- Historic Sites
After The Air Raids
An insider’s account of a startling— and still controversial—investigation of the Allied bombing of Germany
April/may 1981 | Volume 32, Issue 3
Speer had taken living quarters in Schloss Glücksburg, the castle of the Dukes of Holstein a few miles from town, a handsome structure with a moat of lake-like proportions. We reached it in jeeps and requisitioned transport; a Jewish lieutenant of German origin, telling George Ball and me that he was settling old scores, persisted in driving through the pedestrian masses at breakneck speed. At the castle the captain of the SS guard, a small, unfearsome-looking, rat-faced man greeted us each day and bowed us into the great hall, a vast rectangular room with a low, vaulted ceiling. For the interrogations we used a small room at the far end.
These were conducted brilliantly by George Ball, who, with almost no help, could ask searching questions on topics on which he was manifestly uninformed. American clerical talent in the Army of that time being as usual unavailable, Speer's secretary was recruited to take down and transcribe the proceedings. These lasted for three days. We met at noon, for, as a superb example of the power of organized inertia, the German cabinet continued to meet each morning at eleven to consider the nonexistent tasks of its nonexistent state. Speer himself was far from enchanted. At our first session he proposed that we arrest him and so spare him this opéra bouffe, which with some pride in his mastery of the American idiom he called “Grade B Warner Brothers.”
On the second day when we arrived at the castle for the afternoon’s business, Speer had disappeared. His secretary was in tears; the little SS officer was wringing his hands in deeply unmilitary distress. We learned that a party of men had come to the castle at five that morning, arrested Speer, and taken him away. The secretary and the SS man both thought that it had been the Gestapo. Speer had been talking very freely, and Himmler was known to have been in the vicinity. While we considered these improbabilities, Speer came in, smiling agreeably. An OSS team had arrived in Flensburg the night before, heard of his presence, and moved to arrest him first thing in the morning. They took him to a headquarters they had requisitioned in the town, where toward noon Speer told them he had an appointment. They replied that he would not be keeping appointments for some years, but when he explained that it was with some Americans whose names by now he knew—a Mr. Ball and a Dr. Galbraith—it was decided that his capture had been ill-considered. He was driven back to the castle and deposited outside the moat. There had been a mixup between two unduly eager intelligence teams. Speer assured us that this kind of thing “was always happening under Hitler.”
No defeated government looks good. Had the Germans or the Japanese come to Washington, they would have been appalled by the inept non-talent that had been unloaded on the wartime administration or that had found shelter there. But after all allowance, the story of defective planning, bad judgment, and incoherent administration that Speer added to our earlier assessment was impressive. It was supported by an armful of documents from his ministry which, thoughtfully, he had brought out of Berlin to a bank vault in Hamburg and which we promptly sent people to retrieve.
The first and most sweeping defect was inherent in the German conception of mobilization planning. Earlier at a meeting in Bavaria, Nicholas Kaldor, in a mood of tense excitement, had outlined a preliminary and, as it developed, accurate hypothesis. All knew of the acceptance by Germany of the Blitzkrieg as military doctrine—the commitment to the all-powerful, quickly completed military thrust that had destroyed Poland in 1939, the Low Countries and France the following spring, and which, in the summer and autumn of 1941, had carried the German armies to within sight of Moscow with the intention of ending the Russian campaign in that year. What had not been recognized was the counterpart application of the Blitzkrieg doctrine to war production. This held that from a modest weapons-producing capacity, stocks, of tanks, other vehicles, aircraft, ordnance, and ammunition could be accumulated. These stocks would then be expended in a great, rapid, ruthless, victorious push. In the next pause before the next push, stocks would be built up again. The thrust being fast and successful and the pauses between adequate, the continuing output of weapons and the requisite factory capacity did not need to be very great, and there did not, accordingly, need to be much sacrifice of civilian consumption. So it was in the early years of the war.