Operation Lumber Room

From the magazine “DER SPIEGEL 49/1965” by Max Wachtel

The following report by German “V 1” commander Colonel Max Wachtel describes how the German retaliatory riflemen deceived British intelligence during World War II. Walther von Axthelm from the Bavarian noble line “von Axthelm” also plays a decisive role in this report.

Article Operation Lumber Room

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At the Maisons-Laffitte racecourse at dawn, a man is waiting for a black Chrysler with registration YC-986 from Paris. Mister von Axthelm – tall, bald, strong nose – wears a tight gray coat. In his left hand he holds a belt. A holster hangs on the belt.

Castle Maisons-Laffitte

©Wikipedia, Lionel Allorge CC BY-SA 3.0

A black limousine is approaching from the Maisons-Laffitte castle. Their headlights are glued in black, and thin light only shines through narrow slits.

The car stops. Herr von Axthelm deciphers the registration number: YC-986. The driver jumps out, runs around the car and rips open the back door. Herr von Axthelm gets on.

A little later, the car scurries down an arterial road in the north of Paris. The driver turns off the headlights and accelerates: Herr von Axthelm wants to be at the Auteuil Castle before noon.

A secret meeting at the Auteuil Castle

The car rolls through Beauvais. After Beauvais it turns into a forest path. Gravel crunches under the tires: Auteuil Castle Park.

Six strange figures are waiting on the castle steps: the men are in civilian clothes, but almost all are wearing ill-fitting jackets, the breeches and boots of German Air Force officers.

The car brakes – the men click their heels together. Von Axthelm greets with a handshake. During the conversation, the group climbs the steps of the castle staircase. In the hall, the boots bang loudly on the parquet floor.

The men have a strange conversation. They talk about pebbles, bump heads, round runners and runaways. Suddenly the word lumber room comes up, the alias for one of the most exciting ventures of World War II.

Code name: Lumber Room

Walther von Axthelm ©Wikipedia

The men conferring at the castle of Auteuil in northern France in the spring of 1944 are the staff officers of a mysterious German regiment. The visitor is their highest weapons superior, the general of the anti-aircraft artillery Walther von Axthelm.

One of the men carries an unusual permit in his wallet. Your text grants him rights that no other German officer enjoys. The man’s name – on this day – is Martin Wolf; but he can also call himself Michael Wagner. On this day he wears civilian clothes; however, he may also wear the uniform of the German Air Force or the coat of the German Army. He is – not only on this day – a colonel; but he may also travel as a lieutenant colonel. For a few weeks he has also been able to appear as the main front leader of the Organisation Todt, as head of the “Schmidt senior construction office.”

A man of many names

Max Wachtel

Max Wachtel ©Wikipedia, Bundesarchiv, CC-BY-SA 3.0

This tall, powerful man with the sharp parting of his head can be almost anything and anyone, there is only one thing he is not allowed to do – be himself. Colonel Max Wachtel has to be dead. On a summer’s day in 1943, his name is erased. Because on this summer’s day in 1943, Colonel Wachtel seemed seriously endangered.

I am this Colonel Max Wachtel. German counterintelligence has learned that the British already know my name: Radio London recently mentioned it. Allied agents and commandos are hunting me. British intelligence has been instructed to make every effort to eliminate me. Dead or alive – I’m supposed to go away.

But the German defense beat the English: Max Wachtel became Martin Wolf and Michael Wagner.

I slip from the mouse gray of anti-aircraft artillery into the field gray of the army. Eventually, I transform into a main front leader in civilian clothes.

The adventurous story of my metamorphosis began more than a year ago – and even then General von Axthelm was my visavis behind closed doors.

On a morning in 1943, a course for anti-aircraft commanders took place at the anti-aircraft artillery school I in Rerik on the Baltic Sea coast of Mecklenburg. In the large hall of the barracks, the commander of the training and experimental regiment gave a lecture to thirty young commanders. This commander is Lieutenant Colonel Max Wachtel, 45 years old.

Review of Wachtel’s years 1940-1943

During the Battle of France in 1940, as a major, I led the first detachment of the Breslau Flak Regiment No. 7 in the Flak Brigade 1 of Colonel Walther von Axthelm. Later I received the special order to form a “teaching and test commando for testing the Siebel ferries in action”.

Siebel ferry

Siebel ferry ©Wikipedia / Public

The aircraft designer Siebel had designed these ferries in order to utilize the engines of scrapped Ju 52 machines: 18 pioneer pontoons connected in a row of two were equipped with four 8.8-centimeter anti-aircraft guns and four 2-centimeter quadruplets; the aircraft engine, connected to a screw by a chain, drove the anti-aircraft raft.

With these Siebel ferries we fought behind Russian lines on Lake Ladoga on the Leningrad front, and the ferry flotilla had bloody night battles with the Russians.

Mysterious summons to General von Axthelm

Now, in the spring of 1943, I am passing on our experiences to younger people. I train commanders in Rerik.

That morning an orderly asked permission to interrupt my speech: “The lieutenant colonel is urgently needed on the telephone.”

I go to the anteroom. The orderly hands me the receiver. I answer: “Quail.”

Stams – Lieutenant Colonel Stams, Chief of Staff to General of Flak Artillery Walther von Axthelm. Stams makes it short: I’m ordered to the general – today, 4 p.m., inspection of the anti-aircraft artillery, Berlin, Fasanenstrasse. No comment. End.

I immediately break off the lecture and have my driver, Sergeant August Treutle, come over.

Ten minutes later our dark blue, six-seater, open Horch sweeps out of the barracks.

At 3.55 p.m. we turn from Kurfürstendamm into Fasanenstraße. Third house on the right – Axthelm’s headquarters is on the first floor.

I am excited. As a soldier you always have a guilty conscience. Axthelm’s receptionist is a lovely person. A little too much make-up for my taste, but very lovable.

“What’s the matter?” I ask her. The girl shrugs her shoulders: “I don’t know… My boss is acting very secretive…”

The heavy double doors to Axthelm’s room open and the General sais: “Come in, Wachtel!” Axthelm closes the doors to the hallway, the doors to the antechamber, then he closes the windows too.

Cherry stone

We sit across from each other at the large conference table. In front of the windows the branches of the linden trees are swaying, the sparrows are making a noise.

Axthelm: “Ever heard of ‘cherry stone’?”

“No, Herr General.”

“And from ‘Fi 103’?”

‘No, Herr General.’

Axthelm rises and goes to his desk. He reaches for a bottle of cognac from a compartment. He pours: “Cheers, my dear …”

“Cheers, Herr General!” Axthelm puts down his glass. ‘Let me tell you something. Quail… When you walk out that door, you’ve forgotten everything; what you will hear now. Because what I’m about to tell you isn’t just secret, it’s the most secret thing, and very few people know about that.”

I learn from my general: “In Peenemünde, up there on Usedom, we are currently testing a unit that is supposed to shell London. But this unit doesn’t do it yet.«

The unit was developed by the companies Fieseler and Argus. Resembling a small unmanned aircraft, it is designed to carry a one-ton explosive charge over a distance of 250 kilometers.

Fi 103 / FGZ 76 ©Bundesarchiv, CC-BY-SA 3.0

The first launch succeeded at Christmas 1942. In early January, General von Axthelm saw a second attempt. Since then, the new weapon – which is bomb and airplane at the same time, does not need a pilot and does not need fuel for a return flight – has been given the highest priority. Its industrial name “Fi 103” is quickly changed to “Kirschkern” and then, at Axthelm’s suggestion, to “FZG 76”.

The device is still deep in the stage of scientific trials and industrial testing. Nevertheless, it should be made into a ready-to-use and militarily effective weapon in the shortest possible time. For this purpose a test command must be set up. Later the command is to be converted into a regiment. By the end of 1943 this regiment should be in place. His commander will be given all conceivable powers.

My general’s revelations came as a shock to me. As an artilleryman, I’ve never fired anywhere near that far! As an organizer I have never had a comparable responsibility!

“Do you want to take on the job?” asks Axthelm. “But I draw your attention to what is expected of you.”

I don’t hesitate: ‘Yes, Herr General. I look forward to this task!«

Then the general says goodbye: “You are listening… I will let you know the rest.”

State secret in my breast, I have August drive me back to Rerik. There I hear »the further« on May 10th. The call from Axthelm’s headquarters reads:

“You are to go to Peenemünde at once and get in touch with Major Stams there.”

Secret facility of the Luftwaffe Peenemünde

Peenemünde launchpads miniature

Peenemünde launchpads miniature © J. Strauß CC BY-SA 4.0

Major Stams – brother of the chief of staff at Axthelm – is commander of Peenemünde-West, the testing site of the German Air Force. Stams had the test site in Peenemünde cordoned off with two cordons. The access roads are blocked by barriers.

When August brakes the open Horch before the first turnpike, I present my pay book and cite Stams. The guards telephoned the headquarters anyway. Then the barrier goes up.

A few minutes later we have to stop in front of the next barrier. I pull out the pay book again. Here, too, the guards first have to telephone the headquarters. Then this barrier also goes up.

Major Stams is already waiting. He found me quarters in the barracks for 48 hours and gave me ID card no. 2590 with the text: »Holder may enter the administrative district and the cordoned-off part including the facilities of the Peenemünde Air Force Test Center and use the works railway free of charge.«

Two days later I move to the “Preussenhof” in Zinnowitz. The spa hotel is plastered in white. My room has a balcony and sea view.

Training of the secret elite unit

I have authority to recruit the top leadership for the “W/8” training and testing command from the entire German Air Force, with the exception of the flying personnel.

Who will I request? Where are my men, of whom I know what I can expect from them and that I can rely on them?

There’s Werner Dahms, my orderly officer from the French campaign. I also know the battery manager Gerhard Schwennesen from France. From the ferry war on Lake Ladoga, I remember Oberleutnant Suessenguth. Finally, I get the three. Captain Grothues was recommended to me as an adjutant by the Personnel Office in the Reich Aviation Ministry. I take him.

Each of these men is immediately sworn to the utmost secrecy. Everyone has to maintain the strictest secrecy about the unit, location and task.

Tests with the bomb catapult

Slingshot for V1

Slingshot for V1 © Derzno CC BY-SA 3.0

Day after day we drive to Peenemünde-West to familiarize ourselves with the slingshot for the new weapon. And day after day we experience disappointment.

The slingshot is a catapult 42 meters long, composed of seven parts of six meters each. At the base of the slingshot is a »steam generator«. In this steam generator, the chemical liquid “T and Z” substance – which is delivered in large milk cans – is electrically ignited. Immediately after ignition, the steam generator develops one million horsepower. With this power, he tears a massive bolt through the groove of the slingshot.

The bolt, called »Bumphead«, is intended to catapult the flying bomb. But despite the tremendous power of a million hp, he can’t do it yet. At most, the test bombs fly fifty to a hundred meters and plonk into the Baltic Sea.

In the summer of 1943 I had the slingshot moved from Peenemünde to Zempin near Zinnowitz, 13 kilometers south-east of the test site. Field positions I and II are set up there between pine trees and dunes.

Tap-proof telephone line

My staff moves into a low-rise brick building on the beach at Zempin. In this measuring house of the German Navy, telecommunications technicians connect an inverter in front of the telephone system. The voice connections of the staff to the Reich Ministry of Aviation, to the command staff of the German Air Force, to Flieger-General Wimmer from the Air District Command Belgium/Northern France in Brussels as well as to Brüderort on the East Prussian Amber Coast, where the batteries were set up, not only have to be direct but also bug-proof.

The inverter is a »chopper«: it mutilates every telephone conversation into inarticulate chatter; the conversation can only be decrypted again by the recipient using a suitable ballast.

But this procedure has one disadvantage: If you drive next to the telephone wires in the car, tune the car radio to a certain wavelength and connect this ballast, you can also listen to the chopped-up conversation here without mutilation.

First of all, we, the bearers of the secrets of the Wachtel Training and Experimental Command, do not know anything about this disadvantage of the procedure. We concentrate on our almost unsolvable tasks.

Set up of anti-aircraft regiment and positions

Within a few weeks, the staff must fulfill at least three orders at the same time. It must:

  • form the test squad to find out how strong the operating crew must be for a slingshot;
  • set up the regiment and form operational detachments;
  • explore the operational area and have positions built.

We soon got an initial overview: we will probably need an operating team of about fifteen men for each slingshot; there are also technical staff.

Four anti-aircraft batteries, each with four slingshots, are formed in Majak under the commanders Lieutenant Colonel Dietrich, Lieutenant Colonel Aue, Major Sack and Captain Schindler; in addition, reserve slingshots must be provided.

Lieutenant Nagorny is in France scouting positions; On the radius of 250 kilometers around London, Nagorny looks for forest aisles, hollows and other suitable places, the axis of which points towards the British capital. Under the command of General Wimmer and in charge of chief construction director Weiß of the Organisation Todt, about 40,000 French and foreign workers made almost a hundred positions.

Major Neubert forms the regiment’s air intelligence department and sets up an extensive radio and telephone network in northern France.

In Zempin we hold conferences with ballistics experts like the professor and major of the reserve Sommerfeld, with meteorologists and the designers of the companies Fieseler and Argus. In addition, I fly several times a week with one of my officers in our He 111 aircraft from Peenemünde Airport to Brussels or Antwerp for preparatory discussions about the assembly of the slingshots with General Wimmer or his Chief of Staff, Major General Metzner leaders of the Todt organization.

The enemy is listening

Heinkel HE111K

Heinkel HE111 © Wikipedia, public domain

On July 28, 1943 – our “He 111” just flew over the Wesel checkpoint – our radio operator received an order from Paris: General Koller, Chief of Staff at Field Marshal Sperrle‘s Air Fleet 3, wanted to speak to Colonel Wachtel immediately. We change course and land at Le Bourget.

Half an hour later I’m hurrying through the flag hall in the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris. First floor. First antechamber: non-commissioned officers. Second antechamber: Koller’s adjutant. Finally – energetically, stocky – General Koller himself: “Wachtel, thank you, sit down.” The general knows me from the use of the Siebel ferries in Cherbourg and Vlissingen.

“Wachtel,” says Koller, read that.” He hands me a piece of paper, a report from an air communications regiment to Air Fleet 3: “Received the radio message. Enemy orders to Allied fighters in Channel Coast flight area. Single aircraft type He 111, flight direction Westphalia – Rhineland – Brabant – Limburg, shoot down urgently…”

I take a deep breath: “Then the English agents are obviously already on our telephone line…”

Koller: “You stay here. From now on they will no longer fly. They’ll take up quarters with us in the palace for a few days and await further orders…”

A bold deception

Two days later, in the Palais du Luxembourg, I received the order for one of the most audacious deception maneuvers of the Second World War. Lieutenant-Colonel Heidschuch from the army’s counter-intelligence – tall, beefy guy, left arm amputated -, head of the “Arras” counter-intelligence unit, came to see me in the palace and decided:

The name Wachtel must be removed from this war immediately. A new name will appear in the officer positions: Colonel Martin Wolf.

I get my first fake pay book. It reads in Colonel Martin Wolf – “Dog Tag 1/Staff/Res. Flakabt. 704«. In addition, the one-armed man orders: “No shaving!” Colonel Wolf must wear short goatee and whiskers.

I stay in Paris for a week and let the first stubble sprout. Then I travel back to Germany in a Paris-Berlin sleeper car. I leave the train in Pasewalk, drive a service van to Zempin and have the men from Fla. Regiment 155 (W), who are currently stationed in Zempin, line up.

The men stand on the road along the Baltic coast, under the protective canopy of trees on the road. An officer reports: “One hundred and fifty men lined up!”

I accept the message. Then I’ll go to the front. It’s the greatest moment of my life. I yell, “Men! I am Colonel Martin Wolf and have replaced your former commander Wachtel. Colonel Wachtel has taken on another function.”

The men don’t grin, they are “bearers of secrets”. You know that many things are possible under these circumstances.

Nothing is impossible for me anyway. From now on I will only sign »Wolf«.

First cherry stone test runs

At the beginning of October 1943 the first “sharp bird” arrived in Zempin on a camouflaged truck, and on October 16 we fired the first test shot.

The start is error-free. But during the next few years numerous aerial bombs fall as duds into the sea.

Meanwhile, the French Resistance has already diligently got involved in the espionage and defensive warfare between us and the British secret service. French workers who are busy with the construction of our later positions report to the resistance organization that the Germans are having numerous similar and new structures built in the hinterland of the Channel coast, the longitudinal axes of which are uniformly directed towards London.

In December 1943 the positions were attacked from the air. Allied bomber formations are destroying them so much that we have to decide to abandon them. They are to be replaced by simplified slingshots prefabricated in Germany – which will have to be assembled later within a few days before the deployment date.

The first batteries are ready for use at this time in Besterort. On their march to France they stop in Zempin. In Zempin they fire test shots from the slingshots of field positions I and II. Then they are transferred to France under the alias »Flak Gruppe Creil«. There they are accommodated in small towns far away from their later positions. They infiltrated France unnoticed.

Move to Château Castle

I and my staff take up quarters in the Château Merlemont, a little mansion about a mile from the Paris-Beauvais road, in the middle of a park.

We are also assigned quarters in Paris: Avenue Hoche No. 56, near the Arc de Triomphe. Our officers spend the night there when they are in Paris for meetings.

We have to have numerous discussions with numerous departments. Because we have an unusual status:

  • As a force, we are subordinate to the inspector of anti-aircraft artillery, General von Axthelm, and his inspector for special weapons, Major General von Gyldenfeldt.
  • Our mission is commanded by the LXV’th Army corps under General of the Artillery Heinemann.
  • Our supply is managed by Air Fleet 3 under Field Marshal Sperrle.
  • Our positions are being built by the Air Gau Command Belgium/Northern France under Flieger-General Wimmer.

On January 29, 1944, General Heinemann signed a certificate in Maisons-Laffitte that granted me additional powers. It is: »Colonel Martin Wolf, born on June 6th, 1897 in Rostock, is entitled to wear any army and air force uniform…«

I make use of this special permission immediately: So far I’ve only worn aviator grey; I am now having my first uniform in field gray tailored on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.

In field gray I travel back to Merlemont. Shortly thereafter, Allied low-flying aircraft attack the château. Our defense kicks in. She, too, cannot clarify the question of whether this attack was accidental or possibly targeted. The corps decides that all risk is to be avoided.

A cover-up action in plainclothes

So, in February 1944, a new protective measure for the top leadership was ordered: the regiment’s staff was split up. The supply department stays in Merlemont – my command staff moves eight kilometers further, to the castle of Auteuil.


Signpost in Auteuil
Wrong sign on the castle

With this move, the Flak Regiment 155 (W) undergoes a new transformation: the »Flak Group Creil« becomes the »site management Schmidt of the Organisation Todt«. A sign that cannot be overlooked at the entrance to Auteuil expressly points this out.

A masquerade begins: the staff officers take off their uniforms and receive civilian clothes from the “Anka” procurement office in Paris. Enlisted men and non-commissioned officers also hand in their aviator gray clothes. The men traveled to Paris in small groups and took hold of the brown uniform of the front-line worker of the Organisation Todt at “Anka”.


Auteuil château © Passion Châteaux

Auteuil château, its park and the vast pastures of its stud farm are civil land. Nobody – not even the Generals Heinemann and von Axthelm – are allowed to visit us in uniform. We only drive private cars with French license plates. Those who come to Auteuil not only have to exchange their uniforms for civilian clothes, the WL plates on the cars also have to be exchanged for OT or private plates.

In the meantime, Colonel Max Wachtel has not only transformed into Colonel Martin Wolf and Lieutenant Colonel Michael Wagner. As head of the “site management Schmidt” I now also have an OT service book for the engineer and main front leader Martin Wolf from the “Task Force West”.

In fact, the Allied agents never solve our charade – or always a move too late: while I have long since evacuated Merlemont and am sitting in Auteuil as the main front commander, American bombers attack Merlemont and destroy my offices. Shortly thereafter, the Allied leaflet “News for the Troops,” which the English dropped over German positions, reported that Colonel Martin Wolf had died in the destruction of Merlemont Palace…

Internal tensions and accusations

But my men and I are not only fighting defensively against Allied bombers and enemy agents. In addition to the English, we have a second, more dangerous opponent: the LXV’th Army Corps.

In the spring of 1944, unbearable tensions developed in relations with the corps – and especially with Colonel Walter, Chief of Staff. And after every argument with the corps, I know that the next morning there will again be court-martials at my bedside.

The first came in February 1944: Lieutenant Busse kept notes on the “V 1” in his French quarters, which of course was strictly forbidden. These records are found. Busse is arrested, charged and sentenced to death. I intervene. Buses was then pardoned, demoted and transferred to the Eastern Front.

Four weeks later the next court-martial councilors arrive. They’re launching another court-martial investigation – this time against myself. An undocumented flying bomb has turned up in the theater of operations.

I don’t know anything about it and I have nothing to do with it. A transport regiment, which was specially formed for this purpose, is solely responsible for transporting the flight bombs from Reich territory to the French operational area. The corps maintains freight trains for this regiment, on whose wagons the bombs are anchored, covered with tarpaulins and guarded by sentries. Trains have priority on all routes, including D trains. The routes are immediately cleared for a »V 1« transport.

After the court-martial councilors are informed, the investigation against me will be closed.

Preparations for the vengeance order

At the beginning of June, the first large »V 1« transports roll into the operational area.

The “Revenge” command can now be given every week. This order will reach the “site management Schmidt” under the alias “lumber room”. The moment the order is given, the irrevocable six-day countdown to the first fire begins. The plan is meticulously calculated by my staff.

My people are working feverishly to prepare for the offensive. The men on staff and the commanders and officers in the positions no longer get to bed before dawn.

I urge that the slingshots should not only be aimed at London. I strongly recommend shelling Portsmouth and Southampton, the ports of departure for the expected invasion. Also, I ask you to consider whether the canal might not also be a worthwhile target area to sow confusion among the invading armada. I mean, imagine how much panic a few of our keen May bugs could cause in a crowded fleet.

But the “Führer” doesn’t want to know anything about it. He orders: “Retaliatory strikes on London only.”

In between we try out tiny mock batteries: Small wooden scaffolding from which fireworks with heavy smoke development are started. They are intended later, during use, to confuse opponents and divert their attention from our slingshots.

On June 6, 1944, my staff wants to take a few hours off: It will be my 47th birthday. “Tomorrow we’ll just look the other way,” the men said the night before. But June 5th isn’t just the eve of my birthday – it’s also the eve of the invasion.


Invasion Training © Wikipedia, public domain

At dawn on June 6, 1944, the first British and American invaders stormed the Normandy coast.

My birthday is forgotten. A few hours after the start of the invasion, the “site management Schmidt” received from the LXV’th Army Corps issued the “lumber room” order. The final preparations for the long-distance bombardment of the British capital begin in the next moment.

Our men – according to precise plans – set about assembling the prefabricated slingshots, the individual parts of which are stored camouflaged in forests and shelters.

They take off the uniforms of the Organisation Todt and put on the aviator gray of the anti-aircraft artillery again. I shave, hang my civilian clothes in the closet and also slip on my airforce coat. Then I move into my command bunker at the Sâleux command post, which is 24 meters underground near Amiens.

I urgently warn against hasty action. I am convinced that the catastrophic supply situation will make it absolutely necessary to postpone the opening of fire by 48 hours. Our head of supplies, Schwennesen, and air force engineer Eberhard also implore the corps not to rush the operation. But the corps chief of staff does not hear these warnings. His answer is: open fire on target 42 on June 12.

On the night of June 12th we get to bed at four o’clock. At seven o’clock we are back at the command post. The phone doesn’t stop. More and more men are crowding into the bunker: engineers from Peenemünde, representatives of the corps, observers from Air Fleet 3. Commanding General Heinemann also appears.

The men at the operational command post sit around a large wooden table and receive reports from the batteries. They keep hearing bad news: Most of the batteries are insufficiently supplied for this night, many individual parts did not arrive.

A map of London is displayed in front of one wall of the bunker. The plan is transparent and backlit. The target spot catches the eye: Tower Bridge. On this map tonight the first “V 1” hits are to be marked by points of light.

General Heinemann sits in the bunker and looks intently at the city map. My aide-de-camp Dahms is assigned to be the general’s supervisor and drinks a glass of sparkling wine with him. Heinemann, Dahms thinks, is looking forward to the first bright spots.

Trouble with the court-martial

He shouldn’t be too happy. On the map of London in the command bunker outside Sâleux, only four dots light up that night.

Before I fall on the bed at 6am on June 13th, I write in my personal diary: “It didn’t work out. Breakdown all along the front.” Later in the day I make a note of: “Fight up with Walter… All day nasty conversations with Walter… It’s terrible when people don’t understand technology. The operation was ordered too soon…”

Two days later the court-martial councilors appear in the bunker. You open the conversation, which is soon to turn into an interrogation, with the phrase, which I am no longer unfamiliar with: “We have come from the Reich Marshal to ask whether the Reich Marshal should intercede for your interests…”

This phrase means: court-martial. I am to be put on trial for the unsuccessful first mission.

However, another visitor to the bunker quickly ended the investigation: General von Gyldenfeldt maneuvered the court-martial councilors into the open. I remain at my post.

Only a few days pass before the next incident.

The Führer is visiting


Führer Headquarter Wolf Canyon 2 © TCY CC BY-SA 3.0

On June 17, the Führer appeared in the operations room. Hitler meets Field Marshals von Rundstedt and Rommel in Margival. General Heinemann gives a lecture at the Wolf Canyon II command post near Soissons. The “Führer” is pleased that the “retaliation” against the British capital has finally begun. He leaves the command post to drive back to Berchtesgaden. Some time later, a flying bomb hits in the immediate vicinity of »Werewolf II«.

This time, too, I am not waiting in vain: on June 19 court-martial councilors appear again; they suspect an insidious attack on the Führer’. But this time, too, they can’t do anything.

The young weapon has weaknesses we know ad nauseum. One of these teething troubles is the “round runner”. As soon as the bomb’s control membrane is disturbed by even a grain of sand, the bomb immediately changes course; it can turn around and fall back to its firing position.

The next court-martial will be brought against me because our Professor Lettau is taken prisoner.

Lettau, head of my weather station, is on a business trip to the Cherbourg area. I say goodbye to him with the warning: ‘First find out about the situation from the Luftwaffe, Herr Professor. Goodbye!”

I won’t see him again… The court-martial insinuated: Lettau, who carried the secret, had eloped with a French girlfriend; I would have failed in my duty of care.

Increased use of the V1

As always, I am being rehabilitated. On June 30, 1944, Lieutenant Dr. Karl Holzamer – years after the war intendant of the Second German Television in Mainz – who already on the night of June 13 spoke a first “ear witness report from the canal front” for the Greater German Radio, for the second time with my men, to to witness the ordered fire blast at night and to transmit it to the public on tape. In the regiment’s war diary – which unfortunately is still in London today and is not accessible to us – an entry is made about Holzamer’s visit:

“The radio truck pulled up not far from the position of the 8th battery. The sky is overcast, it’s raining lightly. Best shooting weather!’ Under a tree on a high embankment stands war correspondent Dr. Karl Holzamer, microphone in hand. The recording device is running in the radio car. The announcer raises his voice: “It will be soon. Increased use of V 1 !« While the war correspondent records the experience for the homeland, for the ears of the world, V 1 thunders its way…«


Barrage balloons over London to defend the V1 © public domain

On July 22, 1944, our batteries fired their 5000th shot at London; a month later we have to vacate. On August 23, at 5 a.m., I got up and was the last to leave the Sâleux command post. We move to Roubaix near the Belgian border ahead of the approaching invasion troops.

On November 19, 1944 we fire the 10,000th bomb; then we must evacuate Roubaix as well. London is now out of range of the V1.

On December 16th we were given the order – we are now in central Holland: “Fire on Antwerp!” This order hit me like a club, because the Belgian citizen Isabella De Goy, who is to become my wife, lives in Antwerp.

I met her in Antwerp in 1941 while I was in hospital in the Belgian port city. I had to leave them behind when the Germans evacuated the city in 1944.

Now my “V 1” batteries are firing their aerial bombs at Antwerp, they are smashing the city and the harbor – and even at the end of the war I don’t know whether Isabella was killed by my own weapons.

The war is at its end

At the beginning of May 1945 I went into hiding: Martin Wolf became Max Wachtel again. I organize an Opel P 4, dress it up as a refugee car by strapping beds and household goods to the roof, tie a scarf around my head and pass the British roadblock near Hamburg on May 9, 1945 – dressed as a “refugee with tooth disease”.

In Hamburg Hummelsbüttel I move into quarters in a circus wagon from »Sarrasani«, get a horse, a sheep, a chicken and a dog and become a farmer.

Meeting an old adversary

On a hot Sunday morning in August 1946, a British passenger car rolls by. The car turns and stops. An English officer gets out, approaches and grins when I meet him: “Herr Wachtel or Herr Wolf?”

The English officer is Squadron Leader E. J. Andre Kenny, once a captain and interpreter of air reconnaissance photos at Medmenham, where he mistakenly identified the first test slingshot for the flying bomb at Peenemünde as a “sludge pump.” Kenny later came to the defense. In the summer of 1944, he was dispatched to France with the order to kidnap or kill the commander of the German aerial bombs. Finally, in the summer of 1946, he found me, his old opponent.

When Kenny leaves with the remark that he “must go on to Brussels now,” I ask him to forward a letter to Antwerp. Kenny carries the letter.

My beloved from Belgium

A little later I have a lady visitor: Isabella De Goy, Antwerp, who crossed the border black. Isabella! The Belgians cut off her hair. But she is healthy! She escaped the hail of our V -weapons…

Over the next few months I write cheeky letters in London to Kenny, who is in the War Office: I finally want to marry Isabella – she has now returned to Antwerp – and Kenny is supposed to help me with that.

Finally, in the late autumn of 1947, British officers came to see me. They were sent by Kenny to fetch me to London. We drive to Hook of Holland and cross over to England. In London, I am accommodated in the Speadon Tower camp in the Hampstead district.

A few days later – I’m looking at the street – I can’t believe my eyes: the good piece from Antwerp! Kenny really is a guy: he brought Isabella in.

All respect for so much fair play, I think – because at this time there is still a lot of furniture to be straightened in London …

We become a “special case”: After nine days in the British capital, we are married on December 9, 1947, at 10 a.m. in front of the Hampstead registry office. The witnesses are Squadron Leader Kenny and his secretary Helen Edwards. Guests at the wedding party in the evening in Kenny’s flat there are people from the British Intelligence.

Yet another ex-enemy

On December 3, 1959 – I’ve been airport manager at Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel for eight years – I’ve been informed that the British Minister for Civil Aviation will land with us on the same day in a BEA “Viscount.” Visit Hamburg and hunt wild boar with Prince Bismarck in the Sachsenwald.

When the “Viscount” is waved in, I’m standing on the tarmac. The door of the machine opens and the minister steps out. He waves, “Hello, Colonel!”

I think: What is it? Does the minister mean me? he means me


Duncan Sandys 1975 © CC0

For this English minister is Duncan Sandys, Churchill‘s son-in-law, who during the war was in charge of urgently investigating the German secret weapons, and at the time he certainly wanted nothing more than to have me rendered harmless.

The Minister was informed before his departure from London. I had been allowed to walk onto the tarmac unsuspectingly.

Over a drink, Mr Sandys asks me, “Did you know we wanted to kidnap you – dead or alive? Unfortunately we didn’t succeed.”


Sandy’s letter to Wachtel, 1960

A month later I have mail from London. Duncan Sandys writes: “During the war I watched you intently from afar. It was a special pleasure for me to have met you in person…”

Link: http://www.spiegel.de/spiegel/print/d-46275206.html

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