Friday, November 8, 2013

Von Friedeburg and Surrender Party Return from Berlin


Even though Flensburg airport was now officially under British control, their presence at this point was still so small that it was hard to tell anything had changed. The Nazi flags were down, but the only Union Jack that was evident was a tiny one tacked up outside the operations hut. Everything else was much the same as before the surrender. The Luftwaffe colonel who’d commanded the base beforehand was still going around giving orders as before. The difference, of course, was that now he was taking his orders from a young British lieutenant.

Everything was grounded. The day before, two German aircraft had been permitted to fly out: one to Prague, the other to Courland, to carry Doenitz’ surrender orders to the respective German Army Group commanders. But other than that, nothing could take off without express British permission.

The airfield was littered with dozens of aircraft, mostly single-engine Messerschmitt and Focke-Wulf fighters along with some two-engine night fighters and bombers. They stood scattered in no particular order, certainly not in anything resembling lines. Most were painted in a mottled gray and white camouflage. Others were grey with green or brown spots. Some were just solid gray. Some were under tarps, others were missing
engines or canopies or cowling or sections of wing. Either way, none looked like they’d ever fly again. Their time had passed, as surely as that of the mastodons and dinosaurs. In the course of a few days, they had imperceptibly transitioned from weapons of war into finely crafted detritus.

Peter Cremer had been up to the airfield several times in the last few days. As commander of the Grand Admiral’s security battalion, his authority was officially limited to the grounds of the Marineschule, where the new government had its headquarters, but the reality was that he was free to go anywhere he wanted without permission. The British were mostly interested in keeping anything German from taking off. Other than that they weren’t looking for trouble.

It was not as chaotic as it’d been immediately after the surrender had been announced. Things were beginning to quiet down into a sort of universal numbness as people tried to accustom themselves to the fact that after nearly six years of fighting, the war was now over. But that didn’t mean the anger and tension wasn’t lurking everywhere. Fights would break out suddenly between people who until then had been quiet and orderly. Sometimes at night they’d hear shooting going on along the waterfront or in the nearby woods. It was the uncertainty more than anything. No one had any idea what was going to come next.

This morning he’d come to the airport to pick up Von Friedeburg and Ziggy who, after a week, were finally coming back. From what Cremer understood, the idea originally had been that Ziggy and von Friedeburg would return to Flensburg immediately after signing the surrender to Eisenhower. But of course that wasn’t how it worked out. No sooner had it been completed than the Russians apparently began screeching about how it was unfair to them and demanded another surrender, an official one, be signed in Berlin with them officiating and with representatives of the Western Allies in attendance, instead of the other way around. So while Jodl was allowed to return to Flensburg, Ziggy and von Friedeburg, obedient to their new masters, boarded another Dakota and were flown to Berlin.

He stepped out of the operations hut into the bright morning sunlight and, placing his hand above his left brow to block out the sun’s glare, combed the southern sky for some sign of an approaching aircraft. The British controller inside had told him the flight from Berlin was due any minute. But there was still no sign of it.

Alongside one of the hangars, a line of staff cars and escort vehicles waited, their engines idling. Along with Ziggy and Admiral von Friedeburg, the airplane would be carrying Field Marshall Keitel, head of Armed Forces High Command, and General Stumpf, the newly appointed head of the Luftwaffe. It would have made more sense to have stuck them all in a single vehicle; certainly they could have stood saving that much petrol. But in the Old Man’s eyes, they’d already endured enough humiliation that he figured it would be better to allow them the indulgence. It made as much sense as anything did these days. Cremer thought that as long as the admirals were getting the goodies, he might as well do the same for Ziggy, who he figured was probably greatly in need of letting off some steam.

A group of Luftwaffe officers stood on the flight line ahead of Cremer. One with binoculars was pointing to a spot among the clouds while the others nodded. Then he heard the low drone of engines. Cremer stared hard until he could make out a black dot. A few seconds later it had grown to a full-sized twin-engine Dakota.

With a roar of its engines, and a bounce on its wheels, it put down on the grassy airfield, taxied up toward the tower, then abruptly turned and stopped, its engines still going full force. A door opened on the midsection of the aircraft’s left side and one of the British crewmembers jumped out and began helping the Germans down. It took only a few seconds. There were no exchanges of goodbyes or handshakes with those remaining on board. It seemed more like people being disgorged from a tram. As soon as they were all off, the side door shut again, the aircraft turned, the engines grew louder and, its mission completed, it lumbered its way back to the airstrip to take off.

As the travel-worn group walked towards them, a flock of aides and adjutants ran from the cars to meet them, relieving them of their bags and overcoats. Ziggy had been carrying the admiral’s valise, he handed it to one of them. Spotting Cremer, he bid farewell to von Friedeburg, who gave him a brief nod, discharging him from any further duties.

Ziggy Loerber looked tired, as if he’d just returned from a ten-week U-boat patrol. “Hello Peter, good to see you,” he said glumly. He followed Cremer to his open-roofed Kubelwagen.

“Glad it’s over?” asked Cremer.

Ziggy shook his head back and forth wearily and rolled his eyes. “You wouldn’t believe it,” he said.

“How was Berlin?”

“Like a moonscape.”

Cremer waited for the others to drive off before he started up the car. He let off the brake and slowly motored past the hangars and other buildings. Then he noticed a British officer step out in front of them with his hand outstretched, and a big, friendly smile on his face, signaling them to stop.
(This is an excerpt from a chapter that got cut from my novel Germania, first published in 2008 by Simon & Schuster, now also available on Kindle here).

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