Chapter 21 - North Reich - Robert Conroy

North Reich - Robert Conroy (2012)

Chapter 21

Canfield lay low and hugged the mud at the bottom of his trench as the German armor again drove past. One part of him said he should be shooting at them, while another part said that would be inviting retaliation and disaster. This time there were fewer of the enemy and they were headed in the other direction. The infantry among them were slumped over and in no way resembled Nazi supermen. Wounded Germans were stretched out on tank hulls. He wanted to exult, but he had lost too many men in the fighting. A rough count said fifty dead and two hundred wounded out of a battalion of eight hundred.

Dubinski rose up. His face was contorted in anger. He had his rifle and he was looking for a target. Canfield grabbed his arm and winced. His so-called flesh wound hurt like the devil.

“Let them go,” he said. “Don’t give them an excuse to attack and kill the rest of us.” Dubinski nodded glumly and knelt back down in the trench. “Stay hidden,” Canfield added. “We’ll get the bastards the next time.”

Less than an hour later and after a number of American tanks and infantry had followed the Germans, Truscott showed up. He stared silently at the torn bodies and the ruined vehicles. Medics had taken away the wounded, but the burned and mangled dead from both sides remained. Graves Registration would collect them and give them a decent burial, probably in a nearby farm field. Notification would be sent to their next of kin. There would be a lot of grieving families in the U.S. as a result of the last couple of days. Canfield wondered if the Germans would be buried in mass graves or individual ones and decided he didn’t much care.

“I hate this part,” Truscott said softly.

“Tell me about it, general,” Canfield whispered.

Grant looked about and shook his head sadly. “It’s even worse the farther back you go. We were packed in so closely in the rear it was almost impossible for German shells to miss hitting something.”

Truscott looked away and Grant said nothing more. His comment was an implicit criticism of their previous commander. In his consuming fear of a German counter assault, he had left them utterly unprepared for one when it occurred. Nothing more, however, would be said about the past. Truscott’s plans were for the future.

“How soon can your men begin moving out and attacking the krauts?” he asked Canfield who showed no surprise at the request.

“Anytime you want, general. It would be nice if we got some food, ammunition, and some replacements. I can do without the replacements but we are almost out of ammo and an army does move on its stomach.”

Truscott smiled. He had been getting the same response from all his front line commanders. The army was pissed off and wanted to strike back. The battle had started poorly, but they had prevailed over the Germans and it felt good.

“You’ll get your supplies in the next couple of hours and you can move out then. Slowly, of course, we don’t want anyone stepping into an ambush and, oh yeah, look out for mines. The pricks have a million of them, or so we’ve heard. We’ll start sending you replacements right off so you can start filtering them in.”

Grant looked away. The new guys would have a hard time fitting in with a unit that had been intact for so long and had just been savaged. Nobody would want to make friends with someone who might be dead in an instant. Another face of war, he thought. The Germans had to have been hit just as badly. However, they didn’t have a deep well of reinforcements and replacements from which to draw, which was just too fucking bad, he thought.

“Can we contain them?” Guderian asked.

He was referring to the attempts by the U.S. Army to cross the Niagara to their south.

“So far, yes,” replied General Steiner, commander of the South Front. He looked exhausted, as did Guderian. “They have crossed at two points and are trying to build pontoon bridges. As soon as one gets partly built, either our guns or our planes knock it down. This cannot last forever. They are wearing us down with their greater numbers of men, guns, and planes. That and when their beachhead expands will force us to give up the defensive line along the Niagara River and retreat northward. I would strongly recommend making plans to begin that phase of the battle as soon as possible.”

Guderian rubbed his eyes. He would not have referred to a retreat as a ‘phase of the battle.’ They were planning to retreat, not only from the river, but from General Raus’s West Front as well. Patton’s continuous pressure on German defenses was slowly destroying them. Raus needed to pull his men back to shorter and more defensible positions.

Of course, the Fuhrer had expressly forbidden that. His orders were that Fortress North Reich would remain intact and be defended to the last. At least Berlin had stopped insulting him with promises of great numbers of reinforcements coming after the Kriegsmarine swept the seas of American and British ships. The German navy would never defeat the Allies; that much was abundantly clear.

Guderian took a sip of schnapps that someone on his staff had liberated from a liquor outlet in St. Catharines. He winced. It was inexpensive and probably locally made, nothing like what he’d enjoyed back in Germany. He wondered if he would ever get to enjoy anything back in Germany.

He sensed someone in front of him and looked up. “Koenig, you look like hell.”

“I feel that way, sir. My car was strafed on the way back and my driver was killed. He was also my radioman and that meant I couldn’t keep in touch.”

“Are you hurt?”

“Cuts and bruises, sir. Nothing that a few months leave in Berlin or the south of France wouldn’t cure.”

Guderian laughed softly. He would give a year’s pay to be back in Germany with his wife Margarete and their two sons, both of whom were in the army. He hoped they were not fighting in that snake pit called Russia.

But seeing his family was not going to happen. He was not going home anytime in the foreseeable future. He had the North Reich to defend, and now had very little to defend it with.

General George C. Marshall dreaded his next appointment. If he could, he would have palmed the man off on one of his staffers, but one does not insult the Secretary of the Treasury.

Henry Morgenthau was a Jew, which was unusual as few Jews rose to positions of prominence in the federal government. He’d been born in the U.S. and succeeded in the world of business. He was also a friend and upper New York neighbor of FDR and that was another reason to see the man, even though the meeting was doubtless going to be fruitless and frustrating. Morgenthau wanted that which did not and could not exist - safety and freedom for his fellow Jews in Europe.

From all that Marshall could ascertain, Morgenthau had worn the mantle of Jewishness lightly for almost all of his life. Apparently he rarely, if ever, observed the Sabbath or went to a synagogue. He’d been what some people referred to as an assimilated Jew, if, Marshall thought, any Jew could be assimilated in a mainly Protestant American environment. He’d gone to excellent schools, and if his faith denied him entrance into certain clubs and neighborhoods, and even a number of restaurants, he didn’t seem at all bothered by the slights. It was a small price to pay to participate in the American dream.

All of this changed when Morgenthau realized the full fury of the horror that was occurring in the Third Reich. Like anyone with knowledge of the barbarism, he’d been sickened and stunned by the systematic slaughter of Jews under Hitler and Himmler. It had changed him and he was now a rabid Zionist, and a man compelled to try and save what remained of the Jews of Europe.

Unfortunately, Morgenthau’s was a hopeless quest.

The two men shook hands and took seats. No one else was present in the general’s office. “I assume you know why I am here,” Morgenthau began without preamble.

“Of course. You want me to somehow come up with a military solution to save the Jews of Europe. My question has to be why haven’t you discussed this with the president?”

Morgenthau laughed bitterly. “Because the president won’t speak of it. He defers, delays, and obfuscates. He will not give me an answer.”

Marshall fully understood. He too had been the beneficiary of FDRs maddening habit of never giving a straight answer. “Mr. Secretary, I will be blunt. There is no military solution at this time, nor is there likely to be one for quite some time. We know that the main death camp is called Birkenau and it is outside the city of Auschwitz. Auschwitz itself is about fifty miles west of Krakow and very close to the old German border. As you are doubtless aware, it used to be the Polish town of Oswiecim until it was annexed by Germany and re-named. It is deep in the middle of Europe and untouchable.”

“You could bomb it,” Morgenthau said with a hint of desperation that made Marshall uncomfortable.

“Auschwitz is eight hundred and fifty miles from London and, yes, a B17 could fly there and back. However, we have no forces in England. Even if we did, the bombers would have to fly much of the way without shorter range escorts and they would be slaughtered by the Luftwaffe. Despite the propaganda, the so-called Flying Fortress is far from invulnerable. And, if the bombers actually did make it to Auschwitz, they would have a devil of a time finding either the city or the camp as Polish maps are worse than primitive and aircraft navigation is still a rough science. Are you aware that our planes flying from New York State sometimes can’t find Toronto and that some German planes flying from Europe couldn’t find London?”

“I was not,” Morgenthau said softly.

Marshall continued. “And even if they did find the death camp, what would they bomb? If they hit the camp itself, they’d be killing the inmates. Despite what you might have heard about certain technological achievements like the Norden bomb sight, our bombing is still highly inaccurate. Nor could they accurately hit the railroads leading to the camp and, even if they did, the Germans would repair them overnight.”

“What about the Russians? Can they do something?”

“The Red Army is about to re-conquer Stalingrad after climactic battles near the Urals. Unfortunately, Stalingrad is about twelve hundred miles from Auschwitz and both sides will need to catch their breath and re-supply after the enormous blood-letting that is taking place. As the Reds advance, they will inherit the logistical problems the Germans are now facing. Even under the best of circumstances, it could easily be a couple of years before the Red Army reaches the death camps.

“Are you saying the cause of the Jewish people is hopeless?”

“For those in Poland and Russia, yes. I’m sorry, but they are doomed. Nor would it surprise me in the least if an exhausted Germany and an equally exhausted Russia signed a peace accord that would seal the doom of any surviving Jews. Nor can I conceive of the United States invading continental Europe, at least not without major allies, and that won’t happen if Russia and Germany sign another peace treaty.”

“What about Great Britain?”

“She is a mere shell of herself.”

“You paint a dismal picture, general.”

“I didn’t think you wanted me to lie. If I were you, I would concentrate on some way of getting the Jewish people out of those nations where the exterminations haven’t begun, such as Italy and France. Perhaps the Nazis will release Jews if they had someplace to send them.”

“Well, they won’t come to the United States,” Morgenthau said wryly. “They’ve been refused entry before.”

“Perhaps times have changed. If the world is aware of the realities in Europe, perhaps deals can be brokered. In the meantime, I am as helpless and frustrated as you are.”

“General, I want Germany destroyed, dismembered, so she cannot wage war again. The monster that we call Germany is less than a hundred years old. It must be broken up and heavy industry prohibited,” Morgenthau said stridently.

Morgenthau’s wish to radically transform Germany was another reason why FDR wouldn’t talk to him. Such possibilities were so far down the road that they weren’t worth mentioning.

Disappointed but not surprised, Morgenthau left the Pentagon and returned to the Treasury Building at 1500 Pennsylvania Avenue. He was proud of his position as Secretary of the Treasury and, as an American, proud that parts of the Treasury Building pre-dated the Civil War. His driver left him off at a side entrance on 15st. It enabled him to enter without being noticed. He was too depressed to feel like talking to anyone, although Marshall had planted the germ of an idea.

Deep in thought, he didn’t notice the two District of Columbia policemen walking towards him until they were only a few feet away.

“Can I help you?” he inquired.

“Are you Morgenthau?” one, the older, asked sternly.

The impertinence of the question surprised him. “I am.”

The policeman pulled out his revolver and fired twice into Morgenthau’s chest. “Jew,” he spat out.

As consciousness faded, Morgenthau heard screams and other shots.

Patrolman Dennis Murphy had been a D.C. cop for more than ten years. Working in the nation’s capital gave him an interesting perspective on his world, along with a spreading gut that his wife said he should work off. He learned early on to recognize the rich and powerful, the better to keep himself out of trouble. As his fellow cops would say, careers could be ruined by inadvertently insulting some raghead sultan from the Middle East. Thus, when he heard the gunfire and saw a man grabbing his chest in pain and horror, he immediately recognized the victim as the Secretary of the Treasury. What totally perplexed him was that he was being shot by fellow cops.

Seeking to either help or straighten out what was obviously a mess or a mistake; he drew his own revolver and raced towards the three men. He was close enough to hear one of the men call Morgenthau a Jew, which puzzled him. Of course Morgenthau was a Jew. Everybody knew that.

“Police,” Murphy yelled to alert the two other cops.

Instead of acknowledging him, the two men turned and began shooting at him. Murphy dropped to his knees. He was totally confused. Why were his fellow officers shooting at him? Something hard slammed into his chest, staggering him. Morgenthau was flat on the ground, blood gathering in puddles around him. They were killing him, which meant they weren’t real cops. For the first time in his career, he began shooting, foolishly emptying his revolver at one target. The man he was shooting at turned and crumpled, while the second shot again, hitting Murphy in the eye. He was dead before he hit the ground.

With both Tom and Colonel Downing up north along with Truscott, Alicia found herself in the uncomfortable position of being the army’s temporary liaison in the investigation of the attack on Henry Morgenthau. Once again she found herself looking down on to the pale features of a corpse. At least this one hadn’t been terribly mangled. Her stomach couldn’t handle that. A second corpse lay on another slab, but that one belonged to an innocent cop who apparently stumbled on to the assassination attempt and died for his efforts. He’d get a posthumous medal and a great funeral, but that wouldn’t help his wife and two kids.

She couldn’t help but notice that more jurisdictions were involved. The Treasury Department headed up the Secret Service, and, since the attack had occurred on a city street by men using phony uniforms, the District of Columbia police were also interested. Both groups seemed to resent the presence of a woman, even one wearing an army officer’s uniform. They seemed only slightly mollified by the Purple Heart she’d thought to pin on. Fortunately, FBI Agent Dunn had used J. Edgar Hoover’s name and gotten others to back off. The FBI would be running things.

“How is the secretary?” Alicia asked.

“As well as any old man with two bullets in him could be,” Dunn said. “The docs think he’ll pull through, but it will be a long time before he returns to work.”

Alicia turned her attention back to the dead man. He’d been shot several times in the back and chest by the dead D.C. cop who’d been a little ways away and had run to the attack. It had taken the real cop a few seconds to comprehend that something was terribly wrong and, when he’d announced himself, witnesses said that the two phony cops had turned from trying to murder Morgenthau and shot at him. They’d killed him, but not before the cop had killed the man lying before her. The second gunman had run off and a manhunt was underway.

“He’s not Stahl, is he?” Dunn asked.

“No and you knew that,” she answered.

Dunn shrugged, “Just had to make sure. We’re checking his fingerprints, but that’s going to be long, tedious, and ultimately fruitless. I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that he’s on record anywhere. My guess is that he’s a German who sneaked in a while back and set up house without anyone noticing. Based on rough descriptions, we think he might be the one who led the attack on the New York Stock Exchange. There we might have better luck with fingerprints.”

“Was the other man Stahl?” she asked.

Dunn pulled the sheet back over the dead man’s face. “We think so. The bastard got lucky again and got away, although he didn’t kill Morgenthau. Stahl may just be all alone now, and that might just make him desperate.”

“Where did they get the police uniforms?”

“Easy as pie. They bought them at a shop that sells them to cops. Nobody even asked to see their ID. The badges they made out of cardboard covered with tinfoil and the guns they either already had or they stole."

“So where is Stahl now?”

Dunn grimaced. “I wish to hell I knew. He plans ahead, so he probably has changed out of his uniform and into something else, so I don’t think the manhunt is going to net us anything. This Stahl guy has to be stopped. He’s come too close to really damaging this country.”

Detective Sam Lambert walked down the street with Sherry Piper on his arm. He hoped they looked like two lovers out for a stroll, which, in a way, they were. Their relationship had ripened and they were starting to use words like love and even discuss long range plans. Neither of them was quite ready to use the marriage word, but that was likely inevitable.

First there was a war to win and a nation to be freed from the clutches of Nazi Germany.

They stopped and joined the crowd watching a long line of trucks and ambulances bringing German wounded back from the fighting at Niagara and the Port Maitland beachhead. Even though sedated, many wounded still moaned and cried out in pain.

“They really aren’t supermen, are they?” Sherry said. “Some of them look like lost little boys.”

“Don’t even think of feeling sorry for them until after they’ve surrendered. Some of the ones crying the loudest might be guilty of some of the worst crimes.”

“I keep forgetting you’re a cop,” she said, squeezing his arm. “And sometimes I almost succeed in forgetting what the Germans did to my brother and me. But I really don’t want to lose track of the fact that I am a human being and not an animal like the Nazis.”

“That’ll never happen,” he said gently. It warranted another arm squeeze along with the pleasant feel of her breast against him.

“So what do we do next to help destroy the Nazis?”

“I’m to meet with some people, probably OSS types, and we’re going to talk. There’s a bunch of cops like me who’d like to hit the Germans, but we’re primarily concerned with freeing the people they’ve taken prisoner so they can’t be used as hostages.”

“And that includes American POWs?”

“Of course. After what the Gestapo tried to do with shipping Jews to Germany, the krauts are capable of anything, so we’re going to have to act quickly.”

Downing was scheduled to go back to the Pentagon, which did not disappoint him in the slightest. Grant, on the other hand, was surprised and dismayed by his orders.

“I thought I’d seen the last of German occupied Canada. The next time I went, I thought it would be with Alicia and as a tourist.”

“I can’t blame you, but the army works in mysterious ways. Actually, it isn’t very strange at all. You know the area around Toronto and you’ve actually met with some interesting local types who are very sympathetic to us.”

“Am I going in as a civilian so they can hang me if I’m caught, or can I wear my uniform and maybe stay alive?”

“Don’t be such a pessimist. You can wear your uniform or civilian clothes or even pajamas as you think appropriate. You’ll be parachuted in where you will meet up with a small Ranger detachment that’s managed to place itself north of Toronto. Once you link up with them, you are to make contact with local talent and make plans to do whatever damage is possible, and that includes freeing prisoners before the krauts can kill them.”

“Colonel, you used the word parachute. I’ve never jumped in my life.”

“Then try to do it right the first time. Look, I wish we had time to send you to Benning for airborne training, but we don’t. I understand it’s as easy as falling off a log, only it’s a very high log.”

“Colonel, sir?”

“Yes, Tom.”

“Say hello to Alicia and Missy for me and would you very much mind if I invited you to go screw yourself?”

Neumann was depressed by the news from several fronts. Given their enormous numerical advantage, the defeats inflicted by the Americans were not totally unexpected. Worse was the news coming from Europe. The German army was being badly mauled by the resurgent Red Army and was in retreat. Von Paulus had crossed the Ural River on his way to the mountains and had then been attacked by the Reds. It was almost a given that Stalingrad would either be re-taken or surrounded with the German army under siege. Von Paulus had been given a stand or die order by Hitler. Neumann hoped the field marshal had enough balls to die for the Reich, but doubted it. Paulus was a clerk, not a fighter.

More important, the Soviet attacks meant that whatever flickering hopes he might have had that German forces in the North Reich would be rescued had just been extinguished. Hitler had also declared Canada a fortress and forbidden surrender, but Neumann had few hopes that Guderian would do the right thing and die fighting. No, he was a coward who would try to save himself by surrendering his army. He would fight a few more battles to show that he was serious, but he was already withdrawing his troops. The men facing Patton in the west were in the process of pulling back a good twenty miles to their next defensive position. Soon they would run out of Canadian real estate. Therefore, it was up to him to see to it that Guderian and the army did fight on to the last man.

Neumann felt that he had few trump cards to play, and he would indeed play them. The first thing to do, he decided, is to fill the prison camps with Canadian civilians, and it didn’t matter at all whether or not they were Jewish. At the same time, his Gestapo units would be directed to converge on Toronto and most especially the farm and the prison camps. The Gestapo could be trusted to carry out their assignments no matter how bloody and brutal they might be. He was not so certain of the remnants of the Black Shirts. Those rats were abandoning the sinking ship. Munro now had a hard core cadre of perhaps fifty men and Neumann wondered how long that number would hold. There were close to a thousand American soldiers and airmen who’d been captured and they too would have value when the time came to negotiate a safe trip back to the Reich. He knew that the Americans would not permit their people and innocent civilians to be slaughtered.

Downing threw Grant a bone and Tom grabbed it. Master Sergeant Farnum would be coming with him. Farnum had once been a paratrooper and took it on himself to give Tom a primer on how to jump out of an airplane and survive.

“Anybody can jump,” he’d said without a hint of sarcasm, “it’s the landing that creates problems.”

“Sergeant, I’d already figured that out.”

Farnum had laughed and then gotten on with training. He had Tom jump from stacked chairs and taught him to land properly by collapsing and rolling over. They did this a couple of score times in a few hours until Tom actually thought he understood what was expected of him.

They flew in a C47 and were escorted by a pair of P51s. They didn’t think that the Germans would waste their diminishing number of planes on a lone transport, but nothing was certain.

They flew from Buffalo, looped over the lake and on to an area west and south of Toronto. It was night and both men hoped the very young pilot could find his way in the dark. The pilot wasn’t worried. He put his faith in radar and his co-pilot’s skill at finding the fires that were supposed to be set as signals.

Sooner than expected, they received the order to get up and get ready. They checked their own gear and then checked each other’s. A crewman opened the C47’s door and they were hit by a rush of cold air.

“Just remember, sir, you don’t have to count to ten or yell Geronimo anything dumb like that,” said Farnum. “The chute will open automatically. If it doesn’t then you just yank on the reserve chute and pray that it opens.”

“And I’m screwed if it doesn’t, aren’t I?”

“Absolutely, sir, but you won’t have much time to worry about it since we’ll be jumping from a fairly low altitude.”

“Now!” the pilot yelled over the intercom and before Tom could react, Farnum pushed him out of the plane.

The wind was like a punch and he was hit a second time as the chute opened a few seconds later. He grabbed the risers and held on for dear life as he dropped towards the ground. It was coming up with terrifying speed. He quickly looked around but couldn’t see Farnum. Of course not; their chutes were dark and hopefully invisible to enemy eyes. Nor could he see the fires that were supposed to have been set as a target for the drop. They were not supposed to actually hit inside the fires, just be close enough so that their hosts could find them.

He braced himself when he felt the ground was near. He hit and rolled over like he was told. Seconds later he realized that he’d survived. He gathered chute and got out of the harness.

“I’ll take it, sir,” said Farnum who’d materialized out of nowhere.

The sergeant hid the two parachutes and they walked west. According to their maps a dirt road should be nearby. It was and they crossed it quickly, eyes out for a German patrol that might have seen them land. There were haystacks in the field and their instructions had been to find one on the northern edge of the field and stay there. Their new friends would find them, not the other way around. Tom understood. If they’d been spotted, let the Germans take them rather than blowing the whole operation and getting locals or whoever was going to help them caught as well.

They picked a haystack and sat down with their backs to it. Tom tried to let the tension drain from his body, but with scant success.

Farnum checked his watch - the dial glowed in the dark. He squinted and looked around. Tom did as well, but there was nothing to see. “I think it’ll be at least an hour before anyone contacts us, sir.”

Tom was about to reply when he felt something cold and hard against his neck. It felt suspiciously like a gun. “Apple,” a voice said in little more than a whisper.

“Core,” Tom responded.

Landry lowered his weapon and sat down beside them. “Just who the hell thinks of these stupid passwords?”