Crossing the Rhine

May 1935, Berlin, Germany
 The beginning of spring had arrived in Berlin, and one could see the people
emerging from the long months of winter to enjoy the warm weather. In Minister Von
Bloomberg’s mind it also appeared that the people were emerging from another winter,
the winter of the Versailles Treaty, ever since the Fuehrer Adolf Hitler had ascended to
power. The people once again seemed like the Germans of old, proud and walking tall
amongst the powers of Europe. The Fuehrer had freed the fatherland from the shackles
of that Diktat and was raising a mighty army and the British and French seemed unable
or unwilling to confront him.

 Bloomberg whose title had been changed from Minister of Defense, to Minister of
War did not reflect the mood of the country, something his young driver noticed. “is
everything alright Minister? He asked. “oh yes, I’m fine Hans, my mind just wanders in
my old age”. “I was just reflecting on the change of the mood of the country.” ’Its very
exciting isn’t it General? The Fuehrer is doing great things for Germany, I believe the
future will belong to us, don’t you agree”? “Yes, it is very exciting for you young men,
for men of my age it is time for careful planning and preparation.”

Under his calm
exterior the General was having some misgivings about the excitement of this new Germany. His trip to the Reich’s Chancellery building had taken him past many store
fronts that had graffiti of the racist stereotype Jewish faces warning all Aryans to not
shop there. This disgusted the General who was no racist and had fought with many
brave German Jews during the Great War. 

Suddenly a rye smile appeared on his face as
he remembered the rumors that circulated in some circles that Hitler had Jewish blood
and his Grandfather once had the last name Schickelgruber. Imagine if Germans had to
all say “Hail Schickelgruber”! Bloomberg’s eyebrows furrowed at the idea. Thoughts
like that were Verboten and could get you killed. 

Bloomberg also was afraid that the Fuehrer was misjudging France and Britain’s
resolve when It came to enforcing the Treaty of Versailles. He feared that their
acquiescence on German conscription and rearmament had goaded the Fuehrer into
further precipitous actions. That is why this meeting of the Reich Defense Committee
had him so worried. What does Hitler have up his sleeve? His reverie was once again
broken by his young aide. “Sir”? “Sir”? “We have arrived.” “Oh, Thank you Hans.”  

“Hail Hitler!”

 The Reich Chancellery building had been home of the office of the unified
northern German states since 1867, and of the German Empire since 1871 when
Bismarck became Reich Chancellor. Bloomberg sensed that more history was to be
made in this symbol of German Statesmanship, for better or for worse he was not sure
yet.

 He was directed to Hitler’s private rooms called the Fuhrerwohnung or Fuhrer
apartment for his consultation with Hitler. After giving the required salute Bloomberg
stood at attention waiting for Hitler to speak. “Minister” the Fuhrer began “You know it has been my intention to reunify all the German Volk back into a Greater Germany”, 

Bloomberg’s heart began to flutter, “here it comes” he thought, “he is rushing us towards
conflict with Europe!” 

“therefore,”continued Hitler I want you to draw up plans for the
reoccupation of the Rhineland under the operational name ‘Schulung’.”  

The Minister
composed himself and then asked “ What timeframe should I prepare for my Fuhrer?” 

“I
want to be able to proceed at the latest by 1937 but if circumstances change our forces
should be ready to move sooner.” 

“Yes my Fuhrer, but may I just say that any movement
into the Demilitarized zone would be a violation of the Locarno Treaty and would invite
a military response by France.” 

“France!” Hitler exploded. “ The French will not move
against us, they have had their fill of war and will not risk one to stop us from moving
into our own backyard!” “The French and the British did nothing as I tore up the
Versailles treaty in their face and ordered the creation of a new German Army. The
British gave in to me when I demanded Germany be allowed to build a navy, even one to
compete against their own!” “ No they will not lift a finger to stop us.” 

Fearing that his
face had lost all its color Bloomberg was desperate to leave the Fuhrers presence as
quickly as possible. “I will make all the necessary plans my Fuhrer.” Hitler
gave him a salute as a dismissal which the Minister returned crisply and marched out of
the Fuhrerwohnung.  

 Hans was waiting at the car waiting to open the Ministers door. “ Hans, I need to
see Chief of Staff Beck immediately ” 

“Yes Minister, right away.” During the drive to
the OKH building Bloomberg thought about the implications of the action he was about to take.  If he proceeded with the Fuhrers orders the Fatherland and
Europe could be plunged into a war that would dwarf the Great War. Hans wisely didn’t
disturb the Ministers thinking until they arrived at OKH. Hans opened the Ministers door
and was surprised when his salute was not returned. “Something big is happening”
mused Hans, which made him dream of all the glory that would soon be Germanys on the
battlefield.  

 Without even Greeting Chief of Staff Beck, Bloomberg walked into his office and
turned on his Gramophone, which began playing Wagner’s Overture from Tannhauser.
“What the hell are you doing?” demanded Beck, but he got no response from Bloomberg
who appeared to be looking for something. He found a pen and paper and quickly
scribbled down “Has this room been cleared?”

 “Yes, why what is happening?” 

“I need
to speak to you in confidence” replied Bloomberg. “I know you support the notions of
making Germany strong once again but with Hitler in power we are running the risk of a
two front war once again.”

 “What are you talking about? We aren’t ready for a war
yet!” exclaimed Beck. “We only have five full strength divisions!” 

“The Fuhrer has
ordered me to make plans for the reoccupation of the Rhineland. He believes that the
French and British will not risk a war, but I have my doubts.” 

“He has been right so far”
replied Beck.

 “True, but using military force to occupy territory is a vastly different
proposition than ignoring an unpopular treaty.” countered Bloomberg.  

June 1935, Berlin Germany 

“Colonel Jodl are you ready to brief the Fuhrer on Operation Schulung?” asked Minister
Bloomberg.

 “Yes my Fuhrer” Jodl replied. 

All the members of the Reich Defense
Council were present and were waiting on the Fuhrers arrival. When he entered the room
they all stood and gave the Nazi salute and then they got down to business. “What have
you come up with for Operation Schulung” demanded the Fuhrer. Colonel Jodl discussed
in detail the units and commanders involved and their dispositions and objectives. Then
in summary the Colonel said “ Within 24 hours of your orders three battalions will cross
the Rhine making for Aachen, Trier and Saarbruecken respectively. The operation
depends on total secrecy. “What happens if the French send in their forces?” one of the
other members asked. 

“They will not intervene!” Hitler quickly interjected. “Leave the
politics to me, I will take care of the French.” 

When the briefing had broken up Jodl
approached Blomberg with concern on his face “What happens if the French intervene?”
The Minister answered nonchalantly “we retreat.”

 

 March 7, 1936

 Excitement was silently racing around bivouac. The final order to move out had
been given, It was now time to reclaim once again the Rhineland for the Fatherland. The
soldiers were told to expect no resistance and with good reason. Since Hitler had come to
power he had broken the Versailles Treaty by ordering conscription and the formation of
a new German Army. The British and French had not lifted a finger to stop them and thmen had every confidence in the Fuhrer that they would once again flout the will of the
Allies.  

 As the sun began to rise so too did the people, who quickly gathered along the
roads to meet their countries soldiers as they came to reclaim German soil for the
Fatherland. The crowds grew so large and the women so excited, grabbing the men and
kissing them that Major Mellenthin was afraid that they would begin to get behind
schedule. As the three battalions approached their objectives of Aachen, Trier and
Saarbruecken Mellenthin heard what at first thought was celebratory fireworks. Then the
screams began. “Take Cover!” Mellenthin screamed, as explosions were tearing into his
men and the crowds “we have to get these civilians back indoors” he yelled to his
subordinates. Artillery rounds were now exploding all around him As his men tended to
the wounded and shepherded the civilians into any buildings that were close at hand, the
Major was scanning the horizon with his field binoculars. Then he saw what appeared to
be columns of tanks with supporting infantry advancing upon their positions. The Major
knew that he was vastly outnumbered and outgunned. He had no tanks or Artillery
support, and he could see columns of tanks heading toward his flanks and his rear area to
cut him off. He knew if they didn’t retreat now that they would be destroyed. He gave
the order to withdraw to his men, and they broke into a hasty retreat back across the
Rhine bridges.  

Berlin, Germany

 Hitler had been following developments at HKW for most of the day. When
word first came that the French had responded militarily the Fuhrer could not believe it.

He began ranting that it was all lies. Finally realizing the truth he ordered the battalions
to stand and fight. Blomberg intervened “my Fuhrer our forces are not able to put up
much resistance as we are heavily outnumbered. We have no choice but to retreat.”  

Hitler flung himself to the ground and virtually foaming at the mouth he screamed “I
have been betrayed by Providence! The German people have been found unworthy
because of the corruption caused by the Jews.” “Our destiny is now to be destroyed!”  

He then ran off to his private office. As Blomberg went to follow him he heard a gun
shot and the sound of something hitting the floor. Rushing into the office he saw Hitler
lying on the floor, a pool of blood spreading out from his head. Looking at one of his
aides he said “Give the Army orders to stand down at once.”  

 

April 1, 1936

 The last few weeks had been some of the most shattering since the Great War for
Germany, thought War Minister Blomberg. In trying to remilitarize the Rhine, it had  invoked the wrath of the French who had responded massively. Goebbels and Goring
both joined Hitler in death by suicide. Speaking to Blomberg Colonel Jodl said  “Together we can bring Himmler and all the Nazi dead enders under control and Germany
can once again take its place among the great nations of Europe”. “ I hope you are right”  Blomberg responded, “I feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders.”  

London, England April 1936

 Parliament was in session for the first time after Prime Minister Baldwin’s speech about the conflict between France and Germany. Baldwin told Parliament that as an ally
of France and a signatory of the Locarno Treaty it was England’s obligation and duty to
stand with the French government. It was a speech that said the right things but wasn’t
very rousing. 

Now MP Churchill, the most consistent voice of warning about the Nazis
stood to speak about the conflict. “The world has been saved by the decisive action of
the French people. A vast evil genius was building the tools of conquest, which because
of the immense abilities of the German people could have engulfed the world in
bloodshed. We had reached a point in history as important as when Caesar crossed the
Rubicon or when Napoleon invaded Russia or the Americans signed the Declaration of
Independence. 

“If the French had not challenged Hitler at the Rhineland our posterity
would have looked back and damned us for blindness to the threat and weakness in the
face of evil.”

 Geneva, Switzerland September 1936 

 MP Winston Churchill took his place at the conference table as representative of
England for an emergency meeting of the League of Nations. He had been appointed by
Prime Minster Baldwin not only because of his prescience about Hitler but also to get
him out of the Prime Ministers hair, as his popularity among the people had been
growing. “Gentlemen” Churchill began, “ I believe we can all agree that this new
German Constitution is a definitive step towards a true Liberal Democracy for the German people.” It is also a step towards a more stable, peaceful Europe and world.” It
has a limited executive branch, a bicameral legislature with recall powers over the
President, a clause that prevents the legislature from granting emergency powers to the
President and a clause that limits her armed forces to a self defense force and bans the
use of force for any other purpose.” “These provisions are buttressed by a Bill of Rights
based on the American model that will hopefully prevent a repeat of the tyranny of the
Nazis. It is my recommendation that the League of Nations approve this Constitution and
allow new elections to take place as soon as possible so as to allow our peace keepers to
return home.” 

The 58 member nations of the league were unanimous in their agreement.
News of the agreement preceded Churchill home to England. Upon stepping out of the plane at the Heston Aerodrome he was greeted by a great crowd of people eager to hear
from him. “ I come back from Switzerland with an agreement unanimously agreed upon
by the League of Nations that I believe will bring peace for our time.” The crowd
erupted in cheers, grimly remembering that barely a generation earlier England had shed
much blood to obtain peace. “ The agreement” Churchill continued “recognizes a new
Constitution for the German people which will prevent tyrants from taking a path of
conquest and destruction.” 

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