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).

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