Rank and File
A clerk’s war
January 8th to January 10th 1936
This diary entry has been written over the few days of my train trip to Wilhelmshaven. I had expected that it would be a quiet and restful interlude, but Germany is rapidly changing and events overtook me.
I left early on the 8th, and dropped in to the Reichskanzlei to give a few last minute orders to my staff. As I walked through the city, I could sense the discontent. The sharp reduction in consumer goods had upset a lot of the workers. Despite the sullen atmosphere on the street, when I arrived at work the whole office was buzzing, even though it was before 8am. After hearing the news, I could understand why.
Majorgeneral Haase had been ordered to take his two regiments and march into the Rhineland demilitarised zone! The 25. Infanterie Division was to cross the bridge to enter Donaueschingen and occupy the town. The Kanzlei was split: one half overjoyed that the Rhineland will be a proper part of the Reich, the other half alarmed at what the French may do in response.
The picturesque town of Donaueschingen: could this peaceful spot be the starting place of a new war with France?
Well, the die is cast. It could mean war by nightfall, and I knew that the Wehrmacht was in no condition to fight. As there was nothing I could do about it I headed to the Bahnhof to catch my train.
Security for inter-city travel has been increased – luckily all my papers were in order so obtaining a return 2. Klasse ticket to Wilhelmshaven was not a problem, though I saw a few other people getting refused. Goebbels (as Minister for Security) and Frick (as Minister for the Interior) are determined that not a single spy will survive inside Germany.
The train stopped at virtually every town so I did not arrive in Wilhelmshaven until late: I found a cheap boarding house (no hotels on my salary) and enquired about viewing the fleet the next day. My landlady looked at me a bit suspiciously at first but when I showed her my Reichskanzlei security pass she was more helpful.
The morning of the 9th was cold but clear. The light snow had stopped and while rain was threatening, it looked as though it would hold off. I headed for the docks on foot, looking forward to the sight of Germany’s pride, the Kriegsmarine. I was not disappointed.
Once again my security pass came in useful: I spoke to a pleasant young Korvettenkapitan who was very helpful after he had seen I was not a potential spy. He got me entry close to the naval yards where I could see the whole fleet as it prepared to head to sea for exercises. Even better, he had a camera and provided me with a few photographs to keep as souvenirs of my visit. (I knew better than to try to get access to a naval base with a camera!)
The "Admiral Scheer" leads the "Deutschland" out to the naval exercises
And what a sight it was! The mighty Panzerschiffe “Deutschland”, “Admiral Scheer” and the newly commissioned “Admiral Graf Spee” were obviously the stand-outs.
A file copy I found at the office showing the launch of the "Admiral Graf Spee"
The Lechte Kreuzer “Nurnberg”, “Leipzig”, “Konigsberg”, “Karlsruhe”, “Koln” and “Emden” were equally as impressive. Even the two squadrons of Z1 Zerstorer looked sleek and dangerous as they powered up and slipped from their moorings.
The "Nurnberg" builds up speed as she heads for open sea, her crew parading on the deck
It made my heart swell to see our nation’s pride heading out into the Nordsee. The young kapitan explained that this was in fact only the main part of the fleet. Far away in the Ostsee was another powerful (if older) fleet, based in Konigsberg. The Baltic fleet had two battlecrusiers (the “Schleswig-Holstein” and the “Schlesien” ) and three more flotilla of Zerstorer. I realised that while we might not yet be able to challenge the Royal Navy or the “La Royale”, we possess a mighty naval force in our own right. I was tempted to tell my new acquaintance about the plans currently being put into place and to tell him of the even more powerful warships that were to be built over the next few years, but discretion is a clerk’s best friend and I held my tongue.
After a very enjoyable (if bracing) day, I headed back into town to grab some sleep and catch the morning train to Berlin. Before getting on the train I picked up a copy of the local paper and read the headlines to find out the French reaction to the re-occupation of the Rhineland. It could be summed up in one word: Nothing. Despite having at least ten times the strength of General Haase’s two understrength regiments, the French Army of the Maginot facing Donaueschingen simply sat tight!
All the way back home I could sense the jubilation of my fellow citizens. All the unhappiness and discontent of the past week has been wiped without a trace. As a nation we have regained our pride!
It was only as we pulled into Berlin that I read more of the paper. There were a few articles explaining that the temporary restriction on the production of consumer goods had been lifted. According to the authors this had been an emergency measure to kick start an economic expansion. One overseas report indicated that the United Kingdom government was making diplomatic moves to encourage South Africa to sign a military alliance. France was making similar moves to Greece and, strangely, Japan. New Zealand had apparently approached the United Kingdom and was looking for closer ties.
But the most interesting article was buried in the middle of the paper.
New conscription laws had been passed by the Cabinet, effective immediately. Instead of the two year draft introduced only a week ago, we are to have a three year draft. The reporter mentioned that this would lead to an effective 25% increase in military manpower, with a similar increase in officer recruitment. Reserve units would be brought up to 75% efficiency and conscript rotation reduced by a third. I thought back to the discussion papers I had seen from the New Year’s Day conference: obviously the Fuhrer felt the occupation of the Rhineland had been such a success that the population was less neutral and would not object to such a warlike move. And from the lack of response from my fellow travellers, it would seem he was right.