By Gerhardt Boldt. Extracted from Hitler's Last Days and reproduced by permission of Pen and Sword Books Ltd.
In the last months of the War, Gerhardt Boldt, a young cavalry officer serving on the Russian Front, found himself seconded to Gehlen’s military intelligence staff in Berlin. He was summoned to daily briefing sessions with the Führer, his Generals and closest associates, in particular Bormann, Göring and Goebbels. On the night of 20 April, when it seemed that the German capital’s fate would soon be sealed at the hands of the headlong Russian advance, a great migration from Berlin began. Adolf Hitler, however, refused to transfer headquarters from the Reich Chancellery, despite reports from the front. As the Battle of Berlin wore on, the atmosphere within the Führerbunker grew increasingly claustrophobic.
On 22 April the conference in the Reich Chancellery began just as it always had. Jodl and Krebs gave their reports. It was not until Krebs started talking about the combat areas between the Sudeten and the Stettiner Haff, south and north of Berlin, that Hitler began to take an active interest. By now, immediately south-west of Berlin, the Russian attacking force had reached a line east of Treuenbrietzen–Beelitz–Teltov. In the north of the city fighting was going on in the suburbs of Lichtenburg, Niederschönhausen and Frohnau. Enemy tanks were rolling into the Prenzlauer Allee. The Russian attack north of the city extended over to the west, taking in Oranienburg. Thus it could only be a question of a day or two before Berlin was completely encircled.
On learning that the Russians had been able to break through the weakened front line north and north-east of the city and penetrate the outer suburbs of Berlin, Hitler interrupted and asked that everyone present at the conference, except Keitel, Krebs, Jodl, Burgdorf and Bormann, to leave the room. There was a tense and pregnant silence. Then, as if driven by some strange force, Hitler leapt up and began to rant and rave. He turned alternately deathly pale and purple in the face, shaking in every limb. His voice cracked and he screamed about disloyalty, cowardice, treachery and insubordination. As had frequently happened in the course of previous, less violent fits of rage, he proceeded to hurl reproaches against the Army and the Waffen SS. The culmination of his tirade was his refusal to leave Berlin – he would stay with the Berliners, he would lead the battle himself, in person. Anyone who wanted could leave him and leave Berlin. And then, those watching witnessed an incredible and quite unprecedented scene. Hitler slowly sank back into his chair and in total contrast to the violence from which it had begun, his outburst ended in complete collapse. Sunk into himself, he sobbed like a small child and, continuing to sob, he admitted for the first time straight out and without making any apologies or excuses: ‘It is all over. The war is lost. I shall shoot myself.’
For almost five minutes the men watching him stood in bewildered silence. Jodl was the first to speak. He did so quietly and carefully but firmly, reminding Hitler of his duties towards the people and the Army. The others attempted to comfort him and to give him fresh hope by reminding him of the large areas in both north and south which were still held and still being defended by Germany. Yet even though his loyal supporters and colleagues pleaded with him to move to Berchtesgaden immediately and direct operations from there he still remained obdurate, and he stuck to his decision to remain in Berlin.
Later on he confirmed that Grand Admiral Dönitz was to assume full civil and military authority for the entire northern province. From Berchtesgaden, Keitel and Jodl were to take over the further military control of the German forces still fighting in parts of South Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Croatia and North Italy, although in fact, as things turned out, this proved no longer possible. Hitler’s pronouncements about Göring’s control of the south were vague and unclear. Lastly, he called in Goebbels to ask him to move into the Reich Chancellery bunker with his wife and children and to issue a proclamation to the people of Berlin telling them that he, Hitler, was in Berlin, directing the battle in person and that he would share the fate of the Berliners. He also directed that Bormann, who had refused to obey Hitler’s order to leave Berlin, Burgdorf, Krebs and, of course, Goebbels as well as the liaison officers should stay in the bunker with him.
the end of the self-destruction
A conference was summoned towards 11 o’ clock in the evening of 26 April. General Weidling, the commander of the Fifty-Sixth Tank Corps, who had been highly decorated for valour, was waiting in the ante-room to the conference room. He gave the impression of great vigour despite his fifty-five years of age. Bernd told me that he was to be Battle Commandant of Berlin, he had just heard the news himself from Weiss. Since 23 April this post had been held by young officers who, although they were committed Nazis, did not possess any exceptional military abilities, and had proved unable to cope with the dire situation in Berlin; now, at last, the decision had been made to bring in an experienced general. But Weidling had sufficient sense of responsibility not to accept his appointment without reservations. When Hitler gave him the job of taking over the totally bungled military situation in Berlin, he agreed only on one condition; that nobody from the Reich Chancellery was to interfere with his authority. During the conference that day Hitler agreed, after some hesitation, to respect this qualification.
The next morning at 6, I was woken by Bernd with some difficulty. The fresh-air ventilators had temporarily failed and an acrid stench of sulphur, mixed with suffocating limestone dust, filled our room. Outside all hell was let loose. The bunker shook as if it were caught up in an earthquake as shell after shell landed on the Reich Chancellery building. It was about a quarter of an hour before the bombardment eased off and, judging by the noise, moved on towards the Potsdamer Platz.
The Reich Chancellery in Berlin, before...
... and after the war.
Reports from the city grew ever worse. The women, old men, invalids, wounded, soldiers and refugees in Berlin had now been living for nearly a week without a break in the cellars and ruins of the city centre. No reasonably organized supply system existed any longer. The thirst was even worse than the hunger, for there had been no water for days. The fires were now quite out of control, belching stifling smoke into the cellars, improvised shelters and passages. And above it all burnt relentless April sunshine. The hospitals, military casualty units and bomb-proof bunkers had long since been filled to overflowing with wounded. Thousands of wounded soldiers and civilians lay in the tunnels and stations of the tubes and the underground: no one will ever know how many there really were. Yet even in this desperate situation some of the men in the bunker still took fresh hope when, at 10.30, news of Wenck’s Army was finally picked up again. To the south-west of Potsdam in the extensive woods around Beelitz its forward units had made some further progress towards the Schielowsee. Only a few kilometres separated them from General Reimann’s corps, which was fighting near Potsdam. Now the only subject of conversation in the bunker was the short distance between the Twelfth Army and Reimann’s corps, and the coming liberation of Berlin by General Wenck. But a few hours later Wenck’s Army reported strong Russian attacks on their flank, in the area of the Beelitz sanatoria, and when, in the evening, Wenck had got no further, and nothing but severe defensive fighting was reported, most people realized that the three divisions were much too weak to push on ad fight their way through into the centre of the city. The mood was reversed again, and many were near despair.
The next day, regardless of the absence of any further reports of success from Wenck, Hitler once again clutched at this straw. He wanted to delay the end of the struggle for Berlin still further, without a thought for the thousands hungry, thirsty or dying in the city. And then came one of the most inhuman of his orders during the last days of the fighting in Berlin. Because the Russians had repeatedly pushed back our front in the city area by advancing through the tube and underground tunnels and thus getting to the rear of the German soldiers, he ordered special unit to open the locks of the Spree and flood the tunnels of the underground to the south of the Reich Chancellery. In these tunnels at this juncture there were countless civilians and thousands of wounded. But their lives were of no importance to him, and this insane order caused many deaths.
It was learned late in the evening that spearheads of Wenck’s Army had battled their way through to Ferch on the Schielowsee; the Commandant of Berlin asked to be allowed to make a report to Hitler. General Weidling reported roughly as follows: Wenck’s Army was much too weak, both in men and material, to hold the territory they had just gained to the south of Potsdam, let alone to break through into the centre of Berlin. At the moment the forces of the Berlin garrison were still in a position to make a break-out to the south-west, with some chance of success, with the aim of joining up with Wenck’s Army.
‘Führer,’ Weidling continued, ‘I will take personal responsibility for getting you safe and unharmed out of Berlin. The Reich capital would thus be spared the devastating final stages of the battle.’ Hitler turned the idea down. Again, on the following morning, when Axmann made the same suggestion and pledged the life of every single member of the Hitler Youth to give the Führer a safe escort, Hitler again refused to leave Berlin.
When news got round the bunker that no significant help could be expected from Wenck’s Army and that Hitler had rejected the possibility of a break-out from the city, a sort of doomsday mood spread amongst Hitler’s men.
Hitler awarding the Iron Cross to members of the Hitler Youth who had fought bravely in Germany's defence.
On the morning of 28 April the Russian artillery fire started up again at about 5.30. It escalated quickly into an intense bombardment, an unending inferno. I had not experienced such a prolonged and intense bombardment of such force during the entire war. Several times holes were knocked in the upper levels of the concrete ceiling, and we could hear the heavy lumps of concrete falling on to the lower layer. The dull, heavy explosions of bombs mingled with the bursting of shells, while a hurricane of fire and metal descended on the Reich Chancellery and the surrounding government district. The aerial of our 100 watt radio transmitter was shattered; the lines to various defence sectors in the city were destroyed. The only means of communication which we now had left were runners, and the radio transmitter and receiver operated by Lorenz, the press officer. Again and again we thought the firing had reached its peak, only to be proved wrong each time.The lack of fresh air in the bunker became unbearable, and headaches, shortage of breath and sweating became increasingly noticeable. During short breaks in the firing the Russians attacked over and over again. There was fighting on the Alexanderplatz; Russian tanks were approaching the Wilhelmstrasse, and with it the Reich Chancellery, from the direction of the Hallesches Tor. Now only about 1,000 metres was left between us. Even the picked men of the SS ‘Adolf Hitler Volunteer Corps’ could no longer withstand this overwhelming assault.
Reports of the Ninth Army later that day once again demonstrated, this time beyond any doubt, that they were on the verge of annihilation. Clearly, they were no longer capable of attacking a superior foe and capturing the twenty-five or thirty kilometres still separating them from Wenck’s army. General Wenck was in no position to press his attack any further in the direction of Berlin or to meet the Ninth Army.
Bernd woke me up as morning broke on 29 April. He was already sitting at his desk working, and it was some minutes before he looked up and said, quite casually, ‘Our Führer got married last night, Gerhardt.’ He burst into laughter at my baffled face, and I readily joined in. At this the resolute voice of General Krebs boomed out from behind the curtain dividing the room: ‘Have you taken leave of your senses, gentlemen, laughing so disrespectfully at the sovereign leader of your country?’ Bernd waited until Krebs left the room and then he told me what had taken place the night before.
It seemed barely credible, but that night there had been a proper wedding, with registrars, a loud and clear, ‘I do’, witnesses, and a wedding breakfast. The usual formalities of a civil marriage were carried out by an official of the Propaganda Ministry. Goebbels and Martin Bormann were the witnesses. Later Hitler left the little wedding party with his private secretary, Frau Gertrud Junge, in order to dictate to her his Political Testament and his private will, naming Bormann as executor. Bernd had also managed to discover that arrangements had been made for copies of these wills to be taken out of Berlin and delivered to Admiral Dönitz who was chosen to be Hitler’s successor, and to Field Marshal Schörner, the Supreme Commander of the Army Group fighting in Bohemia.
Hitler's death and the surrender of berlin
On 29 and 30 April the military situation in beleaguered Berlin greatly deteriorated. Late on the 29th General Weidling, commanding the defence of the city, again put to Hitler the idea of a concerted effort to break through and join Wenck’s army at Potsdam. Hitler once again refused. On 30 April between 3 and 4 pm, in his private suite in the Reich Chancellery bunker, Adolf Hitler shot himself. His wife Eva, née Braun, ended her life at the same time by taking poison. The bodies were carried out, wrapped in blankets, to the Reich Chancellery garden, soaked in about fifty gallons of petrol, and burnt.
Acting on Goebbels’ orders, General Krebs that night opened negotiations with the Red Army commander in Berlin, Marshal Zhukov, for a complete end to the fighting in the city. Though tedious and protracted, the talks led to no positive result.
It was not until exactly twenty-four hours after the event that Hitler’s successor designate, Admiral Dönitz, was informed over the radio by Goebbels and Bormann of the Führer’s death. Goebbels reached the end of the road when it was finally clear that the cease-fire negotiations had broken down. During the afternoon of 1 May he poisoned his five children. A few hours later, between 8 and 9 pm, Goebbels and his wife had themselves shot by an SS sentry in the garden of the Reich Chancellery. Goebbels’ adjutant, SS Hauptsturmführer Schwagermann, was entrusted with the last duty of soaking their bodies in petrol and setting light to them.
American officers inspect where the corpses of Hitler and his wife of one day, Eva Braun, were burned following their suicides on 30 April 1945.
Meanwhile preparations were being completed in the Reich Chancellery for all remaining personnel to make an all-out attempt out towards the west, commanded by Mohnke and Bormann. Towards 10 pm they struck out in three separate groups from the Reich Chancellery, proceeding by way of underground railway tunnels from the Wilhelmplatz towards the Friedrichstrasse Station–Weidendamm Bridge area, where the breakthrough was launched with tank support. This concerted attempt failed; only a few stragglers got through to the west; Bormann and Dr Stumpfegger according to Axmann’s evidence (admittedly unconfirmed), are said to have been killed. The diplomat Hewel likewise died in the attempt. Mohnke remained in Russian captivity until 1956. Generals Krebs and Burgdorf did not take part. They both committed suicide.
On the night of 1 May the Commander-in-Chief in Berlin, General Weidling, successfully negotiated surrender terms with Marshall Zhukov for all troops fighting in the city. Immediately afterwards General Weidling was captured by the Russians and removed. This capitulation was supposed to bring about a complete armistice by 2 May. General resistance certainly ceased, but there were still small groups fighting on without any unifying command. On 2 and 3 May several concerted efforts to break out were undertaken by various army units, who would have done anything to avoid Russian captivity. By 4 May the cease-fire in Berlin was complete.
'He admitted for the first time straight out and without making any apologies or excuses: "It is all over. The war is lost. I shall shoot myself."'
Documentary: Adolf Hitler's Last Days.
Weidling: 'I will take personal responsibility for getting you safe and unharmed out of Berlin. The Reich capital would thus be spared the devastating final stages of the battle.' Hitler turned the idea down.
The last known photograph of Adolf Hitler alive. Taken by a guard outside the bunker exit, it shows him inspecting the latest bomb and artillery damage to the Reich Chancellery.
Devastation caused by artillery or bomb damage. The damage done to Berlin's housing and transportation network during the Battle took years to heal.
Field Marshal Georgi Zhukov, Deputy Commander of the Soviet Armed Forces, countersigns the surrender documents.
To read more on this subject, contact Pen and Sword Books on 01226 734222. Hitler's Last Days - An Eye-witness Account by Gerhardt Boldt.
1945: BBC Radio announcement of Adolf Hitler's death.