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- During the parade celebrating Hitler's birthday on April 20th, 1938 Hitler reviews his soldiers from the top of his convertible. The day passes normally, until fate strikes. Whether due to design or simply nature, the brakes on the car fail. The driver does not realize it until he attempts to turn a corner. In a panic, he over corrects the vehicle, and the Mercedes swerves and tips over, dumping the passengers and crushing them. The vehicle immediately behind Hitler's nearly slams into the wreck in front of them.
The Aftermath--- April 21st, 1938
- Adolf Hitler is rushed to the Hospital in Berlin by several members of the Liebenstandarte, who happened to be in formation where the accident occurred. The crowd of soldiers and civilians mill about, unsure as what to do next. Party Officials frantically try to figure what to do; the prospect of Hitler's absence was unsettling. Without him, there was no sense of unity or direction. Women in the audience wept and shouted, and thousands of Berliners tried to send well wishes to their Führer. However, it was futile. Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of Germany, was declared dead at 9:45 PM. Millions across Germany felt a sense of unease. Some people detested the man and his policies, but could not deny that at least, the Trains ran on time. In the Military, news of Hitler's death was greeted with an outward show of grief. In reality, many senior officers breathed a sigh of relief. Concerned with Hitler's bombastic speeches and constant threats of war (for which Germany was not ready) some generals had already begun to circulate plans for a coup.
- Throughout the rest of Europe, the news was more or less taken as positive. In Britain, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sent a letter of condolences. While many in the British government took Hitler's death to signal a decline in Nazi aggression, only Winston Churchill continued to insist that the German threat would remain. In Czechoslovakia, the populace was relieved to be out of the crosshairs, at least momentarily. Minor riots in the Sudetenland by Germans only serve to strengthen a feeling of national solidarity. In Italy, Benito Mussolini was honestly saddened by the death of a man he considered a friend and fellow dictator. But he also knew that now Italy could act unencumbered. In Austria (which had been absorbed into Germany as a new province the month before) there were scattered attempts at starting an independence movement. Even as Germany whirled in confusion from Hitler's death, the movements mostly petered out. Others began to lurk about the backwoods of the region, and shot up the occasional patrol. In Berlin, Herman Göring took power as Chancellor and Führer. Göring was readily accepted as a leader, as Hitler had personally selected him as a successor. However, Göring lacked either the ferocity or the intelligence to continue the plans of Hitler. Unlike Hitler, he at least had a slightly better appreciation for the truth. Horrified when he discovered the plans to invade Czechoslovakia, he shelved them and loosened (albeit very slightly) the Party's influence on military affairs.
- Like Hitler before him, Göring desperately wanted to strike at England. The nation was the one European entity that could truly defy Germany and her interests. With all of the other nations on the continent, the Germans could at least engage. Britain, safe across the channel, would always deny total victory. But to accomplish these goals, Germany would have to prepare for and fight a long and difficult war. But before any plans could be made, events would begin to overtake the men who tried to create them.
- On April 7th Italy invaded Albania. Although the Albanians capitulated four days later, the Italians were simply lucky. The Italian Army was woefully ill trained, under equipped, and poorly led. Furthermore, the different arms of the service had displayed a lack of willingness and ability to function together as needed. The rest of the world, however, viewed it as a display of Italian prowess.
- The news of the conflict was received with shock in Berlin. Since Italy had not informed Germany of its plans, Göring felt personally insulted. Fearing Germany was becoming a second rate partner to Italy, Göring immediately ordered military action against Poland. The Poles had been an annoyance to Germany for years, and controlled lands that had once been East Prussia. The German Army was taken aback, but began to rapidly gather on the border. When asked if he would inform Mussolini of his plans, Göring responded with "Mussolini has faced me with a fait accompli. This time I am going to pay him back in his own coin. He will find out from the papers that I have occupied Poland."
- Britain and France, while denouncing Italy's aggression, still dithered as events began to build in central Europe. Both countries began to re-arm, but slowly. The political will to confront the Axis was simply not present. Poland, although still unaware of German plans, began to build up its defences. Czechoslovakia once again began to plead for assistance from the western powers. The nation, the only democracy to survive in the region, was surrounded by enemies.
The Battle of Poland, 1939
- The Polish Campaign began at 4:30 AM on the morning of May 1st. The day before, an unknown prisoner from one of the camps in Berlin was driven to the Gleiwitz radio tower along with a small group of German agents. Just over the border, the Germans were dressed as Poles and seized control of the radio station, and broadcast an anti-German message in Polish. The prisoner was then killed, and his body was used to make it look as though the Poles were the aggressors. Although this was only one incident (there had been many more in the preceding weeks) this particular event would be used to justify Germany's invasion. Also unknown to anyone but the upper levels of the Nazi Party was the secret pact with the USSR.
- German forces exploded into Poland. The Blitzkrieg proved to be too much for the Poles, who constantly found themselves surrounded and cutoff. The Luftwaffe, vastly superior to the Polish Air Force, gained control of the skies within two weeks. Polish victories at minor battles and skirmishes did littlee to affect the tide. The Luftwaffe began to bomb Warsaw into submission. The Poles counterattacked on the 9th against the flank of the German 8th Army, and made significant progress against the Germans until reinforcements arrived. The Battle of Bzura was the one large scale battle of the campaign. That, coupled with a punishing Luftwaffe bombardment, decimated whatever initiative the Poles had left and forced them to retreat. The Polish forces melted away towards Warsaw and the East, but any hopes of taking up a resistance in the hills and forests of eastern Poland were dashed by the Soviet Invasion on May 17th. Warsaw held out until May 27th. The remnants of the Polish Army were taken prisoner, and the government fled to France. Hostilities formally ended on June 6th, 1939.
The Sudetenland Conflict
- After the end of the Polish Campaign, France and Britain rapidly mobilized their forces. Caught off guard by the German invasion, both nations immediately declared that they would defend Czechoslovakia's independence. If Germany made any aggressive actions towards the Czechs, they would then declare war on Germany. Göring knew that this time the western powers were not bluffing. Despite some of the more trigger-happy generals, he declined to launch Germany into what would inevitably turn into a full-scale European war. For now, he was content to agitate over control of the Sudetenland, a sliver of territory in Northern Czechoslovakia dominated by ethnic Germans. Hitler had been dead for two years, but now everything was circling back to the issue of Czechoslovakia. Göring personally was not all that enthusiastic about the ideas of "Volk" like Hitler had been, and did not see the need to quarrel over a small strip of land. But the Party needed an outlet for the aggression and ambitions of its members and would not tolerate a timid leader. In the region, Czech authorities preemptively cracked down on known dissidents, and rounded up hundreds of Germans, expelled them from the Czech Army, and increased the police presence in Sudeten towns. The Germans used the alleged ill treatment and prejudice against the Germans in the Sudetenland to justify their position to the world. The Czechs repeatedly tried to make it clear that the measures they used were only meant to ensure the security of the Republic and its citizens.
- The Nazis began to send in agents to cause social disorder and chaos in the region. Reinhard Heydrich of the SS was chosen to lead the effort. His men began to spread anti-Czech propaganda and separatist ideas. Others began to murder local politicians, causing many "freak accidents." Czech forces began to catch on but they were too late to stop the momentum of social discord. On August 17th two SS agents who spoke fluent Czech traveled to Prague, where they were told to await further orders. Unbeknownst to them, Heydrich then ordered another pair of agents to follow them. The second pair of agents, dressed as Czech soldiers, then gunned down the first pair in plain view. Their bodies were then given forged documents that identified them as Czech citizens. Those documents also gave them addresses from the Sudetenland. The two men escaped after changing into civilian clothes. When the news hit Germany that two Germans had been murdered in broad daylight by two Czech soldiers, the entire country cried in outrage. In the Sudetenland, there was mass violence, riots and several police stations were bombed by angry crowds.