An Alternative History Affair
An Unexpected Confrontation
The convoy of Kübelwagens halted at an impromptu checkpoint in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Ringel had been sitting with Guderian and myself in the lead Kübelwagen and presented a paper to allow our party through the manned point. While halted I caught a good glimpse of the insignias worn by the troops garrisoning the checkpoint. Though they wore a black uniform, the nearby Panzer 4 indicated they were not Schutzstaffel, but rather they were of the Panzer-Division ‘Berlin’. The division originally hailed from an ad-hoc of regiments thrown together during the tumultuous days of 1942. Berlin at that point, seemed like it would become a city to be defended to the last. Though the front never got closer to Berlin, the ad-hoc units eventually coalesced into a division.
After reading the paper, the soldier motioned for the barrier to be raised and we continued on towards the Reichschancellery. The streets were being hastily lined with hundreds of soldiers, fortifying key choke points and street corners. The scene was reminiscent of two and a half years ago, the city was heavily sandbagged and hasty trenches and earthworks had been prepared for what seemed like an inevitable Russian assault. Except now, on August 16th, 1944 there were only three divisions assigned to the protection of the city. The aforementioned Panzer-Division ‘Berlin’, assisted by Infantry-Division ‘Brandenburg’ and Infantry-Division ‘Great Elector’, combined for a total combat strength of 18,000 soldiers.
During my tenure as General Fromm’s Chief of Staff of the Reserve Army, I had gotten to know a handful of men quite well, including their generals and other officers. However, the three generals I know have all been relieved of duties because of the Führer’s paranoia. I had been a guest at numerous dinners during my tenure, and often the dinners were delayed, cancelled or interrupted by the Führer’s demands for frequent status updates. I had dined with Erwin von Witzleben, the commander of the Berlin garrison forces the night before leaving Berlin by train. I received a letter two weeks later – dated the day after supper – stating he had been relieved of command for failure to stay in contact with the Führer. I doubted the story, until Guderian confirmed a week later in our correspondence.
The Führers erratic behavior had been the cause for numerous generals being relieved of command throughout the war. Guderian himself was relieved of command as Chief of Staff by getting in an arguing match with the Führer over the uselessness of the offensive that recaptured Bordeaux and pushes the Allies south back to the Pyrenees. I later learned that the position of Chief of Staff had been offered to Rundstedt, who refused the position; which was then refused by Model hours later. Guderian was reinstated the next day as Chief of Staff, under great reluctance from Hitler – who was not willing to part with Model and Rundstedt, who threatened to resign if Guderian was not reinstated. I never learned of the argument until well after the events had transpired.
Before I knew it the convoy had arrived in front of the Reichschancellery building; which had its own protections of four companies of soldiers and two late model Panzer 4s. In the center of the stairs, at the bottom of them, I noticed a face I had not expected to be present. After departing from the Chief of Staff of the Reserve Army, I had received numerous complaints that my replacement was abusive, abrasive, blunt, cowardly, dastardly, and power-hungry, just to quote a few of the letters. The complaints simmered down after the generals got accustomed to my replacement’s handling of the affairs – though I still received an occasional letter of complaint. However, within the past two weeks, my headquarters had been flooded with 31 letters expressing various levels of concern about the erratic and vague behavior of the replacement.
It was hard not to notice my replacement there, he stood out, not because of his features but because there were no other around him for ten meters. I was attempting to avoid the inevitable in having to greet him after I exited the Kübelwagen. “Good morning, Herr Schnack,” he said rather politely.
I grunted, hoping to elicit a more favorable greeting. When that failed, I began to speak, “Heil Hitler! Good morning, Colonel.” The necessary Führer salute was performed during the first two words.
From the look on his face, I could tell my replacement was rather uncomfortable and distraught by the response. I stared into his eyes, and patiently waited for his reaction. With no reaction after ten uneasy seconds I continued, “Need I remind the Colonel that it is tradition to address a superior officer properly and accurately?”
His eyes flinched, looking towards General Fromm, then to Guderian, Model and Rundstedt who all confirmed what I said non-verbally. “Heil Hitler!” he said with great vigor while performing the customary salute. “Good morning SS-Gruppenführer Schnack!”
I smiled, and held back tears and bursting into laughter. I had personally recommended the man to the position he currently held since my departure. I had brought him into the resistance movement against the Führer and the regime. I had witnessed his passion and undying resolve to the mission. However; his traits that made him an excellent person would also be his eventual undoing. “Thank you, Colonel Stauffenberg.”
After the brief and trivial confrontation; which confirmed my suspicions of the events going on, we gathered and began walking up the steps of the Reichschancellery.