Gen Wolff has stressed particularly that it would be a crime against the German people if the ‘reduit plan’: for continued resistance from a fortified redoubt in the Bavarian Alps were realized since it would merely cause untold further useless destruction and slaughter. This information has been transmitted by the representatives in Switzerland of FM Alexander by direct radio to AFHQ.
Wolff stated that as a clear duty to his country he had been prepared to proceed with his plans to effect the surrender of the German Armies in Italy. The absence of FM Kesselring, however, compelled him to change his course of action. Wolff said that his next step now depends upon the time at his disposal for action. If he had virtually no time at all, he would be forced to see what he could do alone.
If he had less than a week, he would deal directly with Gen Heinrich von Vietinghoff, who was returning to Italy to take over Kesselring’s command and probably reached his Italian headquarters on 19 March. If he had seven days or more, Wolff said he would go at once to Kesselring, whom he more than ever considered the key to the situation both in Italy and on the Western Front. Kesselring, Wolff reported, has been assigned to Marshal von Rundstedt’s command in the West, and had not even been allowed by Hitler’s headquarters to return to Italy to pack up his effects.
Thus Wolff had not been able to see Kesselring since Wolff’s first meeting with the OSS representative ten days ago. Vietinghoff, who acted as deputy commander in Italy for Kesselring while the latter was recovering from his injuries, had gone to Germany on leave in mid-January, and subsequently had held a brief command in Kurland on the Eastern Front.
After a brief conference at Hitler’s headquarters, he was ordered to return to Italy to assume command. Wolff said that if he were compelled to act alone he had only the following heterogeneous forces, equipped only with light arms and a few old tanks, at his disposal. In his capacity as Higher SS and Police Leader, a post which he has held since 1943, he commands some 15.000 Germans; 20.000 Soviet troops, mostly Don Cossacks, Kuban Cossacks, and Turkomans; 10.000 Serbs; 10.000 Slovenes; 5000 Czechs an Indian Legion and about 100.000 Italians. As Bevollmaechtigter General der Deutschen Wehrmacht (plenipotentiary for the German Wehrmacht), a post which he had held since the 20 July putsch, he is in direct command of 10.000 Germans and has under his tactical command some 55.000 German services of supply and similar troops, all north of the Po River.
Wolff admitted frankly that the non-German forces under his command are not very dependable, and that were he to take action alone, without prior coordination with the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht – GHQ), he would probably be caught between German armies to the north and south of his forces.
Asked whether a direct approach to von Vietinghoff might meet with success, Wolff said that von Vietinghoff is a nonpolitical soldier who would not take political action without support from others in the Wehrmacht. Wolff declared his relations with von Vietinghoff to be excellent but said he had not prepared the ground with Gen von Vietinghoff as he had with FM Kesselring.
Hence, Wolff proposed that he proceed at once by car to FM Kesselring’s headquarters, since he could not fly there for technical reasons, and seek to persuade FM Kesselring and Gen Siegfried Westphal to join him in common action. If they agreed to do so, Wolff said he felt sure that von Vietinghoff would cooperate.
If he were successful, Wolff said that he hoped to bring back with him within a week qualified military representatives of both Kesselring’s and von Vietinghoff’s headquarters to discuss the details of a military surrender. Wolff declared that he realized that the rapidly developing military situation left him little time for action. He added that German Headquarters in Italy expected an Allied offensive there before the end of the month (to one person he said the attack was expected by March 25). Wolff crossed back into Italy on the evening of March 25.
Mar 29, 1945, Memorandum for the President
No further word had been received from Wolff by the night of March 26 Wolff’s aide, Zimmern, however, reports that both Rudolph Rahn and Generalleutnant der Polizei Wilhelm Harster have been recalled to Germany for conferences at Hitler’s headquarters.
Harster probably has some knowledge of Wolff’s activities. The OSS representative comments that it is becoming increasingly apparent that Hitler intends to use the bulk of the German forces in Italy for the defense of the German redoubt.
Apr 1, 1945, Memorandum for the President
The following triple priority dispatch has just been received from the OSS representative in Bern relating to the most recent developments in connection with the possible surrender of German Forces in Northern Italy.
(1) Wolff arrived in Fasano at 1100 Friday morning and immediately summoned Parrilli and Zimmer to Fasano where they spent Friday afternoon together. Zimmer was then sent here by Wolff, Parrilli remaining Fasano.
(2) Wolff endeavored to contact Gen von Vietinghoff before he went to see FM Kesselring but was unable to reach him.
(3) The trip to FM Kesselring was most difficult and when he reached Kesselring’s headquarters, hell had already broken loose. The first conversation took place only 15 km from our advancing forces. Wolff presented his plan for Italian surrender and Kesselring advised him to go through with it. He, Kesselring, regretted he was not also in Italy.
(4). In a second conversation with Kesselring, later again expressed his agreement with Wolff’s plan and that he should so advise von Vietinghoff, but said that on his front he could not go along (mitmachen). Kesselring found himself largely surrounded by strangers whom he did not trust. Zimmern gained the impression from Wolff Kesselring was half a prisoner (Our representative in Bern comments that no mention was made of Westphal).
(5). Immediately on his return, Wolff had tried to reach Glazier but he was on an inspection trip at the front and was returning to his headquarters only night of 31. Wolff proposed to see him immediately and would spend Sunday with him. Wolff gave this message to Zimmern for our representative in Bern ‘I am ready to come to a final conversation in order to arrange matters. I hope to come with Rahn, Dollmann, and either von Vietinghoff or a staff officer’.
(6). Rahn had been called back to Germany but avoided the trip by alleging serious strike conditions in North Italy which he had to handle. Harster did return to Germany, but apparently on account of a row with Gauleiter Hofer of the Tyrol. Neither summons believed to be connected with the main subject in question.
(7). While in Germany and one of the reasons for the delay, Wolff was summoned by Himmler, who asked him to explain his surrender of British agent Tucker. Wolff replied that he was arranging an exchange and he wanted to give the Fuehrer Wuensche (a German general close to Hitler) as a birthday present.
Himmler also accused him of having been in Switzerland and asked the reasons. Wolff answered that he had a contact in Milan who promised to bring him in touch with Allies and that he was acting according to the Fuehrer’s recent secret order to seek any possible contact with Allies.
Wolff had heard that many efforts had failed and wanted to see what he could do. Himmler ordered Wolff to wait around for a couple of days as he wanted to think the matter over. However, Himmler was suddenly called urgently to Hungary and referred Wolff to Kaltenbrunner. Himmler told him that he should not leave Italy and particularly that he should not go to Switzerland. Wolff did not see Kaltenbrunner but left for Italy.
(8). In his conversation with FM Kesselring, later said to Wolff, our situation is desperate.
Nobody dares to tell the truth to the Fuehrer,, surrounded by a small group of advisors who still believe in a last specific secret weapon they call ‘Verzweiflungs’ (Desperation) weapon.
Kesselring believed this weapon can prolong war but not decide it but might cause a terrible blood bath on both sides. Kesselring said that if the Fuehrer gave him an order to use this weapon he would surrender his command. End of Zimmern report. (9) Under the foregoing program and assuming no further delays which may be inherent in the situation, Wolff should come to a meeting sometime Monday or early Tuesday. Any action by Kesselring via Wolff seems excluded. Whether Wolff will win over von Vietinghoff is still a matter of conjecture, despite Wolff’s apparent optimism. Zimmern understands Wolff has the support of one of von Vietinghoff’s chief subordinates.
An Italian emissary, Parrilli, arrived in Switzerland on April 3 with the following report from Wolff, who is currently at his headquarters in Fasano, Himmler has returned to his German headquarters from his urgent trip to Hungary, and on April 1, peremptorily ordered Wolff by telephone under no conditions to leave North Italy. Himmler told Wolff that he would telephone him periodically. Himmler chided Wolff for having moved his family to the vicinity of the Brenner Pass and declared that he had moved Wolff’s family at once back to St Wolfgang, near Salzburg, and could take ‘better care’ of it.
Wolff is convinced that if he were now to make a false move or to leave his headquarters for Switzerland, his whole project for the surrender in North Italy would fail and he would be liquidated. He believes that Himmler has given special instructions that he is watched. Accordingly, he feels he can’t come to Switzerland now. Wolff has discussed the whole surrender plan with Rudolph Rahn and declares that Rahn is in full agreement. On the night of April 1, he conferred with von Vietinghoff and Gen Roettiger, von Vietinghoff’s Chief of Staff. Wolff claims that both agreed with him, and quotes von Vietinghoff as saying that ‘it is nonsense to go on fighting‘. Wolff declares that von Vietinghoff has been instructed, in the event of a general Allied attack, to carry out a ‘fighting’ and scorched-earth withdrawal to the Alps.
Wolff reported fully to von Vietinghoff on his recent conference with FM Kesselring and told him that in Kesselring’s judgment the fighting on the Western Front might last ten or fifteen days longer and that Germany is facing catastrophe. Wolff instructed Parrilli to tell Allied representatives that, given ten more days, he, von Vietinghoff, and Rahn would be able to hand over North Italy. Parrilli has returned to Wolff’s headquarters with a message from Allied representatives acknowledging receipt of information that Rahn and von Vietinghoff have been won over to the plan, but stating that if there is to be a military surrender, it must be effected quickly.
With the approval of AFHQ representatives, the OSS representative also asked Parrilli to remind Wolff that it is vital that he and von Vietinghoff prevent the destruction of North Italy as ordered by Himmler and Hitler, that he (Wolff) had previously promised to restrain action against Italian partisans and to protect Allied and partisan prisoners and hostages in his hands, that he (Wolff) and his associates now have the last opportunity for action and that action alone counts and, finally, that further delay would not help but might even complicate the picture since from the ‘redoubt’ Himmler may exercise an increasingly terroristic influence.
The OSS representative comments that Wolff and his associates probably want to wait in the hope that complete chaos will develop in Germany, enabling them to act in Italy without serious risk to themselves and their families. The threat to Wolff may be real. Given the time which has elapsed since the original approach from Wolff, the number of meetings which have been held relating to the surrender proposal, and the number of persons who have been brought into the picture, some inkling of the plot has probably reached Himmler’s ears. The OSS representative cannot predict what action Wolff and von Vietinghoff will now take but declares that everything possible has been done to impress the Wolff group with the realities of the situation and the need to act at once.
The following information, transmitted by the OSS representative in Bern, is a summary of a more comprehensive report which has been communicated to AFHQ.
Obergruppenfuehrer & Gen der Waffen SS Karl Wolff, the Higher SS and Police Leader in Italy, Gen Heinrich von Vietinghoff, commander of the German forces in Italy and Gen Roettiger, von Vietinghoff’s Chief of Staff have requested the text of the Allied surrender formula, but have made certain stipulations regarding “military honor” and the disposition of forces to be surrendered. Wolff reports, through his emissary, that he held long conferences with von Vietinghoff and Roettiger on 5 and 7 April at which the principle of unconditional surrender was not questioned provided such surrender be ‘honorable’.
All three recognize that since the German armies in Italy soon will be isolated, von Vietinghoff is justified in acting on his own initiative. Wolff recognizes the futility of further fighting but reports that von Vietinghoff, an old-line soldier, insists that the surrender be ‘dressed up’ to be compatible with his ‘military honor’ and avoid placing him in the position of a traitor. Subject to solving this ‘military honor’ problem, the three men have proposed a point on the front lines through which Allied representatives may pass safely to conclude the surrender, and they have promised again to do everything possible to prevent destruction, to limit warfare against Italian partisans, and to protect prisoners and hostages. They state, however, that Admiral Doenitz has ordered marine destruction and they doubt whether they can effectively prevent this.
Apr 18, 1945, Memorandum for the President
One of Wolff’s emissaries, Zimmern, arrived at Lugano on April 18 with a three-page letter from Wolff to the OSS representative written in Wolff’s own handwriting and dated April 15. In this letter, Wolff expressed his regrets at President Roosevelt’s death and assured the OSS representatives that, no matter what may happen, the OSS representative may count upon him and that in spite of difficulties which have delayed the achievement of results, he is convinced of the final success of the joint effort.
Zimmern reported that he arrived at Wolff’s headquarters in Fasano on April 11 (from his last trip to Switzerland) and left immediately with Wolff to visit Gen von Vietinghoff. Von Vietinghoff received them coldly, stating that he had been informed by the Ligurian Corps at Genoa that a British official, whose name he did not know but whom he understood to be an officer, had made contact with a Ligurian Corps staff officer named Vogel, and had asked Vogel to be presented to von Vietinghoff to discuss surrender. Von Vietinghoff said that the Englishman referred to the fact that negotiations had already been started between von Vietinghoff and the OSS representative in Bern and gave the correct name of the OSS representative. (This approach is presumed to have been a provocation engineered by Himmler or Kaltenbrunner.)
Von Vietinghoff told Wolff that he did not see the Englishman. Believing he had been betrayed, von Vietinghoff prepared a letter to Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff of the OKW, stating that Wolff was in contact with the Allies and that Allies wished to press negotiations. Von Vietinghoff added, however, that he did not want to enter into negotiations until he had received Jodl’s approval.
Von Vietinghoff suggested to Wolff that he carry the letter to Jodl, but was persuaded by Wolff, Generalleutnant Roettiger (chief of staff to von Vietinghoff), and Rudolph Rahn not to send the letter at all. On the night of 13 April, Himmler telephoned Wolff and ordered him to leave at once for Berlin by the fastest possible means. Wolff did not do so but instead sent a letter by special courier in which he reminded Himmler
(1) that at their last meeting he had told Himmler that since an Allied invasion of Germany would be completely successful, it was futile to continue to sacrifice the German people (2) that Himmler had then insisted that the West Wall would hold. Since he (Wolff) now had been proved right, the letter continued, no purpose could be served by his seeing Himmler. Instead, he advised Himmler to come to see him and to arrange for the surrender of all of Germany through the Allied contact which he (Wolff) had already established.
Wolff further stated in his letter to Himmler that if Himmler was not prepared to follow this suggestion, he would dissociate himself completely from Himmler. Himmler telephoned both the morning and afternoon of April 14 to ask why Wolff had not arrived. In each case, one of Wolff’s aides took the call and reported that Wolff was not at his headquarters but had sent a message via special courier to Himmler. Wolff’s letter reached Himmler on the evening of April 15. Later that night Himmler called Wolff several times and Wolff finally decided to leave by plane for Berlin to see Himmler.
Before he left, Wolff sent a message to the OSS representative, explaining that he was going to Berlin because he thought he had an opportunity to do something for the German people and that he expected to return to Fasano on April 17.
Wolff also instructed his emissary Zimmern to remain at the Chiasso frontier to await developments. The OSS representative comments that Himmler apparently plans either to eliminate Wolff or to use Wolff to establish contact for himself with the Allies. The OSS representative believes that there is still a chance that Wolff, if he is not eliminated by Himmler, could be used to effect a general capitulation or one for the Italian theater only.
Apr 20, 1945, Memorandum for the President
The Joint Chiefs of Staff have today directed that all contact with the German emissaries mentioned in my memorandum to you of April 18, 1945, be terminated. This action came about as the result of dispatch by the Combined Chiefs of Staff of a message to the Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theater, stating that given (1) their belief that the German Commander in Chief, Italy did not at this time intend to surrender on acceptable terms, (2) complications which had arisen with the Russians on the matter it had been decided by the Governments of the United States and Great Britain that the contact should be broken off. Orders to this effect were immediately forwarded by this office to the OSS representative in Bern.
Apr 28, 1945, Memorandum for the President
Wolff reached Berlin on April 16. After conferences with Kaltenbrunner, Himmler, and Hitler, he returned to his Fasano headquarters on April 19. On April 21, he called on Gen von Vietinghoff, commander of the German forces in Italy, and on Franz Hofer, Gauleiter of Tirol, and received assurances of their full support. He arrived in Switzerland on April 23 with his adjutant, Wenner, and with Col Victor von Schweinitz (who had powers to act for von Vietinghoff).
Meanwhile, on April 20, the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed OSS to break off all contacts with Wolff, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff approved a message to this effect stating that von Vietinghoff clearly did not intend to surrender his forces on acceptable terms at that time. On April 20, the OSS representative was unable to comply with these instructions since no representative of Wolff was at hand. On April 23, an emissary arrived, and the OSS representative told him, in the presence of the Swiss intelligence officers, that the matter was no longer of interest to the Allies. Wolff’s intermediary stated that Wolff and von Schweinitz had come to Switzerland to negotiate a surrender, and said that another emissary had been sent to Marshal Kesselring to try to persuade him to surrender simultaneously. As a result of the OSS representative’s refusal to see him, Wolff returned to North Italy on 25 April, leaving Wenner with full powers to sign or act on his behalf. Wolff declared to the Swiss officers that his presence in Italy was imperative to control the situation there and to persuade von Vietinghoff, Rudolph Rahn, and Gauleiter Hofer to join him in a joint proclamation to the German forces in North Italy.
The proclamation would announce that since the Italian theater now is separated from the High Command, independent action will be taken to end hostilities. On April 26, the CCS directed SACMED to instruct the OSS representative to hold no conferences but to re-establish contact, and that arrangement would be made for Wolff and von Schweinitz to proceed at once to AFHQ. Wolff was already en-route to his new headquarters in Bolzano, but Wenner and von Schweinitz were intercepted in Switzerland.
Apr 29, 1945, Memorandum for the President
Weather permitting, Col von Schweinitz (von Vietinghoff’s deputy, with full power to act for his superior) and Sturmbannfuehrer Wenner (Wolff’s adjutant, with full powers to act for his superior) were scheduled to arrive in Caserta on April 28. There have been no discussions with von Schweinitz or Wenner in Switzerland, except regarding communications. The OSS representative believes that von Schweinitz is capable and that Wenner, although not a forceful character, might be useful to ‘rubber stamp’ the surrender of Wolff’s forces. OSS representatives are being sent to Buchs [on the Swiss-Liechtenstein frontier], and preparations are made to infiltrate a communications unit to Bolzano [headquarters of Wolff and von Vietinghoff] if required.
A message from Buchs via Zimmern [one of Wolff’s intermediaries] states that Wolff had reached Bolzano safely on April 27 [after leaving Switzerland on April 25], and had a long talk with his associates, all of whom adhere to the previous decision to surrender. They are awaiting the results of the trip to Caserta by von Schweinitz and Wenner.
May 2, 1945, Memorandum for the President
After every possible vicissitude, the surrender negotiations appear again to be progressing. There is some prospect of results within the next 48 hours or less. OSS Bern has been in almost hourly contact with AFHQ on almost all details and has played a vital part in keeping up essential lines of communication. OSS Bern has succeeded in getting Col Victor von Schweinitz (von Vietinghoff’s deputy) and Sturmbannfuehrer Wenner (Wolff’s deputy) back to Bolzano with the surrender terms which they had signed at Caserta for their respective commanders.
Final acceptance and execution of these terms now rest with von Vietinghoff and Wolff. (They had in fact been executed, after tense days of uncertainty on the Allied side and confusion on the German, by the time this memorandum was written. The full story is told in Forrest Davis’ ‘The Secret History of a Surrender’ in The Saturday Evening Post, September 22 and 29 1945.)