AT TEN minutes past eight on the evening of July the 2oth, 1944, the DNB Hell-schreiber in the MB newsroom began clicking out with tantalising deliberation the first news of what, for all of us, was to become the greatest news story of the war.
The ribbon of tape from the Hell-schreiber ran straight through to the typewriter of blonde and buxom Mimi Molnar, a German-speaking Czech girl, whose duty it was to read the spidery tracings of the Hell-schreiber, and type them straight into her machine. Ordinarily Mimi Molnar merely took the DNB stuff down without taking it in. Typing DNB bored her. She wanted to write herself, not type. But what she was typing now made her sit up with excitement.
" Dr. Gutmann," she called, "please come over here and look at this. It looks important." Hans Gutmann got up from his desk, walked over to the Hell machine and read the copy over her shoulder, as she was typing it. His eyes goggled.
" Give me that," he roared as he tore the page out of her machine and rushed away to call first Karl Robson, who was on duty, and then me. Dick Crossman who was writing the directives for the `white' psychological warfare attack at SHAEF had come down to visit me at R.A.G. and talk over plans. We were at dinner savouring the penultimate bottle of a most perfect Graacher Himmelreich 1934 when Gutmann got through to me. "It has happened," Hans exulted over the telephone.
" What has?" I asked irritably." The Army has risen against the Party. They have tried to murder Hitler." For a moment I thought it was a legpull, that Frank Lynder or the Corporal had been trying to play one of their silly tricks on poor old Hans.
For a revolt of the army against Hitler and the Party would be the consummation of all we had been working for. Enmity between the army and the Nazi Party-which the army had itself created, financed and fostered as its political instrument-was what we had been trying to stimulate, exploit, and aggravate ever since Corporal Sanders and I had first launched Gustav Siegfried Eins three and a half years before. We had been constantly reporting and rumouring a growing cleavage between the generals and the Fuhrer with all the means at our disposal. Only recently I had learned of the infuriated reaction of the Party authorities to a circular letter posted for us by our Polish friends, in which the East Prussian Gauleiter Erich Koch warned that the Fuhrer was in danger, that "certain circles that do lip service to the sacred name of Prussianism but show none of the heroic spirit of the Seven Years War ... were preparing a Putsch to remove the Fuhrer fi,om the command of the Wehrmacht and replace him with a traitor, an oath-breaking General."
" Are you sure no one is trying a stupid hoax?" I asked Gutmann." Of course it's no hoax. Here, listen in for yourself. The story is now coming over the Deutschlandsender." And Gutmann held the receiver to his radio so that I could hear the Berlin announcement. Sure enough there it was in the cultivated fluting voice of the Deutschlandsender's news reader:
" . . . a criminal attempt on the life of the Fuhrer . . . time bomb ... miraculous escape ... preserved by providence for his great task ... small group of irresponsible reactionaries ... hue and cry ... Fuhrer himself will speak over radio and disprove all rumours. . . ."
Dick Crossman and I abandoned Mrs. Maddy's venison, as if we had been stung by another of Crossman's wasps. We jumped into a car and raced over to MB. Karl Robson had already put out the first flash announcements. Child, Karl, Gutmann, Virchow and I, with Crossman sitting in as a welcome adviser, now quickly decided what we would say.
After ten minutes of discussion I laid down that our main line would be that this was a `Peace Putsch'; that high staff officers ofall three services were behind it because they knew the war was lost and wanted to save Germany; that they had issued a proclamation to the German people and the Wehrmacht announcing that Hitler had been deposed and a new government formed which was to begin immediate peace negotiations; and that the `Peace Putsch' had not been put down despite what the government would now be saying. The fight was still on.
" We must make it clear," I said, "that this conspiracy had very important leaders and that it was widespread. It had accomplices everywhere, even in the Fuhrerhauptquartier itself. We must paint a picture of confusion. Some army units are following the orders of the 'peace-generals' by disarming and imprisoning SS guards and Gestapo, and by seizing munition dumps. Elsewhere Nazi officers have the upperhand. And don't forget-we must implicate as many officers as we can, without losing credibility."
As the story grew and more details came through on the Hell-schreiber and the Goebbels radio, Dick Crossman felt that our ministerial masters should be informed. He hoped they might be induced to take cognizance of the rebellion and authorise some statement to encourage the generals in their hopes. But in any case they should be informed what had happened. So he telephoned Bruce Lockhart.
Poor Bruce Lockhart was in bed with a painful attack of shingles. He was not at all anxious to call up the Ministers. But Dick persuaded him. It was after midnight when Bruce Lockhart rang back.
" It was as I feared," he said, "And I have a message for you, Dick, from Brendan Bracken who is dining with the P.M. Bracken says, he is amazed that you should have fallen for this all too obvious Goebbels canard, and will you please never disturb him with such nonsense again. Please tell the B.B.C. to refrain from saying anything that could suggest we accept the story that there had been a revolt by the generals."
Even worse was to befall our political warriors of the official voice of Britain the following morning. Any hopes they might have cherished of splitting the Germans and inciting the generals to further rebellion were crushed. For Grossman and * The Minister of Information. Garleton Greene were not only stopped from saying anything to encourage the rebels, they were specifically ordered to announce that His Majesty's Government was not prepared to absolve the army from its responsibility for the war or to differentiate in any way between Germans and Germans. All were responsible. The only terms on which Germany could have peace were-as before-unconditional capitulation.
The task of dividing the Germans was therefore right back in the laps of the `black' men. And we had got down to it, uninhibited as we were by ministerial complexes about estranging the Russians by `softness' towards the Germans. All that first night and throughout the next days we were busy clothing the bare skeleton of news Goebbels had given with details of our own invention which would implement the general picture we wished to present. My memories came in useful, particularly those of what had happened on the night of the long knives on June the 3oth, 1934, and in the days that then followed Hitler's purge of the Stormtroops.
By the time our story was fully launched we had involved almost as many members of the German Wehrmacht, the Foreign Office, and the administration generally in the `Peace Putsch' as have ultimately claimed to have been conspirators when the allies took over from Hitler in 1945!
One of our aims was to involve German Officers in the conspiracy whom we wanted the Gestapo and the SD to suspect of complicity. Among those whom we successfully implicated in this way was the German Naval Attache in Stockholm. He was recalled from bis post and arrested-much to the annoyance of his British opposite number who had found him useful! When the German Officer subsequently returned to Stockholm, he complained bitterly of the shabby trick the Soldatensender had played on him.
<< Table of Contents | Previous Page | Next Page >>