The forces are massed on either side. The preparations are almost complete and zero hour approaches. The last great propaganda battle of the Second World War is about to explode ... around the fate of Martin Bormann, Hitler's lieutenant.
With a publicity build-up of military proportions, the publisher Simon & Schuster is about to invade the book market with the story that Bormann, far from dying in the Berlin bunker or escaping to South America as previous legends have suggested, was secretly brought to England in 1945 on the personal instructions of Winston Churchill to help release Nazi gold stored in Swiss banks.
Not only that: the man in charge of the commando raid that captured him in Berlin on the last day of the war was none other than Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, according to the man telling the tale, John Ainsworth-Davis, a colourful and imaginative character who claims he was second-in-command.
Far-fetched? The military author Charles Whiting certainly thinks so and, in a "spoiling" operation more common to rival newspapers than to publishing houses, he has written his own account of Bormann's end, which firmly puts him dead in the ruins of Berlin. His book is timed to hit the bookshops first.
There is a lot to spoil. Simon & Schuster has paid a pounds 500,000 advance for Ainsworth-Davis's story, modestly titled Op J.B. - The Last Great Secret of The Second World War, which appears on 2 September, and the company is laying down a thunderous barrage of hype. The initial print run is between 50,000 and 100,000 copies, the film rights have already been sold for pounds 1m, a nationwide publicity campaign is being orchestrated, the wholesalers have named it their book of the month, and it already features in at least two Christmas book catalogues.
But then, there is a lot to hype. It is the seemingly fantastic aspects of Op J.B. which Simon & Schuster hopes will overcome reader resistance to yet another "Bormann did not die in the bunker" story (The Daily Express once briefly found him alive in Argentina).
Ainsworth-Davis, who writes under the pen-name Christopher Creighton, asks us to believe that Hitler's private secretary and head of the Nazi administrative machine, who was sentenced to death in his absence by the Nuremburg War Crimes tribunal in 1946, was saved from the gallows by a secret agreement between Churchill, Roosevelt and King George VI.
This was done, he says, by a British commando raid of unequalled derring- do on Berlin itself as the Red Army closed in, code-named "Operation James Bond" and led by the future creator of the eponymous agent; its purpose was to facilitate Bormann's signature on documents which alone could release the many millions of pounds worth of Nazi gold held by Swiss banks.
Britain's alleged dealings with this booty are the subject of a Government inquiry announced only last week by the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind; Ainsworth-Davis's contention is that much was indeed recovered and restored to the governments which were its rightful owners.
Finally, Ainsworth-Davis talks of Bormann's ultimate fate. Contrary to a number of press reports over the past year, he does not believe that the leading Nazi metamorphosed into one Peter Broderick Hartley and lived with a Danish mistress in Reigate, Surrey, until his death in 1989. This story, which has had a wide circulation, is left on one side.
His contention is, if anything, even more fantastic: that once he had helped supply the gold, Bormann did indeed end up in South America, but Britain and the US helped him get there.
"This is the last and greatest revelation from World War II," says Simon & Schuster's advance publicity. "An astonishing true story, which will cause history to be rewritten."
"It's ludicrous," says Charles Whiting, whose The Hunt for Martin Bormann - The Truth is published by Pen and Sword Books on 14 August, openly intended as a refutation of Op J.B.
Whiting is a prolific author of military history who has written extensively about the Second World War and the fate of the leading Nazis. "This book is a real cock and bull story," he said. "In 1975 I interviewed Gunther Keyser, a retired postal worker, in Berlin, and he knew that Bormann was dead because he and his friend buried him. He told me in great detail how Bormann and other Nazis had been in hiding in the Berlin underground railway stations. They were desperately afraid that they would be captured by the Russians. They were terrified they would be tortured and executed by the Red Army as vengeance for Nazi atrocities on the Russian civilian population.
"Bormann's hope was that this particular station - the Lehrerstrasse - was outside the Russian ring of steel around the centre of Berlin - so that when he at last risked coming above ground he thought he would be in the clear. But he emerged from the subway into machine gun crossfire and was killed.
"Bormann's exhumed skull was taken to Frankfurt where it was identified by the same forensic experts who had identified Hitler's skull.
"I met all Bormann's surviving relatives - his brother, brother-in-law. I met his mistress Elsa Kruger. They all said the same: Martin Bormann is dead. Are they all lying? The idea is preposterous.
"Yes, I agree, Martin Bormann did come to England - before the First World War. When he was a boy he visited England with his father who was a trumpeter in a brass band."
Mr Whiting says he would relish a TV confrontation with Mr Ainsworth- Davis, who was in Berlin last week and unavailable for comment.
"There have been many ridiculous stories about the survival of principal Nazis in the West after the war, and I can tell you their origin," he said. "In the Cold War in the 1950s and 1960s it suited the Russians to claim that the West was giving sanctuary to leading Nazis.
"And of course they were taken up as novelties by a gullible public, egged on by sensationalising elements in the mass media."
But if Simon & Schuster's battle plan works out, it's money in the bank.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies