North Reich - Robert Conroy (2012)
Sergeant Major Farnum was his usual grim self. “Sir, I have information, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
“Try me,” said Grant.
He had sent Farnum to the State Department to check on the status of the detained German diplomats and other embassy personnel. After discussing what Alicia had thought she’d seen, he had sent Farnum instead of someone more senior so that nobody would be overly intrigued by the army’s concerns. The sergeant had been asked to get a list of all detainees so it could be checked against known German military personnel. It seemed reasonable and unthreatening, and it worked out that way.
“Sir, the kraut diplomats are being kept in a hotel in Virginia and it’s much nicer than they deserve. When I asked for a list, the State Department said they didn’t have one so I drove out to the hotel. At first both the State Department guys guarding the hotel and the krauts said they didn’t have a list, but one of the guards was a retired NCO I knew and he really cooperated. He even lined up the krauts so I could inspect them, which really pissed them off, but I figured tough shit. I told them the guards just wanted an excuse to beat the crap out of them and that made them decide to cooperate. I compared their IDs to a list of personnel State Department had suddenly discovered and found that three of the pricks were missing.”
“Was Stahl one of them?”
“Yes sir, so Alicia, I mean lieutenant Cutter, could easily have seen him. One of their people managed to whisper to me that he’d left during the bombing attack and hadn’t been seen since. The two other missing guys are low-level clerks and that same guy thinks they were in New York on some vacation and will probably show up. He also said the he thought the two guys were queer. My source seemed afraid of Stahl. Said he was dangerous.”
Dangerous and missing, thought Grant. What an unbeatable combination. He and Downing would dump the information upward to Truscott and the general would probably inform the FBI. Tom wondered if Stahl had specific instructions, or would he simply take on targets of opportunity. God only knew there were enough of them around.
General Heinz Guderian had to admire the way that von Arnim had distributed his forces and hid them from prying eyes, especially those looking down from the sky. He had done the same with his limited and dwindling Luftwaffe units. They were in bad shape after attempting to bomb American targets. At least twenty per cent of all German planes had been either shot down or had been damaged and were being repaired.
He also admired the way von Arnim had stood up to Hitler’s crony, Field Marshal Keitel. Keitel, as always, was Hitler’s mouthpiece. The order to hold the town of Windsor had been absurd and, if obeyed, would have meant that nearly forty thousand men would have been trapped and out of the war. It was about five hundred miles from Windsor to Toronto. The German army could trade for time and space and preserve lives until the relief force arrived from Europe.
What relief force, Guderian snorted. He really doubted that there would ever be a fucking relief force and he was reasonably confident that von Arnim knew that. Their job would be to delay and bleed the Americans as they advanced into Canada. But for how long could they do that? In order to relieve them, Germany would have to launch a number of protected convoys and send them to Halifax. Yet what would they protect the convoys with? The Kriegsmarine was a speck compared to the combined might of the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy. Only in the area of submarines did the Reich have any advantage and he wondered just how long that would last. Messages from Germany to Halifax admitted to the loss of ten U-boats. If that’s what they admitted to, he thought wryly, what the hell were the real numbers?
Sirens went off, interrupting his thoughts. He did not think either he or anyone around this innocuous building was in any real danger. If bombers were indeed coming they would be heading for the army camps north of the city. Even those, however, were emptying as von Arnim moved troops, at night of course, south towards their fortified positions along the Niagara Line and west towards the city of London. How ironic, he thought. Germany controlled this small city of London in Ontario while the great one in England still held out. He wondered how much longer before one of Britain’s major food sources, Canada, was cut off. Or would von Arnim allow shipments to continue?
Someone yelled and pointed skyward. Yes, there they were. Guderian counted more than a hundred bombers in this flight and they were escorted by scores of fighters. He saw a young lieutenant with binoculars.
“What the devil are they?”
The lieutenant offered the binoculars to Guderian who declined. The younger man’s eyes were doubtless sharper than his.
“General, the bombers are their B17s and the fighters are P47s and a handful of P51s.”
Guderian thanked him and walked away. The American attack force was a relatively small one. Soon, their response would become massive and overwhelming. Von Arnim would be forced to use his planes to defend his position and they would be destroyed, leaving the army helpless. The B17 was a long range heavy bomber and the Luftwaffe had no equivalent. German bombers were defined as mediums at best. The so-called Flying Fortress could carry up to four tons of bombs on short runs, and everything in and around Toronto was close to the border. The American fighters were the equal of their German counterparts and the Germans would be outnumbered by thousands.
The North American Luftwaffe was doomed.
He laughed harshly. So too was the entire Wehrmacht in North America unless something miraculous happened. Hitler wanted to end the war once and for all this year of 1944. Soon, massive German armies would cross the Volga and destroy what remained of the Red Army. At least that was the plan.
Guderian had vehemently argued against continuing the war against the Soviets, but had been shouted down by Hitler and banished to Canada for his sins. He wondered if von Arnim shared his doubts, or was he afraid of that Gestapo shit, Neumann? He thought it likely that von Arnim shared his dismay at Hitler’s decisions and disgust with the coterie of asses who surrounded him.
In the distance, he heard he crump-crump of explosions. The Americans had found a target. He thought he would have to get used to both the fact and the sound.
A motorcycle with an empty sidecar roared up to him. The driver looked hard at him. “General Guderian?”
“Yes.” Who the hell else could it be, you ass, he thought.
“The driver swallowed. “Sir, General von Arnim requests your presence immediately. It’s urgent.”
Guderian climbed awkwardly into the side car. What the hell else had gone wrong?
Captain Tommy Jenks was in a roaring good mood and why not. He was leading a dozen American tanks in pursuit of an enemy they’d handily defeated in and around Sarnia. The Nazis were in full retreat and his orders were to keep them that way. He was to chase them, catch them, and kill them. Patton wanted tanks in the rear of the Germans and he wanted them there yesterday. Patton was his kind of general, and, even though he’d never met the man, he liked his fire.
Jenks and his men had been working hard since their Indiana National Guard unit had been activated several months before. They no longer considered themselves weekend warriors, a term they’d always considered an insult and cause for a fight in a bar down in Bloomington, Indiana. They were well trained and loaded for bear and their M3 Grant tank, in their opinion, was the best tank in the world. It had a crew of six and a big 75mm gun as its main weapon.
They’d all heard the rumors that the 30-ton beast was already obsolete but dismissed them. They were confident that they could take on and smash any armor the Germans threw at them. Jenks considered the reports that the Germans made better tanks and guns to be so much bullshit. Thanks to GM, Ford, Chrysler, Packard, Studebaker and others, the U.S. made the best vehicles in the world. He’d heard that the Russians hadn’t wanted American tanks and thought that was dumb and probably why the krauts had kicked the crap out of them. Someone even said that the fact that the hull was riveted made it dangerous. If hit, the rivets would break loose and become lethal projectiles in the hull. Jenks had an answer for that - don’t get hit! Newer versions of the Grant were welded, not riveted, but that concerned him not at all.
Even though the tank was fairly spacious, the presence of six good sized men sweating and farting made for a need to open the hatches and air the thing out.
There was a small turret and a high velocity 37mm gun on top of the hull and that’s where Jenks liked to be. High up and with the hatch open, he could see for a very long ways. Some said that the tanks height was a disadvantage, but he didn’t see how. After all, he could see so much more from up there.
The big 75mm was mounted in what was called a sponson which meant it couldn’t traverse all the way like a turret could and Jenks did admit to that being a drawback. A new tank, the M4 Sherman, was supposed to replace the M3s and he considered that a shame. He liked the Grant.
Jenks opened the hatch and took a deep breath of good fresh air. He looked around and saw upwards of forty American tanks rumbling across the Canadian landscape at ten plus miles an hour. Even though the ground was relatively flat, the tanks lurched and wallowed like drunken sailors and Jenks had to hang on to keep from getting hurt. They were outdistancing their infantry support that was trying to follow along in trucks, but trucks didn’t travel cross-country very well. Well, he thought, tough shit. If they ran into Germans, they’d either kill them or hold them until the infantry arrived.
Neither Jenks nor the majority of his men had ever been to Canada and it had proven a surprising and pleasant experience. The houses and farms were sturdy and neat and could have been anywhere in a prosperous agricultural section of the U.S. Of course, a couple of idiots in his unit professed surprise that the Canadians spoke English. He hoped they were kidding, but, considering the sources, decided they probably weren’t.
Jenks was about to comment on a particular farmhouse when the tank next to him exploded, sending a column of flaming gas and debris into the air.
“Ambush!” Jenks yelled and tried to see where the shot had come from. Or maybe they’d run over a mine? No, he saw a flash of light in the distance and a second tank shuddered to a halt with black smoke pouring from it. He turned the tank in the direction of the flash, now wishing he’d had a turret instead of having to move the whole damn tank.
The Grant’s big gun fired and the shell hit well short of where Jenks thought the shot had come from. A third tank was hit and started to burn, and then a fourth. Up and down the line, tanks were burning. Machine gun fire ripped through the American column. Behind him, a truck full of infantry was hit and rolled over, spilling men onto the ground. His tank’s 37mm gun shot in the general direction of the Germans who were now firing heavily and rapidly. Worse, their fire was accurate and lethal. The American armored column was being cut to pieces.
“Pull back,” he ordered to his driver who relayed the order to the surviving tanks.
Jenks was neither a coward nor a fool. He knew he should be inside the tank with the hatch down, but he couldn’t see if he did that. Some son of a bitch was killing his men and he needed to find him.
Black dots emerged from where they’d been hiding to his front. They were German tanks, and they began shooting.
“We’re fucked,” Jenks yelled just as a shell slammed into his tank, hurling him from the turret and down to the ground, but not before smashing his legs. As he lay there in agony so fierce he couldn’t scream, he could hear the rivets popping inside the hull and his men howling as they were torn to pieces by the red hot flying metal. The tank continued to move of its own volition for a few feet before lurching to a halt. Smoke and flames poured from the hull, but nobody else came out.
Jenks was numb with pain and anger. He smelled something burning and realized that his broken legs were on fire.
Tinker and Lambert watched from the bushes as still more trucks moved inside the barbed wire fence. The concentration camp that had once held Jews was filling up again. This time the prison population consisted of anyone who had voiced opposition to the presence of German troops in Canada. Few were Jews. Most of them had long since departed south to the U.S. or west to the brand new Federation of West Canada. There had been no attempts on the part of the Germans to delay their exodus. The Gestapo had seemed to encourage it.
Lambert had to give the Germans their due. It made no sense whatsoever to keep malcontents and potential leaders of an underground force around to cause mischief. He just hoped that there would be no mass executions since deportation to Germany was no longer viable.
He laughed and wondered if his name was on the Nazi’s shit list. A lot of people had heard him criticize the Germans and Hitler.
“What’s so funny?” asked Tinker.
“Just wondering how long before we’re in that camp or at that farm the Gestapo uses for interrogation.”
“Interrogation? Is that what you call it? Christ, you know bloody fucking well that the farm is used to torture and kill people. Or have you forgotten what happened to that girl?”
“Nobody will ever forget what happened to Mary Bradford,” he said softly.
“Then what are we going to do about the people in the camp and the farm? We just can’t leave them there.”
No we can’t, Lambert thought. But what the hell else could they do? The Americans weren’t anywhere near and, if German propaganda was true, the Yanks had just been given a bloody nose outside Windsor. So, if they liberated the camp and farm, what would they do with the prisoners? The krauts would hunt them down and kill them. No, he decided reluctantly, the poor souls behind the wire were safer where they were.
Maybe, however, they could do something about the farm.
Lieutenant General George Patton was near tears as he reported to Eisenhower and Marshall at his headquarters in Detroit. He could close his eyes and still see the burning American tanks and smell the stench of brutal death. Worse were the looks on the faces of the wounded. The wounded and the dead were heroes, but he felt that his lack of experience in command of an army had caused many of the casualties. He also felt he’d been let down by others as well.
Patton put down his coffee cup. It contained a couple of inches of brandy. It was starting to calm him, but he still felt rage and guilt.
“Ike, General Marshall, they killed us. I sent my men straight into an ambush and we lost almost a thousand casualties, and that includes several hundred missing. I hope some of them show up, but I’m afraid that a lot of them are going to wind up in German prison camps and we’ll be seeing them in the newsreels when we go to the movies.”
Eisenhower and Marshall kept silent. They would let Patton get the anger and frustration out of his system. The commander of the Third Army had first won a brilliant victory by sneaking men across the St. Clair River and forcing the Germans from Sarnia and, very soon after, Windsor. The guns that had been pounding American factories had been pulled back out of range and were no longer a factor. The industrial complex could now be rebuilt and work was already commencing. But neither Ike, Marshall nor Patton had thought the Germans would recover so quickly and decimate an American armored division that had been probing its way east.
“Enough feeling sorry for yourself, George,” Ike finally said. “What can we learn from this?”
Patton took another sip, looked at the cup and swallowed the remainder. The situation was awkward. Once, Patton had been Ike’s superior in rank and Ike had even requested to serve under him. Now it was reversed and Eisenhower was in charge. Marshall had nixed the idea of Ike serving under Patton because he had plans for Ike, and these had become obvious. Dwight David Eisenhower would command the American armies and not Patton.
“Here’s what I’ve learned, Ike. First, we can win this goddamned thing, but we’ve got to understand how to fight. Our armor is for shit in comparison with the Germans and we’ve got to even that out. I don’t want to send anymore boys out to fight in those M3 Grant coffins. We must wait until we’ve got enough Shermans to do the job.”
Ike nodded. He’d already requested Marshall to send large numbers of the M4 Shermans allocated to the Pacific to the Canadian front. Marshall had concurred and the newer, better tanks were being shipped back from California.
Patton stood and began to pace. “Our men may be well trained but they lack experience. That will come in time, but it will be at a bloody price. Hell, we’re fighting Germans who took on the French, the Russians, and even the British and kicked their asses down the street. We’ve also got to get rid of commanders who don’t know how to command men in battle. We need fighters, not administrators. Right now the German army has better trained and more experienced soldiers than we do.”
Marshall quietly acknowledged that reality. Peacetime soldiers sometimes couldn’t make the leap to being in combat and, good men or not, had to be dumped.
Patton wasn’t finished. “We have got to control the skies. We surely have more than enough planes to wipe out the Luftwaffe many times over. The glory boy pilots have got to change their attitudes. Fighters have got to support the infantry and not go chasing all over for Messerschmitts to shoot down so they can paint nice little swastikas on their planes, showing what great warriors they are. No, I want our planes down low and supporting our boys in the mud.”
“Agreed,” said Eisenhower, even though he knew that the USAAF would fight him on that. Too many in the air force saw their job as taking on the enemy planes or bombing strategic targets, not supporting the doughboys. Well, that would have to change. It might involve a compromise, but that’s one reason he’d been put in command. Again, Marshall gave his silent approval.
“Once we get the planes, we must be able to communicate,” said Ike. “Radios have to be coordinated and plugged in to the planes above, and this will all take time since we don’t have either the radios or the personnel to operate them. People are going to be frustrated that we can’t strike back more quickly, but you’re right, we can’t send boys out to be slaughtered. We have to wait until we get the tanks and planes.”
Marshall stood. He was clearly unhappy at the turn of events, but had to confront reality. He would fly back to Washington where he would have to explain matters to Roosevelt.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “we also have to realize there are more Germans than we thought there were, and they also have a lot more tanks and planes than we thought. The good news is that they can’t replace their losses, but the bad is that they will still be able to inflict a lot of pain on us.”
Tony Romano’s B24 now had three U-boat outlines painted on her hull and he and his crew thought they had gotten a fourth one. They might find out after the war, but that might just be in another lifetime. Regardless, two more and he’d be an ace. Or at least an ace as the sub-killing B24 crews defined it. Some of the fighter pilots might object, but screw them, he thought.
He wasn’t a general or, in this case, an admiral, but it seemed to Tony that the German U-boat fleet was getting the crap kicked out of it. He wondered what Hitler was thinking about that turn of events. Apparently he’d thought his subs could destroy the US and Royal Navies and this simply wasn’t turning out to be the case. Tony was having to go farther out in the ocean to find any hunting and today was no exception. The sun would rise in an hour and all good U-boats would tuck themselves under the waves and hide until the next night. Intelligence said they were beginning to realize that the US planes could see in the dark and the subs were now taking more and more advantage of their snorkels to stay hidden. No matter. American radar was getting better and better and a skilled operator could pick out something as small as a snorkel, or even a periscope, poking its nose above the water
“Got something, skipper, and it looks like the fool is running on the surface.”
Tony laughed. “Must be a new kid in school. Let’s go initiate him.”
They’d made and practiced this type of attack so many times they could do it in their sleep. They came in low and towards what radar said was the sub’s stern. Tony made ready to flip on the searchlight and commence firing from his nose gun.
“Skipper, he’s turning. We’re going to hit him broadside.”
Oh shit, thought Tony. One reason for attacking the sub’s stern was that their deck gun and some of their machine guns couldn’t bear. He thought rapidly and realized he didn’t have a choice. It was too late to turn around. They were screwed.
The bomber’s searchlights illuminated the sub and yes it was broadside to him. Worse, it had two deck guns instead of the normal one. What the hell. Were the Germans suddenly becoming creative? The Vampire’s nose gun began firing immediately and shells chewed up the sub’s hull and conning tower, piercing metal and hurling men into the sea.
Both deck guns turned on him and opened fire, as did several machine guns. Tony watched in horrified fascination as tracers sought out his plane. Obviously, they could see it in the improving light, and the flashes his guns were making were a dead giveaway.
The plane shuddered as something struck it. Jesus, was it a shell from a deck gun? Someone was screaming behind him and Tony was terribly aware that a lot of fresh air was flowing through the Vampire. As they passed over the sub, her machine guns raked the B24’s belly. Tony realized that he had very little control over the plane and that one of his engines was on fire. He was losing altitude and he hadn’t had all that much to begin with.
“I’m going to set her down,” he yelled over the intercom, hoping that he was heard and that his crew could take steps to save themselves.
As he struggled and reached for the waves, he was dimly aware that he was turning back towards the sub. The bomber hit tail first and then the front part of the plane slammed into the sea. Tony’s head hit something and he blacked out. The shock broke the Vampire in half also causing the bombs she carried to explode. Anyone in the tail section was dead.
Tony found himself in the water where the cold sea against his head revived him. A life raft had been thrown clear. Carlson had inflated it and was already in it. He grabbed at Tony and Watson and, somehow, they made it onto the raft just seconds before the front half of the bomber sank.
An hour later, the three men lay in the raft, shocked and exhausted. Tony’s head had cleared but his left eye was swollen shut. Another raft, this one containing a handful of Germans moved slowly towards them. A young officer stood up.
“Are you going to shoot at us?” the German asked in accented English.
“With what?” Tony answered and realized he shouldn’t have told the enemy he was unarmed.
“Same here,” said the German. The two rafts touched and a German sailor tied them together. “I think there is either safety or survival in numbers. Where’s the rest of your crew?”
“Dead,” Tony said and the sudden grief threatened to overwhelm him. Counting himself, there had been ten men on the plane, now only three lived.
“And where are your men?” Tony asked, not really wanting to know the answer.
“Dead also,” the German replied solemnly. “Or still falling to the bottom of the ocean and wishing they were dead instead of beginning to die from lack of air. These men and I were on the deck where I was commanding one of the guns when you attacked and sank my boat. At any rate, since it is much more likely that an American ship will find us than a German one, I surrender my crew and myself. You did manage to tell your authorities where to find us, didn’t you?”
Tony turned to Carlson who nodded. “It was a quick, short message, but I think I got an acknowledgment.” The base did know their flight plan, rough though it was.
The German introduced himself as Hans Ulbrecht and Tony returned the favor. It seemed incongruous but necessary.
“Why didn’t you dive?” Tony asked.
“My late captain might have wondered the same thing in his last few moments. He’d had additional guns put on our boat with the idea that he could destroy an attacking plane before it killed us. Obviously, it didn’t work out as planned. As a very junior officer, I was not in a position to discuss strategy. I believe that he also got such a directive from our beloved Fuhrer who, of course, can do no wrong.”
Tony couldn’t keep from smiling. Intelligence had said that many in the German navy, the Kriegsmarine, were not fond of Hitler.
A faint buzzing caught their attention. They looked and saw a navy PBY Catalina flying boat heading towards them. It circled and settled in the water a hundred yards or so from the two rafts. They retrieved paddles from the rafts and began to move towards the PBY. The side hatch was open and two men with submachine guns watched them warily.
When they were close enough, Tony stood up and held his hands out. “I am First Lieutenant Tony Romano, pilot and skipper of the bomber. These men in the other raft are Germans, the surviving crewmen of the sub we just sunk. They are unarmed and have surrendered.”
One of the sailors with a submachine gun glared at him. “Why don’t you just get the fuck out of the way so we can send their asses to Valhalla.”
Tony glared back. “Don’t even think of that unless you plan on killing us, too. They surrendered and I think they have some interesting shit to tell us, shit that might save American lives, maybe even your own.”
The sailor’s expression softened slightly. “Americans get in first and Germans second.”
“Other way around,” said Tony, “and I give the orders, not you. That way, we can help you cover them.” And make sure you don’t do anything stupid, he didn’t add.
A few moments later, they were airborne and headed towards Norfolk. The Germans had been tied up but didn’t seem to mind in the slightest.
Ulbrecht smiled. “You should envy me, lieutenant.”
“Because my war is over, while yours is just beginning. Once your people are through interrogating me, I’ll be sent to some pleasant camp in Kansas or someplace where I’ll be fed and sheltered. Perhaps I’ll be granted parole and allowed out of the camp where I can meet people, perhaps even lovely young American girls who might find a cultured and handsome German fascinating. And what will you be doing besides getting another plane and preparing to put your life at risk once more?”
“Prick,” Tony said and the German laughed.
“So we're going to settle into another Sitzkrieg?” asked Grant. He was referring to the protracted period between the declaration of war between France and England on one side, and Germany and Italy on the other. They had spent long months in what was also known as the “Phony War,” staring at each other until the Germans launched their deadly assault on France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
“Can’t be helped,” Downing answered. They were in the kitchen of Downing’s house and the colonel was making cocktails. Missy and Alicia were in the other room. “We aren’t ready to launch a real invasion of Ontario and won’t be for a couple of months. The newspapers and radio commentators like Walter Winchell are going crazy, so I hope nobody gets stampeded into doing something rash.”
“Rashness costs lives,” said Alicia, as she came in for her drink. The men were clearly taking too long making them.
“Are we being rash?” Tom asked. “With our marriage, that is.”
He still couldn’t believe that Alicia had agreed to marry him, and that the ceremony would take place the next Saturday. Her parents were on their way in and, while hurried and lacking some of the traditional elements, it would be a real wedding. She’d even found a woman to make a basic but lovely white dress. General Truscott had used some pull and gotten use of a cottage overlooking the Chesapeake for a week. He’d assured both of them that the war would go on despite their absence.
“Not rash, dear,” she answered. “In this chaotic little world we live in, it would be rash to not take advantage of every opportunity for a life together.”
“That’s right,” said Missy. “Make hay while the sun shines or something like that.” She was just a little drunk. “Never look back, never have regrets. Mark and I never have.”
Her husband mockingly glared at her. “I prefer you call me colonel in the presence of others, madam.”
Missy smiled sweetly. “Screw you, beloved colonel. Oh dear, my vile tongue has gone and betrayed the fact that I’ve lived on army posts for twenty-odd years.”
Tom and Alicia stepped outside. The night was crisp, which was a wonderful excuse for holding each other tightly. “Do you think it will be warm enough for us to swim in the Bay?” she asked.
“I wasn’t planning on going outside,” he said as he slipped his hand onto her breast.
“Well, that makes two of us.”
Guderian quickly realized that he had not been invited to a normal conference with his fellow general. Instead, something was terribly wrong. He kept his face impassive as the motorcycle was driven down a dirt path to a tent that was clearly marked with a Red Cross on the top. He thought about asking the driver about von Arnim’s condition, but decided that the young man probably didn’t know much at all.
When it stopped, he eased himself out of the sidecar. He ached from the cramped space, but tried to keep it from showing. Guderian was relieved to see a familiar face emerge from the tent, an anxious looking Koenig.
“How is he?” asked Guderian.
“Very bad, general. His vehicle was bombed and he was thrown from it. From what we can figure out, he hit his head on a tree.”
Guderian nodded and pushed his way inside the tent. He was met by a man in a doctor’s smock who introduced himself as Doctor Rinaldi, and that he was part of the Italian detachment sent by Mussolini to show his support for the Reich. The doctor spoke passable German.
“Your general is unconscious. We took x-rays and concluded that he has a depressed fracture of the skull, along with some cracked ribs and a broken leg. I can show you the x-rays if you’d like.”
Guderian did not wish to see them. “Will he live?” Guderian asked softly.
Rinaldi shrugged. “If we can give him nourishment, yes, but the proper questions should be when will he recover and how well will he recover. The answers to those are simple - we don’t know. He is not responsive and we believe he is in a coma. Some people come out of them and some don’t, living forever like a vegetable. Some others come out perfectly normal and others recover as little children who have to learn everything all over again. His recovery is in God’s hands.”
If there is a God, Guderian thought as he entered the screened off area where von Arnim lay motionless on a bed. His leg was in a cast, which was bad enough, but his skull was heavily wrapped in bandages. Only the lower part of his face was visible. Guderian wanted to ask how they were sure it was von Arnim, but held his comment.
“Koenig, how many know about this?”
“Just a handful, I hope, and they’ve been sworn to secrecy. Realistically, I can’t be certain that there aren’t others who know, or that those who do know won’t talk.”
Guderian agreed with the realistic assessment. “And as the days go on, more will certainly find out. This cannot be kept a secret forever.”
He especially wondered how long before the Italian army doctor informed his fellow doctors, or how long before he needed their input to care for his patient. Mussolini had sent a division of infantry to help hold Canada and they had been an utter disgrace. Arriving a month before the start of the war, fully a third had deserted in the first few days and simply crossed the border. The joke went - if you seek the Italian army, check Manhattan. They were followed by even more of their compatriots to the point where only a couple of thousand were left and von Arnim had sent them to Ottawa, which was much farther away from the tempting American border.
Guderian wondered how resentful Rinaldi was that he was in a war in Canada and not home in Italy. He would arrange for a German doctor to take over caring for von Arnim.
“We cannot keep a secret,” Guderian said. “Koenig, draft an announcement to the army and I will prepare one to send to Hitler and the OKW in Berlin. The messages will simply state the truth - General von Arnim has been seriously wounded and it will be a while before he recovers. In the meantime, I will assume command over all German forces in Canada.”
Koenig nodded and started to leave. “However,” Guderian continued with a wry smile, “if those in Berlin think one of von Arnim’s subordinates is more qualified, I will step aside. Or, if they wish to send someone from Germany, like that arrogant jackass Rommel, they are welcome to try to run the blockade the Americans are setting up as we speak.”