Cover image for At Hitler's side : the memoirs of Hitler's Luftwaffe adjutant 1937-1945
At Hitler's side : the memoirs of Hitler's Luftwaffe adjutant 1937-1945
Below, Nicolaus von.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Ais Hitlers Adjutant, 1937-45. English
Publication Information:
London : Greenhill Books ; Mechanicsburg, Pa. : Stackpole Books, 2001.
Physical Description:
256 pages : illustrations; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D811.B444 A3 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Published for the first time in English, a firsthand account by the Luftwaffe aide always at Hitler's side during the war, giving essential insight into the heart of the Nazi state and military machine.

Author Notes

Nicolaus von below was present at the assassination attempt in July 1944, and records the effect on Hitler and his followers. Von Below was the last of Hitler's close military entourage to emerge from the bunker alive. His frank memoir will appeal to anyone interested in how Hitler ran his war.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Originally published in 1980 in von Below's native Germany, this English translation is sure to become an important memoir for those studying the Nazi war machine. In 1937, von Below was a 20-year-old pilot when he was selected by Hermann Goering to be the Luftwaffe's adjutant on Hitler's personal staff. Von Below held this position and was near Hitler most of the time until he fled Berlin in the waning days of April 1945, the last of Hitler's staff to escape the doomed bunker. Written without his diaries and notes, which were lost in 1945, von Below's memoir will be most enticing for military historians studying the strategic thought of Hitler and his generals. He chronicles the repeated controversies between Hitler and his generals on all aspects of the war the Russian front, mat?riel production, tactical objectives and future plans. Hitler's continued anger with Goering over the Luftwaffe's ineffectiveness in protecting the Reich from Allied bombing is readily apparent, as are the arguments over holding ground on the Russian front. The Hitler who emerges from these pages is a wise, perfectly rational war leader betrayed by others who failed to do his bidding. This view alone will make for great controversy. Von Below also states that he never heard a word about the concentration camps or the liquidation of European Jews, a claim that seems dubious at the very best. After a bomb meant for Hitler exploded on July 20, 1944, von Below claims that Hitler seemed to sense the Reich's fate. The memoir ends abruptly, with notes added throughout by the translator to clarify or identify factual errors. Despite the editors' efforts, Holocaust deniers may still use the memoir for fodder. 45 photos not seen by PW. (Sept. 30) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Von Below, who served as Hitler's Luftwaffe (air force) adjutant, here seeks to provide an intimate glimpse into the decision-making process of the Nazi military leadership. Since the author's personal diaries were destroyed at the end of World War II, his memoir (originally published in Germany in 1980) is based on his reconstruction of events, not his contemporaneous reactions. The details, in particular the dates, are so specific that he obviously researched the events very thoroughly. The result is not so much a glimpse of the inner workings of the German high command as a brief history of the war from the perspective of someone who witnessed it at the highest levels and then interspersed this history with his remembered observations and occasional references to surviving correspondence. The book is troubling in that von Below is still enthralled by Hitler's military insights and attempts to place blame for German military blunders on someone other than Hitler. And naturally, despite his being close to Hitler almost every day, he knew nothing about the Final Solution. Although some military enthusiasts and specialists might glean some useful information from this book, it cannot be recommended for a wide audience. Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One 1939 What motivated Poland to take on the Wehrmacht in a one-sided war? They were under the illusion that Anglo-French forces would attack immediately in the West where--in comparison to the Eastern Front--the German Army was spread thinly. This would result, as they supposed, in German troops being transferred from the East to reinforce the Western Front. They also set great store on information from France implying that within the first three days of war a coup in Germany would eject Hitler and clear the way to Berlin for the Poles. The source of these reports was German resistance circles, to which both France and Poland attached undue importance. We did not learn of this until the discovery of Polish ministerial files some weeks later, supplemented in 1940 by State documents seized in France.     The Poles were not equipped for modern war. They had 36 infantry and two mountain divisions and one mountain, one motorised and eleven cavalry brigades, but lacked armour and artillery. Against them the German Army ranged more than 50 divisions, including six panzer and four motorised--a clear superiority. The Polish Air Force was not an independent arm and its 900 aircraft, roughly half modern and half obsolescent, were distributed amongst Army units. The military leadership was good, and some groups fought on doggedly in ignorance of the overall situation.     To the mass of the German people, the attack on Poland was no more than the means of rectifying the Versailles diktat. War began for Germany with the British and French declarations on 3 September 1939. The FHQ During the first three days of war the Führerhauptquartier (FHQ) came into being. Its infrastructure remained virtually unchanged from beginning to end. Hitler was accompanied by two personal ADCs, usually Brückner (SA) and Schaub (SS); two female secretaries; two manservants; attendant physician Dr Karl Brandt, representing Professor von Hasselbach; four military ADCs, Schmundt, Puttkamer, Engel and myself; and three liaison officers, Bodenschatz (Luftwaffe), Wolff (SS) and Admiral Voss. The Wehrmacht High Command (OKW) controlled the military planning staff headed by Keitel: Jodl was head of the Wehrmacht Command Staff (WFSt) throughout the war. The Polish Campaign The relationship between Hitler and the Army High Command (OKH) was fluid. At the outbreak of war there existed a certain tension, primarily to do with personnel appointments and which had its origins in 1938. For example, OKH had given Blaskowitz the Eighth Army when Hitler considered him unqualified for anything greater than overseeing motorisation. In the case of Kluge, Hitler had allowed himself to be influenced by Göring, who had repeatedly clashed with Kluge about the latter's outspoken opinions and public remarks on military matters. But OKH prevailed against Hitler and Kluge was given command of the Fourth Army, whose task was to advance through a section of the Polish Corridor to reach the Vistula. Hitler quickly gained a good impression of Kluge and was very upset when he had to be replaced following a flying accident on 4 September.     The key to the Polish operation was Reichenau's Tenth Army. With his panzers and motorised divisions, he was instructed to spearhead the attack through Silesia towards Warsaw. In the preliminary discussions Hitler had suggested that he `look neither right nor left' but `look only forwards towards his goal'. To protect his flanks he had List's Fourteenth Army to the south and Blaskowitz's Eighth Army to the north. Blaskowitz was also intent on reaching Warsaw as soon as possible. Therefore Blaskowitz and Reichenau were both looking only forwards. When a Polish division broke out of the Posen area a dangerous situation threatened for some hours until General von Briesen's 30th Infantry Division made a left turn and stopped the thrust. Von Briesen was wounded during the engagement. Hitler reproached Blaskowitz sternly for his negligence. In the event the quick victories bridged all differences and prevented serious crises.     Hitler distanced himself from command during the Polish campaign. A train in sidings at Lower Pomerania and later Upper Silesia served as his HQ. He was confident of success and expected at any moment a sign from the Poles that they wanted to give in and negotiate surrender on fair Restpolen terms. In his Reichstag speech of 1 September he had said that the purpose of the war was to resolve the `questions of Danzig and the Polish Corridor'. This would bring about `change in the relationship between Germany and Poland to assure peaceful coexistence'. Thus he was ready to negotiate.     For their part, the Poles fought on bravely in every sector but without prospect of success. They had almost no telephone links. The various fronts trusted blindly in London's promise of relief as soon as possible. On 17 September the Polish Government abandoned Warsaw and set up in Romania. This was the signal for Hitler to annexe to the Reich those parts of Poland which had been German possessions until 1918, and cede the area east of the Narew-Vistula-San line to the Soviets. The remainder would be run from Cracow by a General Government under Reichsleiter Hans Frank.     That same day Soviet forces swarmed through eastern Poland as far as the line agreed with Ribbentrop. As the German Army was already beyond this line in its advance eastwards there was a great deal of annoyance at having to give up the territory won. Hitler remarked frequently at this time that the British guarantees made to Poland in March and August 1939 were the best possible proof that Britian had engineered the war in order to get rid of him--and, as in 1914, they had done it in such a manner as to taint Germany with the guilt.     On 19 September Hitler took quarters in the Casino Hotel at Zoppot, from where he was driven that afternoon to Danzig. The jubilation and size of the crowds were unbelievable. After being welcomed in the Artus Hof by Gauleiter Forster, Hitler delivered a long, unscripted reply in which he announced the annexation of Danzig into the Reich. I had the impression that much of what he said was for British consumption, for example, `For the warmongers, Poland was only a means to an end. This war was not about the existence of Poland, but about the removal of the German regime.' Or, `If Poland chose war, then they chose it because others were "mongering" in it.' To his enemies in the West he said, `I have no war aims as regards Britain and France,' and concluded, `Since the aim of Britain is not just war against a regime, but war against the German people, against German women and children, our response will be the same. And at the end one thing will be certain. This Germany will never capitulate.' The Battle for Warsaw During our stay in Zoppot, Hitler concentrated his attention on the battle for Warsaw. He observed that the city's commander was still waiting for the assistance of the Western states. On 21 September he had accepted Hitler's offer to allow the evacuation of the entire diplomatic corps and all foreign nationals from the city. They were led north of Warsaw by representatives of the German Foreign Office and escorted to Königsberg.     Warsaw now prepared itself for the final battle. Diplomatic reports stated that very remarkable signals had been received from the West: the French were said to have made a substantial incursion into southern Germany and all work in the Ruhr had stopped. No doubt this was intended to give a little more backbone to the commander in his defence of the city. The artillery bombardment began on 21 September and the Luftwaffe was ordered to start air raids. On the 22nd Hitler was flown around the outskirts of Warsaw to observe the effects. In close vicinity to the spot where the former Army C-in-C Fritsch had been mortally wounded, he was informed of the general's death, and, although making no comment, was visibly affected. Driving along the highway that day I was appalled at the large number of refugees fleeing the area. Most were younger people and many Jews.     On 25 September Hitler flew again to the Warsaw theatre and from a good vantage point watched the attack ordered for that day by OKH. Many parts of the city were ablaze. It highlighted how useless resistance was. Two days later the city's commander surrendered, and the last Polish forces capitulated on 1 October on the Hela peninsula.     During the campaign the Luftwaffe developed a style of attack which remained decisive until the end of 1941. On the first two days of war the Polish airfields had been laid waste and the mass of aircraft destroyed, enabling the German Army to manouvre across Poland unmolested by air attack. The Luftwaffe supported the Army's advance with complete aerial supremacy and in this way there developed a close inter-service co-operation which was to be the foundation for the successes of the next two years. Hitler's Style of Leadership Service in our Adjutantur now reverted to a steady routine centred on the daily situation conferences with Jodl or the Army General Staff. These talks convened every day at twelve and usually lasted for up to two hours. The evening discussions, mostly around six or seven, were on a lesser scale. Jodl would sum up the current situation and if, as in the quiet periods between campaigns in 1939 and 1941, there was nothing special to report, the adjutants of each branch of service would then deliver a brief closing summary. The morning update was central, for here Hitler discussed all events and measures and made known his thoughts and instructions regarding future operations. Until the autumn of 1941 it was rare for him to give a direct order. His preferred method was persuasion, so that his generals put his ideas into effect from conviction. This persuasion was also the reason for the often protracted conversations with Hitler. Even after December 1941, when Hitler took over command of the Army, he still attempted to win over his listeners by argument. Only in the final year of the war, when the possibilities of putting across his ideas were so limited, did he make more use of direct commands.     During the Polish campaign I had the opportunity to appreciate Hitler's sharp logic and extraordinary fine feel for military situations. He was very good at putting himself in the enemy's shoes and his military judgment was balanced and accurate, whereas in the political field he was something of a visionary, but prey to wishful thinking. Hitler, Halder and Brauchitsch After the fall of Poland the enthusiasm throughout the ranks divided the Army leadership. The OKH leaders Brauchitsch and Halder were isolated and could expect no support for their designs to have Hitler removed. Thus although both were inwardly opposed to Hitler's plans and ideas, they went along with him in the hope that somewhere along the way the opportunity to strike would present itself. But it never did.     In my conversations with Hitler from September 1939 onwards I noticed his anxiety to understand the thinking of the OKH generals. He knew that he had amongst them some--a few--enemies. He did not have this worry with the Luftwaffe or Navy. Under Brauchitsch the Army continued to follow its own path, and this Hitler wanted to change. He was unsuccessful, and in any case his criticism of the General Staff and Army officer corps was based on a false premise. Driven by his own will to succeed, he expected too much of them and was disappointed and surprised by their `mediocre quality', as he once expressed it to me.     Following the victory over Poland, I was often asked who advised Hitler on his war policies: people heard that there was an atmosphere of servility, nervousness and self-consciousness in his presence. I will not deny that an outsider who had made a report to Hitler once or twice might be under this impression. In the daily round of situation conferences there was a more or less fixed agenda where it was only possible for the individual to put his viewpoint in respect of the particular matter under discussion. Hitler discussed special questions and problems in private talks with a limited personal circle. Early in the war many visitors calling to make reports, mostly older, inwardly antagonistic General Staff officers, were self-conscious and uncertain. At that time I knew nothing of a broad active opposition to Hitler, but it is understandable that an officer with a foot in two camps might sweat a little, particularly if Hitler went into details and asked a few searching questions which could not be answered, and then he would recount later to his personal circle how perfectly frightful it had been to be made to discuss military matters with a person like Hitler, who after all had had no General Staff training. I listened to this sort of thing several times, but Hitler's questions were really quite normal and not extraordinary at all. Generally they simply sought details omitted from a report but which Hitler considered important for the overall picture. Decision for a Campaign in the West During the Polish campaign, when he went to the command coach to receive Jodl's morning report, Hitler's first question would be. `Anything on the Western Front?', and Jodl always reassured him that nothing whatever was happening on the Western Front. For some time Hitler had been considering plans for a swift campaign against France, and so it did not surprise me when Schmundt stated so openly on 8 September. The matter was discussed frequently with his military advisers: the date they had been given was October or November. Hitler did not think it likely that Britain or France would sue for peace after the fall of Poland, and he was convinced that Britain in particular would remain belligerent. Hitler's intention was to overwhelm France and thus convince Britain that the war against Germany was pointless.     On 26 September Hitler returned by train to Berlin and next afternoon summoned Göring, Raeder, Brauchitsch, Keitel, Jodl, Halder, Jeschonnek and Bodenschatz to the New Reich Chancellery. We military ADCs were also present at this conference, the purpose of which was to discuss the attack on France. OKH had made known its disfavour about this, and it was not surprising when Hitler launched into a comprehensive lecture. The victory over Poland had changed the world's opinion of Germany, he said. The great majority of neutral states trembled before us. The major powers saw in us a great danger. The Polish campaign had increased their fears and respect. Throughout the world there was no love for Germany. Britain would attempt to agitate further against us. Therefore we had to reckon with a continuation of the war. Time was not on our side. In six months Britain and France Would be better placed than now. Britain would have raised many divisions, perhaps not combat-worthy, but at least suitable for resistance. The panzers and the Luftwaffe had been the key to our success in Poland. Today the West was poorly equipped in this respect. In six months it would probably be different. If they had had the weapons, they would have been able to help Poland. It was erroneous to delay our attack in the West. If we were forced into trench warfare, we would have to rely on the Luftwaffe and U-boats for victory. We could quickly make good our minimal losses in Poland. It was essential to transfer as many units as possible to the Western Front. The quality was not decisive--the attack was no more difficult than that against the Poles. The decisive factor was the weather during the first three or four days. Between 20 and 25 October the attack should be made with the objective of striking a death blow to the enemy. The war aim was to force Britain to her knees. These were Hitler's words. He was totally convinced that a swift attack in the West would be successful.     On 28 September Ribbentrop returned to Moscow for the signing of the `German-Soviet Border and Friendship Treaty'. This border was the Bug River. The eastern Baltic states had been gifted to Russia. Hitler had given his assent without long deliberation, but had made public the `General Political Declaration of the Reich Government and the Soviet Government', which contained the observation that `it would be in the interests of all peoples to put an end to the present state of war between Germany on the one hand and Britain and France on the other ... Should, however, the efforts of our two governments be unsuccessful, that very fact would determine the responsibility of Britain and France for the continuation of the war.' The German Press made a big thing of this declaration but Hitler doubted that it would budge Britain. The earliest possible attack on France remained his priority, while Poland would be the springboard for a future military adventure. Therefore the latter's road, rail and communications networks were to be maintained and the Polish economy could continue as before.     On 5 October Hitler flew to Warsaw, where he was met at the airfield by Brauchitsch, Blaskowitz and Reichenau and later took the salute at the march past of the Eighth Army. The parade lasted two hours. It was the only occasion when he did this in the capital city of a conquered nation. After visiting Belvedere Castle, the former seat of the late Marshal Pilsudski, he returned to Berlin. Next day he addressed the Reichstag, describing the course of the Polish campaign and highlighting the achievement and fighting spirit of the fighting forces, the quick victories and the few casualties. In conclusion he spoke extensively about the political situation in Europe. There was no reason for the war to be continued, he said. It solved no problem in the West. He made suggestions for humanitarian arrangements and suggested the abolition of certain weapons and the prohibition of air attacks against civilian targets. But one could detect his suspicion of Britain. At the end of his speech he left the decision in the hands of the British Government. Should his suspicions be confirmed, we would fight. Not for a second did he doubt that Germany would triumph. Finally he offered thanks to God `for having blessed us so wonderfully in the first major struggle for our right' and prayed that `He allow us and all others to find the right path where it falls not only to the German people, but to all Europe, to find a new happiness in peace.'     This speech was not without its effect on the mass of the people. They trusted in the Führer and believed--contrary to Hitler's thinking--that Britain and France would be sensible. Hitler never doubted Britain's commitment to war and concentrated his mental energies totally on the imminent attack in the West. On 9 October he issued to the Wehrmacht Directive No 6 ordering the preparation of an attack on the northern flank of the Western Front through the Luxemburg/Belgian and Dutch areas `as powerfully and early as possible'. How serious Hitler was about the need to fight immediately can be seen from his discussion document of 10 October addressed to senior Wehrmacht commanders, in which he stated unequivocally that `the German war aim must be the final military annihilation of the West'. Regarding the Soviet Union, he stated, `No treaty or agreement can ensure for certain the lasting neutrality of Soviet Russia. For the present, reason militates against their abandoning this neutrality. In eight months, in a year, maybe in several years, this can change.' With these words he made known to his generals his attitude to the treaty with Soviet Russia.     As early as 10 September Hitler had been completely surprised when the Kriegsmarine C-in-C, Raeder, made plain the importance of Norway in a naval war, primarily with regard to protecting the iron ore shipments from the port of Narvik. Raeder considered the implications so serious that he recommended the occupation of Norway. Hitler asked Raeder to have the Naval War Office (SKL) send him the files, but the matter was not raised again until the outbreak of the Russo-Finnish War on 30 November. (Continues...) Excerpted from At Hitler's Side by Nicolaus von Below. Copyright (c) 1980 by v. Hase & KoehlerVerlag. Translation copyright (c) 2001 Lionel Leventhal Limited. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.