Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Newly published SS handbook gives blueprint for Nazi Britain

James Dalrymple
Friday 03 March 2000 01:00 GMT
Comments

It was, and remains, both the greatest mystery of the Second World War and a blunder perhaps unequalled in history. Why did Adolf Hitler refuse to order a seaborne invasion of southern England in May 1940, against a defeated and totally defenceless country that lay just a few miles across a calm stretch of water?

It was, and remains, both the greatest mystery of the Second World War and a blunder perhaps unequalled in history. Why did Adolf Hitler refuse to order a seaborne invasion of southern England in May 1940, against a defeated and totally defenceless country that lay just a few miles across a calm stretch of water?

Generations of historians and military experts have studied this famous scenario for more than half a century. They have looked at it from every angle. And all of them, without exception, are convinced that within weeks the war in the west could have been over - and Britain could have been swallowed up in the new empire of the Third Reich that would then have stretched from the Bay of Biscay to the eastern border of Poland by the end of 1940.

There is no doubt that everything was in place. A huge army of several million battle-hardened troops was massed in the fields of northern Europe, thousands of barges and transport ships were available to carry them over the Channel, the largest airforce in the world dominated the skies, and full and detailed battle plans had been drawn up showing landing sites from the Kent coast to the Isle of Wight. But in the end the Führer, through some idiotic and romantic notion that the British Empire could be persuaded to share his vision of world domination, dithered and dallied, and finally called it off. He had other business in the east, and as history shows he decided to pull his troops back to Germany in preparation for his doomed invasion of Russia a year later. Britain was left to wither on the vine.

But what would have happened if he had decided to launch Operation Sea Lion? And what if it had been successful? What would have happened in the months and years of occupation during which the Wehrmacht - and its cohorts of SS thugs, Gestapo and murder gangs - would launch the process of Nazification on a nation of 46 million people, including more than 300,000 Jews, with a mature liberal democratic political system stretching back over 1,000 years?

It is one of the great What Ifs of history. Much has been claimed about how hard we would have fought the invaders. There would, we are told, have been large and well-organised resistance movements, secret armies that would fight on in the cities and towns, in the mountains and the valleys. But very little of that had happened in France, another freedom loving and fiercely nationalist land. There, everything collapsed within days. A puppet government was quickly set up and began - almost from day one - to betray and export their large Jewish population to the death camps of Poland. The truth is that Britain was seized by panic, almost paralysis, in the months following Dunkirk. And secret plans had already been made for senior politicians and the entire Royal Family to flee to Canada and the United States.

There was good reason for this panic. As part of their invasion plans for Britain, we now know, the huge and ruthless Reich Security Directorate, created and masterminded by the coldly insane SS chief, Reinhard Heydrich, had been preparing meticulously for the total and swift dismantling - and destruction - of the infrastructure of every facet of British society.

And at the heart of this plan was an astonishingly detailed document - cosily entitled The Gestapo Handbook for the Invasion of Britain - produced by SS General Walter Schellenberg, an academic and historian who later turned to mass murder. A copy was to be given to every soldier, and so accurate and detailed was this strange little booklet that for more than 50 years it has been kept secret. Because without the connivance of at least two captured British secret agents, and the outright betrayal of another, it could not have been compiled.

The captured agents were Captain Sigismund Payne Best and Major Richard Stevens of the British Secret Intelligence Services, who were kidnapped by German agents during a foolish visit to the Dutch frontier in November 1939 and held throughout the war. How much they were forced to reveal was never made clear, even after they returned safely to Britain after the war. Much more seriously, a rogue British intelligence officer, Colonel Dick Ellis, admitted after his retiral that he had sold "vast quantities of information" about the British secret service to the Germans.

The huge but highly secretive inquiry into the betrayal or otherwise of these three men was one of the reasons that the handbook remained classified for many years. Only three copies that we know of survived the war, and for decades they remained forgotten in the archives. It was not until the writer and historian Nigel West, who had known about it for years through his work on British espionage, got to work and organised a full translation that it became available for publication.

Published this week under the title Invasion 1940, Schellenberg's handbook probed every facet of British life. From all the major political parties to those on the fringes, giving details of the leadership, with photographs, home addresses and private hobbies. From the police forces to the secret services. From the history of power of British Freemasonry to the activities of the Boy Scouts movement and the YMCA. From the ownership and political stance of every newspaper and radio station to leadership and membership lists of every single trade union. From heads of film studios to actors, entertainers, artists and writers.

No detail was too obscure for Schellenberg. Packed with maps, statistics, demographics and historical pointers, his booklet is a mixture of tourist guide and who's who, sometimes nightmarishly comic in its historical analysis, but all too often startlingly accurate in its use of information that was top secret to all but a few top officials.

Strangely, Schellenberg, like many other top Nazis, was something of an Anglophile. He liked and admired us. At one point he writes glowingly: "The contradictory and arbitrary characteristics of the British have achieved mastery through tradition and experience, favoured by certain attributes of their national character - unscrupulousness, self-discipline, cool calculation and ruthless action."

He gave a brilliant critique of the public school's system, in which "the one half of a per cent of children who attend public schools will eventually occupy about 80 per cent of all important social and political posts," and warned the invading officers not to put their children down for Eton which "is sold out until 1949".

He listed every major academic thinker in every British university, with special attention for those at Oxford and Cambridge, which, he claimed, were "specifically active" in anti-Nazi propaganda - and whose leading professors were immediate targets for arrest.

In many ways, of course, the world it envisages provides a mirror-image to Robert Harris's best-selling novel, Fatherland, which imaginatively projected a German victory in the war on the city of Berlin - where the elderly Führer had rebuilt his capital on a massive scale and ruled an empire that stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific. And it's no surprise to find that Harris has studied Schellenberg's handbook closely, commenting that, "If you want to know what life would have been like in Britain under the Nazi rule, here is the place to start".

Indeed, the handbook's many schoolboy howlers, although presented in all seriousness, can still produce a smile. The Boy Scout movement was "a disguised instrument of power for British cultural propaganda... plus an excellent recruiting ground for British Intelligence Services." The YMCA, those centres of healthy living for young men, were held to be "entirely in the hands of the Freemasons". And in the Freemasonry lodges themselves, Schellenberg saw signs of Jewish domination - and "a dangerous weapon in the hands of British plutocrats against National Socialist Germany".

But his brilliant analysis of the British Secret Intelligence Services must have shocked officials, even after the war. It is a complete breakdown of the largest spy apparatus in the world at that time, right down to the location of every secret headquarters building in London.

The final section of the book is the most sinister of all: The Special Wanted List of 2,820 British subjects, refugee aliens and internationally known figures who were to be seized within days. Apart from the nation's leaders, Churchill, Eden and the Cabinet, the list includes writers, artists, actors, entertainers, scientists, trade unionists and every person known to hold anti-Nazi views. After the war a version of this list, which also existed separately from the Gestapo handbook, was published - and it became a source of pride for some to be included on it, and, for a few others, a source of shame that they were not.

Two towering national treasures, George Bernard Shaw and David Lloyd George, in fact, were mortified to find themselves on Schellenberg's special list of "Friends of the Reich". Shaw, in one of his many throwaways, had said, "We should make peace with him [Hitler] instead of making more mischief and ruining our people instead." And Lloyd George had often remarked that "He [Hitler] is indeed a great man... a born leader, yes a statesman..." Ironically, Lloyd George's daughter, Megan, was on the Wanted list.

Other honoured enemies included most of Britain's literary giants, HG Wells, Virginia Woolf, Vera Brittain, EM Forster, Aldous Huxley, JB Priestley, CP Snow and Stephen Spender. Journalists like Sefton Delmar, film studio chiefs such as Alexander Korda and entertainers like Noël Coward were later delighted to see their names. Coward even wrote: "If anyone had told me at that time I was high up on the Nazi blacklist, I should have laughed. I remember Rebecca West, who shared the honour with me, set me a telegram which read: 'My dear - the people we should have been seen dead with'."

Others, who knew what their fate would be, actually planned their suicide in the dark months as the country awaited invasion. The left-wing publisher Victor Gollancz, told friends he dreaded being tortured and had purchased a poison pill which he fully intended to use.

But it was, of course, the Jews who had pride of place in the handbook of the damned. Schellenberg estimated that there were at least 300,000 Jews living in Britain, but that the number could be much higher. He listed the names of thousands of Jews who held powerful positions in politics, finance, industry, entertainment and the media, and again gave detailed instructions, in the form of dozens of addresses, where their leaders could be found.

At this stage the fate of the Jews is not discussed. The handbook makes no mention of death camps. The industrialised killing was to come later in eastern Europe, following the notorious Wannsee Conference in January 1942. But there is no doubt about what was in store for Britain's large and well integrated Jewish community, because the handbook gives the name of perhaps the most infamous single individual in the entire Holocaust slaughter that was shortly to be launched throughout the continent. He was Colonel Professor Dr Franz Six, and he was to be the man in charge of the SS arrest operations in Britain.

Six had been ordered to lead a command of six Einsatzkommandos (action commando units), whose job would be to follow the German army across Britain, rounding up the entire Jewish population and placing them in "holding centres" for further decisions. He had already picked out his headquarters in an office building in the Strand in London. But, thankfully, he never came to Britain with his thugs. Instead he followed the Wehrmacht into Russia a year later, leading his Einsatzkommandos as they killed hundreds of thousands of Jews and began setting up the death camps as they went.

According to the historian William Shirer, Six was possibly the most murderous mass killer of them all. And his bloodsoaked life contains yet another of the war's great mysteries. He was captured and stood trial at Nuremberg, but escaped the death penalty and was jailed for 20 years. Four years later he was quietly released in a secret deal brokered by the Americans and along with at least six of his fellow murderers he surfaced a few years later to become a decorated senior official with General Reinhard Gehlen's West German Intelligence Service, bought a mansion outside Munich, and joined the Porsche-Diesel Corporation as their publicity manager. He retired on full pension and died peacefully in his bed.

And what happened to Schellenberg's handbook? Around 20,000 copies were stored in a warehouse, to await a future invasion of Britain, and almost all of them were destroyed in a bombing raid. The handful that survived were locked up for 50 years on the grounds that Schellenberg, and the Nazis, knew more than they should about the hidden parts of British life.

'Invasion 1940', is published by St Ermin's Press, £20

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in