Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hitler's June 1942 Meeting with Mannerheim

High Water Mark for the Axis

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
Hitler, followed by Wilhelm Keitel, "walk the plank" to Mannerheim's command train.

The summer of 1942 generally is regarded as the high point of the war for the Axis. While it already was beginning to suffer defeats, Germany and its allies occupied more territory that summer and into the fall than they did at any other time. Things were going relatively well enough for Germany for Adolf Hitler to make a few trips from his command headquarters "Werewolf" at Rastenburg.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
Axis territory and sympathetic territories in black as of June 1942. Neutral countries are in gray. Blue and red are the Allies and sympathizers.

One of these unusual road trips was a rather perfunctory visit to the front at Poltava in the occupied Soviet Union on 3 July 1942. The other, though, was a bit more notorious to historians: a one-day Hitler visit to Finland to wish C-in-C Marshal of Finland Baron C. G. E. Mannerheim a happy 75th birthday on 4 June 1942.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
Hans Bauer, Hitler's pilot. He later wrote a memoir about his experiences with Hitler. Bauer was an excellent pilot who always flew Hitler.

Hitler had good reasons to be both confident and secretly worried in early June 1942. Germany now was at war with the two greatest economic powers on earth, the Soviet Union and the United States. Some of his allies were fighting well, most notably Japan in the Pacific, which had spread death and destruction to the British, Dutch and Americans forces there. Finland was also doing well, though he had some bones to pick with them which we'll get to below. Hitler's armies under General von Bock had just won a massive victory at Kharkov, where they had cut off and destroyed Soviet armies that had unwisely tried to continue the Soviet winter victories into the late spring. The prisoner haul was among the largest of the entire war while it was still competitive. The German forces were being oriented for a massive effort in the south that summer which Hitler believed would solve Germany's eternal oil supply issues. However, the Soviets had shown a worrisome tendency to fight back, as at Moscow the previous winter.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
Hitler's plane. The left wheel brakes caught on fire during landing, a fire which had to be put out with fire extinguishers.

The Germans informed the Finns only the day before, 3 June 1942, that Hitler would be visiting. This was not because Hitler wanted to be intentionally rude, for Finland was considered by the Germans to be a top ally, armed with the only soldiers comparable to Wehrmacht troops. Rather, it followed Hitler's personal preoccupation with security, as he valued unpredictability above all else in order to prevent attacks. It also may simply have been a last-second decision, though that is less likely.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

Mannerheim was not expecting a visit, and the spontaneous and personal nature of it caused him to hold it in an inconspicuous spot in southeastern Finland from where he ran the war, near Mikkeli. The conference was not, as some now say, held in Helsinki. The location was on the railway line leading to a new large Kaukopää pulp plant at Ruokolahti (nowadays Imatra). The train was parked next to some woods, but located in an industrial area. A small airport was a few kilometers away.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
The gift to Mannerheim.

Many ascribe venal motives by Hitler to this visit. With Case Blau, the attack on the south of the Russian front, close to starting, he could have used a distraction in the north. The Germans had been trying to coordinate an attack with the Finns on Leningrad since the previous summer, but Mannerheim had promised in 1918 that Finland would never threaten that city.

Hitler Mannerheim
Hitler off for a stroll through the woods to get to Mannerheim's train. It is very rare to find a picture duded up like that without a whole retinue of his Generals. Mannerheim does not seem anxious to walk next to him.

The Germans also had hopes for a Finnish offensive to cut the Soviet rail lines to the northern port of Murmansk, which was not far from the Finnish front. However, despite some ineffectual gestures in that direction, the Finns refused to launch any attacks at all until the Germans took Leningrad. Since Hitler was building up forces for an attack in the south toward Rostov, Stalingrad and the Caucasus, not the north, an attack on Leningrad was not on the table, though Mannerheim couldn't know that. Thus, a little personal diplomacy couldn't hurt.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
Mannerheim greeting Hitler near the command train. It is said that this car was used in the 1951 film "The Desert Fox" starring James Mason.

However, as noted above, Hitler had an unusual case of wanderlust that summer. He probably just wanted to show support for his Finnish ally, and, being between battles on the Russian front, saw it as a good opportunity to build relations. There was no reason for Hitler to foresee any problems in the north that year, since he no doubt felt that Case Blau would put the Soviet Union under such immense strain that it could not launch offensives of its own.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
The room in which Hitler and Mannerheim had their recorded discussion. The microphone was not "hidden," as is sometimes claimed, but is in full view just to the right of Hitler. You can see the cable snaking out the window.

Hitler typically slept until 10 a.m., if not later. However, when travelling, he liked to leave early in the morning. On the later 3 July 1942 trip, for instance, he departed Rastenberg at 4:00 a.m. The quick trip to Paris in July 1940 had seen a similar early departure. Whether this pattern was due to security concerns or simply a desire to get errands out of the way before the big noon military conference is unclear. It is worth pointing out, though, that Hitler rarely stayed anywhere longer than a few hours, and in fact invariably was back at headquarters by about noon. That is, when everything was under his own control and diplomatic relations were not involved.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

On this visit, Hitler was visiting an ally, not a military subordinate, so he could not come and go whenever he pleased. He left Rastenberg at 8:35 a.m. and flew out over the Baltic, a somewhat indirect route. The Soviet Air Force was not a big worry, but flying over the water averted the danger of German anti-aircraft crews mistakenly shooting at Hitler's big Focke Wulf 200 Condor (a very real danger that downed many a Luftwaffe plane). Flying out to sea also reduced the number of commands that had to be alerted to his passage and told not to fire at the Condor. The fewer people that knew about Hitler's itinerary, the safer he was, and he knew it. This is something the modern-day US Secret Service is extremely careful about, too.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
The car in which Hitler and Ryti rode to Mannerheim's train (here with the top down) has become a collector's item. It is a rare 1941 5-ton Mercedes-Benz 770K Grosser W150 Offener Tourenwagen. Its upholstery has secret compartments for Luger pistols. Hidden below the serpentine body panels are ¾-inch steel plates that, together with the 1½-inch-thick window glass, armor it sufficiently to survive a grenade blast or a landmine explosion. Hitler never really owned the car, but he had ordered it built to his own specifications (and his specifications invariably added a lot of weight, as with panzers). Hitler rode in it only during his visit to Mannerheim. It had been another gift to Mannerheim the previous December.

Hitler's plane was escorted in by eight Finnish Brewster fighters of Flying Squadron 24 which met him over the Gulf of Finland, though six lost contact with the Condor before touchdown. Finnish anti-aircraft crews were told not to shoot at anything that morning, and some manning a heavy 76 mm Bofors AA battery protecting industry and the important railway/road bridge over the River Vuoksi probably could have shot the Condor down.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

SS-Oberführer Hans Baur, Hitler's personal pilot, flew low along the southern coast of Lake Saimaa. Baur turned inland when he spotted two distinctive smokestacks of the Kaukopää plant. Hitler touched down in Finland in the early afternoon, around 12:30 p.m. Legend has it that Baur almost hit the smokestacks, but he was an excellent pilot and that is unlikely. What is known is that the airfield was too short for the Condor, and Baur had to stand on the brakes in order to stop. The left brakes locked and caught fire, a not-uncommon problem with the Condor. Hitler swiftly got off the plane without incident while two Finnish soldiers hurriedly got fire extinguishers and put out the fire. The reception at the airfield, thus, was accompanied by the smell of burning rubber and smoke. Hitler, though, acted as if nothing was wrong at all.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

For some reason, Mannerheim himself was not at the airport to greet Hitler - probably out of protocol, since he was the honoree. Instead, State President of Finland Risto Ryti was there, which since Hitler was the German head of State was proper protocol, along with an honor guard. It was a rather motley affair, as the "honor guard" was just a quickly assembled group of local reservists equipped with outdated equipment. They had no idea that Hitler was arriving.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

Hitler's plane was but one of a fleet of German planes that arrived at the airport that morning, including several Junkers Ju 52/3m planes, and four Heinkel He 111s of various vintage carrying LW Chief Quartermaster Generalleutnant Hans-Georg von Seidel, Commander of Luftflotte 5 (covering northern Finland and Norway), Generaloberst Hans-Jürgen Stumpff, Commander of AOK Lappland Generaloberst Eduard Dietl (one of Hitler's favorite Generals due to heroic actions in the Norwegian campaign), and Feldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

Hitler and Ryti then drove over to Mannerheim's command train a few kilometers away. Hitler presented Mannerheim with a gift: three new Steyr 1500 A Kommandeurwagen cross-country passenger cars. Many pictures of the affair were taken, and they generally show Mannerheim stiff and almost annoyed by Hitler's presence. The Finns had put two long, shaky wooden planks from a small hill to the train, forcing Hitler and Keitel to cross them. A famous photograph taken at that moment shows Mannerheim giving Hitler a bit of a contemptuous look as Hitler navigated this odd bridge in his heavy boots. To his credit, Hitler crossed it calmly and with Aplomb, but Keitel was a bit shaky.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

After that, Hitler gave a brief (for him) 20-minute speech, and they had lunch. Then, Hitler, Mannerheim and a few others retired to Mannerheim's private rail car for a private discussion. It as it this point that the meeting became famous, because an engineer of the Finnish broadcasting company YLE, Thor Damen, taped part of the meeting. A microphone was put in plane view above the table where Hitler and Mannerheim sat. After 11 minutes, a spoilsport SS guard noticed the cable which ran out the rail car's window and traced it back to Damen. He pointed at it and made a cutting motion with his hand across his neck. Damen immedately stopped the tape. There is little question that the event was not supposed to be taped, and Damen was lucky to escape both without incident and with the tape.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

The 11-minute tape (actually an lp record) since has become the fabled "only tape of Hitler speaking conversationally." It has been examined by experts and determined to be genuine. Regardless of the fanciful claim that it is the only recording of Hitler outside of his speeches and thus "invaluable," it is of interest historically because of what Hitler says, not the fact that there is a tape of him speaking.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

Hitler, as was his wont in meeting with other national leaders such as Franco of Spain and Mussolini of Italy, launched into his usual monologue after some brief back and forth with Mannerheim. Any transcript of the event obviously has to be translated for English speakers, and the translated transcripts are of varying quality. Hitler made the following key points in the preserved portion of the discussion:
  • Hitler admits that he was completely surprised by the Soviet Union's military strength, particularly its 34k-35k tank park (he uses the two numbers interchangeably), but he says he would have invaded anyway;
  • Hitler did not see the war has having two fronts, and admits that such a war "would have been impossible";
  • He admits that the German military was a "fair weather" army not fit for cold weather;
  • Admits that Italy's military had gravely disappointed him and weakened his forces for Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the USSR;
  • States that he feared that the USSR would seize the Romanian oil fields in the fall of 1940, in which case "Germany would have been lost" and "helpless";
  • Reveals that the oil useage of the Luftwaffe and the panzers was "really huge" and a "level of consumption that surpasses the imagination";
  • States that Molotov's demands for peace made during his November 1940 visit were "simply naked extortion" and that Molotov considered Finland a threat to the USSR.
Some historians like to claim that Hitler was "charming" during this conversation, while at the same time he was lying to Mannerheim. They point to Hitler's comments involving Finland, where he implied that Germany had been looking out for Finland's interests even while Germany was allied to the USSR and willing to sacrifice Finland under the terms of the Ribbentrop/Molotov Pact of August 1939.

Romania oil fields Ploiești
Hitler claimed during his meeting with Mannerheim that these oil fields at Ploiești were the reason that he attacked the Soviet Union.

If one reads a bit deeper, though, it is possible to discern a strain of paranoia in Hitler about the security of Germany's oil supplies located in German ally Romania. This fear was unwarranted because there is no indication that Stalin had any designs on the Romanian oil fields. However, this sense of unease apparently impelled Hitler to make the fatal mistake of attacking the Soviet Union. World War II began as simple territorial conquest, but ultimately turned into a fight to the death for raw materials, particularly oil.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
This famous shot shows Hitler navigating the planks to Mannerheim's command train. Mannerheim is seen with a mischievous look in the backgound, as Hitler is forced to walk the plank, followed by General Keitel. This was an extremely off set-up which must have been planned to test Hitler and put him under stress with everyone watching. Hitler liked to pose as a soldier, and here was a rare chance to act like one. He no doubt knew exactly what was going on and appears amused. Mannerheim was the dominant figure in this relationship, a mere glance at the pictures shows that. "Show us all how much of a military man you really are, Adolf!"

However, Hitler actually gave a quite coherent and believable summary of events to date. One easily can read into his tone a sense of regret and almost trepidation. His comments about the unexpected strength of the USSR ring true, as do his disappointment with the Italians and fears about the Romanian oil. Two years later, he would prove that the Romanian oil was his top priority when he oriented the entire German defense in the east around the oil fields there, a decision that has puzzled many historians ever since but which makes perfect sense from what he told Mannerheim in 1942.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

The SS allowed the Finns to keep the recording in order not to create a diplomatic incident, but only under the promise that it would never be made public. Wax seals were affixed to the album sleeve to show that they had kept this promise. When those seals were broken is unclear, but how the SS could ever have known in any event is a mystery. Thus, the entire "agreement" to keep the recording private was a bit of a fiction so that everybody could save face. The recording was given to the head of the state censor's office Kustaa Vilkuna - a censor presumably being inherently reliable at suppressing things. Many in the film and broadcasting fields would agree wholeheartedly - and only returned to YLE in 1957. There is a legend that the recording was later discovered in YLE's files by a technician only by accident, but in fact the recording was well-known. It was released to the public a few years after being returned to the recording company. It might have become obscure again after that - but it was never truly "lost."

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
Hitler looking at the menu for lunch with Mannerheim and President Ryti. He appears to have a drink handy - while Hitler is sometimes said to be a teetotaller, in fact he did enjoy spirits on occasion, and this picture in particular makes him appear a bit buzzed.

There is another legend surrounding the Hitler/Mannerheim meeting. Supposedly Mannerheim wanted to test Hitler's strength in the manner of a modern-day lawyer. It was customary to break out a cigar over cognac after a meal in those days, and that is what Mannerheim did, at least according to the legend. Hitler was adamant about people not smoking in his presence, but on this occasion said nothing. Mannerheim, the legend goes, took this as a sign of weakness by Hitler. In truth, this would been in keeping with the earlier "walking the plank" episode and some grimaces made by Mannerheim, but Mannerheim himself was known to dislike smokers, so the story is probably apocryphal.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

Hitler's entire defensive tone during the taped discussion, his ignoring the fire on his plane in order to create a good impression, and the repeated unanswered German pleas to get Finland to attack the USSR would already have told Mannerheim all he needed to know about Hitler's relative strength in the relationship. If Mannerheim indeed lit up a cigar, it was because he already knew that Hitler was fighting for his life and needed him at least as much as Mannerheim needed Germany. Besides, Finland was not even technically an ally of Germany, but rather a "co-belligerent." In order for Finland to prosecute its own, separate war with the Soviet Union, it required massive and continuous German help, and this was amply proven in 1944. Thus, those seeing some kind of German weakness in the relationship are over-thinking things, but they are correct to the extent that Hitler and Germany did not dominate Finland.

Finland Soviet Union map 1940
At the time of the meeting, Mannerheim had recovered the red shaded areas which had been lost in 1940 and advanced only a relatively small amount past them. Mannerheim had what he wanted and had no desire to push any further forward and thereby incur Stalin's wrath, which is what Hitler wanted. Mannerheim's strategy ultimately paid off in September 1944 when the USSR agreed to an armistice with Finland which averted a complete invasion of Finland - though "Finlandization" became a pejorative term for a large neighbor's total domination of a technically independent smaller nation.

There was a cynical game going on beneath the surface: Hitler could have taken Leningrad and joined up with the Finns further north on the Svir River if he had really wanted to, but that would only have taken the Finnish troops out of the war. The only advantage to Germany of having Finland in the war at all was that the Finns took pressure off of other parts of the front by drawing off Soviet troops. For this reason, Hitler did not clear the Soviets from in front of the Finnish lines when he had the chance (a few corps transferred north from Case Blau would have been sufficient). Hitler was more interested in getting the oil in the south.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim
Two men with completely different agendas, though on the surface they appeared to be the same. It is easy to read some measure of Mannerheim's diffidence in his attitude captured in the photographs that day, which contrasts sharply with Hitler's grand, over-confident swagger. Mannerheim was the only other major commander in the world who completely understood Soviet military capabilities, and you can tell that he isn't buying the whole sunny attitude being projected by Hitler.

Mannerheim, for his part, had no great interest in helping the Germans to total victory, which would only replace Stalin with Hitler as the existential threat to his country's existence. He accepted German strength as a fact of life, not a wish fulfilled. Mannerheim was hedging his bets by not threatening the Soviets during their moment of weakness, which easily could turn out to be transient (as it did). By only promising to move forward once the Germans proved that they had strength to spare and were going to win completely, he insured against further entangling himself in an eventual German defeat. Thus, neither Hitler nor Mannerheim had any incentive to make bold moves in the north, and the front descended into a basically garrison status for three years save for occasional Soviet offensives.

Finland was always the David versus the Soviet Goliath, and it never forgot that. Its war was not in support of Germany, but rather against the USSR - quite a different thing altogether.

Finland greatly feared a separate peace with Stalin and would have done virtually anything at that time to avoid one. Thus, the alliance was secure, but Finland retained complete independence. Mannerheim knew that his country could always cut a separate deal with Stalin if it absolutely had to - which it ultimately did. All that was keeping Finland in the war was its martial pride, and sometimes pride has to go. Hitler greatly admired Mannerheim, who was a leader from the Great War and virtually a legend throughout Scandinavia (Mannerheim was of Swedish ancestry). Indeed, it was not a relationship of equals, but not in the way most people think; it was more like a nephew on the make coming to pay respects to a celebrity uncle who never had really liked the little snot-nosed brat.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim

Hitler had no more success with this visit than he had had during his visit with Franco at Hendaye on 23 October 1940. Mannerheim did not change his position about attacking the Soviets and provided no distractions to aid Case Blau. The day basically wasted and at great inconvenience, Hitler took off for Rastenberg at 18:10, with four Finnish Brewster fighters as escort. He made it home safely in time for the midnight conference. He never again visited Finland. Within days, he was apprised that while he was visiting with Mannerheim, the Japanese Navy had been in the midst of a catastrophic battle at Midway Island. Midway basically ended Axis dreams of conquest in the Pacific and enabled the entire United States military to focus more on Hitler and the Third Reich. Hitler now had bigger things to worry about than ginning up pointless offensives on static fronts.

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim command train saloon car
Mannerheim's command train car where the meeting was held is preserved at Mikkeli. He used it for the last time in January 1946, when Hitler was long dead. It may be entered on Mannerheim's birthday, also the anniversary of the fabled meeting.

Only one of the three command cars given by Hitler to Mannerheim, designated SA28300, survives. It was converted into a fire engine during the 1950s, a time when there was little reverence for artifacts of World War II. That car is owned by the War Museum of Finland, but it is not on public display and probably has not been restored. The train in which Mannerheim met Hitler has become a tourist attraction outside a service station not far from where the meeting took place, but it is rarely open to the public. A memorial stone about the odd meeting lies at Saimaanhovintie in Imatra, though it has been moved about 400 meters from its original location to a small park. Mannerheim remains a Finnish legend; Hitler, not so much.


I make no guarantees of the accuracy of this transcript of the "secret meeting." The only people present in the room were Hitler, Mannerheim, President Ryti and General Keitel. This translation comports with other versions I have seen, but translations are an art and will vary slightly from source to source. The voices have to be identified from context and by making educated guesses, and not everyone agrees on who was speaking when. I will note that Hitler had not even finished his first of four points before the recording ended, and he was known to drone on literally for hours with his monologues. But this was important stuff, as the lives and/or careers of everyone in the room depended on the facts in question.

A few quick observations. Hitler engages in his usually puffery as a military man himself - "I know all about northern France, having served there in the Great War" kind of thing, and not just once - but Mannerheim was the real deal. It was sort of like Al Bundy in "Married With Children" harping on how he had scored four touchdowns in one game back in high school when speaking to a pro football player: like, wow, what a big deal you are. Bringing that up probably wasn't helpful in this context anyway because when Hitler was serving in that war, he had been a mere Corporal and Mannerheim was exactly what he was at the time of this recording: head of the army.

Hitler's posing extends to pompous attempts to build up his own reputation as a warlord. He says, "I firmly believed that we could defeat France in six weeks," which of course is what happened. He could not possibly have known that in advance, he would have had to be Nostradamus to know exactly how long it would take. Germany had spent four long years battling against the French in 1914-1918, and he was sure he could finish them off in six weeks? The speed of the victory sure stunned his own Generals at the time, let alone the rest of the world. Then, when mentioning the 35,000 Soviet tanks, but quickly clarifying that he had destroyed all but 1,000 - sheer nonsense - Hitler tries to turn the strength of his enemy into a reflection of his own glory. Hitler comes off as a little braggart with these unnecessary, self-glorifying asides.

Hitler also treats President Ryti badly, almost as if he isn't relevant. "As I told your President" - Ryti was sitting right there across from him! Hitler fancies himself the big military man, and he is talking only to another military man who alone can understand his great struggles, the great burden of command. Everyone else is just irrelevant, including the Finnish head of state.

Hitler mentioning the gigantic Soviet factory at length is kind of odd - why build up the monumental abilities of the enemy to your ally? - but it is when Hitler casually mentions that the workers lived like "animals" that you get a chill down your spine at how he was going to treat them. Well, if they were living as animals beforehand, you are perfectly justified treating them the same, eh, Adolf? There are all sorts of subtle attempts to justify his own actions, word of which no doubt was filtering across the Baltic.

Mannerheim adds nothing to the conversation at all, and is just an echo - "35 thousand! You don't say!" - which somewhat betrays his attitude that he knows that he is simply listening to a story that he doesn't really believe. He is being polite, an active listener, but just a listener. Listening to Hitler say why he did things two years previously wasn't all that relevant to how Mannerheim was going to handle the next Soviet attack on his own lines, which had to be on his mind. A careful read shows that Hitler's recitation is all about Hitler and what Hitler thought and why Hitler did things, "me me me," and one can imagine that Mannerheim was not quite as interested in how Hitler wanted to justify his old decisions. In other words, Hitler was the center of Hitler's universe, but not of Mannerheim's, which is something that Hitler was not capable of comprehending.

Not a word, not a single question, about how Mannerheim's forces were doing, if Hitler could help Finland, what the Finnish intelligence service thought about the very suspicious 35,000 Soviet tank park figure, anything at all along those lines. In fact, when Mannerheim appears ready to mention what his people had known, Hitler isn't interested at all and in fact cuts him off, causing Mannerheim to fall back in line as the pupil listening to the teacher. The monologue is all about Germany and what it knew and what it did, an odd tone when visiting a fellow head of state whose forces were vital to the war effort. Saying negative things about the Italian contribution also may have led Mannerheim to wonder what Hitler was telling others about Finnish contributions to the war.

The transcript starts with Hitler talking. Italics are used to emphasize the heightening of voices in the original voice recording. Things like "uh's" and repeated words have been removed to make the dialogue easier to read. The recording started in mid-sentence, nobody knows how much was said before the recording started or how much followed after it ended:

Hitler: ...a very serious danger, perhaps the most serious one - it's whole extent we can only now judge. We did not ourselves understand - just how strong this state [the USSR] was armed.

Mannerheim: No, we hadn't thought of this.

Hitler: No, I too, no.

Mannerheim: During the Winter War - during the Winter War we had not even thought of this. Of course...

Hitler: (Interrupting) Yes.

Mannerheim: But so, how they - in reality - and now there is no doubt all they had - what they had in their stocks!

Hitler: Absolutely, This is - they had the most immense armaments that, uh, people could imagine. Well - if somebody had told me that a country - with...(Hitler is interrupted by the sound of a door opening and closing.) If somebody had told me a nation could start with 35,000 tanks, then I'd have said: "You are crazy!"

Mannerheim: Thirty-five?

Hitler: Thirty-five thousand tanks.

Another Voice In Background, perhaps Keitel: Thirty-five thousand! Yes!

Hitler: We have destroyed - right now - more than 34,000 tanks. If someone had told me this, I'd have said: "You!" If you are one of my generals had stated that any nation has 35,000 tanks I'd have said: "You, my good sir, you see everything twice or ten times. You are crazy; you see ghosts." This I would have deemed possible. I told you earlier we found factories, one of them at Kramatorskaja, for example, Two years ago there were just a couple hundred [tanks]. We didn't know anything. Today, there is a tank plant, where - during the first shift a little more than 30,000, and 'round the clock a little more than 60,000, workers would have labored - a single tank plant! A gigantic factory! Masses of workers who certainly, lived like animals and...

Another Voice In Background, perhaps Ryti: (Interrupting) In the Donets area?

Hitler: In the Donets area. (Background noises from the rattling of cups and plates over the exchange.)

Mannerheim: Well, if you keep in mind they had almost 20 years, almost 25 years of - freedom to arm themselves...

Hitler: (Interrupting quietly) It was unbelievable.

Mannerheim: And everything - everything spent on armament.

Hitler: Only on armament.

Mannerheim: Only on armament!

Hitler: (Sighs) Only - well, it is - as I told your president [Ryti] before - I had no idea of it. If I had an idea - then I would have been even more difficult for me, but I would have taken the decision [to invade] anyhow, because - there was no other possibility. It was - certain, already in the winter of '39/ '40, that the war had to begin. I had only this nightmare - but there is even more! Because a war on two fronts - would have been impossible - that would have broken us. Today, we see more clearly - than we saw at that time - it would have broken us. And my whole - I originally wanted to - already in the fall of '39 I wanted to conduct the campaign in the west - on the continuously bad weather we experienced hindered us.

Our whole armament - you know, was - is a pure good weather armament. It is very capable, very good, but it is unfortunately just a good-weather armament. We have seen this in the war. Our weapons naturally were made for the west, and we all thought, and this was true 'till that time, uh, it was the opinion from the earliest times: you cannot wage war in winter. And we too, have, the German tanks, they weren't tested, for example, to prepare them for winter war. Instead we conducted trials to prove it was impossible to wage war in winter. That is a different starting point [than the Soviet's]. In the fall of 1939 we always faced the question. I desperately wanted to attack, and I firmly believed we could finish France in six weeks.

However, we faced the question of whether we could move at all - it was raining continuously. And I know the French area myself very well and I too could not ignore the opinions, of many of my generals that, we - probably - would not have had the élan, that our tank arm would not have been, effective, that our air force could not been effective from our airfields because of the rain.

I know northern France myself. You know, I served in the Great War for four years. And - so the delay happened. If I had in '39 eliminated France, then world history would have changed. But I had to wait 'till 1940, and unfortunately it wasn't possible before May. Only on the 10th of May was the first nice day - and on the 10th of May I immediately attacked. I gave the order to attack on the 10th on the 8th. And - then we had to, conduct this huge transfer of our divisions from the west to the east.

First the occupation of - then we had the task in Norway - at the same time we faced - I can frankly say it today - a grave misfortune, namely the - weakness of, Italy. Because of - first, the situation in North Africa, then, second, because of the situation in Albania and Greece - a very big misfortune. We had to help. This meant for us, with one small stoke, first - the splitting of our air force, splitting our tank force, while at the same time we were preparing, the, tank arm in the east. We had to hand over - with one stroke, two divisions, two whole divisions and a third was then added - and we had to replace continuous, very severe, losses there. It was - bloody fighting in the desert.

This all naturally was inevitable, you see. I had a conversation with Molotov [Soviet Minister] at that time, and it was absolutely certain that Molotov departed with the decision to begin a war, and I dismissed the decision to begin a war, and I dismissed him with the decision to - impossible, to forestall him. There was - this was the only - because the demands that man brought up were clearly aimed to rule, Europe in the end. (Practically whispering here.) Then I have him - not publicly...(fades out).

Already in the fall of 1940 we continuously faced the question, uh: shall we, consider a break up [in relations with the USSR]? At that time, I advised the Finnish government, to - negotiate and, to gain time and, to act dilatory in this matter - because I always feared - that Russia suddenly would attack Romania in the late fall - and occupy the petroleum wells, and we would have not been ready in the late fall of 1940. If Russia indeed had taken Romanian petroleum wells, than Germany would have been lost. It would have required - just 60 Russian divisions to handle that matter.

In Romania we had of course - at that time - no major units. The Romanian government had turned to us only recently - and what we did have there was laughable. They only had to occupy the petroleum wells. Of course, with our weapons I could not start a, war in September or October. That was out of the question. Naturally, the transfer to the east wasn't that far advanced yet. Of course, the units first had to reconsolidate in the west. First the armaments had to be taken care of because we too had - yes, we also had losses in our campaign in the west. It would have been impossible to attack - before the spring of 19, 41. And if the Russians at that time - in the fall of 1940 - had occupied Romania - taken the petroleum wells, then we would have been, helpless in 1941.

Another Voice In Background, perhaps Keitel: Without petroleum...

Hitler: (Interrupting) We had huge German production: however, the demands of the air force, our Panzer divisions - they are really huge. It is level of consumption that surpasses the imagination. And without the addition of four to five million tons of Romanian petroleum, we could not have fought the war - and would have had to let it be - and that was my big worry. Therefore I aspired to, bridge the period of negotiations 'till we would be strong enough to, counter those extortive demands [from Moscow] because - those demands were simply naked extortion's. They were extortion's. The Russians knew we were tied up in the west. They could really extort everything from us. Only when Molotov visited - then - I told him frankly that the demands, their numerous demands, weren't acceptable to us. With that the negotiations came to an abrupt end that same morning.

There were four topics. The one topic that, involved Finland was, the, freedom to protect themselves from the Finnish threat, he said. [I said] You do not want to tell me Finland threatens you! But he said: "In Finland it is - they who take action against the, friends, of the Soviet Union. They would [take action] against [our] society, against us - they would continuously, persecute us and, a great power cannot be threatened by a minor country."

I said: "Your, existence isn't threatened by Finland! That is, you don't mean to tell me..."

Mannerheim: (Interrupting) Laughable!

Hitler: "...that your existence is threatened by Finland?" Well [he said] there was a moral - threat being made against a great power, and what Finland was doing, that was a moral - a threat to their moral existence. Then I told him we would not accept a further war in the Baltic area as passive spectators. In reply he asked me how we viewed our position in, Romania. You know, we had given them a guarantee. [He wanted to know] if that guarantee was directed against Russia as well? And that time I told him: "I don't think it is directed at you, because I don't think you have the intention of attacking Romania. You have always stated that Bessarabia is yours, but that you have - never stated that you want to attack Romania!"

"Yes," he told me, but he wanted to know more precisely if this guarantee...

(A door opens, perhaps to warn Hitler about the recording, and the recording ends.)

Adolf Hitler Carl Mannerheim



  1. This is interesting if you have never heard Hitler's regular voice. He was secretly or mistakenly recorded in conversation with Mannheim.
    hitler's secret recording 1942

  2. Dear Mr. Bjorkman, The haul of prisoners in the second Battle of Kharkov (May 12, 1942 to May 30. 1942) was approximately around 200 K (not 600 K as was the case in the Uman pocket or the Battles of Bryansk and Vyazma in 1941). Please see the link below :-

    This error apart, the article is an excellent psychological portrait of Hitler and Mannerheim in that momentous year of 1942. Hope you will also cover the meeting of Hitler with Franco in Hendaye, Spain in 1940 which also had disastrous consequences for Italy and the Axis war effort. Hitler was poor at conducting summit meetings or coordinating with his allies in the conflict.


    1. Thanks for the kind words and for reading so carefully, Raja. I will change that since it isn't really the point of this article anyway. There are varying estimates of the prisoner haul at Kharkov. I was going by memory, and I will have to look at the question more closely when I write about that battle in particular. However, I am pretty sure I saw a figure of 600k for the Kharkov battle somewhere, probably in a German source. Anyway, many thanks as always, you certainly do know your WWII facts!