Fragment Earth - 001 - SSHUT Author:Skyler, Robert Ethan Episode 001 — It is a child?s fantasy, these past few weeks in Berlin. This I know to be true as I have yet to meet an adult who can make sense of what is happening but we understand. It is a pretended fantasy come true and here we are at the heart of madness, battling with guns and grenades, against artillery attacks and bombing raids. — In the e... more »nsuing phantasmagoric transformation of my reality, my duties as messenger driving me to exciting new places that months and even weeks ago were just my neighborhood, keep me lucid enough to stave off the creeping insanity which owns everything around me.
I attended school for years in a building which stands behind me today as headquarters of a dream battle against evil. The general store I regularly fetched ice from for my mother now lies ahead of me dark and glowing from the low clouds reflection of fire light through its missing roof and with each new explosion eerie shadows pulse out of its windows frightening me onwards. These are the forges from which all nightmares spawn and I imagine they will remain so for all time, as even though I am only a child, every new breath I draw confirms I am still this dream?s master.
Messages secure in vest pocket, I push onwards with my mission to the Fuhrerbunker. Running alleyways and through the park where I practiced this very game in summers past. Ducking down streets, from storefront to debris pile; there is no one to be seen these days and even less around this time of the morning, except for us soldiers. At least I think it is morning.
The tank I eyed to hide behind following my next leap was not there yesterday. Its lifeless hulk standing as high water mark of the last Red Army incursion makes me shiver onwards, for at this moment its prime position is ideal cover on my current path. There is no front line not anymore. There is this street and that alleyway; only a child?s imagination could draw a map for this battlefield.
It cannot be, the Russians have been this close so recently I thought as I leaned up against the wheel of their smoldering tank. Each time we push them back, their fire melts us further away.
You have to think on your feet to stay in this game. Survival is as simple as seeing the brim on a helmet before that helmet sees you; only the quick live to the end of the morning in my neighborhood. Everyone one I know is dead. There is something to be said for that. I never deny myself the privilege of reveling in my own mortality.
Arriving at the Fuhrerbunker, I crawl up into the Messengers Entrance; a crook in a bombed out wall which does not allow you to see in or out until you breach the passageway, where after I find myself in the silence and security of the outer garden.
Slowing my pace, I allow my breath to catch up with me. Cautiously, I proceed into the main yard where the guard, a dizzy statue of a man probably drunk again tries to stop me. I yell at him, ?get your hands off me, this message is for the Fuhrer.? He does not let go. I repeat myself.
He covers my mouth and says, ?you are too late.?
I am not late. I am never late. He continues, ?the Fuhrer is gone.?
?Gone?? I echo; the word everyone uses for dead these days. No one ever dies anymore. They are just gone. ?Gone?? I repeat, ?what do you mean??
?No, no, not that kind of gone,? he replies pointing to the sky; as his finger produces a tiny object, an aircraft lifting up over the city. ?Gone,? he says, ?the Fuhrer has left; he?s gone south, to Bavaria.?
?I did not think I could get you out of there in time,? I said over the blaring engine, ?you put up a valiant fight. But Mein Fuhrer you cannot blame yourself for this outcome. You made all the right moves at all the right times. The fates simply were not with you on this one.?
Looking over into the silent reflection of his face off the darkened window staring down into the glowing ruins of our once thriving capital city crumbling under the heel of the advancing Red Army, I am drawn into his reflection. I can see perfectly within those eyes the haunting lost lust of a thousand conquered conquerors. Even in defeat, this man is intoxicating.
?I could have done better Hannah,? shatters the silence of my rambling.
?Oh Mein Fuhrer,? I went on, ?could this have been any other way? You will still be triumphant in the end. I am sure of this.?
On and on I droll taking every chance I dare to drown myself in that reflection. A dip in the wings brings my attention back to the controls and I am still talking. He could not have known I was barely flying this light aircraft to see me now. What was I saying? Does it matter? Is either of us listening?
?I did better, last time,? he interrupts with astonishing zest rocking forth and back in his seat. Turning toward me, he looks to justify this comment further. Squinting my assistance to his words sees only failure's familiarity subdue his gaze back toward the silent judgment of the streaming German countryside below us.
We fly low through our safe corridor to the south held open at the cost of so many lives. Is he worth it I wonder for the briefest of moments? But no answer comes and I would not want one if it did. It is not for me to ask such questions. The silence strikes me.
Arriving safely over our landing site, the droning of the motor I thought had deafened me to anything the Fuhrer might have said as on our approach he mumbles something I do not comprehend and dare not ask him to repeat. Landing smoothly like some dreams end the jostling of the rough turf awakens me.
My heart beats again as a guard runs up to the aircraft?s side, opening the door. Hitler turns to get out but stops and turns back, looking into my eyes, he says, ?forgive me.? I freeze as babble fills my throat but say nothing with a swallow. He leans to get out his last words, ?I will do better next time.?
?I am sure you will Mein Fuhrer,? I replied in a gush.
Or think I did.
I cannot say for certain I said anything at all.
Maybe he did not either.
Shuffled into my waiting armored car, we sweep off through the countryside. ?The latest reports predict the Red Army could be here at any moment of unexpected weakness Mein Fuhrer,? says the accompanying SS officer to Hitler, ?there is not a second to be lost in transit to our destination.?
Feeling the weight of that last statement, I press on even faster toward the best kept secret of the war and the only salvation I can imagine might save me, short of fleeing west to surrender to the American Army. Behind the front line borders of the Nazi?s Third Reich lay our fate; where I had unwittingly aided in the enslavement of countless souls whose creation I now feared would soon see us joining them in their shallow graves down the long winding dirt road I now drove to our destination. A hole in the wall which held within it an insurmountable horror of defensive positions no rational army could breech, to guard a prize no rational man could refuse.
The future of the Third Reich and the victory Soviet Russia bled for now lay within this mountain fortress. External defenses sat at the ready as the remnants of our elite SS Troops having abandoned their Berlin defenses flowed south behind us.
Much to the Red Army Supreme Commander Zhukov?s disappointment, Hitler was not found in its ruins. Seeing this deception only after the fact Zhukov turned his forces southwards toward the only substantial body of resistance remaining in Greater Germany.
Following our arrival, our troops filled their stations in preparation for the pursuing divisions.
The River Elbe and my Division with the US 1st Army lay one hundred miles to the west of my current position. They should just be beginning their planned meet up with the first arriving divisions of the allied Russian Red Army, signaling the victorious procession to the end of the war, which for me however, perpetually seemed to lay just beyond the next battle.
Standing here among the green rolling hills looking west into Bohemian Czechoslovakia at the mountain which directly stands between us and victory, I remind myself that total-victory has no exceptions. Like the Battle for Berlin this Redoubt before us was going to be solely the Red Armies prize.
As one of the few American Liaisons embedded with them to coordinate our meet up on the Elbe, I stood here in witness of the endless columns of Red Army soldiers in pursuit of this previously unimagined, even once mythical and now unavoidably realistic obstacle.
The approach of the Red Army was not one of a tactical nature; the Red Army did nothing covertly. Despite their inferiority for years the Nazi?s SS soldiers had routinely routed superior Red Army forces due to this lack of subtlety. The Red Army living up to its nickname had a singular solution to the Nazis tireless maneuverings, endless soldiers and equipment.
Stalin stood at the head of the Soviet State as yet another Russian Emperor demanding victory as the only outcome to any battle for which there was no cost too high in obtaining. The Red Armies blood flowed in the pursuit of Stalin?s goals like no army history had ever witnessed. The Soviet had literally washed the Nazi occupied soils of their Mother Russia clean with the blood of the uncounted millions of conscripted peasantry they dressed up and presented as soldiers before me today.
To watch the Red Army in the field was as I observed in my few short weeks with them, like seeing the slow agonizing death of one of nature?s noblest beasts. It was as poetic and glorious as it was ignorant and torturous to see so many lives thrown into the fire to meet the unrealistic schedule of a Tyrant. The Red Army won and yet somehow lost every battle they ever entered into and that is to say that surely no opposing army ever encountered the same Russian soldier twice.
Seeing the mechanized arm of the Red Army arrive on the field was a wonder words could never describe properly. This late in the war, they at a whim fielded thousands of tanks and uncountable artillery pieces, yet still managed to fail to meet their potential leading to the ever predictable retraction so as not to destroy their own advancing troops who would share in the overall incompetence of the attack. Which time and again, found the Nazis back at their stations ready to bear witness to the next rising tide of farm boy blood.
For what was it all for I asked myself continuously? To allow incompetent Generals the right to be weighted down with one more metal earned at the cost of a few thousand more lives or to claim back the right to rule over yet another people whom only the death of the last had afforded them.
This is what watching the Red Army brings; a contempt for the methodology of this system and as the bile rises in my throat to speak to these allies of ours. I must measure every word before it is spoken or risk future generations of their stout youth being impaled on our own bayonets in the name of some perceived insult or betrayal through their commander?s eyes.
Collecting my thoughts just short of a breakdown I swallowed my pride and focused on our objective. Right here and right now these murderers of Russian youth were the lesser of two evils and though I am certain we will live to regret this convenient ally. Right here and right now is our chance to use one evil to rid the world of another at far less of a cost to our own than would ever be possible should we attempt to be rid of them both ourselves. It was a fire sale only morality would not attend; every other inclination demanded one was better than two.
The Red Army artillery began firing on the Mountain Redoubt with tremendous force the likes of which I had only heard like a thunderstorm on the horizon while south of Berlin. This close, the force of the cannon blasts hit me in the chest like a well-healed boxer. It was standard operating procedure for the Red Army to open every siege in this manner, just as standard as it was for the Nazi?s SS Divisions to survive these ground leveling attacks mostly intact.
The following morning the Red Army attacked again. The forests around the Redoubt, reduced to stumps and fields from the previous night?s barrage, saw the Nazi?s external defenses obliterated and yet, the terrain?s new chaotic formations remained equally defendable and thus, the dance carried on like so many before it though none with so much riding on its outcome.
Inevitability unfolded before my eyes. I watched because I could not turn away but this spectacle of destruction was dumbfounding in its hypnotic allure. The end of the day saw the Nazi troops replaced by piles of Red Army corpses too deep to walk through but even that would not stop their advancing armor. This sort of thing cannot happen anymore I screamed to myself but was powerless to change this calamities course.
Zhukov ordered wave after wave of soldiers to die for one more foot of ground and where each attack failed the next continued because it could not be denied he was gaining ground. The logic of his processes were staggering and his flaw recognition nonexistent, for this man did not think based on his own merits. Stalin held this mans hands bound and Zhukov like his soldiers had nowhere to go but forward. I could read this in his eyes; it was his life or theirs.
The following day brought relief at last. We won the field at a cost in lives that was quickly being shuffled away by an equally large army so as not to clot the flow. There was a favorable plan this morning to deal with the next obstacle before us; the tunnel defenses leading into the Mountain Fortress were to be conquered through a series of coordinated tank attacks.
?The Joseph Stalin-II Heavy-Tank, the latest in the Soviet?s Arsenal,? my counterpart, Alexei said to me with a smile as these monsters made their debut on the field. Not a moment to late I thought either. These tanks, an almost solid chunk of steel distinguished only by the cannon sticking out of their massive turrets were to be the surprise we need for which the Nazis had no answer.
A line of these unprecedented behemoths rumbled past our observation dugout more than a hundred yards away, shaking everything around me. Proceeding toward the tunnel?s entrance each tank fired at its closest approach then abruptly turned rotating out-of-the-way, to let the next tank in line approach and fire, as the first cycled around to the back of the line.
Generally impressed but not seeing a lot of initial progress and less willing to witness as one more valiant effort turned into another pile of bodies. My hunger and I retreated from our observation post to head back up the road to the newly forming Field Headquarters for a meal and to generally observe operations as often I did. My handler Alexei, never more than a step or two behind me, soon joined us as we found our meal.
At least I think this was a meal.
Lacking from the front line excitement and not wishing to face down this meal undistracted, I searched in vane for some middle ground between the deaths, and staring into space while I contemplated my plan of attack for choking down today?s unfair faire.
Witnessing a soldier being scorned by his Sergeant, my opportunity arose. Figuring it was safer to approach the Sergeant we followed him from the chow line and with a few choice looks and comments were soon discussing the issue he had been discussing with his retreated and scorned disciple.
It was what he called, a farm boy fantasy: SS soldiers being shot only to get up afterward. To which he continued, ?Probably just wounded or perhaps another solder from the same direction,? looking sad at his last statement. He leaned in and quietly said, ?I have seen this as well.?
I looked at the Sergeant with a skeptical eye. He retorted, ?that is the exact response I received from my captain.? I smiled and shook my head and he concluded. ?So I crush these rumors first hand, but really I have seen it myself.?
Pausing a minute while he looked around the tent carefully. ?It was a few months ago,? he said, ?we were outside of a railway junction back up the road. I had just finished my rounds; we had the weekend off and were staying in the rail house, when a messenger showed up. He told us we had to turn back up the road to deal with an unexpected surge of resistance fighters, Nazi collaborators. And we did; there are no refusing orders or delaying where I come from, so back up the road we went.?
Walking toward an unoccupied table in the corner of the dining area, we all sat down and the sergeant continued, ?when we arrived on-site there was nothing to be seen at first. Then a series of shots came at us from a house up the hill. We pursued. It was, an easy enough fight. We only lost four men, they a dozen or more.?
Leaning in a little closer, ?the barn behind the house drew my snipers attention which after a few shots drew mine. He kept picking guys off in the barn. I sat and watched with him for a while as every chance he got, he shot another SS soldier. Just common foot soldiers you understand. I told him there must be a whole nest of them in there so we called for artillery support. Around midday after a few well-missed shots, the barn blew to splinters.?
?So finally, when we were sure it was clear we walked up to the barn proud as could be and what do you expect we found??
Spellbound, I blinked.
?A solitary soldier where we had expected to find a pile of corpses; there he was, impaled through the ribs from the force of the artillery?s explosion with one of those large harvesting tools but for all I could tell none the worse off. I smiled at him and shot him in the chest. He smiled back. My smile fell to the ground and I shot him several more times. This guy would not die. Each time I shot him, it looked like little more than me punching you in the arm.?
?Anyway,? the Sergeant looked around again, ?we took him prisoner,? he said much quieter, ?sent him back and moved on and that was the last I heard of it. But to this day the word from the top is to stifle these false defeatist rumors. And I do.?
I became aware of myself again. A little too engrossed in his story and found myself, for the moment, believing it as well. I looked over at my handler Alexei whom having long since finished his meal was now nodded off, apparently not interested. I asked the Sergeant, ?and this is not an uncommon story then??
He frowned, nodded and said, ?whelp this is my cue, back to the front, pleasure chatting with you.?
?Nice knowing you,? I said with a wink.
He did not smile back.
Nudging my partner, we got up and walked out the door behind the Sergeant. Alexei leading the way, slowed then stopped between the trucks parked outside, turned and said, ?that is not the smartest thing to do around here.?
I replied with a smile, ?I am not from around here.?
He laughed and continued, ?just keep in mind that the truth is a dangerous weapon and no one here needs anymore danger than we already have. For both our sakes please.?
I nodded, ?of course Comrade. Let?s get back to the safety of the battle then, and see how they are doing.?
Antagonized by my sarcasm Alexei continued talking on our walk back to the observation bunker, ?truth means nothing without priority,? he boldly stated.
I looked up like I was listening. He said nothing else, so I asked, ?you don?t find truth to be an anchor in an otherwise chaotic world??
?Whose truth would anchor me?? He replied.
I said nothing and in my vacuum he continued, ?you have a minimum of two truths even in the best of cases: The truth of the person who is right and the truth of the person who is wrong. The capacity to decide the difference, drawn from our priorities, defines for us; right from wrong. Without our priority we cannot say with any degree of certainty whether right exists at all. Without it, we have simply two people, each telling their own version of an event. It is with the priority of the observer that we define the rightness of one over another and through something as arbitrary as priority, do we decide what truth is.?
I walked on in silence for a few minutes before retorting, ?truth to me is what the majority of people can agree upon. Truth is tested over time and cannot be denied; until truth fails to meet the test, then it is modified to make up for its shortcomings. Truth remains the goal despite the burdens it encounters. We do not always know the truth we seek and our path toward it is rarely straight but we pursue it none the less and are all the better and much the wiser for the trials our failure's force us to endure.?
?So your priority is truth?? Alexei concluded.
We walked on in mutually confused silence, toward the only truth we both knew was waiting for us, but only I seemed to dread a new exposure to the continuance of this barbaric day. I wondered why I was even here, this was not what I had signed up for and every step I took brought me one step closer to seeing things I might never again forget.
It was another afternoon paying careful inattention to the smoking hole in the side of the mountain before us. The Reds had breached the tunnel while I was gone and were inside fighting within what sketchy reports held as; an enormous and well-defended cavern deep within the mountain, with hints of further stifled accounts of men, SS soldiers, not dying when they were suppose to.
As Alexei had suggested, I dismissed these rumors as fantasy and whether for his sake alone, or for my own nagging disbelief of such a possibility, or simply because such information was not actionable from my position, I allowed these curiosities to pass without further disruption.
But in my own mind, right along with the once rumored existence of the very Redoubt I now stood in front of, I knew consensus meant something. Dismissed as popular myth by the General Staff, the frequency of these reports was difficult to ignore. ?What uncommon valor these men have,? Zhukov was said to have said, ?what I could do with men of that caliber.?
It was well after midnight when a series of screams and a puff of smoke drew our attention again, we all looked up to see yet another image that might haunt me well past my death. Why was I here? I screamed inside my head as I dug my palms into my eye sockets deep enough that I might finally be blinded to this horror.
Early that morning the news came. We were in control of the tunnel and adjoining cavern. I did not ask the cost, I could not live with myself knowing the full truth of what I had witnessed and maybe my formerly stifled inquiries had made me cautious of what I should ask of my hosts. The battle was drawing to a close; that was enough for me and as the Redoubt Guard dwindled it became apparent that they could be killed, that these rumors were the stuff of farm boy fantasy. The Nazi?s invincible SS were fading into history at long last.
Hitler was captured that evening. Alive!
I was not near Zhukov when the news hit but I knew this moment was one of great opportunity. His ego would be my ticket inside the Redoubt to fulfill my role here. Moving quickly, I converged on the point I knew he would have to cross to reach the entrance and sure enough, as he approached I was swept up in his wake as the only certainty more pleasing than a conquered foe, are witnesses to the account thereof and into the Redoubt I went.
My mind raced faster than my pulse as I absorbed every detail I saw. This fortress was the stuff legends are born of I thought as I followed Zhukov?s entourage up the long tunnel inside the mountain.
The official tally was not in of course, nor did I expect one, but the body count required in its capture held future promise and as the closing days of the war began so would the looting, which among my more tactical purposes, was where I came in; to make note of this sort of technology.
Following our short hike we entered into the first chamber. A huge cavernous space opened up before me like I had walked outside again only as I looked up, I found there were no stars to be seen above us, nor was there any ceiling I could discern through the smoke.
The vast floor of the cavern was covered in a mostly destroyed labyrinth of tank traps and barbed wire obstacles which separated us from a multi-leveled structure clad in burnt out machine gun nests and artillery positions forming the opposite wall. To the left, a bright light shone out from a tunnel next to a large door blown off its hinges. It was toward this light our party progressed.
Beyond a bank vault like door still teetering on its last hinge, pressed open by an armored vehicle pinning it against the wall revealed; a tunnel lined with windows down each side through which you could see the flicker of water filtered light.
Through this curiosity in wide-eyed silence each member of Zhukov?s party passed relieving their disbelief of the spectacle onto the next man as they stepped into the more familiar safety of the granite walled second chamber beyond. ?An enormous sphere suspended in a liquid shell some ten meters deep,? the officer leading the way said to Zhukov as we entered.
Unnoticed or unconcerned with my presence I continued to follow them through the second more complex chamber down a long hallway around a corner down a second longer hallway up a dozen flights of stairs along another hallway into a huge room leading to another room to the left.
The guards stopped me at this point. Zhukov, still ahead of me, walked into the room and stopped at the edge of my line of sight. I could see him standing there but I could not see more and as I stepped to the side, his guard jabbed me in the ribs with a rifle butt, this was as far I was going. Hearing Zhukov mumble something incomprehensible I leaned forward as the almost respectful tone of his words danced by me. The guards turned at this as well and I slipped right and caught a line of sight view of Zhukov?s cornered quarry.
There he was, a short old man; the funny mustache was the only recognizable marking I needed. He frankly did not look the part, they never do. Suddenly yelling in German pierced my eardrums. It was Hitler all right and what a voice, this man commanded all around him. I was surprised not to see Zhukov fall into line behind him as his barking echoed off the granite walls, I know I felt it; like some sublime force, pulling me off course.
The shouting continued; it grew louder and more terminal. Something was coming, and under Hitler?s yelling I heard a second voice in Russian saying, ?I told you this was true! You did not believe me,? said the Colonel walking past Zhukov, ?look at the blood on him. That is his blood. Does he look wounded??
The Colonel now standing in front of Zhukov stared intently at the doubt in his Commanders eyes slowly shifting toward him, he drew his pistol in response, turned, and fired it once, twice, and Hitler fell. Zhukov shoved the Colonel and his guards quickly mobbed him.
Hitler lay there. I moved in closer. He was bleeding, lying in a pool of blood. He was hit badly. The Colonel yelled, ?watch him!? From under the pile of guards and then it happened. Hitler slipped around a bit looking for traction. Zhukov and everyone in the room took a step back mentally if not physically and stared as he rose again like the shouting which followed.
It sounded like so many speeches I had heard on the radio from my days in England. This man was undead or indestructible, was he supernatural? Could he have been the Savior so many people thought he might be? He certainly commanded a room well enough, but magnetism aside what was I seeing? How is this so?
Zhukov not satisfied with what he was seeing pulled his pistol and aimed steadily at Hitler?s shoulder, the room went silent. Seconds ticked by like minutes. Did he fire? Did I miss it? BANG! Everyone jumped except Hitler who fell back but caught himself. Blood dripped to the floor from the wound dampening his uniform in a higher location than before; then braced from the shot he regained his composure lifted his head and looked up at us confirming Zhukov?s unsatisfied scowl to which he fired, again and again until his pistol emptied.
Smoke filled the room. Hitler lay against the back wall, breathing. He breathed. I breathed. We all breathed. Zhukov reloaded. I moved in closer. Zhukov stood looking down at his open revolver making certain it seemed the bullets felt heavy enough and fitted into the tumbler just right, the revolver latched as he looked straight ahead but Hitler still lay on the floor. Zhukov looked down leaned in and said something at almost a whisper I did not hear, though his sublime lilt widened Hitler?s eyes.
At these words Hitler stood up slowly. Standing tall after collecting himself, he straightened his hair to the wrong side as always, adjusted his uniform and looked dead ahead. Zhukov stepped back. Compliance was at hand but who was serving whom? Perhaps an understanding was reached. I stepped back again. Hitler stood erect and assumed the fascist salute followed by a single well-barked Seig-Heil.
Zhukov circled around moving toward me eyeing his gun. I looked on with nervous amazement, was Zhukov giving Hitler his final moment, or vice versa? Seeing a guard with machine gun at the ready should failure be upon us. Zhukov found his mark, lined up and Hitler slumped. He did not fall but looked to have had an episode of sorts.
I looked at him with furrowed brow. We all looked at him with inquisition. No one watching had missed this change in deportment. The magnetism was gone. He stood there crestfallen and dumbfounded first looking only at the floor then at each one of us. Zhukov lined up focusing on Hitler. Hitler?s gaze soon found Zhukov.
A guard from outside stepped in and said something privately to Zhukov. The guard left again.
Zhukov raised his weapon took aim at Hitler?s head and fired. The bullet struck Hitler just above the brow between the eyes and he fell like a sack of clothes. The room froze, like a photograph of the incident as a single coil of smoke rolled off his gun?s barrel and except for my own heart; I heard nothing but the pain.
We stared at the crumpled body of Hitler, it did not move. Blood pooled beneath it. We stared and stared.
It was over. There was no mistaking this moment, so many impossible years; countless millions murdered on every side by the mad men defending them, and in this second, the insanity was gone.
Minutes passed in silence.
Zhukov, still standing in front of me looking down at his fallen nemesis, the others retreated in triumph; leaving us, trapped by the immense gravity emanating from the body at the end of the room. I wanted to move but could not. My legs would not so much as twitch. This was a moment of history like few others and I breathed in every detail.
Just short of becoming a statue Zhukov stepped back, turned on his heel and walked toward the exit as he passed by he said gruffly, ?this never happened.?
I was the statue now.
?Lieutenant Banner,? I yelled at the shadow standing beyond the doorway at the end of the hall, ?Lieutenant? No response came. Walking further down the granite walled halls of the Redoubt and into the room, I said, ?Lieutenant, We have to go. Now! Our Division is moving out!?
The dizzy American Liaison looked up at me, ?Our Division?? He said, ?I think you are mistaken Comrade. Our Division lies under the mud of that field out there. Our Division isn?t going anywhere.?
?Lieutenant we have to go,? I said through my teeth measuring every word, but seeing no response worthy of note I grabbed his arm and dragged him down the hall with me. He followed only with great effort, which faded with every step. ?Hitler is dead,? I said, ?they found his body in the Fuhrerbunker in Berlin; the war is over. Our Division is moving on to the Elbe as planned, where our duties demand we coordinate our meet up with your 1st US Army.?
The American Liaison stopped in his tracks saying, ?that pool of blood back there. That was~?
?~No it was not!? I replied maintaining my stern tone, ?I do not have time to go over this right now. If you want to live to the end of this day, we have to leave here now!? His step quickened with these words and we made our way out of the Redoubt into the Grand Cavern where thousands of bodies both German and Russian were being stacked like firewood.
Down the long tunnel we quick stepped past troops still clearing away the debris of battle. The daylight pierced my eyes as we emerged. Continuing up the road to the field headquarters, I went inside briefly for orders and keys to a private car with which I was to drive my counterpart to catch up with our Division already in route to the river Elbe.
Returning to find my charge standing in the same spot but looking back at the Mountain Redoubt for what he knew too would be the last time. Seeing the tractors already on site towing out our tanks, knowing the bodies were almost gone and realizing that by the end of this day none of this will have ever happened. I paused for a moment to allow the inevitable to pass.
Banner looked up at me and said, ?you guys are not as dumb as you look are you??
I laughed at his predictable naivety and shoved him in the right direction replying, ?only as dumb as you imagine.? He looked back at me for the briefest of seconds as I walked past him and our quick step resumed toward the waiting car.
Once on the road we sat in silence for sometime. Pacified by the predictable purr of the motor, I knew behind his perplexing scowl he was replaying the morning?s events over and over in his mind to burn them into place, but it was not going to do him any good. They were not coming back and knowledge of them could not benefit him any further. I consoled his silence simply saying, ?welcome to life with the Red Army.?
He grunted, ?so??
I replied, ?you saw nothing.?
?~you know nothing.? The remainder of our journey went without comment.
I dropped him off when we reached our Division Command Vehicle. He said nothing as he left the car. I knew he understood and with that my duties here were over. I was to report back to Breslau for reassignment to England to fill my position on the Red Army staff playing my small part in the coordination of the stand down of allied forces in Europe, and I was late.
This was a tense time for everyone. Europe had more than ten million heavily armed shell-shocked troops with no clear purpose or target and the slightest misunderstanding could be catastrophic. Trust was in short supply as the ranks tightened into what most hoped would be the final hours of the war. To insure that it was, they needed people with first hand field experience and contacts advising them. Not everyone was happy to see this war end but end it must; the alternative was unthinkable.
It took considerable time driving against the Red Tide of men and machine still flowing westwards; I reached our air base in Poland that evening in time to catch a transport plane. We picked up an American escort fighter as we flew back over Germany, watching it float up and down outside my window for several minutes; I thought now there is the good life.
When I awoke, it was dark all around there was no noise. I was the only person aboard the once crowded plane. I could see nothing outside and presumed I was dreaming or worse. Still tired, I rolled to one side and went back to sleep. When I awoke again, it was the same scene dark all around me. No noise. No people. I reached for my lighter and with it illuminating the interior of the plane, my initial observations were proven correct. There was no one insight. I looked left and right in front and in back, I was alone. I tried looking out the window but saw only a tired soldier looking back in.
Considering whether I should go back to sleep and make sense of this when there was more information to make sense with, I decided somebody must need me somewhere. Standing, I made my way through the darkness to the front of the plane, found an open door and stepped down to the ground, which felt to be a smooth concrete floor. I looked around in the darkness to see the outline of other planes, this was a good sign, and in the distance I saw faint light through foggy windows. A hangar is where I must be, but beyond this, I knew little more than to suspect I was in England.
Stepping out of the hangar I emerged onto a large flat tarmac with planes dotted here and there most of which I did not recognize. Yes, I told myself; this must be England. I had my vicinity narrowed but where to go from here? Looking through the darkness for any area of general activity, I saw none. There was a brightness coming from beyond the next building; moving toward the light as so basic an instinct it seemed to be, held true until the sharp yell of man behind me shouted, ?Halt!? And I did.
The footsteps moved around toward my front, asking, ?name??
?Lieutenant Commander Alexei Misostov of the Red Army,? I replied.
He remained silent, then said in a befuddled tone, ?could you repeat that please?? And I did to which he replied, ?please stand where you are,? as he blew two blasts on a whistle producing another guard out of the darkness who joined him.
They discussed the reality of Russians being on base and concluded I was probably supposed to be here, but were no more informed as me as to what I was suppose to be doing here. The new guard removed a wireless radio from his pack and walked a few steps away. The first guard smiling sheepishly up at me quickly turned his gaze toward assisting his partner. On the second guards return he handed me a yellow card saying, ?this is good until dawn. Show it where needed.?
I had just a few questions which still needed to be answered but I did not think these two held any more answers than were apparent. Thanking them, they walked off in opposite directions leaving me standing looking out at the open airfield. Lost in both moment and direction the complete lack of people trying to shoot at me became evident. I smelled the air. This was nice.
Looking back at the hangars, then left to the building indicated as headquarters, I concluded I was on friendly territory but battle rules still seemed to apply: If you do not know where you are, you should return to the last point you knew where you were and wait there for more information. And I did.
Entering back into the hangar, I wandered amongst the larger aircraft not immediately recognizing which I had departed from. ?Ah yes. This looks familiar,? I said under breath. Reentering, I found the seat next to mine held a brown satchel bag camouflaged under a newly pressed dress uniform. The bag revealed three relevant items: a map, some papers and what I guessed to be British money.
With satchel and uniform tucked underarm, I again departed the hangar and made my way toward the brightest spot on the darkened airport. Along my way I spotted another contingent of guards and quickly juggled my load fumbling through my pockets to produce a yellow security pass for their focusing flashlight. Nodded on, I smiled and passed undisturbed.
The office beyond the light drew me in, a rather unsubstantial building with windows through which a squint revealed busily working people inside. I lingered outside the front door a moment, to collect my thoughts and considered on my own time what I was here to request. Reexamining my new satchel and its map, I thought this is where I should begin.
Presenting myself to the front desk clerk, whom after accosting me with a short visual inspection probably more out of curiosity than anything else I said, ?could you direct me how to get to this location?? I pointed at the map, ?It would seem~?
?~Yes,? he interrupted, ?your Russian lot went on without you. They did say more would be following. I will arrange for a driver and car to be along shortly. Have a seat please it should not be but more than twenty minutes.?
On that, he presumed I was informed and returned to his work without delay. They did appear terribly busy, so I left him to it and walked back toward the waiting area.
And there it was. Sitting down, I picked up the newspaper bearing a photograph of the man I had just seen being carried out of the Redoubt. ?Hitler Is Dead? the headline read; below it lay the very man I had seen with bullet wound in forehead, and a photograph of Hitler being held above him as proof to anyone who did not recognize his silly mustache. ?Found inside the Fuhrerbunker in Berlin. Died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,? it said.
I continued reading despite the weight of my ever more apparent frown; looking as though I was reading anyway, my eyes followed the words and my mind read them but it did not matter. None of this was true.
What finally mussed my attention away from my disgust was did the truth really matter at all? Hitler was dead. Was this truth not enough? Were the method and time, location and circumstance so important that knowing these exact details could change histories interpretation of reality? Do not let the facts get in the way of the truth my education told me.
While my frown smiled at the consideration I might pick up a pen and revise this article to a more accurate account of how Hitler?s body came to be found at such a politically beneficial location. My smiling frown turned back upside-down with painful obviousness in the realization of who could such a correction serve? Who could possibly benefit from one man?s recollection of events, over the official truth as laid out in this newspaper and millions like it now streaming around the world? One reedit here in rural England would accomplish nothing.
Accurate information is only powerful where it is widely actionable I thought, as on the battlefield. Power here, is any information disseminated in mass.
There would be no correction. This was the truth and whom it served best did not matter. For the truth of the lie was that it really did not serve anyone who mattered with the exception of Stalin?s incredibly bloated humble ego. This man was right in all things in our land and anything he was not right about was put through vigorous exercise until its new form proved out how right Stalin had been in the first place. This was life under Soviet Socialism.
This was Soviet truth in western news. This was everything that every OSS American Intelligence agent lived in fear of; someone else dictating the official truth of world events.
I looked up from my crusade for the truth, which lived and died in this chair as a small man walked into the office and asked in a large voice, ?you rang?? The busy clerk pointed at me mid-turn only to resume his dance to which the little man moved toward me saying, ?do you know where you are headed or should I presume for you?? I handed him the map.
?Thanks, I should have presumed, follow me. Do you have any luggage?? He asked as we passed through the door.
?Only what I am carrying,? I replied.
A gray jeep waited for us outside. Reaching the airport gate where I presented my papers, we passed with ease into the English countryside. ?Smoke ?em if you got ?em,? the driver said as we rumbled along the narrow hedge lined road. I did not and therefore would not. ?You do not mind if I do,? he continued. Asking myself if that was a question or a suggestion, he proceeded at my lack of objection.
The drives rush of cool morning air left me looking for a heater, which I engaged and reveled in. It was a brisk but beautiful morning, the sun was already showing and I think I heard a bird tweet as we passed the last grove of trees. War free, it hit me again. Everything around me was war free. I smiled.
The driver spoke again, ?can you believe it?s really over?? To which my smile nodded. He continued, ?what a war. Were you in for the whole show?? I nodded again. ?Not me,? he replied, ?I just got here; have not seen one ounce of combat. Was it rough?? I delayed glancing right and nodded again. ?Yeah, that is what they tell me. I drive a lot of people around. I have lived this war through them mostly, and where were you in the worst of it??
I tried to quantify an answer to his question but the silence dictated my failure. Content though I was with my silence it did not sit well with this one; he was determined to find out more about me. A few moments passed before he repeated his request as though I had not heard him the first time. To which I found myself, against my very will, begrudgingly replying, ?we had some trouble crossing the Oder River, heavily prepared defenses before Berlin and considerable losses on our part.?
Now he sat in silence for a while, perhaps contemplating the nature of my acceptably vague and short reply before saying, ?you guys always seem to get through in the end though. I mean wow at your show and all. Great job from me personally.?
?Those tanks you guys have?? He continued, ?are all the talk around the table at my house. Well we have a decent little tank killer called the M-4 but nothing compared to those beasts your guys have. The JS-II I believe it is called isn?t it? Wouldn?t take too many of those to put those Nazi bastards in their place I bet? Did you see many out there??
Inside I was smiling at this driver?s expertly dialogued chitchat, yet I wanted to break free from it without incident and did so by the only means I knew possible. Looking around at the empty fields streaming past us, noting the fact that we were about as isolated as this little man and I had been since we first met, I made sure he saw me looking disturbed at his questions, and proceeded to ask, ?not seen anyone around in a while. Are you sure this is where you want to be??
The driver did not say anything for the rest of our trip and I soon found myself on the curb outside a rather nice looking hotel. ?This is it. Enjoy your stay,? he might have said, but on my arrival I had but one thing in mind: breakfast and a hot bath, or perhaps the bath first and then breakfast. Moving along into the hotel, without a word being said the concierge out flanked me; directing me toward the room they were calling the barracks, he left me to my obvious duties.
Cleaned, shaved and eaten. I proceeded to my next destination, the Allies Regional Headquarters following an adjutant I had picked up in the dining room. Once I arrived, the main events were made ready to take place. While I waited, I was briefed and debriefed; I would be contacting my representative with my Red Army Division now in Germany with their approach and contact details for meeting up with the US 1st Army.
This simple enough situation was to be perhaps the most highly charged moment of the war. There could be zero casualties in its execution as it was likely any remaining Nazi troops would have been pushed toward the very spot where we were to meet up and if so, there could be considerable interference that would cost us dearly if they got us shooting at our allies.
The situation of two allied armies fighting with each other against a common foe, but never before on the same field of battle, could quickly go wrong should we meet under unfavorable circumstances. Especially given the legendary paranoia both sides shared toward each other?s political agenda. Filling my role at last, I radioed in to my Division contact the American Liaison Banner. ?Hello Alexei!? He greeted me warmly.
?Hello Jonathan,? I replied, ?here are your Division hold coordinates. Followed by your scout team approach vectors and finally your firing recognition patterns should you encounter resistance.?
Hearing my old friend on the other end of the radio was pleasing as he had disappeared quicker than expected. I copied his coordinates down replying, ?understood. Scout teams are ready to approach on your order,? I double checked my scribbling and dispatched them to the Red Army couriers.
Alexei replied, ?you can dispatch your scouts now.?
?Thank you Alexei,? I said, ?and I will leave my address with your Division command. Look me up someday.?
?Indeed Comrade, over and out.?
Proceeding forwards toward the River Elbe, I contacted my scouts. They had encountered no resistance and with great caution together we pushed on. Our arrival at the bridge brought us face to face with an equally cautious and stark looking band across the river. Looking for familiarity, a single outline drew me closer, an almost forgotten friend. He smiled.
It was in this manner our two armies, had come in contact all across Germany the previous week and with our arrival, the last tooth of this giant zipper closed on a united Europe. Under our flag of peace, after so many horrific years of war, tyranny had been defeated and my job here was done.
Saying goodbye, to my Russian Comrades and then to Europe, I was rushed home ahead of my Division for more debriefings; this time with the OSS in Washington, D.C. I presumed they wanted greater details of Hitler?s death and the Redoubt?s strengths and weaknesses but like the rest, they were not interested in one man?s inconceivable experience. I did put it all on paper, but the more times I told this story the crazier it sounded.
Most important to them it seemed, was that the Soviets had nothing we did not already know about. I tried to impress upon my interviewers that these were good people and I did not share their concern from what I had seen of the Red Armies intentions toward us. This gave them little solace as they clearly did not believe my trust of the Russian people should be as willingly extended to their superiors. Somehow I doubted my interviewers liked feeling good about things though, feeling good does not fill the coffers.
And back to the basics we went. ?How many and~?
?~when did you first see these?? I asked the final time.
Completing my questioning of the Liaison I smiled and said, ?well Lieutenant Banner can you believe it is really over??
He looked up saying, ?I can. But it will be sometime before my brain does as well.?
I laughed as he walked out of the room.
I had four more debriefs that day, but rushed upstairs for my own debriefing with the boss. Stopped by his secretary, I waited in their outer office for my turn.
The newspaper I read while waiting was still reporting on about the war. They could not get enough of it apparently as today?s headlines announced proudly we had captured the German Rocketeers in tact. That was a done deal two months ago I smirked but it?s nice the headlines get out eventually, I suppose.
Let?s see how much made it into the paper I thought as I read on. Five hundred of Germany?s most prized Rocket Scientists were coming to America. I bet the Soviets were smarting about that one I laughed but, inside I knew this headline would call Soviet resources off the search for them, headlines are our worst enemy.
As I read on, the speech of Germany?s Chief Rocket Scientist Werner von Braun promising us wild eye dreams of men living in space and his devotion to his new homeland America, I thought of what was really going on in Germany at this moment.
Sure it was terribly gratifying to defend the world from tyranny, fight injustice, free our long befriended allies, assert ourselves as a Superpower and fuel our economy with war dollars to pull ourselves out of a depression into a world of great prosperity. But in the ended what was really going on in Germany right now was the only reason we went.
Drawing Board was its name: to seize the war production assets of Germany. Their recent actions were justification enough for a statewide forfeiture of everything that could be called a weapon: medicines, power plants, synthetic oil refinement, war-machines and any other development we could stumble across before the Russians were fair game. The Germans were years, even decades ahead of us in so many fields that to put ourselves into a situation where we could simply walk building to building filling our pockets, was; well it was what conquerors conquer for.
From the first rockets to reach into space to supersonic air craft built of plywood, from nuclear reactors to helicopters, from jet fighters and bombers to flying wing stealth aircraft and guided missiles, from computers to electronic eyes. The world sat in wait for this avalanche of development, the future of this century?s industry lay on the drawing boards of Germany. The Nazis had little to do with the development of any of it but nobody keeps score after the game is over. They had it all.
No correct that. We had it all, and for the good of freedom and democracy we were there getting every last piece of it before the Russians could. My bosses would not say it; the next war began the instant Hitler died: Germany, stripped to the core, turned into an agrarian society never to menace the world again and we over the Russians, to profit at every turn from confiscated war reparations.
Finally called into the boss?s office I filled them in on what I knew so far which was not much in the form of fact but we had a mountain of speculation building. I confined myself to understanding what their needs were and returned to my duties.
?He is new here?? Replied Cholmers.
?Yeah that is Frank?s son,? I said.
?Frank from downstairs??
?No. From Morale Operations.?
Moments passed, as Cholmers desperately searched for a face in his own memories, to secure his assertion that he knew what we were talking about, before I interrupted, ?our name change is coming through soon, had you heard the latest?? I said in a vain attempt to bring him back from his aimlessly stare.
To which he frowned back at me, ?they are going ahead with that then??
Laughing I replied, ?well how tiring is it to constantly hear the OSS being called ?Oh the SS?? I don?t like being associated in anyway with Hitler?s Schutz-Staffel.?
?Inconvenient that.? Cholmers replied, ?Hitler should have consulted us before calling his band of thugs the SS. So is that what SS stands for then? Hmm. Wonder what Schutz means??
?I don?t know.? I said, ?it?s German for something.? I waited for his face to show a reaction but saw none, ?C~ I~ A~. So what do you think Cholmers??
?Going to take sometime getting use to, C~ I~ A~,? he replied returning his stare toward my ceiling. I looked up wondering what he sees up there. ?Why ?C? Boss? Is there a less central intelligence than our own that we must distinguish ourselves from??
?Let?s hope not Cholmers, let?s hope not.? We both stared up in vain.
?How are things off Danzig?? Cholmers said, ?are we on site yet? Will they be keeping us informed first hand or through Central Command??
?I expect we are on approach as we speak,? I replied, ?and they better keep me informed first hand, it was my idea to begin underwater surveillance of Soviet occupied ports and I took a huge risk ordering this mission against all other suggestions. So when it shows benefit, you and I had better be ready to move, trumping anyone else taking credit. I do not want to be the last man in line scrounging for the facts when this tree bears fruit.?
?The next war has already begun my old friend,? I continued, ?and it is underwater. Under there, right now lying off the coast of Northern Germany counting supply ships moving down from Soviet Russia. The allies have no idea what the next move is going to be and they will not know for certain until we tell them.?
?Brilliant my liege.?
I returned a dead pan look shunning his sarcasm with just enough frown not to discourage his compliment.
?And what about the Bavarian Redoubt?? He asked.
I stared into space still reveling in his comment, ?fortresses don?t invade Western Europe tomorrow Cholmers. If it is there, it will wait.?