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Himmler's war

Robert Conroy

AUTHOR’S NOTE

To humanity’s dismay and grief, Adolf Hitler lived a charmed life. He could have died of wounds suffered in the First World War, yet lived on to establish the ghastly Third Reich, create the Holocaust, and initiate World War II, which then resulted in the Cold War and so much tragedy for the world. There were more than forty attempts on his life, some absurd and some very near misses, and yet he survived them all.

The most famous attempt was the conspiracy involving Claus von Stauffenberg on July 20, 1944, and this attempt arguably came closest to succeeding. However, a badly injured Hitler lived on, dragging out the war in an orgy of killing until committing suicide in a dank bunker in Berlin in April, 1945.

But what if Hitler had been killed not by an assassin but in an act of war? And what if that act was largely unexpected and accidental? It would have resulted in enormous unanticipated consequences. With Hitler gone, what would have happened to the Allies’ policy of unconditional surrender? Without Hitler’s nearly insane interference, would the German generals have fought a more intelligent war; thus causing massive and potentially unendurable Allied casualties?

This, of course is the premise of Himmler’s War. Instead of his committing suicide in the spring of 1945, my novel has Hitler dying a messy death in the summer of 1944, a full month before von Stauffenberg’s conspirators would have been in place to effect a coup.

As chaos reigns, a new leader has to step forward in Germany and, in this novel, it is the murderous and sinister Heinrich Himmler. Also, with Hitler dead, this has the potential to devastate political alliances. The impact of Hitler’s premature death would have had huge repercussions, and this is the story of that particular “what if.”

***

To reduce any confusion, I have almost entirely used American equivalent ranks when discussing the German military. Aside from being difficult to spell and pronounce, the various military entities, the Waffen SS, the Volkssturm, and the regular army (the Heer), all had their own terminologies for the same ranks. The word Wehrmacht has been generally but incorrectly identified with the army. Wehrmacht is the umbrella term for all three services: the Luftwaffe (Air Force), the Kriegsmarine (Navy), and the Heer (Army). Also, to the best of my knowledge, no such unit as the Seventy-Fourth Armored Regiment existed in the U.S. Army during World War II.

– Robert Conroy, June 2011

CHAPTER 1

The B17G bomber was almost universally referred to as the “Flying Fortress,” and for good reason. Painted olive drab on top to blend with the ground below, and with a sky blue belly for camouflage from enemies looking skyward, the bombers weighed more than thirty tons and bristled with. 50 caliber machine guns. The designers at Boeing originally felt that each bomber would be able to defend itself against attacks by enemy fighters, and still deliver up to three tons of bombs far into Germany. She could speed over Europe at nearly three hundred miles an hour, had a range of nearly two thousand miles, and could fly at an altitude of more than thirty-five thousand feet. Everyone felt it was a helluva plane.

Like many well-laid plans, it didn’t work out that way. Despite all her weapons, the bomber was vulnerable to attacks by German fighters, in particular the swift and deadly Messerschmitt 109G, a sleek single-engine fighter that savaged the formations when the bombers were required to fly without escorts. Since American fighters had much shorter ranges than the bombers, Nazi fighters often waited until escorts ran short of fuel and had to depart. The drop tank on the American P51 fighter was supposed to stop that and, in large part it did. Range was extended and bombers were better protected.

But everything had gone wrong this otherwise bright and sunny day in mid June 1944. The small flight of eighteen bombers was supposed to meet up with the escorting fighters, but the P51’s never showed. Some snafu? Very likely, the angry bomber crews thought, but what the hell else was new. The flight’s commander, an ambitious major who wanted to make colonel before the war ended, determined to soldier on. The fighters would either meet him or they would not. It didn’t matter-he had a target to bomb and a promotion to earn. And, since the D-Day invasion at Normandy had been successful, it was thought that collapse of Nazi Germany was imminent, certainly by the end of 1944. Ergo, the major didn’t have time to waste. His career was at stake.

Their target was not a high priority one. It was a factory complex near the city of Landsberg, which was north and east of Berlin. There were fewer and fewer German interceptors in the air and the major felt that this small group of bombers was unlikely to attract attention. Even though their attack would take them well into the Third Reich, it was considered little more than a training run.

Several of the eighteen bomber crews were on their first combat flight, and that included the men of the Mother’s Milk. The name had been chosen while several of the crew had been drunk on English beer, and they compounded their mistake by hiring an artist of dubious talent who painted a farm girl on the fuselage. She wore a halter top, extremely short shorts that showed much of her cheeks, and a toothy smile. And she had grotesquely enormous boobs that other crews considered laughable, which pissed off the Milk ’s rookie crew who were further teased by being called “Milkmen.” They accepted the nickname and used it among themselves.

Twenty-four-year-old First Lieutenant Paul Phips was her commander and he was scared to death as well as freezing his ass off. He was not a warrior. Small of stature and slight of build, he reminded people of a Midwestern grocery clerk, not a bomber pilot. The truth was not that far off. He’d been in his first year as a high school teacher in Iowa when the draft grabbed him, and he still had no idea how he’d passed flight school.

This run had been their initial exposure to possible combat and that had caused more than enough stress. The more experienced crews had teased them, calling them Virgins or Cherries, and saying they’d shit their pants the first time they were shot at, all of which didn’t help the crew’s fragile morale.

As always, they were cold, despite the fact that they were wearing multiple layers of clothing. The wind whipped through the bomber, and their heavy flight suits, even though they were plugged into the plane like electric blankets, didn’t do much. The fear and the cold sapped their resolve and the Milkmen wondered just why they had become bomber crewmen.

Before they dropped their bombs, disaster struck. They’d been jumped by a dozen or more of the allegedly nonexistent ME109’s that knifed down from above and shot down or damaged several bombers before anyone could even notice. So much for don’t worry about German planes, Phips and his crew thought as they maneuvered wildly to evade their swift enemy.

Their flight commander’s plane was one of the first destroyed, which rendered the remaining crews leaderless. As the fight became a mindless brawl, Phips had made a major mistake. He’d run. Instead of staying with the survivors and forming up defensively, Phips sent his plane lower in altitude and flown to the west in the hope that he could escape the attacking German sharks.

Instead, two of the MEs had stayed with him, chasing the bomber and dogging it. Phips swore that they were taunting him as he gradually gained control over the bomber and his fears.

“What the hell do we do now, Skipper?” asked his copilot, Second Lieutenant Bill Stover. The sarcastic tone of voice was not lost on Phips, who was well aware that he’d panicked and screwed up royally.

Stover continued, “In case you haven’t noticed, they’re chasing us south and west. In a while we’ll run out of gas and have to bail out even if they don’t manage to shoot us down first.”

“I know,” Phips muttered. Despite the cold, he was sweating profusely.

The tail gunner, Sergeant Ballard, broke in. At thirty, he was the old man and his deep voice had a calming effect. “Skipper, it looks like one of them is pulling back. Maybe he’s running out of fuel.”

Phips prayed it was so. The ME only had a range of about three hundred miles and must have used up a lot of gas chasing the bombers around the sky. Maybe the second one would have the same problem.

No such luck. As time dragged on, the lone ME stayed behind them, darting in and out, firing an occasional burst, and looking for an opportunity to make a kill. The German respected the bomber’s many guns, which fired short bursts every time he got within range. It looked like an impasse but it wasn’t. As long as he had fuel, the German held all the trump cards. At least they were low enough that the men of Mother’s Milk didn’t need oxygen to breathe.

“Skipper, will you take a suggestion from your beloved navigator?”

Phips managed a weak smile. “Yes, Mr. Kent.”

“We are getting farther and farther away from Mother England. If you want me to find our way home, we’ve got to stop this running shit and head back.”

Damn it, Phips thought. It was time to make up for his mistake. “Okay, we turn and attack the bastard.”

The German must have thought that the plane’s sudden and sharp banking to the

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