Sunday, April 1, 2007
The Allies in Bavaria
The Eagle's Nest today.
It's possible, but improbable, that James and Henry Lee could have parachuted into southwestern Bavaria, as they do in the second act of Valhalla - but only because after pitched battles at Nuremberg and Munich, the prize in Bavaria was in the southeast, not the southwest - in particular, Hitler's famed mountain retreat outside Berchtesgaden. This complex, on the Obersalzberg mountainside, included his home, the Berghof, and above it, on the utmost crag, the famed Kehlsteinhaus, or Eagle's Nest (above), which was built for him by the Nazi Party on the occasion of his 50th birthday. Many believed that Berchtesgaden would be chosen by the collapsing German government as the site of its last stand (indeed, Luftwaffe commander Hermann Göring was headquartered there, demanding that Hitler cede him leadership of the country). Eisenhower was so convinced this would be the Nazi endgame that once the Allies reached the Elbe, just 75 miles from Berlin, he shifted the American strategic focus from capturing the capital to conquering Bavaria, and sent the weight of American forces south, allowing the Soviets to take Berlin, which profoundly affected the balance of postwar power.
As it happened, of course, Hitler had decided to remain in his Berlin bunker; no serious plans had been made for a retreat to Bavaria. Instead, he called for the destruction of all German industry and transport, in an imagined debacle much like the climax of Wagner's Götterdämmerung; indeed, the Berlin Philarmonic chose Brünnhilde's immolation scene from that opera as their final performance before fleeing the city. But Hitler's commands went unheeded. After learning Soviet tanks were rolling down the streets of Berlin, he committed suicide on April 30, 1945. The US 3rd Infantry Division reached Berchtesgaden on May 4, and the 101st Airborne Division parachuted in on May 5; together they easily secured the area. Above, a US soldier approaches the ruins of the Berghof, which had been bombed by the RAF; the Kehlsteinhaus, taken the next day, was largely unharmed, and operates now as a restaurant.