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Authors: James MacManus

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BOOK: Midnight in Berlin
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“I'm Austrian, not German, so we don't quite see it that way,” said Theresa, her voice slightly slurred. She raised her glass and drank.

“Oh, be fair. They do have a certain chic, don't they?”

“That's what frightens me,” said Theresa. “It's what that bitch Riefenstahl did at the Olympics. She glamorised them, and now you talk as if they've suddenly become fashionable.”

Her voice had risen. She drained the rest of her drink and stood up, looking for the door.

“Darling, calm down and come and sit,” said Shirer, holding out his arms.

“I can't calm down. My country is next, isn't it? That's what you talk about all day! Yesterday the Rhineland, tomorrow Austria, then Czechoslovakia. You talk about it as if it were a bloody tourist itinerary.”

Theresa fished in her bag, lit a cigarette with shaking hands and sat down. She began to cry.

Shirer put his arm around her. “Darling, I'm sorry. I'll take you home.”

“I don't want to go home. I'm sorry. It's just that you people don't live here and I do.” She smiled at Primrose through her tears and raised her empty glass. “That was lovely; can I have another one?”

Later that night, Primrose and Macrae lay in bed. They were both smoking.

“Did you really see us in the restaurant?” she said.

“Yes. You seemed to be having a good time. I was going to come over and then I saw Florian.”

“You should have. He would have loved to see you.”

“I doubt it. Not with his fellow officers there.”

“He's asked us to go and spend a weekend at his hunting lodge, somewhere in the north. I thought you might like that. You could do a bit of shooting.”

She stubbed her cigarette out. He blew a smoke ring at the ceiling, put the cigarette out and was about to reply when he saw she had gone to sleep.

The second rendezvous at the reptile house had been arranged by an unsigned note posted through the embassy letter box. Macrae arrived first and was admiring a cobra from Malaysia when a tap on the shoulder made him turn.

Koenig was in uniform and even in the semi-darkness Macrae could see he must have been on parade that morning. The cap badge, medals, leather boots and even his swagger stick gleamed in the low light.

“You will be interested to know that I am doing research for a lecture,” Koenig said, not looking at Macrae but staring at the cobra. “And this charming creature is how I am going to hold the attention of thirty young staff officers whose only thoughts are how to satiate their thirst for beer and their appetite for those plump young ladies that one used to be able to pick up on the Kurfürstendamm priced at a hundred reichsmarks for half an hour.”

He tapped on the glass and the snake swung a lazy head around, trying to identify the noise.

“This chap is clever. It can move fast and kill quickly with powerful jaws. Its prey is small animals, mostly rabbits. But it chooses to use not speed but charm. The snake makes friends
with its prey. It sways back and forth, mesmerising the victim, drawing it closer until it can strike without effort.”

Macrae had been wondering when to bring up the invitation to a shooting weekend at the colonel's lodge.

“You follow me?” said Koenig.

“Not really.”

“It is a question of tactics, isn't it? In the cobra's case, the tactics are charm and guile.”


“Austria. It will all be over in a day.”

He wheeled and walked away in the darkness.

“But when?” said Macrae softly, his voice trailing after the departing figure.

Koenig turned. “It's time we drank some more good whisky. You are coming to spend the weekend soon, I think.”

“But Austria – when?”

Koenig had disappeared.


“The bastard was crying! I saw him, tears streaming down his face, in the main square of Linz, and everyone was cheering and the bells were ringing, and there he was blubbing like a baby …!”

The ambassador sighed and snapped his pen down on the table.

“You know perfectly well that that is not the way we refer to the head of state.”

“What would you rather I called him?”

“That's enough!” The ambassador had risen from his chair, white-faced. “Make your report and then go and clean yourself up.”

Macrae had arrived at the embassy only minutes earlier after an eleven-hour ride on a motorcycle from the Austrian border. Sir Nevile had called a meeting of senior staff to hear his first-hand account of the long-awaited German invasion of her smaller neighbour. All phone links between Austria and the outside world had been cut and the staff of the British embassy in Vienna had even found radio communications with London mysteriously jammed.

Macrae was handed a cup of coffee by a secretary. He placed his briefcase on the table, sending a small cloud of dust into the air. His suit was smeared with mud and his face caked in dirt. His eyes looked out from the circular imprints of the goggles, giving him an unworldly appearance. He looked round the table. All the usual faces were there except Halliday. Macrae sat down, drew out a notebook from his briefcase and began his report.

In the early hours of the day before, 12 March, columns of German infantry and armour crossed the Austrian border on the Munich – Salzburg road, while at daybreak paratroops landed at Vienna airport. There was no opposition. The troops were garlanded with flowers by cheering crowds. Tank crews were given free fuel at roadside garages. Church bells rang in every village and town across Austria.

Hitler flew to Munich that morning, then drove in a motorcade across the frontier at his birthplace, Braunau, and spent the day in Linz, the town where he had grown up. As he walked through a throng of admirers in the main square that afternoon, hands reached out to touch him, grasping and pulling at his long grey overcoat. Small boys thrust autograph books at him, while schoolgirls curtsied and bobbed. Suddenly he began to cry, tears streaming down his face. The crowd drew back, surprised at such a display of emotion.

Later that day, Hitler had driven to a neighbouring village to lay flowers on his parents' grave. In a speech that evening from the balcony of the Linz town hall, he declared that he had decided to return his beloved native country to the German Reich. Austria was to become part of Germany. The declaration was met with thunderous cheers.

Macrae paused and looked up from his notes.

“That all took place yesterday,” he said. “Having received the ambassador's permission, I followed the invasion force by car. There were broken-down tanks and military vehicles all along the road. Once in Austria, the main problem was the crowds along the route. They would not let one pass. They thought I was German and kept giving me flowers and fruit.”

“No sign of any opposition?”

It was Halliday, who had slipped into the meeting late.

“Not where I got to,” said Macrae, “quite the opposite. But I hear it's very different in Vienna.”

“That's pretty clear, then,” said the ambassador. “A country that emerged from the wreckage of the war has thrown itself into the arms of its larger and more powerful neighbour. There was nothing we could have done about it and nothing we should do now but accept the situation. And may I say, this might make Hitler much easier to deal with. He's got what he wanted, and if it's the wish of the Austrian people, then who are we to argue?”

“A point of information,” said Halliday. “I hear the railway and bus stations in Vienna are jammed with people desperate to leave. Cars are pouring out of the city towards the Czech border. Worse still, there are mobs of Nazi thugs hunting down anyone deemed to be an enemy: Jews, Gypsies, the usual suspects. You're not safe on the streets of Vienna unless you're wearing a swastika armband.”

There was a silence. David Buckland raised his hand, looking enquiringly at the ambassador, who nodded.

“Can I ask whether HMG received any communication from the Austrian government during these events?”

Sir Nevile Henderson closed his eyes, rested his elbows on the table and placed his hands together as if in prayer.

“The Foreign Office received a cable from President Schuschnigg asking for assistance the night before the Germans moved. Lord Halifax replied that there was nothing we could do to guarantee Austria's security.”

“Do we know what's happened to the president?”

The ambassador was about to reply when Halliday cut in.

“He and his entire government are under house arrest. I hear they are all going to be sent to the Sachsenhausen camp.”

The ambassador looked around the room, the pallor of his face betraying irritation. Only Halliday and Macrae of those present had fought in the last war. And Halliday had paid the price. The man was an alcoholic wreck. The rest of them had no idea of the horror that had consumed the lives of so many hundreds and thousands of young men from every corner of the United Kingdom – English, Scots, Irish and Welsh.

And here were his staff, sitting around the table, doubt about HMG's proclaimed and popular policy of appeasement written on their faces. They hadn't talked to the widows and orphans left adrift by the slaughter, had they? Had they any idea of the numbers of maimed still hobbling around the streets holding out tin cans for charity? Had they ever visited the mentally scarred still lingering in squalid institutions far from the public gaze? No, of course not. Well, he, Sir Nevile Meyrick Henderson,
visited such institutions and seen the madness inflicted by war. And he would do everything in his power to prevent it happening again. He stood up and closed the meeting.

Macrae went home to change his clothes, have a quick bath and eat some breakfast. Anger trumped his exhaustion. He had not slept for the best part of twenty-four hours, but he knew that if he put his head down for even a few minutes he would be
asleep all day. Primrose told her circle of friends among the diplomatic wives that she had never seen him so angry. He had come into the house looking like a ghost, drunk the best part of a jug of coffee, gulped his way through a bowl of cornflakes, gnawed at an apple and departed, giving her a brief peck on the cheek.

“He said it was the saddest day of his professional life,” she told her friends. “He can't stand Henderson, and the feeling is mutual. I fear for his job – just as I was getting to know you all too.”

Back in the embassy, Macrae told his startled secretary to take a long walk in the Tiergarten for at least an hour, then locked his office door, took the phone off the hook and sat at her desk in front of an Olivetti typewriter. He fed a sheet of paper into the machine and began pounding the keys like an enraged pianist.

Memorandum to the Secretary of State for War, The Hon. Leslie Hore-Belisha.

Copy: The Right Honourable Sir Nevile Henderson.

Macrae paused, lit a cigarette and rolled the paper out of the typewriter. He searched the side drawers of the desk until he found one containing carbon paper, then started again. He was going to need a copy.

Following the German takeover of Austria, I have drawn up first thoughts on the military consequences for HMG. The facts speak for themselves. I place them before you without comment.

The incorporation of Austria has given Germany an extra seven million people. Thus their population now totals 75 million versus 50 million in Great Britain.

The Austrian Army has sworn personal allegiance to Hitler, giving him an extra twelve infantry divisions.

Germany now has free access to large quantities of iron, steel and magnesite, all key raw materials for its rearmament programme.

That programme is proceeding at a rapid rate. The German Wehrmacht currently comprises 40 divisions at full strength, four of which are armoured. This does not include the recent addition of the Austrian divisions. By the autumn, at current rate of production, that will increase to 60 divisions, 72 including the Austrian army.

This compares to United Kingdom's five front-line divisions. In case you doubt that fact, it comes from the Ministry of War in London. Our disarmament programme has also reduced our territorial reserves to eight divisions.

The Luftwaffe has 1,500 warplanes, ranging from fighters to heavy bombers.

The UK has 960 combat aircraft, none of which are a match for the Messerschmitt, Heinkel, Junkers and Focke-Wulf aircraft in the Luftwaffe.

The main German manufacturer of German weaponry, Alfred Krupp, has developed a new long-barrelled 88 mm anti-aircraft gun which has a wheeled undercarriage, giving the weapon great mobility. Six batteries have been sent to Spain for testing during the civil war there. The guns have proved surprisingly effective when used against tanks or infantry. Hitler has ordered their mass production and Krupp is already working on more advanced designs. The British army does not possess any comparable weapon. Our only anti-tank gun, the Vickers QF 2-pounder, cannot penetrate the front armour of the latest German tanks. Our anti-aircraft guns have
been criticised as hopelessly inadequate by a parliamentary subcommittee on defence affairs.

German U-boat production has tripled …

He stopped. There was a loud knocking at the door. Macrae heard Halliday's voice. He let him in.

“I hear the furious sound of a typewriter,” said Halliday, setting a cup of coffee on the desk. “I thought you might need this.”

“Thanks,” said Macrae.

Halliday looked over Macrae's shoulder.

“Interesting,” he said.

“It's a military force comparison – now that they've got their hands on Austria.”

“I am sure they will be most interested in London,” said Halliday. “But there may well be an Anschluss closer to home. The ambassador, I hear, is making a formal complaint about you to the Foreign Office. He says the German authorities believe you are an obstacle to our policy of appeasement, and the ambassador agrees. He wants you withdrawn.”

BOOK: Midnight in Berlin
3.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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