Sir Freddie Lochner,
INTERVIEW WITH WILLIAM HEIMLICH
US MILITARY INTELLIGENCE IN GERMANY, LATER HEAD OF RIAS
Q: Bill, tell me how your involvement with Berlin began?
A: It began on the 7th of February, 1945 when SHAEF issued a directive, supreme headquarters, issued a directive to the Commanding General of the 15th US Army, to select a team to plan the Berlin operation. I was one of the five officers selected. We went to SHAEF and became a part of that organisation for the purpose of planning the trip to Berlin.
Q: Was there the assumption that the American Army would enter Berlin?
A: Yes. At the outset we understood that it would be a normal military operation. Either a straight line drive toward Berlin, involving perhaps both the British and the United States forces. Perhaps a joint air-land operation with a vertical envelopment in Berlin area. Or, thirdly, perhaps an operation in conjunction with the Russians. These were our assumptions. This was changed after we had been about three or four weeks in the planning stage.
Q: What was the assumption of the Russian's strategy at this stage?
A: We had no idea. There was very little liaison with the Russians. We had practically no more information as to the disposition of Soviet units on the eastern front than did the Associated Press or Reuters or any other news organisation. Liaison was extremely poor. And we also had no idea of the agreements that had been arrived at, either at Yalta or other previous conferences on the civilian level, on the State Department Foreign Office level.
Q: How did you find out that in fact the American Army wasn't to enter Berlin?
A: I learned about it when visiting the front of the 9th US Army in early April. the Commanding General, William Simpson, was a friend of mine and he was entertaining over night the Commanding General of the US Air Force who was over there, General Hap Arnold. The morning that I refer to now, when I learned about the fact that we were not going to go to Berlin as quickly as we thought, the Commanding General of - I think it was the 5th Corps, had crossed the Elbe River near Magdeburg, and he announced to General Simpson, that this being Tuesday Simp, we'll have our dinner Saturday night in the Ad...[Adlon] in Berlin. And Simpson said, I have just received word from General Bradley that we are to withdraw from our positions across the Elbe, and the Commanding General of the Corps was very much put out, as were we all to learn this, and - but that was the situation. They put through a call to Bradley, General Bradley verified that on the telephone and the announcement came to us then at that moment. We would not be going into Berlin except, as we learned quickly there after, at the pleasure of the Russians.
Q: Did Bradley give any reason for this order?
A: I don't think he had any. His was simply a directive from Supreme Headquarters, to 12th Army group, which he commanded and he relayed that to the 9th Army which was very close to Berlin. 9th Army troops were at that moment had reconnaissance units in Werder, a town just to the south of Berlin.
Q: Now you arrived in Berlin in July 1945 with the -
A: July 2nd yes.
Q: What sort of impression did Berlin leave upon you when you first arrived?
A: As we came into the city, we came in from the west over the [Ovis], the - the city was dead and the giant apartment buildings were guttered by fire and explosive and looked like a cemetary of giants. There were no people around. It was raining, it could not have been more deplorable or more depressing.
Q: And when the German people finally appeared, what kind of impression did they leave on you?
A: Utterly shocked. Berlin at that point was a city of women. The men were dead, in prisoner of war camps. Certainly they were only - there were only the aged and the very young males available. They were all females and they were shocked into utter silence. They moved about the city like zombies. They were starving, that was clear. We saw for example such things as a horse dropping dead in the street and the women rushing out with pans and knives to butcher the horse on the spot to get some food. There was no food. There were no lights, there was no power. the Russians had been there for some weeks, but they did not bring in very much to assist the city, they took out what was there.
Q: What was the attitude towards the Soviets at this stage?
A: You mean the German attitude?
Q: The American attitude first.
A: Well curious. We knew very little about them, except what we had read in the newspapers. The briefings in the military were minimal. We had no idea of Soviet military organisation, training, equipment. We admired what they had done. We understood and - and appreciated the enormous losses that they had incurred, but we knew very little about them and even less about what their political ambition or even political structure might be.
Q: Did you have any dealings yourself with any officials in the Soviet military administration at this stage?
A: No, but immediately upon arriving in Berlin, yes I began to - I established liaison with my Soviet opposites. The Chief of the NKVD for Berlin and Brandenburg Province as a Major General as opposed to my being a Lieutenant Colonel at that time. The British Chief of Intelligence was a Colonel. The French Chief of Intelligence was a Commandant [du Tay]. The General Signiev refused my invitation to be received at our headquarters where I had hoped to meet him and brief him. and then invited me to his headquarters, with only himself and a translator present. This translator interesting was a female who later was the official translator for the Allied Commander de tour at the military government level.
Q: Did you have any idea at this stage, we're talking about 1945, that relations between the west and the Soviets would deteriorate later on?
A: I think many of us suspected that it would because we - those of us who had had some political training realised that the Communist state structure was as totalitarian as was the NSDAP. The Nazi organisation. We realised that it was a police state. That the normal civil liberties which the western world enjoyed were missing in the Soviet Union although they were there on paper. We really feared what I just said, without knowing what would actually happen, because we had no way of knowing.
Q: And what did you understand that the German population felt towards the different conquering allies?
A: The Germans had more reason to understand the Russians than we did. The relationship between the German people and the Russian people goes back a long way to Peter the Great, and there was then, and is now, a large German community in Moscow and near Moscow. The relationship after the First World War of course was extremely close under the German General Staff which was forbidden to build or use tanks, build and use tanks in the Soviet Union. They were - the German state could not have military aircraft so they built military aircraft and trained their pilots in the Soviet Union. There was close co-operation. It was not until 1927 that the German General Staff began to get a western orientation. Prior to that time the the orientation was eastern. Part of that was an inheritance from the old Glau nach Osten that came in 1914.
Q: As for the German civilian population, was it quite clear very quickly which allies or conquerors they preferred?
A: Oh my, yes. The Soviet high command, after Berlin fell, gave what they called, freedom of the city to their conquering troops. This meant that soldiers could commit any act of violence or excess for three days without fear of punishment. The result was a wholesale (German) or raping of the female population of the city of Berlin, old and young. No one was safe from having their homes and their privacy invaded, their possessions taken and any resistance was met with instant punishment, namely death. The fear that was engendered, or was generated by these excesses was enormous and it is hard to over state the case, the western allies, particularly the British and Americans, as they came into Berlin on July 2nd 1945, were greeted, if greeted at all, they were as as friends.