combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 01 Number 02 Spring ©Apr 2003

Choice of Weapons

Had it been my fate to die at Zaporozhe, in the bitter cold of the Russian winter of 1943, then I would have died. But I did not die, and so fate decreed that my mission continue, as it had done on other occasions. Zaporozhe, in the Crimea, had become important to the Reich's offensive in the East as a vital crossing point of the Dnieper, especially so now that the Russians had taken Dnepropetrovsk some two hundred kilometers upstream.

By now it was apparent to all but the Führer himself that Operation Barbarossa had failed in its original aims at a swift military victory over the Bolsheviks. To Hitler, fanatical in his belief in Ermattungstrategie, the strategy of exhaustion and attrition, withdrawal was unthinkable. Fighting to the bitter end was the only fate worthy of the Aryan race. If they could not achieve the aims he had set for them, better that they should die.

His own generals were of a different mind, however. They warned him that Götterdammerung was imminent and begged his leave to withdraw to wait out the winter in more favorable tactical circumstances. Even Manstein, commanding the massive Army Group South, was adamant about the need to fall back to more defensible positions. The Führer would have none of it, and so on February 17th, 1943, as the Reich's Panzer armies were mired before the gates of Stalingrad, he flew from Berlin to Manstein's headquarters at Zaporozhe to take matters personally in hand, and if need be, to sack his recalcitrant field marshals.

I, who had arrived days before Hitler, watched the Junkers JU-235 transport aircraft land at the airstrip, and I knew that it was here that he must die, that fate had brought him to this lonely place in the winter's biting cold in order that he should meet the death which his crimes against the Fatherland merited. That American and British intelligence had learned of the trip from a cabal of plotters among the ranking members of the German High Command was beyond question. I did not know their identities, though the information could have originated nowhere else. I only knew that Baldur must die and that I, Loki, must kill him.

Those who had selected the code names had chosen them aptly, for it was Loki who succeeded in finding the single spot on Baldur's body by which it was possible to fatally harm the otherwise invincible god. It was my assignment to find such a spot, if possible, and do the same to the Führer. A Jedburgh team made up of American and British commandos had already been dropped behind our lines. They would wait twelve hours after receiving my radio transmission informing them, by prearranged code, that Hitler was dead. After that, they would withdraw. How I reached them was my own affair, but I knew that I would find a way.

As chief of internal security in the Abwehr, I held the rank of colonel, and as the person whom Hitler had himself designated as bearing responsibility for security during the two days he would stay at Zaporozhe, I would be near him at all times and had a latitude in my opportunities to approach him closely such as few others enjoyed.

Obviously, I was also in a perfect position to exploit any opportunity to kill him that arose during the visit. My motives were simple and my conscience untroubled at the prospect of being the instrument of his death. Adolf Hitler would bring ruin upon Germany. My conviction of this had been strong from the beginning, and when I joined the ranks of those seeking the Führer's downfall, I pledged to work secretly on their behalf. Even as I rose in the ranks, this conviction grew, and with it the belief that some day I would find myself in a position to do away with the tyrant.

During the two days of the Führer's stay, I considered every possible method of carrying out my mission and every available means of making my escape afterward. If at all possible, I would use a small gun, no larger than a fountain pen, which was capable of firing a jet of cyanide gas into a man's face, mimicking death by cardiac failure. I had been provided with this weapon during one of my infrequent clandestine meetings in Berlin with agents of the Allied Office of Strategic Services. If signs indicated the Führer had died of a sudden heart attack, especially here at Zaporozhe, few would doubt it. In this case, it was almost certain that my escape plans would proceed without hindrance.

The opportunity to use this weapon did not present itself, however. Hitler spent most of his time sequestered with Manstein, Kleist and his other balking war dogs, subjecting them to his well-known harangues. It was impossible to reach him by any means during these periods, certainly not any means which would permit my escape. His meetings often lasted around the clock. The Führer slept little, ate less, and was rarely not attended by coteries of camp followers.

Having become resigned to the fact that my chance would not come, I was surprised, late on the night before his departure for Berlin, to learn that Hitler had summoned me personally to his quarters. I was admitted by his adjutant, who closed the door behind me. The Führer, I had been told, had something of importance to tell me in private.

He was sitting on the edge of his bed when I entered, a miscellany of papers strewn about him. The bed was still freshly made; it had not even been slept in. He looked up and beckoned me closer; he was about to tell me something. I wasted no time. I could not reliably use the cyanide dispenser, but I had my pistol. I drew it quickly, pointed it at Hitler's face and in a matter of seconds had emptied half the clip. The bloody wreckage of his head left no doubt that I had fulfilled my mission.

When he was brought in, he still possessed enough of his wits to shout something absurd about the Fatherland. I had always known him to have a quick mind. The dawning realization of the truth made him gape with horror, and the horror grew maddening when I told him that my double was about to reveal his identity just before he had acted. I had always respected his abilities, but I had never trusted him. I trusted no one. My trust resided in myself and in the workings of Fate.

The slow death, hanging from piano wire that awaited him in Berlin was an anticlimax. He was already dead by then. I had seen it happen in that moment at Zaporozhe when he understood that he had failed.

[revision of Tod und Verklärung ©1996]

by David Alexander
... who is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction works involving military subjects, including Tomorrow's Soldier (Avon ©1999), Shadow Down (Berkley ©2000), Special Ops (Berkley ©2001), and Marine Force One in the Berkley military action series; and has written technical articles for professional journals.