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As It Happened -

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(generated from captions) Life on earth depends on water. Its healing powers will remain useful in its pristine state. only if we preserve it 18 million men under arms, The Wehrmacht, commanded by Adolf Hitler. wage the bloodiest war in history. This army will march into Europe and What sort of an army was it? Or millions of manipulated young men? Obedient followers of Hitler? and sent to the front. Young men trained One in three will perish. Hitler's officers and generals - military professionals, status-conscious most of them non-political.

many were spineless careerists. Some of them were thoughtful men, Did they all share Hitler's goals? in the crimes committed What part did they play in the name of the German people? who put their lives on the line. Ordinary soldiers Privates, non-commissioned officers. What did they feel? when they went to war? What did they believe in the Wehrmacht seems invincible. At first, in almost every battle. German soldiers are victorious of millions, Battles that cause the deaths then increasingly, Germans too. first of the enemy, What made this army so destructive?

Hitler was an amateur. In military terms Yet he made himself

of the Armed Forces. Commander-in-Chief of ruthless power struggles In a series and he made the Wehrmacht his tool. he gained absolute authority has uncovered new sources Recent research Hitler's Wehrmacht than ever before. that give us a clearer picture of to old questions. The files give new answers separated good and evil. They illustrate how little people were abused and manipulated. They reveal in a horrific way how

to heed their conscience. And they show how many refused Newly-discovered records of the German military elite. offer a unique glimpse into the world British Secret Service files. by historian Sonke Neitzel. They were discovered and evaluated were still Top Secret. Until recently, these documents Tens of thousands of pages conversations are transcribed - on which secretly-recorded of the Wehrmacht. the conversations of leading generals This is where it happened. of Trent Park, near London. The idyllic country estate This is where all the German generals of the Western Allies were held. who fell into the hands Without realising it, gave away their real opinions the captured generals about the war and the Nazis. to the Fuhrer, World history will concede one point danger for the whole of mankind. that he recognised this great Jewish or Attila the Hun. Once it was Genghis Khan This time, it's Jewish Bolshevism. West European countries We, in our tiny have been so short-sighted. with each other over petty issues. We were always bickering was threatening us from the East. We simply failed to understand what But what he did was stupid. In this, the Fuhrer was... We were the stupid ones! refused to join us, those idiots! The countries of Western Europe fighting on two fronts. And we suddenly found ourselves

for the Western world. And doing the dirty work are completely free of anti-Semitism Few Wehrmacht soldiers and nationalism. They're children of their times. They don't realise they're witnessing disaster the world has ever seen. the beginning of the greatest

as a man of peace. They even regard Hitler has learned from the propaganda. That's what Heinrich Husmann based in Upper Silesia He's with the 5th Panzer Division, in the summer of 1939. cross the border into Poland. On September 1st, the tanks It's the start of World War Two. have mixed feelings. The older soldiers by Hitler's ideas. But the young are consumed

Walter Heinlein is 20 years old. On this first day of the war, a jubilant German Parliament. Adolf Hitler addresses He makes a blatant threat. for the horrors of war. The soldiers are not prepared to the defending Polish forces. The Wehrmacht is far superior the ugly reality comes as a shock. Even so, to their feelings. But the men can't give vent soldiers have been mobilised. Approximately 1.8 million Wehrmacht under the command of the generals. They're going to war Johannes Blaskowitz, Men like infantry general from East Prussia. the son of a pastor when he was still a baby. His mother died He was raised in military academies, of the Prussian aristocracy. the elite establishments for the life of an officer, Here he is trained in the entire Reich. the toughest education gains entry to a privileged world. In exchange, a penniless young man something superior. A uniform makes you with the highest respect. Officers are treated in restaurants They receive the best service for them at the theatre. and the best tickets are reserved In World War One, for most Wehrmacht generals, a formative experience Blaskowitz makes rapid progress. to staff headquarters. At 33, he is appointed and the Treaty of Versailles, But then comes the defeat of 1918, a humiliating blow. to 100,000 men. The German Army is cut the return of their former power. The generals want only one thing - is accepted into the new army, Johannes Blaskowitz, now a colonel, but he's given administrative duties. of career advancement. For the time being, there's no hope Unknown to him, an undercover general staff, the "Military Office" in Berlin, is already planning re-armament. has written a book Carl Dirks, himself a WWII veteran,

wanted massive re-armament. arguing that the Army leadership

the driving force behind re-armament. Hans von Seeckt, Head of the Army, is It must be kept secret, is a violation of the peace treaty. for the planning alone Seeckt is planning for war. In reality, When Hitler comes to power in 1933, of the Wehrmacht are ready. plans for the deployment the Wehrmacht of 102 divisions Carl Dirks has shown that World War Two, with which Hitler begins to the blueprint of the generals. corresponds exactly Everything is ready for Hitler. at top speed. Rearmament now moves ahead in everyday life. The effects can be felt From 1934 on, millions of manipulated young men had to swear allegiance directly to Hitler,

a man who's planning a war of conquest. The idea came from the Wehrmacht leadership itself. Some of the generals hope that by this overt act of loyalty, they will preserve the military's independence. They're wrong. The Minister of War, Werner von Blomberg,

is the first to suffer the consequences. In 1938, Blomberg is dismissed for marrying a former prostitute.

Hitler himself was best man at the wedding. He feels he's been deceived. He exploits the situation for his next move. There's only one man he can trust to take charge of the Wehrmacht... himself. General Wilhelm Keitel, in charge of the newly-created OKW, the Armed Forces High Command, reports directly to Hitler. Franz Halder becomes Chief of Staff of the Army High Command. The two organisations become permanent rivals, ideal conditions for Hitler's intrigues. Panzer general Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma knows the Army High Command well. In November 1942, he's captured by General Montgomery in North Africa - and greeted with a handshake. The British are experts in dealing with high-ranking prisoners. First they question them and keep them in basic accommodation, the same treatment given to an ordinary soldier. After they've suffered these disagreeable conditions for a while, they're taken to the more salubrious surroundings of Trent Park. The idea is, they'll feel comfortable here and converse freely with one another, not suspecting their every word is recorded by the microphones of the British Secret Service. It works. Thoma speaks quite openly about the army's leadership. I tell you, don't expect anything from the general staff. 99% of them are completely spineless. They have always been servile. They were never commanders.

They were more like assistants. Which is why most of them have no backbone. It's their upbringing, of course. You can't expect anything else. Hitler is mistrustful of his generals too, since he hasn't got them completely under his control. But he knows how to get his way. The generals are no match for him.

Colonel Karl-Heinz Frieser is a military historian in today's German army. Like Hitler, the generals want to win back what the Germans lost in the First World War. But Hitler wants more. He wants to enslave the Slav peoples and to create 'Lebensraum' - "living space" - in the East. Poland will become the first victim. Old prejudice and new belligerency fan the flames against Poland.

Johannes Blaskowitz is one of the generals in charge of the invasion. A few days before the start of hostilities he issues a command: "Soldiers of the 8th Army. "From today the 8th Army is established, "the command of which has been entrusted to me "by the Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht.

"Our duty is to execute his will with hard, fast, forceful strikes. "Long live the Fuhrer!" The Polish campaign is a war between unequal opponents. The Poles put up fierce resistance, but in the end they can only wait in vain for the help of the Allies. Just three and a half weeks after the outbreak of war Blaskowitz accepts the Polish surrender on a bus in Warsaw. Hitler's plans seem to be working. He presents himself as victor to the Poles - and to his own generals. This commander-in-chief can advance their careers. Soon after the victory parade, General Blaskowitz is awarded the Knight's Cross. He becomes head of the German occupation forces in Poland with the title Commander-in-Chief of the East. He's still a loyal, hard-working general in Hitler's Wehrmacht. But he slowly begins to have misgivings. This war is different from previous ones. In the area under his command, Jews are being harassed, pressed into forced labour, abused and even shot. The generals only talk about it behind closed doors. It's the SS, not the Wehrmacht, that are carrying out the deliberate mass murders in Poland. But the overall head of occupying forces is Blaskowitz, a Wehrmacht general. After several months, he issues a statement. Only later is it apparent that many officers and generals have been disturbed by the events in Poland. Edwin, Count von Rothkirch is a 50-year-old colonel in a cavalry regiment. He has a hobby - making amateur films with his 8 mm camera. He also likes appearing in his films.

Later, as a prisoner of war, he recalls a disagreeable situation. Only now does he dare to speak about it. I was in Kutno. I went there to film. I make films, that's all I do. I knew an SS officer there quite well and we were talking about this and that, and then he said "Do you feel like filming an execution?" I said "No, I find that too disgusting." He said "Well, it doesn't make any difference. "We always shoot people in the morning anyway. "But if you prefer, we still have a few left. "We could also shoot them in the afternoon." You can't simply imagine how these men... They've become animals. September 4, 1939, Tschenstochau in southern Poland, the fourth day of the war. For some unexplained reason, wild shooting breaks out shortly after German infantry enter the town. Eight German soldiers are killed and 14 wounded. The Germans retaliate in the most brutal fashion. Thousands of civilians are rounded up. At least 100 people are murdered, many of them Jews. Thus, from the opening days of the war, Wehrmacht units - some under Blaskowitz's command - have participated in atrocities. In this case the original shooting seems to have been "friendly fire", nervous German soldiers shooting at their own comrades. It was nothing unusual for their nerves to get the better of young soldiers. Nervous soldiers and aggressive Nazi ideology - a potent mix. Private Heinrich Husmann records his experiences in his diary. "September 10, 1939. Opatow, Jews' Paradise. "I believe at least 85% of the inhabitants are Jews. "And that's what it looks like. "A terrible stench everywhere. "And the Jewish shops are worst of all. "They demand outrageous prices. "We wouldn't dream of giving these vermin so much money." Anti-Semitism was not rare in the Wehrmacht. But other soldiers are much less prejudiced. General von Rothkirch feels partly responsible for the atrocities he witnessed in Poland. Just look how savage we have become, ourselves.

I drove through a small Polish village. They were shooting students there, just because they were students, and Polish aristocrats and landowners too. They were shooting everyone. I went to General Bockelberg and told him about it. He just said... He just said "Now listen to me, it has to be done. There is no other way. "The students are the most dangerous of all, they all have to go. "And the aristocrats - they're always going to make trouble. "And don't get yourself so horribly worked up. "If we win the war, it won't matter." I said "Herr Generaloberst, that may be, "but first of all, I will have to get used to these new principles." But he didn't protest. Not so General Blaskowitz, a devout Christian. He's genuinely horrified by the systematic murders the SS task forces have been carrying out. Though he ignores the actions of his own units, he criticises the misdeeds of the SS and the Police in two memos to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army, Walther von Brauchitsch. "The Army refuses to be linked with the atrocities of the Security Police "and refuses to work with the SS task forces, "which function almost exclusively as execution units. "The Police have so far only spread terror among the population. "To what degree the Police are able to come to terms with the fact "that they're forcing their own people "to take part in this murderous frenzy, "cannot be judged from here. "It is impossible to establish security and peace in this territory "with violent measures alone." Hitler is outraged, and Blaskowitz is dismissed. However, only a few months later he is given a new post in the West. The transcripts from Trent Park reveal that his fellow generals knew the background to his dismissal... and did nothing. We shot people. It started in Poland as early as '39. Apparently, the SS really cleared up around there. That's probably why they dismissed Blaskowitz. Yes, of course. And the SS people were promoted, instead of being shot. Shortly after victory in Poland, Hitler reveals his next plan to the generals. He intends to attack France as soon as possible. Most of his generals believe it can't be done. Franz Halder, Chief of the Army General Staff, wants to talk Hitler out of it. He considers it the idea of a madman, but still he wavers. Christian Hartmann, a historian at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, has researched Halder's life and his relations with Hitler.

The date for the war in the West is postponed again and again. Could this give Halder his chance? For weeks, according to a confidante, Halder went to see Hitler with a pistol in his pocket, in order to shoot him. In November 1939, Halder witnesses Hitler in a fit of rage, railing against the cowardliness and ineptitude of the generals. Halder now believes he has been betrayed and resigns himself to remaining silent. A contemporary described the Chief of Staff thus: "Halder is like a balloon-man, "strong and brave when someone pumps him up, "floppy and hollow, when deflated." Meanwhile, in Koblenz, on the banks of the Rhine, in the Prince-Bishop's palace, now taken over by the army, a rival of Halder is planning the campaign against France. General Erich von Manstein, Chief of Staff of the newly-formed Army Group A.

Together with Panzer general, Heinz Guderian, Manstein has developed a totally new concept. He doesn't think in fixed positions like First World War strategists. His will be a mobile war, a rolling attack that never stops, spearheaded by motorised units. The idea runs counter to the thinking of all the generals of Europe. From a military standpoint, it's revolutionary but it poses immense logistical problems.

There are many myths about the French campaign. Research by military historian Karl-Heinz Frieser has traced some of them back to their roots. The surprise attack is to come through South Belgium, when no one is expecting it. No one worries about infringing the neutrality of the Benelux countries. This is the famous 'Sickle Cut'. The weak point in Manstein's plan is that the Sickle Cut will expose a 100-kilometre flank to the Allies. It's a huge gamble. Army Chief of Staff Halder exiles Manstein to an unimportant post in the provinces. But Manstein still manages to present his plan to Hitler. The irony is that Hitler can't stand Manstein and doesn't grasp the full significance of his plan. Nevertheless, Manstein becomes the key creative mind for the invasion of France. Thus concentrated, the tanks are to push through northern France

all the way to the Channel with full aerial support and virtually without stopping. There hasn't been a campaign like it in all military history. General Guderian will lead the most important tank formations. Walter Heinlein is a gunner in a Panzer division under General Guderian. His upbringing has made him entirely ready for war against France. Neighbours are enemies - the spirit of the times. On May 10, 1940, the attack in the West begins. The rapid advance units of the Wehrmacht

are to push forward through the Ardennes in southern Belgium. The countryside is so hilly and the roads so narrow, they are considered to be impassable for tanks. They take the risk. More than 40,000 vehicles have been prepared for the attack. As there are no supply depots along the way, fuel and provisions for hundreds of thousands of soldiers have to be brought along and made available at specific points, an exceptional feat of organisation. But the terrain in the Ardennes keeps posing new problems. It seems the critics of Manstein's plan were right. The advancing columns of tanks and following infantry repeatedly clog the narrow mountain roads. They called it "the biggest tailback in history". If spotted, these stationary vehicles would be an easy target for enemy air forces.

Eventually they succeed in unravelling the tailback. The Allies had not expected an attack through the Ardennes so there are few casualties along the way. The element of surprise is crucial. The soldiers come to believe they're part of a modern, almost invincible army. It will turn out to be a dangerous illusion. The few modern divisions the Wehrmacht possesses like the steel tip of a lance. are deployed only ten have tanks, Out of a total of 157 divisions, and only six are fully motorised.

come the horse-drawn units, Behind the tanks since the Napoleonic Wars. technologically unchanged march on foot. The vast majority of soldiers and insufficiently trained. Most divisions are poorly equipped

is fully battle-ready. Only about half the army are modern, Yet the ideas behind the army known as Mission Command. especially the system Thus every individual has his task. of non-commissioned officers At the same time, the responsibility and ordinary soldiers is increased - in the moral sense, too. posed to each and every individual. The question of good and evil is in France, A bunker near the town of Sedan south of the Ardennes. the next obstacle to the Wehrmacht, is like one gigantic fortress. The valley of the Maas an important victory here in 1870. The Germans had won after taking Sedan. Hitler wants the army to pause Yet in Manstein's plan, in the advance to the Channel, the Maas is just one point without interruption. which is to continue Conflicts in the Wehrmacht leadership have become inevitable. begins with a massive bombardment. The attack on Sedan desperate resistance. The French put up overwhelmed. But the defenders are finally about the terrible side of war. Now Walter Heinlein finds out

soon evaporates. Heinlein's early enthusiasm The battles are intense but brief. 22,000 vehicles, including 850 tanks, The very next day, 60,000 men and cross the Maas near Sedan. break out of their bridgehead. Then, on May 14th, the Panzers towards the west, Without waiting, they strike out towards the Channel. General Guderian's tank corps orders of his superiors and Hitler. is advancing against the express

supposedly brilliant plan, According to Hitler's was to have stopped here. the Blitzkrieg Guderian saves the campaign. Through his own initiative and his tactics seem to succeed. Guderian gets his way has shown up the Commander-in-Chief. A mid-level general of the Wehrmacht It's very embarrassing for Hitler. is almost at the Channel. 10 days later, the Wehrmacht Manstein's plan of the Allied armies in Belgium, calls for an encirclement through the port of Dunkirk. preventing their retreat happens. But then something extraordinary Hitler orders the attack to halt. the Panzers don't move. For three days held back in the heat of the hunt. The generals feel like hunting dogs They watch their prey escaping. was a critical mistake. The order to stop before Dunkirk about it today. Many people still scratch their heads British escape across the Channel? Did Hitler intentionally let the The soldiers can't believe it. the bulk of the Allied armies From Dunkirk, 340,000 men. are evacuated across the Channel, are left behind. Only vehicles and heavy equipment There was no such order. The real reasons were different. of the operation, To ensure the rapid success had taken important decisions the Army High Command the Commander-in-Chief. without consulting Once again, Hitler felt ignored. Hitler's ploy works. a crucial showdown. The generals have lost than 340,000 of the enemy escaping. For him, that's more important France surrenders A short time later, play the role of brilliant victor, and Hitler can once again commander of genius. is occupied by the Wehrmacht. A large part of France are ignorant of the power struggle In their euphoria, the soldiers going on behind closed doors. seem fully justified. Their feelings of invincibility are silenced. The few critical voices in the army Victory comes at a high cost. soldiers have lost their lives. 25,000 German and over 100,000 Allied have been killed. Thousands of civilians

in the power structure of the Reich. An important shift has taken place Now more than ever before, of the dictator's whim. the Wehrmacht is at the mercy a passive tool in Hitler's hands. The military leadership has become the captured German generals At Trent Park, come to this. wonder how it could have I just can't get into my head No matter how hard I try, that maniac Hitler. what it was that made us follow And how did it begin? The officers were so un-political that the government and they believed

was just as honest as they were. a democratic government If it had been we never would have believed them! It was the national spirit. national spirit, and he deceived us. He wrapped himself in the cloak of from a criminal point of view, From a negative, extremely well. the Nazis did what they did And so, logically... they are to blame. The clique around him, "My Fuhrer, now it's..." They all should have said to him say anything. Perhaps he wouldn't let them Then they should have resigned. But no one did. until 1942. Franz Halder stayed at his post with Hitler, he was dismissed. Then, following arguments

on 20th July 1944, he was arrested. After the assassination attempt Halder lived until 1972.

Heinrich Husmann is a sergeant-major. At the end of the war, The terrible things he's seen in Hitler's ideology. help him to get over his belief Today, he's a deeply religious man. is appointed to various senior posts Johannes Blaskowitz and is highly decorated. In 1948, he takes his own life, at the Nuremburg Military Tribunal. while on trial are not known. The reasons for his suicide

was wounded six times. Walter Heinlein and reached the rank of captain. He was decorated he became a carpenter, After the war, and building contractor. later, an architect

about his war experiences. Today, he still gives lectures was further promoted Erich von Manstein Hitler dismissed him. but in 1944 in resistance efforts. He refused to take part he became a consultant After the war for the formation of the new German Army. He died in 1973. Georg Pendel saw out the war in his Luftwaffe ground unit. At the end he felt betrayed but wiser. After the war he became a policemen. Most of the Wehrmacht's soldiers kept their enthusiasm for the Commander-in-Chief for a long time. But Hitler's Blitzkrieg, as represented by Nazi propaganda, was a myth. In 1940, Hitler, his army, and many ordinary Germans are intoxicated by the victory in the West. The prestige of the Nazis is at its highest point. Hitler need no longer need fear opposition from the army. The consequences of that will be seen the following year, in the East, with the war against the Soviet Union. Captions (c) SBS Australia 2008