state authorities, Bormann was keen to extend the control of the Party Chancellery over the regional chieftains and to hold all reins of authority in crucial policy areas in his own hands. The dominance of the Party, which was happening with his backing in the regions, also took place in central administration: increasingly the Party Chancellery pushed the Reich Chancellery, under Lammers, out of key areas of policy. Lammers’ office as head of the Reich Chancellery, once so important as the link between the Reich ministers and Hitler, now lost all significance, serving from now on as little more than a postbox and distribution agency for orders laid down by Bormann. Lammers, completely sidelined, was to see Hitler for the last time in September. In despair, he would from the following March be incapable of work and driven to a near nervous breakdown. But in the second half of 1944, there was already no central government, in any conventional sense of the term. Bormann had usurped the Reich administration, combining his control over the Party with his proximity to Hitler to create an enhanced powerhouse in Führer Headquarters.

Even so, it was, however important, not the only powerhouse. ‘Partification’ at the expense of state bureaucracy created neither a streamlined administration nor an alternative central government as the Reich started to fragment. What it did do, however, was to enhance the organizational capacity of the Party and, above all, to strengthen massively the grip of the Party over government and society.

The key positions in the Nazi movement of Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann enabled them to take advantage of the climate of crisis, amid the shrill cries of treachery and thirst for revenge after the Stauffenberg plot, to promote their own power. Speer, in contrast, enjoyed no position or special standing within the Party. He lacked both a populist touch, such as Goebbels instinctively had, and the organizational base of Himmler or Bormann. There was much more of the technocrat of power than Party activist about him. He had joined forces with Goebbels in the attempt to persuade Hitler to introduce radical measures for total war. But that was before Stauffenberg’s bomb had gone off. His hopes of gaining control over the entire arena of army armaments were immediately dashed when Himmler was made head of the Replacement Army. Speer even had to contend with suspicions, in the immediate aftermath of the assassination attempt, that he himself had been implicated. And, in the swift moves to create a Plenipotentiary for Total War, Goebbels’ populism and élan caught Hitler’s mood while Speer’s drier assessment of the needs of the armaments industry took a back seat. Bormann’s control of the Party machinery and his conscious push to widen the remit of the Gauleiter, as RVKs, also weakened Speer since his own armaments drive invariably encountered the rooted interests of the provincial Party bosses and their frequent interventions at regional level.

Moreover, once the total-war push was under way, Speer quickly found himself up against his former ally Goebbels and the new alliance that the Propaganda Minister had forged with Bormann, who could usually engineer Hitler’s backing. The obvious question of demands on the scarce manpower located by the various ‘rationalization’ measures, whether this should be allocated to the Wehrmacht or to armaments production, had been characteristically avoided during the time of the short-lived Goebbels–Speer axis. As soon as the issue of power over the total-war effort had been resolved and the question of labour allocation became acute, Speer found himself on the defensive. He had made powerful enemies in fighting for his own domain. Goebbels’ laconic comment on the Armaments Minister immediately after winning the battle was: ‘I think we have let this young man become somewhat too big.’

Speer’s standing with Hitler had also weakened. Not only was he no longer so obviously Hitler’s favourite; he had to struggle against the increased influence of his own ambitious subordinate, Karl Otto Saur, head of the technical office in Speer’s ministry who earlier in the year had been placed by Hitler in charge of air defence. It would be as well, nevertheless, not to interpret Speer’s relative loss of power in the top echelons of the regime – which the former Armaments Minister was keen to emphasize for posterity – as meaning that he had been ousted from all significant spheres of influence. He continued, in fact, to occupy a decisive position at the intersection between the military and industry. The military needed the weaponry he made available. Industry needed his driving force to produce the weapons, in the face of severe and mounting difficulties. No amount of propaganda or repression by the Party’s populists and enforcers could supply the army with weapons.

On 1 August Speer was, moreover, able to extend his already sprawling empire when Göring was compelled to hand over to him control of the Luftwaffe’s armaments production. Whatever the internal struggles he had to undertake in the power jungle of the Third Reich during the phase of its inexorable decline, Speer remained indispensable to Hitler and the regime. Writing to Hitler near the end of the war, he claimed: ‘Without my work the war would perhaps have been lost in 1942–3.’ He was surely right. His achievements constitute an important element in the answer to the question of how Germany held out so long. To this extent, Speer, notwithstanding a weakening of his internal position, was a crucial – possibly even the most important – member of the quadrumvirate that directed Germany’s path into the abyss in the Third Reich’s last months.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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