Red Inferno: 1945 - By Robert Conroy
In April 1945, advance elements of the U.S. Army reached the Elbe River, a mere sixty miles from Berlin, and some units actually crossed it. As far as they could tell, there was nothing of substance between them and the capital of the Third Reich. The Germans had largely pulled back and were concentrating on defending Berlin from the Russians, who were massing on the Oder River to the city’s east.
In London, Churchill wished to prevent the Soviet Union from becoming dominant in Europe and urged the Allies to go on to Berlin. Montgomery concurred. In the American military, Patton and his Third Army strained at the leash, while Simpson made plans for his Ninth Army to attack Berlin by way of Potsdam. The plans were bucked up to Bradley, who sent them to Eisenhower, while the Americans on the Elbe prepared to move forward.
In the Kremlin, Stalin was very concerned. In March of 1945, he had decided that “the Allies were trying to beat the Red Army to Berlin.” Weeks later, he scolded Marshals Zhukov and Koniev: “Well now, who is going to take Berlin? Will we or the Allies?”
WE WILL NEVER know what might have been Stalin’s reaction had Eisenhower and Truman agreed to Simpson’s plan to “enlarge the Elbe River bridgehead to include Potsdam.” Henry Kissinger described Stalin as a monster who had slaughtered millions by this time, and one who was a supreme and implacable realist. Yet he was also frightened of the specter of a Soviet Union surrounded by non-Communist countries. He made no distinction between the fascists and the capitalists. They were all his enemies. Further, Stalin knew about the atomic bomb and feared that the Allies would use it to contain and defeat the Communist revolution.
For these reasons, Stalin was reneging on the agreements made at Yalta, which included freedom for those nations “liberated” by the Soviets and who weren’t part of the Axis.
Stalin may have had one nervous breakdown due to the 1940 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, and may have been on the verge of a second at the time the Allies were contemplating a move on to Berlin. So what would an unstable Stalin have done if confronted by an American advance on Berlin?
All of the preceding is history. Eisenhower did not give Simpson permission to move toward Potsdam. But what if the American armies actually had attempted to enter Berlin? Instead of the fretful peace that presaged the Cold War, there is the strong probability that Stalin would have unleashed something like an “Operation Red Inferno” against the Allies in the spring of 1945.
THE UNITS INVOLVED at Potsdam are all fictitious, as are all the characters assigned to them. To the best of my knowledge, there were no such units active in World War II.
The hastily gathered flotilla of small motor launches plowed through the calm water of the Elbe River as their outboards churned toward the rapidly closing enemy-held ground ahead. The helmeted men inside the collection of small boats hunched down, as if willing themselves to be invisible and, thus, out of harm’s way.
This was when soldiers were the most vulnerable, and the tightly packed men in each of the dozen assorted craft knew that a hit anywhere would impact on something soft, meaty, and human. In a perverse and illogical way, the American soldiers hoped they would be opposed only by rifles and machine guns. Anything, they thought, but the damn German 88 mm antitank guns that could instantly turn their frail craft into flaming coffins.
But where were the Germans? The April morning was clear and the GIs knew the little boats must stand out vividly to enemy eyes that must be watching them. Yet the only sound they heard was the roar of the straining motors and the splash of the waves only inches below the freeboard. The launches were overcrowded, with almost twenty stuffed into some of them. The men themselves were strangely silent. This was water. Their environment was land. Afloat, they felt useless. On land you could dig a hole and hide, or even run, but what the hell did you do on water?
Soldiers would look up and glance forward, trying to pick out the places where terror would emerge but saw nothing frightening. The German countryside was green and friendly, like something from a postcard. Where could there be terror? At this crossing point, the Elbe was less than a quarter mile of blue-green water. Yet it might as well