SHAEF HQ, Reims, France March 11, 1945

The hard-fought victories of the Western Allies between October 1944 and the Rhine River crossings in March 1945 held out the pro­mise of an immi­nent end to the war in Europe. Seven Allied armies were advancing north, east, and south into the German heart­land against bitter albeit diminishing resis­tance. In the east, the Red Army was closing in on the Nazi capital, Berlin. Spoiling any thoughts of a quick end to com­bat was the pre­con­ception among Western intel­li­gence ana­lysts and stra­te­gic planners that the most fana­ti­cal ele­ments in Germany’s armed forces and the Nazi Party would make a des­per­ate, tena­cious, and pro­longed last stand in the likeli­est but hardest-to-breach place in the fast-shrinking Reich, namely, the Bava­rian, Austrian, and Italian (Tyrolean) Alps.

The notion of a German “last stand” in a National Redoubt, as the strong­hold was com­monly called, affected the cal­cu­lus of Allied mili­tary com­mands. Ana­lysts gathered intel­li­gence from Allied spying agen­cies and Army and Army-Group intel­li­gence (G‑2) sec­tions using con­ven­tional means such as reading and listening to German media, photo­recon­nais­sance, unit after-action sum­maries, and POW and civil­ian inter­ro­gations. More and more, though, ana­lysts and mili­tary com­mands relied on selec­tive, highly secret ULTRA (high-level German radio com­mu­ni­ca­tions) decrypts sup­plied by Britain’s Bletchley Park code­breaking team to tease out German intentions and strengths.

After the war’s conclusion the National Redoubt was revealed to have been a hoax. But during its hal­cyon days in March and April 1945 the hoax was embraced by Allied higher-ups, par­tic­u­larly at SHAEF (Supreme Head­quarters Allied Expe­di­tionary Force), who were encouraged by none other than Joseph Goeb­bels. Adolf Hitler’s propa­ganda mini­ster set up a spe­cial unit to deceive SHAEF’s G‑2 divi­sion with fake blue­prints of defen­sive forti­fi­ca­tions (anti­air­craft and other wea­pons sites) and reports about con­struc­tion, sub­ter­ra­nean arma­ments facil­i­ties, and officer, troop and food­stuff trans­fers to the Alpine Redoubt that could be (and were) inter­cepted, decrypted, and passed to those who could act on ULTRA infor­ma­tion. ULTRA seemed perfectly believ­able to actors who, once-burned, twice-shy (see photo essay below), wanted to believe in it.

Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower read the SHAEF Weekly Intelligence Summary dated this date, March 11, 1945 (Number 51). It asserted that the Nazi regime’s most impor­tant mini­stries and per­sonal­ities, including the sinis­ter enforcer of the Nazi state Reichs­fuehrer‑SS Hein­rich Him­mler, Reich Marshal and Luft­waffe chief Her­mann Goering, and Hitler, were relo­cating person­nel and perhaps them­selves to mountain strong­holds south of Munich, the Bava­rian capital. Air recon­nais­sance and suc­ces­sive SHAEF weekly intel­li­gence assess­ments for March con­vinced Eisen­hower that the Alpine Redoubt was of greater import to Nazi Germany’s defeat than the Soviets’ cap­ture of Berlin. Eisen­hower thus shifted the West’s major battle­ground from North­ern Germany to Cen­tral Germany, where three U.S. armies under Gen. Omar N. Brad­ley operated.

Successive SHAEF intelligence reports described with rising alarm the per­ceived trajec­tory of Germans busily for­ti­fying the Alpen­festung. True, the word “uncon­firmed” appeared on SHAEF wall maps and in the weekly sum­maries. But for the most part thin rumors and over­hyped spec­u­la­tion were turned into cer­tainty despite the absence of ULTRA decrypts pro­viding hard evi­dence about the Redoubt’s defenses. That was clear when Gen. Jacob Dever’s Sixth Army Group burst into the National Redoubt in May and dis­covered that very few German com­bat troops had made it to the moun­tains. In the after­noon of May 4, 1945, the area around Berch­tes­gaden and Hitler’s bomb-damaged Berg­hof was easily over­run by ele­ments of Lt. Gen. Alexan­der Patch’s Seventh U.S. Army. SHAEF’s Weekly Intel­li­gence Sum­mary of May 6 spoke of capturing 460 generals, 7 field marshals, and 1 Reich Marshal, namely Goering. Of the Redoubt’s demise Eisen­hower simply said: “The National Redoubt had been pene­trated [its offi­cer corps cap­tured] while its intended gar­ri­son lay dispersed and broken outside its walls.” Luckily, the Nazis’ final stand turned out to be a dud.

Nazi Germany’s National Redoubt: Dead-End of Hitler’s Third Reich

Map of Germany’s National Redoubt April 1945

Above: The busy portion of this map depicts the rugged Alpine region of Europe that reportedly included a system of defen­sive forti­fi­ca­tions variously known as the National Redoubt, Alpine Redoubt, Alpine strong­hold, and Alpen­festung, the latter term a late entry in the list of moni­kers that referred to the same Alpine loca­tion. The dashed lines repre­sent the routes of Allied armies that ended the short-lived exis­tence of the National Redoubt in May 1945. The National Redoubt’s exis­ten­tial roots date to at least late 1944, when an arti­cle, “Hitler’s Hide­away,” in the New York Times Maga­zine on Novem­ber 12, 1944, described an impreg­nable for­tress under con­struc­tion in the Berchtes­gaden area (center and above the wiggly east-west red line in this map). The moun­tainous terrain was allegedly full of bomb­proof caves and tun­nels stuffed with food and mili­tary sup­plies—the perfect place for fugi­tive Nazi big shots, ideo­logues, and hard-line Nazi zea­lots to engage in a pro­tracted, eleventh-hour fight to the end and to die like heroes in a modern-day Wag­nerian Goetter­daemmerung. The next month the U.S. War Depart­ment, SHAEF, and inter­national media began referring to these defensive fortifications as the National Redoubt.

Joseph Goebbels, Advocate of National Redoubt Dwight D. Eisenhower, Enemy of National Redoubt

Left: Adolf Hitler’s bombastic propaganda minister, Joseph Goeb­bels, saw the poten­tial value of a National Redoubt to a des­per­ate Wehr­macht (German armed forces). Increas­ingly the Wehr­macht was on the back foot in the last year of war, needing relief in a plau­si­ble dis­trac­tion like a National Redoubt hoax until such time as the country’s army and air force’s wonder wea­pons could reverse Germany’s sagging mili­tary for­tunes. For his part Hitler appre­ci­ated the hoax’s distrac­tible value but pooh-poohed estab­lishing an impreg­nable moun­tain strong­hold for orga­nized last-ditch resisters in the back­yard of his heavily guarded, split-level Berg­hof coun­try man­sion/­mini-chan­cel­lery on the 6,700‑ft Ober­salz­berg near Berch­tes­gaden. Even to talk about a redoubt smacked of defeatism, he would snap.

Right: Eisenhower had been badly burned by previ­ous G‑2 mis­steps. The Allied debacle at Kas­ser­ine Pass in North Africa in Febru­ary 1943 (Oper­a­tion Torch) and the sur­prise Ardennes Offen­sive in late 1944/early 1945 (Battle of the Bulge) were costly lessons about the impor­tance of good and timely intel­li­gence. By Spring 1945 Eisen­hower was taking no chances when it came to shortening the war by tol­er­ating a pos­sible hornet’s nest of German fanatics acting out Hitler’s public vow never to surrender.

Karl Doenitz and the National RedoubtAlbert Kesselring and the National Redoubt

Above: ULTRA provided proof in April 1945, the final month of war, that Hitler’s regime was sepa­rating its main mili­tary head­quarters—one staff in the north, one in the south. Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz (left frame) moved his head­quarters from Berlin on April 22 to (even­tu­ally) Muer­wik near the Danish border. As Ober­befehls­haber Nord (Com­mander-in-Chief, North) Doenitz assumed military and civil­ian affairs in North­ern Germany. He briefly served as Presi­dent of Germany following Hitler’s sui­cide. Doenitz spent 10 years in a West German prison following his 1946 con­vic­tion as a war crimi­nal by the Inter­national War Tri­bunal at Nurem­berg, Germany. He died in Decem­ber 1980. Field Marshal Albert Kessel­ring (right frame), lately Commander-in-Chief West and anointed Ober­befehls­haber Sued (Com­mander-in-Chief, South), moved to (even­tu­ally) Strub near Berch­tes­gaden, the pictur­esque village below Hitler’s Berg­hof in Upper Bava­ria about the same time. He assumed mili­tary and civil respon­si­bili­ties for Southern Germany. Kessel­ring sur­ren­dered to the U.S. Army near Salz­burg, Austria, on May 9, 1945. In 1947 a British mili­tary court sen­tenced him to death for his war­time activ­i­ties in Italy as Ober­befehls­haber Sued­west (Com­mander-in-Chief, South­west). His sentence was commuted and he died in 1960.

Author Rick Atkinson Explains Eisenhower’s Interest in Eliminating Germany’s National Redoubt (Skip first 30 seconds)

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