Saturday, February 23, 2013

Himmler Settling Accounts with Speer at Schloss Glucksburg

Cremer had chosen a roundabout route up to the Schloss, so they wouldn’t be noticed. Sixteen men in four open-roofed Navy kubels. Most had rifles, though one petty officer, in direct contravention of the articles of the surrender agreement, carried a machine gun. As for Cremer, in addition to his officer’s sidearm, he cradled in his hands a massive pistol which only fired signal flares."So here’s the plan, Ziggy,” he said. “According to your brother, Himmler and his bunch will show up at the castle sometime shortly after 10:30. By now Manni should already be hiding inside and we’re supposed to position ourselves at the southeast corner of the moat. There is an escape tunnel that comes out at the castle wall twenty meters up from the stone bridge. He’s going to bring Franzi out there and they’ll swim across the moat to where we’re waiting.”

Ziggy nodded and stared out at the gray and black mosaic of fields and woods. He didn’t like any of it.

Cremer went on. “Speer’s own security is a joke. But of course there will be Himmler’s boys and we already know what they’re like. Manni thinks we should be able to pull it off without getting into a gunfight with them. I guess as long as we’re on different sides of the moat it shouldn’t get out of hand. But he said that if anything else starts up, we should stay out of it, except for providing covering fire.”

"What do you think he meant by that?” asked Ziggy. “Who else could show up?”

Cremer shrugged. “He didn’t say.”

"Great,” said Ziggy.

They drove through a forest where everything was pitch black, slowing down to make a succession of turns. A minute later they emerged again and there was the castle, Schloss Glucksburg, standing silently at one end of a lake. White walls and four towers glowing faintly under the sliver of a moon. The lake was pitch black, returning no reflection, with only the dark grey ribbon of the stone bridge running over the water, connecting the castle with a forecourt on the opposite shore. Everything was completely still; not a leaf rustled, not a tree branch groaned, nor the sound of a wild animal going through the brush.
Schloss Glucksburg

They hid the kubels and spread out along the bank, keeping low to the grass. Someone handed Ziggy a pair of night binoculars and, propping himself on his elbows, he began examining the walls and the bridge and the spot where the secret passage was supposed to let out.

He lowered the glasses and exchanged a glance with Cremer. “Two minutes,” Cremer whispered.

Two minutes to what? wondered Ziggy.  Manni was playing his games again, manipulating things and people like they were billiard balls. Two minutes until something happens that is going to cause Himmler to decide to come here with Franzi in tow, right to the spot where Manni just happens to be waiting for them. Manni was an embodiment of the random and irreproducible. When they were kids, he could always figure out what Ziggy and the others were about to do, because, as he once explained to Ziggy, every seemingly spontaneous action was actually the confluence of established habits and patterns.

Then they heard explosions in the distance. Ten times louder than thunder; high explosive, a lot of it. They saw a flash in the northeast, followed by the crackle of smaller ordinance going off. For a second the thought went through his mind that something had gone wrong and it was all over. But then he realized he could sense Franzi at that moment, inside a car, cold air blasting at him through a shot-out windscreen and Himmler babbling on and on about Speer’s treachery.

“That was 10:30 on the mark,” said Cremer.

A few minutes later they heard the roar of approaching automobiles, racing up the road as if the devil himself was chasing them. Then they came out of the woods. Two Mercedes and a Horch, all three incredibly shot up. They careened up the road and into the castle’s forecourt, and then reappeared as they went over the bridge. Looking at them through his glasses, Ziggy swore he could make out Franzi in the back of the Horch sitting next to Himmler. Then suddenly everything was silent again.

“Well, so much for that,” said Cremer. “Now we wait for Act Two.”

They settled back into their surveillance. The minutes ticked by, five minutes, ten, fifteen. Then they heard more vehicles approaching. Not as loud, but a lot more of them.

Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, ebook version available on Kindle here.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Doenitz in the Hour Before His Arrest

"The way it looked from Doenitz’ window, it could have been any other May morning in Flensburg. The sun was already up, making the water glisten in the bright light. Near the boat dock, a host of seagulls complacently floated on the water, while further out in the harbor, the vast disarray of unmanned destroyers, minesweepers, gunboats and small craft bobbed discordantly from their tethers. For once, it felt like peacetime.

But then a line of turreted, four-wheeled armored scout cars came rumbling down the waterfront, causing the seagulls in the water to irritably flap their wings. About what he’d expected, Doenitz told himself bemusedly. He looked at his watch and saw there were fifteen minutes left. Having the watch on was a mistake, he realized. It should have been packed and sent with the rest of his belongings to his wife. Perhaps he could still give it to one of his men as a gift, rather than let some souvenir-hungry Tommy steal it. But then he thought, to hell with it. Let the bastards have their fun."

Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster 2008, now also available on Kindle.

Friday, February 15, 2013

SS Flying Boats to Wherever

One morning, several days after the Germans surrendered, a group of gigantic, six-engine, BV-222 flying boats appeared unannounced in Flensburg harbor. They were from KG-200, a shadowy, SS-run Luftwaffe unit, commanded by Col Werner Baumbach, which was being used to fly top Nazi officials to safe havens abroad. For several days they just sat there. Then, one night, word got out for anyone wanting  to leave that they needed to show up right away and bring plenty of gold in exchange for passage.  For Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler, who had been in hiding, this was good news. But to Colonel Heinz Macher, Himmler's chief of security, it sounded suspicious.

Down in the harbor, the flying boat’s six engines began to sputter loudly and the large, three-bladed propellers started turning, slowly at first, then faster and faster as the engines’ metallic whine turned into a loud roar. At the same time, the passengers at the jetty started boarding barges that ferried them out to the aircraft. One of the Luftwaffe men shouted, “Make up your mind. We’re leaving in five minutes.”

“We’re coming down,” Macher shouted back. “Put out that light now!”

“We need it on! We’re still loading!”

“That’s your problem,” barked Macher. “Kill it now!”

A moment later someone hit a switch and everything was back in darkness. “All right, then,” said Macher. He ordered the remaining security men to walk ahead of the cars while the three men already on perimeter were to take up the rear. Everyone else got back in their cars and with their headlights turned off, they began making their way slowly down the hill.

Then the shooting started. Machinegun fire erupted from all over the boatyard and illumination flares shot up into the air, bathing everything below in cold white light. Macher’s men returned fire, while out on the jetty the remaining passengers scattered and collided into each other in panic. Women screamed. Grenades exploded. The three cars immediately slammed into reverse and, tires screeching, careened back up the hill, where they stopped long enough to pick up the rest of the men. Then there was a deafening roar as the flying boat exploded in a huge burst of flame that lit up the sky.

Driving back toward the gates, Franzi looked out the shattered rear window and saw the monstrous aircraft breaking apart as it burned in the water, accompanied by a continuous cracking of smaller explosions as ammunition inside the aircraft cooked off. Himmler was nearly hysterical. This was all Speer’s doing, he kept telling them. Speer was a usurper, Speer wanted his gold, Speer coveted his position as ruler of postwar, Speer had always been plotting against him, Speer wanted to unseat him, from the beginning Speer had set out to unbalance everything! Well he was going to show him. Yes he would! He’d show Speer what for.

Franzi looked around the inside of the car and realized all the windows were shot out. Everything was riddled with bullets, but aside from some minor wounds, no one seemed to be hurt. Fraulein Potthast held the collar of her fur coat tightly around the back of her head, shielding her ears, not saying anything. Kiermaier looked unperturbed as usual. Franzi felt the cold wind blasting at his face and wondered where they were going.
(Excerpt from Germania, first published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

After Killing Bonnie and Clyde, Capt. Frank Hamer Comes Home to Del Rio

But now this. Captain Frank Hamer, the man who’s been hunting me down, the man who ambushed and killed Bonnie and Clyde like they was dogs, is now on his way to Del Rio; Del Rio, which, in addition to being my own favorite place in creation, my little corner of heaven on earth, it turns out is also his. Well, since I reckon this little corner of heaven ain’t gonna be big enough for the two of us, maybe I should skedaddle before he gets wind of my being here. But is it even possible? If coincidence has led him down here, won’t it do the same wherever I go? Well, maybe it will and maybe it won’t, but Imo have to do something. I can’t just wait here for him to take me.

So then how do I flee? What’s my plan? I look around the diner, at Susie the waitress and the guys on
stools at the counter, and a quick look at the clock tells me it’s almost nine thirty, which means I could go back to the rooming house, pack my bags, settle the bill with my landlady, and walk down to the Greyhound station and I’d still have nearly two hours to kill before the noon bus departs for San Antonio. Once there, I know I could get all kinds of lost. Knowing I can do that makes my panic subside some. What’s important now is just to not attract any undue attention, make my departure as invisible as I can. I nod when the waitress comes by with a fresh pot and smile as she refills my coffee.

“Innit great, Slim?” she says.

"Inn-what great, Susie?”

“You know, Frank coming back!”


Susie looks at me surprised I’m such a dope. “Why, Frank Hamer, Slim!” she exclaims, then laughs and pats my hand. “Can you believe? Hah! I’d forgot that you two never met. Well, you’re in for a real treat, Slim!” She turns to the other customers. “Innat right, boys?”

They all turn in their swivel stools and let out a merry laugh. “Oh, you’re jest going to love Frank Hamer, Slim,” says one, followed by a wave of enthusiastic nods, while the others are all saying, “Yeah!” and, “I can’t wait to see you and him meet, Slim!”

I’m afraid of them seeing my utter horror, so I offer up a weak smile and mutter something bland about looking forward to actually meeting the famous and legendary Texas Ranger Captain Hamer. I say it hoping it might satisfy them and force them to change the subject to something safe, like baseball or FDR.

Susie lets out a cackle that sounds like a nail being pried out of a dry board. “Oh, down here he’s just plain Frank,” she says. “Frank comes to Del Rio to relax, be with his friends and let his hair down a little. He never gets a chance to anywhere else. That’s why he likes it so much here.”

“Besides,” chimes in one of the good old boys on the stools, “ol’ Frank is a whole lot of fun when he wants to be.”

“Yeah,” says another, “he’s always cutting up and wanting a western song. That’s why I just know you two going to get along so well!”

A third one nods vigorously. “I declare, you two gonna be best friends in about a minute.”



No better friend in the whole world than Frank Hamer!”

“You gonna look him in the eye, you shake his hand, and boy, you know you got a pardner for life.”

“Cause that’s the cowboy way!”

“Innat right?”

“At’s right.”

“You bet.”


And they’re all sitting there smiling at me like a bunch of kids talking about Christmas and not about the meanest, deadliest lawman alive and I’m starting to wonder what in the shit is going on here? Now, I’ve been in the joint and I’ve been in the Marines, so I know how guys will smile at you when they know you’re about to get yours. But this, I am certain, is not that kind of smile. It’s the kind that says they all like me an awful lot and seeing me meet Frank Hamer would be the loveliest, most wonderful thing their little hearts can imagine.

Needless to say, this simply doesn’t make any sense. I’m nothing to them, other than a guy who comes in two or three times a week for a late breakfast. I don’t think any of them have so much as thrown a nickel to me when I play on the street and if any of them have ever listened to my radio program, they sure haven’t mentioned it. Which is all fine, since, like them, I make my money off the tourists. I’m just the latest in a succession of fake singing cowboys with horseshit names like Tex, Slim, Lonesome Dave and Whistling Bob, singing phony cowboy songs while shilling for blood tonics, bowel relaxers, and electric bowties.
(Excerpt from Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle)

The Funeral of Wolfgang Luth: The Last Act of the Third Reich

One of the enduring mysteries of the Flensburg period is the mysterious death of U-Boat ace Wolfgang Luth just a few days after the war ended. Now, as then, there have been dark suspicions that he was murdered, for one reason or another. Whatever the case, his funeral was the official final act of the Third Reich.

"The next morning the inquiry was convened, with several British and American officers in attendance. Testimonies were presented and it was quickly concluded that the whole thing had been a tragic accident, nothing more. But out in the city, things were anything but calm. People were angry and rumors continued to spread and intensify. The local newspaper presented many as facts, including a front page headline which read, Hero Shot From Behind. As the story continued to spin out of control, the British retaliated with a bold gambit. There would be a state funeral with all the honors and privileges which have a way of transforming the mob’s anger into a mood of somber reflection.

The next day, swastikas flew again over Flensburg. All the banners and flags with gold cord and bunting; all the splendor and dash of dress uniforms; all the glittering Nazi regalia that had been put away, were brought back out one last time.

And in the center of it, flanked by six senior U-Boat captains, each with a sword and wearing the Knight’s Cross, was Luth’s flag-draped casket, mounted on an artillery caisson drawn by eight horses. Behind it walked Doenitz followed by Frau Luth and her four children and then senior Navy, Army, and Luftwaffe officers. There were generals and field marshals, colonels and majors, along with a blue sea of sailors, looking smart and undefeated." (Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle here).

U-Boat to Argentina ... please?

Then the day came when everyone wanted submarines.

There must have been a rumor that someone had been given one to escape to Argentina, or maybe it was the growing presence of British and American officers wandering around that unleashed a fresh panic. Or perhaps it was just an idea whose time had come. Whichever the case, suddenly everybody who was anybody was back in front of Ziggy’s desk, bombarding him with requests for the temporary loan of a submarine or two, along with an able-bodied crew.

“...But seriously young man, there has to be dozens of U-Boats out there in the harbor. I’m sure nobody at all would mind if one were to disappear. The British couldn’t possibly need them all!”

“...Now I’m not asking for the biggest or the fastest one you’ve got. I’m not even insisting on my own stateroom. I’d be willing to work, pull my weight. Just let me have a hammock of my own. We can leave anytime, just the sooner the better. What do you say?”

“...Now see here! I have secret orders requiring me to go to Rio de Janeiro at once. As you can see, they have been signed by Otto Ohlendorff himself...highest operational priority... It’s not something the Grand Admiral has to actually know about. Please do not bother him. Just do as I ask.”

“You’re a U-Boat captain. Aren’t you? What do you say you help me out on this?"

Ziggy’s answer to all these requests had been exactly the same. By order of the Grand Admiral, no submarines were available, no matter what the circumstances. Nothing was leaving, not now, not anytime.
(Excerpt from Germania, Simon & Schuster, 2008, now also available on Kindle).

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Barrow Gang and Mexican Border Radio

It's 1933 and Herbert T. Barrow is a reefer-addled jazz musician and fervent atheist, who is fleeing the laws, heading for the Mexican border. He's got a plan. He's gonna get him a job as a singing cowboy on XER, the Mexican "border blaster" station, where every huckster, preacher, clairvoyant spook, and hillbilly quartet is already filling up the airwaves and getting rich in the process.

But Herbert makes the mistake of picking up a hitchhiker; a hairy-faced country preacher named Stevens, who turns out to be the Devil himself, and desperately in need of a favor.  Suddenly Herbert is stuck in the middle of a wager (more like an endless series of sidebets) between Stevens and this "other guy," whom Herbert doesn't particularly care for or believe in either.  Somewhere in the course of it, Bonnie and Clyde take him on a blood-splattered joy ride; Herbert becomes 'saddle pals' with Texas Ranger Frank Hamer, the only incorruptible lawman in the entire state of Texas; he falls in love with a pregnant teenage radio seeress named "Rose Dawn," and sings an awful lot of cowboy songs.

God and the Devil follow Herbert all the way to Del Rio, because his own individual moral compass gives him an unpredictability that the deities can't resist in their endless, mostly pointless, wagering. And no matter how much they interfere with his life, his steadfast refusal to believe in them makes him far more dangerous than either could ever imagine. It ends with a gun battle that's right out of Twilight of the Gods. Texas Style!

Friend of the Devil, available on Kindle

Margaret Bourke-White Photographs von Friedeburg's Corpse

Here is the original ending for my novel "Germania." It's based on a true incident, in which Margaret Bourke-White, the famous Life Magazine photographer, went to photograph the body of Admiral von Friedeburg. Most of what happens in this chapter is based on her own descriptions in her memoir, though some liberties have of course been taken.

The woman said her name was Margaret Bourke-White and that she was a press photographer with LIFE and wanted to take just a few pictures of the dead admiral. She and the major were coming out of the Flensburg police headquarters where they’d had Speer, Doenitz and Jodl standing together in handcuffs trying to act like it was any other day of their lives. There wasn’t anything else planned. By now all the people from the government and ministry offices had been taken away. There were British soldiers loitering around the government offices, but that didn’t look like anything. She had all the shots she needed of that. By now, everyone else was tired and knocking off. She could go up to the airfield to shoot the top Nazis getting flown off in Dakotas, but it probably wouldn’t happen for another couple of hours and she didn’t want to be up there waiting around with everybody else. And now she’s heard about the admiral killing himself and figured it might be worth trying to get something out of that.

“So what do you say?” she asked the major. “His quarters are just over there, aren’t they? Couldn’t we just go over now and have a look? You and me? Come on.”

The major twirled his forefinger around his mustache as he listened to her request. Yes, he supposed there’d be no harm in letting her have a peek. Certainly, let’s go!

As they walked over to the admiral’s apartment, she explained what they were actually doing was putting together a photo essay; pictures of top Nazis who’ve killed themselves and their families next to pictures of Hitler.

“Oh,” the major answered. He’d seen some of those himself.

“Oh you have?” she said. “Did you notice that it’s almost always the same picture? About ninety percent of the time.”

“Same picture? Sorry?”

“Yeah, of Hitler. It’s always the same one.”


“Artistically speaking, that’s weird.”

“I should think,” said the major. “And you think you might get one of them this way?”

“It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?”

“I suppose,” agreed the major. Then he thought of a question. “So is there some sort of effect you’re trying to achieve?’

“Well yes,” she answered. “I suppose you could say there is a certain repetition. Each one’s different, but they’re still all the same.”

“Dashed dreams of glory and all that,” suggested the major.

“Yeah, exactly,” said Margaret Bourke-White. “Listen, do you have any idea what the story was with him?”

“Von Friedeburg?”

“Why exactly he killed himself?”

“I believe he was of the opinion, Miss, that his treatment had not been entirely honorable. It was a protest.”

“And he was what?”

“Head of the German Navy, following Grand Admiral Doenitz’ brief elevation as Head of State.”

“And he was the one who did all the surrenders?”

“That’s right.”

“Ah,” she said, happy to be able to put her subject into some kind of context.

“Have you thought about Himmler? You’ve heard he’s killed himself too. Why don’t you take his photo?” asked the major.

Margaret Bourke-White frowned. “Well you see I can’t,” she said. “He’s all the way over in Luneburg. I’ll never get there in time. I’m afraid the admiral will have to do.”

“Ah,” said the major, giving his moustache another twirl.

There was a guard standing outside the door who let them in. She expected to find the admiral lying right there, but instead it was just two German sailors, one thin and the other fat, drinking wine and not looking particularly sorrowful about anything. According to the sergeant, the thin one was the admiral’s orderly, the other, the orderly’s “friend.” Both of them were still in uniform, but had judiciously removed any Nazi-looking insignia from them, lest they incur the wrath of the British army. They smiled when they saw her. “Nazi kaput!” the fat one said with a grin.

Margaret Bourke-White turned to the sergeant. “Where is the admiral?”

“He’s in the toilet,” said the sergeant.

“Well in that case, I’ll just wait till he gets out,” she answered. They all had a good laugh with that one.

The major led her to the adjacent bathroom. There he was, still slumped against the toilet. His jaw was open and his eyes stared out emptily. She gave a dissatisfied grunt.“That’s nice, but I can’t use it,” she said.

“We can put a picture of Hitler behind him,” suggested the major. “That would work, wouldn’t it?”

“No it really wouldn’t,” she said. “It would look phony. Nobody brings photographs of Hitler into the bathroom with them. I mean that’s nuts.”

“No, I suppose they wouldn’t. Shame,” said the major.

“What we could do,” she suggested, “is get him out on the bed in that other room, put the picture there, behind him. That would work.”

“Yes, we could do that,” allowed the major, impressed with her inventiveness. “Sergeant, have those two bring the body out and lay him out on that day bed.”

The two Germans came in and did as they were told, smiling helpfully the whole time. They carried the admiral out, one with his arms under his shoulders, the other carrying him by the feet. They laid him on the sofa and folded his hands together. “Sehr gutt,” the skinny one muttered when they’d finished. Then he reached for a blanket and tried to cover it over the body.

But Margaret Bourke-White brusquely waved him off. “Not yet!” Then she called out, “Major, have you found a picture?”

“No,” the major answered with just a touch of worry. “I don’t see one anywhere around.”

“Look again. There has to be one. There always is. Try the study.”

The major came back a moment later with a framed picture in his hand. “All I found was this,” he said, holding it up for her to see. It wasn’t Hitler, but Doenitz.

She stared at it a moment. “Maybe they’ve got one next door,” she said. Then she thought about it a second and took the picture from him and placed it against the wall, beside the body. “Don’t worry,” she declared and started setting up her camera. “It’ll work just as good. They’ll never notice.”
(Germania was published by Simon & Schuster in 2008 and is now also available on Kindle here).