The Big Leak

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Between the time he approved these orders and their release by the supreme command, Hitler had returned to the Russian front, where he was astonished and enraged to find his armies reeling back under assaults from Russian armies whose existence his intelligence officers had failed to detect. When Directive No. 39 reached him, he flew into a rage and summoned Col. Gen. Franz Halder, the chief of staff of the German Army, and Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander in chief, and hysterically berated them. He declared that a “general withdrawal is out of the question” and insisted that Leningrad, Moscow, and the Don Basin had to be included in any permanent defensive line. On December 19 he fired Brauchitsch and took over command of the army.

If Hitler had stuck with his original decision and acted to frustrate the objectives of the Victory Program, he could have freed a hundred divisions from the eastern front for a Mediterranean offensive. Against this force the Allies, including the Americans, could not have mustered more than twenty divisions. Germany’s best general, Erwin Rommel, was already in Egypt, demonstrating with a relatively puny force what he could accomplish against the British and Australians.

There is little doubt that Hitler could have turned the Mediterranean into a German lake and frustrated the Allied plan to seize Africa and attack Europe from the south. The catastrophic German defeat at Stalingrad would never have occurred, and the Allied attempt to invade Europe at any point, particularly across the English Channel, would have been much more costly.

In 1955 the historian and former intelligence officer Cap. Tracy B. Kittredge reviewed these probabilities in an article in Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute . From the evidence he presented one can conclude that the leak of Rainbow Five almost lost World War II. This may be overstating the case. But captured documents make it clear that some of the best brains in the German army and navy tried to use the information to alter the course of the war and that only Hitler’s stubborn fury thwarted them.

One question remains unresolved. Who leaked Rainbow Five? General Wedemeyer survived the investigation unscathed and went on to high command. He attributes a good part of his salvation to his innocence. But he admits that Gen. George Marshall’s trust in him, which never wavered, also had a lot to do with it.

In the ensuing years a good deal of information has surfaced. We now know that the man who passed Rainbow Five to Chesly Manly was Sen. Burton K. Wheeler. In his memoirs Wheeler says he got the plan from an Army Air Corps captain. Senator Wheeler’s son, Edward Wheeler, a Washington attorney, recalls that the captain told his father, “I’m only a messenger.” The same captain had come to Wheeler earlier in the year to feed him secret information about the appalling weakness of the U.S. Air Force. Senator Wheeler never had any doubt, his son says, that the man who sent the messenger was Gen. Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, the chief of the Army Air Corps.

In 1963 Frank C. Waldrop published an article recalling his memories of the big leak. He told of having lunch after the war with the FBI man who had directed the investigation. The agent told him the bureau had solved the case within ten days. The guilty party was “a general of high renown and invaluable importance to the war.” His motive was to reveal the plan’s “deficiences in regard to air power.”

In a recent interview Waldrop added some significant details to this story. The FBI man was Louis B. Nichols, an assistant director of the bureau. Waldrop asked him, “Damn it, Lou, why didn’t you come after us?” Waldrop and everyone else at the Times Herald and the Tribune had hoped that the government would prosecute. They had a lot of information about the way the White House was tapping their telephones and planting informants in their newsrooms that they wanted to get on the record. Nichols replied, “When we got to Arnold, we quit.”

Murray Green, General Arnold’s official biographer, has vigorously disputed Arnold’s guilt. He maintained that all available evidence shows Arnold supported Rainbow Five, which did not, contrary to the imputation, scant a buildup of American air power. Even more significant in Green’s opinion was General Arnold’s continuing friendship with General Marshall. If the FBI had found Arnold guilty, Marshall would certainly have been told. The virtue Marshall valued above all others was loyalty. It was inconceivable to Green that Marshall could ever have trusted or worked with Arnold again. Forrest Pogue, General Marshall’s biographer, seems inclined to agree with this judgment.