The Opening chapters of HOLLOW POINT released today
Paperback launch 25.02.17 Available at Amazon.
January 31st, Rastenburg, East Prussia
The onion soup had been carefully prepared from a recipe created by the Walterspiel
brothers in Munich; a recipe created solely for him. The onions and ingredients came from the compound vegetable garden, grown and tended by the German horticultural firm, Zeidenspiner. Once the soup had been cooked by his personal chef, Otto Krümel, it was tasted by one of eleven women. The soup was served by his bodyguard, Rochus Misch, with a bottle of mineral water and a large warm slice of apple strudel.
The one thing Hitler hated above all else was weakness. He stared silently into his cooling winter onion soup. A throat was cleared and the message repeated.
“The German sixth army had offered terms to the Soviet forces at Stalingrad. Two hundred and seventy-five thousand men had been surrounded and crushed in less than six months by the Untermensch Asiatic hordes of the Red Army.”
Unthinkable, as he had promoted and awarded General Friedrich Paulus, trapped in the city along with his troops, to the rank of Field Marshal.
Unbelievable, that instead of an honourable suicide befitting his new rank, the coward had surrendered and wanted to go to Moscow instead.
Hitler sent the soup back to the kitchens, untouched, but he devoured the strudel.
The nervous generals, Kurt Zeitzler, Alfred Jodl and Luftwaffe-General Hans Jeschonneck waited the following day for the daily midday conference; Hitler was an indolent man. Field Marshal Wilhem Keitel, Chief of operations at the OKW and Waffen SS Obersturmbannführer Viktor Bausch, Bormann’s adjutant, stood silently with them.
“Strecker’s XI corps are still fighting and holding the Northern pocket of Stalingrad, but his troops are running out of munitions and freezing to death,” said Zeitzler, a bald, efficient man with a moustache similar to Hitler.
“He is to hold the Northern pocket, tie down as much of the enemy’s resources as possible,” said the Führer. His arm swept across the map of the city and surrounding country. He was now completely in charge of the war.
“With what, Führer?” said General Jodl.
Paulus and his staff had been sending desperate daily messages for months – “munitions coming to an end…munitions coming to an end.” Luftwaffe-General Jeschonneck, groomed and polished, looked uncomfortable, the air support promised by Hermann Goering had never materialised. The medical evacuation flights out of the besieged city had been a blood-stained fiasco.
“Should we get a message to General Tojo?” he asked.
“Our forces will eradicate the Reds without their assistance!” said Obersturmbannführer Bausch. His eyes were a cold steel blue. His head was shaved to a pink razor burn. “This is an ideological conflict between races and we don’t want our final victory with the Untermensch sullied with assistance from their kind!”
Jeschonneck sensed it was an inappropriate moment to mention that the Romanian divisions allied to the Germans had been smashed open by the Soviet forces.
Hitler felt life was the nation, and the nation had been betrayed by a weakling Field Marshal. Foreign journalists and film crews would soon be in Stalingrad to witness the first defeat of the invincible Wehrmacht. A substantial portion of the army and materiel was now gone, lost forever on the banks of the Volga, some two thousand miles away from Berlin.
“Strecker must hold out,” said Hitler. “They are to fight to the last man.”
“Führer, we must start considering options.” Said Keitel.
“The German people mustn’t know. That bastard Paulus!” The Führer was in an ecstasy of rage. As he phoned his personal adjutant, Julius Schaub, his left hand was shaking uncontrollably.
“Get me a line to Goebbels.” He said.
“Von Ribbentrop should contact Stalin directly, through one of our embassies; Stockholm, maybe,” suggested Jeschonneck.
“Offer terms? Capitulate! No not Goebbels, get me Speer now!”
With an effort, Hitler composed himself as the telephones began to ring in Berlin.
A fly started buzzing around the room, flitting about in the stale air.
“Do something about that bloody fly, Bausch,” muttered Hitler.
“As it’s flying shouldn’t the Luftwaffe handle it, Führer?” smiled Bausch, nodding to Jeschonneck.
The Führer clenched his fists.
Bausch’s demeanour slipped.
“Führer, I apologise..”
“Report to Himmler,” said the Führer.
Bausch saluted straight armed.
“I have clowns for generals,” said Hitler, “and I’m surrounded by clowns!”
The others followed Bausch outside. Jeschonneck muttered to Kietel and Jodl:
“The war is lost, Field Marshal. We should contact von Ribbentrop and start opening negotiations now,” he looked back at the operations room door. “He said invading Russia would be like kicking down the door of a rotten structure, well he got that right, the whole blasted thing’s come down on top of us. He’s going to send us all to hell and he’ll do it laughing his head off.”
June, the Eastern Front, Russia 1943.
Commissar, 2nd rank of the Soviet Supreme General Staff, Valery Yvetchenko had been travelling for nearly thirty-six hours from Moscow. At Kursk’s railway station, he watched the Soviet army’s injured and dying waiting to be loaded onto evacuation trains. On the station wall someone had scrawled ‘I am dying, but I am not surrendering’. Blood seeped through the train’s carriage doors onto the tracks. Yvetchenko’s liaison, a young female pilot, made her way through the chaos, waving to him. Once he recognised her, she pointed toward the exit.
“Comrade Commissar, Yvetchenko, welcome, I am Troyanovskii, your pilot.”
Outside the station, they stopped to watch an NKVD firing squad execute five bedraggled and injured soldiers. One nearly got out a plea for mercy before he was cut down.
“I see some won’t be travelling home,” said Yvetchenko.
“It’s the punishment for dereliction of patriotic duty, Commissar.”
It’s a brave new world, he thought.
Troyanovskii flew the Yakovlev Yak-6 transport to what could be best described as a field. Then she escorted him to the waiting Stavka staff car. Her orders were to remain on standby.
Yvetchenko was a barrel-chested man. He had a pugilist’s expression and flattened nose on which wire framed glasses perched uneasily. He was a precise man in every way.
The car, a battered lend-lease Studebaker bumped mercilessly along the rutted road.
“How much further, Comrade Zhuchkov?”
“Almost here, sir,” replied the gaunt NKVD driver.
Yvetchenko spied the lines of Russian tanks and armoured cars up ahead. Loitering soldiers huddled in groups. At the sight of the Stavka staff car, they snapped to attention. A stern, ruddy-faced woman traffic controller waved it through. She saluted briskly as the car passed.
A haggard looking Commander opened Yvetchenko’s door.
“Good morning, Commissar Yvetchenko, I am Commander Dimitry Plutenko, 28th Light Infantry,” he was young, no more than twenty-five, with earnest blue eyes that already had seen too much war. A shock of blond hair crowned his high, unlined forehead. His uniform was tattered and stained and he looked as if he hadn’t slept in days.
“What is it that you want Moscow to know about, Commander Plutenko?”
“Comrade Commissar, it has to be seen to be believed.”
Past the lines of armour, they stood on a bluff.
“This was the 19th Infantry Regiment, Plutenko?”
As far as the eye could see, to the horizon, the earth was charred black to the gun metal grey of morning. Not a living thing was standing for miles around. The air gave off the miasma of a smelting works.
“We lost contact with them two days ago.” Said Plutenko.
Men and horses had been stripped of their muscle and flesh; their blackened bones were had fused with the super-heated soil. Tanks, trucks, supply wagons and heavy weapons that had exploded, melted and cooled, now left jagged silhouettes.
“How many men?”
“Twelve thousand, nine hundred, Commissar. They were moving up to support the frontline, so there were probably additional auxiliary troops and vehicles.”
Lighting a cigarette and inhaling the Oriental blend deeply, Yvetchenko scanned the horizon.
“Not even a bird in the sky” he said. The clouds seemed to inch their way around the sky; driven by different forces.
He spotted figures moving about in the distance,
“Who are they, Plutenko?”
“Penal unit. They were given a choice for their dereliction of patriotic duty: search for any survivors out there or firing squad. Personally, I’d have taken the bullet, Commissar.”
An explosion boomed out across the wasteland, a plume of earth rose up, fanning outwards. It was followed by screams.
“One of the poor bastards must have stood on something,” murmured Plutenko.
After a few moments, the wasteland was silent.
“Seems the Krauts have a new type of warhead, Commander Plutenko.”
“They have nothing left after Stalingrad, Commissar.”
“The German war machine is now a wounded beast, and wounded beasts are unpredictable and dangerous, Commander Plutenko.”
Yvetchenko looked back at the lines of T-34 tanks.
“Who could let this slip?”
“Journalists from the Krasnaya Zvezda, our own troops, throw in local NKVD over there.”
A veritable sieve, thought Yvetchenko.
“Take the journalists’ cameras or notebooks. If they resist, shoot them on the spot.”
“And..?” Plutenko nodded over to the cluster of NKVD; The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs, Stalin’s praetorian guard. They were taking photographs.
“Demand their cameras anyway; say it’s on my orders. If they act up, threaten to have them shot too.”
Yvetchenko finished his cigarette, stubbing the butt into the toxic soil. Where the butt had fallen a crystalline piece of soil caught his eye. He reached down and plucked it up. Holding it up towards the sun, light danced around it.
“Inform every soldier, signaller, commander and political officer, if they say anything about what’s happened here, it’s the gulag for the whole bloody lot of them. Understand?”
“I shall convey your orders, Commissar.”
“Clearly, I hope.”
Yvetchenko strode back to the car. The sun burst through the cloud cover and the summer heat began to rise.
“Get me to the airport, Zhuchkov.”
Plutenko watched the battered car pitch and slide across the drying mud and spat onto the ground. He whistled over to the tank crews.
The engines started, belching black, acrid smoke across the land.