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Echo of the Reich cb-5

  Echo of the Reich

  ( Chris Bronson - 5 )

  James Becker

  James Becker

  Echo of the Reich


  Ludwikowice, Poland

  April 1945

  It was the sound of boots on concrete that puzzled him.

  Footsteps were always echoing through the labyrinth of passageways and laboratories in the perpetual gloom of the mine, but these sounded different, organized almost-a squad of men marching with purpose rather than a handful of scientists ambling along. And as far as Georg Schuster knew, there were no soldiers based in the facility.

  The Komplex Milkow was located in the Wenceslas Mine, a bewildering network of tunnels and chambers, some natural but others hacked from the rock, which covered an area of almost thirty-six square kilometers. It was the home of Der Riese — “The Giant”-an SS research facility and one of the most secret bases ever established by Nazi Germany. The research project being conducted there-it bore two project names: Der Laternentrager, meaning “the lantern bearer,” and Kronos, or “Saturn”-possessed the highest possible category of both secrecy and funding priority within the Third Reich. No other research of any sort, in any country, had been allocated the classification Kriegsentscheidend, “decisive for the outcome of the war.”

  Schuster had no idea why soldiers should be inside the complex. Then an appalling thought struck him. Surely it couldn’t be the Russians? Not so soon? No, that was ridiculous, because if the Russians had arrived there would have been yelling and shooting, and the explosions of grenades.

  Schuster opened the door of his laboratory and peered out hesitantly. Then he relaxed, reassured by the sight of the familiar uniforms of Wehrmacht soldiers.

  Even so, the appearance of a uniformed German officer, accompanied by about a dozen soldiers, was unexpected, and Schuster stepped out into the corridor.

  “Who are you?” he asked.

  The officer leading the soldiers stopped and looked at the man who’d just appeared. The questioner was a middle-aged man wearing a white coat and a puzzled frown.

  “I’m SS Hauptsturmfuhrer Wolf,” the new arrival replied politely, proffering a document that bore the distinctive signature of Reichsleiter Martin Bormann. “I’m in charge of the SS Evacuation Kommando, working directly under the authority of General Kammler. And you are?”

  The scientist shook his head. “I’ve never heard of an Evacuation Kommando,” he said, glancing at the order before handing it back.

  “That’s because you don’t have a sufficiently high security clearance,” Wolf responded, with a slight smile that vanished almost as quickly as it had appeared. “And I still need to know your name.”

  “It’s Schuster. Georg Schuster.”

  Wolf took another sheet of paper from his uniform jacket and studied the list of names printed on it.

  “You’re one of the electrical engineering specialists?” he asked, and Schuster nodded. “Good. Just wait over there, in that chamber,” Wolf ordered.

  “What’s going on? What do you want?”

  “What I want to do is complete the task I’ve been given. In case you haven’t noticed, Engineer Schuster, the Russian forces are almost upon us, and it’s vital for the future of the Reich that they don’t get their hands on the equipment you’ve been working on here. That’s what I’ve been sent here to achieve.”

  “So you’re going to evacuate us?”

  “There’s a Junkers Ju-390 heavy-lift aircraft waiting at Bystzyca Klodzka airfield just a few kilometers away,” Wolf replied, not quite answering the man’s question. Then he strode further into the complex, his men following on behind.

  In less than an hour, Wolf had completed the first part of his assignment. He had identified all of the scientists and engineers at work within the facility, and these men and just a handful of women were now waiting in two separate stone chambers ready to leave the mine, one way or the other. But it wasn’t just the personnel that Wolf had been ordered to take care of. Far more important than them was the device itself.

  The double doors to the test chamber were massive-heavy steel frames lined with copious layers of what looked like insulating or soundproofing material. Wolf ordered his men to swing them open, and then he strode inside and for a few moments just stood and stared at the object in front of him.

  General Kammler had told him in broad terms what the device was supposed to do, although neither Wolf nor, probably, Kammler himself understood more than a fraction of the science involved. But they both knew that Hitler’s dream of a thousand-year Reich now lay in tatters. Not even the development and deployment of the V1 and V2 terror weapons, nor the latest generation of combat aircraft powered by jet engines, had been enough to hold back the armed forces of Germany’s enemies. Forces that Wolf knew would soon be baying at the very gates of Berlin itself.

  What was left of the German army was being squeezed between the British and American forces advancing from the west and the rapidly approaching Russian army. It was now apparent that the Soviet forces were going to reach the area of Ludwikowice first, and that was the worst-case scenario by far. It would be a disaster if the Americans or the British got their hands on the device, but if the Russians took possession of it, that would be a catastrophe of global proportions.

  The orders from Berlin had been unequivocal. It was essential that Die Glocke remained in German hands. There was a chance, just the faintest possibility, even when defeat seemed both imminent and inevitable, that the device could be used to snatch victory, or at least serve to prevent the total destruction of Germany.

  It didn’t look like much of a weapon, Wolf thought as he stared across the chamber, though he could see exactly why it had acquired its nickname Die Glocke: what it resembled more than anything else was a bell. A big bell, almost three meters in diameter and over four meters high.

  “What’s that?” one of his men asked, pointing at a number of objects positioned around the perimeter of the largely circular chamber.

  Wolf walked across to the wall and looked down, then prodded one with the toe of his boot. They were small blackened lumps, largely shapeless and with a jellylike consistency. But a couple of them had appendages that gave a clue as to their origin.

  “I think they’re plants,” Wolf said, “or they were plants, anyway. I can see a couple of leaves and a bit of stem on that one.”

  “Quick! Over here,” another of his men said, walking around to the opposite side of the vast device.

  What he’d found clearly weren’t more plants. Lying slumped against the wall, their wrists secured to chains attached to the wall, were two bodies. Both were male, both naked, and both very obviously dead. The numbers “3” and “4” were painted on the wall above the two corpses, and further over to the left were two more sets of chains and the painted numbers “1” and “2.”

  “Test subjects,” Wolf commented. “I was briefed that we might see some of these. They’re of no consequence, just Jews from the Gross-Rosen camp.”

  “So what killed them?”

  “This, obviously,” Wolf said, gesturing at the metallic object that almost filled the chamber. “ Die Glocke.”

  He stepped forward and looked closely at the bodies. Whatever had killed them, whatever lethal force was generated by the Bell, their deaths clearly hadn’t been pleasant. The faces of both corpses were contorted into expressions of absolute agony, and although their arms and legs were stick-thin, as would be expected of an inmate at Gross-Rosen, their torsos were bloated and lumpy in appearance, the skin discolored by reddish-purple blotches.

  One of Wolf’s men placed the sole of his boot against the stomach of one of the corpses and pressed downward. With a f
aint tearing sound, the skin on the side of the body ruptured and a foul-smelling black substance splashed down onto the rough concrete floor. A rank odor filled the chamber, and both the soldier and Wolf stepped quickly backward.

  “What the hell?”

  “Don’t touch the other one,” Wolf ordered, turning away.

  But the soldier stayed where he was, staring down at the corpse with horrified fascination. “How could that, that thing,” he almost stammered, “how could it do that to a human being?”

  “It’s only a Jew,” Wolf snapped, “and I’ve no idea. Right,” he went on, ignoring the two bodies and consulting a list of names, “we know what we have to do. Find Major Debus and bring him here to unhitch Die Glocke from the power supply and the other connections. Then we can load it onto the truck.”

  Getting the device out of the test chamber was far from easy, because of its bulk and weight and also because of the myriad connections that needed to be detached before they could even begin the removal process.

  Eventually, Wolf ordered his men to back a truck through the main entrance to the Wenceslas Mine. The driver maneuvered it carefully down the narrow corridor until it was within a few meters of the test chamber. Struggling with the object’s bulk and inconvenient shape, they used a pair of trolleys to haul it over to the truck, finally transferring it to the back of the vehicle.

  As well as the device and the people who had been developing it, Wolf had also been ordered to remove the most vital sections of the reams of documentation that had been generated during the testing process. In all, it took nearly five hours to complete this part of the operation and transfer everything to the trucks waiting outside. The scientists would be easier to deal with.

  Wolf consulted his list of names again. In fact, he had two lists, which corresponded with the two groups of scientists now waiting in the different chambers to leave the facility. He nodded to two of his men and led the way down the corridor. He opened the door of one room, stepped inside and carried out another roll call. It didn’t take long, because there were only three people on his list: SS Major Kurt Debus, the engineer who’d shown his men how to detach the connections and prepare Die Glocke for removal from the test chamber; Elizabeth Adler, the specialist mathematician who had previously worked with Professor Walter Gerlach, the founder of the project; and the scientist Dr. Herman Obeth. As soon as he was satisfied that he had correctly identified these three individuals, he stepped outside again and ordered his men to escort the scientists out of the mine and into one of the waiting lorries.

  Only then did he instruct another group of his soldiers to place the demolition charges that would be used to collapse the roof of the main tunnel and seal the mine for all eternity. Finally, he turned his attention to the large group of men and women in the second chamber.

  Wolf stepped inside the room and duplicated his earlier action with the first group, taking a careful roll call to confirm exactly who was in the room in front of him. The twenty-eighth name he called out was Georg Schuster. Nobody was missing. He nodded, replaced the paper in his pocket and gestured to two of his men who were standing just behind him.

  “Unfortunately,” he began, “although the Junkers is a very big aircraft with an impressive carrying capacity, I regret that it is not big enough to take the device and all of you as a single load. But the Fuhrer has decided that your knowledge of this project is so detailed and so important that we have to take elaborate precautions to ensure that you will not be captured by the advancing Russian forces. I wish there was some other way, but my orders leave me with no choice.”

  Wolf stepped out of the chamber, ignoring the puzzled expressions on the faces of the thirty-seven men and women who were standing there, as the first questions were directed toward him.

  The two soldiers who were still standing just inside the room each removed a stick grenade from their belt, primed it and tossed it into the midst of the crowd of people in front of them. As the first terrified screams echoed through the chamber, they stepped outside, slammed the heavy door closed, and threw home the two massive steel bolts to secure it.

  The grenades exploded within half a second of each other, the double explosion echoing through the tunnels and bringing down a scattering of small rocks and dust from the stone ceiling above.

  The loud screaming inside the room had stopped, but neither Wolf nor his two men believed that just two grenades would have been sufficient.

  “Go inside and finish them,” he ordered crisply, then strode away toward the main entrance of the Komplex Milkow.

  Wolf waited outside the entrance to the Wenceslas Mine until the last of his men emerged, then gave orders for the explosives to be blown. Seconds later, there was a dull rumble from inside the mine as the dynamite completed its work. He waited a couple of minutes to ensure that all the charges had detonated, then crossed to the entrance to check that the inner passageways were no longer accessible.

  He glanced at the narrow-gauge railway that linked the Wenceslas Mine with the airfield at Bystzyca Klodzka and for a moment wondered if that would have been a better way to transport Die Glocke, but then shook his head. It would have meant transferring the device from the truck onto one of the railway carriages, and then repeating the process in reverse at the other end of the journey, and all of that would have taken time. Time which he really didn’t have.

  Only when he was completely satisfied did Wolf climb into his staff car and lead the small convoy of three trucks containing his men, the device they had extracted from the testing chamber, and those three scientists whose work, knowledge and ability was of the highest caliber and who were vital for the eventual success of the project.

  At Bystzyca Klodzka airfield, which lay in a valley within the Eulenbirge Mountains, to the west of Opole, the flight crew had already removed the tarpaulins that had concealed the huge six-engined Junkers Ju-390. They’d carried out the necessary preflight checks on the aircraft and the rear cargo door was wide-open, waiting for loading to begin.

  The device was heavy, bulky, and awkward to handle because of its shape, and maneuvering it inside the relatively confined space of the fuselage was difficult. But eventually they got it secured in place, and Wolf then ordered the three scientists to climb on board the aircraft. The expressions on their faces reflected their conflicting emotions. They’d expected to be evacuated from the area, simply because of the importance of their work to the Reich and the vital knowledge they possessed, but what had happened at the mine clearly showed that there was more than one way for their masters to ensure that they kept their mouths shut.

  When they had taken their seats in the cabin, Kurt Debus-the only one of the three with any military training-leaned across to Elizabeth Adler, who was visibly shaking.

  “Don’t worry,” he murmured. “If they were going to kill us, they’d have done it back at the mine. We’re safe, because we’re too important to Hitler.”

  “Where are they taking us?” Herman Obeth asked. “Not Berlin, surely?”

  “I’ve no idea, but somewhere out of the Fatherland, I think we can be sure of that. What we’ve achieved can still change the course of the war. We just need a little more time to perfect it.”

  “I hope you’re right,” Adler replied, her voice quivering with emotion. “I really hope you’re right.”

  Hauptsturmfuhrer Wolf was the last to take his seat, and only did so after carrying out a final check that nothing had been left in any of the vehicles that might compromise the project.

  One of the engines on the port wing of the Junkers spluttered into life, then settled down to a steady reassuring roar. Then the second engine started, and the third, and in less than a minute the flight deck crew had all six running. The Junkers, which had been painted light blue and illegally wore the markings of the Swedish Air Force-a rudimentary disguise that might make an enemy pilot pause before opening fire with his cannon-began to move, and the massive aircraft started to taxi across the short distance to t
he end of the runway.

  Moments later, the pilot pushed the throttles fully forward and the huge aircraft began gathering speed. It lifted into the darkening sky and swung around toward the west.

  It’s reasonable to assume that the paint job was a success, because no units of either the Russian forces or the Western Allies reported seeing a Swedish aircraft at any time that day or evening. They were too busy watching out for enemy aircraft, and it seems likely that the Junkers managed simply to slip through the front lines, perhaps seen but certainly not noticed.

  The Junkers’ ultimate destination was never recorded in any of the surviving documentation, and it’s quite possible that the flight was so highly classified by the Nazis that no details of it were ever committed to paper.

  After the war, various places were suggested as the location of the aircraft’s final landing. One of the most cogent and believable reports states that a multi-engined German aircraft was seen touching down at an airfield in the Entre Rios Province of northern Argentina in May 1945.

  Another report describes various witness sightings of a six-engined aircraft, provisionally identified as a Junkers Ju-390, being dismantled on a German-owned farm in Paysundu Province in Uruguay at about the same date. Some of the local residents also reported that the parts of the aircraft were then taken to the River Uruguay, which is over a kilometer wide at this point, and thrown into the water.

  A third report suggested that the aircraft had a very much shorter flight, and landed near Bodo in Norway, though this might of course have simply been an interim or refueling stop as part of a much longer flight, and it seems probable that if the aircraft had remained in Norway it would have been seen and reported by somebody, and most probably seized by Allied forces.

  What is certain is that at the end of the Second World War nobody knew where either the aircraft or its unusual cargo had been taken, or exactly what the secret device constructed in the Wenceslas Mine was intended to do. Current researchers believe the project designation implied that it was a weapon of some description, probably a very early type of weapon of mass destruction, but since 1945 no definite information has been recovered about Die Glocke and nobody had any real idea of its function or its purpose.

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