The Rise and Fall of an Infamous Marxist Icon
by Chris Oakley
Summary: In the previous thirteen episodes of this series we traced Adolf Hitlerís conversion to Marxism; his rise to the leadership of the German Communist Party and then of Germany itself; his part in the Communist victory in the Spanish Civil War and the outbreak of armed conflict between the German Peopleís Republic and the Anglo-French alliance; his ruthless conquest of France; his Soviet ally Joseph Stalinís decision to go to war with Japan in the summer of 1938; the Japanese armyís invasion of Siberia; Japanís first tentative steps toward forming a coalition with the United States; the assassination attempt on Benito Mussolini in March of 1940; the Churchill governmentís efforts to bolster Great Britainís frontier defenses against the threat of Communist invasion; and the German bombing campaign against Britain that spanned the spring and summer of 1940. In this chapter weíll look at the escalation of the fighting between Italy and the German Peopleís Republic and the Western powersí reaction to the news the Communists were developing what Hitler called "a final solution to the capitalist problem".
Hitler found it galling that Britain continued to resist the Communist empire in spite of his militaryís best efforts to subjugate it. He also-- though he was reluctant to say so openly --found it a bit worrisome, because for all his rantings about the supposed weakness of the "decadent" West he understood that the longer Britain held on, the greater the chances were that the United States would eventually jump into the war on the British side, and US industrial capacity was both envied and dreaded by the Communists. They were particularly concerned about the prodigious and as-yet largely untapped potential of Americaís aircraft manufacturing industry for producing warplanes; in fact, in a speech he made just after clinching the Democratic Partyís nomination for a third term as president, Franklin Roosevelt had promised to make the United States "the great arsenal of democracy"-- and to also make it a top priority to strengthen the aviation element of that arsenal. While Washington was still a few months away from direct involvement in the war between Britain and the Hitler-Stalin alliance, it was doing everything short of openly declaring war on the Communists to aid Great Britainís defense.
One measure it was taking to keep Britain from going under was to provide naval escort for Atlantic convoys delivering essential supplies to British ports. The U.S. Navyís Atlantic fleet regularly sent warships to accompany the convoys on their runs to and from the British Isles; in some instances, these escorts included light aircraft carriers(also known as "jeep" carriers) whose planes could be used with lethal effect against the Volksmarineís U-boats. In fact, the first major American air combat mission of the Second World War took place when a quartet of dive-bombers off a "jeep" carrier were launched in pursuit of a fleeing U-boat that had tried and failed to sink the destroyer U.S.S. Robin Moor in October of 1940. The U-boatís captain, a relatively inexperienced officer who was given the job more for his Communist zeal than for his abilities as a leader, was an easy target for the air strike; other Volksmarine U- boat commanders would prove to be considerably more of a challenge in the later years of the war.
As deadly as the U-boats were, an even greater menace loomed for Roosevelt; the same week the Robin Moor was attacked, Hitler gave a speech before the Reichstag in which he boasted that the DDVRís leading scientists were at that very moment working on what he described as "a final solution to the bourgeois capitalist problem". To FDR and his military advisors, that could only mean one thing-- the long-circulating rumors of a secret Communist atomic weapons program had been right after all. While research into atomic science had been going on for years in many countries, Germany was a particularly fertile breeding ground for such study; the outbreak of war between the Hitler-Stalin alliance and the Western powers had given Berlin powerful incentive to invest in the kind of physics study which could make an atomic bomb possible.
Hitlerís point man for the German nuclear program was Werner Heisenberg, a physicist renowned both for his expertise in atomic science and for his Marxist fervor. He had long dreamed of making history by producing the first controlled atomic chain reaction; when Hitler placed him in charge of the atomic bomb project, code-named "Retribution"1, it was a dream come true for Heisenberg. With the backing of the German government behind him, Heisenberg was certain nothing could stand in the way of fulfilling his quest to make his name rank alongside those of the other great physicists of history. And if it helped his homeland win the war against the Western powers in the bargain, so much the better.
The situation on the Italian front had been relatively quiet in strategic terms for most of the summer of 1940; on the tactical level, though, it continued to be as active as ever as Allied and Communist forces mounted hit-and-run attacks against perceived weak spots in each otherís defenses in hopes of finding an Achillesí heel they might be able to exploit when the time came to mount larger ground operations. Rome quivered under the impact of German bombs as the Volksluftkorps tried to break the Italian capital without much more success than their attempts to decimate London had achieved. Stasi agents slipped through the Italian lines to create havoc and chaos wherever and whenever the opportunity presented itself.
Conversely, by the same token Allied covert operatives infiltrated Germany and Austria to disrupt the Communist war effort and to support the underground anti-Communist movement in those countries; British bombers based at Italian airfields struck at every Communist military and industrial target within their flying range. RAF fighters strafed Volksluftkorps airfields in a campaign intended to weaken Communist air power before the Allied ground forces launched their next major offensive against German troops still occupying portions of northern Italy. But the strategic lull couldnít last forever, and so both sides were rushing to prepare themselves for the resumption of large-scale land warfare along the Italian lines.
Of particular urgency to both sides was the task of ensuring an adequate armored reserve for the coming escalation of the war on the Italian front. One of the crucial lessons being re-learned by armies in all countries as a result of the fighting in Europe was that the tank, once thought by some military experts to be little more than a toy, was in fact an indispensable basic part of modern warfare; it was a lesson which men like J.F.C. Fuller and Charles de Gaulle had tried to teach their fellow countrymen years before the Anglo-French alliance went to war with the Communist bloc.
On August 28th, 1940 the strategic lull on the Italian front came to an abrupt and violent end. That day at precisely 6:00 AM Rome time, British and Italian ground forces struck at the Communist battlefront in northern Italy in a four-pronged offensive aptly codenamed Operation Gamble; the generals who had conceived the attack were risking their professional reputations on its success or failure. Nothing less than the future of the Allied cause in Europe hinged on whether the attack could accomplish its primary objective of driving German troops back to the Franco-Italian border.
The Communists immediately struck back, launching their own multi-pronged assault to counter the Allied offensive; the German and Austrian ground attacks were supplemented by air strikes from Volksluftkorps dive bombers, just as RAF and Regia Aeronautica planes were bombing Communist defensive positions in aid of the Allied thrust. Erich Hartmann, the top-scoring Communist fighter ace of World War II and later chief of staff for the post-Communist era German air force, would subsequently recall in his war diary: "The sky itself seemed to be on fire...there were all these huge clouds of smoke hanging in the air. I could barely see my own wingman, it was so dark."
Many of his fellow airmen on both sides of the battle would have similar stories to tell before it was all over, and as the fighting on the ground intensified Allied and Communist troops alike could see with the unaided eye fires burning where one sideís attack aircraft had made a hit on the otherís fuel and munitions supplies. On September 2nd the main body of the Allied assault force breached the Volksarmee defenses outside Milan, where for almost two years the Italians had been fighting to eject German occupation forces from that city.
By September 5th, Allied troops were in control of nearly half of Milan and fighting the Communists for possession of the rest. The Stasi, who by this time were evolving from a mere secret police agency to a de facto fourth branch of the German armed forces, had sent shock troops to aid the regular Volksarmee units in opposing the Allied advance-- and in that capacity the shock troops would turn out to be some of the fiercest opponents the Allied had faced or would face during the war in Europe. A Royal Army platoon leader who was at Milan during the Anglo-Italian fight to liberate the city from Communist forces would recall two decades after the fact: "It was like we were facing the Devilís legions....those bloody Red bastards just wouldnít give up even when they got their arms and legs blown off."2
On September 8th, in a desperate last bid to force the Allies out of the city, Volksluftkorps commander-in-chief Heinrich Stuckart authorized his heavy bomber fleet to conduct massive raids against the British-held sectors of Milan. These raids accomplished little other than to drive up his bomber forceís overall casualty toll(60 percent of the Milan attack group was shot down, with another 20 percent crippled by Allied AA fire) and further inflame already bitter anti-Communist feeling in the hearts of the Italian people.
By September 9th, Allied troops had encircled the last pocket of German resistance in Milan and Free French units were en route to the city to aid British and Italian forces in securing its liberation from Communist control. From behind the German lines, anti-Communist Italian partisan cells did their part for the Allied cause by staging hit-and-run raids on the vulnerable German rear flank and assassinating key Stasi officers in the Milan area. Hitler promised to send a relief force to break into the city and push the Allies back, but that relief force never came; Allied bombing and partisan activity had rendered the roads into the city impassable, and even if this hadnít been the case the Volksarmee general staff was sharply divided as to how the relief columns should be deployed.
It was early in the evening on September 11th, 1940 when the Italian high command formally announced Milanís liberation by the Allies. Though publicly Hitler scoffed at the announcement, privately he was unnerved by it; the Allied recapture of Milan not only further derailed the already severely upset Communist timetable for conquering Italy, it also gave the Allied armies a potential bridgehead for invading German-occupied France. Milan was just a few hoursí drive from the Franco-Italian border, and if a sizable Allied assault force could be massed there at some point in the future, it could potentially smash right through Volksarmee defenses in southern France and drive all the way up to Paris within months, if not weeks....
Hitler would have been even more anxious about Milanís fall had he known about a secret conference that would take place in the White House two weeks after the Allies liberated the city from the Volksarmee. In response to Hitlerís boast about his scientistsí "final solution to the capitalist problem", President Roosevelt directed his own key scientific advisors to begin laying the groundwork for a U.S. atomic bomb program; this conference would plant the seeds for what later became known as the Manhattan Project. If Hitlerís own words hadnít been motivation enough for America to work on gaining a nuclear bomb capability before Germany did, there was added incentive in the form of a letter written in late 1939 by a German Jewish scientist named Albert Einstein who had fled the Peopleís Republic barely one step ahead of a Stasi detachment assigned to draft him for work in the Communist atomic bomb development plan. In his letter, Einstein predicted "very dire consequences"3 for the U.S. and the world as a whole if Germany got its hands on the bomb first.
With the United States now militarily allied with Great Britain in all but the strictest legal definitions of the term, it was probably inevitable that the men who oversaw the Manhattan Project would form a close working relationship with the British governmentís own top atomic experts. Long before the Second World War began, many British physicists had been aware of the lethal possibilities nuclear fission had to offer as a weapon, and it was these physicistsí unanimous consensus that it lay in Britainís best interest to assist Washington in its efforts to make sure the West beat the DDVR to the Bomb....
To Be Continued
 This was chosen as a symbol of Hitlerís desire for ďretributionĒ on the capitalist world for its supposed sins against the working man.
 Quoted from the 1960 BBC documentary Hard Underbelly: The British Campaign In Italy 20 Years On.
 The letter is now preserved at the archives of Princeton University, where Einstein served as a physics professor after the war ended.