Four months earlier: Château de Pignerolle, remote Western France
At half past four in the afternoon, a type G4 Mercedes-Benz W31 accelerated with ease out of each turn on the slick country road. Wet snow and sleet lashed the wipers and pelted the soft top. The driver worked the four speed manual gears of the three axle Benz with fluid efficient control and he spoke not a word at the wheel. This was welcomed and important to the man seated behind on the plush leather bench, near the rear right window. The vehicle could accommodate five but he sat high in his black leather coat and rode this late afternoon, alone.
His name was Gunther De Werth. Son of a decorated and deceased war hero from the great war and orphaned a year later upon his mother’s death due to illness. He was forty one years of age and one of the highest ranking active agents of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the Führer’s personal Military intelligence service. Two days ago, he had returned from a covert operation and concluded his debrief in Tirpitz Ufer, Berlin. The mood at headquarters was as tense as Gunther had ever seen. Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, director of the recently abolished Abwehr, had been replaced by SS chief Walter Friedrich Schellenberg. It was upon his direct orders, from the Führer himself, that Gunther re-pack and be flown immediately to France to meet with Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine (Commander-in-Chief of the Navy), Karl Dönitz, to learn of an urgent top secret mission.
Karl Dönitz also served as Großadmiral (Grand Admiral of the naval high command) having just replaced Erich Raeder the previous year. Gunther knew Karl Dönitz well and was not surprised by his ascention up through the ranks. Though Karl was eleven years older than Gunther, their paths had crossed many times over the past ten to fifteen years on both social and professional occasions.
As the Benz now pushed aside the rising ground fog along cold flat roads leading towards the Châeau de Pignerolle, Gunther looked out to the darkened French countryside of Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou and reflected upon what urgency awaited him. Over these past five or so years of troubled times, Gunther had seen Karl with much more frequency. On many occasions, they had shared the levity and laughter associated with the good times along with the stress and weight of the challenging times. He now suspected, having just left Tirpitz, that he would be greeted with the latter. He was quite eager to get to the Château, for he looked up to Karl Dönitz as a friend and trusted mentor.
Arriving at the four column 18th century Châeau, the driver halted to a stop on the damp gravel and Gunther didn’t wait for his door to be opened. His stride was swift as the rain poured down and he bounded up the steps as he was eight minutes late. Seconds meant everything, to the Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine.
Karl Dönitz, in full uniform, wearing the Knights Cross of the Iron Cross was there to greet him. At his side sat two alert and very large Rottweilers , his loved and ever loyal full time guards: “Heil Hitler!, mein Freund“
To which Gunther returned the salute: “Heil Hitler und immer mein Freund“
They then warmly embraced and preceded to the parlor, lit by a roaring fire. The Rottweilers followed with a fluid unrestricted trot that disguised their energy, taking separate positions by the fire.
“You look well Gunther, got some sun on the beaches of North Africa, Tripoli or shall I assume the Italian Alps?”
“You can conclude the latter, operational necessity.”
“Still fighting this war from the slopes, fancy galas and backroom card games. . . I am envious.”
“I go where the fight takes me.” Gunther was quick to reply. On impulse, he followed with a slight verbal jab of his own so as not to lose any edge: “You’re looking sir, now that you mention it, a bit fatigued yourself. So with all do respect, why don’t we just get down to the urgency of my visit.”
Dönitz smiled pouring them both a Cointreau: “Always impatient as myself, yet with a calmer demeanor, I have always admired that.” Handing Gunther his glass, he continued: “I have asked my deputy, now in charge of our daily U-boot operations, Helgason Godt, to join us. Before he gets here, however, let us sit and I will fill you in on the overall picture.”
Sitting to the left of the fire, with the Rottweilers at his feet: “The war is not going well as you likely surmised in Tirpitz Ufer. We have mounting losses in the Baltics and the Eastern front is a quagmire, total mess. For now, I have convinced our Führer to suspend payments to the shipyards, for our finances are being strangled by the blocades. Additionally, by way of your valuable intelligence, corroborated by other sources, we are confident that an allied invasion will be upon us by this Summer. A year from now, we may not be sitting here in this very room.” Gunther listened and pulled a long swallow. “Further worsening the situation, is our recent U-Boot losses in the North Atlantic.” As Karl paused and lit himself a French cigarette, Gunther refilled both their tumblers. “Each month Gunther, I send on average, seventy encrypted messages to my thirty or so active subs at sea. This month, I have only received eighteen replies. This morning I have instructed Helgason to conduct a full investigation into our enigma code vulnerabilities. We shall be switching immediately, to our new four rotor enigma machines. We will be the only branch in the Deutsches Militär to have use of it. This I can control, for operational security is paramount on your lebenswichtige (vital) mission ahead.”
With that Helgason Godt walked through the mahogany double doors to the parlor. He looked smaller than Gunther remembered and his face was weary and worn in the fire’s light. All saluted and Helgason refused a Cointreau. He had brought a thick file stamped ‘Streng geheim’ and slid it across the table to Gunther while Karl Dönitz leaned back, puffed his cigarette and let Helgason deliver the mission orders.
“You are going on holiday in America, Gunther.” Godt feigned a smile without looking up. “You are to leave in three weeks time from Kristiansand, Norway aboard U-boot 1230, a new IXC/40 type submarine.”
Karl Dönitz looked sharply to the ceiling, immediately impatient with insignificant details and interrupted his deputy: “You are to be inserted behind enemy lines Gunther, somewhere on the Northeast coast of America by mid Springtime. I have had Kapitanleutnant Otto Von Bulow recalled back from U-404 in the Baltics to command your passage across the North Atlantic. He is one of our very best.” Pausing for effect while tossing his cigarette into the fire, he leaned forward and continued, “it is all in the folder before you and you have one week here to memorize the details before joining the crew and meeting Von Bulow . . . the file stays here. Once safely on enemy shores, in short, your primary mission will be to ascertain the American progress and intent, of their Atomic bomb initiative, the Manhattan Project. As your briefing file spells out in full detail, we shall provide sufficient wherewithal for your duration, points of reference and most importantly, the highest access to our deep cover operatives in New York, Boston and Washington, DC. This will not be a mission of sabotage, but instead a mission of intelligence gathering. Of overriding importance is to assess, for our Führer, the likelihood of such a bomb being dropped upon unsere Deutsche heimat (our German homeland). There are secondary requirements to the mission that shall run concurrent with this primary one, as we shall discuss.”
A long silence enveloped the room as the Oberbefehlshaber der Kriegsmarine lit another cigarette. Deputy Helgason Godt sitting erect and silent, stared at the coffee table, while Gunther stood and poured Karl another Cointreau. Then, to break the silence, Gunther asked with an English accent: “any objections if I switch to a highlands scotch?” Karl laughed and accepted his glass with a smile while Gunther took a seat in an adjacent chair.
Helgason taking his cue, suggested his need to attend to other fleet matters and excused himself, leaving the file with Gunther.
“Gunther,” Karl Dönitz began “this will be a most dangerous mission, let us not elude that reality. The crossing of the North Atlantic will be very perilous and should Otto successfully deliver you, your duration on enemy soil may be open ended until the objective is achieved.”
Gunther began to speak but Karl raised his hand and continued: “You are our perfect man for this mission. Your gift for languages is unparalleled, you are of the right age with a craft and experience to blend in with the most sophisticated of diplomats. Beyond that, you are as strong and observant as these two Rottweiler Metzgerhunds at my feet. Your father would be most proud of you Gunther.”
A table was then set up behind them, not by local French servants but by Dornitz’s Leutnant zur See. “Over the next few days, I have many appointments, so it is unlikely I will see you during that time.” Karl continued, “You will stay on the third floor with a back staircase so that you may come and go without interruption, to exercise on the grounds. Tonight I would like us to relax, dine and discuss your mission in more detail.” The Leutnant zur See served up a feast and placed a freshly decanted 1929 Château Mouton Rothschild on the table. Leaving the room, he closed the mahogany doors behind him, allowing Gunther and Karl to speak in privacy.
. . . To Be Continued